Whitehorse , Yukon
Tuesday, May 16, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
Returns or documents for tabling.
Reports of committees.
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION FOR THE PRODUCTION OF PAPERS
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion for the production of papers:
THAT this House do issue an order for the return of documents, in particular from InterGroup Consultants Ltd., that provide estimates for the proposed Carmacks to Stewart transmission line project in regard to the total cost, the amount on which the government will subsidize the project, and the amount billed to electrical ratepayers across the territory, as well as detail with respect to how and when the financing for this project is expected to unfold.
Mr. Cardiff: I give notice of the following motion for the production of papers:
THAT this House do issue an order for the return of the government contracting summary report, by department, for the period from April 1, 2005 to March 31, 2006, as this summary is important for business people and anyone who wants to know how the government conducts its business with the private sector.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Ministerial conflict of interest
Mr. Mitchell: I have some questions for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. I have been asking this minister to answer some basic questions about his involvement in a Yukon outfitting concession and the potential for conflict of interest because of it. He has refused. This is in sharp contrast to how another minister has gone about informing the public of his potential conflict. The Minister of Community Services also has a potential conflict and he has been very open about it. In that case, the minister has appointed an alternate minister to act on his behalf and has informed his deputy minister that he should not be involved in any discussions that relate to his personal business interest. This is the proper way to do things.
My question to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources: has he written to his deputy to provide similar instructions and will he table that correspondence?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It's evident here that the leader of the official opposition is pursuing a tack that I think is something that is better done outside this institution. The minister has fully disclosed all matters. The minister follows the direction of the Conflicts Commissioner. By the way, the minister is not even answering questions with respect to this issue, for obvious reasons. So I don't know how else I can put this for the leader of the official opposition, other than the following: if the leader of the official opposition has an accusation to make, then there are appropriate processes and agencies where that accusation or complaint may be laid, but it requires also the burden of proof and it allows all who may be involved or all who stand accused the right to due process.
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, we have made no accusations. We have asked questions regarding how the minister is approaching the situation, and we haven't gotten answers.
There are basic steps that a minister, who might have a conflict of interest, takes to ensure they do not get into trouble. For one thing, they write a letter to their deputy saying, “Make sure I don't get involved in anything that has to do with this issue.” That way the deputy can act as a gatekeeper. The Premier has been unwilling to answer the question. I guess this letter has not been written. We know it is not in the minister's disclosure statement file, for example. I will ask the minister another question about his potential conflict of interest: if the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources received correspondence on the new big game outfitter land policy, who should respond to that letter? Would it be the alternate minister, for example?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the answers to these questions have been given on a daily basis. The issue continues to be conflict. There is no such thing; however, if the leader of the official opposition has information or evidence that would show otherwise, I encourage him to follow due process.
Furthermore, the minister is not involved in these matters for obvious reasons. Again, I repeat: there is full disclosure on disclosure statements. They are available to any member in this House, and indeed, to any member of the public, should they choose to look. We will always follow the advice of the Conflicts Commissioner on all matters, beginning upon being sworn in and taking office. These processes have been thoroughly gone through, and the advice that was brought forward is exactly what we as a government follow.
Mr. Mitchell: All we've been asking for is what that advice is and what actions have been taken.
Mr. Speaker, on April 8, 2003, the renewable resource council wrote to the minister about the big game outfitter land tenure policy. This is the policy the Premier says he's not dealing with, and the minister says he has a potential conflict with - the one he is not supposed to have anything to do with. Guess who wrote back? The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources in an April 27 letter.
Why did the minister respond to this letter when he owns an outfitting concession?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There has been action taken, and it's evidenced before us here today in Question Period. Also, there has been action taken on this file for decades. I think it's a good thing the minister who's responsible for the department in this area has done what he has done to ensure no conflict and to follow the advice of the Conflicts Commissioner.
Furthermore, I think there is a conflict, and it's a conflict among the official opposition on what position they would take on behalf of the outfitting industry, stewards of the land base and how to deal with the long-standing issue that has been involved in the outfitting concession area, the federal government and now, through devolution, the Yukon government, with respect to dealing with the matter of tenure on the land base for clarity and certainty. It was part of the land claims process. There is a major conflict.
The official opposition does not respect or recognize any of these processes.
Question re: Ministerial conflict of interest
Mr. Mitchell: I have more questions for the same minister. This minister has declared a potential conflict because he has an interest in a big game outfitting concession. On April 27, 2003, the minister wrote a letter about the new big game outfitting game land tenure policy. In the letter, the minister said that consideration of a land tenure policy for outfitters is considered a positive step. I guess so. I will file those documents.
Speaker: Order please. Sit down.
In your statement of filing a letter, you indicated that the minister was in conflict with your statement, “I guess so.” Am I misinterpreting you? If so, there is no point of order. If not, I would just ask the member to be careful. You have the floor.
Mr. Mitchell: This is a letter that the minister should not have written. That is obvious. It should have been written by an alternate minister. It was not, and the public deserves to know why. That is the question I am asking now. Why did the minister allow his deputy to sign this letter for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: My answer is, so what? The minister wrote a letter. This policy was in effect long before this government and this minister came into office. In fact, leases have been given out and applications have been received for years in this territory by the federal government.
Given devolution coming into force and effect April 2003, this government took over, and all action necessary has been taken on this matter, and we will continue forward with this issue to ensure that we deliver what has been committed to by the previous federal government.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, the Premier says, so what? The Premier has previously answered by saying this minister does not even respond to questions on the file. That's so what.
Mr. Speaker, our office recently filed an access-to-information request for all correspondence between the minister's office and stakeholders, including renewable resource councils, regarding the development of the big game outfitting policy. I was quite surprised that I received a response to that request yesterday. The response said no records were found. That is very interesting, given the letter that I was holding in my hand. It was written by the minister in April 2003 about this very issue, yet according to the minister's department it does not exist.
Mr. Speaker, I'll repeat my question. This is a letter that the minister should not have written. That is obvious. It should have been written by an alternate minister. It was not, and the public deserves to know why. Why did the minister send this letter, and how many more like it are out there?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: What does this so-called letter have to do with anything? This policy has been in existence for quite some time, and I think we all know the gist of the questioning. So let me be clear: the minister is not in conflict, has not been in conflict, will not be in conflict - in fact, Mr. Speaker, quite the contrary. The minister has taken every step to ensure that: (a) there is not a perception of conflict; and (b) there is no real conflict.
Furthermore, all actions necessary have been taken to substantiate that claim. If the leader of the official opposition has evidence that would show otherwise, there is due process for that member to follow. Make the accusation, provide the proof, so those who stand accused have the right to due process.
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, the government and the Premier continue to say that this minister does not deal with anything in this file on advice of the Conflicts Commissioner. What we've been asking for is this: show us the advice; show us the steps that are taken to insulate this minister from the portfolio. That's all we've asked. It's not an accusation, it's a question. They won't answer.
The Premier's answers are not good enough. The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources has written a letter that he should not have written, and what is the Premier's response? “Take it outside.” I will take it outside. It's simply a request for what the process is that's being followed. The minister has an interest in an outfitting concession. He should not be writing letters about outfitting, but that's exactly what he has done. The minister said that a land tenure policy for outfitters is considered a positive step. He should not be writing these letters.
What does the Premier intend to do about this letter-writing minister?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm going to continue to provide more work for the minister in question, considering what's happening under his watch in the many areas that the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is responsible for. When it comes to the member's assertion that someone on the government side has written a letter that they should not have written, let me ask the member opposite what he thinks about the quotes from the letter from the Ombudsman, which should not have been quoted as they were in this House. So the member opposite should be a lot more clear with the public. Make the accusation outside the Legislature.
The minister has never been in conflict with this matter. The minister is not in conflict with this matter. The minister will never be in conflict with this matter. All actions - appropriate actions - have been taken in this matter. Our interest as a government is to move ahead and ensure that there's certainty and clarity on the land base as the policy speaks to.
Question re: Child protection
Mr. Hardy: For several days I've tried to get straight answers from the Minister of Health and Social Services on some very serious child protection issues. I hope I will be a bit more successful today than I have been in the past.
The previous government commissioned a report on issues surrounding group homes. That report was made public. This government commissioned an independent review following the death of a baby girl in Dawson. A highly censored version of that report was made public. Another report into the death of a child in Whitehorse is available through ATIPP, but it hasn't been made public.
Will the minister now release that report and provide an update on what specific steps have been taken to implement the recommendations it actually contains?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I do appreciate the question from the leader of the third party, and I would point out that, with regard to the review that occurred and was done at the direction of the department under my watch, we released all information within the report containing the recommendations. The only information that was not released were those matters that were highly confidential in nature, very personal in nature and which, based on the interpretation of the experts within the department, would have contravened the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. That's why that information was not released.
Again, I point out for the member opposite that we are very committed to addressing this matter, and I'm somewhat puzzled at what more the member wants me to say, beyond noting that we are fully committed to moving forward in as timely a manner as possible on this file.
Mr. Hardy: I hope that the minister listens more closely to the question. He would know exactly what we are trying to get out of him - what we feel he should do - but I also referenced another report that he didn't address in his response.
The safety and well-being of children is one of the most important responsibilities of any government, but it is hard to tell from the minister's answers. I am certainly not the only one who is deeply offended by the minister's repeated reference to a baby's death in Dawson as an “unfortunate matter”. I've heard a lot of response to that.
If the minister has been listening to the series on child welfare issues on CBC Radio this week - I hope he has been paying very close attention - one concern that comes out loud and clear is the high degree of secrecy within the minister's department and how hard it is to get even routine statistical information.
What is the minister doing to remove this cloak of secrecy so that Yukon people can make informed decisions about how our child welfare system is working and how it can be improved?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I have to point out and remind the member opposite that a number of things within the portfolio of Health and Social Services, such as medical records and details about minors, are matters that must remain, by law, confidential. That information cannot be released to the members opposite or to the media, no matter how much they may wish it. We will not release the details of the medical file of the Member for Whitehorse Centre, nor will we release confidential information about any other Yukoner. It is our obligation to respect the requirements of legislation, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Mr. Hardy: I asked about a report in my first question with regard to the death of a child in Whitehorse. It actually is available through access to information, but this minister won't release it. We can get it through access to information, so I don't know what he is saying there.
I get the very distinct feeling the minister goes to such lengths to avoid answering the question, because he really doesn't know the answers himself. It shouldn't take months of effort and thousands and thousands of dollars for members of the public to get information that belongs to them - not to the minister and not to the department. One of the questions I asked the minister yesterday should have a very, very straightforward answer, so I'm going to try this again. It's very straightforward. Before he accuses me of criticizing workers in his department, I can assure the minister that it has nothing to do with that at all.
Do the 14 positions he refers to as having a social work component in child protection and family services include just people with social work degrees, or does that figure also include social service workers and family support workers?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I have to note that the leader of the third party referred to a report that was dealt with prior to my time as minister. I certainly do not have an objection to reviewing that matter and taking that matter under advisement. It was not dealt with under my watch. It predates my tenure here as minister, but I thought the leader of the third party said he already received this through access to information. So, his statement is a little puzzling - for him to say he can get it through access to information and then state that he hasn't. I would appreciate some clarification from him on this file. I would certainly be happy to review that matter. I do point out to the member opposite that somehow he seems to be implying that some of the employees within Health and Social Services are not fully qualified to do their jobs, and I assure him that is not correct.
We have very good staff. They are qualified; they are performing their jobs, despite tragic instances such as the death of a child that we certainly do not minimize. We will take every step to address this and do our level best to ensure that children do not slip through the cracks at some point, as occurred in this situation. We are very committed to moving forward in this. The officials do a very good job on a daily basis in a very difficult field.
Question re: Children's Act review
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I understand the rules that I'm not allowed to go back and address the questions that he put toward me. He knows that, as well, so I have to move on to the next question.
We have asked the Minister of Health and Social Services more than 20 questions about child protection since the Christianson-Wood report came out. The answers have ranged from basically evasive to nonsensical. For example, his own words: “The issues relating to this are operational matters.” “This is a departmental matter.” “We do not micromanage.” “Departmental officials will be acting upon the matters within their purview.”
It goes on. We could have a long hypothetical debate on what government could have done at what stage, what the Liberals could have done, what the NDP could have done. There is even more, Mr. Speaker: “We intend to do our level best to ensure that we do the very best we can to prevent such an unfortunate matter occurring in the future.”
Will the minister stop making excuses and tell us exactly what the plans are to implement the findings of this latest report, which points out many of the same problems that have been identified in earlier reports?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I'm not sure whether the leader of the third party doesn't understand my reply or doesn't wish to change his questions based on his understanding of that reply.
I noted to the member that I and department officials take this report that was commissioned by the department - the Christianson-Wood report - very seriously and are committed to taking the appropriate action based upon the recommendations. But the member might wish to take a greater look at the Christianson-Wood report and note that it does not address issues such as how these matters will be implemented within the department at an operational level, impact on staffing, impact on procedures and on policies. They are very general recommendations. It does not get into the specific details that are required to implement those recommendations within a management structure; it does not identify the budgetary costs of those matters, simply that there will be costs and the department is doing that work to provide that detail.
Once that detail is provided, we will take the steps to implement the recommendations. I remind the member opposite that a number of these recommendations must be dealt with through amendments to the Children's Act and through consultation with First Nations.
Mr. Hardy: Well, Mr. Speaker, a new line of excuses as to why nothing can be done and recycling some old ones that when we look at them closely don't hold up.
After spending a few days dancing around the questions, the minister last week came up with a new angle. He can't do anything until the Children's Act review is completed. We know that is probably not going to happen in this mandate. The consultation protocol with First Nations won't allow it - that's what he says. Now I will table a copy of that protocol and I challenge the minister to point out any place where it prevents him from doing his job as the minister of the Crown responsible for child protection.
Have the participants in the Children's Act review been given any action plan of how the Yukon government intends to implement the findings of the Christianson-Wood report or the two earlier reports I've already mentioned?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I have to note that the member just stood up, tabled the consultation protocol and said there's nothing preventing us from changing the Children's Act right now. It seems here that the suggestion from the member opposite is that we table amendments like that to the Children's Act without consulting with First Nations, without doing our job, without honouring our commitments.
Mr. Speaker, we are fully committed to honouring our commitments to Yukoners, including to First Nations. We are working in partnership on the Children's Act review. We are committed to completing that work as quickly as possible. As stated to the member, we are proceeding forward to a policy forum in June in partnership with First Nations to resolve the policy issues, following which we will jointly be advising the legal drafters of the legislation and bringing forward legislative amendments that are targeted for this fall.
I remind the member opposite that although we recognize changes need to be made to the Children's Act, the system as it is and the workers within the system - the employees of the Yukon government, Department of Health and Social Services - do a very good job and are very committed to doing that job.
Mr. Hardy: Absolutely - they sure do. But I submit to you that this government hasn't truly consulted the First Nations at all. I think it has just been a lot of show.
The former minister said publicly that the First Nations who are considering drawing down authority for child welfare need a legislative framework from this government to work from. The current review of the Children's Act has been dragging on for ages and now it seems to be bogged down over the questions of governance.
This minister has suggested new legislation may be ready by this fall, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that it won't happen under this government. If the minister had the political will to make a positive difference, there are things he could do that would not jeopardize the Children's Act review. For example, he could move forward on the Anglin report recommendation for a children's advocate. He could do that.
Why has there been no progress on this recommendation? Is it because of the consultation on the Children's Act or because the minister lacks the political will to do it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I'm compelled to enter into this debate. The leader of the third party has stated right here on the floor of the House that what we do with First Nations in this territory is “show”.
Mr. Speaker, I want to point out to the leader of the third party: is it show when a government engages with First Nation governments and jointly develops the Co-operation in Governance Act, giving force and effect to the Yukon forum, where two jurisdictions of this territory come together on matters of mutual concern? Is it show when the Yukon government and Yukon First Nation governments jointly develop an implementation plan for the northern strategy? Is it show when the Yukon government and First Nation governments jointly develop an implementation plan for the targeted investment program? Is it show when the Yukon government and Yukon First Nations join together to develop a joint investment plan for the northern housing trust? Is it show to offer the First Nations the ability to jointly inform drafting of amendments for the Children's Act?
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, is that show? No. It is government to government, it's real and it's far, far ahead of the member opposite.
Question re: George Black ferry
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Minister of Highways and Public Works.
Dawson's visitor industry is approximately 18 to 19 weeks long, and it starts with the George Black ferry beginning operations, historically by or prior to May 15 of the year, and it closes with Canada/U.S. Customs shutting down and highway maintenance ceasing on the Top of the World Highway .
Given Dawson 's very short visitor season and the restrictions placed on it by the highway transportation system, why was the George Black ferry not in the water and operating on Monday, May 15 of this year?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The member opposite is well aware that the ice from the Yukon River is out quite late this year. Our temperatures haven't been conducive to the river ice being broken up so that we can put in the ferry to go across. We have to wait until the ice leaves the White River, and the Stewart and Indian rivers are clear also, in order for us to put the George Black ferry into operation.
Mr. Jenkins: I would encourage the minister to not take at face value the information he is providing, because traditionally and historically the Yukon River has broken up on May 10 or 11 in the majority of years. Further to that, the ice is out of all the tributaries that the minister spoke of. The pilots have been flying the Yukon River on Saturday and Sunday. There are people travelling the Yukon River; the ice is all out.
What is the restriction for not having the ferry in the water and operating on Monday of this week?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I indicated earlier, temperatures are cooler this year than they have been in the past. We intend to put the George Black ferry in this Thursday. Hopefully, providing the ferry gets its certification, it will be in operation on Thursday afternoon, in time for the Gold Show this coming weekend. We will see what happens with that.
We are in the process of doing that. Currently, many of our people have been doing a lot of work cleaning up after the Rock Creek flood, so we are recovering from that also.
Mr. Jenkins: When we look at this situation overall, the minister is asleep at the switch. There is the issue here that the George Black ferry should be in operation. If it goes into operation this Thursday, they still have to get the Top of the World Highway cleaned up and opened up. They still have to get the water delivery to the Canada-U.S. Customs out of Dawson. There is a whole series of other issues and Dawson loses a complete weekend.
What is larger than life here is that the campgrounds in the area are still locked up. There could have been a bridge in place, or started, through Epcom, but this minister has failed.
Could he try once again to explain why the George Black ferry is not in operation and why it was not in operation on Monday of this week? There was ample time to put it in the water, Mr. Speaker. All the restrictions on it were not evident on Monday and they haven't been evident since that time.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Unlike the member opposite, I am not a CGE with regard to building a bridge across the river at Dawson. I didn't specifically go out there and cancel that particular bridge or indicate, as the member opposite did, that the company in question could build a bridge. That is not my prerogative. I answered his question. The George Black ferry will go into operation. Hopefully, this Thursday we will be putting it into the water. If it passes its test on Thursday afternoon, it will be in operation.
For the Top of the World Highway, the member opposite well knows - how are we supposed to get over there to clean the road? Wait for the ice to form again for next year? I don't think so, Mr. Speaker.
The member opposite knows full well that once the ferry goes through we will send our equipment across to clear up the road to the border and provide the necessary refurbishments for the border to open and to allow access for visitors to come to Dawson City, in that member's riding. I look forward to that happening soon.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mrs. Peter: The members of the third party have decided not to identify any business for debate on Wednesday, May 17, 2006, so that we may allow for other business of the House to proceed.
Ms. Duncan: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), the official opposition does not wish to identify items to be called and we would request the House proceed with further debate on the budget.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. The matter before the Committee is the Department of Health and Social Services.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 20 - First Appropriation Act, 2006-07 - continued
Department of Health and Social Services
Chair: We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We'll start with Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services, in general debate.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It gives me pleasure to rise here in the House to introduce the Department of Health and Social Services portion of the budget.
The total requested for the Department of Health and Social Services this year is $175,622,000 in the operation and maintenance field, which is an increase from the 2005-06 main estimates and is the largest main estimates ever tabled for this department.
The capital budget this year for the Department of Health and Social Services is $7,979,000. Expected revenues for Health and Social Services in this year comprise $19,268,000, which is an increase from the 2005-06 main estimates.
The operation and maintenance expenditures broken out by allotments show that the personnel allotment is $62.2 million, again an increase from 2005-06. The transfer payments to third parties are $55,843,000, which is again an increase of 6.5 percent from 2005-06.
Highlights that the department is proceeding with or seeking authority to proceed with in this fiscal year include the expenditure of the territorial health access fund. The territorial health access fund is some $21.6 million over five years. The cornerstone of the expenditures under that strategy is our new health human resource strategy, which is an initiative focused on improving Yukoners' access to family physicians and other health professionals, including nurses, physiotherapists, radiologists, laboratory technicians and speech-language pathologists.
It is our desire to ensure that we have a full range of health professionals available to ensure that when Yukoners need services they are able to access them. In the area of the physician component of the health human resource strategy, we are launching two initiatives - one that will provide debt repayment in exchange for years of service to any graduate of a Canadian medical school, and another component that is a bursary program to assist Yukon students in attending medical school.
Discussions will take place with the Yukon Medical Association and with other professional organizations, including the registered nurses, regarding the details and implementation of the programs within the areas addressing those professionals in their field. We hope to have these components finalized very quickly. The first area of action will be the physician programs, which we hope to have finalized and the paperwork available for application in early summer of this year.
Other elements under the department include the medical travel fund, which is $1.6 million per year for five years. We have been pleased to announce an increase to the travel subsidy that is provided to Yukoners forced to travel outside the territory to receive care. We're increasing the travel subsidy from its previous level of $30 per day, kicking in on day four, to a new level of $75 per day, effective the second day they are out of the territory. This increase will be effective July 1.
We are also using the medical travel fund to increase the mileage subsidy provided to Yukoners within the territory accessing specialist treatment, travelling into Whitehorse , from a previous level of 18.5 cents per kilometre to 30 cents per kilometre.
Also for the first time, this program will be available to Yukoners living outside communities in rural areas, such as my constituents and those of the Member for Southern Lakes.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Of course, there are other Yukoners affected, in answer to a comment from the opposition benches. We're very pleased to implement that initiative.
Other areas of priority within the department for this year include our participation in the substance abuse action plan, which is focused on the areas of harm reduction, prevention and education, treatment and enforcement.
Areas within the substance abuse action plan include the safer communities legislation under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, which has been approved by this Legislature, and working on programs like the dogs for drug-free schools concept, working with the Outreach van, and we are currently engaged with that group to assist them in coordinating and identifying and addressing their needs in that area; and, of course, continuing with the Department of Health and Social Services' priority of the five-step FASD action plan.
We have also, to assist in that area, continued our contribution to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon - $162,000 in funding from YTG. As well, we have added a contribution to assist them in continuing their operation by stepping into the area vacated by the federal Liberal government that cancelled their support for the With a Little Help from My Friends program. We have assisted them in this area by providing them a total contribution, reviewed quarterly, of up to $200,000 for a one-year period while we continue in our efforts to encourage the new federal government to step forward and re-engage and address that responsibility.
The department is also requesting authority in this year to proceed with continuing care planning to address our needs in that area and to move forward in areas such as planning for mental health needs and, within the context of the territorial health access fund, to provide more community-level support for palliative care and to begin the planning and implementation of that.
We are also requesting approval for the purchase of three new ambulances for a total of $345,000. We are providing $750,000 for community nursing station upgrades in this fiscal year.
We have made contributions to a number of NGOs, including Autism Yukon, a new group that assists parents of autistic children and coordinates that funding.
We have provided funding commitments to Yukon Hospital Foundation to assist the volunteers and the members of that organization. They have engaged community support and provided the opportunity for Yukoners to contribute to assisting in providing for medical needs and improving the medical services available to Yukoners in a more rapid fashion than would be possible through government budgets alone. We appreciate the efforts that these volunteers and donors put in and are providing them with $75,000 per year to assist them with administration costs.
We are carrying forward the increase to the territorial supplemental allowance provided to people with disabilities on social assistance, which we have increased in 2005-06 by 100 percent from its previous level of $125 a month to $250 a month.
I should point out to the members opposite that the territorial health access fund money that I referred to and the medical travel funding are encapsulated in the budget separate from the O&M expenditures and are not included in the total of $175,622.
Again, I point out that the total amount of those budgetary items is $29 million over a period of five years, which comprises one-fifth of that, of course, for this fiscal year.
Important increases in the 2006-07 budget include: increased salaries, reflecting the increases to wages primarily resulting from the collective agreement increases, totalling some $902,000; and increased cost of the new agreement with physicians, which is $2.3 million, and a significant portion of that is to assist us in improving recruitment and retention activity and complementing our health human resource strategy investment.
We have also added funding to pay for the opening of seven beds at Macaulay Lodge, and an increase of five percent in the direct operating grant to childcare, as per the recommendations made in the four-year plan for early childhood education and care. That totals some $130,000 worth of increase. I would point out to the members that the total contribution provided by the Yukon to childcare, comprised of both the direct operating grant and the childcare subsidy, totals some $5.5 million. I would remind members that in previous years we increased the direct operating grant by some 30 percent, a total of $675,000, and this five-percent increase is over and above that previous increase.
There's also an increase in this year of $198,000 to the pioneer utility grant.
Highlights also include that Health Canada extended the deadline for spending funding under the primary health care transition funding to September of this year, enabling us to carry forward funding that lapsed in 2005-06 to the 2006-07 fiscal year.
Highlights of the capital budget include $2,370,000 for the first year of construction on the multi-level care facility in Watson Lake. Also, $1,257,000 is for replacement of various insured health registration and claim systems with an integrated system that will provide health registrations and physician, hospital and drug claims and will form the basis of future electronic health record development. This project has been made possible with the assistance from the primary health care transition funding to which I referred earlier.
Further highlights include $120,000 for construction of apartments in the basement of the St. Elias residential building. This facility houses a residential program for vulnerable, severely disabled young adults. The main floor will continue to house this program, but the basement will now house transitional adults who will be taught living skills in a supported environment preparing them for independent living.
We have planning and design funding for the following capital projects: $100,000 for a multi-level care facility in Dawson City and $100,000 for planning an additional continuing care facility. There are 12 beds that can be opened at Copper Ridge, and then that facility will have reached its full capacity.
With an aging population, we are projecting an increased demand for facilities, and we are committed to moving forward and to addressing those needs. In this fiscal year we also have $415,000 as an increased contribution to Whitehorse General Hospital for capital medical equipment replacement and upgrades. The remaining elements of the capital budget are allocated to maintenance, upgrades or replacement of current inventory of facilities and equipment utilized by the Department of Health and Social Services.
I would also like to outline for the benefit of members opposite some areas where we are assisting some of the dedicated volunteers in our non-government organizations, such as contributions to the Anti-Poverty Coalition, which is recent funding - first implemented in 2005-06. We provide them with $15,000 per year. We have Blood Ties Four Directions, whose funding has been increased to a level of $167,000. Funding for Challenge has been increased to a level of $503,000. The Child Development Centre funding has been increased to $1.448 million.
We have also increased funding to our women's shelters. The Dawson women's shelter funding has been increased to a level of $198,000. Kaushee's Place funding has been increased to a level of $770,000, which represents an increase of some $138,000, compared to 2003-04.
We have also implemented for the first time funding to the Haines Junction Development Society, which is a community-based project similar in approach, for the benefit of members opposite, to that employed by Challenge in assisting individuals - who would otherwise have difficulty perhaps getting employment - in developing employment skills.
I would point out that Champagne and Aishihik First Nations is also a funder of this organization. We are providing the Haines Junction Development Society with $50,000. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, as I noted, also funds this. This funding request was in part due to the support for this project by the First Nation and its chief.
Funding also continues to Help and Hope for Families Society and has been increased to a level of $198,000. Funding has also been increased to Hospice Yukon Society to a current level of $194,000, and funding has also increased to the Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon to $122,000 for this fiscal year.
Funding is also provided to the Options for Independence Society residential program, for adults with FASD, and this is a program instituted for the first time in 2005-06 and continues forward at a level of $180,000.
Also during the past fiscal year, the kids recreation fund has been transferred from the Department of Community Services to the Department of Health and Social Services and, at its new increased level to assist underprivileged Yukon youth in accessing sport opportunities and participating in the Canada Winter Games and preparing for that, this stands at a new level of $200,000, increased from its previous level of $60,000.
Funding has also been increased to the Yukon Family Services Association to the current level of $899,000.
We have also provided increases to the Yukon Hospital Corporation, which stands in this fiscal year at a contribution of $25,828,000, which compares with 2002-03 when this government took office, when the contribution of the Hospital Corporation stood at a level of $20.6 million and has increased in that time by over $5 million per year, in addition to one-time capital contributions totalling some $10 million.
I look forward to debate with members on this budget and to discussing some of the many priorities that we have within the health care and social service areas. With that, Mr. Chair, I would invite debate from members opposite on the priorities within the department.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: I thank the minister for that lengthy opening speech. There are a number of issues I hope to cover this afternoon, ranging from the various buildings this department is working on to various positions in the department that we have questions about and of course the various programs and some of this new funding that we need to have breakdowns on. Mr. Chair, I believe I said in my second reading speech in the budget that I won't be supporting this budget for the very reason that it doesn't have any funds for a multi-level care facility in Haines Junction. This is something I've raised several times over the past four years. The government has continued to ignore the needs of my riding, so it's only responsible for the MLA of the riding to not support this budget for that very reason. Of course there are other reasons too, Mr. Chair, but that is the big one.
There are good things in the budget. Finally the department has come around to increasing the out-of-territory medical travel costs, which is something I have been asking about for a number of years. I believe the $75 per day is a substantial increase from $30 per day, and of course the fact that it kicks in the second day is much better than the fourth day; however, I also know that most people who travel Outside basically are gone for one day, so I am really wondering about what the minister expects the total costs will be of these increased provisions on an annual basis. That is one question I will have for him.
I also want breakdowns on the three funds he alluded to. I'm sure he knows what they are. In case he doesn't, I'll identify them now. One is the territorial health access fund. We received some information on that in his opening speech. We want as detailed a breakdown as possible on these three funds. The second one is the primary health care transition fund and finally the medical travel fund. We want breakdowns on how the funds will be spent in each of those areas.
As I mentioned, there are a number of issues. Some of them deal with retention and recruitment of physicians, including nurses and doctors in the territory. There's funding for the Outreach van. Some buildings that I identified earlier include the Watson Lake Health Centre, the Dawson City Health Centre, which was contained in last year's budget that we debated in this House a year ago. Then the government removed the $5.2 million in funds in a supplementary that was brought in in the fall. We need to know the status of each of those buildings. Of course for the Watson Lake facility, there have been a number of contentious issues, including the sole-source contracting approach deployed by this government, and we want to ensure that the rest of the project will be tendered to the greatest extent possible and for the minister to avoid sole sourcing.
We will also have a discussion about the Registered Nurses Association. They held a workshop this past weekend where they discussed the collaborative clinic model for the Whitehorse area.
Also, regarding funding for the Signpost Seniors and, of course, the St. Elias Seniors Society - you will recall the debate a year ago, Mr. Chair, when the government was embarrassed into providing funding for the seniors society. I am pleased that it did finally come through for the remainder of the year on a pro-rated basis, which provided some funds for that society. I would like to know what funds have been allotted in this budget on an annual basis for each of those two societies.
I also have some questions on the coronary health improvement project, also known as the community health improvement project. What is budgeted for it in this department, if anything?
Of course I will have some questions on the children-in-care issue as well. That pretty well covers the basis of the questions I would like to ask this afternoon.
I am prepared to get into some expeditious debate with the minister. All I am after is to get the information on the record, and we can move on. We know we are down to the final few days in this sitting, and we do have two extra days now - the motion days - that have been passed up. We all know we can put that time to good use. There are still a number of departments yet to be debated, and I am hoping to get through as much as we can. Wouldn't it be nice next Wednesday to actually have a bit of time for third reading speeches on the budget before 5:00 p.m.?
So I would like to start by asking the minister if he would provide the detailed breakdown on those three funds identified.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Chair, I appreciate the questions from the Member for Kluane and would like to provide him some more information, beginning with the territorial health access fund. I note that the terms of the fund require that we use it to meet three established goals: (1), building self-reliant capacity to provide services; (2), strengthening community-level access to services; and (3), ensuring Yukon residents have the education and awareness tools to make informed health decisions. The health human resource strategy, of course, falls under the goal of building local capacity.
I should provide the members with some more information on the territorial health access fund. In answer further to the member's inquiry, as stated, we are consulting with the representatives of affected professional organizations at which we have targeted the health human resource strategy regarding the implementation and the terms of those programs. In the areas of family physicians, there will be two programs, one providing debt repayment to graduates of any Canadian medical school in exchange for years of service within the territory, and that will be rolled out over time. That's providing assurance to the taxpayers that if someone does not fulfill their contract, the taxpayers are not on the hook, having expended money for service that is not rendered. That, of course, is the fundamental flaw to a forgivable loans concept, as has been raised by some members.
The bursary program, again, will be provided to Yukon students to assist them in attending medical school. That is the second component of the physician resource element of the health human resource strategy.
In areas such as nursing and the funding we have allocated to that, we are open to discussions with them, but this is more likely to be used to address some of the concerns that they have identified in the past to us, such as the desire for a mentoring program within the nursing field.
Other elements of the territorial health access fund outside of the health human resource strategy include work on standards, protocols and regulatory requirements and investing the funds and strengthening community-level access to services, including working both at the local and national level to plan and implement a nurse information line to support the Yukon HealthGuide and Web access, which provides residents with health information. As well, we plan to increase dental services, both in the schools and for travelling adult services.
Further, we wish to improve support for individuals with mental health issues, including housing supports and increased support for independent living and counselling at the community level.
We also want to assist Yukoners in having information they need to make good, informed health decisions, so we will continue our work and enhance it in the areas of healthy lifestyles, healthy eating, tobacco reduction, and sexual health education.
There will also be more of a focus on palliative care initiatives at the community level, focusing on maintaining individuals in their homes and communities as long as possible.
The territorial health access fund will also be used to hire two term FTEs required to undertake legislative analysis, research, policy development and support, planning and coordination tasks related to this fund.
Other areas under the health access fund include the following: improving safety by ensuring the required tools, standards, protocols, and regulatory requirements are in place through activities such as emergency preparedness planning and risk-management quality assurance activities to improve the consistency of practice and ensure that standards, guidelines and protocols for all facilities are up to date and meet the standards for best practice; increased counselling for mental health; early identification of mental health issues to assist us in more quickly identifying and providing those supports to individuals; improving supports to patients with tuberculosis at the community level and providing other community and First Nation supports in areas such as diabetes.
I refer to the palliative care; the preliminary planning is underway. Phase implementation will occur to enable us to enhance the services in this field that are available at the community level.
Also, with regard to meeting the goal of reducing reliance on the health care system by assisting Yukoners in making informed decisions, we have a focus on health promotion, including healthy living and healthy eating programs, health promotion campaigns and communications. Further, we will have the implementation of a plan for enhancing the supports available to clients diagnosed with more than one issue - “dual diagnosis” is the term that is used - and this will be in the area of case management. An example would be someone with a mental health issue who also had an alcohol problem. This will assist us in this area.
Those are just a few of the details regarding the territorial health access fund. Of course, as stated, the bulk of this fund - some $12.7 million over five years - will be used toward the priority, the health human resource strategy, which will enable us to meet the current and anticipated needs for health care professionals and ensure Yukoners have the right care available to them at the right time and that the right professional is available at the right time.
The member referred to the collaborative practice initiative and discussions held by the Yukon Registered Nurses Association over this past weekend and which have occurred over some months. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the meeting this weekend, as I was in Ottawa for the health ministers meeting specific to pandemic planning and preparedness. I look forward to sitting down with the Yukon Registered Nurses Association and we have contacted them regarding that. I look forward to meeting with them as soon as our schedules mutually coincide to hear the results of their discussions.
Again, with regard to implementation of collaborative interdisciplinary practices, I state once again for the record that we are very interested in this area. I recognize the potential and recognize that this has been initiated in some areas in Ontario, and the Province of Prince Edward Island also has recently implemented this type of care clinic, and there is tremendous potential in this area.
Once again, we wish to stress that our government also wants to have the discussions with the Yukon Medical Association. My main concern prior to proceeding with such an initiative is ensuring there is some level of comfort within the physician community, as well as within the nursing community, that implementation of such a clinic will not create a significant problem for them in any way, shape or form. We do believe this can be done but we're committed to having these discussions before we proceed forward with that initiative.
I do recognize tremendous potential, and I thank those within particularly the YRNA for their hard work on this and their vision in this area.
The member also asked about the medical travel fund and referred to the subsidy provided for out-of-territory travel and the fact that it kicks in only on day two, while he noted that many Yukoners do travel out for one day only of care. The member is quite correct in that notation. The reason that we have provided this subsidy kicking in on the second day and not made it effective day one is that if we had made it effective on the first day, we would have had to significantly reduce the amount of the increase per day that we were able to provide. The total medical travel fund is only $1.6 million, and once it is divided up between the areas of providing the increased support within out-of-territory travel costs, within the subsidy per kilometre provided to Yukoners in rural areas to travel to Whitehorse for services, and once we also provide the support that is being added to assist the coordination of services out-of-territory in the areas of Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, we are providing support to Yukoners who are travelling out, particularly to those who do not have someone who travels with them. That will assist them in accessing services and in understanding what can be a bit of a confusing process to travel across town or across the cities and access different facilities and different elements of care when they are faced with the difficulty of being, often, somewhat in pain due to whatever condition they may be faced with that has required their seeking that out-of-territory assistance. So we will be providing that support to them in those three centres. We are working right now to implement that and look forward to having that service available to Yukoners facing a very difficult time in their lives when they are faced with having to seek medical attention outside the territory.
Further, with regard to the member's questions, the member asked about the primary health care transition fund money. We are using that this year to assist with the healthy eating project and assisting with the insured health system replacement and adding collaborative care support, particularly in the area of diabetes.
With regard to the Watson Lake multi-level care facility, the member raises the issue - I will state again, as I have stated in the past - we are committed to moving forward on this. The vast majority of all future expenditures under this program will be publicly tendered. The project has been broken down into components to make it small enough that local companies, both from Watson Lake and the rest of the Yukon, are able to bid on that, thus eliminating the impediment posed by high bonding requirements. We look forward to further proceeding with this project and to completing it as soon as possible. Again, the money that is allocated within this fiscal year is about $2.3 million for this facility.
The member also asked a question regarding the amount of support provided to the Signpost Seniors and the St. Elias Seniors Society. The Signpost Seniors are provided support in the amount of $40,000 and the St. Elias Seniors - this government has stepped forward and for the first time ever the Yukon government is providing support to seniors in Haines Junction in this area. The current assistance level is $25,000.
We're pleased to provide them with this support and look forward to working with them in the future to address further opportunities for collaborating and providing increased services to seniors within the Haines Junction area.
Also following up on questions that were asked by opposition members during the budget briefing provided by the Department of Health and Social Services, as I previously indicated, the amount we are providing to FASSY is $162,000 of multi-year funding plus a commitment for this fiscal year of up to $200,000 to operate the program known as “With a Little Help from My Friends”, which was vacated by the federal Liberal government when they abdicated their responsibility in this area. We are pressuring the new federal government to step forward and recognize their responsibility in this area. Efforts are ongoing in this regard.
In answer to another question asked by opposition members during the budget briefing, as I previously indicated, the new support we have provided to Autism Yukon is in the amount of $71,000 for the 2006-07 fiscal year. The members also asked during budget briefing how many relative foster homes the department has for children in care. There are currently 22 kinship or relative foster homes open, and 18 of these are First Nation homes.
I look forward to further questions from members opposite, and I hope that information has been of use to them.
Mr. McRobb: Well, in the interest of expeditious debate - and I am sure the minister is interested - I think we could maybe keep the answers a bit shorter and to the question. The question I asked pertained to a breakdown of the territorial health access fund. The minister gave somewhat of a breakdown, but not adequate, and then wandered into the other issues.
Mr. Chair, I could have advised him if he had stopped at the end of the question issue that the information he gave is not the information I requested. The information he gave on the territorial health access fund was basically the objectives and what some of the programs are. I want a financial breakdown on how the money will be spent. Just to clarify it for the minister, I am not taking issue with the purpose or the funding for any of the programs contained within the territorial health access fund. I just want to know the financial assignment to each of the programs under that umbrella fund.
If I can get that from him, and if he doesn't have the breakdown provided in that obvious format in front of him, I am prepared to accept the information by written return in the coming weeks - that's fine. Once we can establish this, we'll move on to the other two funds.
So would the minister agree to provide the information we need in order to hold him to some account on how the total monies will be spent for each of the programs in the territorial health access fund?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I have provided the member with information regarding that. I know the member has stood here in the House in a previous Question Period and criticized the health human resource strategy as being luxury and largesse. I am again disappointed that that is the position of the Liberal Party, as espoused by their Health and Social Services critic. We feel this planning to be very necessary, and we are proceeding forward in this area, working with the health professions as outlined and addressing the shortage of physicians and anticipated shortages in other professional fields.
Mr. Chair, I would like to provide the member opposite with some more information. I know he just stood here and complained that I provided him with too much information before, but I would suspect that other members of the opposition, if not the Liberal health critic, would be interested in hearing the details of this department. I am pleased to provide them with this information to further assist their understanding and assist them in debate.
I would like to outline federal health transfers to the department at this time. The federal government provides funding that contributes to the cost of providing health services to Yukon residents. This funding is provided both through transfer funding, such as the Canadian health transfer that comes in as part of the Yukon government's base funding, and through short-term funds earmarked for specific purposes.
Additional funding includes the territorial health access fund, which is $4.3 million received annually this year and over the next four years from the federal government, and $1.6 million in the medical travel fund. In that same funding area, we have the operational secretariat fund, which is $10 million over five years going jointly to the three northern territories to support a number of pan-northern projects. It also pays the cost for secretariat support to the territories for work being done under these funds. The Yukon is the banker - I believe that's the term that has been used for these funds - and we provide the administrative support in this area.
As members are aware, access to care is a particular challenge in the north and we'll continue to work with our partners, including the two other territories, to address our unique challenges in ways that make sense here. We're working hard to provide Yukoners with good access to sustainable, high-quality health services, and these funds will help us reach that goal.
Further, I would like to outline some of the issues in the area of childcare to the members opposite. This year, we have assisted with the establishment of the Child Care Coalition - Yukon, which is a coalition of three childcare organizations working together with government to improve the quality of Yukon's early learning and childcare services. The childcare priority survey was carried out with Yukon childcare stakeholders to identify priority areas for future childcare funding.
The Bureau of Statistics undertook to assist us. They performed a parent survey to obtain parents' perspective of licensed childcare services. With regard to the childcare funding, as members are aware, the new federal government chose to cancel the early learning and childcare funding, which had been committed to by the previous government and to instead implement their plan of funding directly to parents in the amount of $1,200 a year per child.
This, of course, was one of the five priorities laid out by the new Conservative government and, as I have previously stated to members, despite our representations to the federal minister in this area, it was very clear that they intend to stick to their plan and their priorities.
We continue to work with the other two territories to urge the federal government to address - both with the two years, those being 2005-06 and 2006-07, under the early learning and childcare funding and under the new program announced by the federal government that will be carrying forward in 2007-08 - that in both of these programs, the per capita contributions are inadequate. We urged them to recognize the commitment made by Prime Minister Harper during the election campaign in January of this year when he committed to and recognized the need for base funding in programs provided to northern territories. He recognized that per capita funding arrangements in health and social programs are inadequate to meet our needs north of 60 due to our sparse populations and large land masses.
That area, of course, was the area over which we broke down in negotiations with the former Liberal government as former Minister Dryden was not prepared to honour the commitment that the Liberals had made to recognize base funding requirements and failed to provide a base funding component to the early learning and childcare funding. For that reason, the three territories had never signed a childcare agreement. To the credit of the new government, they did commit to flowing that money to us regardless of the fact that we had never signed an agreement to actually receive that money.
So while they cancelled the program that had been committed to, much to the frustration of the childcare community, they have, to their credit, continued to flow the funding under that agreement.
I would also like to provide information for the benefit of the members opposite and identify some of the areas that we are working on with NGOs to expand services. One that I should make members aware of is the funding increase to the Yukon Family Services Association that I referred to. It includes, in part, support for an itinerant counselling service in Carcross, which is a new service that assists Yukoners to have access to a clinical counsellor in their home community either on a resident or itinerant basis.
Under the government's five-step FASD action plan, we have seen numerous advances in combating this condition, including that an FASD diagnostic team coordinator and team have been put in place, trained, and are carrying out diagnosis. Counselling support and individual support plans are in place for parents with FASD. We have a supported living program for some FASD parents already put in place. The meconium testing research program, which tests the first stool of a newborn child and does a significant amount to identify whether that child has FASD, has been implemented in the Yukon. We addressed the issue that had prevented such programs from taking place before, that being the issue of privacy. We addressed that issue through the fact that statistics are kept from that program but individuals are not personally identified. The meconium testing program is the first such program operating in Canada, and its success is being looked at by the other partners in the Canada Western FASD Partnership, and they are considering implementing such things in their jurisdictions.
The Canada Western FASD Partnership, to which I referred, is comprised of the western provinces - being, of course, B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba - and the three northern territories . In my time here as minister, I have attended a meeting of this organization and also received paper correspondence regarding this matter with other jurisdictions. Of course, a number of the ministers related to this field also have overlapping responsibilities in the health care area so I run into these same individuals and have the opportunity for discussions on these matters at health minister conferences.
The healthy families program is another area that emphasizes preventive measures for work with high-risk families to try and prevent incidents of FASD. There has been a campaign to update prevention brochures and provide media advertising, early pregnancy tips and various training workshops - for example, dealing with issues such as addictions in mothers. We have provided those supports and those educational efforts to try to prevent people from engaging in substance abuse that causes FASD.
The department funds 24-hour staffed group homes and approved adult foster homes to provide residential support services to adults with disabilities, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and foster parents have received training specific to the understanding and care of children affected by FASD. Further, a foster parent support group has been established.
We are supporting the independent living program, to which I earlier referred, offering home-based support to adults with developmental disabilities to assist their independent living in a community.
Funding support is also provided to unpaid caregivers for services such as respite, and the funding is provided by the department to the Options for Independence Society program, which provides residential accommodation for people with FASD who are clients of the department.
I would also like to make members aware that we are pleased that three additional physicians have begun practising in the Yukon, including one surgeon and two family physicians.
With regard to the Yukon diabetes collaborative, to which I referred earlier, funded under the primary health care transition phase, this collaborative began in May 2005 and the first phase will be completed by September 2006.
The goal of chronic disease management generally, and of the diabetes collaborative specifically, is to support health professionals to provide best-practice disease management and improve the quality of care for Yukon people. Successes to date include planning and practice by participants according to Canadian clinical guidelines for diabetes. For example, clinics and health centres are recalling patients to ensure that blood tests and other types of screening are conducted at the recommended intervals.
Another area of success includes improved clinical information systems. An example of this is that each participating clinic and health centre has a register of their patients with diabetes and they work with these individuals to plan care routines and assist them in coping with their diabetes.
The collaborative has also assisted inter-professional learning, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists and dieticians participating together in education sessions and has worked in collaboration in areas such as a multi-disciplinary diabetic feet group to develop Yukon-wide standards for assessment, care and referral. Further phases of this initiative will be developed over the next few months.
I would also like to identify for the benefit of the members opposite areas such as the immunization database program, which was launched last fall at the beginning of the flu vaccine campaign. It is an immunization database that records all immunizations administered to infants, children and adults in the Yukon . The program provides real-time information about the immunization status of Yukoners.
In the area of substance abuse, in order to extend our efforts in reaching Yukoners suffering with substance dependence, alcohol and drug services branch has increased the number of programs to be offered in this fiscal year. Counsellors have also been placed in a number of medical clinics to assist in efforts to reach those who may not want to access help through the regular channels.
Alcohol and drug services branch has also started doing groups in the evening to reach individuals who work during the day. Of course, we are committed to working with the other partner departments on the substance abuse action plan.
Concerns have been raised by members regarding the possible use of crystal meth within the territory and a concern that this substance may move in and become used by members of society. We are certainly concerned about this and are making our best efforts to do what we can to address this problem and try to stave it off before it occurs, including issuing an advisory to pharmacies and retail outlets about the use of pseudoephedrine, which is one ingredient used in the production of crystal meth. We have requested that single-source pseudoephedrine be kept behind the pharmacy counters and not on the shelves of general retail stores. To this end, we contacted all pharmacies, retail stores, nursing stations and the RCMP in Whitehorse and the rural communities to assist in this request.
I hope that information has been of use to the members opposite, and I look forward to further questions.
Mr. McRobb: I know the minister is new at his position, and I am trying to figure out if this stonewalling is deliberate or accidental. I will point out to him that he is not being very helpful or cooperative in his responses to the questions. As well, he is quite aggressive in what he says - firing some barbs at some comments that were made previously, and they are not accurate. For instance, he referred to something he thinks I called “largesse”, and he referred to the health human resources strategy. That is simply incorrect, and I want to ensure that the minister has a correct understanding. I used the word “largesse”, but that was in relation to the federal windfall of dollars that helped to fund that program and others. It was not largesse to actually develop that program and implement it. Those are services that Yukoners deserve, so I wish he would correct his understanding on that.
He wandered into a myriad of other issues that were not pertinent to the question and consumed pretty well the entire 20-minute limit he has for responding on issues that were not asked about.
I would try to appeal, again, to his sense of fair play and invite him to be more constructive with his time so that we can expedite debate. How can we possibly hold the minister to account on these funds if we don't get the breakdown I requested?
If the minister stands up again and refuses, I won't keep repeating the question until next Wednesday at 5:00, I'll just simply accept the fact that this government refuses to be held accountable and move on. I want to ask the minister, if he will provide the breakdown I requested earlier?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I've already provided information to the member opposite, and yet he complains regarding this area. It seems to be impossible to win when dealing with the opposition, because when we provide more information than they requested, they complain. I tried to provide the member with more information and more details regarding a number of projects within the Department of Health and Social Services, which I assume and hope are of interest to the member, and he apparently finds that offensive. I will try to be direct and to the point for the member opposite.
In answer to his reference to the federal dollars that have flowed to the territory, the recognition of the base funding requirements of the territory, the historic recognition achieved by our Premier and the premiers of the other two territories in gaining the recognition of the inadequacy of per capita funding arrangements, the Member for Kluane, the Liberal Health and Social Services critic, refers to this as “largesse”. I would remind the member opposite that this funding is only beginning to get us up to the level in funding for Health and Social Services - specifically health in this instance - which it was at prior to the federal Liberal government, balancing their budget on the backs of the provinces and the territories, slashing the health transfers to the provinces and territories and cutting the base of the territorial funding formula by five percent.
The member is failing to recognize that his newly found party at the federal level balanced their budget on the backs of the provinces and territories, and it is only through the hard work of our Premier and the premiers of the other two territories that we are finally, once again, gaining the funding that we need in order to provide the services to Yukoners and, of course, to the governments and citizens of the other two territories.
This money is not largesse; it is getting our share of federal funding. Yukoners are taxpayers too, and the equalization to provide an equitable level of services to all Canadians is a fundamental Canadian value. Apparently, the member seems to be suggesting that we shouldn't take the money, or we should hand it back, or perhaps we should take it - he's saying - but we really didn't need it.
Mr. Chair, this funding is very much needed. The areas we're addressing are of tremendous importance and, without the territorial health access funding, without the health human resources strategy, we would not be able to move forward in these areas to address these very important needs of Yukoners, to address our current physician shortage or to move forward in addressing the anticipated shortages in other health professions.
The member has stood here and referred to that strategy as a luxury. If he does not believe me, I would urge him to read his own comments from Hansard, which were in early April. I can't recall the exact date, but the member did stand here in the House and refer to the health human resources strategy as being a luxury.
Mr. Deputy Chair, it is not a luxury; it is doing the planning we need; it is providing the support to health professionals that is needed to attract them and retain them in the territory. We are committed to moving forward on this.
The member may wish to talk to health professionals, because the feedback we have received has been very positive. They recognize the needs in these areas and the importance of the government investing in these areas to enhance the services currently available and to plan for our future needs, including issues we will face five to 10 years down the road in fields such as nursing, due to anticipated retirements.
It is very important today, here and now, that we invest the money in planning for the future and ensure that health care for Yukoners not only continues at its existing levels and remains strong, but gets stronger where we are able to do so. I am, again, very disappointed with the position taken by the Member for Kluane.
I have tried to provide the member with information in this area. I hope he will perhaps review the Blues and note what has been provided. I outlined a list of programs and initiatives under the territorial health access fund. I noted for the member opposite how we were spending the money. I would welcome future and further questions from the member opposite regarding other matters within the Department of Health and Social Services.
Deputy Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I see that the Member for Kluane, the Liberal Health and Social Services critic, does not have any further questions and suggests that we clear general debate. However, I am sure that members of his former party, the NDP, would appreciate the opportunity to ask questions in this department, so I will provide some more information for the benefit of the members opposite and to provide members of the NDP the opportunity to prepare to ask questions in this area.
As I have mentioned to members opposite and to the media, I was at the health ministers conference this past weekend, which was specific to the area of pandemic planning - preparing for a possible influenza pandemic.
Canada is one of the leaders in proceeding forward in doing this planning. The concerns relating to such a possibility relate primarily to what history and epidemiologists tell us in that such a pandemic usually occurs between every 10 and 40 years and has occurred throughout human history. Although society has survived such things before, we are committed in every jurisdiction of this country to do what we can to minimize the number of sicknesses and fatalities if and when such an event occurs.
I point out to members that it is related more to what history and epidemiologists tell us - that we expect that a pandemic, according to the experts, is inevitable at some point, rather than due to anything in particular to the A/(H5N1) strain of avian influenza. So we are proceeding with planning in this area.
Every health minister in the country takes the matter with a great degree of seriousness. We are working in cooperation with other jurisdictions to develop the planning and address the main impact of such an event, which is the business continuity and economic impacts due to workplace absenteeism. The planning will be continuing and be ongoing.
I see that it appears members of the NDP are ready to ask questions, and I look forward to their questions regarding the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb: I have to respond to that. This minister refuses to be accountable on providing the budget for the territorial health access fund, which is a major portion of spending for this department. I want the record to be clear. He did speak to that particular program, but he did not identify the funds for each of the various components of it. I was clear in making that request known in my earlier question and follow-up questions, but he refused to provide the breakdown for that information. I want the record to clearly show that.
If he is still confused, Mr. Chair, I'll give you a couple of examples. He mentioned the improved access to physicians initiative. Well, guess what - did we get a number for that? No, we didn't. He mentioned the reimbursement program for education. Did we get a number for that? No, we didn't. And so on. He mentioned the debt repayment. Did we get a number for that? No, we didn't.
These are exactly the questions I put to him in looking for a breakdown of the THAF. So he refuses to do it. That's fine. Let the record stand. I wanted the same breakdown for the other two funds. I want a breakdown, an allocation for each of the various components contained in those funds.
Mr. Chair, I asked some questions about the medical travel fund that he also refused to answer.
Now, the minister has plenty of time to stand up and talk about matters that weren't part of the question. I wish his answers would pertain to the question. How else can we have a constructive debate in here? Because of this approach - and I'm convinced now it's not an accidental one because he's a new minister, so this is entirely intentional. I believe what we see is political gamesmanship in the debate. I want no part of that. I want answers that pertain to the questions. Like I said at the outset, we'll get the information and move on.
So let's go now to the primary health care transition fund. He refused to provide the breakdown requested for the territorial health access fund. Will he provide it for the PHCTF?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It is interesting to see the renewed interest in asking questions from the Liberal Health and Social Services critic now that the NDP is prepared to ask their questions.
In answer to the member opposite, the primary health care transition funding is all being revoted. Again, I outlined to the member opposite that the health human resource strategy comprises the majority of the territorial health access fund, that being $12.7 million over a period of five years. Also, over the five-year period, we are planning on investing approximately $930,000 toward the goal of improving safety, which includes the areas of emergency preparedness planning and risk management quality assurance, $690,000 to plan and implement the nurse information line, $543,000 in the area of enhancing dental health services, $1.233 million in the area of improving supports available for mental health, including planning and implementation at the community level, $298,000 for the focus on early identification, $160,000 worth of supports to assist in supports for tuberculosis and improving patient outcomes and, for other community and First Nation supports, $1.354 million.
In the area of phased implementation of palliative care there is $1.2 million. For implementation and planning for supports of diagnosed client case management and support for collaborative care primary health care, there is $252,000. Healthy living and health promotion is $2.161 million.
I trust that will be of interest to the members opposite. I look forward to the questions from the NDP.
Mr. McRobb: I think the member has his parties mixed up. I want to point out that he still has not satisfied the request. We're looking for a tally sheet where we can see the numbers attached to the various programs or components and add them up to ensure they reach the total.
We know the minister has this information in front of him, but he's unwilling to provide it. That's not very cooperative. As I mentioned earlier, they are playing games. The minister thinks he's clever. He feels he can get away with it, and that's fine. Let him get away with it.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Chair, the member opposite is imputing false or unavowed motives to members opposite, in this case me, in suggesting that I have a motive other than answering questions and providing the information to him. That is clearly contrary to Standing Order 19(g), and I would ask you to review this matter and rule accordingly and urge him not to do this in the future.
Deputy Chair's ruling
Deputy Chair: Order please. There is no point of order. However, the Chair is finding that the debate is perhaps becoming a little too personal, and that is leading to some discord in the Assembly. I would remind members we are debating the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb, you have the floor.
Mr. McRobb: Hopefully, that will help to elevate the debate to where we can get some constructive answers to the questions. That's all I'm looking for. Mr. Chair, what I can't help but wonder is - I'm engaged in this totally non-productive process - how the minister would possibly make out if he was at, let's say, a Utilities Board hearing, where he was answering information requests and he stands up and gives these political speeches that aren't even on topic - how he'd make out in such a process, or maybe a court proceeding. He would be shamed out of the room, Mr. Chair.
So I'm just asking for a modicum of decency and respect toward the questions asked. He's the minister. He's the one with about 100-percent of all the information on the department. We on the opposition side have very little more than what's available to the public, so we have virtually nothing. I'm asking him to share with the opposition side some of the information that we need to have in order to do our jobs in here. I feel the information we've received so far does not sufficiently allow us to do our jobs.
I believe the information I requested is totally reasonable. It's on how these three major funds break down in their various components. I'm looking for that because, as the summer goes on and the minister marches out the various announcements about how the money will be spent, I want to be able to check it with the budget he should be providing now, and I want to understand where that money is coming from.
So without this, it's impossible to do that later on. We do need the breakdown of the budgets for those funds. The minister knows this is not a brand new request.
It was the subject of a motion that I put on the record, Motion No. 669: THAT this House urges the Minister of Health and Social Services to provide a detailed breakdown of spending for the territorial health access fund, the primary health care transition fund and the medical travel fund.
That was put on the record about a month ago. There is no big surprise here. We are looking for that information and how it breaks down, yet the minister refuses. He stands up and throws some numbers out. He throws out some objectives and some reasons for various components but we are not getting the whole picture. In order to hold the government accountable, which is our job as the official opposition, we need to see the whole picture.
This will be the last time I ask about these three funds because if he does not agree to provide the detailed breakdown of the components and how they tally up to the total, then I'm prepared to just accept the fact he is not willing to be accountable and we will move on. So, will he provide it?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I think it's very apparent to anyone listening to this what is going on here. The Liberal Health and Social Services critic, the new member of the Liberal Party, the Member for Kluane, stood down on asking any more questions in general debate. He had no more questions because he was apparently hoping we would deem all lines read and carried and deprive his former colleagues -
Deputy Chair's statement
Deputy Chair: Order please. I will deal with this.
Mr. Cathers, I just spoke moments ago, asking members to not personalize the debate. What I just heard was going away from what I just asked you not to do. You do have the floor, but I remind you that we are debating the Department of Health and Social Services. Please stick to that topic.
057a Hon. Mr. Cathers: I appreciate your reminder of the subject under debate and will simply say I think it's very important that the members of the NDP - the former party of the Member for Kluane - have the opportunity to ask questions in this department. It's very frustrating in this debate. I have attempted to provide the new member of the Liberal Party with information related to this department. Earlier on in debate, he complained I provided too much information. Then I provide him the information regarding the territorial health access fund and medical travel and primary health care transition funding, as per his request, and he complains that I didn't provide it to him in writing.
He can review the Blues. I've provided him with a breakdown on the number. Is the member asking me to get so specific that I outline what every dollar will be spent on, whether it will be $10 or $100 spent on paper clips, or whether paper clips are funded from somewhere else? Does he want to know if a felt marker will be bought and what colour it will be?
Mr. Chair, I have provided him with the breakdown of what the money is being spent on. I've told him the allocations. Apparently that's not good enough for the member opposite. Again, I stand and note the expenditure in these areas. I can repeat what I read before to the member opposite, if he would like me to.
Health human resources strategy, $12.7 million; improving safety, $930,000; plan and implement nurse information line, $690,000; enhancing dental health services, $543,000; improving mental health supports, including those at the community level, $1,233,000; early identification focus on mental health, $298,000; improving supports to those with tuberculosis, $160,000; additional community and First Nation support, $1,354,000; implementation of palliative care supports at the community level, $1.2 million; implementation of plan for supports for dual-diagnosed clients, such as those with an addiction and mental health problems, $252,000; healthy living and health promotion, $2.161 million - for a total of $21.665 million. I can repeat that again for the member opposite, but those are the numbers.
Mr. McRobb: The minister is still not being very helpful. We asked for the material; he is not providing it. We are not getting the whole picture. He did not break down the primary health care transition fund. He did not break down the costs of the various components of the medical travel fund. He has this information in front of him. It simply could have saved a lot of time this afternoon had he just agreed to send the material over as was the norm in this House a few years ago, before this Yukon Party government took office. It was the norm in this Assembly and the Committee of the Whole for a minister to ask the questioner on the opposition side if that person was agreeable to receiving material the minister had. Quite often it was and the members could move on and debate, but obviously not with this Yukon Party government and not with this minister. So, let the record show that.
I want to move on. I am willing to accept that he is not willing to be held accountable for these funds. We haven't dealt with all three of them. I want to ask about the Watson Lake Health Centre.
Earlier he identified a cost of $2.3 million. He seemed to promise that the remaining contracts wouldn't be sole sourced. I just want to double-check on that; will he commit for the record that they will be tendered? He said the project would be broken down into components. Can he perhaps provide a list of what those components are that comprise the $2.3 million?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I will answer the question for the member opposite. Let me reiterate: in the area of medical travel, we are increasing the level of support available to Yukoners travelling out of territory from the previous per diem level of $30, which took effect on the fourth day, to a new level of $75, taking effect on the second day outside of the territory. The reason for that funding mechanism, rather than providing support effective the first day, is that if we had done so we would have had to significantly reduce the amount of money per day available to Yukoners. And, of course, the greatest need for support is for those who are forced to face costs such as hotel rooms and who are travelling for a long enough period that they don't have options such as packing a lunch or anything else. For people travelling and returning the same day, a significant amount of their costs can be reduced.
Again, I would point out that the medical travel subsidy has never been a program that was intended to provide for all the costs faced by Yukoners. It is simply to assist them in facing some of the extra costs, and it is a program that is beyond what is provided by most other jurisdictions. I would remind members opposite that, in fact, some jurisdictions charge their citizens for things such as ambulance service and have user fees for those services. We do not do that in the territory. We certainly do not wish to do that. We want to ensure that all Yukoners are able to access a high quality of care regardless of ability to pay, and we provide supports in areas such as prescription drug coverage through the chronic disease program. We provide that support with a $250 deductible.
There is the $250 deductible, but we do provide coverage for a wide range of medications in excess of what I believe any jurisdiction in the country provide and far in excess of what some jurisdictions provide in this area.
Again, with regard to the primary health care transition funding, the member doesn't seem to like the breakdown I gave. The support is provided for the diabetes collaborative care initiative, for the insured health system replacement project and for the healthy eating project. This is carrying forward on the funds that were identified in the 2005-06 fiscal year. It is a revote of those funds to the current 2006-07 fiscal year.
Again, with regard to the Watson Lake multi-level care facility, yes, as I have stated to members opposite, we will not be changing existing components of the project that were sole sourced as it would result in significant additional costs. But all the future areas of this project will be publicly tendered. The reason for certain components being sole sourced in the first place was, following meetings with the community of Watson Lake, the seniors society there and the municipality - the decision was made with the intent of ensuring local benefit. Future components, due to the fact the Yukon economy has improved significantly beyond that point and, rather than seeing the situation we were faced with a couple years ago of trying to provide economic opportunity for Yukoners in the territory, particularly in the communities, we now have the situation where the economy has increased significantly and there is, in fact, a shortage of tradespeople - so, providing the opportunity for Yukoners from all areas of the territory to bid on that should certainly not be taking money out of the local economy because those contractors will likely either have those contracts or have other contracts within other areas of the Yukon and money will be well spread throughout the Yukon contracting community, ensuring the maximum economic benefit to Yukoners.
Mr. McRobb: I didn't hear a breakdown of the various components of the Watson Lake Health Centre in all that, so obviously he's not willing to be held accountable on that project.
I want to ask him about nurse mentoring - this is a program that is being investigated at the current time - and find out where he's at on this.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I believe the member's question was with regard to nurse mentoring, and I note again for members, with regard to the health human resource strategy, the two components we're specifically identifying are the urgent and immediate needs for addressing the shortage of family physicians, that being in the area of debt repayment in exchange for years of service, and component number two, specific to Yukon students, to assist them in attending medical school. It will be bursaries to assist them in travelling outside the territory and seeking that higher education.
The other areas of funding we have identified there for the professions, including nursing, provide us with the ability to have discussions regarding how they feel it would be most appropriate to spend the funds to ensure maximum benefit, recruitment and retention of those individuals. In the area of nurses, we expect what will be identified to us by the YRNA, following their discussions with their membership, will be the areas they have consistently raised for years with the department, including such things as mentoring programs, both within Whitehorse and communities.
Mr. McRobb: Speaking of the Yukon Registered Nurses Association, the workshop this past weekend dealt with the possibility of the clinic. This is something that has been floated now for about a year and a half, and I would like to know if the minister could identify for us the fundamentals of the clinic and the estimated costs. Earlier he mentioned there could be an issue on how it integrates with existing services. I would like to get some detail on that.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite, I think the minister of the day is working with all levels of health care in the territory.
In answering the questions from the member opposite, it is very important that we have these debates in the Legislature and work with the departments, as well as the government as a whole. The increases in our health care budgets have been quite large over the last three and a half years, understanding that, of course, the health care money that flowed from Ottawa had been increased. Through that, we have been able to address some of the many issues the member opposite has brought forward: nurse practitioners, the doctor issue, retaining our medical staff - whether it is our nurses or doctors who are very important components of any health care system - and trying to put some resources together to work with students who come out of the communities in Yukon and choose to take either a nurse or doctor degree and, hopefully, come back to the community.
The statistics on how many students we have in the doctor courses not only across Canada but also overseas is - there are seven Yukoners right now, students who are working toward their doctor degree. The package put together by our government is very positive on bringing them back and working with them on their student loans, understanding the cost of becoming a doctor is not only lengthy in time but it's also financially crippling if you or your family don't have access to resources to go forward. So I think, in answering the member opposite, the government is doing what it can in the budget that it has. The budget, as the member opposite has commented, has certainly grown. Of course, the questions about where that money is being spent are very appropriate and very important.
We are working with the communities, as the member opposite was commenting on, to make sure that we cover the outlying areas as well as the Whitehorse area. The resources put together for the medical attention that we expend on people having to go out to other medical centres for medical attention - mostly, that expenditure is for going to Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary. Also, those resources have been resourced to a level that is more acceptable for the realistic costs that are out there.
Also, the department is going to put resources toward mentors in those communities so that we'll have a proponent from the department working in each one of these communities to be a conduit for the patient who is under stress from a medical point of view. Also, if you go to these larger communities and you don't have a contact in those communities, some individual with some professional background can take you around and work with you as you go through your appointments and as you move through a complex system in another jurisdiction - I think it will be money well spent.
What you'll find is that this part of medical assistance will be greatly appreciated because, if you're by yourself and go to these larger communities for medical attention, you're not going to a specific location; you go to many locations within the city to get your diagnosis and get your treatment. That money will be appreciated by Yukoners.
The health care in our communities - the member opposite is talking about the extended care units in Watson Lake and Dawson. Those are commitments this government made and we're moving forward with them. There is a part that talks to the Kluane-Haines Junction area and what this government will do to answer some of the concerns of the member opposite. We are aware of needs in all the communities in the Yukon . We've spent some resources as a government on reviewing different areas in the Yukon, trying to see from an extended care unit proposal what communities would definitely need those services in the near future.
Extended care in the territory will grow by 49 percent in the next four years, so we do have a percentage of growth that we have to address. For Kluane, Teslin and these other areas, this government is committed to keeping as many people in the communities as long as we can, because people always do better among their family and in their own community.
We appreciate the questions from the member opposite and we look forward to more.
Mr. McRobb: The Member for Porter Creek Centre didn't do a very good job of answering the question. It's hard to tell who will answer the questions. It doesn't seem to matter much; we don't get an answer.
I will pose two questions. I want to find out from the Health and Social Services minister about the proposed smoking bill: what communities have indicated to the Yukon government they would support the smoking bill? I just noted earlier today in the minutes from the Village of Haines Junction that it would do so. I would like to know what communities would support it and if any communities have indicated they wouldn't.
If the other minister stands up and answers the question, I would like to know what is in the Health and Social Services budget to help the outfitting industry. For example, is there a defibrillator for any of the concessions, or so on?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member opposite, the services that are provided within the Department of Health and Social Services will assist all Yukoners, regardless of where they come from.
With regard to the question from the Member for Kluane regarding proposed smoking legislation, if he is referring to the private member's bill brought forward by the Member for Klondike, I will note for the member, in case he hasn't taken the time to read that legislation, that it wouldn't even really be possible to pass that legislation as it was tabled, as it has obviously been copied from some other jurisdiction and still retains reference to the Lieutenant Governor in Council, which does not apply to the Yukon. That legislation would have to be updated to comply with Yukon legal standards and to meet our requirements for pieces of legislation.
Again, I would state to members opposite that any Yukon municipality has the ability to implement smoking legislation, preventing people in that community from smoking in any and all public places. Only two have chosen to step forward on any smoking legislation.
The Member for Kluane may wish to remind the Town of Haines Junction that, if they choose to do so, they have full ability to implement a municipal bylaw preventing smoking in all public places, but I remind the member that it's all very well to legislate something; the question comes down to the enforcement costs. Moreover, when you spend the money on enforcement, what are you not spending the money on? Money doesn't come from the sky; it comes from somewhere, and every dollar that is spent on enforcing legislation is money that is not spent on delivering health care.
Also, you can simply legislate that Yukoners cannot smoke in a bar, but it has been obvious in the City of Whitehorse that that has not been such a successful piece of legislation. It has caused some legal challenges. Costs have been incurred through that and, ultimately, it has not stopped people from smoking. It's simply putting the problem out of sight, out of mind, perhaps. People still smoke every day outside this building, for example. Yukon government workplaces are smoke-free and shall remain smoke-free under this government and have been smoke-free for years; however, there are a number of individuals who smoke outside on a daily basis. Certainly, it helps not having the smoke inside where everyone is faced with it. That does provide some benefit and, as an employer, it's far easier to implement. It's quite simple to require that employees do not engage in practices such as smoking in a workplace, and they are required by their job to comply with it. There's no need to hire enforcement officers.
But the people who smoke are still facing the impact to their health. We still see people smoking outside on a daily basis and it has not in any way reduced the impact to their health. I have mentioned to members in this Legislature that the four we have heard from - from municipalities and from individuals and chambers of commerce within some of the Yukon communities - said that they do not wish the Yukon government to implement a top-down, made-in-Whitehorse piece of smoking legislation on them. They wish to have that left within their own control to implement if they so choose, and they are concerned about the economic impact in small communities where the local watering hole, so to speak, or the bar, serves as a meeting place where people get together and have a cigarette over a glass of beer or whatever their chosen beverage is. When we heard those concerns coming forward from local businesspeople and municipalities in rural Yukon , we chose to respect the wishes of rural Yukon and not ram Whitehorse 's wishes down their throats, as suggested by the Member for Kluane. If the Village of Haines Junction or any other municipality chooses to move forward on smoking legislation, we certainly support their right to do so. What we have chosen to do instead of spending money on enforcement is to focus on things such as education and assisting people in voluntarily breaking their addiction by providing them with support in helping them rather than simply shuffling them away to behind the building. As I pointed out to the member opposite, under the territorial health access fund, we plan to spend $2.1 million in the area of healthy living and health promotion, including campaigns aimed at assisting Yukoners in breaking from addictions to tobacco.
Programs such as the QuitPack are provided by the Department of Health and Social Services to assist in helping people break the addiction, but simply to legislate everything, as seems to be suggested by members opposite, is not the solution to all problems.
We are concerned about the impact on all individuals' health. The Yukon government, as I stated, has made all workplaces smoke-free. If any municipality chooses to implement smoking legislation, they have the ability to do so, and we support their right to do that. Perhaps the Member for Kluane might wish to ask the Village of Haines Junction, and the other communities within his riding, why not one of them has chosen to implement smoking legislation. Perhaps he would find that they may have concerns about the impact of this - of the cost of this - and perhaps even if they do support such legislation, their concern is they don't want to spend the money on it.
I point out to members opposite that every dollar we spend on enforcement - on forcing Yukoners to comply with a law - is a dollar that we cannot spend on buying medical equipment, on hiring health professionals, on expanding programs like healthy families and on investing in the substance abuse action plan - to name but a few of the areas where the Yukon government invests its dollars.
Mr. McRobb: If the minister had not given such a long-winded answer, I could have given him the answer to his question about 10 minutes ago.
The Village of Haines Junction indicated that, although it has a preference for the smoking ban in public places, it cannot afford the cost of enforcement. So I would like the minister to absorb that answer, because his speech was rather circular in that he posed the question about enforcement cost and then returned to it later on. I feel that he confused my position on this issue.
I heard him say that I supported the smoking ban in communities - he went on from there - when, in fact, I have not said that.
So, the minister should be less eager to confuse the record. I invite him to listen more carefully to my questions and respond to them. If he is not clear on what the question is, I invite him to sit down and maybe ask for some clarification, which I would have been more than willing to provide about 10 minutes before he finished up. Again, we are not being very constructive.
I have some other questions, but I want to turn now to what is essentially another Yukon Party black eye for this territory. I am referring to the Yukon News from Friday, May 12. There was an editorial with a big headline, which I will read: “It's easier to bury a shoebox-sized coffin than to act.” I am very concerned about this. This editorial does not paint a very good picture of what the minister is doing about the child-in-care situation. There are a number of things in this article that are really bothersome. Just to elaborate further, it starts off by asking, “How do you sleep?” And it ends with that same question.
It implies that some of the actions done are unconscionable. The article continues to say, “The question is directed at any politician or public official remotely associated with the welfare of the Yukon's children. Because the system is a shambles that borders on the criminal,” is what it says.
“And, from where we are sitting, plenty of you are more interested in protecting the bureaucracy, maintaining race relations and playing politics than you are in safeguarding the territory's children.”
This is straight from the editorial. I want to ask the minister about this. I believe this is a black eye for us all in here. He's the minister of this department. How can he possibly defend himself after a big editorial like this in last week's paper?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I will not defend myself, but I will defend the hard-working people in the Department of Health and Social Services. That editorial was one of the most despicable pieces of journalism I have ever seen, in my humble opinion. To attack the hard-working officials in that area and suggest that any public official remotely associated with child welfare should not be able to sleep at night is inappropriate and is absolutely shameful. Yes, that Yukon News article is a black eye on the Yukon. It is a black eye on journalism.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, the editorial goes on to say, and it quotes a judge as saying, “Government spends money reacting to tragedy, and not to preventing it.”
What does the minister say in reaction to that?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, the member's suggestions that he gives credence to the remarks by the editor of the Yukon News and his criticism of the public servants, the hard-working people within the Department of Health and Social Services related to child welfare - that the Member for Kluane gives credibility to that editorial is shameful, and it is a shameful mark of the Liberal Party's position with regard to the employees of this department.
Chair: Order please. The Chair appreciates that the member is very passionate about this issue; however, to characterize another's performance in this Assembly as “shameful” is inappropriate.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I do apologize for my inappropriate comments in this regard.
I would point out to all members that the policies related to child welfare and the Children's Act are decisions that are made at the legislative level. In the case of this act, decisions are made in the Yukon Legislative Assembly and the regulations under this act are made at the Cabinet level. Those decisions are something that are the responsibility of those of us who are elected to perform that function and appointed to any roles with responsibilities in that area.
The officials in Health and Social Services - the social workers, the people within the family and children's services branch and child protection within the department - do their job. It is their job to comply with the law; it is their job to comply with the policy; they do their job. They are by and large very hard working, very dedicated and very caring people who take the responsibilities with which they are entrusted very, very seriously.
We have a good system. There are improvements that are necessary, and we have recognized that, and we are fully committed to moving forward and making those changes.
However, to suggest that our system is a shambles is absolutely incorrect and inappropriate and does a disservice to the hard-working people in this department who are very caring and who go to work every day to protect Yukon children, to serve the Yukon public and to ensure the protection of vulnerable members of our society. That a child slipped through the cracks is tragic. It is a very unfortunate and very sad incident, and I assure members opposite, as I have stated numerous times on the floor of this House, that both I and officials from the department are firmly committed to acting on the recommendations of the report that was commissioned by the department. We will be taking the appropriate action, moving forward in partnership with First Nations in the Children's Act review. We are committed to addressing those areas and doing our level best to ensure that no Yukon child falls through the cracks of the system again.
We do not consider it acceptable if even one falls through the cracks. To suggest the system is a shambles is absolutely incorrect. It is not. It is a good system; it has some cracks in it; we're committed to fixing those cracks and providing the best standard of care we can.
It should be remembered that in this tragic situation the mother of the child who was killed was held responsible by the court. It was not the action of the Department of Health and Social Services staff that occasioned this incident. We are committed to doing what we can to prevent any such incident and to intervening to prevent such a tragic occurrence in the future, but the vast majority of people within Health and Social Services are very caring and dedicated individuals. For the member to stand up and give credence to this attack on them, I find unacceptable and I would urge him to retract that or urge his leader to pull him into line.
Mr. McRobb: “Pull him into line” - I think that's a point of order, but I won't rise on one.
This is a difficult area. This is one of the toughest areas I've ever had to ask about in here - there's no doubt about it. It's difficult, but you know what? I feel implicated because I'm a politician too and it's directed at any politician or public official remotely associated with the welfare of Yukon 's children. It says it right here.
I feel partially responsible and that's why I'm asking the questions. I'm not taking a point of view. I'm concerned this is another black eye for the territory. The quote I gave in my last question was not my opinion; it was not the opinion of the editor; it presumably was a ruling of a Yukon Supreme Court Judge, and the minister ought to realize that.
A Yukon Supreme Court Judge said that. Here also is what the Yukon Supreme Court Judge said: “With the large number of professionals involved, someone should have intervened sooner.
“But no one knew all the things that had happened were happening to her. Had most of what has been recounted in this judgment been known to even one professional, I am confident early intervention would have been triggered and (the baby) would have been saved from early injury.”
I want to ask this question: did the minister and his colleagues act as they should have following this tragic incident? Or is there anything else the minister would have done?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The department took the appropriate action. This review by Jan Christianson-Wood was requested and commissioned by the department to review all areas related to this matter and ensure that if there are any gaps within our system, any cracks that this child slipped through, causing this tragic incident, they are addressed and we ensure we are taking every action possible to prevent it from occurring in the future.
For the Member for Kluane, the Liberal Health and Social Services critic to stand up here and give credence to this article, this editorial, which suggests that public officials within Health and Social Services should not be able to sleep at night because of this issue, is just shameful.
We have to put the responsibility where it rests. The responsibility for policy, the responsibility for regulations and for changes to the act falls with elected members and with members of Cabinet in the case of regulations.
I have stated on numerous occasions throughout the past several days that the department is doing the technical review regarding implementing these recommendations. They will come forward to me with the results of that review. We are firmly committed to taking action to address it. The political will is there; the action will be there.
To suggest that officials with Health and Social Services shouldn't be able to sleep at night is uncalled for and inappropriate. The member should apologize for that.
Chair: Order please. Before debate continues, the Chair appreciates that people have very strong opinions on the subject. However, I don't think the debate will be served by personalizing it. The matter under debate is Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services. There is sufficient content in this department that I am sure we can debate it without personalizing it.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair, but I will remind the minister that the comments I made were not my own and not the editor's or the newspaper's. They are quotes attributed to a Yukon Supreme Court Judge. Does the minister have information to indicate that the quotes in the newspaper article are not accurate? Does he have that?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It is a well-established principle of this Assembly that members are fully responsible for the information that they bring to the floor. I am not suggesting that the Member for Kluane was doing this, but if a member were to stand here and recite hate propaganda, he or she would be held responsible for that. If he or she were to read information from Saddam Hussein, they would be responsible for that. These are extreme examples, of course, but I remind members that whatever they say, no matter how severe or mild or whose mouth it came from, when they bring it to the floor of the Assembly, they are responsible for it.
The comments that the member repeated from an editorial in the Yukon News were an inappropriate attack on officials within Health and Social Services. The member stood here and repeated them. That is not appropriate. Officials do a good job and we must be held accountable as elected people for the policy elements in the department.
People who do their jobs, do their jobs and do just that.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, at no time did I attack people in the civil service or any employee in the Department of Health and Social Services. The minister is confusing these issues. He is making it out like the comments I made were my own. They are not. I quoted a Yukon Supreme Court Judge. And the minister can't accept that.
Now, the minister has presumably in his possession the most recent discussions on the Children's Act. Will the Children's Act, as contemplated now, respond to another paragraph in this editorial that indicates the only people into the Yukon who are required by law to report abuse are teachers? That's apparently written into the Education Act but not in the Children's Act. It says government won't put it into the legislation. I want to know if this is being contemplated, and does the minister envision it will be part of the new Children's Act that he has already indicated won't be done before the next election?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Chair, the Member for Kluane, the newly minted Liberal, is putting words into my mouth. I certainly did not say that the Children's Act would not be ready before the next election. The intent is to have it ready for the fall of this year. It had originally been hoped that we would have the Children's Act ready by now. There were bumps in the road as we went down this new road, working in partnership with the Council of Yukon First Nations and First Nations in jointly developing the policy changes related to the Children's Act, in going forward to the policy forum and in jointly informing the legal drafting.
I point out to the member that the policy forum is scheduled for June of this year, and the intent is to have the legislation ready by fall of this year. The issue raised by the member is not a new issue. It's an issue that is being discussed. What the resolution will be, I cannot pre-determine, but certainly it's an issue that is on the table for discussions.
I note to the member we are committed to working with First Nations. We are not going to draft the legislation as per our wishes, or perhaps the member opposite's wishes, and then tell them that that's what it's going to be and they have to agree with it. We are working in full partnership, discussing the changes, dealing with the results of the public review that was done and the community tour and discussions with people affected by this area, and we are going to move forward in this area. We are fully committed to reaching a resolution and for the member to suggest that we don't care in this area, which he seems to be implying, is very offensive.
Mr. Speaker, as much as we have disagreements in the Assembly, I would not suggest that any member of this Assembly does not care about the life of a child. We are very committed to addressing our responsibilities and to plugging any gaps in the system in as timely a manner as possible. But we have also got to get it right, and we have to follow our legal requirements to work, to consult with First Nations and, in this case, as pointed out, we're going one step beyond the strict requirements and, in fact, working in full partnership with them in developing this legislation, due in part to the fact that so many of the children who are in care are children of First Nation ancestry. We want to ensure that First Nations are full partners in this development.
Chair: Order please. The Chair understands that there was an agreement at the meeting of House leaders today that members would prefer to take a recess at 4:00 p.m., rather than 4:30 p.m.
Do members wish to take a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess. It has also been noted that a 15-minute recess means that we will reconvene in 15 minutes.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services, general debate.
Mr. Hardy: There are a lot of issues in Health and Social Services. Interestingly enough, very little of it has been touched on. Regrettably, the debate I was listening to with the previous critic member was not very broad. This is a massive department. It has the largest budget - $175 million spent in total operation and maintenance. It is very significant and touches everyone's life. There are lots of very sensitive issues, such as the Children's Act review and child welfare matters. I will touch on those briefly, but I am not going to start with that. I also will not use the approach that was used by the previous MLA, in which I recite editorial comments. In reading it, I found it an interesting perspective and disturbing in some ways, but it did not necessarily explain the difficulties as much as it pointed to problems that exist.
As a person who is married to a social worker, I know very well the strain and challenges that social workers face.
Often one of the biggest challenges is that they end up with a caseload that is very difficult to manage. Many of the people in the caseload at times take up so much of your time that others may not get the time and attention needed. It is difficult to do your job if the caseload gets too big. That is one of my concerns - the caseloads that the social workers carry as well as training and support that they have. I think that the government, historically, has been very good at training and trying to keep their workers up to speed, but there are so many challenges facing our society and our communities and, of course, around this issue.
I'm not going to start there. There are a multitude of areas I want to talk about. Some of them I am going to skip actually. Financial inquiries - and a lot of those have been answered already - requests for breakdowns of the budget and additional information and things like that - some of it has been answered. I would like to see if the minister can send over some follow-up information.
There are so many other areas, whether it is regarding policy and planning, family and children's services, family services and child protection services, adoption services, children in care, fostering services, early childhood and prevention services, childcare services, healthy families program, youth justice, children's assessment and treatment services - I believe the former name of that was child abuse treatment services - alcohol and drug services, adult service units, seniors services, services for persons with disabilities, home care. There are questions around the lodges, care facilities, insured health and hearing services, statistics.
I would like information on community health, mental health services, dental health, environmental health, health promotion, Yukon communicable disease control, community nursing, Whitehorse health centre - and the issues around that - emergency medical services, ambulance services, regional services, some transfer payment questions, the capital vote and stuff like that.
There's a very brief list of some of the departments under this portfolio, and almost none of them have been touched on yet. I find it quite astounding.
Unfortunately, we don't have the time left over the next few days to do justice to the type of inquiry and debate that this department needs. That's a shame. This is one of those departments that I would like to see more at the front of this sitting and not toward the end, as I feel very much that all people, all MLAs, have a multitude of questions to ask around this because, of course, their constituents are so touched by this department.
There has been some work done in some areas. You can't spend $175 million without doing a heck of a lot of good out there; however, as usual, there are also shortcomings in certain areas. That is partly what we're looking toward, partly by questioning, to hopefully bring the attention to some of these areas to the minister and the department, in that these are areas that we feel need more attention or direction.
So let's start with a few general questions, and then I'm going to get into some of these departments. Where are we at in proceeding with the substance abuse action plan? It's a broad question; I don't need a really detailed answer. I'm just trying to find out where we're at in the schedule of bringing forward some of the recommendations and how they're being implemented; how it's affecting the various departments; cross-referencing and, generally, how the minister sees the implementation of recommendations and decisions made on the process - some of the recommendations from the forum and recommendations that were brought forward.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would like to briefly touch on the comments made by the leader of the third party at the beginning of his remarks. I would note, once again, as I have said before, that I certainly appreciate the work that is done by social workers within the Department of Health and Social Services and within some of the other organizations, such as the Yukon Family Services Association. They provide services funded by and contracted with government, but are not directly provided by government itself.
I would hope that most members of this House, if they stopped to think about it, would recognize and appreciate the role that social workers play in our society in tackling the less pleasant side of society. They tackle problems relating to substance abuse, deal with individuals who have had trouble operating effectively within society, due to substance abuse, family violence, mental health issues or any other of the myriad of issues that can create problems for individuals and create the types of situations where social workers have to step in and assist in dealing with those problems. The role that is played by social workers and the work that they do occurs in the shadows, for lack of a better term. We don't see it in the broad daylight of society. We don't see it in the nice clean lives of those without these problems, but some do have these problems.
People who have these problems, if they are not provided with this assistance, tend to progress to greater problems, including violence and crime and other situations. It's critical that we help them integrate into society and help them lead productive, fulfilling lives, not only for themselves but for other members of society who can be impacted by these hurt and troubled people lashing out or acting in ways that cause harm to other people.
I do appreciate the comments from the leader of the third party, and although he and I have some disagreements on policy in some areas I know that we both appreciate the important work that is done by social workers within this community and within the Yukon as a whole.
Again, I do remind the member opposite that we have provided increases to social workers to address issues such as caseload. The increases this year include 4.5 FTEs within the child protection and family services unit and an increase in the child protection and family services support team. In 2004-05, there were only 2.25 FTEs there. We have increased that to a total complement of 7.5 FTEs.
Also - I believe it occurred in the last fiscal year - we added one additional social worker position to the permanent children-in-care team.
Certainly, that's not to suggest that there aren't challenges that occur within this field, or that it is still not a very difficult and demanding task for those who perform this duty, but we do recognize the work they do, and we have taken steps in this fiscal year to address some of the issues related to caseload by providing them with further support.
Now, in regard to the other questions asked by the leader of the third party, the leader of the NDP, regarding the substance abuse action plan, I would note and remind the member - he did recognize it in his comments - that this is an initiative that is jointly shared across departments of the Yukon government. The Department of Health and Social Services is, of course, one of the lead departments in implementing the substance abuse action plan.
Just in answer to some of his questions about what has been done to implement it, I would note that the safer communities legislation was one of the areas outlined in the substance abuse action plan. We have also further assisted in providing supports to FASD, also noted in this.
Some of the matters in here - if members will bear with me, I'm just looking through the plan for the items that fall within my Department of Health and Social Services. The No Fixed Address Outreach van was another item noted within the substance abuse action plan, and I've given direction to department officials to sit down with the representatives of the coalition that operates the Outreach van and work with them. We want to address their need for coordination services and, in fact, will be having discussions with them, but not just limited to that area. We want to work with them and enhance those services and help them in providing that service to Yukoners who may not otherwise walk into a place of business or an office of one of these organizations. We want to ensure that service is available, and we recognize the service that is provided by the Outreach van and the partners therein.
Just looking through this for action items within my purview, as I have noted, we have invested in the territorial health access fund and allocated money toward addressing healthy living campaigns. That again is one of the issues outlined in the substance abuse action plan.
With regard to another item, which is telehealth addictions counselling, we have included this for the first time. The telehealth program was previously run on the side of several other programs through funds cobbled together. We have provided a specific allocation and an increase to this program in this fiscal year to expand the telehealth program. Addictions counselling is one of the areas we want to expand into.
Another item here that just jumped out at me and is not directly within my department is getting tough on drug dealers. This was another element of the substance abuse action plan and the safer communities legislation is targeted toward that. To reduce the availability of drug precursors, as I have stated earlier, we have worked with the pharmacies and asked them to put the precursors to crystal meth - the single source pseudoephedrine - behind the counters. This is not a perfect solution and doesn't completely stop the availability or access to these precursors for crystal meth.
However, it does create a bit of an impediment and it is one step, as mentioned in the substance abuse action plan. We are working with other provinces and territories regarding availability of illegal drugs and working on asking the federal government to strengthen regulations pertaining to that.
Just on a quick flip through the substance abuse action plan, I think those are the areas that are outlined within the Department of Health and Social Services. I will certainly look at this matter more.
Also, if the member had questions regarding any specific items, I would be happy to entertain that and I can provide him answers to specific questions. I didn't have a list prepared to assist me in answering questions regarding the plan. I should have done that. I was simply going through my copy of the plan to identify what we have done at this time.
If the member has a question regarding a specific area, I can definitely provide him an answer to that.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, I probably have a lot of questions around it, as the minister probably knows. However, if the minister could give me a breakdown of it at some point down the road, it is all right, instead of us trying to bounce from one little thing to another.
I was just looking for a general answer, and I appreciate the minister trying to find some specific areas like the telehealth and stuff like that where they might have put some money.
Maybe in a general sense - I don't know if he has information before him - how much of the $2 million that was earmarked this year for the substance abuse action plan - I'm looking under health - will be put specifically into alcohol and drug treatment services?
I ask that because I know a portion of this $2 million is being earmarked for the safer communities. How much is being earmarked in this area of alcohol and drug treatment services?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member opposite, yes, the substance abuse action plan fund that has been set up - there is still some work being done and discussions going on within departments and NGOs regarding allocations within that fund.
It is intended to give us a bit of ability to address this in the few short months to come. We do want to ensure that the money is expended and expended wisely. It was established as a fund to give us the ability to do so. It will assist us in areas such as the one-time funding to FASSY, which was provided through the fund.
Another example of this is the items related to the Outreach van. That is another area that we are looking at utilizing this fund for. Let's not rule out the possibility, also, of funding through other sources, but this is a fund that gives us the ability to look at increasing funding for this.
In checking the plan here, another item was the issue of expanding Outreach services, and I would advise the member opposite that that is something we are having discussions on with organizations such as the Yukon Family Services Association. The intent of this is to assist with hiring a coordinator for the Outreach van. We want to work with organizations such as this to see what we can do to enhance the Outreach services that are available to Yukoners on the streets and in homes as well - people who are vulnerable members of society.
Mr. Hardy: I'm just going to move along and, I guess, wait and see what more information we can get in regard to this. Let's go to a famous building in Yukon history, the Thomson Centre.
Now, the Thomson Centre has an interesting story. It actually was up and running for quite awhile and was used. Anybody who has ever been inside it and walked through it has recognized that the design of it, to remove the clinical nature of what it was supposed to serve, was quite good in that sense. Unfortunately, it seemed that the actual construction and some of the design for the ventilation and heating and roofing fell far short of some of the other concepts. That's a shame. It is an attractive building for people. It does remove the concept that you're ill, that you're in an institutional structure. From my perspective, it has a tremendous amount of potential for people who are suffering, whether it's mental health or detox or physical illnesses - which raises the question, of course, of what is happening with the Thomson Centre today.
We know there was some money put to repair some of the poorer building and design and structural issues that were facing it after it had been in use for eight or 10 years, somewhere around there. It was used for about 10 years. To deal with that, I know this government moved on that. It is my understanding that a portion of it is still being used. I haven't gone into the building itself in a couple of years. I think it was about a year and a half ago that I had a walk-through with the former minister. He was good enough to take me there and show me what challenges they were facing in trying to get the rest of the building up to standard.
But, at that time, one portion of it was still being used. We have a tendency sometimes, in talking about this, to think that the whole building is a condemned building and it's a disaster. But some of it is actually up and running, and thank goodness for that because we do need the space and can accommodate so many needs in that space.
So, my question is this: where is the government to date on their plans to restore the rest of the building? What are the estimates on the costs, if any are done up? What work needs to be done to get that building up to code, I guess - or acceptability?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member opposite, we're probably talking - to get it back into operation, or probably partially depending on what the end use ends up being - somewhere in the range of $650,000 to $800,000. So there is certainly some work left to do. I'd just like to briefly outline some of what has been allocated to date.
Funding for the Thomson Centre - work completed or in the construction phase, includes $100,000 for exterior siding; fire alarm upgrade, which cost $100,000; $450,000 for building system controls and hardware replacement; $100,000 for engineering and work that is in the planning and design stages right now, which includes $190,000 for upgrade of the call system within the building; $98,000 for an access control system; $140,000 for exterior door and hardware replacement, and between $200,000 to $600,000 for mechanical cooling.
Sorry - just looking at that number, I have to revise the number I gave to the member opposite before. That would add up to, perhaps as high as $900,000, depending on whether the mechanical goes toward the higher end or the lower end of expected costs. So we have some costs that are outlined in the future to put this fully into operation.
We did have a functional review done of the Thomson Centre. Right now, the department is taking a look at that, based on the report we had done by, I believe, Options Consulting. We are going to be making a decision hopefully within the next month regarding the use of that facility. We are not quite in a position today to make that decision. The issues the member opposite is talking about and the potential uses that have been outlined by the Hospital Corporation and their desires are things such as medical detox, mental health and subacute beds. Issues like that were laid out by them as suggestions for the use of the facility.
Of course, the original intended usage was continuing care. We do have significant expected growth in demand for continuing care beds. The report will be reviewed and the department will be providing me with a copy of the report and the recommendations. Based upon that, I hope we will be coming to a decision in about one month's time and get this thing back into operation in the year to come. It will hopefully be sooner rather than later. There are still some issues to be worked out, so unfortunately I can't give the member a precise timeline, but I am impatient, as is the member opposite, I know. It is a good building. There is some use happening right now, but it certainly is not being used to its full potential. There are a number of issues, such as a need for mental health facilities and therapeutic services, which we need to address.
So when we make the determination of what the most effective use is for that facility, the other element that is going to be considered from the department perspective that ties into our independent assessment was based on identifying the suitability of potential uses for being put in and blending together within the Thomson Centre. The other element that the department has to plug in is what our need is for other facilities and make a determination regarding which services it is most appropriate to provide within the Thomson Centre and which we need to build a new building or buildings for or acquire rental space to provide those services?
The work is being done at this time. Again, as I said, if all goes according to plan, I'm hoping we will be able to make a decision on this in about a month's time.
Mr. Hardy: Well, that is good news from my perspective that a decision is going to be made. It's also encouraging to me to know that the rest of the work that needs to be done is not in the $2-million or $3-million or $4-million range. It's something that is now manageable and we can move forward on that. I guess I have a few questions around it.
I have to admit that the Thomson Centre, interestingly enough - if I had to point to one thing that got me active in politics, it would be why the Thomson Centre was built. It was because of my mother-in-law and the fact that there was no care facility up here where she could go to once she had her stroke and basically revived from that. That's what got my wife and me involved, I guess, and more active in politics and understanding politics to a greater degree. It was the fact that we wanted to keep her here. The other option was to send her Outside, and we felt that her quality of life and life expectancy from that decision to go Outside would have been far less.
Fortunately, she did end up in Macaulay Lodge and she improved a little bit and we were able to be a big part of her life.
However, can the minister tell me who is in there right now?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Right now, the Red Cross has some space within that area. The hospital has some that they are using for administration. We have some physiotherapy support being operated from there, and I believe Hospice is in the remaining office space within that area.
In this planning, that is another element: we want to ensure that, if the end use results in moving any of the existing users from there, that we don't just move them out on to the street, in a manner of speaking. We want to make sure that we have discussions with them and plan for addressing those needs as well, because all of the uses that are taking place in the Thomson Centre right now - although they are not necessarily the most effective use of that space, considering what the facility was designed for - they all provide very important services within our community and they need space from which to operate. That will be considered prior to a final decision being made and, of course, we will be having discussions with them if we make any decisions that affect their location or the amount of space that they have within that area.
Mr. Hardy: That's really good. I was concerned that if the planning was going ahead and these groups - I didn't know there were four of them right now. But I did know the Hospice was in there and the physiotherapist was in there - that they are part of it and they're not going to be, as the minister said, out on the street.
Who actually owns this building? Who owns the land? Who owns the building? Ultimately, how does the government work with the arm's-length hospital on this matter?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The answer is actually a bit of an anomaly. The land is owned by the Hospital Corporation but the building is an asset listed on the Yukon government books. So that's the simple answer, but it is an interesting situation that we have that arrangement there. It's somewhat unusual.
Mr. Hardy: Has it been considered that the building would be turned over to the Hospital Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I know that point has been suggested before by some. Again, that is something that, depending on the end use, there could be discussions around that. But ultimately, regardless of who owns the facility, the end goal in any arrangements with the Hospital Corporation, including ownership of the buildings, have to be in the best interest of Yukoners and, of course, the Yukon government's concern is collectively the best interests of Yukoners across all fields, in all matters of life, and the mandate of Health and Social Services and the concern of the Hospital Corporation is to provide health services.
The arrangement of who owns the asset is probably not something worthy of a lot of concern. Ultimately, we are all engaged in the goal of trying to provide the best health services possible for Yukoners in the most effective manner possible, including how the fiscal arrangement is structured and who owns which assets - and whose books they show up on. It is something that probably does not have a tremendous effect on the delivery of those services. We work with the Hospital Corporation. We intend to keep working with the Hospital Corporation. That they show up as an asset on the Yukon government's books does not prevent us from working with the hospital in this regard.
Currently, the hospital is managing the facility. The Yukon government owns it. We could choose to not have them manage the facility; it is a decision that rests ultimately with the Yukon government. The ownership of the asset doesn't predetermine either course of action. There is no reason why we have to change the status quo or not change it. We will try to make the most appropriate decision based on the best interests of Yukoners and based on the recommendations in the report.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister tell me what role the Hospital Corporation or board is playing in trying to identify the uses that this building would be repaired for? What impact or role does the board have?
I understand that the minister just said that the Hospital Corporation is managing the building at the present time. They own the land and YTG owns the building. My next question: who makes the final decision on the use of the facility and how much of a role does the arm's-length hospital board play in that decision?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would just point out - to assist the member in his understanding of the situation - that the hospital itself is also listed as an asset on the Yukon government books and, again, is operated by the Hospital Corporation.
So, basically, the simple answer for the member opposite is, yes, the Hospital Corporation does operate at an arm's-length extent, to some degree. There are also some measures within the contribution agreement that require certain services to be provided in exchange for the block funding, which is flowed. The Hospital Act states - and I don't have the clause right in front of me but, to the best of my recollection, the clause states that - the Hospital Corporation is not an agent of the Government of Yukon beyond the extent that an agency relationship is created through the funding arrangement. So, there is a contribution agreement. Ultimately the board's existence - and the existence of the corporation - is a product of the Hospital Act, which is an act of the Yukon government.
So, if the member is trying to get at who makes the ultimate decisions in this area, the short answer to that regarding the Thomson Centre facility is it's ultimately the Yukon government's decision. But the Hospital Corporation has brought forward their recommendations regarding the use of the Thomson Centre, and some of the uses they have recommended are among the uses that were considered in this report we had done on what is the most effective use of the space.
So, again, to what extent that will fill the - what's the word for it? - to what extent the decision on the end use of the Thomson Centre will meet the uses that have been suggested by the Hospital Corporation, we haven't yet determined because we haven't yet made that decision.
However, as I think I stated earlier, but just for clarity, I would state that some of the areas that had been discussed - these uses, these needs that have been identified - such as mental health, for example, are matters that we need to address. We do have money also in the budget for planning for mental health facilities to assist Yukoners in a residential context if it is necessary. It is something that that money has been earmarked for at this time in the budget, but if that was accommodated within the Thomson Centre, obviously we would not need to accommodate it elsewhere. We have included planning money - earmarked and identified both for the mental health side and for continuing care - to give us the ability to plan whatever buildings we need to plan to address any needs that are not accommodated within the Thomson Centre.
The simple answer to the member's question is that for any of the needs that we displace from the Thomson Centre - or do not incorporate, perhaps would be the better term - we have money identified to do planning work for building buildings to provide space for those needs.
Mr. Hardy: Since we are over at the hospital at the moment, and the land and who owns what, I am not sure what the building is called - the building that houses the ambulance services - I think the minister knows which building I am talking about. Could the minister tell me, does the hospital own that one? Do they only own the land underneath it or do they own the building and YTG owns the land, or is it reversed?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: With regard to that building, as well as the other two buildings, again the same situation holds true. The whole block of land is owned by the Hospital Corporation and all the buildings are owned by YTG, including the hospital. As for why that decision was made and why it occurred, I have heard the explanation. I can't recall it off the top of my head. If the member wishes, I could get him the information on that. It seemed to basically be one of these things that just sort of happened and, if memory serves, the reason for giving the hospital ownership of the land had to do with City of Whitehorse zoning issues and the access road into that area. So it seemed to be the simple thing to do at the time, and it resulted in a rather unusual arrangement in that regard.
Going back to a comment or question from the leader of the third party, there have been suggestions by some that this arrangement should be changed and that either YTG should own the land and the buildings or the hospital should own the land and the buildings. I'm not precluding that, but there also seems to be no reason or pressing need or even an identified need as to why we have to make a change in this relationship at this time, beyond that it might seem a little simpler on paper. So it's not something we're ruling out, but we're also not devoting a lot of staff resources to dealing with something that isn't really causing us a problem.
Mr. Hardy: I appreciate the minister's candour around this. It's true. How did we end up in this situation where the land is owned by the hospital board, or the corporation, and all the buildings on the site are owned by the government?
I got the impression that the hospital board would like to see some resolution or changes to that kind of agreement. I am curious - it's my own personal curiousity - about how we ended up in that situation. It's kind of interesting. Maybe it's because we didn't have a realtor involved. I don't know.
With regard to any future development in that area or any planning, I don't know if the hospital board feels it has enough flexibility or freedom to move in the directions they want to go, without having to go back to the Department of Health and Social Services or the minister. I am not sure if that's a good way to operate. Maybe it is; I'm not sure.
I will put it this way: I would like to know what the minister's position is with regard to the direction in which the government should go in this matter. My understanding is that the hospital board has a position about this. They are fairly clear. I think that they have articulated that to the minister. I don't know if there are ongoing discussions with the minister. Could the minister give me a little bit of history on that? Are there ongoing discussions to resolve some of these issues about who owns what?
I understand the minister said that there are not a lot of resources being put toward this. That's fine. But there must be some direction that the department and minister are feeling they could go in, and I'd like to hear that.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Chair, could I get the leader of the third party to just repeat the very last part of his question again, please?
Mr. Hardy: I guess I'm trying to find what direction the minister, or the department and minister, feel they need to go in with respect to the requests or the desire of the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board to resolve some of the issues - you know, the ownership of the building and the land, the use of the building and what role they play and how it's finally decided.
I may stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board would like to have ownership of the buildings and would like to be able to set - or have a greater say in - future and existing uses. I believe that was articulated to the minister. I stand to be corrected, but I think that was what was articulated. If so, where is the minister and the department at on that? I do understand that there haven't been a lot of resources put toward it, but there must be some ongoing discussions happening around it.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the question from the leader of the third party - yes, I think there was a suggestion from the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board that perhaps this should occur, and there was a discussion relating to that. My sense was - and I could stand to be corrected on this - that it was something that was not seen as a real impediment or a high priority. It was more something that didn't make a lot of sense to them because of the anomalous relationship and that perhaps we should change that.
We haven't ruled it out but, at this point, there are some concerns from our Department of Finance regarding whether or not it's the appropriate action due to the fiscal impact on both YTG and the Yukon Hospital Corporation. It is more a matter of there seeming to be no compelling reason why we need to do it or why it is creating any problem. Any capital construction that is done by the Hospital Corporation typically comes out of allocations from the Yukon government over and above the yearly contribution agreement. As I have stated before in the House, it's the $10 million in capital that we gave to the Hospital Corporation in our mandate over and above the increase in their annual funding.
Because money for capital improvements usually comes from YTG anyway, there isn't really a need for the hospital to own the buildings for that reason. The buildings' uses are to provide the services that are set out within the contribution agreement with the hospital, which contains, and has contained for years, a list of the services that the Yukon government requires to be provided in exchange for the transfer of block funding.
Although the hospital obviously has leeway within that as to how they structure and change that, there really isn't a tremendous amount of extra room within these facilities, so the hospital doesn't really have a lot of room to make a lot of changes to how services are provided and laid out in that area.
I guess I would say that the simple answer to the member opposite is that we haven't ruled it out. We are not opposed to considering it but my position on it at this point is I haven't seen a reason why it seems to be needed. I haven't seen an argument for why it would provide a benefit to the delivery of health care services to the Yukon. It also wasn't my sense that it was a high priority of the board, either, or that they had a compelling reason in their minds why it needed to be changed to that.
It's something to which we have decided not to devote a lot of the officials' time in the Department of Health and Social Services or the Department of Finance - looking into the impacts and facilitating the transfer. Generally, there is a lot going on in both departments. The decision at this point is to just treat it as an issue that could be considered or reconsidered in the future but that, right now, doesn't really need to be changed.
Mr. Hardy: The minister has mentioned Finance and Health and Social Services with regard to these buildings. Would the buildings fall under Property Management Agency?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The ownership of the buildings is on the Yukon government's books, but Property Management is an agency that runs Yukon government buildings. It's not usually the case that this agency holds the ownership. It manages Yukon government buildings. The building management is done by the hospital. There is no involvement of PMA with any of the buildings on hospital grounds, to the best of my knowledge.
Mr. Hardy: I just need to get it clear, because I'm a little bit confused with that answer. The management of the buildings themselves - repairs, contracting and tendering, the operation and maintenance on the buildings - are all under the Hospital Corporation's purview and not Property Management's? Is that correct? Is that what he's saying? I'm specifically talking about the buildings tendering contracts or sole-source or whatever they use and the maintenance of the buildings. Does that fall under the Hospital Corporation or is it under Property Management or something else?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: First of all, I have to stand corrected. With respect to the ambulance service building, maintenance on that and the services within it are done by Property Management Agency because, of course, EMS falls under the Department of Health and Social Services. So I apologize for that error on my part earlier. The other buildings are operated and managed by the Hospital Corporation.
With regard to contracts, tendering, et cetera, maintenance on the buildings, repairs - those are things with regard to the Thomson Centre and the hospital, being operated by the Hospital Corporation as they are, that fall under the Hospital Corporation's responsibility rather than under PMA, but typically all the repairs that have been done to the Thomson Centre have been dealt with through contributions to the Hospital Corporation over and above the other contributions we provide to them.
Thus the money for repairs, maintenance, et cetera - usually the typical practice and certainly under our government it has been the practice - for the hospital or the Thomson Centre is provided by Yukon government as a contribution to them over and above the other funding arrangements for capital and operations and maintenance. It is dealt with through them, but usually the financial responsibility is taken care of by the Yukon taxpayer, because there really isn't a lot of room within the hospital's budget.
Although we have given them an increase of $5 million a year, the $25 million some that the Hospital Corporation has per year covers its operations, and there isn't any leeway within that to undertake capital projects or repairs. Although things like janitorial would be covered in that yearly budget, any repairs of a substantive nature would be typically dealt with through increased funding from Yukon government.
Mr. Hardy: When I am in discussions with the hospital board members, I get the feeling that they wouldn't mind some clarity surrounding issues of land ownership.
But building ownership - I'm going to get this right. The hospital owns the land. YTG owns the buildings. The Yukon Hospital Corporation basically manages all the buildings except the ambulance service building. Property Management manages that building, as I understand it.
I'm going to sit down and allow the minister to correct me. Tendering falls under the corporation. If there are repairs or anything going to be done, it's done through the corporation itself, not through Property Management. However, the contributions are transferred from the government over to the Hospital Corporation to do the repairs and new structure on the building.
The minister also threw the janitorial services in there. I'm assuming he meant that was under the Hospital Corporation as well. Operation and maintenance and general upkeep on the buildings is under the Hospital Corporation, and if there was going to be a new building put on that land - we can walk through this - would you have to negotiate with the hospital to access the land? Then, how would you tender the building? Ultimately, who would be paying the operation and maintenance on the building and who would own the building and who would maintain the ownership of the land?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the leader of the third party, although his question is obviously hypothetical in nature, it is a very good question. I do recognize the point that it does create confusion and requires some clarity.
With regard to the land being owned by the Hospital Corporation, before constructing a building there, YTG wouldn't just go ahead without talking to the board of directors. I would have to review the act and look at the arrangements if the member wishes to know if it's technically possible for YTG to do so. I am not certain about that, but I can tell the member that as long as I am here, we wouldn't be going forward and just constructing buildings without talking to the Hospital Corporation, whether we technically have to or not. We would want to have their agreement that it was not going to screw up the operations of the other facilities.
Considering that our end goals are all the same - to try to provide the best health care coverage for Yukoners possible in the most cost-effective, efficient and compassionate manner we can - I don't think that will become a problem.
Also, just to go back and clarify an answer to the question of the member regarding the contracting tender and management - the land is owned by the Hospital Corporation. The Thomson Centre, or the hospital, and the EMS building are owned by YTG. Two of those buildings right now are managed by the Hospital Corporation, and the Hospital Corporation takes care of maintenance, upkeep, et cetera. There is nothing preventing them from making some repairs out of their yearly contribution, but the practice we have taken is not to expect them to dip into their yearly funding - because they don't have a lot of extra room in that - and to provide them with additional contributions specific to completing certain repairs and upgrades.
Then with regard to the third building, EMS, that is operated and managed by Property Management Agency and YTG thus assumes responsibility for maintenance, upgrades, repairs, et cetera, on that building. So I hope that has clarified the matter for the member.
Mr. Hardy: It has, to a certain degree. I have a lot better picture now of how it is all set up, but that doesn't mean that it's a situation that couldn't be improved upon. I really do believe that there is some onus on all of us - the hospital board and the government of the day, whatever government it is - to try to get some of this sorted out a little bit better and cleared up.
I know that it's hypothetical, but it isn't really, because there will probably be some new buildings constructed there at some point. I am not sure - I will try to walk through this a bit - how far the land that the Hospital Corporation owns goes. Does it include the two buildings when you drive in? I think one has been a residence in the past. I am not sure what the other building is. It may be a residence as well for hospital workers. I am talking about Hospital Road . As you drive up the road, there are two buildings on the left-hand side. Are they included in this land? An interesting question is who owns those buildings.
I do know that one of the things we have to consider at some point, of course, is whether or not we want to attract more specialists and health professionals. One of the big issues is accommodation. We do have a shortage in town. We know that. We know that it is very expensive. It is a detriment now for people to come up here and work, when they find that the land prices and the housing prices are very, very high - quite a lot higher. Often, you get people in who work here - sign a contract for three months, six months to a year, who are willing to work here - and accommodations have historically been supplied. It's one of the enticements that have been put out there to bring professionals and caregivers - whether it's nurses or the other professions. But if, at some point, the government recognized this and felt that they needed to build a building and that land is there, it's close to work, it has a beautiful view and it's by the river, they may want to tear down one of the old buildings that have been there since they built the Alaska Highway - they're not very attractive at the moment - or renovate these buildings. What would the condition be? How would the government go about approaching this if the hospital said, “No, we don't want any new buildings on our property, what we have is good enough; if you want to go build a residence or something along those lines for these people, then you're going to have to do it somewhere else.”
But the government recognizes that it's a perfect spot. There is not much room downtown, and it's close to their work, and it just makes sense. How do you resolve something like that? And that's why I think the problem we have right now with the different types of situations - depending on the buildings.
Now, the minister has described the Thomson Centre and the hospital as being owned by YTG but managed by the Hospital Corporation. The ambulance building, the EMS , falls under the other one, but that's not being managed by the Hospital Corporation. One of the questions I have is: why not? Why is that situation different from the other two buildings? How did we end up in a different structure there? Can't we clean this up a little bit and work on that?
Now we are basically out of time, so I move that we report progress.
Chair: Mr. Hardy has moved that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 20, entitled First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being 5:30 p.m., the House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:31 p.m.
The following documents were filed May 16, 2006:
Big Game Outfitting policy, letters re (dated April 27, 2003 and April 8, 2003) between Hon. Archie Lang, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and Rose Kushniruk, Chair, Alsek Renewable Resource Council (Mitchell)
Consultation Protocol (undated and unsigned) between the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and the Government of Yukon (Hardy)