Whitehorse , Yukon
Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of National Emergency Medical Services Week
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I rise today on behalf of the House to recognize the many men and women throughout the Yukon who make up our emergency medical services. Last year alone, these dedicated individuals handled 1,073 emergency calls in rural communities. In Whitehorse , EMS personnel responded to 3,784 calls, and there were 491 medevacs.
The week of May 15 to 21, 2006, is Emergency Medical Services Week across Canada and a fitting reminder for us to recognize the value and dedication of our EMS providers from Old Crow to Teslin, from Dawson City to Destruction Bay, and everywhere else throughout the territory.
Emergency medical services are a vital public service, and all of our EMS attendants are a very important part of the territory's health care team. Not only do these individuals work hard in both volunteer and paid positions to provide life-saving care to those who need it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they are also dedicated enough to put in extra hours to upgrade their training and to better improve services to their fellow Yukoners.
Until we need them, we rarely think about the services they provide, but the next time you pull over to let an ambulance pass you, whether in town or on one of our rural roads, stop a moment to think about the people in that ambulance, both the patient and the men and women providing their pre-hospital care. Those men and women rush into action at a moment's notice to protect and preserve the lives of ourselves, our friends, our loved ones and everyone throughout our community. I recognize them on behalf of the House.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
In recognition of John Brown
Mr. McRobb: I am honoured to rise today on behalf of all members in this House to tribute a life-long Yukoner and former constituent. John Brown of Haines Junction passed away in March 2005 while in his 83rd year.
For the last 30 years of his life, John was an ordained minister in the Pentecostal Church and founded his own chapel in Haines Junction. He was a proud man of the Lord.
John was born in 1922 at the hay ranch below Champagne and grew up at Six Mile across Dezadeash Lake. He was a member of the Wolf Clan and the son of Kitty Johnson and Johnny Brown.
John lived on the land and started out raising foxes and mink with his family at Six Mile in the 1920s and 1930s. He knew the land like the back of his hand and travelled by horse, dog team and even skated to Champagne on the river from Six Mile.
John lived a traditional life and was also known by his Southern Tutchone name, Nulata. As a young man he trapped with his family around Kathleen Lake, Mush and Bates lakes and on the Tatshenshini River to the south.
In 1948, John married Sadie Jackson at the Anglican Church in Haines Junction. The couple honeymooned in Haines, Alaska , before settling in Haines Junction.
John had a varied work life - from guiding fisherman around local lakes, doing maintenance work on the Haines Road and working at the experimental farm. John was a maintenance worker for Kluane National Park for more than 10 years. Since his retirement in 1985, a great deal of his time was spent hunting moose, running his trapline and fishing at Six Mile.
Until his passing last year, he continued his traditional lifestyle in the summer months at Klukshu, or Shäwshe.
For much of his life, John excelled as a musher. Mr. Speaker, you and other Yukoners may recall watching a NEDAA feature about six years ago on the revival of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. This television show included original footage on the early dogmushers and described how the very first race in 1945 was won by none other than John Brown of Champagne. The prize was $500 cash, a lot of money in those days.
Soon afterward, I visited John at his home in Haines Junction and listened with great interest as he recalled those fond memories from 55 years earlier. John's early childhood helped shape his knowledge and love of the land. His frequent use of trails, hunting, trapping and fishing areas, and knowledge of Champagne and Aishihik traditional territory have benefited many others to learn about the land.
John recently shared his traditional knowledge about the area with the First Nation government and identified old trails. He helped preserve his native language in providing Tlingit and Tutchone place names for areas around Dezadeash. John's skills and knowledge in hunting and trapping brought him enjoyment throughout his life and will continue to be shared by those who learned from him.
Along with John's outdoor abilities, he was graced with musical talent and played the guitar and fiddle. He was a social man who enjoyed spending time with family and friends, entertaining them with music and stories. As an ordained minister, John provided religious services at several potlatch funerals, often with his wife, Sadie, at his side, sharing their gospel and songs.
Many lives were touched by this gentle, patient and friendly man. Friends and family throughout the Yukon, Canada and the United States will miss him dearly.
Mahsi' cho. Thank you.
Speaker: Are there returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have for tabling the Queen's Printer Agency 2006-07 business plan.
Mr. Mitchell: I have for tabling today a letter I have written pursuant to section 24 of the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act to the Conflicts Commission requesting advice that may have been provided to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Reports of committees.
Bills to be introduced.
Notices of motion.
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) First Nation children born with complex medical needs frequently become embroiled in jurisdictional disputes between federal and provincial/territorial governments over the payment of health care services;
(2) the Canadian Paediatric Society has called upon all governments to immediately adopt a child-first principle to resolve such disputes by attending to the needs of the child first before referring the matter to jurisdictional dispute mechanisms;
(3) the society calls this approach “Jordan's Principle” in honour of a First Nation child who died in hospital after four years of waiting for funding disputes to be solved; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to
(1) implement, without delay, a child-first policy based on the Jordan's Principle advocated by the Canadian Paediatric Society, so that disputes regarding which jurisdiction should pay for a First Nation child's health care do not cause delays in the delivery of necessary care;
(2) work with the Government of Canada, other territorial and provincial governments and First Nation governments to investigate mechanisms such as an insurance pool to guarantee payment of necessary health care for First Nation children while funding disputes between jurisdictions are being resolved.
Mr. Cardiff: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Auditor General's 2006 status report on First Nation issues found that unsatisfactory progress has been made to address the long-standing health and safety problem posed by mould contamination in First Nation housing;
(2) the Yukon forum has established a working group to determine the allocation of recent funding received from the federal government for housing; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to
(1) work with business and First Nations to assess the extent of all health and safety problems in existing Yukon First Nations housing;
(2) develop a comprehensive strategy with the Yukon forum working group to address the problems that are identified;
(3) develop and implement housing education and training workshops; and
(4) contribute financially to support new housing and housing renovations for First Nations.
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: So what, Mr. Speaker? That sums up the Premier's approach to maintaining the highest ethical standards in his government. It also represents an arrogance that the public has become all too familiar with from this government. I have asked several questions about what role, if any, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources has played in the development of the new big game outfitting land policy. The Premier says the minister has followed advice from the Conflicts Commissioner on this issue, yet he refuses to make that advice public. “So what” is the Premier's response - “We don't have to make anything public; trust us.” Well, the public no longer trusts this government, and with good reason.
I have written to the Conflicts Commissioner, asking him to release the advice he has provided to the minister and I will ask the Premier for it as well. The Premier says the minister is following advice from the Conflicts Commissioner; let's see it. Will the Premier table the advice?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would encourage the leader of the official opposition to go further - lay a complaint with the Conflicts Commissioner. If this issue is so important to the leader of the official opposition - and obviously the leader is very fixated on it - I would encourage him to do exactly that. Lay the complaint with the Conflicts Commissioner; have the Conflicts Commissioner conduct an investigation.
In the meantime, we've answered this time and time again. With all due respect to the leader of the official opposition, all appropriate action has been taken, exactly as the minister should have, and we have more information here that we would like to engage with the leader of the official opposition on that has transpired recently with respect to ethics and other matters.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Premier says, “Lay a complaint.” We all know that it's expensive and that you want to make sure you have all the information before laying a complaint. All we're asking for is the advice to be provided, but he refuses to make it public.
When questions were raised about the possible sale of the Caribou Hotel in Carcross and the same minister's involvement, what was the Premier's response? You guessed it - “So what?” This is the attitude of the government. Yesterday, I tabled a letter that indicated that the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources had been involved in the development of a new outfitter policy. What was the Premier's response? - “So what?”
Did the Conflicts Commissioner say it was all right for the minister to be issuing letters when he has a stake in an outfitting concession that could benefit from a new policy? Is that what the Commissioner's advice was to the minister?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, I would repeat that a letter went out of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources as probably, in the course of any given day in government, hundreds and hundreds of items of correspondence do.
I would caution the leader of the official opposition. He's made another assertion that is incorrect, and this has a lot to do with what this debate is about.
And, Mr. Speaker, I will repeat - all appropriate action has been taken. The minister has done what he should do. Now it's time for the leader of the official opposition, instead of nibbling around the edges and trying to insinuate with conjecture, to lay the complaint. But he just said he doesn't have the information to do so. So, why are we even talking about this?
Mr. Mitchell: The Premier can try to make excuses - and he can lay the blame, which I think is what he is suggesting - for how many letters go out, and that it must be officials who are making mistakes, but the letter had the signature block of the minister and was signed for the minister.
Yukoners are very disappointed by the Premier's cavalier approach to these ethical issues. Instead of being open and accountable, the Premier just waves his arms and says, “So what?” That's the attitude of the Yukon Party government when it comes to ethical standards.
The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources owns an outfitting concession. It appears he may have participated in the development of a new policy that would affect the values of outfitting concessions across the territory. Yukoners want to know if the minister is following the advice of the Conflicts Commissioner, but the government won't release the advice.
Will the Premier drop the “so what” standard and make public the Conflicts Commissioner's advice so Yukoners can decide if the minister has followed it or not?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am glad the leader of the official opposition has brought up ethical standards. The leader of the official opposition stood in this House, in referring to a complaint to the Ombudsman, and quoted - and I will quote from Hansard with respect to the Ombudsman's response to the plaintiff - “I have concluded that the board's actions are contrary to law.” However, I will read a quote from the Ombudsman's letter to the plaintiff, which is the correspondence from which the member got this information. “While I have concluded that the board's actions are contrary to law, I am satisfied that the board's efforts to correct this situation are reasonable.”
Yesterday the leader of the official opposition stated, and I will quote from Hansard, “On April 27, 2003, the minister wrote a letter about the new big game outfitting land tenure policy.” That in fact is incorrect. The minister did not write the letter, nor did the minister sign the letter, nor did the minister send the letter.
When it comes to ethical standards, I have some advice for the leader of the official opposition: stop digging the hole he is in before he is buried in ethical facts.
Question re: Outfitter concessions
Mr. Fairclough: I have a question for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. I'm very concerned about the big game outfitting land application policy. On Monday, I asked the minister and the Premier replied that he would not consider delaying the process in order for Yukoners to have an opportunity to have many of their questions and concerns answered.
We're not against the applicants securing tenure; what we are very concerned about, however, is the policy that controls the process and the perception of secrecy that surrounds this whole thing. With up to 800 parcels of prime real estate being tenured, we're concerned that there doesn't appear to be a level playing field.
Will the Premier or the minister put on the brakes and allow for public input into this matter?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: At least the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is asking questions related to policy, and I give the member full credit for that. The policy has been a long process in this territory. It dates back years. There has been a tremendous amount of engagement with First Nations and the public, resource councils and resource management officers. We are at a stage now where, on April 2003, Yukon was transferred these files to proceed with the work in progress. In fact, before we took over this file, leases had been granted.
Nothing could have been slower in terms of process. I would suggest that over a decade of work on this alludes to the in-depth approach that was taken. This is not a land grab. Indeed, as we the government are proceeding, the policy itself is providing further opportunity for First Nations and the public to engage in these applications. Because somebody applies for something under this policy, it doesn't mean they will be successful in that application.
Mr. Fairclough: I take it the answer is no, Mr. Speaker. We in the official opposition recognize the importance these outfitting businesses have to the Yukon . We also recognize that other business entrepreneurs also have concerns that need to be addressed. Questions that go unanswered will lead to suspicion and distrust.
There are eco-tourists, for example, who have valid questions and concerns. There are countless other Yukoners who have questions. The public interest must be paramount, but until we know about the details, we will always have those doubts.
Again, I'd like to ask the minister to remove the doubts, open the closed doors and allow Yukoners to see, hear and have an opportunity for input. Will the minister now put Yukoners first?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Unfortunately, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is a bit behind on this issue. Yukoners have been put first; First Nations have been put first; the outfitting industry has been put last, after all the years of work on this file. In fact, out on Yukon's land base, there's a similar policy in effect already for trapping concessions.
I would encourage the official opposition to recognize how disconnected they are from this issue, from Yukoners, from the Yukon outfitting industry, from Yukon First Nations and, in the context and spirit of constructiveness, become more connected to the realities of today's Yukon.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, it's quite obvious from the answer from the Premier that they are not connected to what Yukoners are saying, Mr. Speaker.
One media source reported, “Secrecy is so great, the first outfitter to apply for tenure on his land tried to have his application sites kept secret.”
If the applicant is so unsure of the process, what do you think the public thinks, Mr. Speaker? Why did he want secrecy? What was he afraid someone would find out? Who was he afraid of?
Enough of this smoke and mirrors. I asked the minister to lay it on the table and get on with an open and transparent government. Will the Premier now see the errors of his ways, do what must be done and open this whole matter up for public scrutiny?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I will just ignore the comment of open and transparent government. That's a needless discussion to have, coming from the members opposite, considering the evidence even today that I have tabled here in this Assembly on how the members of the official opposition conduct themselves.
This is an open and transparent process, and it has come to the stage now where applications are going to be given the full scrutiny of transparency so the public and First Nations will have involvement, engagement and input. In any case, an application is not a guaranteed tenure or lease on the land base.
Furthermore, these are all about pre-existing sites. There are already footprints on the land base. What really confuses me about the official opposition is that they fail to recognize the validity of these third party interests through the land claims process. So they haven't even got that connection made yet, Mr. Speaker. I encourage them to be a little more diligent in their homework.
Question re: Social worker positions
Mr. Hardy: Now, the Minister of Health and Social Services has repeatedly refused to provide basic statistical information that I've requested. The minister talks about a 14-person social work complement in child protection and family services, but we're not allowed to know what that actually means. Truthfully, that is unacceptable.
Now, maybe today the minister can answer the question. This is the third time I'm going to ask it. Does the figure of 14 in the social work complement the minister refers to include more than social workers in the nationally accepted meaning of that term - yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the leader of the third party, as I said, these are social work positions. We have increased the number. I will reiterate: child protection and family services in 2004-05, the social work complement in the unit, was 8.5 positions. There was an increase of one position in 2005-06, an increase of 4.5 positions in this fiscal year to a level of 14 positions. Further, there is an increase of five employee positions in child protection/family services/family support team. In 2004-05, it was 2.25 FTEs, and it has increased to a level now of a total of seven FTEs. Since 2004-05, we have added an additional social work position to the permanent children-in-care team. As I've said to the member opposite, we're talking social work positions. I'm not sure what the member is trying to get at here or how I could be clearer in my response to the member opposite.
Mr. Hardy: I wish the minister would listen closely to the question, because he would understand exactly what I was referring to. And I guess “third time lucky” doesn't hold true today, Mr. Speaker.
Now, one thing that has become obvious in the past couple of weeks is how badly we need to change the way the Government of Yukon provides information to the public. Two weeks ago, the minister's department released a heavily edited review of the circumstances surrounding the death of an infant girl.
For more than three years, the government has had in its possession another review of another child's death. The minister won't say what lessons were learned from that review or what actions were taken, and that's another secret. Will the minister now tell the House what changes in policy or practice resulted from the Barnes report, which was paid for with public money?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the questions from the leader of the third party, he raised the issue of the Barnes report with me yesterday. I have inquired into that but I haven't received information back from the department regarding that.
As I stated to the member opposite, the information in the Barnes report was prior to my time as minister. I am not clear as to which parts can be released or were released. I am given to understand that some of it has been released under ATIPP.
I really don't have the information right now to be able to say to the member opposite whether the rest cannot be released for reasons of identifying personal information or whether it perhaps can be released. I'll look into this matter. I don't have a response to the member's question asked yesterday to provide to him today. But, as I have undertaken to look into the matter, I will do so and will reply to the member opposite when I have that response.
Mr. Hardy: I am more encouraged by that kind of answer.
In the past six years or so, there have been several reports, including at least two trial transcripts, that have pointed to weaknesses in how we handle cases of children and youth who are at risk. What is the point of having inquests, trials, inquiries or reviews if we don't learn from our mistakes? What is the point? How can we prevent tragedies in the future if we don't learn from the tragedies of the past? How do we know if we are doing a better job of caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our society if the minister responsible won't provide that kind of information?
Will the minister finally take action on behalf of Yukon's children and families by providing a detailed account of what changes have been made in child protection and family services as a result of the Anglin report and the Barnes report and exactly what changes will be made as a result of the Christianson-Wood report?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the leader of the third party, with regard to the Anglin report and the Barnes report, I will look into those matters as I have committed to the member and get back to him regarding information as to what has been done in that area.
I would point out to the member opposite that, if what he is trying to get at is whether all of the action that needs to be taken to improve the child protection system has been taken, as we have stated before we are making changes to the Children's Act; we are taking the most recent report and we are going to be acting based upon that.
We do recognize that some improvements are needed to the system but, again, I do stress to the member opposite that the system by and large works very well as hard-working, dedicated and very caring people work in it. Individual events, such as the child who slipped through the cracks of the system, that result in tragedy are very unfortunate, and we are not prepared to accept that someone slips through the cracks as being an acceptable situation. We are committed to plugging those cracks, fixing the problems in the system, but the system generally works very well indeed.
Question re: Children's Act review
Mr. Hardy: I'm not prepared to let the Minister of Health and Social Services off the hook on something as critical as the need to protect vulnerable children. There is a different tone today, and I appreciate that. However, the minister has used the Children's Act review as one of many excuses for why he isn't taking action to improve the system that we have today. That, unfortunately, is no excuse.
The minister could easily make it mandatory for anyone who suspects a child is being abused to report it to the authorities. He could do that. He could easily create a child-abuse committee. He could easily fund a child-abuse coordinator position and establish a child-abuse registry. He could do this and more if he had the political will.
Why does the minister continue to make excuses for not doing what clearly lies within his authority as a minister of the public Government of Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I appreciate the concern and passion the leader of the third party has for this situation but I would stress to him that neither I nor this government wish to be let off the hook on anything because there is nothing to be let off the hook for. We are not making excuses. We are committed to moving forward. We do have to respect the legal obligations under the Umbrella Final Agreement and the consultation protocol with First Nations as far as participating with them. We are in an active process right now reviewing and revising the Children's Act, and the issues that the member has raised are issues that have been brought forward and are under consideration right now.
Again, I point out, of all the recommendations from the Christianson-Wood report, there are some that need to proceed through legislative amendments. Those are being discussed within the Children's Act review process and we intend to reach completion on this and hope to have legislation ready for the fall of this year.
With regard to other areas requiring budgetary processes or operational changes within the department, we are committed to making those in as timely a manner as possible. But we do have to give the staff within Health and Social Services the time to make the changes and determine how to plug those recommendations into operational procedures and what the budgetary costs are.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, it has been five years since the NDP brought forward an idea of an independent children's advocate - five years. Five years and two governments later, we're still no further ahead. Under this government we still don't have a new Children's Act after three years of review.
Let me tell the minister this, in no uncertain terms: an NDP government will bring in a new and inclusive Children's Act. And let me tell him again, in no uncertain terms, an NDP government will make sure that children, youth and families have an independent advocate to represent their rights and their interests, and an NDP government will fix things that need fixing in the child protection system. What work, if any, has this government done to explore the possibility of creating an independent children's advocate position since the NDP first proposed it five years ago?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I point out again to the member opposite that it's an issue right now on the table. I didn't have any control over items within the Department of Health and Social Services prior to my tenure as minister. Under my watch, we are reviewing this issue, and it's an issue that we will be discussing with First Nations. It is certainly not something that we have ruled out. It is a very important concern, and I appreciate the member's consideration.
I am not going to stand here in the House and pre-determine what the results of any of the Children's Act discussions are going to be. It would not be in keeping with our agreement with the Council of Yukon First Nations for me to be telling the member what the policy elements are going to be of that piece of legislation and the revisions to the legislation without discussing it with Council of Yukon First Nations through the process we have agreed to. But I do stress to the member opposite that our government is absolutely committed to moving forward on amendments to the Children's Act. We are committed to making the necessary improvements to the system and ensuring that our system is the very best that it possibly can be.
Mr. Hardy: Let's test how committed they are, because from the answers so far, they don't sound very committed. The Yukon has the Human Rights Commission that is independent of government. We have an ombudsman who is independent of government. We have a workers' advocate who is independent but whose office is administered through the Department of Justice. A children's advocate needs to be independent from the Department of Health and Social Services. That person also needs to be highly familiar with complex legal issues.
So let me address my final question to the Minister of Justice: will the Minister of Justice ask his officials to begin examining options for the creation of an independent children's advocate position for the Yukon and the appropriate legislation to accomplish this important goal?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again I stress to the leader of the third party that this is not an element we have ruled out. His concern and suggestion of the creation of a children's advocate position is something, as per our commitment to move forward collaboratively with CYFN and First Nations on the Children's Act review, we made a commitment that we would not simply slap legislation on the table and tell them what it was going to be, that we are going to work together and discuss the policy elements. The policy forum is scheduled for June of this year.
The member's suggestion of the creation of a children's advocate position is a very worthwhile suggestion. Again I state, with regard to all these issues here, I'm not going to predetermine the outcome of the policy issues resulting from the Children's Act revisions. I assure the member opposite that, if the decision is made in cooperation with First Nation governments to proceed forward with a children's advocate position, I and the Minister of Justice - and anyone else within this government who needs to take action - will do so. We are committed to revising the Children's Act; we are committed to ensuring the Yukon system is the very best system it possibly can be and that we do our utmost to protect the safety of every child within our care and under our review.
Question re: Outfitter concessions
Mr. Fairclough: My question is to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. The Wilderness Tourism Association is seeking assurance from the lands branch that, until the land tenure policy is in place for wilderness tourism businesses, applicants be restricted from using their infrastructure for anything but big game outfitting.
It is reported in the media that the applicant in question is indeed already using and advertising the use of its wilderness camps for year-round tourism. There is no place in the policy that says the applicant must restrict their activities just to outfitting in the conventional sense.
Can the minister assure the House that this policy will not be used to the detriment of others?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, the government side can assure the member opposite, and the department can assure the member opposite. In all the years preceding where we are today with the work being done on this policy, it has always been deemed an interim policy until other matters, such as the possibilities of wilderness tourism, are also being looked into. That is why it is much about pre-existing sites. So when it comes to an outfitting concession, it's logical then to conclude that pre-existing sites were used for outfitting.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, whatever “pre-existing sites” means.
Now, the applications from outfitters do not start an assessment under the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. Everything will be done in secret. First Nation governments, interested parties, and members of the public will have a chance to comment, but only within the context of the present policy. Their comments will mean little more than that - just comments. And from then on, the government will make the final decision in isolation from any scrutiny or debate.
Mr. Speaker, this is not right. No other Yukoner can acquire land under such conditions. So why is the Premier stonewalling here?
My question, again, is simply this: will he call a halt and open this policy up for public input and discussion?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, at the risk of being repetitive, once again, that work has been done extensively for years and years and years. But I want to ask the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, how can this be a secret? And I'll use an example as clear evidence of why I'm saying this.
These are pre-existing sites. Under the land claims process, these are third party interests. Now, how could they be deemed and duly noted as third party interests in 30 years of land claim negotiations, if not due to someone having established the fact that this footprint is on the land base and it is indeed a third-party interest? There is absolutely no secret here.
But when it comes to stonewalling, I can assure Yukoners that, if decisions of this kind were left in the hands of the official opposition, there would be stonewalling when it comes to access to land, to resources, to growth and to a better Yukon in the future.
Mr. Fairclough: Those are the Premier's opinions; the public would like their input too. That is why we are asking the question.
I asked a question two years ago today, May 17, 2004, about the big game outfitting policy, and the minister's answer at the time was that he was not briefed on the matter. The answer to my next question was that they were consulting; this doesn't make sense. The Premier in his budget speech said, “Our government takes its responsibility for land availability very seriously”. That was part of his speech.
The policy in place in October 2005 is not the policy that we are using today. It is not; it has changed. Can the Premier explain to the House the nature of those changes and, more precisely, what triggered these last-minute changes?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The only thing that has changed is the distance that the Member for Mayo-Tatchun travelled from where he was previously when he asked the question in 2004. The only change, Mr. Speaker, is where the member is sitting in this House.
Now, let's get down to the basics. This work has been ongoing for years and years. There have been leases actually allocated prior to this government being in office and this Assembly being convened. There have been consultations that went on extensively with long lists of representative groups and First Nations. We are only at a stage in this whole process where some applications once again are coming in. The applications will deal with pre-existing sites and, I repeat, just because somebody applies for something on the land base is no guarantee that they get it because the policy ensures that there will be input, scrutiny, transparency and assurances that it will be an application that fits within the parameters of the policy itself.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 19, Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06, general debate. 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. 19 - Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06
Chair: We will continue with Bill No. 19, Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06, general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I rise to present to the Committee of the Whole Bill No. 19, the Supplementary Estimates No. 2 for 2005-06. The bill that is before you presents to this Legislature the third appropriation for the fiscal year 2005-06.
This legislation is required, as I noted in my second reading speech, to deal with additional departmental funding requirements that arose since the last session of the Legislature. The total sum required in this appropriation, as noted in the actual document, is $10.1 million, and the sums not required are $8.8 million, for a gross increase of $1.268 million. The gross operation and maintenance increase sought is $1.486 million and the capital sought is an overall decline of $218,000.
This supplementary also provides the members of the Legislature and the public with an update on the government forecasted financial position for the year-end 2005-06. The budget document that is before you forecasts total government revenues of $777.8 million and expenditures of $818.7 million. Once the effective change in the tangible capital assets plus forecast lapses for the year-end are taken into account, the Department of Finance is projecting an annual surplus for the year of just under $30 million.
This summary is outlined in much more detail in the actual budget document that was tabled at the first reading.
As I noted in my second reading speech, the annual surplus presented in this supplementary appropriation is an improvement from the fall supplementary budget. The amount currently forecast is just under the $42.6 million that was presented to this Legislature in the 2005-06 main estimates.
The net impact of this forecast will culminate in a forecasted accumulated surplus of just over $451 million for the year ending March 31, 2006. The net financial resources for the year-end are projected to increase from $23 million forecast in the previous supplementary to approximately $34 million.
Mr. Chair, I want to again mention to the Committee that the net financial resources at the end of 2005-06 were projected to be much higher than the 2005-06 main estimates. But that was before we determined that the government had to accrue additional post-employment benefits for public servants. As a result, once these amounts have been verified by audit, the net financial resources for the beginning of the year were restated downward to $48 million. The exercise of restating the financial position based on the provision of subsequent information is, of course, a generally accepted and appropriate accounting practice.
This supplementary budget shows that territorial own-source revenues have declined by $2.8 million. The largest decrease is in corporate income taxes, which have declined by $3.6 million. This decline is offset, in part, by a $1.4-million increase in investment revenues, over and above the $2.1 million, which had originally been forecast.
The corporate taxes have declined, in large part to a one-time deferred dividend tax credit of $1.5 million, along with an increased uptake on the mineral tax credit and other lower-than-anticipated corporate taxes.
Investment revenues have increased because of the moderate increase in interest rates accompanied by an increase in available cash surplus for investments. Oil and gas revenues are also down by about $2.5 million, which is in large part due to overly optimistic revenue forecasts at the beginning of the fiscal year.
Turning our attention to the revenue-recovery side of the ledger, total transfers from various sources have increased. The largest amount of this increase is $13.3 million for the northern strategy trust, which is one-third of the $40 million allocated under the trust. As pointed out in my second reading speech, generally accepted accounting practice requires that these amounts be taken into income over the period the trust has been put into effect.
On the O&M expenditure side of this appropriation request, a few departments are reflecting increased expenditure requests and a few are reflecting expenditure declines. The Department of Finance is seeking an increased appropriation of just over $1 million to fund the energy rebate program. This program was approved last fall by amendment to the Income Tax Act, which, by the way, was unanimously supported in this House.
A special warrant issued earlier this year allowed for the early processing of payments. As a result, the Department of Finance was able to flow the $150 to those most in need as quickly as possible. This program is progressing very well, and while there was an initial flurry of applications in the first three weeks of the program - 4,500 applications in total - applications have now slowed down significantly. The Department of Finance will be running ads in the local media to remind individuals that this program expires, by legislation, on June 30. Up to 2,900 applications are still expected. Turnaround time from receipt of the application to issuance of the cheques to clients has generally been less than a week.
Capital expenditures show a moderate net decline of $218,000 in this supplementary budget. This is largely due to capital projects that have not proceeded quite as quickly as anticipated. Ministers will speak to these changes as their affected departments come up for general debate.
I thank you, Mr. Chair. If members have questions of a general nature on the supplementary budget, I would be pleased to take them at this time.
Mr. Mitchell: I'll be brief in the interest of trying to save enough time to carry forward with all the departments on the 2006-07 budget still in front of us.
I had spoken to this previously at second reading. We have expressed our concerns - the continued use of special warrants on an annual basis. We've talked about spending other people's money and the fact that we would like to see an increased amount of vision in terms of how we as a territory will move forward.
The minister speaks of the capital projects not proceeding as rapidly as he might have hoped. We, too, are concerned about the lack of progress with the Watson Lake extended care facility. Part of this budget shows the funds that are lapsing because of the inability to get that project completed in the time previously planned. We know that the Dawson facility has also not progressed.
We do have concerns. We are happy that we are seeing the transfers of $13.3 million for the northern strategy trust. We look forward to hearing how these monies will be spent. We are concerned that we continue not to have a new correctional facility, but rather there is continued funding to try to keep the old facility from falling down.
Other than that, rather than continue to spend time on a supplementary that basically addresses funds that have already been spent, we will reserve our comments for specific departments when we get to that point.
Mr. Hardy: I will also be extremely brief. We have debated this budget extensively. We're on record on many issues for which this government allocated money, how they spent it and used special warrants. All that stuff is on record - not just for capital projects, but also within the departments, whether it's dealing with Health and Social Services, Education or Environment. It's all on record.
At the present time, we're more eager to continue debate on the future and the budget that was put before us by the government - 2006-07 - and that's where we want to focus our attention.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In closing comments, I want to thank the leader of the third party for his comments. I respect the fact the third party wants to move ahead and focus on the future and conduct the public's business with respect to the 2006-07 fiscal year and the main estimates we're dealing with in this sitting.
I do want to respond to the leader of the official opposition, who continues to promote this view by the official opposition - the Liberal Party - in the House of spending other people's money. I think that's a direct attack on the Yukon taxpayers who contribute directly to what we spend in a big way. It's void of recognition of what Yukon has contributed to federal surpluses since 1995, which is significant. I'll just give the member some facts and figures, should the member choose to reflect upon them.
What this actually means, since 1995, is a loss of approximately $200 million plus annually to the Yukon. This is not other people's money. The core value in this country is about the sharing of the national wealth. When it comes to equalization, that core value is constitutional with respect to equalization payments to provinces. So, this is not other people's money; it's our fair share based on the core value, or the core principle, of sharing the natural wealth.
In many cases, capital projects, because we've increased capital to the highest levels ever in the history of the territory, are experiencing some nominal limited delays, given the lack of expertise and tradespeople in the contracting community, who are all very busy. This is a very small amount of capital that will not be expended.
Mr. Chair, this is for the leader of the official opposition's benefit. This is the same member who stood on the floor of the Legislature trying to imply that budgets, as tabled, are static and are not fluid, as all budgets are. This supplementary is clear testimony and evidence, hopefully, to the leader of the official opposition that variances will happen through the course of the fiscal year, not only in expenditure but in revenue.
This is another example, as we have pointed out in Question Period, of the approach that the leader of the official opposition and the official opposition take in this House. So, I would hope that in dealing with the supplementary and critiquing it thoroughly, the leader of the official opposition recognizes that these variances are on a going-concern basis - constant - and always have been in government and always will be.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hearing none, we will proceed with line-by-line examination.
The Chair seeks some direction as to which department we would like to begin with.
Ms. Duncan: I would request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all votes, clauses, schedules and the title in Bill No. 19, Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06, read and agreed to.
Unanimous consent re deeming Bill No. 19 read and agreed to
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all votes, clauses, schedules and the title of Bill No. 19, Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06, read and agreed to. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
That concludes Bill No. 19, Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $2,279,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $7,833,000 agreed to
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
On Schedule A
Schedule A agreed to
On Schedule B Grants
Schedule B Grants agreed to
On Schedule B Special Warrant
Schedule B Special Warrant agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move
THAT Bill No. 19, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06, be reported without amendment.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved
THAT Bill No. 19, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: 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. 19, Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06, and has directed me to report it without amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Bill No. 19: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 19, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move
THAT Bill No. 19, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Premier
THAT Bill No. 19, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 2005-06, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 19 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 19 has passed this House.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We will continue with the Department of Health and Social Services.
There has been a request for a five-minute recess to allow for officials.
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: There will be a five-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 - continued
Chair: We'll continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, in general debate on Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Hardy: Where I left off yesterday is talking about the hospital - trying to figure out the land, buildings, direction, who has authority, and all that stuff. I'm not going to go too much into that, other than it really sounds like a structure that does need some attention given to it. I think the minister has acknowledged that it is kind of convoluted and unusual and some time probably needs to be spent on trying to deal with it, especially working with the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board to resolve some of the conflicts that can arise because of the structure. I think we can agree on that. If the minister has a different opinion, that's fine. He can correct me, but I think we did have an agreement on that.
Has the minister considered a Yukon health authority as another move that may help move the territory forward?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Just to answer the questions that were asked by the leader of the third party, both today and in his closing comments of yesterday's debate, I'd just like to provide some more clarity regarding the status of the buildings on there.
That whole block of land, including 2 Hospital Road and 4 Hospital Road, are all one parcel of land owned by the hospital. But we have the situation with those other buildings as well - 2 Hospital Road and 4 Hospital Road are operated by the Yukon government, so YTG owns all the buildings, operates some of them, and two of them are operated by the Hospital Corporation.
So simply transferring them all to the hospital, in answer to the member's question, would not necessarily resolve any problems.
Again, I would just reiterate that we are not opposed to making some changes in this area. It is an area that is somewhat complex to deal with and does have an impact on both the hospital and YTG. To make any changes regarding this - there doesn't seem to be any urgency; it doesn't seem to be creating a problem. It is a matter that, for the sake of simplicity, might be revolved at some point down the road. We may take it up and review that, but at the moment we simply have a number of more urgent priorities to review within Health and Social Services and within Finance.
The member's other question with regard to Yukon health authority - I'm assuming the member has heard this from the Hospital Corporation. There was a suggestion by the Hospital Corporation that perhaps they should create a regional health authority.
The Hospital Act does allow for such a possibility, but what that would mean in practical terms is that employees of Health and Social Services within communities would then fall under the hospital as per the suggestion from the Hospital Corporation. Again, we just don't see a need to do that at this point. There is nothing preventing a government somewhere down the road from doing that, but I would remind the member of the significant opposition from the union that occurred to the suggested transfer of EMS under the Hospital Corporation. We don't want to go down that road right now.
I have stated to the Hospital Corporation Board of Directors, and will state again unequivocally to the members opposite, that as minister I am not prepared to consider the creation of a regional hospital authority or transfer of existing Yukon government positions and employees to the Yukon Hospital Corporation until such time as: (a) it seems to be necessary; and (b) the union and membership are comfortable with such a move.
It is certainly not an issue that is on my agenda, and I would just state to the member opposite that as far as I'm concerned the issue is dealt with. I know that there are some who would like it revisited, but I have no interest in doing it at this time. The primary reason behind this is the union and employees do not feel that it would be appropriate, and secondly the creation of a regional health authority and a potential transfer of any health employees under that authority would impact our ability to deliver programs and services in some areas. In fact, based on our analysis, it would not result in any additional benefit to Yukoners and would negatively impact our ability to deliver programs and services, so it's not on the table.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, I have a lot of questions. I'm going to try to go through them fairly quickly just to get them on record but also to seek the position of the new minister and what the department is doing and the overall picture.
I stand to be corrected on some of this; I'm just basing it on some of the information that have been handed out to us. In the capital budget, in 2004-05, in Dawson , there was $600,000 allocated for the multi-level care facility. In 2005-06, there was $5,200,000 allocated. In 2006-07, it's $100,000.
I'm not sure what direction the government is going in over a three-year period when I see figures like that.
Before I allow the minister to stand up, I will give him a little bit more. Then he can do a batch answer.
For a seniors facility in Teslin, there was $50,000 in 2004-05 and there was $50,000 in 2005-06. I don't know if that was a revote or what. In 2006-07, there is zero. Again, I don't find anywhere where that money for Teslin has been revoted or moved forward. If I am wrong, please correct me.
In Haines Junction, for the seniors facility there, there was a $50,000 allocation in 2005. In 2005-06, there was $50,000. In 2006-07 - zero. I would really appreciate it if the minister could clarify that and explain those types of spending patterns for the three communities I just outlined.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member's question, first of all, with regard to the Dawson facility, let's just say there was a need to make some revisions to the plans as they had been developed and bring them more into line with what the original intent of the facility was - that being a multi-level care facility. There was not the budgetary room to create a massive new facility and redesign the hospital, as had been advocated by some. It was a $5-million budget envelope that had been set out, not an envelope of what would have approached around the $15-million mark to do that. That is why we have $100,000 worth of planning money in this fiscal year rather than construction money for a facility, because revisions need to be made and the design needs to be brought in line with the original intent and with the budgetary envelope.
It is still very much a live project. The hope would be, during the next fiscal year and construction season, we can get this project off the ground with construction commencing.
With regard to the questions members asked about budgetary envelopes related to facilities for seniors in Haines Junction and Teslin, the situation is the same with both of those. The money the member is referring to would have been the planning money. A review was done in both areas and, in both cases, I believe the amounts the member referred to were a revote from one year to the next, and it would have been for the review of both areas done by Options Consulting.
On the Teslin situation, the review was done on the need for a continuing care facility in that area. The results came back that the number of people in Teslin who are approaching a senior age is certainly significant; however, the demand right now even for home care is not that strong. We're only dealing with a few individuals. The results of that report recommended we look at expanding home care when it becomes necessary but that, at this point, there was not a demand for a continuing care facility in Teslin.
The report was provided to the community just a week or two ago - my memory is failing me as to the exact date. The weeks are sort of running together now. I believe it was two weeks ago that the MLA for that area - the MLA for Pelly-Nisutlin - and I sat down with his constituents, the health committee of the Village of Teslin and other interested residents, and discussed the results of the report. We also advised them that we are in this fiscal year increasing the home-care support to address their needs in Teslin. The support that will be provided right now should be a little in excess of what is currently required, but we do anticipate a need and we have to fund a position to a certain level of part-time/permanent. That was the decision that the department and I made, otherwise we would simply not be able to retain an individual.
So, the support available will actually be in excess of what the current demands are, but it will ensure that we are addressing those current demands and have someone available for the future. And the residential facility or continuing care facility - they're just simpler, according to the review, and the numbers that we have there show there isn't any demand for that facility at this time.
With regard to the Village of Haines Junction, right now Yukon Housing Corporation, under their jurisdiction, is proceeding forward with the development of a seniors central residence facility. Again, there was no demand for a multi-level or continuing care facility - or, rather, I should say there was insufficient demand to warrant that.
It does require somewhere around 10 or 12 beds for a facility to be feasible to operate. Anything below that makes it very cost intensive per bed, and we were only dealing with a situation of a few projected individuals at this time. We have decided instead to enhance supports through home care and, of course, provide the funding as well to the St. Elias Seniors Society to help them expand into the area, as done by the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake for a number of years now - providing increased supports, including hot meals, to seniors in that jurisdiction.
I should also mention to the leader of the third party that we have extended the offer to the people in Teslin as well - that should they wish to form a similar organization, we would be prepared to fund it and work with them to set up a reasonable and appropriate mechanism to provide an equitable level of service to the people in their area, as provided in Haines Junction and Watson Lake.
Mr. Hardy: I'll keep moving along here. I do know that there are other people who may want to ask questions - significant questions - in this department.
The number of months on the waiting list for Macaulay Lodge - looking at statistics, it's estimated to increase 167 percent, which is a substantial amount - basically eight months. The average number of persons on the waiting list is estimated to double to 20, which is, again, a very significant amount.
I will jump over to Copper Ridge Place, as well, and put this on the record. At Copper Ridge Place , the average number of persons on the wait-list is estimated to increase 200 percent, from two to six, and the number of months on the wait-list is estimated to increase 300 percent, from one to four months.
I do know that the minister indicated that some more beds were going to be opened up both in Copper Ridge and, I believe, in Macaulay Lodge. However, I have two questions: is it significant enough to deal with a very big jump, and possibly another jump next year? Are we looking down the road far enough that this is going to be adequate, and will it have an impact on respite care in these facilities? Will it compromise that?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The member is absolutely correct with regard to the increase in demand that is there. Certainly it is an area where we recognize we have had an increase. I would also point out to the member that, in the fall of last year, the rumours that we had been hearing for some time about people bringing in their elderly parents from outside Yukon had not reflected themselves in the statistics before, but we had a significant jump in the population. I don't have the stats in front of me but, if memory serves, in all demographics above age 55 we had between a 5.5 and an 8.5 percentage increase versus the year previous.
So we certainly are concerned about this trend and want to be sure that we have the beds available to deal with that. We are making the needed improvements and expansions to the exiting nurse-call system within Macaulay Lodge and putting in another elevator to enable us to open up seven beds in that facility.
There are an additional 12 beds available at Copper Ridge Place that will also have to be opened up. The Macaulay Lodge expansion will be taking place and should be ready - the tenders for the elevator replacement and the nurse-call system in Macaulay are out right now, so those should hopefully be completed early on in the construction season, and we hope to have those beds open sometime late summer or early fall.
The only issues that are out there are those two construction projects, so as soon as they are completed, we will open up those beds. The work is being done right now within Health and Social Services as far as the expansions we need and to make sure we have the staff available and everything ready.
Also with regard to the Copper Ridge facility, we have one wing of 12 beds that can still be opened, and that needs to be proceeded with. We'll probably have to start opening that up later this year. The increase in the waiting list is a concern but we've just finished hiring the staff to complete opening the last wing - the most recent wing opened at Copper Ridge Place - so we have to then expand into getting the staff and equipment ready for the next wing. That will be done to address this need.
The member's concerns that the waiting list has increased are concerns I share. I would also note to the member that is why I referred during our debate yesterday to the $100,000 we have in there for planning a continuing care facility and why I'm waiting for the department to finish with the review of the Thomson Centre. It's a review of the recommendations that came in from Options Consulting. We need to look at them and make sure we have beds being expanded within the next few years because of the anticipated increase in population. Again, we're talking projections here, but the projections for an increase in demand for beds are significant within the next five years and we want to address that to ensure we continue to maintain a high standard of care.
We're fortunate that our facilities are very good right now in comparison to what is available outside the Yukon. Particularly, Copper Ridge Place is of a very high standard. It's a wonderful facility with excellent staff and a tremendous environment that compares very favourably to any facility I've ever been in outside the territory.
The common practice in other jurisdictions is that sharing a room with another person is about as private as you get whereas, within the Copper Ridge facility, we have individual rooms and that provides a standard of care that I think all Yukoners should be very proud of. We should be proud of what we provide but we need to move forward and make the investments and do the planning so our standard of care is maintained and, hopefully, enhanced rather than seeing it decline and have people on the waiting list and not being able to get into a facility when they need to.
Additionally, as referred to in some of the comments yesterday, we are also looking at expansion in home care to provide increased services to people to help them remain in their homes longer. It is something I think the member is aware of. Demographically, our population is aging and we want to take the steps to address that. I know relatives of mine and others who desire to remain in their homes as long as possible. I am sure that the member opposite has heard the same thing: that most Yukoners would prefer not to have to leave their homes, especially if they have been there for many years. We want to provide them that support so they can stay in their homes as long as possible. We need to ensure that we do have facilities they can move into and have a higher level of care provided, if that becomes necessary.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for his responses. Continuing on, of course - I understand that the roof is leaking in Macaulay Lodge. There are some problems there with leaks. The building is old and the upkeep on it is probably getting more substantial than what it has been in the past. Is that being taken care of right now?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: There have been some issues with Macaulay Lodge that have necessitated some repairs. If my memory serves, there was painting done early this year and minor repairs and enhancements were done to make the atmosphere a pleasant place. It is an old building so the maintenance requirements are higher. I wasn't aware of this current roof leak, but I am aware that it has leaked in the past. It can be repaired, but it's simply a fact when dealing with an older building that repairs become necessary.
The member may be alluding to the fact that, at some point in the future, Macaulay Lodge as a facility may simply age to the point where it's well-advised to replace it. But we're not in that situation yet, and our biggest concern right now is bed capacity.
I'd also remind the member opposite of discussion with the residents before, and it was clear that many of them don't want to move to a new facility, no matter how nice or how wonderful. They are happy with where they live and they consider that their home, so we want to respect those wishes.
Maintenance repairs will be done to Macaulay Lodge, and we will do our level best to address any anticipated needs that occur with regard to facilities, as I previously stated, and as there is planning money in the budget.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, I would just like to give the minister a heads-up. I believe that the last rainfall - last week, I think it was - did cause some problems, and that's what I've been told by people who have relatives in there and some of the staff. That's just a heads-up for the minister - not a criticism or anything. I do know it's an old building.
I also know how attached people are to it. It is really quite a nice facility, in many ways, even if it's old. I spent many, many days over there, over many years, once my mother-in-law was in that place. I can assure you that I have many fond memories of that building, as do my children, who used to visit there on a regular basis.
How about a bill of rights for seniors in care? Is there one in place, or are there any plans to take a look at that?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Chair, I'm actually not sure entirely what the member is referring to. Certainly, there are procedures and policies in place. To my knowledge, there is nothing in place that is officially called a seniors bill of rights, but the level of care that is delivered by the staff in all our facilities, in our continuing care and assisted living facilities, meets a very high standard. I don't think there is a problem at this time with regard to the treatment of seniors. I think that they're treated very well and that efforts are made to make it as home-like an environment as possible. Steps have been taken beyond what is common in other facilities outside the territory.
I would just give the member an example of one area where our staff within Health and Social Services has made sensible changes to ensure that our procedures are procedures that make sense for the Yukon, not just copying what's done in other jurisdictions. It's very common in a lot of continuing care facilities in other jurisdictions for staff to go in with flashlights in the middle of the night every couple of hours to check on the residents in their beds. That's very disturbing to sleep patterns for those people. Instead, it's common practice for our staff to not check on residents in the middle of the night and disturb their sleep unless (a) the resident requests it or (b) there's a real concern that the resident is suffering some health problem or there is some concern that makes it necessary to monitor their situation and ensure that they don't slip away from us in the middle of the night.
That is just one example of how staff within Health and Social Services in Yukon are taking sensible steps to ensure that they reflect the best needs of our people here. I think they do a very good job.
If the member has suggestions regarding a seniors bill of rights or anything related to that, I am not opposed to considering the concept. I don't think a problem exists right now. We are never opposed to taking steps to prevent problems from occurring in the future, but I would be interested in hearing more details about what the member is specifically proposing, and we would be open to that discussion. Ultimately, we would want to ensure that any new processes were something that, first and foremost, were desired by Yukon senior citizens and - secondly and very importantly - represented their concerns, addressed their concerns and took action based on their concerns. Certainly I am confident that staff within the department would be very open to working with those concerns and trying to make sure that we continue to maintain a very high standard of care within our facilities. I am quite confident, and I think the member is as well, that our staff within the continuing care facilities and assisted living do a heck of a good job and are very committed to doing their best to make improvements any time they can figure out any possible way to make those improvements. I certainly am very supportive of that and think all Yukoners should be proud of that high level of service.
Mr. Hardy: I'm definitely not, in any way, criticizing the workers there. They're absolutely amazing. I know, for a fact, it's a job I probably couldn't do. It takes a special type of person to be in a care structure like that with seniors, youth or children. The idea of a bill of rights for seniors in care is something - it wouldn't be me discussing it so much - to tell the minister. I'm not a senior yet. I'm quite a long way away from being a senior. And I do know there's a big age difference - I think there's a 19- or 20-year age difference between the two of us. Though I have added another year to my age today, I'm still not a senior.
But if any discussions around that happened, I think it would be something that maybe the seniors can discuss - maybe the Golden Age Society, Yukon Council on Aging - something like that. I've heard talk around it. I didn't know where we were at with it or if there were any kinds of discussions. So, if it's not being brought forward, then maybe it's not that big of an issue; but it is a consideration.
Home care is interesting. Many people believe and some of the studies indicate with respect to caring for people that it's a cost-saving service. And yet, Yukon 's spending on home care is the lowest in Canada . It's less than two percent of the Health and Social Services budget. I guess my question is why is it the lowest in Canada if it's recognized as a cost-saving service, unless the minister has a different perspective on that. Has the department itself done any economic analysis of the service in comparison to institutional care to kind of get a handle on that?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: First of all, if I understood correctly what the member said, I believe he said it was his birthday today, so I'd like to wish the Member for Whitehorse Centre a happy birthday and a very good year ahead.
With regard to the comments regarding the seniors bill of rights, I thank the member for the suggestion. If the Golden Age Society or any other group of seniors came forward and was suggesting a seniors bill of rights, I wouldn't be adverse to considering the concept. I will have discussion with some of my colleagues. I know some of my colleagues, such as the Member for Porter Creek Centre and the members for Riverdale North and South, are very involved in talking with members of the seniors community to ensure their concerns are reflected.
I know they have some active projects going on right now, so I will talk to them and find out if there is a desire to move forward on something like that. I would be prepared to consider it.
In answer to the Member for Whitehorse Centre's questions regarding home care, to simply say that home care is cheaper than a facility is not always the case because in some areas, particularly because of providing service to rural areas around Whitehorse and other communities, there can be increased costs and sometimes, for certain individuals, it's more expensive to assist them in their homes than in a residential facility. It's more of a moral or values choice that we have made that we want to provide people the ability to live within their own home, even if it is cheaper to be within a residential facility.
In general terms the member is correct that, on average, it is cheaper to assist individuals in a home care setting than to provide them care and a bed within a residential facility but, as I said, it's not always the case. It depends on a case-by-case basis.
Also, in answer to the member's questions about the level of spending and the budget on home care, I would point out to the member that we are moving forward right now in planning for the enhancement of home care, and we certainly have every intention of increasing the budget for home care. Right now the needs are being met, but we do anticipate greater needs and we want to ensure, if anything, that the level of service is increasing. Certainly, in no way, shape or form do we want to see the level of service declining to Yukoners. So there will be services provided and the services will be enhanced. We are doing that planning work right now, and as long as I am minister I will be fighting for the budgetary allocations to ensure that those needs are addressed under the planning prior to creating positions and expanding operations.
I am sure the Member for Whitehorse Centre is still very youthful and will not need those services for years to come, but we want to ensure that those services are provided for each and every one of us in this Assembly and for all Yukoners at such time as it is needed.
Mr. Hardy: I can assure the minister opposite that I feel very youthful most of the time. I don't have much grey in my hair, although I'm losing it - opposite of the minister opposite.
I have actually noticed something, and I hope it's not a trend, that when you become a minister your hair starts to either fall out or go grey - but this minister seems to be aging quite fast.
Home care is a very significant move. Many provinces and territories are going in that direction. It's considered - I wouldn't say a more humane way but a more sensitive way of dealing with people who need care, to allow them to stay in their homes longer. There are cost-saving services. The question I asked was whether there been any economic analysis of the service in comparison to institutional care and the costs of that?
I'm not sure if I got an answer on that. If the minister can brush on that lightly, that would be fine. If they are planning to or have done some cost analysis, that would be great - economic cost analysis.
What are the plans for palliative care? What are the plans for that? If he can deal with those two questions, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member's question about whether there has been an in-depth analysis of the economic feasibility - I forget the term he used exactly - related to the provision of services, either in-home care or residential care, I don't have that at my fingertips and I am not sure whether we have had a review done specific to that. I can look into that. I know there is some overlap because, of our workers who provide services within continuing facilities, there are some positions that provide services there and also spend part of the time out of those facilities. So it may not be an easy number to pull right out of the air, but we certainly know the costs that are incurred.
There is no question that it is generally cheaper to provide those services within a home care environment, but home care, as I noted to the member opposite, does depend very much on the level of care that is required by an individual; whether they require an hour a week or whether they require several hours a week makes a big difference to the cost. The cost of fuel has become a greater impact on the cost of delivering home care because of the need to travel. In some cases, if someone is on the periphery of Whitehorse, a significant amount of time can be invested in travel time, so it can get a bit expensive to provide service to that individual directly.
Again I say to the member opposite that the reason it is provided that way is based on a value and a sense that it is a service that we simply want to have available and we provide support to people within their own homes, as long as they choose to have it provided that way and as long as we are able to provide them with support in that manner. We want to continue that. It is certainly something I support continuing, and we are doing the planning work to implement that.
With regard to palliative care, I would just mention to the member opposite that, as I stated yesterday during the debate with the member of the Liberal Party and, as I had to repeat to the member several times, we do have, under the territorial health access fund, $1.2 million allocated over the next five years, mostly for implementing palliative care. That is for planning and implementation of services at the community level.
The bulk of what is going to be done in this fiscal year will be on the planning side, but the implementation will proceed as soon as we can get it implemented. It is a need that is out there that we want to see addressed to a greater degree. As I've said, over the next five years, what is allocated under the territorial health access fund toward that end is $1.2 million. Things such as facilities and providing those services are issues we will have to look at probably adding to from the main budget of the Department of Health and Social Services at some point down the road. But at this point, planning is primarily what is going to occur in this fiscal year.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for the response again. What is the amount the federal government provides the territory with for home care? It's a legitimate question, I guess, if we're trying to figure out what the territorial government is doing and ensuring that money does go specifically to this area. I don't think it's a hard question, if the minister wants to respond to that.
I do want to kind of shift back now a little bit to the facilities, because something twigged my memory when I was talking about Macaulay Lodge and the age of the building. We all recognize that at the beginning of the Yukon Party's term in office there was a move or consideration that Macaulay Lodge might be closed down. We all remember how the seniors and families responded to that. During that period there was talk about privatization of seniors care - whether the facility is privately built and run, or services are private, or a building is just rented, or using a P3 model for seniors housing. Has this government considered any of those options with respect to seniors care?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member's questions, with regard to federal funding specific to home care, I am not aware of anything and, in consultation with the official assisting me, we're not aware of that. So if the member is referring to a specific area, we could certainly check into that. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing specific for home care.
With regard to Macaulay Lodge and the issues raised by the member opposite - he referred to a previous minister. Without being critical, I certainly respect the previous minister and assume that in all manners he acted as he felt best. But I would just mention that it should be very obvious that the previous minister and I have different styles of dealing with situations, including this. I am very concerned about wanting to make sure that the residents of continuing care and assisted-living facilities are served and that, first and foremost, their needs and their interests are addressed, because that's who the care and the service is supposed to be targeted toward. It is a service that I think, and most of us would agree, we want to be available for our friends and our loved ones and, perhaps at some point down the road, ourselves if it becomes necessary, and we want the service to be provided in a manner that suits the needs of the people, not the needs of some operational manual.
With regard to the member's question about whether there were any plans to look into privatization or P3s regarding seniors facilities, I can't say what other people have considered. I can tell the member opposite that the department is not doing any work in reviewing such things, and it's certainly not something that's on my agenda or list of things to consider.
I think we provide a very good service. I think it is provided in very good manner and, at this point, the intent would be to expand on that service rather than consider an alternate delivery mode. That is what I would advocate, and I hope that answers the member opposite's questions.
Mr. Hardy: I am just going to keep trucking along here. To mention the Dawson City multi-level care facility and going back because of - if you get a $15-million estimate and you only budgeted $5 million some, something went off the rails somewhere. Maybe the designers thought they had an open book to run with.
Are the health care professionals in Dawson City being consulted on the design, or do they make up part of the design team in reviewing this, as well as other health professionals who would have some knowledge about how a building would function best and what is needed?
There have been some very interesting positions put out - I think very sensible ones that have been questioned, such as street level design for seniors and disabled people. The original design had some serious problems. I think a person approaching it with a commonsense attitude would challenge what that original design was, and I think that is why there was quite a concern by the people of Dawson . I think they show common sense in this matter and they know what they want. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like they had the input they should have.
My concern is this: are the health professionals involved to ensure that their concerns are met on how a building works best for them and their clients and how it should be designed? Are the people of Dawson also being kept abreast of what is happening on that part of it?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member's question, yes, health professionals have been involved in Dawson in the design of that facility, and they will be involved in the future, as will members of the public. I will point out that we have $100,000 for planning. There is some work that needs to be done over this year so that will be encompassed in that. We want to be sure that the facility is serving the end users and the people it is designed to support and that it actually provides the product in the manner which is appropriate to them and for the people who are working in that facility to deliver the services there.
It only makes common sense to ask the people who are going to be using it what is necessary for design. I have seen some examples, as I'm sure the member opposite has, of facilities that were designed without input from the employees who would actually be using it. There have often been some pretty glaring absences that simply didn't occur to an architect who was obviously not used to designing facilities of that type or was not used to the particular needs of the employees in that situation.
We certainly want to ensure it meets the needs of the health professionals delivering the services so they can deliver them in a quality manner. It has to meet the needs of the clients, users and residents of the facility and provide a good service and a pleasant living environment for them.
Mr. Hardy: I am glad to hear they are involved. What is the next step for the proposed seniors facilities in Haines Junction and Teslin?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I'd actually have to ask the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation to get back to the member regarding that. Yukon Housing Corporation is taking the lead right now on the project. It is their project right now - building the seniors central residence in Haines Junction. Our review, from Health and Social Services, was to look at the feasibility of assisted living and continuing care. There simply was not the demand for that right now, so Yukon Housing Corporation is proceeding with a central residence that will have some services provided to residents within that facility, but not to the same level as Macaulay Lodge, Copper Ridge or McDonald Lodge.
Mr. Hardy: I'm sure that if the minister can convey that to the other minister, I'd appreciate it if that information could be sent up - just an update on that. I'd really appreciate it if the minister would follow through on that. I'm sure the Member for Kluane would also be interested in that information.
Has the government considered a food bank?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I think what the member is referring to is the Anti-Poverty Coalition and the proposal that they're talking about right now. I would just remind the member that the Anti-Poverty Coalition has had some concerns and suggestions that they felt more could and should be done to address the needs of impoverished Yukoners and people with more limited incomes.
We have resourced the Anti-Poverty Coalition to the tune of $15,000 per year, both in the last fiscal year and this current fiscal year, to assist them. That funding had not previously been provided to the Anti-Poverty Coalition.
So we are trying to help them move forward with their concerns as a result of using some of that money. Through efforts on their part, they have come up with proposals that they are talking about now. I have had nothing from them touch my desk relating to a specific proposal that they are requesting assistance with. We would not rule out those discussions. Prior to seeing details on something like that, all I can say to the member opposite is that we don't rule out the concept but, as with any proposal, the questions always come down to feasibility, what need it's addressing, how it's providing value for dollar to Yukon taxpayers in an accountable fashion, et cetera, et cetera. The door is open for discussion. We will have to review any proposal if it does come forward, and we will make the appropriate decisions based on that.
Mr. Hardy: Now, I was at the Anti-Poverty Coalition meeting last week, a meeting specifically around a food bank. There are two things that became very clear. The need is identified. There are volunteer organizations that run soup kitchens and gather food through the assistance of many volunteers and make that food available. Usually it's dry goods and whatnot - Mary House, for instance, which does that program. Salvation Army is another one. The churches, of course, are very much involved in this delivery. It has become very obvious that it is just getting almost overwhelming. It is very difficult. There are food banks in other parts of the country that are up and running. I was there as well as the Minister of Community Services.
I'm trying to remember what the community development fund falls under. However, he was there.
Interestingly enough, during the discussions, it was suggested that a good first start in this area would be to bring somebody up who has been very involved in the creation and running of food banks - the costs, the set up of what is needed and what is identified. It was a suggestion that I put on the table and it was taken up quite well. What is really, really encouraging is the minister in charge of the community development fund - this idea would fall under CDF - seemed to indicate this would be a good area to at least start this initiative. I would like to applaud the minister on that. I think it was a good response that the people around those tables needed to hear.
The other interesting thing the Minister of Health and Social Services should understand is the Anti-Poverty Coalition doesn't want to be in the business of running the food bank. They are just trying to identify the needs that are out there for those who are in need and how we can address those needs to assist all citizens of this territory. They made it very clear that's not what the Anti-Poverty Coalition was set up for. One of the things they want, though, and have asked for - I remember this as well; I'm one of the founding members of the Anti-Poverty Coalition - we've always asked for an anti-poverty strategy to be put in place. It would be something this government can work and be part of. However, they don't want to all of a sudden find themselves running a food bank.
I think it's important and I'd really recommend that the minister meet with them again. Although they do appreciate the amount of money they have received - the $15,000, I believe - I think the minister needs to understand that they are not an agency to deliver these programs. I wouldn't necessarily call them a lobby agency, but they are definitely a voice for those who often do not have a voice.
So if he could - and I'm sure he will - meet with them and get a better handle on what they are proposing and what their structure is and what they are trying to do, I think we would appreciate their position sometimes and what direction they are going.
When we talk about this area of poverty, there has been no increase in social assistance rates for 15 years. I know there was an increase in one section of it, but overall there hasn't been an increase. The problem really is the rates for families. The significant problem is not so much the singles, but the families are the ones that this has really hit.
Is the minister planning to review those rates? I know the fair wage schedule has been reviewed and increased. I applaud the government for doing that. I know the minimum wage is under review, and I am not sure where it's at, but my understanding is that it is going up. I also applaud the government for that.
But this is a significant area that we have asked to be looked at for the last three and a half years. At least, if not this, would the minister consider looking at the food allowance, because that hasn't been adjusted for awhile? For families this area is absolutely critical. It kind of ties into the food banks, because you will find that a lot of people who use the food banks are families. It is because the allowance that they get is just too small - the ones that are on social assistance. The other ones could be just because they are so poorly paid or they are going through rough patches in their lives. However, if they aren't going to look at the social assistance rates - if the government doesn't feel at the present time, or they are not planning to do it before the end of their mandate, at least look at the food allowance and see if some adjustment can be made there.
Would the minister consider this?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Going through the questions from the member opposite with regard to the Anti-Poverty Coalition and the meeting they had and the discussion they've had regarding a food bank - yes, I understand that the member was present at their meeting last Friday, as was the Minister of Community Services. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend as I was travelling to the health ministers meeting in Toronto and had to leave immediately after the House to rush up to the airport and check in. But I do appreciate the invitation they extended to me and would certainly be happy to meet with the Anti-Poverty Coalition and discuss their concerns and suggestions.
Right now my understanding is that - with respect to their proposal that a food bank be established - the suggestion was that they do apply to the community development fund and that would provide a way through which we should be able to assist them in having somebody do a review of what the needs are or what the most appropriate method would be to address them and what the feasibility of it is.
I do understand that, as the member has stated, the Anti-Poverty Coalition isn't suggesting that they should necessarily run this. They're simply advocating for the creation of a food bank. And we're certainly open to those discussions. We do want to ensure that we're providing for the needs of Yukoners, whether that be through methods like a food bank, the social assistance rates, or another method that provides the ability for people to have their needs addressed.
I have had discussions with department officials regarding social assistance rates and asked questions such as to what extent are the needs being met? Certainly, for years, there have always been people who have different opinions at any given time about whether or not the social assistance rates are at the appropriate level.
There is the ability, as well, through social assistance to provide emergency funding if people's costs exceed what the allotments are through social assistance and ensure that they're not starving or that they have fuel. One issue that had been brought forward - and we've had some discussions on it - is there are some First Nations that had suggested that perhaps we should increase the allotment for heating fuel provided within social assistance. We've also had First Nations contact us, opposing such a move. The advice that I had from officials is that the needs are being addressed in this area, and if they are exceeded they can be addressed through emergency funding. Based on their review of how often this occurs, we don't need to make a move at this time to adjust the rates. My understanding is that the same holds true for food subsidies, but I am happy to review this with officials and consider this.
Like the member opposite, I do want to be sure that needs are addressed and that people are provided sufficient resources if they are forced to rely on social assistance to continue to feed and clothe their families and heat the residences that they're in. Based on the last time I did review this with the department - it seemed that needs were indeed being addressed. I would remind the member that the rates that we have are among the highest in the country.
Again, I do stress that we are committed to meeting the needs, and I certainly have no objection to once again raising this with officials and discussing whether things have changed in this area.
I would again just state to the member that we regard the economy as being an integrally linked picture - all aspects of it - and the most important program for ensuring that people have money in their pockets is a good economy. The member is aware of the economic growth that we have experienced since our government took office. I don't wish to engage with the member in a lengthy debate over what changes occasion that growth. I know the member and I have different opinion on that.
The economy has significantly improved since the time of the previous government being in, and once again Yukoners are returning to the territory. The unemployment rate has been, for many months now, between the second and fourth lowest in the country and we have hit historically low levels. Unemployment has been consistently around the five-percent mark and, in fact, as low as 4.2 percent. That is a very important economic engine.
The minimum wage rate is another very important element of ensuring that people have money in their pockets to feed their families. Certainly, it would be the hope that people who are earning a living would be able to earn a living and not have to rely on other supports. That is not always the case. There is the ability, as well, through social assistance, to assist with emergency funding in that area.
In conclusion to that, I appreciate both members' suggestions, and I have no objection to reviewing them. We will certainly undertake to do that.
Mr. Hardy: I hope the minister truly does follow up on that.
I've talked to people who point to the one single change that could easily be made, and it has to do with the food allowance. I've talked to a lot of people and that seems to be the one that pops up every time. So when I waded through a lot of the suggestions, the one consistent one that was easier - it may not even have to be that significant a change in amounts to have a significant change in lifestyle or ability to feed the family good food. Of course, we all know how important it is to have healthy food for all people, whether seniors or youth, and the long-term impacts of that.
I'm going to move around a little bit here. I hope the minister doesn't mind. I have quite a few more questions.
Is electro-convulsive therapy - ECT - used for patients in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: No.
Mr. Hardy: That's very good to hear. I won't go into a long story of why I've always been concerned about that. Let's just say that I know people close to me who have, unfortunately, been put through some of that, and ultimately have lost them, too.
Does the minister have any statistics regarding percentages of admissions to hospitals, voluntary or involuntary, for suicidal problems? If so - or even if not - does the department do any public education for suicide prevention?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member's question about admissions for people who are suicidal or are felt to be, and also public education in that area, I'll have to check into that and get back to the member opposite. I don't have those numbers at my fingertips. I certainly know that people who are suicidal are often dealt with through resources such as their family doctor or a community nursing station. Yukon Family Services Association provides a lot of mental health supports. Although they are outside the Yukon government itself, they are funded to the tune of millions of dollars by the Yukon government to assist them in providing those supports to Yukoners.
That is an area, as I say - I can look into that and get back to the member with more information. Again, I would say, if the member has suggestions regarding what he would suggest we should do in this area - if he feels that needs are not being met, I'd welcome his suggestions and letting me know where he's going with this and what he'd like to see. Or perhaps he's just asking for information, and if that's the case, I will get the information on that and get back to him once we have that.
Mr. Hardy: There were two parts to that question. Do I have any suggestions? I probably do have some ideas around it, because I have, unfortunately, lost some friends through suicide and I know too many people and hear too many stories in the Yukon of things like this happening. As a matter of fact, interestingly enough, it was just this morning when we were talking about some people who have committed suicide - I was talking to some of my colleagues - and this came up, and it came up in the context of people having different sexual orientation and living in fear, not being able to express that openly. Still, in this day and age, homophobia is still a very significant factor in our society. As a matter of fact, today is being more and more recognized as anti-homophobia day.
Anyway, this is how the discussion evolved, and how some people they knew had given up trying to live the life that was expected of them by, possibly, their colleagues, their parents, their community - not being able to come out and identify what they are. There was too much fear, and that compounded over the years. In the end, they chose suicide as the answer to deal with that kind of pressure.
That's a shame.
I hear a lot of these stories. Just two days ago, I was talking to another person who was talking about youths and how they knew of two youths who, in the last year, have tried to commit suicide or seemed to be at that emotional stage, where that seemed to be one of the options they were considering: to end it all.
The latest one I heard about very recently is how seniors will often make that choice when they are alone. It is very much about being alone, with no family or support, and totally isolated. These are concerns in our society.
The second part of the question was, is the department doing any public education, in schools and out of schools, in regard to suicide - with phone lines, help lines, and stuff like that?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, in answer to the question about what work is being done as far as public education campaigns and suicide prevention, either by ourselves or by the Department of Education, I will have to check into that and get back to the member opposite.
It is certainly an area of concern and I appreciate the member's concern in this area. I would also take the opportunity to urge anyone who might be listening to this today or reading the pages of Hansard, who is and is having a difficult time in their lives, to come forward and seek help, not to be alone, but to reach out to someone - whether it be a physician, a nurse, Yukon Family Services Association, or anyone, whether friend or family. Nothing is ever so bad as to necessitate taking such a severe step as taking your own life.
I do appreciate the concern of the Member for Whitehorse Centre about this and recognize those who do make that type of decision and take such a horrible action and end their own life - it creates an impact on themselves obviously, as well as on family and friends who would have been all too happy to assist them. Unfortunately that individual did not reach out or seek help. It's something where so much can be done to assist those who are coping with depression or other problems within their lives that cause them to contemplate such a horrific action. I would urge any person in that situation to reach out to someone, and that any person who fears that a friend, relative or someone they know might be considering doing such a thing not wait and wonder but take the time to invite them out for a coffee or take a walk with them, play a game or something, and not allow this problem to go unaddressed and unnoticed.
In answer again to the Member for Whitehorse Centre, I will have to look into this matter as far as what efforts are being taken and get back to the member regarding that. I would again just state a willingness to consider suggestions from the member in this matter - if services need to be enhanced, how we can take steps in that area and improve and enhance what is currently available.
Mr. Hardy: I would appreciate it if the minister could get me that information. If there isn't much, I would really encourage the minister to direct his department to take a serious look at this growing problem.
Again, public education is a wonderful tool but, as the minister has indicated, reaching out and helping somebody and being aware of it probably will have more impact. We have to keep that in mind because sometimes it doesn't take much for a person to feel that there just is no other option. We have to be very conscious of that, because I try to believe that there is always another option and suicide should not be the choice taken in most cases.
The Second Opinion Society has often talked about a residence for mentally ill people. Have there been any discussions with this organization and are there any future plans around this idea?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The simple answer to the member's question is: yes, we have $100,000 in the budget to do planning to provide residential support for mental health needs, and we are certainly hoping to having discussions with the Second Opinion Society regarding the development of that facility. There is $100,000 in the budget for doing the planning work.
Mr. Hardy: Has the Second Opinion Society been involved already in some of the discussions?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: First of all, I just realized that I need to correct the record for the member opposite. It's actually $50,000 we have in planning for the facility this year.
To my knowledge, there have not, at this point, been discussions with the Second Opinion Society, although it is our intent to involve them in discussions around that and move forward in that area. It is an issue that I know is out there. I personally had a constituent who had contacted me regarding a family member and the lack of a facility. I recognize the impact that that has on members of the family and friends. So, we are moving forward. There is $50,000 in the budget for planning for housing options for people who are affected with mental health problems and require a residential facility.
Mr. Hardy: Dental health - I was looking at some of the numbers in here in 11-35. Under the Liberal government a few years ago, there was an attempt to reduce the number of dental therapists. Fortunately that didn't happen. Dental therapists do a phenomenal job at an economical price. Personally, I think it was from lobbying efforts by private dentists and I think the Liberals were responding to that.
Yet - I'm looking at this chart - road trips to rural communities and, in 2004-05, it was 42.
It has gone down to 35 and it's estimated again at 35. The dentists, however - actually, their road trips were eight. There was a 105-percent increase. The forecast for 2005-06 was 22 and the estimate is now at 45. Now, there is a note here saying that the increase in the number of trips reflects the fact that an N.W.T. dental practice is able to provide services in rural Yukon at a higher frequency than was possible in the past. Is that going to have an impact on the dental therapists' work or the number of dental therapists we have employed? Is this government now shifting once again, like the Liberals attempted to, away from dental therapists and moving into a more private delivery in this area? I have to remind the minister that dental health branch is responsible for Yukon's children's dental program.
Much of the work that can be done - diagnostic, restorative, preventive, and dental procedures for children - fits under the training of dental therapists, and they are far cheaper. Anybody just has to look at the salaries that are paid for dentists or dental therapists. Whether it's N.W.T., somebody flying in or whatever, it doesn't matter, but it seems to indicate a shift in policy or shift, up until now, of what the Yukon Party has been doing and more of a shift into what the Liberals are trying to do.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the questions of the member opposite, the cost for provision of the dental therapist for 2004-05 was a higher cost than normal. That is the reason for the projection for 2006-07 of $35,000 rather than $42,000.
Another thing that has had an impact on the level of funding that is required in this area is the increased provision of services through the clinic from Hay River - my memory is failing me on the name of that clinic - but we have contracted with them to provide services in rural communities, as none of the Yukon dental clinics wished to continue providing those services, as they had for many years. At one point each and every one of them, or at least the majority of them, had provided services in rural communities but, due to the level of patient load that they deal with in Whitehorse, as well as difficulties dealing with the federal government's non-insured health benefits program, the situation arose where none of them wished to provide that service. That was again the case this year for the extension of the contract with the firm in Hay River . The information that we had was that none of the local dental clinics wanted to provide that service, so Hay River was the closest place where we could find someone to do that.
That increased service has had an impact. I note that the cost for dentists has gone up significantly in 2006-07 compared to 2004-05 and 2005-06. I would also note to the member opposite that the cost for the dental therapist, the $35,000 we are projecting for this year, is the same as the forecasted cost for the 2004-05 fiscal year, and that is what it is based on.
In addition to this, through the territorial health access fund, we are providing an additional dental therapist for the children's dental program and increasing the travel funds for community dental visits. That will be the funding for that position, and that increased service is being provided under the territorial health access fund. The total allocated to that over the five-year period is $543,000 to enhance those supports. Certainly, it's our intent to continue with these procedures.
I'm well aware of the importance of good dental care, my mother previously having been a dental hygienist. I've heard all the benefits of good oral care and how infections in your gums can cause other health problems if you do not properly take care of your teeth. I certainly recognize the importance of good oral care and continuing that support. And if I don't do that, I would hear from my mother.
Mr. Hardy: I can imagine you would, and probably rightly so too.
One of the concerns I've heard over the years is that dental therapists are often restricted in the scope of work they do, yet they're trained to do far more. It's the same position I've often heard the nurses talk about - their training is much broader, and they have the ability to do much broader work, yet they're restricted in what they can do, despite a greater degree of training.
We are facing increases in health care costs all over, and there are levels of service that can be provided by different groups and different professions at different levels. To me it's a natural way of thinking that a dental therapist who can do the work and has done all the training and goes into the communities should do the work that they're trained for. And dentists should be able to go in and do the work that is outside the scope or ability of the therapists.
That alone should reduce some of the costs. There is the same argument with the nurses and other professionals and semi-professionals.
Is there a recruitment strategy to gain a full complement of dental therapists in the Yukon , similar to what the government has tried to do in regard to doctors, nurses and other professionals? Is the recruitment policy inclusive of that or is there a specific one? Are we looking at dealing with increasing our dental therapists' ability to do their scope of work and get them involved more in the communities?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member, I can reiterate that we have got $543,000 over the next five years allocated toward doing that under the territorial health access fund. That is separate from the health human resource strategy. It is an allocation identified for improving dental health services in the communities.
In terms of the issues regarding scope of practice, there will be some enhancement, but again we want to be careful. We are not planning on going down the road that the member suggested the Liberals went down, which was trying to shut out people in the public sector and privatize the service delivery. We also don't want to expand the public sector and hurt private businesspeople. We want to maintain stability, have the service continued to be provided at both levels and respect the fact that, whether private or public sector, generally people in most professions - dentists, dental hygienists, dental therapists and so on - are doing a good job and providing a good service. We don't want to prevent people from earning an honest living and continuing to provide the service to Yukoners, as long as the service is good.
Mr. Hardy: Are wages paid for dental therapists competitive with what's paid in the provinces?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: To the best of my knowledge, yes, it is competitive with that. Again, if the member opposite has specific concerns, suggestions or comparisons, I'd be happy to discuss it, but my understanding is that, yes, the wages are indeed competitive.
Mr. Hardy: Safe drinking water - a big issue, without a doubt, and getting bigger all over. There have been reports and media attention brought to the situation in Carmacks. Other communities have also had concerns. I know there were very strong concerns coming out of Watson Lake, the Liard area, about water quality and how it affects people's lives. Of course, Carmacks is the more recent one. We can't forget that when we talk about Carmacks, many of the other communities could be having difficulties in regard to safe water and water conditions.
So does the government have a strategy to ensure that all Yukoners have safe water to drink? Do they have a strategy in place, and what is being done about the drinking water conditions in Carmacks at the present time?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I believe that the situation the member is referring to in Carmacks is with regard to wells that are the responsibility of the First Nation government, and there is involvement and responsibility from Indian and Northern Affairs, due to their involvement in that. But as far as safe drinking water goes, the regulations for large public and bulk delivery right now will be going forward to Cabinet in the near future and hopefully will be approved. I will be bringing those regulations forward for approval in the near future.
Mr. Hardy: Water tests are being increased substantially - 22 percent. Is this a response to the contamination issue that has arisen in possible other areas, or is this a prevention approach? I am trying to get a handle on it. Are we trying to deal with it in a preventive manner? Are we at that stage or are we actually dealing with contaminations right at the moment?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The regulations are primarily aimed at a preventive standard, but the simple answer to that and where they are coming from is that, when we ran during the last election, the platform of the Yukon Party included a commitment to develop legislation to ensure that Yukoners have safe and clean drinking water. That is being dealt with through regulations that will add that legal requirement as per our commitment. This largely flows through in the wake of situations such as Walkerton and North Battleford, and the issues that occurred there. The guidelines that were there were out for public discussion and consultation with the system operators. I guess the answer to the member opposite is that it is primarily preventive, but it may have some impact on existing situations if they are not meeting a reasonable standard. We are basing the standard on the best practices and analysis from the microbiology and from the mineral prospective of the applicable Canadian safe drinking water advice and ensuring that those standards are met, including issues such as surface wells and cross-contamination, proximity to septic systems and so on and so forth.
Chair: We have reached the time agreed to by the House leaders for an afternoon recess. Do members wish to take a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We are on Vote 15, Health and Social Services, general debate.
Mr. Hardy: Let's take a look at community health and the mass media tobacco-reduction campaign. It starts with very beautiful words - “I love you”. Then it has a word that I truthfully have to admit I despise. It's a word I try to use as little as possible, but since I became conscious of it, I find it used extensively as qualifying everything and every position. The word is “but”. It's an extremely powerful word, if we think about it.
The campaign starts out with, “I love you, but”. Is there an evaluation on what kind of impact this campaign has had? Has there been any tracking? What are the results? What is the intention for the duration - how long is it going to go? Are there any other campaigns that may pop up?
The reason I am asking this, Mr. Chair, of course, is because we had the debate about the “Larger than Life” slogan. The gurus of the media world say that we have to change a slogan every five years even if the one we have is working well.
I'm wondering if that is the same approach in these kinds of campaigns. If so, where are we at and what are we planning to do if there is a new one being worked on or is this one running for a little bit longer?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: With regard to the anti-smoking campaign referred to by the member opposite, the mass media tobacco-reduction campaign, it was launched in October of last year. It will be evaluated. We are including in this anyone they have contact information for. There is follow-up done with the people to see whether it has assisted them in getting off smoking and they have stayed the course or whether they have simply resumed their previous unhealthy behaviour.
We don't have information yet that we can provide with an evaluation because, as I stated, this began in October of last year and we don't have a comprehensive report yet.
In answer to the member's question regarding how long this will take, I will actually have to get back to the member on that. I'm not sure when the expected completion date is, as far as information and evaluation on this. But, just to give the member a little more information regarding this particular program, it is a campaign aimed at young adult smokers aged 13 to 34 years primarily - it's open to anyone, of course, but that's the target group - to assist them in becoming smoke-free. They are giving QuitPacks consisting of information and practical tools to help smokers become smoke-free.
As of January, we had over 100 adults who had enrolled in the program and, of course, that doesn't include any who simply inquired and perhaps might even be making use of the information but have chosen not to officially enroll.
Through health promotion, we also have a cessation package that's targeted toward older smokers who want to become smoke-free.
Another initiative is the youth tobacco prevention activity. Yukon Smoke-Screening III is a media awareness project, which is distributed to all Yukon schools to increase knowledge and support smoke-free living among students in grades 4 to 12. Additional resources have been made available to teachers who wish to explore tobacco use in greater detail.
Staff have worked with two Whitehorse high schools to develop programs to help students remain or become smoke-free. Activities include partnering with the Department of Education to reclaim the smoke pit at a local high school and turn it into a space for more positive activities.
At the request of teachers, health promotion staff have made classroom presentations in schools throughout the Yukon. The Making Sense and Moving Forward: Report on the 2003 Yukon Youth Smoking Survey document was released in October 2005.
Youth from two high schools were also supported in attending a workshop in Yellowknife to encourage and support youth taking a stand against tobacco and developing action plans for their schools.
I would also note for the member that we do have Towards Healthy Living and Health Promotion, which includes healthy living, healthy eating and health promotion campaigns, including anti-smoking campaigns.
Under the territorial health access fund, we do have $2.1 million over the next five years allocated toward these activities and toward similar types of education campaigns.
Mr. Hardy: My gesture was to indicate how long the department plans to run the program. Is there a time set, or are they going to just monitor the results as they go along?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The specific program the member was asking about does include some federal funding, so we only have a commitment up until the end of 2006-07. We would certainly hope to continue forward beyond that, based on the evidence that we get from this and the reports that do come forward on the efficacy of the program. It's possible that changes may be made to the program, but the basic concept is something we want to ensure is carried forward. That is, again, something that we would ask the federal government to continue, as outlined in both this line item of the budget and through the allocation in the territorial health access fund of $2.16 million.
We intend to address this area whether or not the federal government does continue participation. But of course, quite simply, if the federal government continues providing some money, we have the ability to do more in the order of promoting healthy activities and public education. If they do not continue the funding, we have less ability to do that but, as outlined, we do have a significant amount allocated toward this endeavour in these general areas, because it is important to address these issues, provide the education and, particularly for young smokers and other young individuals carrying out unhealthy lifestyles, the more we can address people before the habits are deeply embedded, the better chance we have of helping them.
I have heard from people who are former smokers, as I am sure the member opposite has, about the difficulties they had and some fine techniques, such as holding a carrot between their fingers or champing on a pen between their teeth, to help them. At a certain point, for some individuals anyway, it becomes an issue not just of an addiction to the nicotine, but an addiction to the habits associated with that addictive, unhealthy behaviour, whether that be having a cigarette with a beer and friends after work or needing to have a carrot or pen in-between their teeth, or something like that.
It is certainly an area, as the member knows, where everyone is affected differently, but the quicker that we intervene and help them make the decision to break that habit and be successful in that decision, the better it is for the health care system and the costs entailed there, and the better it is for family and friends who do not have to deal with second-hand smoke and, of course, first and foremost, the better it is for that individual whose health is no longer being affected by that very unhealthy behaviour.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, well, smoking without a doubt costs the federal government massive amounts of money. I am going to get a piece of information brought in for me in the next minute in regard to that. I think it is worth putting on record some of the costs to our health care system caused by lifestyle activities - by smoking, for instance.
It is hard to imagine what it was like 20 years ago in Yukon and how prevalent that behaviour in restaurants and offices was.
It's not that long ago - actually I should find out when the change actually happened, as I don't have that at my fingertips, but maybe the minister would let us know when he stands up - that the changes were made to prohibit smoking in public buildings. It would be very interesting to see what kind of impact that has had on the smoking levels among people, as well as the health impacts.
I think we all know somebody who has been afflicted with lung cancer. I don't think it's too hard to find.
This is a little personal anecdote. Smoking to me is something I feel we can't do too much to try to deal with, due to the phenomenal impact it has on people's lives, whether from second-hand smoke or direct smoking. There are costs.
My father passed away because of lung cancer - smoking related, of course. It wasn't a pleasant passing, I can assure members. It was long and painful. In many ways, it was far too early for a person to go. It's really funny that exactly 20 years later, I got a phone call from my mother. She phoned to inform me that she has quit smoking at the age of 82.
This was two years ago. Now she feels great and she walks every day and she feels just absolutely wonderful. At 82, it was really quite a surprise. I never thought I'd see the day. She was very proud - so proud, she wanted to call me and tell me. I'm the only person in my family who never, ever smoked, though I believe three of my siblings have now quit. It has had a profound impact on my family and I believe many others.
The importance of dealing with it at a younger age cannot be underestimated. The importance of removing it from workplaces cannot be underestimated. We remember very clearly the ads that I think were being run by N.W.T. in regard to a person who worked in a restaurant and was now dying, through no fault of her own, but because she had to be exposed to second-hand smoke. She was not a smoker. That is not only her story; it is repeated many times by many other workers.
We also have before us, of course, the challenge of banning smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars throughout the Yukon. I say it's a challenge because I don't know if every member in the Legislative Assembly is in agreement that the removal of smoking in those places would be a benefit to the population, to those who frequent those places.
I travel outside of Whitehorse and go into the communities and always find it quite an initial shock to have somebody smoking beside me in a restaurant or a bar.
Now, 20 years ago or whenever it was - and maybe we can get that date when it was restricted in government buildings in Whitehorse, and now in the bars and in the restaurants - before that, you could go into offices and there were ashtrays everywhere. People would be smoking. It was accepted, and buildings would be full of smoke, and the health hazards were there. It was just accepted, but in however many years it has become the norm not to smoke in these places. I don't think people would go back, in any way, shape or form.
We also know that many provinces and territories are now looking at complete bans on smoking in public places. Some of them have gone in that direction, and they've used different approaches, but it is the way we are going. The challenge for us is to just do it - just take that step forward. Then it is a level playing field across the Yukon and there will not be people working in these establishments and being exposed to second-hand smoke - afflicted by the carcinogens that are in that - and children and others are not subject to it.
There are lots of arguments on both sides but personally, from my perspective, I think it's something that we need to do. It takes political courage but, if every Member of this Legislative Assembly and if every party said that's what we are going to do, then there's no debate among us. It's where we would go. It's what we feel is the best for all people.
Smoking is a habit that we try to discourage in young people. It's not promoted. We try to encourage people to quit. We have all kinds of methods for doing that. We're spending money, of course, on these mass media tobacco reduction and prevention - all that stuff.
One of the best reductions you can possibly do is not allow it in public buildings, just not allow it in restaurants and bars. Some of the arguments about allowing it - well, I know that there are some concerns and some of them may be legitimate. If everyone was on the same level, I think it eventually balances out. It is something I really think has to happen. It takes political courage to do it.
If you don't agree with it, fine, but don't use arguments that are not substantiated. Do not go that route. People should just say they do not agree with it, that they're not going to do it and people should have the right to smoke where they want - whatever. But we will spend a lot of money trying to stop them and we will spend even more money dealing with the health costs. We spend billions and billions of dollars a year dealing with it, because it's - what - a privilege or a right?
I don't think that I have met a single smoker - and I know some who are very avid smokers and have no intention of quitting - who has not tried to quit at some point in their lives. They may not like to admit it, but in my discussions, every single person I have ever talked to has said that, at some point, they have tried to quit smoking. It didn't work. Some only tried for one day. Some tried many, many times. Some of my colleagues in my office smoke. I know that it is an issue with them. They are concerned about their children and grandchildren. They are concerned about their own health.
They have tried to quit, and they continue to try. If they had a choice, beginning at that moment when they started smoking - and were conscious of that choice and what it would mean in their life: the amount of money that they spend on this habit; the impact it has on their health; if they knew about the future and what they know now - they say they would not have started. We can help that choice.
It goes beyond just the campaigns the federal government has put money toward. It goes way beyond that. I remember when the city brought in its anti-smoking law and it affected bingo halls. I remember as a child - and I am sure other people have too - playing hockey at the Jim Light Arena and walking across the street to the Elks Hall where bingo was happening so I could meet my mother, who was playing bingo, to catch a ride home after the hockey game - and walking into the building - whether it was the Elks or the old Legion, which burned down - and all I could see were the legs and the tables. I couldn't see the heads and bodies and that is the honest truth; it would just be blue haze. There was no air circulation. It would be winter and the doors were closed. These buildings did not have any type of ventilation whatsoever in them. As a child standing by the door, not wanting to come in because you would start hacking and coughing if you came in - that and being told by every bingo player there to be quiet and don't touch anything - so you would stand and try to find your mother somewhere in there or just hang out at the door, with it half propped open, trying to breathe and yet stay warm.
I remember those very clearly, and I remember that blue haze. It was just like looking through a fog. If anyone has ever been to St. John's in Newfoundland when the fog comes moving in and you're standing there up on the hill - Sentinel Hill, I think it was - I remember watching across the ocean this wall come in and, within 10 minutes, it was a complete whiteout with fog. That's what the bingo halls were like. I just can't see how that improves the game or anybody's life.
It would be interesting in a couple of years to actually go back and see if the bingo players like the change. I know the people who work there, the volunteers, the kids - I coached hockey for 15 years and we had to do fundraisers and it was a real question about whether you allowed the kids to work the bingo halls because of the smoke and what you were subjecting them to. The kids hated it. They didn't want to go in there. One of the reasons was the smoke.
We were trying to do healthy things with children - coaching, and that - and you are thinking, well, you're subjecting them to a carcinogen, a poison, every week to raise money; you are trying to tell them to live healthy lifestyles, yet you are exposing them to this. There is a real mixed message there and there is a concern around that.
That change has been made. It would be interesting in two years - give it two years - to go back and see if the bingo players would want to go back. That would be very fascinating. It's like any change - it takes a political will and some courage, and you will have a backlash.
These are the kinds of changes that are actually good for society. This is what leadership is about. These are the changes that are good for all of society, even those who don't want it. They recognize it as a health issue. It's also an ability to be able to continue to have a budget. If we remove smoking, we remove a substantial cost to our budget over the years. There are so many illnesses that are related to smoking. We have to consider that as well.
I wasn't meaning to talk this long. The question is whether or not the minister is considering or had discussions about a smoking ban in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I do appreciate the Member for Whitehorse Centre's concern in this area. I recognize the impact that it has had on his family and in his life as a result of people who do this. I understand where he is coming from. I have members of my family, although not in my immediate family - aunts, uncles and cousins - who smoke. We lost a grandfather who had a meaningful impact on my life in part due to smoking. Smoking was not the direct cause but was a contributing factor to why he did pass away when he did. I certainly recognize the impact that has on people and the huge impact this addiction can have on those who are addicted to tobacco, as well as on members of their families.
I know from the perspective of my grandmother as well - my grandfather passed away approximately 16 years ago now. My grandmother's health improved after that time. She had never smoked herself, or hadn't in years. She might have briefly, but certainly for decades she had not been a smoker. But she was affected by that second-hand smoke. This occurred - let's see, my grandmother, I think, just turned 91. So she would have been, at that point, about 75 when my grandfather passed away. Her health did improve following that.
So I recognize the impact that that can have as well. My grandmother certainly missed my grandfather very deeply, but one thing that she said stands out in my mind and probably always will. A few years later, she said I sure miss the man but I don't miss the smoking.
So I do appreciate where the member is coming from, and I think that the end goals that he would wish to see and what I would wish to see are not really any different. I think we would both like to see a day when people simply choose not to smoke, when people do not get addicted to smoking at a young age because they have some backward impression that smoking this stick filled with tobacco is somehow cool. But we do have to recognize also that it is something that a large number of people still are addicted to in the Yukon. Unfortunately, as in many northern areas, Yukon has a very high rate of people who do smoke and are addicted to it in comparison to national averages.
I've made the comparison before, and I will again for the member opposite, that there are a lot of unhealthy activities that people take part in. These are also activities that have an impact on others. The consumption and over-consumption of alcohol is something that has a significant impact on people and can have an impact on those around them, if they engage in violent behaviour, if they drink while pregnant, if they do any of a number of things. Overuse of alcohol is a big problem, yet alcohol is legal because society has made the choice that it is an acceptable vice, though it has that impact on people.
And for many years, smoking was very much an acceptable vice. In fact, at one point - I think in the era of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s - although it was a little before my time, it was very common such that it was actually considered rude for businessmen having a meeting if you went into somebody's office - this would be high-level, administrative, white-collar workers. They would sit down, and it was only considered polite that you offered your guest a cigarette. We've come a long way since that time.
In answer to the member's questions about how long smoking has been prohibited in YTG workplaces - I don't have the exact date in front of me, but my understanding is that that was in the early 1990s. Implementing its ban on smoking within most public areas in Whitehorse occurred, I believe, in 1996, if memory serves - of course, they did that in two phases. I could stand to be corrected on that date, but we are certainly not talking about 20 years that this has been in place, as I think the member had suggested. It has been some time, but societal attitudes do take some time to change. They have been changing.
A fundamental question in this situation is how we can do the most good. How can we most benefit people's lives? The member referred to the costs of smoking to the health care system. That is certainly a factor. Again, I point out that, in fairness, things like alcohol and obesity have a huge impact on the health care system as well. People are not forced to exercise. The member may see a difference in this and I'm not saying that they are exactly the same, but there is a fundamental question that society has to ask: at what point is it reasonable to prevent someone from engaging in certain activities or compel them to engage in others to reduce the costs to the health care system and impact their own health? We all know that we should exercise more, eat better and so on. The cost of obesity to our health care system is absolutely massive. I would not suggest - and I doubt the member would - that compelling people to only eat certain foods or engage in a minimum amount of physical exercise a day would be a reasonable legislative step. There are some similarities and some differences. It comes down to the values of society.
Every municipality within the Yukon has the ability to implement legislation prohibiting smoking. They need only choose to do so. The reasons others have not, as expressed to us, include reasons such as concern over the financial cost of enforcement and the possible economic impact of such a measure. In the case of Whitehorse, the smoking legislation has had its problems, including one former bar owner who stated in response to media reports that, yes, he had in fact closed down his bar as a direct result in the change in clientele that occurred following the ban on smoking.
So there is a question related to that, and the question does come down to what is the most effective way, and the best way, that we can have the greatest impact with our limited resources.
The question comes down to whether the prohibition of smoking within workplaces, such as the ban that does exist on smoking in Yukon government workplaces, stops people smoking. If the member is trying to suggest that legislation preventing smoking in workplaces gets rid of the cost to the health care system by stopping that behaviour, we need to take into consideration whether people are still standing outside and smoking; whether their health is still being affected, and whether the resources targeted toward enforcing such a law could be better spent in helping that person help themselves.
As the Member for Whitehorse Centre stated, for most smokers - if one talks to them - we tend to get the response that yes, they have tried to quit smoking at some point and have not been successful. Does relegating them to outside or a back corner stop them from smoking? Apparently it has not. Does assisting them in quitting have a greater impact if it is successful? Yes it does.
In my opinion, assisting people who want to stop smoking and actually being successful in doing so is without a doubt more effective in the long run if we can get them to do so than if we simply tell them that they have to smoke somewhere else.
With regard to the member's comments about hoping we continue our program and not just carry it on to the end of federal funding - he said we should carry it beyond the federal campaign. I agree. As I stated before, in addition to the allocation within the territorial budget for Health and Social Services, we have allocated under the territorial health access fund $2.1 million over the next five years to deal with healthy living and health promotion campaigns, including tobacco and healthy living and eating. Some of these communications will no doubt encompass several aspects of healthy living.
I want to stress that I don't disagree with the member's intent. I just really have to question whether legislation is the most effective way of doing so and if we should be investing resources into taking enforcement actions when someone smokes in a place they are not allowed to, instead of spending that money on education and assisting them in quitting. I have to question whether that legislation is indeed the most effective way of going about it.
I do not know the cost that the City of Whitehorse has spent on its court action related to its smoking legislation but it cannot be an insignificant amount. The question comes down to how many times something like this has to be fought in court. Because of the requirement for proof, someone can challenge it and say, yes, there was a smoking cigarette on a table; yes, obviously the ban was broken, but you can't prove it was my cigarette. It might have been the guy's next to me.
Enforcement is one view of how to target this problem - legislation, enforcement, et cetera. Again, I stress to the member opposite, if people want to quit, are we not better to help them quit - not just in a public place, not just in a bar, but quit while they're outside, quit while they're at home? There is a danger - some people smoke a certain number of cigarettes a day. If their habit right now is to smoke in a bar and you prevent them from smoking in a bar, do they go home, have a drink at home, and now smoke around their spouses and children, which they didn't do before? In some cases, I would suspect the answer is yes. Are there statistics regarding that? No, of course there are not. We don't have those numbers, but I do suspect.
Common sense tells me that if somebody smokes three cigarettes a day and that's their habit, as is the case with a number of people who smoke - they tend to smoke a certain number of cigarettes per day - if you prevent them from smoking in one venue and they have not stopped smoking that same amount, they move to another venue. That may be around their spouse and children and we may be, in fact, creating an impact that we're not seeing because it's out of sight and out of mind.
I know the member will no doubt stand up and disagree with me on this. However, I stress we have a difference in opinion on how this is best accomplished because, although I recognize a lot of the people who have smoked - in fairness to the member opposite, expanding efforts to assist people in smoking is not going to work in every case, but I do believe that expanding efforts to assist them in breaking that addiction will have a significant impact and, for each one of those people who are able to permanently break that addiction, break that chain, they will benefit and their families will benefit far more than if they had simply spent all their time running outside for a quick puff from a cigarette.
With regard to that, I would also note that, in wanting to help people who are smoking - although it's never too late to stop smoking and it be worthwhile - we do want to help people as quickly as we can. And help them - not just put the problem out of sight and out of mind.
I would also respectfully argue to the member opposite that I think the biggest problem we have is kids who are starting to smoke - young adults who are getting hooked on smoking. The statistics are showing us now that people don't tend to choose to take up smoking at the age of 30 on a whim. They tend to get hooked on it at a young age due to peer pressure and a feeling that this is “cool”. The quicker we can intervene, the better we can help them break that addiction before the habits associated with it become deeply entrenched in their lives and their habits, and the better off we are. And we are making efforts to do that.
We have allocated a significant amount of money toward this and we intend to continue this. We are tracking the results of this because we want to ensure that the assistance provided in association with the education campaigns - the helpful tips on how to stop smoking, et cetera - are having an impact and we are not just spending money for the sake of spending money and having splashy ads in papers and up on poster boards around town. We want to be sure it's having an impact.
We believe this is the most effective way to proceed. I'm sure the member opposite will disagree with it, but that is the approach we are taking at this time. Down the road, we will not rule out the possibility of considering Yukon-wide anti-smoking legislation but, based on the feedback we've heard from rural areas and individuals, and our preference for education and assistance in helping people make personal decisions and take personal actions, we're not proceeding with anti-smoking legislation at this time.
Mr. Hardy: I appreciate the minister's candid position that the Yukon Party is not interested in anti-smoking legislation. However, some of the arguments the minister used are questionable. He even admitted himself that it is more of a personal viewpoint. There are no studies to support anything he has said.
The minister mentioned that one bar in Whitehorse - one bar - closed down. This is out of how many bars in Whitehorse ? We have, I would suspect, a higher percentage of bars in this town than just about any other community in Canada . We have an unbelievable number of bars. One closed down. That is out of perhaps 20 or 30 bars and a population of 22,000. I am just talking about bars. I am not talking about offsales. There is a multitude of them. The figure can get up into the forties if we broaden the category.
One owner of one bar said that the reason why he shut down was the smoking bylaw. All the other bars are in operation. Why is that?
Have they shut down? The interesting thing about the one bar that has shut down, Mr. Chair, is that immediately it opened again. Or maybe I am being a little optimistic. Not immediately - there is a little transition that has to happen. But there it is - the bar up and running in exactly the same place. If we are talking about the same facility, there is a bar up and running.
So the truth of the matter is that one bar shut down and another person opened the bar again and is doing business and hasn't shut down. What does that say? Is it really the smoking bylaw that shut the bar down, or is it the service that was offered and the ambience and the market area that the owner was trying to capture? Maybe he was misreading something, because a lot of the other bars are functioning. Maybe their profits are down; maybe they aren't; maybe they can be attributed to the smoking bylaw or not. I don't think there has been a study done. Maybe the minister can inform me if there has
Maybe the minister has been in discussions with the City of Whitehorse in regard to the impact this has had. But to say that shutting down one bar is justification to allow smoking everywhere and spend millions and millions of dollars on health care costs that can be directly attributed to smoking, to have workers who don't smoke exposed to smoking, which affects their health and that ultimately costs millions of dollars - it doesn't necessarily give me a great deal of confidence that that argument carries any weight.
As for policing, there are a few cases before the courts, I believe. That happens with buckling up one's seat belt. Mr. Chair, do you remember the arguments about seat belt legislation? It was a violation of a person's right to drive without a seat belt on, even though it had been proven, time and time again, that it reduced serious injury in most cases. Legislation was brought in for seat belts.
I grew up and drove when there was no seat belt legislation. The minister opposite, I would suspect, did not. I remember very clearly driving for years without having to strap a seat belt on. The legislation came in, and I strapped my seat belt on. For me to drive in a vehicle now without hooking up a seat belt feels alien. It feels odd. I feel too loose in the vehicle. I automatically put it on. It's no problem - no big deal.
Drinking and driving legislation was brought in. There was a huge outcry about the right to be able to drive down the road with an open bottle of liquor. I can see members across the way smiling. We all remember that period. As a matter of fact, it was only a couple of weeks ago that some of the members were sitting around talking about that very period of time. Some of the stories that were being told were that people would leave camp, go to a bar, have a few drinks - sometimes a few too many drinks - and get into a vehicle with an open bottle or six-pack. People would crack one open and head back to camp, weaving all over the road, hoping not to run into anything. Honestly, anyone who has followed a person who has had too much to drink knows exactly what I'm talking about. It's quite frightening to watch a vehicle drifting from one lane to another.
But we do remember that. That was brought in, and it's Yukon-wide. Would anybody, would this minister, consider that's an infringement and not the best way to deal with alcohol and the safety factor and the cost and danger to other people - children on the streets and in the vehicles? Is he suggesting, based on the argument around the smoking legislation, that we rescind that legislation and allow drinking and driving again?
If I use his arguments, maybe we should start looking at some of the legislation brought in over the last 10 to 20 years, and maybe in the next platform of the Yukon Party government we will see some real dynamic statements such as, “Seatbelts are no good; we make the pledge today that the Yukon Party will rescind that legislation if elected; there's nothing like having a cool beer on the drive home; we promise that you will be able to enjoy that; we will rescind that legislation and allow drinking and driving on the streets.” Driving down the road with a nice cool beer in your cup holder - a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other and your knees controlling the steering wheel. I am not joking - I have actually seen that, if you can believe it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: The leader of the official opposition tells me that cellphones are replacing one of those. He is probably correct.
He probably does it himself. We all have a tendency to push it occasionally, and we shouldn't. We could endanger people.
However, maybe the argument that has been used by the minister - maybe this is where we have to take it to understand the rationale behind it. Now, you'd see a cool beer and a cup holder. Of course, when it was around, it was between the legs. That is where we usually kept the beer or whatever and drove along. This is the kind of rationale I'm hearing here. This is another one of these arguments that if you take this argument about smoking and the cost and the dangers and you recognize that the millions of dollars you spend to try to deal with it - you won't bring in legislation in the workplaces around the Yukon. That argument can be made around other legislation that has been brought forward. I am being a little bit tongue in cheek here - I do not imagine in any way, shape or form that the minister is contemplating rescinding the drinking and driving laws. Some people might get upset, but maybe I'm putting words in his mouth. Maybe he is contemplating it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: I guess we have to wait for that part of the platform to be revealed in the near future. Stay tuned, in other words. However, that's a little bit tongue and cheek.
I'm sure legislation has been brought forward by this government where we could use that same argument - we could say, “Why was that legislation brought forward, if this is the argument you're using for one case but not another?”
Now, the minister also indicated that there are smokers outside the building. Of course, there are people who smoke, either by choice or by addiction, or by both. And they do smoke outside this building, but there is not a large number of them. I would suspect if there were a survey of smokers done in the building today, and there was a survey done before the legislation was brought in - regarding the government and public buildings - that there would be substantially more smokers in this building before that happened - without a doubt.
You only had to walk through these offices when smoking was allowed to know how many people smoked. And then, look at the people who do go outside to have their cigarette. There's no comparison. If the minister wanted to look at that, I think even he would have to agree that that legislation did have an impact on the number of people who smoke. It has to. There is no question about it.
Forcing people to go home to have a cigarette, with their kids in their home, is an interesting concept because children will lobby their parents not to smoke now. But peer pressure is also a big factor. If kids are exposed to smoking in schools and around parents, when they go into workplaces, in restaurants and whatnot, it becomes accepted.
There is no question that smoking has gone down - or the percentage of people who smoke in Canada has gone down.
A lot is because of education, but it is also because of laws that have been passed to prevent smoking in certain areas. It is very effective; I don't think there is any question about it. It is probably the most effective thing we can do immediately.
I care passionately about this and I think the member opposite does as well; he has already told a personal story and it was very good story. I know that he understands the issue, but our approach is different. I don't think “just legislate anything” to make change, but this is significant enough and would have a significant impact on people's lives, as well as upon costs in a budget, and that money can go somewhere else.
But that is only one part of it. I am not saying that education should not continue, or that preventive programs and campaigns should not continue - it is all part and parcel. One does not cancel the other.
Since the smoking bylaws happened, I have actually gone out in the evening to a few of the establishments around town and had a drink and talked to many friends. I often go and listen to musicians; I am a big lover of music, a big supporter of local musicians, as well as people who are brought in. When I go out, there are a lot of people in these establishments where the local musicians are playing, and no one is smoking in these places. It's not even enforced by a law necessarily. The public, the people, the smokers, have accepted it; the non-smokers are out; everybody seems to have moved on.
A friend of mine smokes. He steps outside, has a cigarette and comes back in. We went to the Randy Bachman concert and we had a fabulous time. He went outside and came back in. I asked him what he thinks about the smoking bylaw. He said he loves it. He absolutely loves it, even though he has smoked all his life. He likes to be able to sit in an environment where there is clean air. He has no problem going outside. He has accepted it.
I think the majority of people are at that point. As a matter of fact, in the poll that was taken, 80 percent of people supported that bylaw. I could stand to be corrected, as I'm going from memory with those figures, but I think about 80 percent of people supported the bylaw that the City of Whitehorse brought in. That is a substantial number of people and includes a large percentage of smokers. Many of the smokers I have talked to support it. They think it will help them deal with their addiction.
Another area that I am concerned about and have touched on a couple of times with regard to smoking is the social cost. Let me give members a couple of figures. The minister has talked about other substances, and he is correct. There are, without a doubt, massive costs to substance abuse in Canada. A study, which has been tabled in the Legislative Assembly, talks about the costs of substance abuse.
The cost of substance abuse is measured in terms of the burden on services such as health care and law enforcement and the loss of productivity in the workplace or at home, resulting from premature death and disability. The overall social costs of substance abuse in Canada in 2002 was estimated to be $39.8 billion.
It goes on. The estimate is broken down into four major categories. Tobacco accounted for $17 billion or 42.7 percent. Out of the four categories, tobacco alone accounts for 42.7 percent of the total estimate. Alcohol accounted for $14.6 billion - 36 percent. Illegal drugs accounted for $8.2 billion - 20.7 percent. So the most immediate, the easiest legislation, which does not deny a person the right to smoke but just restricts where they can smoke - mostly in the company of those who don't, in workplaces - would have an impact. If that impact would cut that figure in half, could you imagine what governments could do with that money? Can you imagine $17 billion, if the legislation was brought in and it had a 50-percent impact - and that's not that unrealistic?
People do make lifestyle changes. When things become a little more socially unacceptable, they do make those changes. It's socially unacceptable to drink and drive. It's socially unacceptable to litter, for instance. Litter is an example of another change.
I remember, at one time, people used to throw anything out of their vehicle and never even think about littering. They would go camping and leave messes behind. It's almost unheard of now. It's very rare to see somebody litter now. That was a social change. And fines were put in place to stop it.
So, Mr. Chair, again, I am very concerned about this area. I know I'm out of time. So, will the minister look at the figures and seriously consider anti-smoking legislation?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I appreciate the member's concerns and, as I expected, we certainly do disagree on this matter, at least for the near future.
The question of down the road somewhere - certainly. It's not something to rule out. I think eventually, we all hope that the use of tobacco in society will decline and the problem will become less of an issue. But I think the member hit on the point exactly when he said that drinking and driving has become socially unacceptable.
The question comes down to whether a change occurs because the law says you have to do something or because there is an accepted societal standard that you do not do certain things. There are certain behaviours in interpersonal relationships, for example - and behaviour toward others, such as the manner of treating someone and the way we deal with individuals - that are not illegal but they are socially unacceptable. Although that does not eliminate the practice, wide-spread peer pressure has a significant impact on individuals.
The member made a somewhat lighthearted reference to what might be in the next Yukon Party platform. I have to express some relief that the member is not drafting the next Yukon Party platform. There certainly will not be any proposals to permit drinking and driving in the next platform.
I'm sure there is also no interest in changing the seat belt legislation. I do have to mention, on a lighter note, that during the election campaign, I had one constituent who raised the issue of not being able to have a cold beer while driving down the highway any more. He was still quite annoyed at the former minister who had brought this change forward. I won't, of course, in respect for the former member, mention the name in the House - it was an interesting conversation.
His argument - and one could even say that there is some merit to the argument - was that as long as one's blood alcohol doesn't go above a certain level, it doesn't matter whether one has the drink in the bar before getting into the vehicle or drink behind the wheel. However, I would speculate that, without counting the actual numbers or doing a poll, an overwhelming majority of Yukoners would have absolutely no interest whatsoever in increasing the permissiveness related to drinking and driving, and I would certainly echo that sentiment.
But another issue with regard to the member's suggestion that reduction in drinking and driving was due to legislation, in that case I would say yes, in part it is, and to the enforcement program. But the member should recognize that a significant amount of money has been expended nation-wide by increasing check-stop programs and increasing enforcement to ensure that people are not drinking and driving because of the incredible and immediate tragic consequences of someone getting behind the wheel intoxicated and losing control of their vehicle.
We all know of examples of that form of Russian roulette, so to speak, of driving down the highway and wondering if somebody was leaving the bar intoxicated. It is something that the overwhelming majority of society finds unacceptable, and that is another element that should be recognized. It is that that action is not just legally unacceptably, it is socially unacceptable. A significant change in preventing drinking and driving has been the fact that, 20 or 30 years ago at a bar or at a house party, it would have been fairly common - and I'm sure the member would agree if he thinks back - for no one to intervene when someone who had had too many drinks planned to drive - including their friends and families. It is now quite common and accepted, and indeed expected, particularly among younger generations, that if somebody is intoxicated, they will physically take the keys away from them.
This might include risking getting into an altercation with that individual because they believe that it's so important, and friends will collectively line up to impress upon that person that they are too drunk to drive and they are being stupid, so they had better hand over their keys.
Studies were undertaken following the initiative, particularly during the early 1980s and continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s. They targeted young children through television. During cartoons and other shows popular with young children, there would be commercials such as “don't put the cart before the horse” repeated over and over to impress upon children at a young age that drinking and driving was unacceptable. Those children grew up believing that drinking and driving was absolutely unacceptable because, probably a decade before they faced the impact of peer pressure to drink and considered whether it was okay to drink and drive, they had heard, not just from their parents, but on a constant basis from many sources, how unacceptable such action was and how tremendously inappropriate it was.
We seem to be in a hypothetical debate, debating elements, human psychology, education versus legislation, et cetera. That seems to be the debate I'm in with the leader of the third party this afternoon. We can go around in circles for hours on this matter, and ultimately I think we're getting down to a situation, which, distilled into the simplest terms, is that the member opposite and I share a similar intent in wanting to see the use of tobacco reduced within society. We have a difference of opinion on whether the most effective way to do that is through legislating against it in certain venues, in certain settings, in certain places, and enforcing that action, or whether it's more effective to target those dollars toward education, toward assisting people voluntarily breaking the addiction and dealing with it in that manner.
The member suggested that the bar I had referred to had closed down and had opened up again. I don't believe we're talking about the same place. I'm not going to give names on the floor of the Legislature. I'd be happy to discuss that with the member later.
That place may have opened up without my knowledge but the member knows I don't spend a lot of time going to local watering holes. Whether that has opened up or not, it is a concern that we hear from rural areas, in particular - they feel that implementing such legislation might have such an impact and might cause businesses to shut down. Part of that is due to the fact that in rural areas you often see far fewer clientele. There will be a few people in a coffee shop, a few people in a bar sometimes, and they depend on that for their business. If those people choose to move to someone's house and drink and smoke there, as it is feared they will, that can have a significant impact on a bar and place of business.
Again, we haven't ruled out the possibility of considering this at some point down the road, but due to the concerns we're hearing, particularly from rural Yukon, and our belief that education and assisting people in voluntarily breaking their addiction is more effective than telling them they can't do it and pushing them out of certain public places, smoking legislation is obviously not before the House this session. What we do have are amounts in the existing budget and plans to spend $2.1 million more on healthy living campaigns at least over the next five years, including a focus on helping people break their addiction to tobacco. We will assist in that regard. As I pointed out to the member opposite, we are tracking that and will be reporting on it.
In view of the time, Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 20, 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.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:31 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled May 17, 2006 :
Queen's Printer Agency 2006/2007 Business Plan (Hart)
The following document was filed May 17, 2006 :
Big Game Outfitting land application policy: letter (dated May 16, 2006) from Arthur Mitchell, MLA, Copperbelt, to David Jones, Yukon Conflict of Interest Commissioner, regarding advice to Hon. Archie Lang, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources (Mitchell)