Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
In recognition of Aboriginal Awareness Week
Mrs. Peter: It is with great pleasure that I rise on behalf of the House to pay tribute to Aboriginal Awareness Week, May 23 to 26. The diversity of aboriginal peoples in Canada, which include First Nations, Inuit and Metis, is significant. There are 52 distinct cultural groups that are found from sea to sea to sea in Canada. While there is a movement to be inclusive, they are all separate entities with their own histories, administrative systems and languages. Aboriginal peoples are a true example of Canada's multicultural heritage.
Preserving aboriginal cultures while undergoing the impacts of traumatic contact with non-aboriginals has been a challenge, but it is a challenge that we have met with energy and courage. Aboriginal cultures are vibrant and continue to become stronger all the time through traditional art, songs, economies and language. Our contribution to society is great.
[Member spoke in native language. Translation unavailable.]
Language is a key to cultural identity and strength. Aboriginal people speak over 50 languages with many dialects. Most aboriginal people teach their children on a daily basis in their own language at home and at school. This keeps our culture strong. Aboriginal youth have taken on the challenges of today's society, embracing new technologies and concepts while remaining true to their roots.
More of our youth are learning their native traditions and languages, more are completing university, and more are becoming involved in economic development and in politics. They are adaptable and creative, living proof that our future looks bright indeed, with one foot in our past traditions and one in modern advances.
Over the next few weeks Canadian and American aboriginal youth are running almost 3,600 kilometres from Vancouver to Anchorage in the Prayer Run for World Peace. They are raising awareness of aboriginal concerns and global issues while experiencing the environment they will inherit.
The youth on this run will be keeping the Gwich'in people in their prayers, remembering our challenges with the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the sacred place where the caribou give birth to their young. The run will pass through Yukon later this spring, so I urge everyone to share in this inspirational event when they get here.
In remembrance of Bessie Allen
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today in remembrance of Bessie Allen, a well-respected elder in the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. Bessie had been living at Copper Ridge Place in Whitehorse before she passed away on May 2, 2005. Also known by her Southern Tuchone name, Äshê nįą, she was a person of indeterminate age although it was known she had lived more than a century.
Sometime around 1901, Bessie was born to Robert Isaac and Sadie Roberts at Aishihik Lake. During her childhood, Bessie and her family lived on the land relying totally on the resources of the area for sustenance through each season. The skills she learned early in life were passed on as she raised her own children in the traditional way.
Bessie met her husband-to-be, Jack Allen, in Burwash, where he worked at the trading post. After they were married, she would often say he had modernized her - even though they still worked a trapline using dog teams.
In true traditional fashion, this couple adapted their harvest of nature's resources with each change in season. In spring, they trapped muskrat and beaver. In early summer, they harvested small game such as gophers, rabbits and game birds and fished for grayling and whitefish.
Later in summer, after the young of the large game animals began to put on fat, Bessie and Jack hunted moose, caribou and sheep. In the fall, they dried fish and meat to store in tree caches until they could return in winter by dog team and sled. Life with such great uncertainty and challenges meant never wasting an opportunity to provide food from the land to their family or community.
An early tradition common to this area's Southern Tutchone people was travel by foot, called a “shakat ” trip. Later in life, Bessie kept the tradition alive in the early 1970s by organizing and participating in shakats in the Kloo Lake-Ruby Creek area and another in the Silver Creek area. Up to five families participated in these traditional sh akats. Although the hunting and gathering tradition of travel on foot was difficult, shaka ts remained very important to her.
During an interview, she recalled a summer shaka t trip from long ago with her husband Jack and other families. This shakat started by walking from the Aishihik Village to Klukshu for salmon, a distance of some 200 kilometres. In July, they walked to Kloo Lake and then into the Jarvis Creek Pass to hunt sheep and moose before going up the Kaskawulsh River to a camp below Sheep Mountain where they met up with families from Burwash. The group cooperatively snared sheep for drying and hunted moose while moving north until they reached the Donjek River. This summer-long shakat continued on to Burwash before returning to the Aishihik Village.
In her daily life, she went to great lengths to teach her children how to trap well enough to earn a living and to hunt and fish well enough to keep their families healthy. The Southern Tutchone language was spoken exclusively in their home, and she made a great point of remembering and using traditional place names.
Until the 1940s, Bessie and Jack lived at the Aishihik Village with their children. Bessie served as a midwife to the people living in this small, remote settlement. She often treated flu victims with traditional medicines including the broth from boiled moose bones which gave strength.
To say times were tough would be an understatement, Mr. Speaker. After their first child contracted tuberculosis, the family had no option other than to try to reach the territory's only hospital in Dawson City. They walked and boated from Aishihik to Carmacks and on to Pelly where they rode in a motor boat to Dawson . Unfortunately, Stanley succumbed to this dreadful disease, and his spirit house remains to this day in our former capital city.
After Aishihik, the family moved to Haines Junction where Jack found employment at the experimental farm. Bessie continued to work hard raising her family, tanning hides and sewing traditional garments. She was a great seamstress, making slippers, vests, mittens and blankets. She continued the arduous task of tanning hides well into her 80s.
As the matriarch of her family, Bessie ensured her children understood the traditional ways and spoke their native language. Bessie was known to always put others first. She cared for those in need and raised four children in addition to her own five. She was a caring and devoted person.
Bessie was predeceased by Jack whom I paid tribute to in this Legislature on March 26, 1997. She is survived by her daughters Lorraine, Rosalie and Virginia, sons Percy and James, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I will close by inviting all members to join me in welcoming to the gallery her son, Chief James Allen of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, and son-in-law Brian Kinney, granddaughter Desiree O'Brien and her spouse, Leslie O'Brien.
Mahsi' cho. Thank you.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Are there any introductions of visitors?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Speaker: It is the Chair's distinct pleasure to introduce today our Ombudsman and Information and Privacy Commissioner, Mr. Hank Moorlag. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Moorlag.
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: Under tabling returns and documents, I have for tabling the 2005 annual report of the Ombudsman and Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have for tabling the Fleet Vehicle Agency 2006-07 business plan.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) organ donation has saved many lives and has enhanced the lives of many others;
(2) this voluntary act of compassion has positive benefits for the families of both the donor and the recipient;
(3) Yukoners have one of the highest rates of support for organ donation in the country; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to explore the possibility of establishing an organ donor registry connected to the registries in British Columbia and Alberta and to allow consent from the donor and his or her family to be noted on any new version of Yukon driver licences.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Outfitter concessions
Mr. Mitchell: My question is for the Premier. My colleagues and I have brought forward our concerns over the government's poorly contrived big game outfitting land application policy. Members of the Liberal caucus attempted, on several occasions, to have this government stop its folly and go back and consult with the people, consult with the First Nations and consult with other stakeholders. The answer, Mr. Speaker, was always the same: “We did that.” Well, Mr. Speaker, they did not do that. The Council of Yukon First Nations is not happy with the handling of this matter - not happy at all.
Will the Premier now stop this process and open the doors to meaningful discussion and dialogue with the First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Once again, at the risk of being repetitive, I will respond to the leader of the official opposition with the facts. This has been a long, arduous process. Much has been discussed. A tremendous amount of consultation has taken place, not only with First Nations but with other stakeholders - Yukoners in general and the industry in question. I think it's fair to say that, considering all the work to date and the transfer of this file from the federal government vis-à-vis devolution in April of 2003, this government is not going to renege on work done to date and commitments made already. We're proceeding and the application process also provides further opportunity for those who want to provide comment to do so.
Mr. Mitchell: In a recent radio interview, when asked about questions coming forth from the chiefs on this matter, the Premier said: “So the questions are good; I'm hoping more questions will come forward; I hope more First Nations and others will get involved in this process.”
Well, Mr. Speaker, I have good news for the Premier: he got his wish. They have a great many questions. The Grand Chief of CYFN has said it appears the Yukon government has implemented a federal initiative without any consultation with Yukon First Nations.
Mr. Speaker, we've asked the Premier to halt his outfitting policy. He said no, absolutely not; we're not going to reinvent the past. Enough, Mr. Speaker. Will the Premier now agree to a halt? Will he open up a process of consultation before this matter goes any further?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I want to express to the leader of the official opposition something of great relevance, and that is homework. I ask the member opposite, the leader of the official opposition, who is claiming there has been no consultation, to respond to the public on how it can be that, through the consultation that had taken place over the years, amendments were already made to the interim policy in 2002? These amendments came forward, based on the consultations with First Nations. Furthermore, the application process itself is providing ample opportunity for further questions to be asked, and for further input from First Nations, Yukoners and other stakeholders.
Mr. Mitchell: The Grand Chief has written to the Premier today and made the following request: the Council of Yukon First Nations' leadership requests that you rescind the current big game outfitter land application policy and commit to developing a new policy with Yukon First Nations that balances the interests of all, respects the aboriginal and treaty rights of Yukon First Nation citizens, and promotes sensible land use and management. The current policy is flawed and will only foster confrontation and conflict.
Now, Mr. Speaker, does the Premier get it? Does he see the folly of his position? Will he do what the Grand Chief has requested and consult with Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Speaker, in the first place, land claims themselves over the many decades ensured that these third party interests were addressed and are certainly duly noted on the land base.
I want to express, again, to the leader of the official opposition something of great relevance. This is the same official opposition that claimed that this is special treatment and this is a flawed process - all these statements made by the official opposition fly in the face of the facts.
There are all kinds of types of tenure on the Yukon land base; it just happens that the outfitting industry is one of the last industries to receive anything remotely resembling tenure. There have been grazing leases, placer and quartz claims, a receipt from DIAND through devolution - some 438 leases on the land base that include commercial wilderness leases such as fly-in fishing. There are also some 71 head leases with respect to the 452 registered traplines on Yukon's land base. When it comes to licensing, there are some 180 licences that authorize various types of permanent improvements on public lands. Mr. Speaker, the folly is the official opposition who simply do not understand what is going on.
Question re: Government relations with public service
Mr. Fairclough: My question is about this government's relationship with the Yukon people. Over the past four years, we've witnessed this government's insensitive and calloused disrespect toward the public employees - the manner in which the porn probe was handled is an example.
Just last month we heard in a recent Yukon Supreme Court case that if any employee exercised their constitutional right to appeal to the court for a ruling on the terms of their employment, they would no longer be considered for employment. On this matter, Mr. Speaker, we asked this government to communicate to the employees that this was not so. But more was left undone. People come first.
Can the government explain to the House why, after some 46 months in office, they have let relations with their hard-working and conscientious employees slip to such low ebb?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I thank the member opposite for the question and the opportunity to respond. For the members opposite's record, again, there is no policy that links hiring by the Yukon government to seeking redress through the courts. I have responded to this matter on a number of occasions, and I will continue to say that.
Likewise, there is no policy linking government employment to filing a human rights complaint, complaining to the Ombudsman, laying a grievance or appealing a classification decision, and so forth.
Again, for the record, we value the contributions of our many government employees across the territory. They do a superb job on behalf of Yukon citizens.
Mr. Fairclough: During the mandate of this government, we have witnessed two major demonstrations outside this Legislature - First Nations demonstrating and people demanding a voice in their children's education. Mr. Speaker, we've seen three First Nations at various stages of drawing down their education option and, once again, we've seen this government resort to the fastest growing industry in the Yukon: another review.
When is this government going to stop fiddling around with education and start addressing the issues that parents and students want dealt with? People come first, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: It does give me great pleasure to address this question from the member opposite. As this government has stated many times in the past, democracy is alive and well, and anyone has the right to demonstrate any place whatsoever in Canada.
To the best of my knowledge, the people who were demonstrating are now very satisfied with the project they were demonstrating about. So, at the end of the day, I believe everything turned out quite well.
Speaker: To the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, you have a question and two supplementaries on the same subject, so you now have your last supplementary.
Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It's all about government relationships with the Yukon people.
Speaker: Order please. We're not debating this issue. You have a question and two supplementaries on the same subject. Please carry on.
Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We've witnessed a sure but steady widening gap between the government and many municipalities. We saw the government get rid of the mayor and council from Dawson City and then have people wait years to address electing a new council. We've heard from municipalities. They want consultation on matters that directly impact on them. They want a clear and sound land use policy and they've received neither from this government, so, Mr. Speaker, people come -
Speaker: You're done. You've had a chance.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Speaker: On a point of order, the Member for Kluane.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I think what the member is trying to say is the common thread here is relations with people and the government that spans different portfolios. So what?
Speaker: The Chair has trouble discerning that thread. I have asked the member to focus on a question and two supplementaries. He hasn't done that.
Next question, please.
Question re: Social assistance rates
Mrs. Peter: Last week, a United Nations committee was highly critical of how Canada is implementing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. One thing the committee pointed out is that social assistance rates have dropped over the past 10 years in terms of cost of living. I hope the Minister of Health and Social Services will consider helping out with one particular aspect of this appalling situation. The food allowance for social assistance recipients has not been raised for at least 13 years. In that time food costs have gone up by 24 percent. Will the minister agree to increase the food allowance for social assistance recipients so that Yukon people who are in real need can at least provide decent food for their families?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I thank the member opposite for raising her concerns. In discussion with the leader of the third party last week, he raised the same point for my consideration and I did commit to him and will commit again to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin to reviewing this matter with my department. The issue of the adequacy of social assistance rates, including all segments of that rate, is something I did review with departmental staff upon taking over this portfolio. Based on their advice, I determined at that point it was adequate. I note again that the Yukon's rates are among the highest in the country and remain there. But again I will commit to the member opposite that we will review this matter and take their concerns under advisement.
Mrs. Peter: Another concern we heard from the Yukon people, for those who are in need, is shelter cost. Shelter costs in the Yukon have also gone up by 19 percent since 1992. Energy costs have gone up by 72 percent. The minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation's so-called affordable housing is beyond the means of many Yukon families and the situation is getting worse.
No one knows what will happen to the $50-million pot for affordable housing that was announced recently. What specific concrete plans does the minister have to make sure that every Yukoner can find a decent place to live without putting their family's health at risk by using -
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I appreciate the concerns of the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, and I know my colleague, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, is appreciative of her concerns.
Certainly, Yukon Housing is working on a number of projects to address the shortage of housing for people who are living below the poverty line.
Again, with regard to social assistance rates, I would remind the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that the percentage of social assistance that people are charged for housing is very low compared to the rest of the country. Yukon Housing's rates for people who are on social assistance compare very favourably to other areas of the country and other housing programs.
Mrs. Peter: This government has been in office for almost four years. The Premier likes to brag about how everybody he knows is so much better off than they were four years ago. Well, that is not the case for many, many Yukon people. It's not the case for seniors or single parents or people on fixed incomes. It is not the case for many people in rural communities.
Since the Premier took office in 2002, the cost of food has gone up by five and half percent. The cost of shelter has gone up by eight percent. Will the Premier direct his ministers to realign their budget priorities so that people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder can afford decent housing and decent food for their families?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I appreciate the concerns of the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. Again I commit that we will review the adequacy of these rates. Certainly I think that every member of this Assembly wants to ensure that if people are forced onto social assistance, the social assistance is adequate to meet their basic living needs. Again I point out that the Yukon's rates are among the highest in the country, and that we did take action in raising rates for people with disabilities - raising it by 100 percent from a previous level of a supplementary allowance of $125 to a new level of $250 per month.
I would also note that we have taken steps such as excluding child support payments in the calculation of rent in Yukon Housing and that the provision of the fuel rebate to people with low incomes is an effort to address their concerns and to ensure that the unfortunate members of society who may not have access to employment, or be unable to take it for some reason, do have their needs met. We recognize the member's concerns and will commit to looking into the adequacy.
Question re: Government employee positions outside Whitehorse
Mr. Cardiff: I have some questions about jobs in rural Yukon .
Mr. Speaker, a lot of people in rural Yukon don't buy this government's argument that all of their economic problems will disappear as soon as we have more mines, more oil wells, or railroads up and running. They don't buy the Premier's line that everybody in the Yukon is better off than they were four years ago. They want to know what this government's plans are in the dying days of its mandate to create jobs and business opportunities in their communities. They want to know why the government is actually shutting down jobs outside of Whitehorse.
Will the Minister of Highways and Public Works explain why he is reducing the number of jobs in highway maintenance camps, which are often a major source of income for people in small Yukon communities?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working in all our rural communities to fill job positions. Right now, we have vacancies in several spots, and we are having difficulty finding the skilled labourers, just like many private sector businesses are, to fill those particular spots, but we are working on that in the hopes of filling all of them.
Mr. Cardiff: It would probably help if he ran an ad for the jobs.
The Government of Yukon is the single biggest employer in the territory. I might have to repeat that because I kind of stumbled over it. The Government of Yukon is the single biggest employer in the territory - that's the Yukon , not Whitehorse.
I've heard a lot from rural people in the Yukon who want to know why their communities don't seem to get their fair share of government jobs. They want to know why vacancies that occur in their communities seem to take so long to get filled. I'm almost afraid to ask the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission for an answer to this question, because I expect a lot of words and not much substance. What is the minister doing to ensure that the ratio of government jobs in rural Yukon is being maintained and that vacancies that occur are filled on a timely basis - whether it's nurses, social workers or other positions?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: We certainly do our utmost in recruiting particular positions. The member opposite knows full well, however, that there are a number of challenges before the Yukon, not to mention the rest of the country, in being able to recruit health care professionals, et cetera. That said, we do our very best, and we are currently reviewing our policies and trying to make us a more competitive employer of choice with initiatives for investing in the public service - which is about $1.4 million. We look at succession planning. We are looking at flexible work arrangements and so forth to become a more competitive employer of choice.
Speaker: Before the Member for Mount Lorne asks his final supplementary, just a cautionary note, as I did with the Member for Mayo-Tatchun. Stay with the same theme, please.
Mr. Cardiff: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will attempt to do that. I'm talking about jobs in rural Yukon.
When the Premier was on this side of the House, he was a big advocate of regional economic development councils to encourage private sector economic activity in rural Yukon . We haven't heard much from him on that score lately. We haven't heard from him about one of the major concerns in rural Yukon - the fact that people have to leave their communities to get a job. We haven't heard anything from him about the idea of creating government jobs in rural Yukon, either.
Our caucus is on record as being in favour of a decentralization plan that would create more opportunities for rural Yukoners to get government jobs in their home communities. Does the Premier agree with that goal?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: As I mentioned, we have been working quite hard, as an employer, to attract a number of different individuals to fill many positions, which you will see in the pages of employment opportunities available in the territory. There are quite a few, I might add.
In terms of economic development, we're working to diversify the economy through contributions and investments in arts and cultural industries, investments in film and sound, investments in our communities - the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, to name but one. We're carrying on the course toward prosperity and, again, continuing to attract many different individuals to become part of the Yukon government, as well as to grow the private sector.
Question re: Smoking ban in public places
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services and Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
The Yukon was the last political jurisdiction in Canada to ban drinking and driving. The Yukon was the last political jurisdiction in Canada to require the use of seatbelts. The Yukon is the only political jurisdiction in Canada that does not have provincial/territorial-type legislation in place to ban smoking in public places. Given the known connection of second-hand smoke and lung cancer, one can only conclude that the Government of Yukon does not have a high regard for the health and safety of Yukoners and our visitors.
Why has the minister refused to enact legislation to ban smoking in public places?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Contrary to the suggestion of the Member for Klondike , this government takes the health and safety of Yukoners as a matter of the highest priority.
It should be pointed out, as was raised in my rather lengthy debate with the leader of the third party last week on this topic, that there are a number of hazardous behaviours that people choose to engage in and that the government does not regulate against. Drinking alcohol - alcohol is one of the most significant causes of social problems and health concerns within our society, yet it is legal. Obesity is one of the greatest drains and causes of impact on the health care system, but we do not legislate that individuals must follow a certain diet, nor do we legislate that people must exercise a certain amount per day - and I hope the member opposite, is not suggesting that.
Legislation is only as good as the enforcement, and the experience in the City of Whitehorse should show very well that enforcement can be a very expensive endeavour indeed. We are choosing to invest that money in assisting Yukoners to voluntarily quit smoking rather than just shuffling the problem out of sight and out of mind.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to ask the minister: how many Yukoners will have to pass away from lung cancer from second-hand smoke before this government will respond with legislation to ban smoking in public places? The minister has an opportunity to ban it either through Health and Social Services or through Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board legislation.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: For the member to stand up and suggest that we don't care is inappropriate and offensive. I have had impacts from smoking within my family. I had a grandfather who passed away due in part to the impact that smoking had on his life. That was a contributing factor to his passing. To suggest that we don't care is inappropriate and very offensive.
The member needs to recognize, again, that a piece of legislation is only as good as the enforcement. Enforcement requires money to make it happen. Every dollar spent on enforcing a ban on smoking in public places is a dollar that is not spent on nurses and doctors, on health care equipment, on assisting people to voluntarily quit. We have not ruled out the possibility of legislation at some time, but it should be noted for the member opposite that it is a question of where dollars are spent. Money does not come from the sky.
I appreciate his concerns but, at this time, we are focusing on assisting people in voluntarily breaking their addiction. As has been noted by members, including the leader of the third party, most people who smoke have tried to quit at some time. We are trying to help them.
Mr. Jenkins: Preventive health care is an area that is difficult to allocate funding for in the Department of Health and Social Services, given the demands on the acute care side, but a very simple form of preventive health care is found in all 10 provinces and both other territories, and that is to ban smoking in public places. What is the minister's problem with implementing this legislation, or has the minister been told by the Premier he's not allowed to? What's the answer?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: This government works collectively and we make decisions as a caucus. The Member for Klondike speaks of the difficulty in allocating money toward preventive ends; perhaps that was the case during his tenure as minister. As I've pointed out on the floor of the House during last week's debate, under the territorial health access fund we have allocated some $2.1 million over the next five years toward addressing programs such as healthy eating, healthy living and assisting people in making sensible life decisions, rather than simply shuffling the problem out of sight and out of mind. Rural areas, municipalities, chambers of commerce and those areas have raised the concern to us that, in their small areas - that being the area of the Yukon where you can still smoke in public places - they are concerned about the economic impact of smoking legislation.
Every municipality in the territory has the full ability to implement legislation preventing smoking in public places, if they choose to do so. Others have expressed concern.
We are committed to assisting people and we are committed to helping them make the right lifestyle choices, rather than passing a piece of unenforceable legislation.
Question re: Legislative report card
Mr. Mitchell: As we move into the final days of this Yukon Party government, it is time to look back on some of the legislative assignments that the government was given four years ago. It's report card time for this government.
It is simple enough to measure the government's performance when it comes to major legislative assignments. The grade is “I” for incomplete. Let's look at the Children's Act as the first example. The mandate is almost over. We will not likely be back this fall to pass a new Children's Act. There has been a lot of talk and a lot of money spent, and no legislation. The assignment is incomplete. Why has the Yukon Party government failed to complete this legislative review and bring forward a new Children's Act?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: This has been discussed on numerous occasions. It appears that the leader of the Liberal Party chooses either to not correct his questions based on the information in reply or has simply not taken the time to do his homework and understand what has taken place to date.
In embarking on the Children's Act review, this is only the second time that the Yukon government has worked in full partnership with the Council of Yukon First Nations in developing a piece of legislation. The first time was the Co-operation in Governance Act, which our government developed in cooperation with them, which implemented the Yukon forum. The Children's Act review was the second piece. There were some bumps in the road. It took longer than we would have liked, but we are committed to moving forward and getting over the bumps in the road while working in full cooperation and full partnership with the Council of Yukon First Nations and First Nations to implement the changes to this very important piece of legislation. We are committed to doing so in as timely a manner as possible and hope to have legislation drafted for this fall.
Mr. Mitchell: The Health and Social Services minister can avoid the question all he wants. The Yukon Party government had four years to amend the Children's Act and did not get it done. The grade is incomplete.
Let's look at another major project, the Education Act review. This is another assignment where the government gets an incomplete. In four years, will this Legislature see a new Education Act? The answer is no. Instead, we have an endless project called educational reform. This process, which the Premier goes on and on about, has had no impact whatsoever on students in our classrooms. It has improved no student's grades nor helped them learn a single thing. It is all the Premier has to hang his hat on, so we hear about it constantly. Four years have gone by and a new Education Act will not see the light of day under this government.
Will the Premier take responsibility for this failure?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite for bringing this very important question forward. There have been issues with education in the Yukon for many years. The previous Liberal government made an attempt at revising the act. Did it go anywhere? No. Why didn't the leader of the official opposition state how much money the Liberal government spent trying to get the act reformed?
This education reform has taken on a process now where, at the end of the day, we might find solutions, not just merely going out and talking to people and putting it on the shelf. This education reform is a process that basically has the buy-in of a lot of the stakeholders now. There will be a lot more discussion around how the education program should be reformed so it includes everyone in the territory. Everyone will have a say in what direction the education program will take.
I believe we have a very efficient team who are doing an excellent job to this date.
Mr. Mitchell: We're not talking about previous governments; we're talking about the record of this government.
Mr. Speaker, let's look at another piece of legislation the Yukon Party government has been working on: the new Workers' Compensation Act. The process was chaired by the MLA for Southern Lakes. Again, the grade is incomplete. The MLA for Southern Lakes was given one task by the Premier: to review this act, and he did not get it done.
The Children's Act, incomplete; Education Act, incomplete; Workers' Compensation Act, incomplete - four years and these three major pieces of legislation are not done.
Why has the Yukon Party government been unable to complete this work?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: First of all, it needs to be noted that the leader of the official opposition seems to have a problem with math. His counting of four years is a little interesting.
I would remind the member opposite that, as far as these initiatives here, his suggestion is that they're off the rails, and that is quite contrary to the facts. The Children's Act review is proceeding forward. Delays take place. Unlike the previous Liberal government, we are committed to completing our projects when we undertake them. This project is proceeding forward. It was delayed beyond what was originally envisioned and that is unfortunate, but we have pulled things back together again and are moving forward in partnership with CYFN and First Nations.
With regard to the Workers' Compensation Act, consultations will be taking place next week and have been taking place over the past few months here to finalize this process. Upon taking over the portfolio of responsibility for WCB, I went to work with my colleague, the Member for Southern Lakes, and the other two members of the panel, to work with them and have them commit to a timeline for completion of this project so there can be a final report and recommendation tabled prior to the end of the mandate this fall.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
Notice of government private members' business
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to inform the House that government private members do not wish to identify any motions to be called for Wednesday, May 24, under the heading of government private members' business, in an effort to assist members of the opposition to have more time to debate the budget and legislation.
Speaker: We will now proceed with 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. We will be dealing with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, Department of Health and Social Services.
Is it the wish of the members to take a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. The 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
On Health Services - continued
On Community Health - continued
Chair: We will continue with Bill No. 20, the First Appropriation Act, 2006-07. We are currently in the Department of Health and Social Services, Vote 15, in health services branch. The line currently under debate is community health in the amount of $6,117,000.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It gives me pleasure again to rise and debate on this Department of Health and Social Services, in particular on the line related to community health programs.
Investment in the work that is done by the Health and Social Services staff within communities is very important and has a significant effect upon the lives of many Yukoners. As I have outlined to members opposite and to briefly recap, the health promotion unit provides and supports evidence-based targeted health promotion and illness-prevention programs and activities that increase health knowledge and encourage healthy decision making and behaviour, promotes professional development in collaboration among health professionals and creates supportive environments. Through this area, funding is also provided to community groups who play a vital role in health promotion and illness prevention in relation to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other chronic conditions.
These complementary areas are those such as I have outlined previously in Question Period and previously on the floor of the House related to the expenditures that we are providing out of the territorial health access fund of some $2.1 million allocated over the next five years toward health promotion in the areas of healthy living, education, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging young people not to take up smoking in the first place and assisting those who are addicted in making that break from their addiction and addressing that problem in the long term rather than simply shuffling the problem out of sight, as has been suggested by members across the floor.
Another area under community health programs is the area of dental health. The children's dental program, under the series of school-based public health dental program, provides diagnostic, preventive and restorative dental services to children from preschool to grade 8 in Whitehorse and Dawson City and from preschool to grade 12 in all other rural communities.
Dentists in private practice are contracted to provide some consultative and rural and clinical services. I would again identify to members opposite that, once more through the territorial health access fund, we are providing complementary actions to these areas.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Chair, do I have the floor?
Chair: Mr. Cathers, you have the floor, on the community health line.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I am providing information directly related to the line and also identifying to members opposite a complementary program and investment that we have in place that relates to the areas under this, which I believe is very germane to the subject.
Also under the territorial health access fund, as I have noted, we have allocated funding toward enhancing the service availability provided through dental health, particularly in rural communities.
Environmental health services promotes care for the environment in the interests of protecting human health and they work with the medical health officer in providing consultation and educational services to individuals, businesses and governments. They operate a water laboratory for the analysis of water samples, in terms of bacteriological analysis - both of drinking water and recreational water. They also engage in inspection, surveillance, audits and enforcement activities of the regulatory program as mandated by the Public Health and Safety Act and regulations, of course, in terms of establishments that are operating and ensuring that both the quality of the water and the premises meet the standard prescribed by regulation.
The fourth area under community health programs is that of communicable disease control. This area, in consultation with the medical health officer, is responsible for the prevention, monitoring and control of all infectious diseases throughout the Yukon . Activities include direct client services, including screening, testing, treatment, monitoring, patient education and support, policy and program development, epidemiological and statistical analysis and consultation with other Yukon health care providers, agencies and government bodies pertaining to matters related to communicable disease.
Area number five under community health programs is that of mental health services, which provides outpatient assessment, individual and group treatment, consultation and referral services to individuals with a range of mental health problems, including adults diagnosed with serious and persistent mental illnesses, adults with more episodic mental health problems and children and youth. The multi-disciplinary team also engages in and supports public education, training, policy and program development in allied departments and community organizations and community development. Psychiatric services are provided by one resident psychiatrist and two itinerant consulting psychiatrists.
I would also identify to members opposite related areas under the capital budget: the $50,000 is provided for planning the enhancement of the residential supports that are available to those who are afflicted with mental difficulties and require a more permanent type of care. There's also the area under the territorial health access fund, where we're providing a total of $1.23 million over the next five years toward improving the supports available in the community, including planning and implementation of increased counselling at a community level and increasing the support for independent living in the community and the housing supports I previously mentioned.
Additionally under the territorial health access fund, the investment of $298,000 in early identification of mental health will complement the program responsibilities delivered under this area of mental health services.
The increases under this budget include miscellaneous personnel increases of $148,000. With that, Mr. Chair, I would thank members for their attention and look forward to any questions they have under this area.
Mr. McRobb: I'm a bit concerned at the length of time the minister took to respond to my question, which was asking for a simple financial breakdown of the components. I'm not sure if we received an answer to the question, so I would invite the minister to indicate if he did give the financial breakdown of the components under that line item and, if he did, we'll clear it and move on. There's $12.5 million in this line item, and all we heard was a big speech about what the minister thought were the good things his government is doing.
I would suggest that, if we're going to proceed at the rate we have for the last 10 or 15 minutes, not much will be accomplished before 5:00 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. There're fewer than 10 line items we want breakdowns for, and we can clear this department. If we work more cooperatively, Mr. Chair, I would suggest the time needed to do this is less than 10 minutes.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: First, it's important to point out that the total dollar amount for this line item stated by the Member for Kluane, the Liberal Health and Social Services critic, is incorrect. The actual dollar amount is less than half what he stated for community health programs: $6,117,000. I would encourage him to be a little less liberal with his math.
The breakdown of community health programs include $370,089 for activity management, $2,152,051 for mental health, $1,084,348 for dental health, $783,577 for environmental health, $622,988 for health promotion, and $1,130,947 for communicable disease.
Community Health in the amount of $6,117,000 agreed to
On Community Nursing
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Health care delivery is carried out by a system of health facilities that are designed to meet the health care needs of the community in which they are situated.
The following represents the basic program and service distinction among the various facilities. Health centres - community health centres are located in Carcross, Teslin, Carmacks, Pelly Crossing, Destruction Bay , Haines Junction, Beaver Creek, Faro, Dawson , Ross River, Old Crow, and Mayo. These health units are staffed by one or more nurses and auxiliary staff. Community nurse practitioners, in the absence of a physician, provide daily clinics for medical treatment, community health programs and 24-hour emergency services. Clients requiring more specialized care are referred to a hospital.
Hospitals - a 12-bed hospital facility is located in Watson Lake. The Watson Lake hospital provides 24-hour emergency medical treatment. Short-term admissions and respite care clients requiring more specialized care may be referred to the Whitehorse General Hospital or to hospitals outside the territory.
Community health nurses are located in Watson Lake , Dawson City and the Whitehorse Health Centre.
Health nurses provide a wide range of preventive health services. Programs delivered by these facilities include the community health programs such as maternal/child programs, the prenatal, also the well-woman program, school health, chronic disease follow-up, geriatric programs, home visitations, health and education promotion including a variety of areas such as nutrition, environmental health, mental health, dental health, HIV/AIDS, et cetera. Immunization is also provided by community health programs under community nursing. Adult health - communicable diseases including diseases such as tuberculosis, STDs and testing for HIV. Treatment programs include 24-hour emergency care including responding to highway accidents with ambulances within communities and daily walk-in outpatient clinic for primary care, including the dispensing of specific medications - that being five days a week. Visiting doctor clinics are also provided within communities through the community nursing centres. Referrals are assisted. Administration programs include general administration for the unit, referrals and travel arrangements and non-insured health benefits.
Mr. Chair, breakdown of activities under community nursing include the following: $2,133,336 for activity management; the Dawson hospital, $1,066,035; the Dawson nursing centre, $89,442; Pelly, $464,829; Old Crow, $560,624; Carmacks, $542,447; Faro, $636,160; Mayo, $612,826; Ross River, $456,630; Watson Lake hospital, $1,899,254; Watson Lake Health Centre, $332,298; Teslin, $444,047; Carcross, $575,848; Haines Junction, $739,669; Destruction Bay, $341,780; Beaver Creek, $335,107; and for the operation of the Whitehorse Health Centre, $1,364,668.
Mr. McRobb: It would expedite time and productivity greatly if the minister would cut the needless explanation, which consumes most of the time required for him to read his answer, and just get right to the breakdown part. Again, we're only requesting the breakdowns for these line items.
Community Nursing in the amount of $12,595,000 agreed to
On Emergency Medical Services
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The emergency medical services is provided by 33.8 FTE employee positions. Throughout the Yukon, emergency medical services personnel who are volunteers are responsible for the emergency stabilization and transportation of the sick and injured from the scene to the nearest health care facility capable of providing the required level of care. It is important to note that the volunteers who provide their services are not counted in the full-time employee positions.
Transportation provided through emergency medical services is both by ground and air. They provide both in-territory and out-of-territory air medevacs to residents and non-residents in addition to the ground ambulance services. The Whitehorse station is operated on a 24-hour basis; all other Yukon communities are serviced by volunteer ambulance attendants who are reimbursed on an honorarium basis. With the exception of Old Crow, all communities have one or more ambulances.
I should point out under this area that we have increased it by four percent from last year's forecast due to an increase of $135,000 for one FTE and $100,000 for a new position, which is the director of emergency medical services. This unit was previously part of the community nursing and emergency medical services activity. A director dedicated to emergency medical services will provide more support and direction to this vital service and assist us in ensuring that the operations are carried out in an effective and timely manner. There is also the increase of $35,000 due to the implementation of the collective bargaining agreement with government employees. There is an additional $26,000 to assist with training for rural ambulance attendants and meetings related to that.
Mr. Chair, I'm not sure if that is the breakdown that the member is asking for. It is very difficult to engage in debate with the member opposite. It seems I am either being criticized for providing too much or too little information. We do our best to provide what we feel is the appropriate amount of information, and it seems that, depending on the day and depending on the afternoon, we're criticized for one or the other. I hope this is an appropriate amount of information for the member opposite. I look forward to any questions he may have regarding this line item.
Chair: Is there any further debate?
Emergency Medical Services in the amount of $4,021,000 agreed to
Health Services in the amount of $91,412,000 agreed to
On Regional Services
On Program Management
Mr. McRobb: Again, Mr. Chair, we request only the breakdown - not the variances or updates or objectives or purposes.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I'm not sure what the member is asking for. There is no breakdown into sub-activities in areas such as program management. It is an activity in itself. The member should be aware of that from previous debate in the Assembly.
The area of program management is $2,320,000. The full-time equivalents covered under that are 24.6. That is the information in response to the member's question.
Program Management in the amount of $2,320,000 agreed to
On Family and Children's Services
Family and Children's Services in the amount of $793,000 agreed to
On Social Services
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In answer to the member, there is very little of a breakdown I can provide. I can advise him that, of the $983,000 in the line item for social services, $939,790 is social services costs within the communities. That does not include Whitehorse , and there is an additional miscellaneous $43,000 in delivery costs.
Social Services in the amount of $983,000 agreed to
On Youth Justice
Youth Justice in the amount of $13,000 agreed to
Regional Services in the amount of $4,109,000 agreed to
On Transfer Payments
Transfer Payments cleared
On Capital Expenditures
On Policy, Planning and Administration
On Integrated Health and Social Services Facilities
Hon. Mr. Cathers: These funds are required to pay for facility planning across the department, including minor renovations that become necessary to ensure suitable Health and Social Services facilities in all Yukon communities and ensure effective service delivery.
Integrated Health and Social Services Facilities in the amount of $60,000 agreed to
On Office Furniture and Operational Equipment
Office Furniture and Operational Equipment in the amount of $227,000 agreed to
On Systems Development
Hon. Mr. Cathers: This line item provides funds to maintain, assess and plan appropriate systems solutions for efficient and effective program delivery, as well as to provide accurate and complete information for analysis and decision making. Funding is provided for four projects with assistance from the primary health care transition fund. A number of stand-alone mainframe-based insured health systems are being replaced with an integrated health registration system, as well as a health claims system, which will integrate doctor and hospital, and provide better operations. That is $1.247 million.
There's also allocation for the expansion of the mental health SYNAPSE case management software to alcohol and drug services. That is a $50,000 item. For planning to identify the needs for the child welfare system improvements, there is $50,000; for service agreements related to ICT, there is some $80,000, including improvements and upgrades in that area.
Systems Development in the amount of $1,427,000 agreed to
Policy, Planning and Administration in the amount of $1,714,000 agreed to
On Family and Children's Services
Mr. McRobb: I request that we deem all lines on page 11-5, Family and Children's Services, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines of Family and Children's Services cleared or carried
Chair: Mr. McRobb has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines on page 11-5, Family and Children's Services, cleared or carried, as required.
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Chair: We do not have unanimous consent.
We will continue with Family and Children's Services.
On Foster Home Equipment
Foster Home Equipment in the amount of $27,000 agreed to
On Child Care Services Development
Child Care Services Development in the amount of $80,000 agreed to
On Program Management
Program Management in the amount of $30,000 agreed to
On Young Offender Facilities – Renovations and Equipment
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I'd like to briefly outline for members opposite funding under this area. This is maintaining the facilities we provide for the young offenders program. This year there is $157,000 for renovations to the youth probation office, $101,000 for improvements at the young offenders facilities, and $57,000 for the Youth Achievement Centre at 501 Taylor Street.
Young Offender Facilities – Renovations and Equipment in the amount of $315,000 agreed to
On Residential Services – Renovations and Equipment
Residential Services – Renovations and Equipment in the amount of $106,000 agreed to
On Residential Services – New Group Home
Hon. Mr. Cathers: This line item relates to an item that has been debated several times by members opposite and me in this Assembly, that being the construction of a new group home. This $50,000 is for the planning and design work to prepare for the construction of a new residential youth group home for high-risk adolescents.
Residential Services – New Group Home in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Women's Shelters – Renovations and Equipment
Women's Shelters – Renovations and Equipment in the amount of $15,000 agreed to
On Prior Years' Projects
On Prior Years' Projects in the amount of nil agreed to
Family and Children's Services in the amount of $623,000 agreed to
On Social Services
On Social Services – Renovations and Equipment
Social Services – Renovations and Equipment in the amount of $232,000 agreed to
On Mental Health/Alcohol and Drug Services – Purpose Built Space – Planning
Hon. Mr. Cathers: This is the item I mentioned earlier in the debate under the community health program line item - this being space planning to assist us in providing for the needs of individuals who require these services within the mental health field, including functional space analysis and planning for construction of a new facility or renovation of an existing one.
Mental Health/Alcohol and Drug Services - Purpose Built Space - Planning in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Continuing Care - Renovations and Equipment
Hon. Mr. Cathers: This area provides funding for renovations and equipment for our continuing care facilities, primarily for ongoing replacement to maintain furniture and equipment at a level that properly accommodates program services to residents and satisfies national standards, including the improvements that have occurred within the national standards over the years.
There is some $18,000 for renovations and equipment for home care. There is $236,000 allocated for Macaulay Lodge for the purposes of furniture and equipment, flooring, paint, HVAC and grounds/painting. For Copper Ridge Place there is $565,000 allocated, including roof repairs, grounds and landscaping, rebuilding the loading dock, security upgrades and furniture and equipment.
There is also $30,000 for equipment, including beds for McDonald Lodge in Dawson City.
Continuing Care - Renovations and Equipment in the amount of $849,000 agreed to
On Multi-level Care Facility - Dawson City
Mr. McRobb: I'd like to know if the government has decided on a design for this structure. Does it have a conceptual drawing or anything it can provide us to improve our understanding of what this building will look like? Particularly, Mr. Chair, is it currently envisioned in a way that is consistent with the earlier vision that would be a multiple-use building comprised of the health centre, ambulance station - and there was something else in there too. Could he just explain for us the latest vision of this and if they have the conceptual drawings?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I have addressed this previously in debate. I will repeat it again for the member opposite, as he obviously did not review that part in the Blues.
I would note that the $100,000 is for doing finalization of the design and some modifications to the existing conceptual design. The massive Taj Mahal-type facility that was being planned to replace anything and everything and build a wonderful new facility would have come significantly overbudget to the tune of about $10 million.
For that reason, the design is being revised to meet its original intent and fit within the budgetary envelope of $5.2 million. That is what will be occurring this summer with the intent of beginning construction next summer of a multi-level care facility in Dawson City .
Multi-level Care Facility - Dawson City in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
On Multi-level Care Facility - Watson Lake
Mr. McRobb: This could be the final line item that we want a breakdown on. A year ago, I requested a conceptual design for this building and I'd like to know if the minister is willing to provide it now.
Can he give us an estimated completion date and an estimated final cost for this structure?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: There was a design that was shown to the public several months ago - especially the seniors in Watson Lake. I thought that that had been provided to the Member for Kluane. We can certainly undertake to have him provided with exactly what the members of the Watson Lake community have been shown in this area. We are moving forward toward completion of this project, and the construction will be underway this year and will continue into next year. I am somewhat reluctant to pin down an exact completion date and time, but we would hope that the facility will see substantial completion at some point during next fiscal year.
Mr. McRobb: That is quite a lot of leeway that the minister is giving himself in that response. Doesn't the government have a target month in the 2007-08 year that he could shed some light on? Furthermore, there are two other aspects he avoided answering. One was the final cost and the other one was the breakdown on this item.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The member needs to decide if he is asking me to micromanage this project or not to micromanage it. I'm not micromanaging this project. The project is proceeding under the department's control and is being managed by the department. We have also contracted firms to be project manager, do architectural design, geotechnical, et cetera, and a number of people - primarily local residents - are working on this project right now and will continue in the future. The significant work of this project has not been done to this stage, and will be commencing. As I stated to members opposite, there will be a long list of public tenders coming out over the next two months related to this project. Regarding completion, as I stated to the member, we expect substantial completion during next summer. Regarding the member's concern regarding an exact month, there have been matters with regard to the handover of project management that have to be dealt with have resulted in some delay in that area. We could have the department provide some technical details to the member regarding what that is in that area, but I would note that we are committed to finalizing the project as soon as possible.
We will be proceeding forward with people we have hired for this project.
Mr. McRobb: Just for the record, let's get this straight. The minister is saying the facility won't be completed; it'll just be substantially completed in the next fiscal year, which brings us to March 31, 2008. I just want to get on the record that that's what the minister said.
He also didn't indicate if there was a breakdown on that line item of $2.36 million and he didn't indicate if the government has a handle on the final cost.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: As I stated to the member opposite, for this $2.3 million - a line in the budget - there will be a long list of public tenders coming out over the summer months. As far as a breakdown per tender, I would remind the member opposite of the contracting process. It's not practice or sensible business procedure for a contracting body, when they're seeking public tenders, to identify what they expect to be paying in that area. There is a request for bids and they hope to get the best price possible but, in poker terms, so to speak, one does not want to show one's hand on this. It's not well-advised to display the total cost for each tender in advance of actually putting it out to public tender if you wish to get value for the taxpayers' dollar.
Those contracts will be publicly issued and will be on the contract registry within the coming months.
Mr. McRobb: Just before I let this go, I'm not requesting a breakdown of each of the tenders. I listened to the minister's response and it sounds like he wants the privilege of what he would expect if there was one contractor, that being a general contractor, where he has already indicated there are several contract tenders going out on this project.
I'm looking for a total estimated final cost. How does that give away your poker hand when there are several tenders? I'm not asking for the anticipated amount of each tender; I'm asking for the total final cost for this project in Watson Lake.
I just want to make that clear. If the minister doesn't answer it, we'll move on, but how accountable does that make him in this Yukon Party government?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Once again, it is very frustrating engaging in debate with the member opposite, the same member whose leader stood up and suggested that the athletes village project should have been built for $2.7 million. I saw the look on the member's face when we had a tour of the facility. I think even he realized that that facility has been delivered for good value for the $31-million price tag and that it is not wildly overbudget as suggested by the Liberals.
Mr. Chair, I have to bring the member back to contracting procedures and remind him that we can't give a breakdown for each tendering component at this time if we wish to get the best value for taxpayers' dollars. That will all be fully disclosed on a contract registry, which is not only tabled regularly in the House, but it is provided on the Web site all the time. It is available to any member of the public who logs on to the Web site and checks into the contracting data.
As far as the total cost of the project, there was $5.2 million allotted for this project. Efforts are being made to have it come in as close to budget as possible. We have discussed previously on the floor the unexpectedly high costs related to engineering and review of the hospital facility that were not originally envisioned. For that reason, it may be a little larger than the original $5.2 million. However, efforts are being made to come as close to budget as we possibly can. We do have to recognize, as the member should note, that every individual trying to build a house, every company, every government within western Canada and, to some extent, within North America has faced increasing costs - massive hikes in the cost of steel, increased cost of plywood, OSB, pressure-treated lumber. Those costs are things determined by the market. If they occur, all any contracting agency, including government, can do is make best efforts to accommodate those within the budget and, if unable to do so, then any variances and increases must be debated at the proper time, when those numbers are known.
We do not control the cost of steel, much as we might like to. To answer the member opposite, the budget was $5.2 million and best efforts are being made to come as close to that as possible, taking into account the one area I have identified and discussed previously with members in the House, where we have already seen an unexpected increase. However, I will point out that we will save money down the road, at such time and place as repairs to the Watson Lake hospital are undertaken, which are not part of this current project.
Mr. McRobb: What's the use? I request unanimous consent to deem all remaining lines in this department cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all remaining lines in Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services, cleared or carried
Chair: Mr. McRobb has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all remaining lines in Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $7,979,000 agreed to
Department of Health and Social Services agreed to
Chair: That concludes Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services.
I understand that we are going to return to Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Department of Energy, Mines and Resources - continued
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for having me review the Energy, Mines and Resources budget for this coming year. As the debate carried on last week, I think I will make my comments short. We have had an introduction to the budget; we have been discussing issues in the budget, and I will invite debate from the members opposite, understanding that time is short. Hopefully, we will be moving ahead with other departments, as well as EMR, and get them finalized in the next couple of days.
Mr. Chair, I invite debate.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to resume debate on the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
I thank the assistants from the department for their advice to the minister.
I had an opportunity to review the Blues about our last debate with the minister. I would like to draw to the minister's attention a key point. I asked him in debate regarding the land question, as we were referred by the Minister of Community Services to the minister, about the future use of the McIntyre Creek land area - we'll call it that for lack of a better term. On May 11, the minister indicated he would send my office the outline of a consultation process as soon as he had it on his desk. He said he would update me as soon as he knew exactly how the public consultation would be. He said that nothing would be transferred until all the consultation is done and, at the point, everything that is going to happen will happen at the same time.
My research staff, fortunately, ably advised me that on May 16, the Government of Yukon issued a press release extending the consultation on McIntyre Creek land use. I would willingly accept the minister's apology for not, in fact, following through and sending the information, as he committed to on no less than three occasions, on this area that is of critical interest to a number of members in this Legislature, not solely my own and the riding's. It's about land disposition. The minister has not yet given me an answer as to what is going to happen after this consultation period.
Would the minister care now, in light of this information, to provide more detailed information as to what the government is going to do? I respectfully do not want another commitment that he will send it over to my office. I would like the minister to tell us what the consultation process is going to be. I have some information from this media release. The minister said in the House there would be a consultation plan and he would send it over.
Nothing - I have a Government of Yukon media release that my staff was able to pull off the Web that talks about a public consultation process and says to visit our Web site. There is no mention, even in this media release, of Yukon Electrical and their interest. Would the minister care to provide some information on the floor of the House?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I have to apologize to the member opposite. I was under the belief that that correspondence had gone to your office. I will address that through Community Services and see why it wasn't sent to you, and I apologize for that.
As far as the protocol is concerned, Yukon Electrical certainly is a stakeholder. All those questions you asked will be answered. There are public meetings being held as well as the Web site. There are public meetings in Porter Creek; there are public meetings in Takhini; and there are public meetings downtown on the issue. All those consultations will be brought back.
The City of Whitehorse , of course, is a stakeholder in this. Kwanlin Dun and Ta'an Kwäch'än are stakeholders and, of course, Yukon College has some interest in the land. The concerns of all those stakeholders, plus Yukon Electrical, will be addressed. At the end of all those consultations, there will have to be some decisions made, but I'm not going to predict what is going to happen in the consultations - that's why we are having the consultations. Obviously the Porter Creek citizens association felt they needed more consultation. The Premier and I agreed to that formula and this is what we agreed to do: to move forward, put the consultation in place, talk to the stakeholders - and the stakeholders are extensive. The member opposite understands the overlapping stakeholders' concerns in the McIntyre Creek area.
To be fair, the last consultation did bring Yukon Electrical to the surface. When we first started the consultation, I as the minister - of course, it wasn't in my portfolio at the time - did not know that Yukon Electrical had an interest in that part of the creek, so all this consultation has brought out certain issues that we have to address.
As I said to the member opposite, we are not going to make any decisions without a thorough consultation process, and when the consultation is done, we are going to move ahead with what is going to happen in that area. It will be a public consultation so the member opposite will be aware of what is happening. Porter Creek will be aware; Takhini is going to be aware, and of course the college, Yukon Electrical and the First Nations will all be part and parcel of this consultation. Not only will it be the Web site that Community Services has made available to the general public, there are also public meetings, and of course there are going to be stakeholder meetings. I think this is the process. We have to go through the process.
We as the government have made the decision to lengthen the process and make sure all stakeholders are heard. As I said to the member opposite, this is not an easy task. This will not be done overnight; we as a government will not be making decisions without involving all the stakeholders, and that is going to take time.
Ms. Duncan: First of all, the public consultation that was embarked upon in March had too short a timeline. I mean no disrespect to anyone, but that consultation was very badly done. It didn't have all the information. There were representatives from the city but not from Porter Creek and not from the college. What the minister has done and outlined in the information so far is just a continuation. You have the stakeholders meeting at one table and the public invited to other meetings - one as soon as tomorrow at Whitehorse Elementary School, and the consultation is scheduled only until June 7.
Throughout the public consultation, you are going to have people restating and restating their concerns and continuing to feel like they haven't been heard. How many times do Porter Creek and Takhini North residents have to show up at a public meeting and say how much they use that area as greenspace?
The fact that Yukon Electrical Company Limited had a legal interest in McIntyre Creek was so noted and recognized in the development of the petition tabled in 1997. The problem I have is that I don't see the way in which the government is going about this consultation process will broker solutions among citizens. That's the problem I have with it. It's not just with the length of time; it's the divide-and-conquer attitude of the stakeholders at one table and the public at three other meetings.
Porter Creek and Takhini North residents and residents of Kopper King - all kinds of Yukoners who use the area on a regular basis - are beginning to ask, “How many times do we have to tell the government before somebody listens?”
The minister says that consultation will go on; it won't be easy and it won't be quick. Of course not; brokering solutions isn't easy. My question: how is the government going to make a decision on this? Are they even going to? How will the decision be made? Is it going to be a report that is issued to Cabinet at the end of consultation? Are there going to be proposed solutions that go back to the public? What is the process?
I know about the dates for the three meetings, thanks to the Web site, but how is the government going to reach a solution on this?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In fairness to the department, I think the department has done not a bad job of this. This has been a very sensitive thing, and for the member opposite to insinuate the department wasn't working in good faith on this question is not fair to the department. The department went out and did what they had to do to follow the process.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: The member said, “…for the member opposite to insinuate the department wasn't working in good faith…”. He is implying motives. I said there was a lousy job done on consultation.
Chair: There is no point of order here.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In fairness to the department, I think they did a thorough job in a very sensitive issue in the Porter Creek area. The City of Whitehorse had different issues; they have obligations too, as another level of government, and they expect us to show leadership in this issue. The department has not done a lousy job; the department has done a job that was very sensitive. When we as government do the consultation, we are not just doing consultation to listen to the Porter Creek citizens again. We're hoping to work with the groups to resolve the issues in that area of McIntyre. There have been questions out there for years.
The question on the college is an issue. The college had endowment lands that are an issue today. They would like to resolve that issue.
That issue goes along with what is the responsibility of Yukon College in the sense of what is the use of the land - you know, limited on educational.
Kwanlin Dun was part and parcel when they were looking at land selection; they were told this land was going to be utilized for the college, and the Ta'an Kwäch'än were also informed on that. At the end of this consultation they will bring forward, in conjunction with the city, the final consultation and the questions asked and also how they are going to mitigate the questions.
Certainly we are going to compile all of the consultations, go back out and talk to the citizens and talk over not only what we found in consultation - not with one group. I mean, we are working with all of the groups. All of the groups have different issues, so we have to address as many of those issues as possible before anything happens to the McIntyre area. We have the City of Whitehorse , I remind the member opposite; we have the Porter Creek community, we have Takhini, we have the First Nation governments, we have the college and we have Yukon Electrical thrown into the mix. I haven't been in charge of this file since 1997, so when Yukon Electrical did surface, I had not done my homework to find out, in fact, that they did have some licensing issues with the creek. If you were thinking from Yukon Electrical's point of view, they certainly would have questions about McIntyre Creek because they happen to have an asset in the middle of McIntyre Creek that produces power. So certainly they have a business interest in McIntyre Creek and we, as a government, will address that business interest. With this protocol, with the protocol with the city, we will be addressing how we can work with the city on issues like this, and we will be working with these public meetings. The member opposite accuses us in one minute of not having enough meetings, we extended the meeting process so at the end of the day the community could have more input - we've done that.
Working toward that, the meetings are going to be held in the areas that are most affected; in other words, Takhini, Whitehorse and Porter Creek. I recommend that all citizens who have a question on this issue come out, debate and talk to the members from the Department of Community Services who are going to be holding these meetings. We want to get as much input as we possibly can, because this decision, down the road - once we have compiled everything, addressed Yukon Electrical Company Limited and the college issue. All this is a process. One day, somebody will have to plan what is going to happen with McIntyre Creek. That has to be done in partnership with as many of the stakeholders and citizens as possible in the Porter Creek and Takhini areas. It is a very important part of the lifestyle of the individuals in Porter Creek and Takhini North, and there is the question about Yukon College and what they want to do if, in fact, they are involved in acquiring land. Of course, Yukon Electrical is going to have something to say about their investment.
We are a long way from making any decisions. We made a commitment at the community meeting that we would extend the consultation. We didn't shut any doors. Those meetings are being held. They are being advertised, and I recommend that all concerned citizens go out and talk to the powers that be and give ideas to see where we are going to go on the McIntyre Creek question, which has been a question for many years.
Ms. Duncan: I would appreciate an answer from the minister to the question: how will the decision be made?
Hon. Mr. Lang: At the end of the day, how will the decision be made? It will be made by the territorial government, and it will be made in conjunction with all the stakeholders.
Ms. Duncan: The minister talked about a consultation plan and talked at great length about the stakeholders. He hasn't mentioned the salmon hatchery on McIntyre Creek, and Yukon Electrical is left out of the media release - as important stakeholders.
The minister has made commitments before on the floor of the House that, once consultations are complete - these three meetings - responses will be made public. Is that correct? Once these three meetings are complete and they've had their stakeholder meetings, will there be a report, or some kind of document that the public can view, or will that information go straight to Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We advertise public meetings. We are taking into consideration Yukon Electrical and the other stakeholders, and we are working with them.
As far as the fish hatchery, we're working on that issue too. It's not an easy issue. For the member opposite to say it is - she's dead wrong. This is a very complicated issue, but some government, somewhere, will have to resolve the conflicts between the college, the fish hatchery, Yukon Electrical, the City of Whitehorse, the Porter Creek Community Association, the Takhini North Citizens Association and anyone else who has a stake in that part of Whitehorse. This is just part of the process.
We said at the meeting that we would extend the consultation. We've done that. Public meetings are being held in the appropriate places. I recommend all individuals in the Porter Creek area and Takhini North to take advantage of those meetings, because it's very important to hear individuals' thoughts on that area.
We're doing our job. How the protocol will end up, or the final paper - whatever we do is public information. It's not going directly to Cabinet. There will have to be another form of communication on how we address the issues that we find out about in the consultation process. We have to flesh the issues out, go back to the stakeholders and get a buy-in at some level.
If we don't get the support of all the stakeholders, I don't think anything will happen this term with the McIntyre Creek situation. I think it'll be left for another government but, eventually, one government of the day will have to bite the bullet and make decisions. Those decisions around McIntyre Creek are huge. There are competing interests from a college, from First Nations, from business, Yukon Electrical and communities.
We are doing our work. As a government, we said we're open to more consultation and that's what we're doing. As far as advertising who we're talking to, as stakeholders - in other words, Yukon Electrical, the fisheries - we're working with all those to make sure the report is fair and balanced among all the stakeholders and the communities.
Ms. Duncan: It's unfortunate the minister is so sensitive on this particular subject. It's clearly going to be a difficult decision on what happens with that particular land. There is nothing more visceral to Yukoners than land.
The minister has responsibility for some land policy - there's one land policy in particular he doesn't have responsibility for, one that he has stepped aside from. I'm referring to the big game outfitter land policy. The minister has stepped aside from the responsibility for that.
However, there are a number of other land policies, such as the inability of a Yukoner to apply for recreational land, that fall within the minister's responsibility.
What policy work is going on in the department in these other areas? Is there any kind of Cabinet oversight to ensure there is some fairness and cohesiveness to this policy development?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I'd like to remind the member opposite that if I had known that my portfolio of Community Services was on the docket at the moment, I would have brought the appropriate people in to give me the assistance I would need in answering the questions. The department that is up now is Energy, Mines and Resources. We certainly are working on land, understanding that we are responsible for land outside of municipalities. We certainly have made some progress on rural residential, agricultural and recreational land.
If we could go back to Energy, Mines and Resources, I certainly would invite questions from the members opposite. If we are going to continue the conversation on the Community Services portfolio, I would recommend a 15- or 20-minute break so I could bring the appropriate people here who could address the issues at hand.
Ms. Duncan: The minister hasn't really answered any of the questions in oil and gas, mining or energy, or the land questions, which the Minister of Community Services suggested I defer to this minister.
I asked him questions within his portfolio, within this departmental debate that we engaged in last time. I asked him for an update because information he previously committed to providing had not been done. I merely called him on his ministerial responsibilities.
The minister was also asked under oil and gas - since he wants to discuss that at length - whether or not he had fulfilled an earlier commitment to update the McCracken report, which was an assessment of the economic impact of the Alaska Highway pipeline project. Has the minister done that? He committed to doing it earlier - was it ever done?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In addressing the member opposite, as a minister of the government, we have an obligation to answer questions. The member opposite, I guess, sometimes has a problem with the answers, but that doesn't mean we haven't answered the questions. I committed in this House to get an updated McEachern report, if in fact we had one. I can't produce something that we don't have. It hasn't been updated since 2004.
Ms. Duncan: It's the McCracken report, and it is an economic assessment of the impact of the Alaska Highway pipeline project. The minister previously committed in the House that the government - the original report was done under our term in government - was going to update that information in order to become champions of the project so that, when the Premier goes to annual meetings, he can say the economic impact of that particular project to Saskatchewan would be X percent, to Alberta and to Yukon. The minister said he was going to update that report and that he would provide the update. He hasn't done that; that's what I am asking for. He hasn't even provided the 2004 update. Could we have that information? That's what I am asking for.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I make commitments in the House on the power of what my departments tell me we have. I don't have access to every report on an hourly, daily, monthly or yearly basis. We are in the process of updating the report the member opposite has been speaking about. We are going to work on that to address the advantages for Yukon . I'd like to say thank you to the member opposite for doing it when she was in office. We are working to update it.
When it is done, it will be public information and the member opposite will get the updated review of the report; however, we can't produce something we don't have.
Chair: Is there any further debate? Seeing none, we'll proceed with line-by-line examination.
Ms. Duncan: I would request unanimous consent of Committee of the Whole to deem all lines in Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, cleared or carried
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Chair: We do not have unanimous consent. We will continue with general debate.
On Corporate Services
On Deputy Minister's Office
Mr. Jenkins: When we left general debate some time ago on the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, I was referring to a land application in the Mayo district. The minister did not provide a response to the questions I posed to him. I was wondering if he had any response at this time.
It deals with an application in which there was no identification of the land that was being applied for. The land area that was vetted through the federal lands branch was incorrectly identified to all the parties. After the survey issue was dealt with and the instructions given to the surveyor, the parcel of land suddenly grew by one-third and encompassed areas that were called into question at the time of the review by the RRC and by the local contractors concerning the quarry pit. Does the minister have any responses to that issue at this time?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We have gone over this issue quite a few times, and I will repeat the conversation I have had in the past. This was a transaction that was done under the federal government before devolution. We were obliged, because of devolution, to honour the agreement that was made between the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the proponent. We certainly have had some concerns about the process. We certainly would not want to do, on our watch, what happened with the proponent in Mayo.
When the member talks about growth, I have been told that the size was enlarged by 12,000 square feet, so the member opposite, in his statement about the growth - it is minimal. We have an obligation to honour the individual who put the application through DIAND. He was accepted through DIAND, and our obligation is to honour that agreement and move forward, Mr. Chair.
Moving forward means that we work with the proponent, the individual who had access to that gravel reserve. We have made an offer to work with that proponent to make sure the impact on him is minimal. We are trying to work with him to get access to gravel. I know there is a question about quality of gravel. I am not an expert on gravel but my department is working to find the appropriate gravel so the individual can do the work he does and move forward in the Mayo area, making sure we minimize the impact on the individual from a business point of view.
Mr. Jenkins: That's all well and good but, as was pointed out in the letter that was sent to the proponents and other interested parties, which questioned how this came about - it was signed by the director of the lands branch. He clearly states in his letter, “As conveyed on the phone, my research concludes that there was discrepancy in the review and approval process resulting in the 1.3 hectare parcel circulated for public review being increased to 2 hectares in the offer letter.”
How does that happen? I could find all sorts of land applications in which the parcel of land was reduced in size and I have yet to find a parcel of land that was increased in size.
The letter goes on, “Although it has been confirmed, an error was made on size and location of the final parcel.” Well, the area that it was enlarged by encompasses a gravel pit that contains a specific type of gravel that has an excellent type of binder in it that is usually used for runway surfaces and it is not readily available.
When it's crushed, it's five-eighths minus. It has a binder in it that is spec'd for airport runway surfaces. To look at that - there was just a large contract let in the Mayo district to resurface the airport. All this will do is add additional costs. When one reviews all the documentation and what has transpired by the director of lands and the inspector reports from the Mayo district, clearly a travesty of justice has been undertaken here. I want to know what the minister is prepared to do because this is clearly an error that has been made by the government, an error they freely admitted and which impacts on others in that area.
Why is the minister just hanging his hat on the statement that this is an undertaking of the federal government and we have to carry this through to its conclusion? That is a travesty of justice.
Hon. Mr. Lang: The Member for Klondike just answered the question. It was a transaction that was done by the federal government, by DIAND. It was an agreement of sale that was reached between the two, the federal government and the proponent. Now, we do admit that in the process there was a mapping error. As a government, we have reached out to the affected individual - who, by the way, had access to a public gravel pit - and tried to present some solutions that everybody could live with.
But this government will not expropriate the land that was given under an agreement between the federal government and the individual.
But we can offer the other proponent access to gravel. We will do the engineering, which we've done, and we will look at leasing to make sure that his gravel lease is protected. We can only do so much, as a government. If people don't want to look for a solution and if the two individuals won't be flexible and look for a solution, there is nothing this government can do. This government is obliged to do exactly what the letter of the law is. The letter of the law is that the proponent applied for land through DIAND and acquired access to land. If he does the certain improvements, he will get title to that land. It was something that was overlapped through devolution and we, as a government, will honour that decision.
I am telling the Member for Klondike that we will work with the other proponent to find an accessible gravel pit. We are talking about Mayo. Mayo is a big piece of real estate. I am sure that if everybody puts their heads together, we could address both issues. The gravel issue is a question from one individual and, of course, the title will be issued on the land.
According to the letter, there were some mistakes made. I'm not taking responsibility for those mistakes. The lot has been expanded by 12,000 square feet, which is not a lot of square footage when you think of the Mayo area. I would like to work with the other individual and find him an appropriate gravel pit that he can work out of and extend his business life in the area.
We have been working on this issue for three and a half years and there is nothing in anybody's government's situation that would cancel the agreement that DIAND made with that individual.
We cannot do that, Mr. Chair. We will honour the devolution agreement, and we are going to honour the title to that land.
Chair: Order please. The Chair notes that the member's questions appear to be of a general nature. I will remind members that we have cleared general debate on this department, and that we are currently in line-by-line examination. There was a request put forward by a member to deem all lines in this department read and carried. However, that was not unanimously agreed to. Our next step then is to proceed with line-by-line examination. We will begin with Corporate Services and the deputy minister's office line in the amount of $464,000.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Corporate Services
On Deputy Minister's Office
Mr. Jenkins: Was the mistake made in the deputy minister's office with respect to this land application, Mr. Chair? There appears to be an issue in the land application where the size and location of the land was changed after the public review process - that is the essence of the problem we have to deal with. Was that error done in the deputy minister's office under this line item where they spent $400,000 some-odd doing we don't know what?
Hon. Mr. Lang: This is something. Mr. Chair, there was no decision in the deputy minister's office on this issue. Let's start line-by-line and let's get through this budget; we've only got another four or five hours here and we have a lot of departments to go through, so let's move on.
Mr. Jenkins: Were the instructions to survey this parcel of land issued out of the deputy minister's office? Where were they issued and why were they issued incorrectly? There is an issue with how they were issued and there was an enlargement of the lot size. Where did that error take place?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again I remind the member opposite, the Member for Klondike - I find the debate we've had over the last two years on this issue amazing. There was a mapping error made during DIAND's tenure on the land. That mapping error was carried through to an agreement of sale and the agreement of sale will grow into a title. That's the long and the short of it. I have no more to say about this.
Again I remind the Member for Klondike that there are more individuals in this House than himself. There is a large department ahead of us and we have five or six more hours to go to work here. To debate this is not only a waste of the Member for Klondike's time, but my time, as the minister, because we have a large budget. Let's move forward.
Chair: Order please. I will remind the member that every member in here is free to bring up questions that he or she feels are important to constituents. No question that has been brought forward in here is a waste of time.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I thank the minister for his rant on -
Chair: Order. I believe we've had this discussion before. Characterizing another's speech or response as a rant or some other pejorative term is clearly out of order.
Please let us return to some constructive debate on the deputy minister's office line item and the allocation of $464,000.
Mr. Jenkins: In the deputy minister's office, is there the ability to have a look at this situation and resolve it to the satisfaction of all parties? It's clearly stated in the letters from the department that an error has been made but, in government, it appears that no one is responsible for anything - it's just a finger-pointing exercise. There has been a serious error made.
Where was that error made? Was it the instructions to survey? Who made it? Was there any underlying reason why it was made? There's obviously more to this issue than what is on the surface.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again I address the Member for Klondike . This issue was brought over by devolution. This government did not make any errors. This government will honour the commitments made by the federal government to move forward.
I admit on the floor here that obviously there was a mapping error - not a large mapping error. There was a legal agreement with the proponent who applied for the land. An agreement of sale was written up and we were obliged by law to issue title. That again is the long and the short of it.
We are not liable for anything. We are just doing what we agreed to do through devolution: honour the agreements that were made by the federal government as we moved in to manage the land and resources of the territory. This was something that was legal. This was a legal document that was written up between the government of the day, DIAND and the purchaser of the land. They entered into an agreement, and part of that agreement was an acceptance of the proponent's application for the land. The next step is title. We're not prepared to renege on that deal. The proponent will get his title when it's due and we will move on.
Mr. Jenkins: Under this line item, the deputy minister has determined that if you apply for one parcel of land, you can get another parcel of land with that original parcel of land enlarged, and no one is responsible for anything. It's vetted through the whole review process, clearly identified as another parcel of land. If this isn't a travesty of justice - it doesn't even pass the smell test.
It's a travesty of justice that this has happened and the minister appears to be determined to follow through on a commitment that was done in error, made in error or perhaps in collusion with a number of parties.
Chair: The member should look behind him; there is the line and it has definitely been crossed. Such a statement is entirely inappropriate in this Assembly and out of order.
I will ask the member to retract the statement.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Jenkins: I will retract the statement that there was collusion in this case, Mr. Chair.
Chair: The Chair's role here is to ensure that order and decorum is met and that the Standing Orders that we've all agreed to will be followed. We must all understand that we have certain rights that are bestowed upon us as members of the Legislative Assembly. However, with those rights comes a certain amount of responsibility. I will once again ask the member to withdraw his comments without the qualifications.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Jenkins: I withdraw it, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Thank you.
The Chair has already noted, too, that we have strayed from the subject under discussion right now, which is the deputy minister's office line in the amount of $464,000. The Chair wants to give all members an opportunity to ask questions on this item and on the many other items that are still under debate and discussion.
Is there any further debate on the deputy minister's office line?
Deputy Minister's Office in the amount of $464,000 agreed to
Ms. Duncan: I request unanimous consent of Committee of the Whole to deem all remaining lines in Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, cleared or carried
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all remaining lines in Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, cleared or carried, as required.
Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance expenditures in the amount of $38,139,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $5,521,000 agreed to
Department of Energy, Mines and Resources agreed to
Chair: I understand the next department up for debate is the Public Service Commission.
Members will take a five-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, in Vote 10, Public Service Commission.
Public Service Commission
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the Public Service Commission operations and maintenance and capital budgets for the 2006-07 year. I am pleased, Mr. Chair, to be part of a government that acknowledges the hard work of our public service as a whole. Through the Public Service Commission and all departments, the investment in public service serving Yukon people initiative is certainly unfolding. Our government is continuing to invest in this worthwhile initiative that provides the foundation of a sound future for our professional public service.
I have spoken about this initiative a number of times, but I certainly feel it merits repeating at this time. The $1.382 million identified in the budget supports many exciting programs that will help with succession planning as our workforce ages and retires. There is a general goal to make the Yukon government an employer of choice, so that we can attract top level people to provide quality service to the Yukon public.
The grad internship program for recent Yukon post-secondary graduates is a program for offering employment to Yukon post-secondary graduates who need experience to gain full employment in their field of expertise. The second intake of the program, I am pleased to report, is in progress.
The program for training for first-line supervisors, flexible work arrangements, the employee development assignment program and the employee and career assessment program all contribute to succession planning in the public service.
The health and well-being is the focus of the healthy employees and workplaces unit in the staff development branch.
Mr. Chair, as I have stated on occasion in this House, the Yukon government is committed to helping make the 2007 Canada Winter Games a resounding success and a memorable experience for Yukoners and visitors alike.
Through the Public Service Commission, the government has developed a participation policy that offers employees leave-without-loss-of-pay options during the different phases of the games. The department has also facilitated secondments to the host society to help with the administration of this major undertaking.
There are certainly a number of initiatives that fall under the Public Service Commission's operation and maintenance budget of $25,929,000. The increase of $3.763 million is caused mainly by higher costs in three areas. The first is an increase in workers' compensation fund premiums and added collective agreement costs for compensation. This total is just over $1 million. The second is an additional $2.231 million for employee future benefits increases to liability levels that the Public Sector Accounting Board requires to be recorded or booked and for employer matching portions for superannuation employee elections. The third is $177,000 for collective agreement adjustments.
Operation and maintenance dollar amounts for program changes cover all branches in the Public Service Commission. The $589,000 in finance administration includes an increase of $35,000 due to collective agreement in merit increments and the addition of a part-time human resource officer. The $2.322 million in corporate resource services branch includes a one-percent increase of $18,000 for collective agreement adjustments.
Included in the branch is the workplace diversity employment office that houses the training and work-experience program for people with disabilities and the Yukon First Nation Training Corps so that, ultimately, the Yukon government will be representative of the people it serves.
The employee compensation branch provides service to current and retired employees dealing with employee benefits and pension matters. The budget for this branch is $1.437 million.
This year will be an especially busy one for the staff relations branch. We have just finished bargaining with the Yukon Teachers Association, and bargaining with the Yukon Employees Union is also scheduled for later this year.
The branch budget of just over $1 million has increased by $17,000 due to collective agreement adjustments.
Human resource/management systems provides systems supports in several critical human resource areas, including attendance, management, process improvements, human resource information, reporting and information systems. The branch budget of $468,000 includes a $24,000 increase due to collective agreement adjustments and staff.
The $848,000 policy and planning branch budget has also increased by $79,000.
The staff development branch has an increase of 13 percent in its budget of $398,000 for IPS funding. While the work of investing in the public service initiative has been shared across the commission, it is staff development that has carried most of the major programming and the $398,000 increase is to continue with IPS initiatives that address succession planning - a national as well as local issue - safe and healthy workplaces, public sector excellence, communication and initiatives that address organizational issues.
Besides branch activities and collective agreement adjustments, the Public Service Commission budget covers two significant areas of corporate responsibility. The first of these is the workers' compensation fund. The Yukon government pays assessment premiums to the workers' compensation fund to provide coverage for government employees who suffer work-related disabilities. This is a legislative requirement under the Yukon Workers' Compensation Act.
Assessment premium rates have increased 22 percent, up from $1.65 to $2.02 per $100 of salary. The budget has also increased to reflect collective agreement increases to Yukon government salary amounts, for a total increase of 26 percent. This rate increase was effective January 1, 2006 , and is part of an overall rate structure increase implemented by the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
The second significant corporate expense in the Public Service Commission budget is to cover changes in future employee benefit liabilities, for leave, termination, pension and retirement benefits. This includes three budget items: (1) employee leave and termination benefits liability; (2) non-pension post-retirement and post-employment benefits liability; and (3) the employer's pension plan contributions related to employee pension buy-backs and transfers.
The employee leave and termination benefits liability records the accounting liability for the Yukon government to pay out vacation and severance benefits when employees terminate or retire. Each year, Public Service Commission adjusts the balance of the account to pay out departments for employees who have retired and to reflect changes to the actual liability based on the actuaries estimate. At March 31, 2005, the estimated liability was approximately $45 million.
Non-pension post-retirement and post-employment benefits liability includes the government's future liability for extended health and life insurance for eligible retirees and for employees who will retire in the future. This is a required change in accounting practice that started in January 2005.
Again, amounts are determined by actuarial estimates, which as of March 31, 2005 , amounted to close to $29 million. Finally, there is the employer's share of pension contributions related to employee buy-backs and transfers. This buy-back arises when employees elect to buy-back past service with the Yukon government or to transfer service from other employers, where service can be transferred within the plan.
The federal Treasury Board has ruled that the employer must match the elected payments at rates that the board determines. The total for both buy-backs and transfers is estimated at about $3.2 million for 2006.
Mr. Speaker, the Public Service Commission capital budget includes $26,000 to replace computers and $25,000 for two photocopiers and other equipment. There is $15,000 for general office furniture and cabinets and $3,000 for a printer. The total capital budget comes to a whopping $69,000.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to the House. I look forward to questions from the side opposite.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the minister's opening comments. I just have a few very specific questions for the minister in this department.
There has been a great deal of discussion in the Legislature in Question Period regarding a specific constituency case, which was raised by my colleague, the Member for Copperbelt. There have been copies of documents filed in the Legislature. There was a recent discussion at the minister's constituency meeting. I am referring, of course, to a specific constituency case, in which the issue is not a personnel issue. It is regarding the right of individuals to pursue a legal grievance against the government, with an affidavit, in court.
I'd like to ask the minister this. It has been asked in the House; the response has been that it's a personnel issue and there's no policy. The questions have gone on and the dispute still exists. There's the government's perspective; there's another perspective.
My specific question for the minister - this is a Public Service Commission-related matter - is it possible we could examine some form of alternative dispute resolution between the government and this particular party? I don't want to name them, for very obvious reasons. This is a Yukoner with an issue with the government that is not being resolved. It has been brought into the public forum; there's no resolution here; there's no resolution through the courts. It's a citizen who feels he has been wronged by the government.
Is there an option to examine some form of alternative dispute resolution?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I thank the member opposite for the question. I don't have to reiterate what I said earlier in Question Period regarding this matter. As I understand it, this matter is technically still before the courts. The individual has the opportunity to appeal the decision of the court. I understand there is still time in the process to do that.
There is also the Office of the Ombudsman, as well as the Yukon Human Rights Commission. That's exactly why these bodies are in place: to review matters such as this. A member of the public could have a review, so to speak, to see if there was any wrong done within the process.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the minister for that answer. I had hoped that there was some way to deal with this, but, clearly, the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission is the last resort for this individual. There is the matter that is before the courts - that has clearly been ruled upon. This is a separate issue where there is an affidavit in court saying, “No, you can't expect employment to sue the government.” And then there's the government saying, “Of course, you have the right to the legal courts.”
If you were ruling, Mr. Chair, it would be a dispute between members.
Here we have a dispute between a Yukoner and the government, and I had hoped there would be some - when we're at a stalemate in contracts, we can pull in somebody to help resolve them. My former colleague was quite an advocate of alternative dispute resolution, and I had hoped there was something other than the Ombudsman. However, the minister hasn't indicated such. I'll accept that answer, rather than belabour the point any further in the House.
The issue of our public service and their relationship with the government is the subject of this department. I'm very concerned about the issue of succession planning with the government - and with the Public Service Commission. We have gaps in - we have a number of retirees, and we seem to see more and more of them. These are senior positions and also other positions within the government. I know the Government of Yukon strives to be the employer of choice. More and more job opportunities are out there with an increase in some elements of the private sector.
So, if the minister could just provide a note or some information to the House as to what the Public Service Commission is doing in relation to succession planning within the government, I'd appreciate that information.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: As the member opposite will recall, the Yukon government embarked on the investing in public service initiative serving Yukon people, otherwise come to be known as IPS. It includes a number of succession-planning initiatives, including GradCorps program for recent Yukon post-secondary graduates, as I mentioned in the opening Budget Address, and the first-line supervisory success program, as well as the employee development assignment program, knowledge transfer of older workers, employment and career assessment program and professional development and technical training.
There are a number of things that have been underway over the last year and a half. There are a number of other things, including the employee development assignment program, which has just actually gotten off the ground the last month, if I'm not mistaken.
There are certainly a number of different initiatives underway. I would be very remiss if I didn't say that this is not a problem that is pertinent to the Yukon . It's pertinent to the rest of the country. In fact, one of the major reasons we embarked upon this particular process was to prepare for future retirements, particularly among our senior civil servants, as well as others.
We do have a bit of a breakdown regarding demographics, where those retirements are and how we are targeting to address those issues.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, has the minister advised if there has been any interest in re-examining the patriation of the pension plan? As I understood it, it ended with the union indicating they were not prepared to embark again upon examining this issue, so has there been any interest at all or is it still on the shelf - patriation of the Yukon pension plan?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I guess the issue, as the member opposite put it - is still on the shelf.
Mr. Cardiff: In an attempt to be brief, what I would like to do is to read some questions onto the record and hopefully the minister can respond to them all. I will try to go slowly so she can make notes. If a verbal response isn't available today, we would be more than happy to accept a legislative return at some point in the future.
I would like to know what instructions have been given to the Public Service Commission regarding whistle-blower legislation - when those instructions were given and by whom? I know that there was talk about an all-party committee, but in the meantime there are public servants out there who need to be protected by whistle-blower legislation, and they want to come forward and talk, but they are afraid to.
Some other information we are looking for is that we are aware of the STEP program in the summertime for mentoring young Yukoners and students, but we are wondering about other programs for mentoring students in the public service. We would like a status report or update on where the representative workforce program is. The way I understand it is that it ensures that the workforce of the Yukon government is representative of society as a whole and ensures what could be called employment equity, I suppose. Is there adequate representation by First Nations, persons with disabilities, invisible minorities, and women in all groups in the government workforce?
I would like to get the final figures on the computer use investigation. What did it cost the taxpayers of the Yukon to proceed with that investigation and see it to completion, including all legal challenges?
Also, something came out of my question in Question Period today. I am a bit concerned about vacancies in the public service that are not being filled. Some of those, as I mentioned today, are in Highways and Public Works. I suggested to the minister that he might want to advertise those positions. I have been watching the newspaper and checking the Web site and there are no advertisements for heavy equipment mechanics and those types of positions in communities. I don't know where they're advertised. I would like some information about how that process works and why those positions aren't being filled.
I guess a good question would be that there is a rumour out there that some departments currently have a hiring freeze on. I would like to know whether or not that's true and in which departments those are.
The final question would be this: how many full-time positions in government have been vacant for six months or longer? I know that information probably isn't right at the minister's fingertips, but we would take a legislative return and would appreciate a breakdown, by department, of those positions that have been vacant for six months or longer.
Those are the questions I have, and I look forward to hearing the minister's response.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: That's a lot of questions, so I'm going to take a little bit of time to try to answer most of them.
The whistle-blower legislation - I know there has been a great amount of debate in this Legislature over the last number of years. Our government has chosen to take a non-partisan approach toward the development and implementation of the whistle-blower legislation to begin with. As members opposite know, we have made some attempts to actually have the whistle-blower legislation move forward with the development of an all-party committee that represented all three political parties in the Legislature.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to garner consensus among all three parties. So, with respect to instructions to the Public Service Commission, I'm not too sure what the member opposite is getting at but, in terms of the role of the Public Service Commission, all I have asked the Public Service Commission to do is to keep me up to date with respect to recent forms of legislation coming forward from other respective jurisdictions - so, an information-gathering process; call it what you will.
That has been the extent of their involvement.
Again, I think it is pretty important that if any legislation were to go ahead, if we were not able to pass it through the Legislature, it garner the consensus and support of all the respective parties so that it would pass the test of time, so to speak, irrespective of the election and what may occur.
I think members opposite will concur that even on the federal scene there have been a number of attempts made by the previous Liberal government, and with the new Conservative government there has been legislation tabled. I am not going to speak to each of their pieces of legislation. I think that some pieces are good; some pieces are weak. There has been a lot of criticism launched about different approaches to developing that legislation, and I think if you looked at other jurisdictions in the country, not to mention outside the country, there are different approaches - some could be all-encompassing of the private sector as well as government or just pertinent to the government and so forth.
I don't think there are any easy answers or magical answers as to what the perfect legislation is, but I think that the all-party approach toward developing the legislation is still the right approach.
With respect to the STEP, the member opposite raised a couple of questions about the student training employment program and so forth. Actually, I do have a little bit of information at my fingertips to talk about programs that we have in place within the Yukon government that provide Yukon residents opportunities to train on the job.
There are a number of them. For example, there is the Head Start program, which is an employment training program in various fields, offered through the Department of Health and Social Services. We also have the Yukon Youth Conservation Corps, an environmental employment training program that is offered through the Department of Environment. The Conservation Action Team is another environmental employment training program offered through the Department of Environment, again.
As the member opposite alluded to, we have a student training and employment program that is geared to enable students to garner training, and that is coordinated through the Department of Education. It offers positions in a number of different fields offered by the respective departments. I just want to say that that is a particular initiative. I don't have the numbers at the top of my fingertips. We have increased resources to the STEP program - quite a number of resources. With that extra money we have been actually able to not only increase the wages being offered to those STEP students. Also, we have been able to expand the number of positions available through the STEP program. I think that was done about a year or two ago.
The computer camp program is an information technology training opportunity coordinated through the Department of Education. We have a youth exploring trades program, which is another training opportunity coordinated by the Department of Education. We also have in place two employment training programs specific to Yukon post-secondary students and graduates.
First, there is the cooperative education program, which is coordinated through hiring departments in consultation with educational institutions. It provides for training opportunities, again, in a number of fields of choice. Second, as I mentioned earlier, through the investing in public service initiative, we have the GradCorps. It is an internship program. It recruits new post-secondary graduates for technical positions in government to provide them with experience.
Under the first intake, which was about one year ago - less than one year ago - we had eight positions from corporate data warehouse administrator, health promotion coordinator, junior wildlife biologists and so forth. I don't have to go through the whole list. Also, through the GradCorps, we are entertaining another I think eight or so positions. That will be the second intake and includes a community health nurse, a community technical support officer, environmental protection analyst, health promotion coordinator again, hydrology technician through Environment and so forth. I don't have to list all of those, either.
We have a number of programs in place to assist students to get that leg up to at least open the door to opportunities.
And just in terms of training programs as well, we were also very pleased to be able to establish the workplace diversity employment office. I think it was a couple of years ago. That has been a really great office, and we have been able to continue to fund a couple of different programs - one being the workplace diversity positions. Some of those are funded directly by the Public Service Commission. I believe we made $200,000 available last year as an increase to that particular initiative.
Examples of those positions include an administrative assistant in Executive Council Office, a network systems administrator in Health and Social Services, administration in Public Service Commission and so forth. So, actually, there are five different positions there.
Funded by other departments, we also have the following: a customer service representative in Community Services; administrative assistants in Justice, Economic Development and Highways and Public Works; a GIS technician in the Department of Environment; a parks interpreter in the Department of Environment; an articling student for the Department of Justice, and so forth. So, there are quite a number of positions there that have been funded by other departments as well.
In addition to that program administered under workplace diversity, we also have the First Nation Training Corps. We actually increased funding to I think it's a total of just over $500,000 toward these positions. We increased that last year by $200,000.
Again, some are cost-shared, but we certainly remain committed to this program. It's an excellent program and, in fact, was just recently showcased in a territory-wide brochure on land claims implementation, if I'm not mistaken - just an example of one of those positions that were funded in part by the Yukon government.
With this program, over the years, we've been able to facilitate a number of different positions. Here I think we have almost 20 positions available through this program. That's a bit of a better idea for the members opposite.
The member opposite referred to employment equity and a representative workplace; he made mention of women in the Yukon government workforce, First Nation representation, et cetera, et cetera.
Just for women in the Yukon government workforce, as of March 31 of this year, they represent 63 percent of the overall employees. Within management, they represent 46 or 48 percent, which is actually an increase of 11 percent since 1995.
The Women's Directorate is working with the Public Service Commission to look at further ways of improving conditions of accessibility, particularly in management and senior management positions for women. For example, as part of the IPS succession planning initiatives, gender certainly will continue to be considered throughout those programs, such as the Yukon government leadership forum, et cetera, et cetera.
Again, we are working on that particular area. With respect to First Nations representation in the workforce, I will give members a brief overview. For example, in support of First Nations culture in the workplace - again, our collective agreement contains a number of provisions that recognize the importance of culture to its employees. We provide training in land claims, self-government and traditional knowledge. I know that there has been a huge uptake on that particular training, which has been made available to the respective departments and to other non-government organizations and so on.
We are continuing to work with First Nation governments toward implementing our obligations under their final agreements. That certainly includes the requirement to develop and implement representative public service plans. There really isn't a cookie-cutter approach to that. Each First Nation government has its own implementation priorities. There are a number of strategies under chapter 22 of the Umbrella Final Agreement from partnerships, communications, monitoring, review, accommodation of culture, employment opportunities and, again, growing and developing a labour workforce within First Nation governments.
Some of the ongoing activities related to these particular plans include training development opportunities to First Nations and reducing barriers in staffing procedures. As I mentioned earlier, we actively support exchanges with First Nations, as well as providing training dollars under the First Nation Training Corps.
We actively encourage temporary assignment opportunities with respective First Nation governments to encourage knowledge sharing; using preferential hire in some of our competitions, including First Nation representatives on interview panels for positions in the community, and so forth.
Again, as I mentioned earlier, through the creation of the workplace diversity office, we actually have an individual solely tasked with the development and implementation of representative public service plans. That individual is supported by staff to implement those particular duties.
As I mentioned, training opportunities certainly continue to be made available. I know that, through the Yukon Government Leadership Forum and the coach-training program, those opportunities are made available to First Nation governments and employees of those respective governments. Again, that's just a little bit of information for the member opposite.
I don't have the information about vacancies at my fingertips. It certainly is up to each of the respective departments under the watch of the deputy ministers to determine where to fill those vacancies. Although I understand that we are at a historical vacancy factor, as we have been over the last number of years, there is no such thing as a hiring freeze. At least, I am not aware of any hiring freeze. It certainly hasn't come to my attention.
The last question was with respect to a list of the number of vacancies over the last six months that have remained vacant. We will see what we can come up with, although I guess it would be good to have some historical context to that issue, as well.
So I'm hoping that answers the member opposite's question.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for her answers on the floor, and I look forward to any further information that she can provide.
I think she got most of the questions. She didn't have time to give the final cost of the computer use investigation, including legal challenges. I suspect that she doesn't have that either, and I would look forward to receiving that in writing.
She had a lot of information at her fingertips about the mentoring programs for students, and she had quite a bit of information about the representative workforce initiative, but what I would like is if - I know that some of the information will be provided for in the Blues - the complete information could be sent over in writing about all the programs that there are for mentoring and the numbers that she has. I don't expect her to stand up and give us all those numbers today. I would like to know whether or not there are any evaluations done on these programs to see just how effective they are, and whether or not they are meeting the needs of government and the public service, and whether we are achieving that goal of bringing people in at the bottom so that they can rise up through the ranks. As the Member for Porter Creek South was talking about, what we are looking at is a succession strategy ultimately for government.
There was one other thing with respect to the representative workforce. The minister had some figures around how many women are in the government workforce and how many of them are in management. I'm wondering if those figures are available for the other groups in the representative workforce initiative and whether or not there are actual opportunities.
We know that with implementation of land claims and self-government agreements, we hear on a regular basis that there are capacity issues in First Nation governments, and especially in First Nation governments that are just beginning this process. I'm just wondering what opportunities the government is making available for some form of mentoring to be done for First Nations. I know that the First Nations form of government is probably somewhat different - maybe a lot different - from what we deal with here in the territorial government. But there are a lot of things that can be learned, and those governments have to interact. And I think that it's important that they have the opportunity to see how the Yukon government is run so they can interact effectively for those government-to-government relationships.
I'm not going to take up any more time. If the minister could provide some brief answers and send over the other information in writing, I'd appreciate that.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: With respect to the member opposite's questions regarding mentoring opportunities for First Nation governments and employees, as I mentioned earlier, we do have a number of exchanges with First Nation governments in terms of making temporary assignments available. We also, through the First Nation Training Corps, doubled that funding last year and we are maintaining that funding again this year. It has been able to provide a number of great opportunities. For example, there is the Department of Tourism. We have been able to assist a number of First Nation governments with respect to helping develop their cultural heritage centres and resolve issues around those areas.
As I mentioned earlier, the Yukon government's coaching program - those opportunities are also made available to First Nation governments and so on. Those are but a few of the opportunities that are made available to First Nation governments. We are continuing to work with not only the First Nation governments that have settled their final agreements, but also those who have just settled, whether that involves charging responsibilities to get actions underway, monitoring or doing reviews. There is also a working group that has been charged with the nine-year review of the implementation of the land claim agreements, as the member opposite is aware. This is one of those areas under review as well.
But that said, we continue to work with a number of Yukon First Nations to identify additional opportunities on top of those. Again, I won't reiterate some of those initiatives, but we are always looking for new and more creative ways of entertaining more opportunities in the workforce as well.
In terms of the other information, I will have to get back to the member opposite.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hearing none, we will conclude general debate and proceed with line-by-line examination.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 10, Public Service Commission, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 10, Public Service Commission, cleared or carried
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 10, Public Service Commission, cleared or carried, as required.
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $25,929,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $69,000 agreed to
Public Service Commission agreed to
Chair: That concludes Public Service Commission, Vote 10. We will now proceed with Vote 55, Department of Highways and Public Works.
Department of Highways and Public Works
Hon. Mr. Hart: Seeing as there is very little time, I will have a very little time in which to spout off the benefits of my department.
It is my pleasure today to present to the House the 2006-07 budget for the Department of Highways and Public Works. Our progress within the Department of Highways and Public Works in the last year has been remarkable. This progress is a result of our comprehensive strategy to strengthen the foundation on which the fiscal, economic and social future of the Yukon is built. I am proud to say that our objectives in building our territory are on course and greatly contributing to the future of the Yukon .
This year, my department is seeking approval to spend $71.5 million on roads, airports, technology projects, supplies and services, and project management.
This budget represents a major investment in the Yukon economy and our way of life. The capital dollars the department spends make the Yukon a better place to live. It strengthens our communities. It helps families and places money into Yukoners' pockets. The capital dollars in this budget are for services and facilities we all use on a daily basis. The money goes toward contracts that improve our roads, our public buildings and our telecommunications.
Many of us coming to this Chamber this morning drove on roads and highways engineered and maintained by this department. They may have dropped their children off at a school maintained or upgraded by Property Management staff within the department. The information technology and telecommunication connections that link our schools, our homes and communities, emergency personnel in communities, and government systems that process driver licences, court proceedings, and social support payments, are all coordinated by my department.
These are valuable assets to our government and to our culture. We make the necessary investments to ensure their integrity and longevity are optimized.
Our department prints the documents and materials we use here in this House, materials that are used in the courthouse and throughout our education system.
Our department works to ensure that citizens have access to materials in both of Canada 's official languages. The Bureau of French Language Services provides French training for staff and people. The bureau also ensures the translation of materials into French for our French-speaking Yukoners.
The airports that connect us to the outside world and bring the world to us are managed through our department. We want to ensure safe comings and goings, a pleasant, welcoming environment for travellers, and a comfortable place for the people to relax and wait prior to their departures. To those ends, we invest in these facilities, including the unseen upgrades to provide the appropriate security detections.
Mr. Chair, I'm telling you about the breadth of my department because of the role it plays in the everyday lives and activities of all Yukoners.
The Yukon transportation system, with its developed network of roads, is unique in the north. I am pleased to say that we are investing almost $57.8 million to maintain and develop our roads and bridges, the foundation of our transportation system.
The Shakwak project is a critical component of our work. The agreement we have with Canada and the United States provides the capital funding required to reconstruct key highway corridors between Yukon and Alaska, specifically the Haines Road and the Alaska Highway from Haines Junction to the Alaska-Yukon border.
In August 2005, the Government of the United States approved multi-year funding that extends until September 2009. This funding will be used for the completion of the remaining grading work, replacement of major bridges, and the commencement of pavement, where appropriate, on the project.
In terms of employment for the Yukon, I'm very proud to say that the Shakwak project employs between 100 to 150 people during the peak construction season. Over 95 percent of those workers are Yukoners, and 20 percent of these workers come directly from the corridor communities of Haines Junction, Destruction Bay , Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek.
There are four Shakwak projects, totalling $35 million, which have been planned for the Alaska Highway this year. There is reconstruction of kilometre 1692 to 1702. There is BST and vegetation control from kilometre 1707 to 1717. There is the design of new bridges for the Slims and Duke rivers. Most importantly, there is the replacing of the current Donjek Bridge with a new and modern structure.
Work under this year's Shakwak project is also planned for the Haines Road , where pavement from kilometre 71.3 to kilometre 91.2 will receive a new overlay. The Government of Yukon values its partnership with the United States and the benefits that its ongoing partnerships bring to all travellers on the Haines Road and Alaska Highway .
The Department of Highways and Public Works will also be seeking budget approval for other reconstruction projects along the Alaska Highway. This additional work will be cost shared with the Government of Canada under the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund, or CSIF. Under this program, the Yukon will recover half of the projected $5.3-million costs of these 2006-07 capital projects, which will include vegetation control from kilometre 1603 to kilometre 1627, deck replacement for the Seaforth Creek bridge at kilometre 1315, and deck replacement for the Teslin River bridge at kilometre 1296.
The employment opportunities generated for Yukon people through this upgrading will be very welcome. Not only is it important to ensure that the travelling public benefits from the high standard road link to the rest of Canada, but also it will ensure that the territory's highway and bridge accesses remain safe and secure.
To improve our highways for all travellers, the department is continuing to implement new methods, which will assist in the development of safer and more effective highways for the Yukon.
The Department of Highways and Public Works is therefore seeking legislative budget approval for $290,000 in order to proceed with the implementation of RWIS, or the road and weather information system. This project will provide the travelling public and those who manage the transportation system with improved communications and more timely information, which will increase both efficiency and improved safety on our highways. This project is an excellent example of the blending of technology and equipment. This will allow for new and innovative methods of transportation management, such as the transmission of traffic counts by satellite, relaying real-time road conditions to highway maintainers, automated generation of road condition reports, and other advantages that will improve the operation of Yukon highways.
Climate changes have a significant impact on the permafrost stability in northern climates. Maintaining stable and safe transportation infrastructure in remote northern areas in this context is a major engineering challenge. Indeed, some of the Yukon 's roads, such as the Alaska Highway and Dempster Highway , are seriously affected by the degradation of underlying permafrost. In particular, the Alaska Highway between Destruction Bay and the Alaska border has unstable ice-rich permafrost and is experiencing settling and cracking as the permafrost melts. The permafrost contained within this area is relatively warm and easily destabilized.
Features have been incorporated into the design to minimize the impact of ice melting and the consequent settlements. Yet there is no effective technology available to achieve a fully stable highway in this type of permafrost terrain. However, my department is looking at systematic and innovative solutions to preserve highways constructed on permafrost and to extend the life of the highway surfaces, such as those found in the areas of concern that I have already mentioned.
Commencing in 2006, a number of test sections will be designed and constructed using various insulating techniques. This work is being done as part of the Canadian International Polar Year project titled “Preservation of our Northern Transportation Infrastructures” and will benefit from the input of permafrost experts in Canada, Alaska and other circumpolar jurisdictions. These test sections will undoubtedly allow us to better understand the unique characteristics of permafrost damage while also giving us the opportunity to develop better solutions for this very important part of our transportation system.
Mr. Chair, the Campbell Highway budget amount for 2006-07 is $1.6 million. Approximately $1 million will be dedicated to reconstruction work targeted between kilometre 16 and kilometre 20. The balance of the budget amount will be allowed for engineering and design work to commence on the next phase of highway improvements. Not only will this road increase operating safety but, again, Yukon workers and equipment owners will benefit from the employment opportunities that this project will provide.
In September 2005, the Council of Ministers approved the addition of 2,700 kilometres of new routes to the national highway system to reflect the changes in Canada 's population, economy and trading patterns.
This review was completed by all federal, provincial and territorial transportation departments and presented to the council. The report was endorsed and the expanded national highway system has been approved and now encompasses over 38,000 kilometres of key highway linkages in three categories: core routes, feeder routes, and northern and remote routes.
Mr. Chair, I'm pleased to announce that approximately 5,900 kilometres of northern and remote routes and 4,500 kilometres of feeder routes are being added to the national highway system, including the Dempster Highway and the north Klondike Highway to the Dempster junction.
The Dempster and north Klondike highways provide primary access to many Yukon communities and to remote economic activities and resources for Yukon people. This expansion will result in better highway systems that will benefit Yukoners, Canadians and our visitors.
I'm pleased to announce the Department of Highways and Public Works will be seeking legislative budget approval for $2.2 million to continue roadwork along the Dempster Highway . This work will allow tourists, travellers and everyday users to experience a safer and better drive. It will also generate much-needed employment in the local economy.
This will include $600,000 to be committed to road resurfacing, which is needed because of the increased traffic the Dempster has experienced over the years.
This work will be performed under the HERC initiative. Indeed, tourism traffic and Yukoners alike will benefit from these improvements to this vital highway system.
In addition, $500,000 is allocated for slide repairs at kilometre 116. These repairs will involve the minor relocation of the highway and placement of new material in order to ensure that further deterioration is prevented.
$800,000 will be spent on gravel production, which will be used in support of the already-mentioned road surfacing work. This portion of the project will see contractors produce surfacing aggregate for application on the Dempster Highway .
Finally, $200,000 will be spent on erosion control and placement of the rip-rap on various locations along the highway. This work, while being good news for the travelling public, is also good news for the resource exploration companies that use the highway extensively. Economic spin-off and development of our resources will mean that the Dempster will become more than just a highway: an enabler for economic development.
In August 2005, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced that the studies were being launched in the development of a more effective link between Skagway and Juneau . This road and the marine highway link would not only shorten the length of time one takes to travel between these points, but would also benefit the Yukon economy as a recipient of this new traffic flow. The final decision on this project is expected by late June of this year. The budget for this project has no direct link to the funding that has been allocated for the Shakwak project.
Mr. Chair, as you are well aware, the port of Skagway has, for years, been the focal point for marine access to the Yukon. This port has been used by mining companies, in particular, to access markets across the Pacific. At the same time, it has been used by tourism operators and by firms bringing supplies to the Yukon. With the downturn in the mining industry in the late 1990s, the Yukon 's use of the port diminished, while its use by the White Pass & Yukon Route grew dramatically. Skagway has become, in many respects, a port with a major focus on tourist traffic - cruise ships especially. As a result, there have been concerns raised about the prospects for a secure port access for Yukon on an ongoing basis, particularly in light of the growing natural resource sector here in the territory.
To resolve this, the governments in Alaska and Yukon have agreed to collaborate on a study that will discuss port options for the Yukon. This study will look at both the short- and long-term options for the Yukon . We look forward to the results of the study and the many opportunities that this and other port locations may provide for the continued success of the Yukon.
The Department of Highways and Public Works is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the Government of Yukon's substantial investment currently in information technology. Our IT assets are valued at over $40 million. It is crucial to the delivery of the government's program that these assets are maintained and upgraded to ensure our IT resources and systems are available and reliable.
Last year, this government made a substantial investment in IT. Again, this year, I am pleased to say this government is investing $5.82 million in information and communication assets and services. This will create additional opportunities in the Yukon information technology sector and support the work of the Yukon information technology industry sector, also known as YITIS.
The Department of Highways and Public Works will invest $1.125 million of this amount to improve the government's central hardware and network infrastructure. It is expected that Yukon-based IT firms will supply most of the equipment and services purchased through a number of tendered contracts.
This will help to sustain the growth and development of this very important sector.
Mr. Chair, the Yukon 's air transportation system is our growing connection to the outside world and it is progressively bringing the world to us. The Yukon is attracting visitors from overseas to the Whitehorse Airport. It is receiving more and more international and transborder flights.
Our tourism success means that the Whitehorse air terminal building requires expansion for additional Customs space. The Department of Highways and Public Works is therefore seeking legislative budget approval - excuse me, Mr. Chair. Seeing the time, may I move that we report progress?
Chair: Mr. Hart has moved that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: 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: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:30 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled May 23, 2006 :
Ombudsman and Information and Privacy Commissioner 2005 Annual Report (Staffen)
Fleet Vehicle Agency 2006/2007 Business Plan (Hart)