Thursday, December 2, 1993 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with Prayers.
International Year of the Family
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I rise today to announce to this Assembly that 1994 will be, by proclamation of the United Nations General Assembly, the International Year of the Family. I encourage all Yukoners to celebrate the International Year of the Family and to use the year as a time to reflect on the importance of family in their lives.
Within the Department of Health and Social Services, we will be using the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the family in all our programs. It is our hope that the International Year of the Family will help us all remember the central role family plays in our community and the critical contribution and strength the family gives to our way of life. At this time, I would like to acknowledge and thank all those people who, through their professional or voluntary efforts, demonstrate a commitment to the family here in Yukon.
In particular I would like to thank all those foster families who open their hearts and homes to other families when they most need help. I would also like to recognize those many staff in government departments and private agencies and First Nations organizations throughout the Yukon who have dedicated their lives to working on behalf of families.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the many Yukoners who volunteer so much of their time to recreation activities for children and youth and the volunteer boards of non-profit agencies, as their dedication helps family grow and thrive.
The slogan of the upcoming year is building the smallest democracy at the heart of society. Just moments ago, our agents passed a lapel pin to each Member of the Assembly. This pin, a heart sheltered by a roof and linked with another heart symbolizes the slogan of the year. I would encourage all Members to wear their pins throughout the year and, in so doing, serve as ambassadors for the family.
Speaker: We will now proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Cable: I would like to introduce a personal friend, the ex-Mayor of Whitehorse and the Minister of Renewable Resources ex-hockey coach, the senator for the Yukon, Senator Paul Lucier.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have for tabling two legislative returns.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Notices of Motion.
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Gambling
Ms. Commodore: My question is for the Minister of Justice.
Last spring, the Minister announced that they were considering gambling as a way of stimulating the ailing Yukon economy. The government promised to produce a discussion paper for public debate and conduct a territory-wide consultation.
Given the quality of the consultations that the Yukon Party government has conducted to date, I am concerned about the governments strategy, if they have one. Is the discussion paper finished and has the Minister reviewed it?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That particular initiative will be carried out by the Council on the Economy and the Environment. I am not sure whether there has been a paper finalized yet or not.
Ms. Commodore: The education review has given survey participants one week to comment, and the municipal affairs branch consulted for 14 days on Municipal Act, and the land branch consulted 90 minutes on the Subdivision Act. Since gambling will affect many people in many ways, will the Minister now define his time lines for this project, and tell us if he intends to hold public hearings. I am asking these questions because many people are coming to me and asking questions, and I do not have the answers.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: With respect to the consultations that this government has been pursuing, I am sure that the Member omitted - by simply forgetting - the consultations that have been carried out by my departments.
I would draw the Members attention to a comprehensive alcohol and drug strategy, for which a comprehensive paper has been out for more than six months, and consultations have been held throughout the territory by Health and Social Services, for which a very comprehensive paper has been out for about eight months, and consultations have taken place throughout the territory.
With respect to the initiative on gambling, this is something that the Government Leader has asked the re-formed Council on the Economy and the Environment to review and to conduct a thorough consultation process.
The Member opposite is not alone in having some concerns about the concept.
Ms. Commodore: Studies consistently show that increased gambling is associated with increases in substance abuse, social assistance and crime. Will the Minister guarantee that before he makes a decision to increase gambling activities he will be absolutely sure that any economic benefits will significantly outweigh the negative social impacts?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: At the risk of repeating myself and offending the Member who asked the question, I again stress that this is not an initiative of this Minister or of the Department of Justice, and that the consultation process will be conducted entirely by the Council on the Economy and the Environment. At this point, I do not really wish to comment on the issue itself until that process has been fairly and extensively concluded.
Question re: Gambling
Ms. Commodore: If people were not making representation to me, I would not be bringing these questions to the Minister - but they are concerned. Research in the area of video lottery terminals consistently showed that VLTs have negative social and economic impacts, moreso than any other forms of gambling. Instead of creating wealth for the private sector, video lottery terminals will simply divert disposable income away from the retail and service sector and into gambling.
Given this, does the government still regard gambling as a legitimate way of stimulating the economy and giving its own sagging revenues a boost?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I thank the Member again for her representation. It is truly an important representation to be made. I would recommend she make that representation to the Council on the Economy and the Environment when they are conducting their process. Certainly, the position that has been taken publicly by the Government Leader has been that it is an issue that ought to be fully debated by Yukoners. Certainly, no decision has been made by this government and will not be made, at the very least, until we receive the final report and recommendations from that important body.
Ms. Commodore: I ask the Minister these questions because his portfolio is responsible for gambling in the Yukon. Demographic information confirms that the Yukon is highly represented by groups of people most vulnerable to problem gambling, and that includes low-income earners and income-support groups, and men between the ages of 19 and 40.
Will the Minister please advise this House as to why he would even consider exposing a population already at risk? They are considering it, and we need some answers.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Once again, the Member raises another very important issue, and one that ought to be taken to the process. I would certainly encourage her to make these points before the committee when they are conducting the hearings. These are all issues that are very much a concern to this government and to this Minister, not only in my role as Minister of Justice, but even more-so in my capacity as Minister of Health and Social Services.
Ms. Commodore: Much research has been done on gambling across Canada. I am surprised the Minister has not done any research on it. The Ministers recent decision to refer this matter only to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment proves that he views the issue of gambling only from an economic perspective. Given the substantial negative social consequences associated with VLTs, why has the Minister not referred this matter to the Yukon Health and Social Services Council?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: All of these issues are of concern to this Minister. When she talks about research into gambling, I am sure she would be one of the first to admit that I have some knowledge about gambling. I certainly have had discussions with a good many people in my departments with respect to many of the issues she has raised.
Once again, it is extremely important that this kind of material be raised effectively before the council when they conduct their process.
Question re: Seniors housing
Mr. Cable: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation regarding seniors housing.
The Minister stated on Monday that he was willing to consult with senior citizens on housing issues. Is the Minister prepared to consult with senior citizens who are resident in Yukon housing and reconsider the up-to-70 percent rent increases imposed by the Yukon Housing Corporation on September 1 of this year?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Certainly, I am willing to sit down with the people who live in seniors housing. Whether we would reconsider or consider a rent rollback, I cannot say for sure at this time.
Mr. Cable: Just as a matter of principle, we heard quite a number of discussions in this House on rate shock in the sense that the electrical rates have gone up by many percentages. What I would suggest to the Minister is that there has been rent shock experienced by many seniors. Does the Minister believe that it is fair and just to increase rents by up to $400 per month for a two bedroom unit when the elderly residents moved in with the understanding that they were to pay market rate?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The 25-percent rate for social housing is standard across Canada. There had been a maximum of market rates set some time ago. As the years went by and inflation caught up, the market rate never increased. The people in social housing were advised, I believe, in March or April of 1993 that the market rate would be lifted. They were all given an indication of what their rent would be, based on their reported income.
Mr. Cable: It does not answer the question. I was talking about a change in understanding as between the landlord and the tenant, and there clearly has been a change in the relationship.
Let me ask this question: a recommendation was made at the housing conference last weekend by several senior citizens that rents of existing seniors living in housing be frozen at the pre-September rates. Will the Minister now announce immediately that he will grandfather the rental rates of all current senior residents at the pre-September 1 level and save many seniors from being forced into moving into cheaper accommodations?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, I will not make that commitment at this time.
Question re: Building cost overruns
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister responsible for Economic Development. The Yukon Party is now in government largely because they promised to eliminate building cost overruns. We have already seen a hospital budget increase of $3 million and really the work has not even started yet. In debate in the Legislature last session, the Minister stated that his department was going to make recommendations to him to avoid cost overruns in the construction area. Yet, in one of his very first jobs at the St. Elias School in Haines Junction, he tabled contract lists to show that the still uncompleted project is already $100,000 over budget. Why are the recommendations from his department failing?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It is really the Minister of Government Services in this case, I believe - at least, it is a government services type question. I would have to get back to the Member on the St. Elias School, but what he is saying about the hospital is completely untrue. As was stated very clearly to the Member by the Minister responsible for the hospital, the one figure that had been quoted, $44 million, was without the design fees or something like that, and that the real figure was $47 million. That is what it has always been and that is what the transfer and everything always indicated. So, on the hospital, the Member is definitely wrong, and I will have to get back to him on the St. Elias School.
Mr. Harding: The information on the hospital came from the 1993-94 and the 1994-95 capital budgets that the government put out. I was talking about the St. Elias School - those tight fiscal managers over there cannot even give me information about this project, and they have virtually nothing going on in the way of construction. This is already looming to be a cost overrun of over $100,000 and the Minister says he cannot, on his feet today, even tell me anything about what is going on over there.
Why are the promises that rang so loudly in the election campaign now starting to ring so hollow, when we look at the hospital and this $100,000 cost overrun on this school, that he cannot even tell me about today?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I already told the Member about the hospital and there is a discrepancy between the multi-year cost last year and this year. But if he goes back to the year previous, he will find that the multi-year cost was $47 million, as it is this year. The aberration occurred last year because it was based on a figure that was not correct.
With respect to the promises for less costly buildings, let me remind the Member, who has not been around here too long, that his administration built two two-bay fire halls, one in Marsh Lake and one at Rock Creek, at a cost of $500,000 each. We have just finished building one the same size at Tagish, costing $165,000 - about one-third the cost of the fire halls produced by the previous administration.
Mr. Harding: Once again, the Minister responsible for Yukon Party government excuses speaks up in their defence.
These are the two budgets; one says $44 million for the hospital and one says $47 million.
The government has tendered a contract for the construction of $725,000 worth of work, as of September 30, 1993, on the St. Elias School, but they have only asked the Legislature to approve an expenditure of $611,000, and we do not know how much more this project is going to cost.
Why has the government put forward that kind of a number, when they know they will be coming back to this Legislature for more, because the contract list indicates that clearly.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will have to get back to the Member with a briefing note. We have approximately 3,000 contracts that are awarded by Government Services every year, and I certainly cannot remember the circumstances about each contract.
Question re: Construction budget
Mr. Harding: The Yukon Party campaigned on a platform of tight fiscal management. We have seen the biggest budgets and the biggest tax increases in Yukon history. Now, the Minister responsible for Government Services, while he has very little construction going on, cannot tell us why he has a $100,000 overexpenditure on one of his very first building projects.
Can the Minister tell us why he does not have that information? It was the Ministers budget and contract lists that we are getting this information from.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I believe there are approximately 3,300 contracts awarded by Government Services. I realize that all of the contracts are not as big as this one, but I will get back to the Member with a briefing note.
Mr. Harding: There is very little going on in the way of construction work in this territory. There is a project going on in the Haines Junction area on the St. Elias School, a project that they have let a contract for in the amount of $724,000. In the supplementary estimates they have asked that $611,000 be voted. Why does the Minister not have more of a grasp on what is going on in his department with these construction costs?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I believe the Member is unclear on how Government Services operates. We operate as a department to serve our clients. I have not been briefed on this particular circumstance and I will get back to him in the form of a legislative return.
Mr. Harding: The previous government undertook dozens of construction projects and the Members opposite never would have accepted the explanation I have just been given by the Minister for his cost overrun. He is telling me that he cannot come up with any information to tell me why he has a $100,000 cost overrun, and they claim to be tight fiscal managers who are going to eliminate overexpenditures. Why can he not stand up today in this Legislature and tell us why this project is running over budget?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not have a note on it, so I will have to provide a legislative return.
Question re: Hamilton Boulevard speed zone
Mr. Penikett: I have a constituency question for the Minister of Education. The Elijah Smith school council, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and others have expressed strong support about the need for a 30 kilometre an hour speed zone on Hamilton Boulevard, near Elijah Smith School. Has the Minister of Education had any discussions with acting mayor Ed Schultz on the subject, and can he advise the House, in precise terms, the position of the Department of Education on this question?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I was alerted about the issue yesterday and tried to contact the mayor, but I was unable to speak with him. I did reach the mayor this morning before he left town. He was with deputy mayor Ed Schultz at the time. As the issue had come up, I asked them to establish a school zone in that area as I think it is important. I was given assurances this morning by both the mayor and deputy mayor that they are currently working on it. I was told that something may be done even today by the traffic committee. I will get back to the Member to advise exactly when it will be done.
Mr. Penikett: In the Ministers discussions with the city, he no doubt heard the city complain that they have spent large sums of money putting traffic lights in the area. I am curious as to whether the Minister took advantage of the meeting this morning to explain to the city that this government, through the Department of Education, has also spent tens of thousands of dollars on crosswalk lights, perhaps even the same money the city is talking about, at that location and, as a matter of public policy, the safety of school children ought to be the highest priority on this question.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I did make that argument to the mayor and deputy mayor this morning, but I did not have to get into the detail of the streetlights. The Member will see in the supplementary for the Department of Education that it includes money for those streetlights. The mayor and deputy mayor were quite agreeable that there is a concern up there and, without me getting into details, they were quite agreeable toward doing something. They assured me they would do something very quickly.
Mr. Penikett: I am sure all Members of this House would want to make sure there is no repetition of this action by the city. Even at the Elijah Smith School site, the school zone signs were up, and I understand the posts holding those signs are still up today, so replacing them should be no problem.
Did the Minister seek any assurances from representatives of city council to the effect that the city would not again unilaterally remove school zone signs and put children at risk, children who are the responsibility not only of the Minister of Education, but of all of us in this House?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I urged both the mayor and deputy mayor that we had a great deal of concern about school zones and that, no matter where we build new schools, or wherever schools are, whether there are traffic lights or not, there should be adequate signage to slow the traffic down in those areas. From my telephone conversation this morning at about 9:00 a.m. - it was not a meeting; I do not want to mislead the Member - I was given assurances that they heard us loud and clear. We do have a strong concern about the safety of the children, and they are going to do something in this particular case. You never know in this business, but I hope this kind of thing will not occur again, without some prior consultation.
Question re: Privatization of government services
Ms. Moorcroft: Yesterday, I shared with the Minister of Government Services some of the contents of his departments strategic plan implementation document, bringing to his attention the direction given to the staff to look at privatizing, or out-sourcing, management of the governments vehicle fleet.
The Minister said that had already been done and discounted, but the strategic plan calls for this work to begin this coming January and conclude by April, 1994.
I would now like to ask the Minister about the work plan for privatizing the entire central stores operation. When did the Minister direct the department to look into privatizing the entire central stores operation, and why?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I will repeat what I said yesterday. The managers were told to look at all of the options, and this was an option that one of the managers chose to look at, and it was not per my instructions.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister, once again, denies directing his department to look into privatizing some or all of its operations. Yet, somehow the magic privatization word keeps appearing in a slough of government documents.
Is the Minister going to claim that this privatization plan for central stores is the result of yet another over-zealous bureaucrat in his department - the department of over-zealous bureaucrats - or will he admit that he and his Cabinet colleagues consider privatization to be a great idea and told their senior bureaucrats to start looking at it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, it is the same bureaucrat who wrote the letter that gave these instructions to the various managers. He wanted them to look at all the options. That, obviously, included privatization.
Ms. Moorcroft: These directives call for the Department of Government Services to finish the investigations for the privatization of all or part of the central stores operation by April 1994. Will the Minister share the results of this investigation with the Legislature at that time, or will we find out about his governments privatization plans only after the fact?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will certainly be sharing the outcome of the managers recommendations with the Legislature. That does not necessarily mean it is going to happen.
Question re: Privatization of government services
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister said that he has not directed his department to privatize any part of it. Yet, he will not deny his intent to privatize portions of the department and will not say who has given the direction to privatize some or all of it. It is quite obvious that, notwithstanding the over-zealous bureaucrats, as the Minister called them last week, the direction to privatize has come from someone at the Cabinet level, whether it is a Member of Cabinet or one of their many advisors, consultants or assistants.
Will the Minister state categorically, on the record, for the benefit of this House and the public, that he has absolutely no intention of privatizing any portion of his department? At the same time, will he let us know who does?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, the instructions were for my managers within the department to look at all the options available to them.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister is standing there and saying that he has sent out directions, but he is refusing to say that he will not privatize part of the Department of Government Services. He is also refusing to say that Cabinet gave the direction to privatize. Will the Minister tell us why he will privatize the civil service, as he is clearly indicating he is doing, when this is not a mandate given to his party by the voters and is not even part of his partys platform? Whose agenda is it to privatize the Yukons civil service?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, our mandate is to ensure that we run government in an economically efficient manner and we have instructed our managers to come forward with all the options.
Ms. Moorcroft: The government continues to deny its intentions to privatize. It is afraid or confused or bluffing its way at the union negotiating table or operating in one of those famous policy voids the Auditor General tells us about, yet it is very clear to me that this is exactly what is going on. Would the Minister kindly put all equivocation and denials aside and kindly inform this House as to what the policy is respecting economic efficiencies and privatization in the Department of Government Services and how it fits into the governments overall plan to privatize the civil service?
Hon. Mr. Devries: All I can say is that I will ensure the people who are working within Government Services that there will not be layoffs and that I have asked the managers to look at the options and report back.
Question re: Macaulay Lodge, available beds
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services. I asked the Minister a question early this week about the eight beds at Macaulay Lodge that are closed and the people who are on the waiting list, waiting to get into that facility. The Minister said his department was reviewing and studying it and he would get back to me by the end of the week. I have noticed that in the newspaper the Minister has given an interview indicating a cost and time - the end of January - before they will be making a decision.
I would like to ask the Minister if he can report on the status of this review that his department is doing.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certainly, and I thank the Member opposite for raising it again today, because I had intended to stand up and respond to the earlier question. This gives me a golden opportunity.
The department had been looking into this possibility for several weeks. There will be documents going to Management Board. If we get the okay there, we would anticipate that we would be looking at actually opening the beds by the end of January. There is a process we have to go through to hire additional staff, of course, to man the beds. The figure of $370,000 per year for this is mostly made up of wages, salary and benefits.
Mrs. Firth: There are people who are being put on a waiting list a year long to get into Macaulay Lodge and there are six long-term-care people in the hospital who are presently waiting. I would like to ask the Minister why it is not a higher priority and why it cannot go before Management Board and Cabinet immediately instead of having to wait for this two-month period.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Perhaps the honourable Member was reading her notes and not listening to my previous answer, because I indicated we would be going to Management Board very quickly and that the actual opening would not be possible until the end of January because of recruitment, et cetera.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister has a habit of trying to diminish the importance of our questions by his rhetoric and silly comments. This is a very serious issue, and I have had many people phoning about it.
Why does the Minister have to take this to Management Board? Is he asking for more money?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is a matter of committing ourselves to an additional $370,000 per year to open these beds. We have opened the first phase of the Thomson Centre at a cost of just under $4 million per year, and this is additional money.
I am sure that the Member opposite knows that money does not grow on trees.
Question re: Extended care facility
Mrs. Firth: I want to follow up with the same Minister about the same issue. It is an interesting note that this government could find $7 million, just like that, when they wanted to make an announcement that was politically expedient for them. Now, we need $370,000 to help some seniors and to address an issue at the hospital.
I asked the Minister these questions over six months ago, and he did the same thing: he tried to diminish the importance of the issue.
The Auditor General has been less than generous with his comments about the hiring for the extended care facility, and again the issue has come forward about the eight beds at Macaulay.
Will the Minister put this issue on the agenda for the next Cabinet meeting and get the issue resolved immediately, so we can hire the people, get the beds open, and look after these seniors?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Let me once again confirm that this issue was in progress long before the Member opposite asked the question this fall. The matter is going before Management Board. I am not sure if it will be the next Management Board meeting or the meeting after that, but the recruitment of the additional person years will have to take place through the Public Service Commission.
We hope to open the facility by the end of January.
Mrs. Firth: If this issue has been on the Ministers plate for so long, why could he not answer my questions on Monday? Why could he not tell us then about the review? Why could he not tell us that he needed $370,000 then? He knew nothing about it.
I want to ask the Minister again: will he put this matter on the next Cabinet meeting agenda, for immediate attention?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The issue of $370,000 is one that was not raised by the Member opposite. As I have already said, the issue was under discussion and everything was in motion before she asked her question. This is in the process and will be going before Management Board very shortly. Nothing has changed with respect to the perspective time frame.
Mrs. Firth: I may not have the same respect for time frames that the Minister does. My concern is the people who are waiting to get into that facility, particularly the lady who is going to have to go to three different places before she finally finds a home.
Again, in this season of giving and generosity, will the Minister try to find some compassion within himself to put this item on the next Cabinet agenda, so that we might get at least one, perhaps two, of these individuals taken care of in the immediate future, not two months from now?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: May I say to my friend, Miss Congeniality, across the way, that we have never been in the position of trying to shut down school buses for kids, as her record shows - long ago and recently. With a given amount of money, we are trying to provide the best service to all those who are in need in the Yukon, and we will continue to do so.
Question re: Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment
Mr. Cable: It is well known that the present government was of the view that costs of boards and commissions were getting out of hand. Would the acting Government Leader confirm that one of the reasons for the reduction in size of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment was to save expenses?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Not to my knowledge. The council was made smaller because we firmly believe that the smaller councils are, the more active work they do, and they are not too cumbersome.
Mr. Cable: That is a relief. Could the acting Government Leader confirm that, when the council is charged with reviewing gambling, it will be adequately funded to do independent research on this very complex social and economic matter?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We will do our best to see that any board or committee we send out to do a review is given the amount of money it needs.
Mr. Cable: As a matter of curiosity, and this could perhaps best be answered by the Minister of Health and Social Services, has the government done anything whatsoever to date on the analysis of the social costs of gambling?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, there has been a good deal of research done by an interdepartmental committee, and that research is ongoing.
Question re: Social assistance repayments
Mr. Harding: I have a constituency question for the Minister responsible for Social Services. In accordance with the Ministers new policy on social assistance, a constituent of mine, who is a single mother with a child, was waiting for initial processing of her UI and had no money. She applied for social assistance but was forced to agree to pay it back when her UI arrived. She received the social assistance but, when her UI finally came in, so much was deducted from her UI to pay back the social assistance that her first two UI cheques were $42 and $47, respectively, to support her family for a month.
My constituent would like to have less deducted from each UI cheque for social assistance repayments so that she could make it on her own. However, she has been told that social services will not do this and that she will have to continue to face these huge repayment deductions from her UI, and then get social assistance to top up her income each month, and then pay back all of that money as well. This will put her in an even deeper hole.
Could the Minister look into this situation, and could he tell us if this was the type of policy he envisioned?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am pleased this has been brought to my attention. I will certainly look into it. I look forward to the Member divulging more particulars of the file to me in due course.
That particular initiative is one that ensures that we are paid back for money that is loaned to people waiting for their first UI cheques to come. There may be some glitches in the procedure, but I will say one thing: in the previous year, the government lost $600,000 in loans. This year, with the new process in place, we are assured of having the money returned. If there are individual instances of hardship, we will certainly look at them on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Harding: I can appreciate the Ministers comments on the $600,000, but surely the Minister would agree that, to ask someone to pay back social assistance and take the repayment back in such big chunks that it actually reduces the unemployment insurance to an unsustainable level for a family, is beyond the scope of anything that the Minister should be undertaking to do.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I think the main problem that is being referred to is one of procedure. If the money from UIC is not enough for one to get by on, according to the regulations, then we would top that up and receive the money later from the federal government.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and 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. Are you agreed?
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Upon agreement of the House leaders it is agreed that we would not take our break at this time but we will continue on until 3:00 p.m. and then we will take a one-hour break for the Lights Across Canada ceremony that will take place in the foyer of the government building.
Motion agreed to
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Bill No. 11 - Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94 - continued
Department of Economic Development - continued
Chair: We are dealing with Bill No. 11. Is there further general debate on Economic Development?
Mr. McDonald: When we last left Economic Development we were talking about the value of strategic planning and I was getting the distinct impression from the Minister that he felt strategic planning was good for virtually every other department than the Department of Economic Development.
What I would like to ask him now is, given that the Department of Economic Development has a strategic plan in law - The Yukon Economic Strategy - and given that the Member made some remarks yesterday that would seem to suggest that he lacks faith in that strategy, I would like to ask him what his views are, not only about the comments made last night, but also about where the economic strategy is going and what the Minister anticipates will happen in the next few months in respect to strategic planning within the department.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I am not certain if the side opposite would ever assume that the Yukon 2000, or the economic strategy, was a strategic plan. I believe it took them about three years to develop.
As I also mentioned yesterday, during the next three months, I hope to conduct some consultations in the various communities and work toward the development of a strategic plan, as such. At present, we are working on the four-year plan and the 21st Century document, which is setting the direction in which we are going at this point. I hope these community consultations will endorse these directions and add other suggestions on how we can enhance the various ideas that come from the consultations with the various department and the strategy we are presently using.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister for that, especially the news that the department is now going to undertake some consultations. I would like to ask him some more questions about what. Up until last evening, it was the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment that was going to be undertaking consultations. Now, it will be the department over the next few months in the communities.
Now that the department is taking over the process, what will the nature of the consultation be, how will it be conducted, and what will the discussion document be?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Just to backtrack a bit, I indicated very clearly the other day that I wanted to have some discussions with the Council on the Economy and the Environment. It is my understanding that they are planning an economic forum in March. I want to have a clear picture of what they are doing, so that, if I embark on community consultations, we do not have a duplication of effort. Depending on what format those are in, the consultations will also include the CDF, and things like that.
Mr. McDonald: I might be missing something here, but can the Minister tell us how he can embark on consultations over the next three months in the communities, but still wait before he does so until March, when he will be listening to the Council on the Economy and the Environment to give him some general direction first?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I may not have explained myself properly. As the Member very well knows, the Council on the Economy and the Environment is just in the process of getting their feet wet. I want to get a clear picture of what direction they will be going in during the next few months, leading up to the economic forum they hope to have some time in the late winter or early spring. I want to make sure that, whatever I do - whether I work alongside them or hold separate consultations - I do not duplicate their efforts. The last thing the taxpayers want to see is two agencies doing the same thing.
Mr. McDonald: One thing the taxpayers will want to see is somebody doing something. Up until now, there has been nothing from either the Council on the Economy and the Environment or, in a general nature, from the Department of Economic Development. I think anything would be appreciated by the taxpayers.
Clearly, the Minister does not want to duplicate the efforts of the council in the consultations the Minister is talking about and the process he wishes to undergo, because the council may be holding a conference in March. However, his consultations, as I understand it, would be more thorough, as he is going to the communities.
Can he tell us a bit more about that, in terms of his approach to the consultation process? Who is he going to involve, and will the Yukon Partys four-year plan and the Toward Self-Sufficiency by the 21st Century document be the discussion documents, or will there be others? Could he explain a bit more about the process?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, the process is very preliminary, at this point. I hope to embark on something of this nature in January. I believe, as the Minister of Health and Social Services indicated earlier, the Council on the Economy and the Environment may be embarking on something associated with gambling. I am not certain what their process is going to be. It is too early to get into the methodology that we are going to be using. One thing we are looking at doing is looking at the various summits that were held, such as the tourism summit, home business workshop, and so on, to see if we can pick up on some of the loose ends there. We would like to get some public consultation going on some of the recommendations that came from those meetings. I feel it is important to get out into the communities and see what they have to say about it.
We will be using the 21st Century document and asking for input on the four-year plan. It will be a fairly comprehensive consultation process, as I see it. However, I do not want to get into particulars on it at this point, because it is in the very early stages of all coming together.
If I say something now and then change my mind, I am sure that I will hear about it from the Member. I would prefer to leave it wide open at this point.
Mr. McDonald: I am getting quite used to changing turf here. I am not expecting the Minister to be perfectly consistent with statements that he makes now, depending on whether or not the circumstances change.
I am interested in hearing the Ministers current thinking about economic planning and that brings me back to the question that I asked in the first place: what is the Ministers thinking about the economic strategy? Does the Minister feel, given that it is the law of the territory, that it is severely wanting and should be revised in this Legislature, because it was this Legislature that set it in law?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I questioned how much of the economic strategy of the previous administration was in law, because this government has a different approach to some of those issues.
I feel that the economic strategy would be based on the Toward Self-Sufficiency in the 21st Century and the direction in which we are headed with the four-year plan. I believe that there are some very good things in the previous economic strategy, and when we see the economy where it is today, obviously there are some things that were not so good. I do not have the strategy here and I do not have it committed to memory, so I cannot say specifically what is or is not working. We may want to expound upon the existing economic strategy, but right now our strategy and our focus is on the direction in which we are going.
Mr. McDonald: When is the Minister going to bring an amendment to the Legislature with respect to the Economic Development Act?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I know we have an Economic Development Act but it does not say that the economic strategy is law, to the best of my knowledge. That is what I have been told by the people in government.
Mr. McDonald: The reference is made, of course, to the economic strategy and I would like to know whether or not the Minister is anticipating any amendments to the legislation. Clearly, the government certainly wants to go in a very different direction with respect to the economic development strategy. They have decided that infrastructure is the only way to go, and have not got a position on economic development - in our minds at least. The fact that they want to narrow the terms for economic development planning to infrastructure and mine development means that things obviously are going to be radically different.
In terms of the governments responsibility for legislation and its sworn duty to uphold the law, there are some laws on the books - or at least one law on the books - that draw reference to the economic strategy, which the Minister has expressed nonconfidence in - or at least a large portion of nonconfidence in.
I would like to know if he is simply going to proceed with his 21st century document, for which there has been zero public consultation, apart from the consultation with the Yukon Party insiders and with the Chamber of Mines, and with the four-year plan, for which there was no external public consultation at all except for Yukon Party insiders. Is he intending to have at least an airing in the Legislature of economic development plans and is he in planning to bring in amendments to the law to allow the Legislature to debate their strategic plan?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, the Economic Development Act still exists as such and that is what was debated in this House. We did not debate the side opposites economic strategy.
The reasons for the community consultations, et cetera, are to expand upon the direction we are going and to see what other suggestions come forward from the Yukon public and how they would like to see us proceed with the infrastructure strategy and the various things. Meanwhile, we have the Council on the Economy and the Environment about to study gambling and various other things. By the same token, I still wish to talk to the Council on the Economy and the Environment before I start this process, in order to get a clear picture of what they feel their mandate is and to ensure that I do not duplicate their process.
If, perhaps, my consultations were more focused on the infrastructure, et cetera, that may be because their focus may be on something else. I do not know at this point. If they decide to focus on infrastructure, I may be focusing more on something else. Or we may be working together. This is all very preliminary.
Mr. McDonald: What I am trying to get at is, what is the purpose of the Ministers consultation? The Minister has indicated that they already considered the four-year plan in Toward Self-Sufficiency by the 21st Century to be their plan of action. They have already given that plan of action to two different federal governments, two different Prime Ministers, two different Ministers of Indian and Northern Affairs, and they have indicated on a couple occasions that they are using these documents as more than a method to milk money from the federal government and that it is something they regard as being their fundamental economic statement.
They have a four-year plan and they have had no consultation up to now, but they are using it. They have tabled two estimates. By the time the Minister has undertaken his consultation, they will have tabled another $350 million worth of estimates. By that time, the government will have already committed better than a billion dollars of its own, without having any consultation on its plan.
What is the purpose of the consultation itself? What is the purpose? Why is the Minister going to the public? What do they expect to get from the public? Are they expecting to have a good discussion on whether or not the goals or priorities of the government are valid or are they simply looking for some way to rubber stamp or to dot the is and cross the ts on the strategies that they have already developed?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It is obvious that the Member is not really listening to me, or perhaps I am not explaining myself well. I had indicated that I want to make sure I am not duplicating the efforts of the Council on the Economy and the Environment. The Yukon Economic Strategy was adopted by the Members opposite when they were in office, and it took them three years to develop it. We just entered the second year of our mandate, and I am certain that if you give us three years, we will be able to offer the Yukon a much clearer picture of where we are going. I am sure that in two years we will have a much clearer picture of where we are going.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister indicated that he has been told by the department that they do not have to follow the Yukon Economic Strategy, and that he is not obligated or bound by the terms of the strategy, yet the act does state that the department shall maintain and implement the Yukon Economic Strategy as the comprehensive economic planning process and framework of economic development.
Despite what he may have been told by the department, I can tell him that this is the law of the territory. Consequently, if he does not wish it to be the law of the territory - and he may have some legitimate reasons for that - it is incumbent upon him to bring that statement back to the House by way of an amendment to this bill.
We have had some reason to be nervous about this since the new government took office, but above all else, we want people to be assured that Ministers take the law of the land seriously. This is the law, and the Ministers are expected to uphold the law.
To follow the law, or to respect the law, and the procedures for developing law enough, and to come back to the Legislature with an amendment would do two things. It would assure people that the government cares about respecting the law, and it would also allow the Legislature here to debate fully and thoroughly the economic plan of the government. As I have mentioned, there has been very little consultation of any sort on the strategies the Minister has now communicated to other governments, and which are presumably the blueprint for almost $1 billion worth of spending, in terms of its support for economic development.
The economic strategy took a long time to develop, firstly because there had been no comprehensive economic planning in the public here to speak of in the past, or prior to that. Secondly, it involves lots of public discussion.
I am trying to figure out a couple of things here. How much public discussion? What is the Minister prepared to consider in terms of public discussion about the Yukon Partys economic plan, and how much are they prepared to accept and adopt new ideas?
When we started off with the Yukon Economic Strategy, we started from first principles. What do people want to see happen? Here are the alternatives. We had discussion papers that laid out a whole series of options. We were pretending that those discussion papers were providing direction for the economy.
The situation is different now. The Minister is going to go out, presumably, in some manner or other, hold consultations with the Council on the Economy and the Environment on how it might be done, and someone is going to go out and talk to the public about the four-year plan - for the first time in public - as well as the 21st century document.
Given that this is a blueprint and has already been used many times in this Legislature to justify so many things, and has already been communicated as the strategy for the territory to the federal government, where is the flexibility in the governments mind in terms of adopting public input and suggestions?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, when I go on a consultation process, I am very open-minded and that is why I do not want to say at this point what our main focus is going to be. I hope when people read Hansard and see the concerns that the Member opposite has, maybe they will come forward to me and say these are the things that you should be considering. By the same token, we will look at the economic strategy developed by the previous administration, which perhaps is different from the economic strategy of this administration, which is what is talked about in the Economic Development Act today, from the way I understand it.
We are very open to suggestions and I would say that we are as open, if not more open, than the previous administration was. We listen to the Yukon people and that is why we got elected.
If the Member remembers, about a year prior to developing a four-year plan, prior to the election, we held many public meetings on various topics and that is how that plan was developed. That is the direction that we are taking and the message that we received loud and clear at those meetings was that we have to work with what we know we have - our resources, our people, the First Nations, and move on from there. Through this public consultation process, I am sure that we will have something that is very acceptable to the Members opposite.
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister trying to pretend that the development of the four-year plan and the Toward Self-Sufficiency by the 21st Century document, was more comprehensive and acceptable to the general public, than the Yukon Economic Strategy? That seems absolutely ludicrous.
Certainly, the Yukon Party was elected in the last election to govern, or at least to govern in coalition in a minority situation. I do not doubt that at all, but if the Minister is trying to pretend that somehow their economic statement - that loose jumble of ideas - which was presented as part of their campaign literature and the Toward Self-Sufficiency by the 21st Century document, which has not had any consultation beyond the Chamber of Mines, is somehow a widely-accepted economic strategy - and in comparison to the Yukon Economic Strategy, which had involved thousands of people in this territory on a full range of subjects, much more so than simply infrastructure and mining development, but it involves all of the sectors from small business, forestry, tourism and housing. To suggest that they are comparable in their comprehensiveness is ludicrous. There is no reasonable comparison that any reasonable person could possibly make.
The Minister has just said that the main focus for his consultation in the spring is something he is not sure of yet - he might use the economic strategy, he might use the documents. He has just finished telling me that he is going to use the documents. He is going to take the four-year plan and the 21st Century document, and he is going to use those as the discussion documents for consultation.
This is not an inconsiderable problem. This is an important issue. If it is done improperly, there could be dozens of Question Periods in the spring sitting devoted just to this. All I am trying to do is get a sense of where the Minister is coming from. How one consults, how thoroughly one consults, and what biases one takes in a consultation all lead to a determination of whether or not there is going to be any success.
So, I am not just asking the Minister these questions for the sake of it. I am asking because I think there is a real point, and a lot of people put a lot of time into thinking about these things.
I would like to ask him two questions. He does not have to give me any particulars, but what is the general approach he wants to take in terms of consultation? Does he want to take in the documents they have already basically adopted, documents that were adopted in December of last year, and use them as the discussion items and, consequently, decide whether or not they just want comments about their existing plan, or are they going to be more open-minded about it than that?
The second question is: given what the law says about the economic strategy, what does he feel his responsibility is with respect to the amendments to the law that would perhaps cause him to come forward with an amendment if he shows non-confidence in the economic strategy of the previous government to the extent that he has?
The economic strategy, as referenced in law, is the Yukon Economic Strategy that was developed before. It is not some generic government economic strategy. That was never intended and the Minister knows it. It cannot just be the economic strategy of the government of the day. That is not what was intended by this, and he knows it.
Does he not feel obligated, under the circumstances, to come to the Legislature with a change?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I do not see where the economic strategy has a number on it. It does not say the economic strategy number one; it just says the economic strategy. This present government has a different economic strategy than the previous government. In many ways, there are probably a lot of similarities. When these meetings start, I want to take a close look at the previous economic strategy, see what has worked and what has not, and try and improve on the things that have worked and add these other documents to it. These are all things I have been thinking about for the last six months or so, and I am trying to get it all together in my mind. I will be working with my department to try and get it together. I will be working with the Council on the Economy and the Environment to see how they are doing.
That is the basic way we are going to go about it. We are going in with an open mind. If someone comes in with a great new idea, I am willing to sit down and listen to it.
I think there is nothing worse than going into a consultation process with a whole bunch of very tight parameters where you cannot listen to new ideas. By the same token, you have to be focused so that you are not all over the map. Right now, my mind is all over the map. I have to get this all put together so that I have something that I can go to the Yukon people with. I hope to do that during the spring months. First, I wish to sit down with the Council on the Economy and the Environment to ensure that we are not duplicating processes.
The Member can look all through the book because I have been told very clearly that the economic strategy is the economic strategy of the government of the day.
Mr. McDonald: I cannot tell you how outrageous I think that interpretation is. If that is the interpretation the Minister has been told, then I think the Minister should be getting new advice. It is absolutely ridiculous to interpret this law as meaning that it is any Yukon strategy. It does not say the governments Yukon economic strategy. It does not say a Yukon economic strategy. It says The Yukon Economic Strategy. It does not say the 21st century document, or anything else. Clearly, that is ridiculous.
There is no doubt about it. If one looks at the debate in the Legislature, one will know what the economic strategy was that we were referring to. It is not any generic Yukon economic strategy or some possession of the government of the day, or anything else.
I am not going to belabour that point. I am not going to belabour the point with respect to economic planning. The Minister said it himself when he said he thought he was running all over the map, and I think that is true. The time has come for our appetite for that kind of fooling around to be over.
There has to be some clear-headed thinking, granted. There has to be some thorough consultation, granted. There have to be some strategic objectives established for the government that are well communicated, not inconsistent, and made public so that we can all understand them. If there was any sense of respect for the law of this territory, there ought to be an effort to come into the Legislature and implement it, or at least change the law. I would urge the Minister to rethink his opinions on the question of his interpretation and implementation of the law, and I would urge him to seek new legal advice, because I think, quite frankly, the advice he has received is completely and totally out to lunch.
The Member mentioned that the government is, at some point, going to embark on a strategic plan. I just wish that would have happened some time ago. Nevertheless, one of the things that is traditionally done, and helps in the strategic planning process, is the development of an economic forecast - the provision of economic forecasting. Last year, in 1993, we had a winter forecast.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not there is a current winter forecast for 1993-94?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have reviewed a draft that should be ready very shortly.
Mr. McDonald: Does very shortly mean prior to Christmas? Does it mean next week?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: I had better let the Minister speak for himself.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Thanks for the help. Basically, as I have indicated, I have reviewed the draft. I would have to run it by my colleagues, and then I hope it would be ready by Christmas, but I am not making any promises.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister says that he is going to pass it by his colleagues. He is not making reference to the fact that he wants to vet it politically, is he?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I was reading a note while the Member was speaking. I am sorry, could the Member repeat the question?
Mr. McDonald: When the Minister indicates that he is going to pass the winter economic forecast by his colleagues first and that he is reviewing it himself, he is not making reference to the fact that he wants to vet it politically - to determine that it is politically correct - prior to its public release, is he?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I would never do that; I want to ensure that my colleagues are aware of what is in the document, so that when it is tabled they can be prepared for the questions the next day.
Mr. McDonald: I am surprised that the Minister would think that there would be questions the next day, but there is no harm in letting the Ministers know a day in advance. I am just nervous that the Minister does not feel that he must change the interpretation of any economic forecast. He has not done that before and he is not intending to do that in the future, is he?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I believe I said that I would never do that.
Mr. McDonald: I wanted to get the answer down as securely as I possibly could in this forum. Thank you, I appreciate that.
With respect to the departments projections for such things as unemployment, business startups, business failures, consumer price indexes over the course of this winter, what is the outlook?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Naturally, with the shutdown of the Faro mine, there is a degree of uncertainty. With so much uncertainty about whether Curragh was or was not going to survive, it made it very difficult to embark upon an economic strategy. The employment statistics have not been as drastic as I had anticipated, so I see our capital works projects have helped to dampen the unemployment statistics. We can argue what statistics we should be using but the economy has not been impacted by the Faro mine closure as much as some of the people have anticipated, but it has definitely impacted on it.
Chair: The time is now 2:55 p.m. The Members agreed earlier to recess between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., so we will take a recess at this time.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to Order. We are dealing with Bill No. 11 and are on Economic Development. Is there further general debate?
Mr. Cable: I have a grab bag of questions.
The Minister was good enough to respond to some correspondence that I directed to him on job creation and the numbers of dollars required per job, in construction projects and in building projects. The Minister has given me practically everything that I need to make some decisions, but what is missing is some sort of paper, document or article that verifies the numbers that were given to me. Is there any background material that the Members could read about jobs created per dollar invested in building construction versus dollars invested in road construction?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not believe we have answered the last letter that the Member sent to us. Is that the area in which he requires further information?
Mr. Cable: That has been partly answered. I have a letter here, signed by the Minister and dated September 1 on the Statistics Canada information that was referred to in the first communication. What is missing now are the other elements referred to in the letter I sent to the Minister - some background material. I would like some article or document from, for instance, the Canadian Construction Association, that deals with job creation per dollar.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Some of the departments use good old practical knowledge, which tends to be more accurate than some of the more sophisticated processes that are used, where one looks at a previous years project such as a brushing job, and sees how many people it took to clear so many miles of brush, and uses that information to see how many it would take to clear the remaining area.
As far as buildings go, naturally the design sophistication of the building can vary slightly. It is also difficult to get really accurate figures from examining construction projects. A small contractors crew will use hammers and nails, whereas a more sophisticated contractor will do the same job with half the number of people because they are using air hammers, electric nail guns and so on. It is very hard to get a great degree of consistency in this case.
I do not know what the Canadian Builders Association will have available for us, but I know the department is still trying to get something together to respond to the Members request. In some instances, it is just basically good old practical knowledge that is being used to arrive at some of these figures.
Mr. Cable: The Government Leader was questioned on the $7 million handout that was given to us some 10 days ago. He was questioned on what job creation figures could be derived from it. It appeared that if one just looked at the handout, the figure was larger in the area of building construction. His response, as I remember it, was that one could not draw a lot of conclusions from that particular handout.
What I would like to get is some justification for the figures that were presented by the Minister of Community and Transportation Services some time ago. I remember those numbers. It was $160,000 per job for road construction and something less than that - I think about $139,000 - for building construction. I would like to see some general treatise on the matter so that we can draw our own conclusions. If it is a by-guess-or-by-gosh kind of procedure, I would like to know that, as well.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I thought that was included in the Statistics Canada information that we gave the Member, because that is the way we arrived at the figure of $160,000 per road construction job, and the $130,000, or whatever - or, it is the other way around. We arrived at those figures through the Statistics Canada document that we handed out to the Member. I know that there is a lot of fine print and mumbo-jumbo figures there, but that is basically what was used.
Mr. Cable: That would answer that particular question. I do not have a calculator in my office, so I will have to do all of this by long hand. If there is some background information, I would like to see it.
Mr. McDonald: On the same subject, I would like to ask the Minister for the information that he, or the Government Leader, indicated would be provided. I am referring to the breakdown of the $7 million.
The Minister will remember that we had a discussion about that document - the Minister will recognize this document that I hold in my hand. We had a long discussion - as the Minister and the Member for Riverside will also remember - which demonstrated that the job figures were not appropriate. To save the Member for Riverside some work, we were to receive an updated version of this. In fact, I thought we were going to get this more than a week ago, so that, when we came to discuss Economic Development estimates, we would receive the updated version.
Can the Minister tell us when we are going to get that version - the new, updated version of the 3,700 person weeks that were projected as part of the $7 million?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I thought that information had been given out; I may have something in my office. I will have to have the people up there check.
Mr. McDonald: The only thing that has been given out was some rationale for the jobs in the capital main estimates, and I do have that, but some interpretation has to be drawn as to whether or not some jobs are road construction, some are building construction, some are housing construction - the interpretation should be the governments, not ours. We would all like to deal with the same figures and I would like to see, if possible and as soon as possible, the updated version. I had hoped we could discuss this matter while dealing with the Economic Development estimates. I am certain we will have plenty of time to do that and perhaps the Minister, between now and Monday, could provide us with the job figures, the updated version although not necessarily in the same format as this, but realistic.
The Minister will remember that the issue was that various departments gave various different estimates. Some departments had no indirect person weeks, other departments had really quite optimistic projections for person weeks for indirect employment, and we were expecting Economic Development to provide us, on behalf of all of government, using consistent methodology, with an analysis of the work that was being projected and the amount of jobs that were to be expected from that work.
If the Minister could provide us with that updated list on Monday, then we could have a useful discussion and see where we stand.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am sorry; I understood the Members had that, so we will get that information to them either tomorrow or Monday.
Mr. Cable: Just on another matter, yesterday the Member for McIntyre-Takhini went over the contracts list. Is the privatization study being carried out on the Energy Corporation being handled, as far as the contracts are concerned, by Economic Development?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No. They would be handled by the Yukon Development Corporation but, to the best of my knowledge, there are none happening at this point.
Mr. Cable: I think it was indicated that some consulting firm had been retained. Is the Minister in possession of the information? Would that contract be let by his department, Government Services, or directly out of the Energy Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It would be by the Energy Corporation. There is no in-depth work being done on that, at this point.
Mr. Cable: I have a few questions on economic programs and the direction that the Minister is taking. There was a written question in the spring session and the Minister answered that question. It related to the number of jobs that had been created under the various programs that the business and community development office runs, the community development fund and the EDA. It appeared that the job creation - at least the long-term job creation - was not all that significant in view of the large sums of monies that were involved. Has the Minister had a chance to review whether he is satisfied with the performance of those funds, as far as job creation is concerned?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As the Member may recall, it was a couple of weeks ago that I tabled the BDF annual report, and they have given a breakdown of how many jobs were created by the various loans in the business development program. There are some figures that are very accurate, where you can show how you have created jobs.
Other figures show that jobs were retained where a business may have otherwise gone down. I believe there were approximately 60 jobs in that category. There was another category where the jobs were seasonal in nature. When I see the overall amount spent, if the Member is referring to things beyond the BDF and CDF component and getting into the EDA, it is a whole different ball game as there are a lot of research and development projects under the EDA.
It is very difficult at this point to determine what the employment benefits are as the research and development could lead to a project going ahead either next year or as much as 10 years from now. It becomes very difficult to determine what the benefits would be as far as labour goes. By the same token, we see that happen in many research and development projects.
Some projects work out; some indicate that it is not feasible, others indicate that it is. That is what some of the EDA programming goes toward - determining the feasibility of projects. It is very hard to associate those kinds of dollars spent with actual jobs created. I do not know if I am answering all his questions, but I think it gives him a better picture of what we are faced with in trying to say that we are creating a job with so many dollars.
Mr. Cable: There are fairly large sums of money spent under these programs. What sort of litmus test does the Minister use? Is the Minister satisfied with the performance of these various funds achieving whatever their objectives are?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I can say I am not fully satisfied. There is room for improvement. The economic development agreements were negotiated, and there are very tight limitations given to us by the Government of Canada on what we can do and, if we want to go beyond those limitations, we have to renegotiate.
A good example is in forestry. We see some direct jobs created by some silviculture work, but a person would also want to recognize the fact that, 130 years from now, a sawmill could be cutting up those logs and creating a job then. Meanwhile, you could have a forest fire that burns it all up.
Mr. Cable: There is a debate among economists as to whether government dollars spent in the free market sector do anything at all. What sort of ongoing tests does the Minister use to determine whether these programs are effective? Is there a regular drill that takes place within his department?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We have an evaluation of the business development fund underway right now. As for the economic development agreements, the management committee does a long-term analysis of the success of EDA programs and the way they operate. At some point, I would expect to see a report come back on how successful they were and, subsequently, I would suspect that the federal government will also take into account whether some of these EDA programs should continue, based on the reports that come in and the success of the various programs.
Mr. Cable: I would like to ask some questions on what the Minister handed out yesterday about the status of government loans.
There appears to be a fairly high number of delinquent loans. Under the small business incentives, we have: clients up to date on repayments, one; clients in arrears, four; loan written-off to March 1993, one. This means five-sixths of the loans are non-performing. I suppose that you can do anything with statistics, but it appears that, in dollars, the non-performing part is over three-quarters.
Does the Minister have any views as to how he and his department could improve the loan-loss ratio?
Hon. Mr. Devries: One of the problems with the small business incentive is that it is a federal program, and we have no way to obtain security for those loans.
By the same token, when these statistics are prepared - I believe it is on the first day of a new period - they take the figures from the computer and if a person is two days overdue, they would appear as a client in arrears. I am sure that some of us here do not always pay our bills on time, and we do not necessarily feel that we are a client in arrears, just because someone gets paid a day late. Maybe everyone else here is perfect, but I know that I do that once in awhile.
Mr. Cable: There seems to be fairly significant sums of money being written off, which would not suggest that it is just someone forgetting to put a cheque in the mail. Under the business development fund, there is $771,000 written off out of a total of $9 million. Is the Minister satisfied with that loan-loss ratio?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It is within what banks feel is acceptable - roughly, around five percent.
When a loan is overdue, after a certain period of time under the Financial Administration Act - I may not be using the correct terminology - a decision has to be made to write off the loan, but that does not mean that collection procedures are discontinued. We could still be pursuing collection and there is still a chance that we will collect the loan; at times it may be restructured.
Mr. Cable: As MLAs, I have found that we get a lot of unsolicited mail. I got an article from this left-wing front organization for the NDP. I think it is called the Fraser Institute. Here is what this quote has to say. They were touting this book by a Professor Palda. I went so far as to get a copy of this book, entitled Innovation Policy and Canadas Competitiveness, published by the NDP front organization, the Fraser Institute.
Here is what this gentleman has to say, and I quote, When government talks about funding anything but the most basic research, it is talking about picking high-tech winners. Even the best minds in the private venture capital business have trouble doing this and there is no reason to think that government is any better. Government should stick to providing a stable monetary and tax climate for business. Would the Minister agree with that statement.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I would hesitate to agree with one of these real left-wing documents. No.
There have been discussions in the department and among my colleagues as to whether or not the government should be in venture capital business and the like. I certainly feel that government has to play a role in research and development, but I think we have to do some serious soul searching before getting involved in major loans to major companies and so on. We especially have to get away from interventionist-type projects, such as the sawmill. We cannot throw away huge sums of money taking wild gambles on things that may or may not work.
Mr. Cable: I wonder if the Minister could tell us what direction he is taking with respect to the mining industry. I notice that the Ministers department advertised, not long ago, for a mining facilitator. Has that position been filled yet?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I believe the competition closed two or three days ago. We will be reviewing the various names that come forward - or the Public Service Commission will; it is being done by PSC. I hope that a decision will be made some time in early January.
Mr. Cable: The Minister said yesterday, We believe in our strengths. One of those strengths is, of course, the mining industry. Yet, if you look through the organizational chart of the Department of Economic Development, it appears that you can count the number of people devoted to mines on one hand - if I remember it correctly. Tourism is our number two industry, and yet tourism has a whole department.
Why is it that the government does not put more emphasis on the mining industry with respect to person power?
Hon. Mr. Devries: If you look at the Department of Mines in the government, there are not that many people employed there, but you also have to include the mineral development agreement office, which has all the geologists; I believe there are nine people there. They get involved in mapping, and things like that. By the same token, the mining industry tends to be a very independent industry; they do not normally want to see any more government involvement than they can possibly get away with.
The mining facilitator is going to play a very important role in assisting companies with the environmental processes, and assisting us in doing analyses on infrastructure required for companies, and things like that. This announcement has been very well received by the mining community, and I understand that other provinces are watching this very carefully and are already considering a similar position for themselves.
Mr. Cable: I see the Minister has been handed over a note, probably in defence of the Tourism department, but let me just ask one last question. Does the Minister have any plans for expanding the mines and energy portion of the Economic Development department portfolio?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, as mines are still a federal responsibility, I do not think we would see any immediate growth in the department there. Naturally, if devolution of mines took place, we would take on some of the positions from the feds; definitely the department would grow then. As far as energy goes - the oil and gas accord - we have filled several positions there already and presently we are in the process of seconding, I believe, two other positions so that we can get the regulatory framework in place to get the Northern Accord office in full swing.
Mr. Penikett: While I was on the phone in my office, I overheard the Minister asserting the view that the economic strategy that had been passed by this House unanimously was no longer policy, and I guess no longer had any life or existence or validity. Since that policy was adopted unanimously by the House, and since it was not part of the Yukon Partys campaign to do away with it, and since there has been no consultation whatsoever about replacing it, could the Minister explain when it ceased to be policy and how that happened?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I believe I had explained that quite well, but maybe they are not happy with the explanation. Again, is the Member saying that he expects us to stick to an economic strategy that was developed in 1988? There has been a change in government. That strategy was developed when the economy was moving along pretty well. The situation has changed considerably. One has to look at the fact that there is a different federal government in place, which perhaps has different priorities. We have to make adjustments in the way we approach things along that line. We have to make adjustments constantly, and I believe the economic strategy very clearly indicates - I believe it is on page 5 - that over the coming years people will continue to refine their priorities for Yukons economic future. The strategy will need to be revised to reflect these changes.
That is what we are doing. As I mentioned to the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, I will look at that strategy, I will look at the things that have worked and will take it from there.
Mr. Penikett: I am trying to control my temper. Does the Minister not understand that, as a Minister of the Crown, he is obliged to obey the law? The government can change a policy, but the law of the territory is quite clear about referencing the Economic Strategy , not an economic strategy. The Economic Strategy provides for annual reviews to be updated by whatever government is in place. It guarantees participation, even though the Minister opposite only wants to give money to chambers of commerce and only listen to the business community. It guarantees participation from business, labour, women, environmental groups and aboriginal people.
The Economic Development Act does not refer to an economic strategy; it refers to The Economic Strategy, unanimously adopted in this House - an economic strategy that provides, in law, not on a whim or policy - for annual reviews. It guarantees the participation, in three separate statutes, of certain people in the annual reviews. No less a law - a law we hope is about to become part of the Constitution of Canada - refers not to an economic strategy, but to the Economic Strategy - capital letters - in upper case; upper case means that it is a proper noun, referring to a precise entity.
Let me refer the Minister to page 253 of the umbrella final agreement, clause 22(7)(ii), economic planning. It says the Yukon - that means the government - shall ensure that at least one-quarter of the delegates invited to the annual review of the Yukon Economic Strategy - capital letters, a precise document, a precise reference - are Yukon Indian people or their representatives.
When did the Minister abolish the umbrella final agreement? When did he abolish the Environment Act? When did he abolish the Economic Development Act? Does he imagine that he, having been appointed a Minister, has a right to overrule the Legislature, not only in terms of a House resolution, unanimously passed, but three separate statutes, including one that will shortly become part of the Constitution of Canada. By what right does he think he can do that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The Member answered his own question. It shortly becomes the part of Constitution of Canada; it is not the in the Constitution at this point.
We now operate under the existing Economic Development Act, and it does not say annual review, it just says shall review. Can the Member show me where it states in the Economic Development Act that it must be reviewed annually?
Mr. Penikett: Is the Minister saying that the law adopting the umbrella final agreement, which passed this House, is not his policy and that he does not respect the provisions of that law? Is the Minister saying that until the legislation passes the House of Commons it has no legal validity? Is that the Ministers position?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am not going to discuss legal matters. I want to get back to the economic strategy. The economic strategy of this government is different than the previous governments. I am sure that this side would never have agreed to passing an economic strategy that the Members on the side opposite say cannot be changed.
We are taking the better parts of the economic strategy, and in the transition stage we are going to adopt portions of our economic strategy. That is the way that it works.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister says that he is going to adopt his economic strategy, without consultation with anybody. His economic strategy does not have the force of law. It has not even been subject to a resolution in this House. It has not been the subject of any consultation with anyone except a very closed circle.
The Economic Strategy, which is not the strategy of the government, was passed unanimously in this Legislature by resolution, and referenced in other legislation that is in effect, the Environment Act, created the economic council and established that the conservation strategy - I am going to ask the Minister about that strategy in a minute also - that there should be annual reviews, certain people should participate in the reviews, and there should be a report to the Minister. The Economic Programs Act also references the economic council and the advice that it should give the government.
This document, the umbrella final agreement, was given legal effect in this House. Every Member voted for it. The Minister opposite was part of a committee that supposedly studied the strategy. It does not make reference to his economic strategy - and we still do not know what it is yet. If it is that goofy document about building pipelines from Watson Lake to Whitehorse and railways to Carmacks, which the government has not put a penny into, and no one in their right mind in the private sector ever would in this century - that is not an economic strategy.
The Economic Strategy is a precise reference. The Ministers deputy minister, who is an extremely well-educated person, will know that is a proper noun that does not refer to a strategy, it refers to The Economic Strategy - The, with a capital T; Economic, with a capital E; Strategy, with a capital S.
It can be changed. The law was written and the strategy was written so that it could be changed every year. However, to ensure that it would not be changed in secret and in private by some exclusive club - some closed group - and would be viewed by all people of the Yukon, whether they agreed with the Member opposite or not, there were guarantees put into law - the Environment Act, the Economic Development Act and the UFA, so that other people, who perhaps do not have the narrow-minded view of the world like the Member opposite, people who may have a different philosophy and perspective, would have a chance to have a say. It was an attempt to guarantee some democratic input. The Member opposite is now saying that he, unilaterally, with a few friends, without authority from the Legislature, without a mandate from the public, without consultation with the general citizenry, can delete a provision in the umbrella final agreement that talks about annual reviews. It is not when the Minister feels like it or 18 months from the time that they take office, after they have wreaked havoc with the economy and talked about goofy projects like pipelines from Watson Lake and railways to Carmacks, while ignoring what is referenced in law.
Let me be clear with the Minister. The government has a right to have a different policy. We do not have a problem with that. We do not have a problem with the government changing the economic strategy, not only to reflect the current conditions, because obviously we are in a crisis, but also to reflect their own ideological biases. The only requirement of this legislation is that First Nations are guaranteed to have a voice in the process. They have not been consulted on the 21st century document or whatever it is called, that embarrassing thing - and labour have not been consulted; women have not been consulted; rural communities have not been consulted about it - no one but a tiny group have been consulted about it.
What we tried to put in law was not to fix the Minister to some social democratic philosophy forever and ever. That was not the intent. The strategy was a reflection of the opinions of hundreds of people from dozens and dozens of meetings, taken over the space of two years. It was argued that, to keep it relevant, there would be an annual review and an independent body - the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment - would set up the agenda and prepare the process. The annual review would involve citizens from all over the territory, giving advice to the government in the best democratic sense and in a manner consistent with what the Minister of Tourism has done with the tourism conference. There is no requirement for an annual tourism conference. Good for the Minister that he did it. There is a requirement for an annual review of the Economic Strategy - the strategy. I would argue that the Minister has broken the law in not doing it. Worse, he has violated a term and condition of the umbrella final agreement. He does not even understand it; that is what is so shattering. He thinks he can just replace it with any old strategy he dreams up. That is the way they do it in dictatorships, but that is not the way they do it in a democracy.
If the Minister wants to change the provisions in the UFA or in the Environment Act or the Economic Development Act, he must come to the Legislature with a bill proposing to do that. In the case of the UFA, he must get the consent of the federal government and the First Nations, none of which he has done. Does the Minister not understand that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am sorry I got the Member all excited. I would hate to give him a heart attack. I will have to take some of this under advisement. I am not an expert on legal matters. I still find the argument interesting in that I just spent an hour - maybe the Member was not here or was not listening - going over it with the Member for McIntyre-Takhini. We are going to be sitting down with the Council on the Economy and the Environment and discussing how we are going to approach the Economic Strategy in the beginning of the new year. Hopefully, we will have something in place as far as an economic strategy or a revised economic strategy by March or April.
I am not going to make any firm commitments on the process at this point as I have had not had the opportunity to discuss it with them. I know that they are aware that they have to do a review of the Economic Strategy, what their interpretation is and what the Economic Strategy is - I do not know. These are all things that we will be discussing with them shortly.
Mr. Penikett: Let me try and make to the Minister a representation - and I do not do this in an adversarial or unkind way; I want to try and convey to the Minister, in the hope that he or some of his officials may find it useful - what the intent of the process was, for the Economic Strategy.
We do not argue that it is the bible - far from it. The intent was that it was an organic document, that it would grow and change according to the circumstances and that the requirement in law is - not that the Ministers stick to every specific of it - that the Minister accept that the law requires that the Economic Strategy and the reports of the annual reviews that have been done so far, are the first draft of a document that goes to the conference.
In addition to that, the Minister, and the government of the day, is perfectly entitled to say we want change the strategy in the following ways: we want to build railroads to Carmacks, pipelines to Watson Lake and we want to put all our development money into roads and infrastructure. What the strategy requires, what the law requires, is that in the process of doing that, people - not just people who agree with the Minister, not just Yukon Party members, but people from all walks of life - aboriginal communities, womens movement and labour movement are guaranteed to have a voice.
The Council on the Economy and the Environment, who we understood would set the agenda for such a thing, will then do a report on the conference to the Minister. In fact, the law may say Government Leader, but it is essentially the Cabinet; it does not matter. Then the government does with it what it likes.
At some point, those reviews can replace every single thing in the Economic Strategy, but there is a precisely referenced document. That is the only point I am making to the Member. I am not saying that they cannot change it. I am saying that there is a legally provisioned process, and I am not arguing - I will argue, if I were ever given an opportunity, for certain kinds of philosophies or approach - I recognize that there is different government with a radically different ideology, much more right wing than mine and that they have a right to govern.
All I am saying is that there are provisions in law, requirements of the government and I would ask if the Minister would not agree that that at least is the process that is there. There is no harm, no skin off his nose for following it.
Hon. Mr. Devries: That is exactly the process that is going to happen. The Council on the Economy and the Environment has now been formed, and everybody knows it is part of their mandate to do a review of the Economic Strategy. There seems to be a discrepancy between me and the Members opposite on what is considered the economic strategy. As I indicated earlier, I will have to get back to him on that. I appreciate the matters they raised; I am willing to look at this with an open mind, and I will take it under advisement.
Mr. Penikett: I would like to make one final point so the Minister will understand the seriousness of this. The law says annual review. By the time the Minister gets around to looking at it, it will be two and one-half years since it was last done. That is not annual. There was one required last winter, but it did not happen. We are due for one again.
I accept his good intentions that something is going to happen, but I would ask him to seriously look at the obligations that are contained in the documents I have mentioned.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will take this under advisement.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. McDonald: I have a few other questions. The Member for Riverside surveyed a number of issues I am afraid I will have to touch on again, because they were only surveyed very generally. When we left at the break, we were talking about the economic circumstances over the course of the winter. It is a useful discussion to have in the absence of any written statement by the department on the forecast for economic activity in the Yukon between now and the spring.
The Minister indicated that there was some uncertainty, but he felt the capital budget the government had already tabled was responsible for modifying some of the high unemployment that was expected as a result of the Curragh mine closure. I think he would agree that, when one spends $100 million in the economy, it is hard not to create a job or two.
However, at this point, I would like to know what the Minister and the department are projecting for unemployment, for business startups and failures between now and the spring, and how the analysis is done to determine their projections. There is also a concern I have been picking up, which is that the consumer price index is climbing and, in an economy that is uncertain, that is considered to be in somewhat of a downturn, it is strange to see the consumer price index climbing as quickly as it is.
I would like to ask the Minister about all those points. I think they are fairly important to the department for general forecasting.
Hon. Mr. Devries: We will be discussing the economic forecast at some greater length. I do not think it takes a rocket scientist to realize that when power rates and taxes, et cetera, increase, all of those affect a persons disposable income. By the same token, a government has to try to maintain the level of services that people expect of it and, unfortunately, some hard decisions were made there.
One of the difficulties we run into in preparing the economic forecast is to try to determine the amount of leakage. Higher income people tend to take more vacations and spend more money outside the Yukon and these are also the people who pay more taxes, et cetera, so the actual economic impact is very difficult to determine because some of these people may not be taking as many vacations as they have in the past or may be spending more time in the Yukon, which automatically also means that there will be less leakage from the economy, and things like that. Hopefully, with the campaign we are working on with the Chamber of Commerce - Buy Yukon - which is geared toward trying to keep more dollars within the Yukon, we can turn some of that around and keep Yukoners spending more of their money within the Yukon.
Mr. McDonald: I can appreciate the Ministers comments with respect to the governments impact on general economic activity and what impact power rate increases and tax increases might have, but I am asking perhaps a more general question about general economic activity. Typically, in a forecast, there are some assumptions made, albeit subjective, because one is forecasting and does not have final knowledge, but it is a useful activity to forecast growth, or otherwise, in the economy. For example, in the forecast for the winter of 1993, put out last January, there were projections with respect to the size of the labour force, the growth rate of the GDP, the unemployment rate, the CPI for Whitehorse, mineral production and retail trade. The usefulness of this is that it gives us a sense of the best educated guess about where we are going.
What I would like to know - given that the Minister has had some hints about these indicators already - is where he sees us going, using those indicators. Where are we going? Are we expecting the unemployment rate to decline and the employment rate to continue rising? What will the impact be on business startups and business failures. What does he project the retail trade to be?
Those are fairly important questions and we should at least be addressing them. It helps us position ourselves for the coming year, both us here in the Legislature and also the private sector community.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have only reviewed a draft, and so I have to go from memory. Looking at what has happened so far this year, according to Statistics Canada, retail sales have been staying fairly firm, and have even increased slightly over last year, up to the September report. We have seen unemployment only about half a percent lower than it was at this time last year. I believe some adjustments have taken place within the economy, and I suspect that we will not see unemployment rates climb quite as high as they did last year. I do not want to get into too much detail about what is contained in the economic forecast, because I may sometimes confuse it with my own opinions. I would prefer not to discuss the forecast until I have tabled it.
Mr. McDonald: To have a really good discussion about the economy - and one would expect that kind of discussion in the context of the Department of Economic Development estimates - we really ought to have a heads-up discussion about just these things. I am not asking the Minister for precision, because I simply do not expect it. I do think that the Minister should have some sense about where the economy is going. If there is any Member in this House who should have some general sense of where the economy is going, it should be the Minister of Economic Development. We are here asking him right now, as plebeian Members of the Legislature, for guidance, for the wisdom, so that we can make some decisions about where we are going generally. Depending on what happens in the economy, it can help guide our judgment with regard to the governments fiscal policy. It can help generally. It can help guide our judgment with respect to the governments social policies, and their expenditure priorities in terms of social assistance, home care, pharmacare, and the whole range of programs that help people in need.
I recall, when reading about estimates of the past, it has been common for the lead-off discussion in Economic Development to give an assessment of the economic fortunes of the territory into the future. Given that the Member has read the forecast, if he would just give us some general impressions of what he expects, that would be fine. I know that asking the Minister to provide specific information may not be fair, and the Ministers memory may be imprecise about those things, so it would not be appropriate. Could the Minister just give us a sense of whether the employment rate is going up or down, what is projected over the course of the winter, or even the next few months, in terms of unemployment and business activity, retail trade et cetera? Those are the basic things that I would like to hear about, if the Minister would not mind sharing that with us.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have some notes on a short-term outlook here. When we go to September, we see that there were still a few more people employed than there were in September of 1992, but unemployment was up by 200 people over and above what it was last year. By the same token, I believe that the unemployment rate, on a percentage figure, was up to 10.8 from 9.5.
If we look at February or March of last year, unemployment figures took a real dive, and I believe the figures went as high as 18 percent. I understand that some of the projections were around 14 or 15 percent, but I am not certain of the figures. Many things pass over my desk, and Statistics Canada and Unemployment figures do not seem to agree with the figures held by the Members opposite. After awhile, when you see about three different analogies come across your desk, it is hard to determine which is which.
Naturally, we have seen housing construction decrease slightly in 1993, and the predictions are that we will see a slightly further decline in 1994. By the same token, the economist said there were several factors that could change that outlook, such as interest rates.
Naturally, the GDP will be down even more in 1994, because I believe there is still a little bit of GDP associated with Curragh this year. There are all these ifs, which is normal in these economic forecasts. We have to remember that we are in uncertain times. Things can turn around very quickly.
For instance, if forestry devolution takes place, we might see forestry employment increase substantially in the Watson Lake area. If the devolution takes place there would be some certainty, and the various sawmills would have the ability to raise some capital to make improvements. That would be toward the latter part of 1994; it certainly would not happen this winter. Again, if devolution does take place, it does free up some money to do some of the renovations in the forestry offices.
The economic forecast does give the message that there is a degree of uncertainty in the business community. As much as the Members seem to think I only talk to certain people, I feel I talk to a fairly wide range of people, asking most of them if they have any suggestions or advice. The common theme is not to do something stupid. I am not sure what they are referring to there, but I think it is perhaps government forking $1 million into some venture that may or may not do something for the economy in the long term. The message I am getting from the business community and the general public is to create a friendly investment climate, and then perhaps the private sector can get us out of the slump we are in. Meanwhile, the government, with its capital works projects, has to do the best it can.
When the Department of Finance, and the various other departments, worked on the budget, they had some of the preliminary information that went into the forecast to determine where the priorities were. That is the way the budget was arrived at. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that the majority of the workers who were at Faro, and truck drivers, are equipment operators. I feel it definitely makes sense that you would lean heavily toward highway building projects, and things like that, because that is possibly where the highest unemployment situation exists. By the same token, we recognize the fact that housing starts are down. That is why, for instance, we see the Yukon Housing Corporation taking the initiative to get some housing construction going.
The general feeling is that the highest rate of unemployment is still among equipment operators, the people of Faro and Sa Dena Hes.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister for his try at this answer.
I guess the forecasting information that we received now is that perhaps the gross territorial product may be down a bit, but forestry devolution may improve things somewhat. There is uncertainty out there and everything is going to have to wait until we see what happens.
The Minister will have to appreciate that, from time to time, I am confused about the governments position on the state of the economy, because the forecast last year, while the government was in office, referred to a series of problems in the economy and slumps. The Minister refers again to the slump we are in now, but whenever the Opposition in the Legislature makes reference to a slump, the Ministers are quick to suggest that it is some kind of a sectoral aberration - that we are doom and gloomers and do not really understand what is truly happening out there.
We certainly do care deeply about statistics. In the Opposition, we are perhaps a bit influenced by the people who come to us and the people we meet who are suffering terribly by the present circumstances. They would like to see something happen. We do, sometimes, draw some of their emotion into the Legislature.
It may seem unseemly sometimes, but, nevertheless, it is a true feeling felt by many people. Again, the Minister should appreciate the need to do the forecasts and to communicate those with us. I hope that before we leave this sitting, the Minister will have a thorough forecast for us, both short-term - the next few months - and also long-term projections into the next year, using the same indices they have used in the past. This will allow us to project where we are going with some harder numbers, rather than simply trying to interpret what a slump means or what solid growth means, and so on. It is all good fuel for rhetorical debates, but it does not help us when we are trying to assess the situation with respect to government fiscal policy.
The Minister has made mention on a couple of occasions that the government has some strong feelings about free trade and interprovincial trade and, while I do not want to get into the issue today about contract regulations and all that sort of thing, because that discussion is more appropriate for Government Services estimates, I would like to tap the Ministers well a little bit here about his thoughts on free trade, their positioning nationally on the subject and with neighbouring jurisdictions, and how that positioning reflects on the policies they are promoting internally within government to ensure consistency with their public statements. Could the Minister just explain to us where they are coming from?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, as the Member may be aware, just this morning there was a teleconference. As much as I did not get the opportunity to participate in it, I got a briefing note on NAFTA from the federal minister, Mr. Roy MacLaren. NAFTA. I believe there was also an article in the Globe and Mail today. This governments position is that we are supportive of the free trade agreement, providing that they recognize some of the special needs of the north, in the way that Canada is, overall, also a participant in free trade and in the side agreements. One sees quite a few things that recognize the special needs of Canada.
Right now, a working group has been established. It has a two-year mandate to work on the subsidies codes and the anti-dumping codes, and things like that. Another important thing to recognize is the fact that we often attempt to blame the lumber tariffs on free trade, which is a bunch of baloney. The lumber tariffs would be there whether there was free trade or not and the fortunate part of the free trade agreement is that it gives us an avenue to be able to negotiate the tariffs that have been placed on the softwoods lumber products.
There is some work being done on what is meant by water exports. I believe there is a trilateral statement saying that large-scale water exports are not contemplated.
The new administration in Ottawa has also reinforced the environmental and labour side deals that were negotiated by the previous administration, to ensure that those still exist.
I think, for the Yukon, the free trade agreement has opened up new opportunities for us. NAFTA is going to have less impact on the Yukon. There may be a few opportunities there, but this government feels that we can live with the existing NAFTA agreement the way it stands now. It took two years to negotiate many of the finer points within it. I definitely think, at some point, we are going to see new opportunities develop because of NAFTA.
There is no way that Canada could have watched the U.S. and Mexico form their own trade bloc. It just would not have worked. There are going to be adjustments. There are going to be adjustments the United States, there are going to be adjustments in Canada, but we feel that the environmental concerns, which were very serious, have been addressed to a certain degree in the side agreements and the labour concerns. It may mean that you may see the overall labour force in Canada go more toward higher technology jobs.
I have a lot of confidence in Canadians and feel that Canada can compete within the NAFTA arrangement.
Mr. Harding: On the issue of free trade, we often get that smattering from the Members opposite when we discuss this issue. We get discussions ranging around North American free trade, trade within the Yukon, trade with other provinces, and then we get the discussion around protectionism.
One of the strongest arguments against tree trade was the argument that Canada would lose its sovereignty. Of course, in 1988-89, when we had that debate, everyone on the yea side said we would not lose our sovereignty. What was the first thing that happened when America and Mexico started to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement? The first thing that people on the yea side said was that we had to join in these negotiations because, if we did not, we would be left out. Well, that not the most glaring and telling example of losing your sovereignty, and your ability to control your own destiny? You have to join those negotiations, because you do not want to be left out.
I want to ask the Minister about NAFTA - he professes to have some knowledge of it. Could the Minister, in brief form, give me a summary of what those side agreements on labour and environmental standards mean?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I only have brief notes with me, and I do not want to get into making assumptions on what they mean in greater detail at this point. I would prefer to share what information I have with the Member, rather than address it in this forum.
Mr. Harding: We are very concerned about the future of this economy. We believe that free trade and NAFTA impacts on the economy. This is the general debate in Economic Development, and it is a compelling and important subject to discuss in full. That is why the Minister has a briefing note on NAFTA.
The Minister just made that statement that he felt that the side agreements would be good for the Yukon and would help to shore up support for NAFTA. I asked him why he thinks that and he says he does not want to get into that, because it is not in his briefing note. What does the briefing note say about the side agreements and their content?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The briefing note is a statement to the effect that environment and labour side deals have dealt with concerns in those areas. During the election campaign - and perhaps the lone Liberal in the crowd can correct me if I am wrong - my understanding was that the Liberal administration had some concerns about that. As we know, the Conservatives, just around the same time and during the election campaign, negotiated some of these side deals. I will not say that the new Liberal administration is not happy with them, but they feel that they have dealt with the concerns that the Liberals had with the deal several months ago.
Mr. Harding: Let me just say, by way of a representation to the Minister, that those side deals certainly have not addressed my concerns. All those side deals do is guarantee that the countries involved in NAFTA will obey their level of regulation and their laws regarding the environment and labour standards. It does not say anything about a level playing field. All it says is that if the minimum wage is 50 cents a day in Mexico, the government had better make sure that it is paying them that. On the environmental side, it says that if one can only dump 500 gallons of toxic effluent into the river a day, the government had better not let anyone dump any more than that. It does not say that it cannot be dumped. That is the problem with these side agreements.
The Liberal government, during the campaign, held up the red book. They said they had five things to renegotiate, even though the side agreements had already been completed by the American administration under Bill Clinton. During the election campaign, they referred to these five amendments. I remember watching Sheila Copps, the Deputy Prime Minister, on Petrie and Prime, discussing NAFTA, talking about the five things they had to change. As soon as the writ was dropped and the election ended, it was down to three. Suddenly, out of the blue, the labour and environmental agreements were good enough for them.
From the gobbledygook I heard from the new Prime Minister this morning, they have not done a thing to address the concerns in the red book as they had said they would do during the election campaign.
The American trade representative, Mickey Kantor, will tell you quite plainly that all they have there is smoke and mirrors - window dressing - to try to say that they did something in accordance with the green book. I can remember, when NAFTA was being debated - I actually watched a lot of it on the parliamentary channel - I saw Howard McCurdy, the Member from Ontario, who is a New Democrat, giving a pretty colourful speech about his views on NAFTA. I remember Jean Cretien, the then Leader of the Official Opposition, getting up and saying, Listen, I do not know what the problem is. Our position is clear. Either they renegotiate it to our terms or we tear it up - it is as simple as that. I wish the reporters in this country would get that clip, and play it back for the people of this country when we see the actual details of what is in that agreement analyzed over the next couple of weeks.
I am very concerned, because it now affects the Yukon. The decision has been made by a government that I thought was going to take a different policy on the negotiations, and they have not. There is some smoke and mirrors and some window dressing, but they have made a unilateral statement on energy. The U.S. trade representative has now said that it means nothing, that it is just a unilateral statement by Canada on how we feel it should be done.
Cretien argues that there are mechanisms in place that will serve to make this enforceable, but that is being hotly disputed. Over the next couple of weeks it is hoped that the press will do their job and talk to people with differing views on that, and the country will get a chance to see just what we did get - just what Canada bought in this deal.
I have some real concerns about the free trade agreement. You cannot be a free trader and a protectionist. They just do not add up; they are dichotomies - period.
When we questioned the Minister of Economic Development on his strategic plan for Government Services he spoke about things like bid preferences, business incentive policies, local hire, local contractors, and he says that he supports those things.
Then he says that Yukon contractors should be able to bid outside, and that they can compete with anyone. So, he is quite prepared to let Yukon contractors take work in other jurisdictions, which I do not have a problem with, either.
However, it is inconsistent, because you cannot be a free trader and still want to protect. The Minister just stood up and said he was in favour of free trade, that it is going to be good for everyone. There were motherhood statements in what was said, but what we have seen is that these inconsistencies come back and forth. It is time to reconcile them.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: No filibuster.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: We just heard that NAFTA was going to be passed this morning, so I think it is important to discuss it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: I think the Yukon should think twice about having the Government Leader down there fighting for the breakdown of interprovincial trade barriers, especially when the Minister of Economic Development is saying that he is in support of bid preference and local hire and local contractors getting the work. We see these inconsistencies in their positioning, which is important. Maybe the Minister of Tourism does not think it is important, but I think it is important to local contractors.
The Minister of Tourism says that it is expensive for us to sit in here and go over the same thing. When I am in this Legislature and I am asking questions about the policy and the direction of this government, I feel I am earning my pay, and I think my constituents feel the same.
When we do not get answers - and we have not gotten answers - to explain these inconsistencies, then we have to continue to ask these questions. The Leader of the Official Opposition talked about law and the Economic Strategy. I respect the governments right to bring in new policy and new economic direction but, if they would follow the law, at least they could come to this Legislature, bring in a bill to change that law, and we could debate it. It would force them to show us there what their strategy is.
The Government Leader said on the radio this morning that he was in favour of breaking down the interprovincial trade barriers.
They also said that they want things in place to protect the contractors here, and he said that all of the other Ministers were prepared to agree with that. How long is that going to last? I do not think that it is wrong to ask the government to explain what I perceive to be major inconsistencies, and there are a lot of people in this territory who think it is a complex issue and there are a lot of people out there who do not care about it on a day-to-day basis, but it is our job as legislators to ask these questions. If we have to ask the questions 500 times we will ask them 500 times until we get a concrete explanation as to the governments position.
As the Member for Mount Lorne just said, it is the Ministers job to answer the questions for us.
How can you be a free trader and in the same breath say, as long as we can protect ourselves. Do you not think that every jurisdiction - all three countries, all the provinces and all of the industries - would like to have the wonderful position that this government has taken - that they want free trade when they can get out and bid, but yet want protection for us?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I move that you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move 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. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94, and 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. Phillips: 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 1:30 p.m., Monday next.
The House adjourned at 5:28 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled December 2, 1993:
Dawson City water and sewer funding: 1993-1995 (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1418
Road Equipment Replacement Fund: transaction values for 1992 and for 1993 to end of period five; charges to highway camps out of the Fund and total highway maintenance expenditure by camp (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1428