Thursday, May 26, 1994 - 1:30 p.m.
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I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with silent Prayers.
We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
I would like to introduce the grade 5 class of Golden Horn Elementary School, who are here with their teacher, Ms. Maura Glenn, and parent volunteers, Brenda Mattson, Shannon Olson and Al Pope. I would like to welcome them to the Legislature.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I have a document for tabling.
Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Petition No. 9 - received
Mr. Speaker and hon. Members of the Assembly, I have had the honour to review a petition being Petition No. 9, of the First Session of the twenty-eighth Legislative Assembly, as presented by the Hon. Member for Mount Lorne on May 25, 1994. This petition meets the requirements as to form of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Petition No. 9 accordingly is deemed to be read and received.
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 18: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I move that Bill No. 18, entitled Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 1994-95 (No. 3), be now introduced and read a first time.
It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 18, entitled Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 1994-95 (No. 3), be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 18 agreed to
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Government finances
I have a question for the Minister of Finance. Yesterday, both the Ministers of Finance and the Public Service Commission indicated that the unexpected unspent money from last year resulted from departments behaving more efficiently than ever before. The Minister for the Public Service Commission put it best when he said, "we know we can operate government cheaper and more efficiently."
The Government Leader told us that the net savings due to what was called increased efficiency would be $8 million to $10 million. Can he tell us - in gross numbers, rather than net numbers - what he expects will be the unspent money from last year?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I believe the best scenario we have now, based on the period 13 ledger run, would be a total of about $30 million in operation and maintenance and capital.
I would guess that is about 10 percent of the budget. Back in November, the government turned back $15 million of gross capital spending - which, incidentally, they did not characterize, at that time, at least, as being an indicator of efficient government and careful planning.
Can the Minister tell us what further gross capital spending of the total they were not able to spend by the end of the year?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
If the Member is asking me what we have in revotes, I believe it is $2.4 million in capital.
Given that the government is claiming that the unexpected savings result from increased efficiencies and will exceed the revenue from the increased tax rates last year, will the government move to immediately eliminate those tax increases and give the money back to the people who need it to balance their own household accounts?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
Well, if I was able to do that, I would probably be the happiest person in this Legislature. The fact remains, however, that Members opposite may be getting hung up too much on one figure, for one year. We are talking about an annual surplus, and it was higher than we expected - especially on the O&M side. We have to remember that we went into the year with a $13 million deficit.
Question re: Government finances
We established yesterday that there is no accumulated deficit, nor an annual deficit. The Minister has admitted to that already.
These "savings" that the Minister has identified, and that the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission has identified, were the result of increased efficiencies. That was the headline in the news yesterday, and it was the headline in the news this morning: that the government has gone to great lengths to increase efficiencies and, consequently, has unexpected savings. Those unexpected savings amount to $8 million to $10 million, so clearly the government does not need this money to balance the budget. The spending trajectory obviously suggests that there will be no deficit in the future - no accumulated deficit, nor annual deficit.
Why can the Minister then not give the money back to the individuals who do need it, in order to boost consumer confidence in this territory and allow people to balance their own household accounts?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
We went through this same scenario one year ago. The critic from McIntyre-Takhini said then we did not have a $64 million deficit. He said we did not have an accumulated $13 million deficit, but yet the Auditor General verified those figures, just as he will verify the figures that we have this year. The projections do not substantiate what the Member opposite is trying to put out. In fact, even with wage restraint legislation, unless we make some further savings in government, we will be back in a deficit position by 1996-97.
These guys are absolutely outrageous.
I did not say the Minister did not have a deficit of $64 million,
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I said they did not need to have a deficit of $64 million - or $13 million, for that matter, either. My suspicions are absolutely confirmed here. The government padded last year's budget, and they did so because they wanted to slavishly follow the dictates of federal bureaucrats who said we should pay more taxes. The reality really is that the government rolled over to the federal bureaucrats, is it not? That is the reality - they rolled over to federal bureaucrats who wanted us to raise taxes. That is the reality, is it not?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
If there is anybody who rolled over to the federal bureaucrats, it is the Member opposite, when he agreed to the perversity factor. That was an example of somebody rolling over to the federal government, and acting in an irresponsible manner, so that it was imposed upon Yukoners.
This government is lying supine under the cold glare of federal bureaucrats once again. They have already agreed that they are going to have to live with the perversity factor well into the future. Even though they have found what they call savings through increased efficiencies of $8 million to $10 million, they cannot give back the $7 million to $8 million they took out of taxpayers' pockets last year.
Is there not even one good, consistent reason that this Minister can use, that is consistent with all of the things he said in the past - I know that is difficult - to justify the financial direction this government is going in, and to justify not giving the money back to the people who deserve it more?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
Yes. It is the irresponsible spending of the previous administration.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, privatization
I have some questions for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation about his privatization thrust.
The Mayor of Dawson wrote an open letter to the Minister that was published last night in the Yukon News, in which he indicated that the Association of Yukon Communities would like to meet with the Minister. Could the Minister indicate whether there is a meeting planned and, if so, what date the meeting is scheduled for?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I met with representatives of the Association of Yukon Communities last Friday, and I will be meeting with AYC representatives again, at city hall, on Saturday morning, at 10:00 a.m.
The Mayor of Dawson is known for his calm, reasonable approach to matters. In this letter, he said that public ownership and management of utilities - in particular, electrical utilities - by municipalities is consistent with current practices throughout the world, including many municipalities in Canada. Is the Minister prepared to table, during his discussions, the turnover of the generating sets and the distribution facilities in the Dawson area to the City of Dawson?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
You are taking a chance with Peter, then.
Who is actually going to do the negotiation on Saturday? What is on the agenda? What are you going to talk about: the weather or something definitive?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Well, the weather would be an interesting topic, I am sure, but basically it will be related to the letter that I received from the Association of Yukon Communities, which was signed by the said Mayor of Dawson City.
Question re: Government staffing
I would like to question the Government Leader.
The efficiencies that the government has bragged about can be created by cuts in programs, services, delays or cancellation of projects, but I am sure that the Government Leader would agree that if the same staff remains in place, the unit cost of the work of the government goes up and the productivity goes down, meaning that in fact the government is less efficient, not more efficient, when it keeps the same staff, but does not produce the same services or the same goods.
Would the Government Leader agree that any competent economist would agree that the phenomena that we now have that this government is calling efficiencies would in fact be inefficiencies, and not the opposite, as the government is claiming?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
No, I certainly would not. I said some of the savings were through efficiencies. Some were projects coming onstream later than anticipated, some were from positions that were not filled as quickly as they might have been, and some were from positions that were not filled at all. Also, several departments have made dramatic savings in administration, and I do not call that inefficiency - I call that efficiency. The Department of Education is one, and Community and Transportation Services is another, that had dramatic savings on the administration side.
The service cuts produced in the Department of Education, late projects in Community and Transportation Services, and staff vacancies throughout the government are now described by this amazing administration as efficiencies and savings. Would the Government Leader admit that we are talking about exactly the same dollars that used to be described by Members opposite, when they were in Opposition, as lapses, inefficiencies and bad management?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
No, I would not.
This is the nineteenth position they have taken on the subject.
Since the Government Leader seems to be so desperate to have a deficit, just like every other Tory administration, can he tell us if he is aware that the average annual lapses for the last few years in this territory, whatever government was in power, have been $6 million O&M and $12 million capital, and does he have any reason to believe that there will not be lapses next year, and the year after that, and on and on for the rest of time?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
It is a lot less than the $42 million that they had in 1989-90.
The Member opposite is right; there will be lapses every year but never - never, back to 1986-87 - has there been $20 million lapsed in O&M.
Question re: Tax increases
I have a question for the Minister of Finance. When this government tabled its budget in the House this session and Members of the Opposition and government Members had an opportunity to give speeches, raising points on behalf of their constituents, I asked the Minister of Finance if he would take away the tax increases that Yukoners had to suffer under his management, because there was more money than the government had expected from the tax increases and the government had far more money to spend than any previous government had had. At that time, the Government Leader, the Minister of Finance, said to us, "As much as I would like to give a tax rebate to Yukoners, I do not believe it is possible, out of this budget."
Can the Minister of Finance tell us why it is not possible?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
Clearly, the reason that it is not possible is obvious if we look at the projections from now until 1997-98: projections of revenues and projections of expenses. If we look at them, even with the wage restraint legislation in place, by 1996-97 we will be running annual deficits again unless we can get more money out of the O&M side of the budget. We have to continue
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to try to provide services in a more efficient manner and a more cost-effective manner.
I cannot think of any Yukoner who has any confidence in this government's ability to estimate anything - not one Yukoner. The Minister of Finance just held a press conference this afternoon or this morning - a crisis management press conference - to tell Yukoners why we have millions and millions of dollars of extra money in this budget. He just stood up this afternoon and told us we have $30 million more.
I want him to answer his own comment, "As much as I would like to give a tax rebate to Yukoners, I do not believe it is possible, out of this budget." Why is it not possible, when we have millions and millions of dollars that will not be spent?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
We do not have millions and millions of dollars that will not be spent - we do not have them. We held a press conference to show what the trends are. What we are facing here is what every other government in Canada is facing. We are not talking about huge lapses. The total lapses come to 6.7 percent. That is not huge by anybody's standards.
It is a huge lapse by the standards of my constituents, and by the standards of every other Yukoner who had to dig into their pockets this tax year to pay more money. For what? This government took it right out of their pockets, and I am asking, on behalf of my constituents and other Yukoners, for this government to give that money back to Yukoners. I want to know if the government - the Minister of Finance - is prepared to do that.
Some Hon. Member:
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
If the Member opposite keeps her bank book that way, I am sure she would have difficulty.
Hypothetically, if we were to return the tax rebates, we would be in an accumulated deficit position this year.
Question re: Hazardous-waste facility site
If the Minister of Education is ready to stop heckling, I do have a question for a different Minister.
A couple of days ago, when I questioned the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about the temporary hazardous waste facility at Mount Sima, he tried to leave the impression that this was the same thing as the more extensive, permanent facility that was originally planned for the site, which is, of course, far from the case. The temporary container is little more than a glorified dumpster.
Considering that both the area residents and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation have intervened against the temporary facility, has the Minister had any discussions with the City of Whitehorse about its preferences for a site?
Hon. Mr. Brewster:
Yes, we have.
Many people have questioned the appropriateness of a hazardous-waste facility so close to country residential development and in what has become a popular recreational area.
Is the Minister prepared to put the temporary facility at the Whitehorse landfill, which would seem to be a much better location than the site that was chosen for a more secure, permanent facility?
Hon. Mr. Brewster:
We had an advisory committee that backed up the committee before that, that that is where it should be, and that is where it will be.
The advisory committee came up with the location based on a permanent, secure, fenced storage facility, and the temporary facility that they are talking about putting in now is nothing like that. My understanding is that the City of Whitehorse, as well as many other people who are intervening against the present location, has said that they would prefer to have the facility at the Whitehorse landfill. Are they prepared to consider that, and why not?
Hon. Mr. Brewster:
Besides the advisory committee, we had an ad hoc committee that we formed, which recommended it be where it is.
Question re: Waste oil
I am glad that the Minister of Renewable Resources likes to have committees.
I have a further question for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Recent newspaper reports have indicated a remarkable decline in the amount of waste oil that is being dropped off at the Whitehorse landfill, from a monthly average of 10,000 litres last year to only 850 litres in April, for instance. Has the department done any investigation to determine what is behind that huge drop?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
No, at least I am not aware of the department doing any research into the reason. I have been advised that there has been a decline in the amount of used oil that has gone to the landfill sites, so I will be asking officials to check into it and see if they can find out the reason.
Well, the real concern, of course, is what is happening to the waste oil that is not going to the dump, and I think the Minister should have already asked the department to investigate and find out where the normal volumes of waste oil are being disposed of. Has the department increased its monitoring activities to ensure waste oil is not making its way into the Yukon soil or waterways? We do not know whether people are putting it out in their household garbage or storing it or quietly dumping it or what is going on.
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
The sewage quality is being monitored on a periodic basis, but it is pretty difficult to monitor to find out if people are dumping it in their back yard. We do not know where it is going.
When I spoke to the grade 5 class at Golden Horn School yesterday, they asked some very good questions. The one that I liked the best was, "Do we ever get an answer?" So I asked the Minister this question last night, and I called his executive assistant again this morning so that he could be prepared with an answer. We have waited a long time for the department to come up with its comprehensive waste management regulations, and a lot of the questions that we have been asking in this House about dumps and about waste oil and about sewage and hazardous waste could be answered and addressed by those waste management regulations. Can the Minister tell us the current status of those regulations, and when we might expect to see the final product?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
The regulations are currently available at the front desk. They are out for consultation purposes, for public review. We expect that, following the review, we should have a draft copy ready for Cabinet consideration in three weeks to a month.
Question re: Sexual harassment policy for schools
My question is for the Minister responsible for Education and the Women's Directorate. As the Minister is aware, May is sexual assault prevention month. I want to raise the serious issue of sexual harassment in our schools and in the communities, which is occurring between students of increasingly younger ages. Last week I attended a very effective Yukon educational theater performance aimed at helping youth to achieve healthy relationships and stop harassment. It put me in mind of correspondence I received from the Minister, that indicates the need to encourage public awareness and education on the issue of violence against women. Can the Minister tell me if he is prepared to encourage junior high schools to bring these performances to the student body in September, and to provide the necessary
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funding so that the school year can begin with a shared understanding of the serious nature of harassment and assault, and hopefully a commitment to end violence against female students.
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I thank the Member for the question. That is a good suggestion and I will pass it on to the Department of Education and the Women's Directorate. I should remind the Member that that particular program was one that I believe has been developed in conjunction with the Women's Directorate and the Department of Education. There are other ongoing programs at Riverdale Junior High, as well as the Porter Creek schools, which will be ongoing in the future. In fact, I think that the Women's Directorate and the Department of Education are doing an outstanding job right now in those types of educational programs. I see great benefit in them and we will be continuing those programs in the future.
I am certainly aware that the Women's Directorate and Department of Education had worked on those, and I was passing along a compliment that they were quite effective and well done. I was asking the Minister for his commitment that the funding would continue in the next year, and I know many parents who are willing to help students resolve problems around the issues of sexual harassment, before they become crises, so I would like to know if I have a commitment here that the theatre presentations will be one avenue that will be brought into the schools again next year.
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
There is money in our budget to deal with these types of awareness programs and I am sure that these programs will continue in the future. As I said to the Member, I thank the Member for the suggestion that we continue the program in September, and I will pass that on to the departments.
The Minister has also indicated that a series of workshops have been piloted at Riverdale Junior High and that they have been well received and may become part of the curriculum.
Can the Minister explain further the nature of the workshops and whether they will indeed become an integral part of the curriculum?
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
That is our ultimate goal. I can get back to the Member about the various programs but the curriculum branch, in conjunction with the Women's Directorate, is working to develop programs for all Yukon schools regarding violence against women. I am hoping that we will have some fairly concrete programs that will be offered in the future at these schools.
Question re: Sexual harassment policy for schools
Last December 6, I raised the issue of the serious dimensions of sexual harassment against young women in our junior high schools. At that time, the Minister indicated that a sexual harassment policy was being developed for the public schools.
Can the Minister tell us if this policy has been finalized and when we can expect it to come into effect?
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I do not believe the policy has been finalized yet; at least I have not had an opportunity to see the policy. I do know that the Department of Education and the Women's Directorate are working on it as well. We have asked a couple of young women at Riverdale Junior High, who were involved in that particular case, to participate in formulating the policy and work with us in developing a policy. I will get back to the Member on when the policy will be ready.
I am sure that the Minister shares our concern that such a policy be put into effect at the earliest possible time, along with the necessary education, whether it is theatre, counselling, workshops, curriculum or some combination, so that we may begin the important work of changing destructive attitudes and provide protection to potential victims.
What is the Minister going to do to ensure a timely completion of this policy?
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I am going to continue to do what I am doing at the present time and that is to develop the policy. The policy is being developed among young women in the school, the Department of Education, the Women's Directorate and others. As soon as the policy is complete, and I hope it will be complete so that it can be implemented for this next school year, we will implement it at that time.
I am aware that the work on this policy had begun before the question was raised last December 6. I hope that the Minister is making a commitment that there will be something in place before September. May I have a specific answer about when the policy will be put into effect?
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I think I have said yes six times to the questions that the Member has asked me. I told the Member that I hope it will be in place this September. I will give the Member the commitment that we are working toward that goal and I am hope that is what we will achieve.
Question re: Jury selection
My question is for the Minister of Justice about jury duty.
Last year, the Minister proposed changes to the Jury Act that would allow officials to use lists that would accurately reflect the gender and racial makeup in the area from which the jury ought to be selected under the act - those were the Minister's words.
Could the Minister tell us what lists are now being used?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I will have to come back to the Member with that information.
If the Minister could just phone my office after we break here, that would be good.
First Nations and officials are still concerned that current jury selections do not reflect the population of aboriginal people. I would like to ask the Minister if he is aware of that concern and if the concern has been made known to him and his office?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I have not received any concerns since the amendments to the act were passed last fall. Prior to that legislation, I had received some complaints addressed to me by the CYI and from some lawyers in town.
As I understood it at the time, one of the problems was that the sheriff was unable to get membership lists from some of the First Nations, which they would also use in compiling a list of potential jury members.
Can the Minister tell us if he will take further steps to assure that jury selections better represent the First Nations population? It is a current issue and certainly has to be dealt with very shortly.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I certainly will. I think that is something we should pay attention to and try to ensure is done. I had not looked into it recently because I have not received any complaints, but I will now.
Question re: Stevens subdivision
I have some questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on the proposed Stevens subdivision. There has been a number of questions put in the House and a fairly active discussion in the news media on the subdivision and the proposed adjacent gravel quarry. I understand that consultants have been hired to review the quarry potential and prepare a quarry management plan, and that the plan should be available around June 6. Just to confirm it, is my understanding correct about the hiring of the consultant and is that the date toward which the Minister's department is working?
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Hon. Mr. Fisher:
I was not aware that the consultant was being hired. The Member opposite may very well be right, and, to my understanding, June 6 is approximately right. There is a management plan being developed and it may be being developed by a consultant, but I was not aware of that.
Just to confirm it, has the Minister made a decision to establish the quarry? Are we simply talking about mitigative measures now or are we also talking about whether, in fact, the quarry will be established?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
There is a good source of gravel in that area. At some point in time, I would venture to guess, there will be a quarry. I do not believe that that particular source of gravel is required in the next few years, because there are other sources nearby that are still quite accessible. But, at some point in time - it may not even be in my lifetime - that particular source of gravel will be required.
I understand there is some First Nation interest in the area and, most specifically, the Kwanlin Dun, with respect to the land selection. Has the Kwanlin Dun been consulted on whether the gravel pit would be appropriate next to the lands that have been selected?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
I am not sure if they have been consulted with that particular question, or statement, in mind; however, as the Member opposite is aware, Kwanlin Dun did have a selection over the whole area as recently as about a year ago. They relinquished that selection in favour of some other selection, so we could proceed with the Stevens subdivision.
Question re: Devolution process, consultation with CYI
As the Government Leader knows, the land claims legislation will soon be tabled in the House of Commons, of which devolution plays a big part. On April 29, 1994, the Government Leader said in this House that he had signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the devolution of land, water, minerals and mining to the Yukon, and that the memorandum of understanding was sitting on the Minister's desk.
Can the Minister tell us if there was consultation with CYI, prior to signing the memorandum?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I believe the Council for Yukon Indians was aware that we were talking to DIAND about the memorandum. The Member is right: I signed it, but it was never signed by the federal Minister.
The Minister indicated it was on his desk, waiting for his signature.
The involvement of the First Nations has been critical to getting this land claims bill to where it is today. There is a responsibility of the government to consult with the First Nations and CYI on these matters. There is even a requirement to consult with them once the bill is passed in Ottawa, especially about such matters as devolution, because they are of great concern to First Nations.
Could the Minister responsible for land claims and devolution tell us why there was no prior consultation with CYI? He said he thought they might be aware of it. Why did he not consult with them?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
The memorandum of understanding had no particular devolution attached to it, except a time frame in which devolution was to take place. In the memorandum was a time frame covering specific dates when things would take place. There would have been, and will be, consultation with CYI. As the Member opposite knows, how devolution should take place has been a very difficult subject, and it has been difficult to come to an agreement with CYI. We are continuing to work on that, to try to find a forum for it.
Right now, the Member opposite is fully aware that CYI's efforts are toward getting the legislation through the House of Commons, and we will deal with those issues as soon as CYI has time to deal with them.
The Minister again contradicts himself in this matter. He has stated previously that he has consulted with CYI in regard to devolution and in this case he did not. I would like to ask the Minister if he could assure the House that he will consult with First Nations on all issues concerning the land claim in the manner in which they agreed upon, and specifically in regard to devolution of any departments or programs.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
That is what we have been doing and are trying to do. As the Member opposite is fully aware, it is a very difficult subject that we have not yet been able to resolve. CYI has been kept informed of what we are doing. I am confident that we will get some vehicle in place to deal with that issue.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Board, health and safety review
Last Monday I asked the Minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board when the long-promised, full scale, health and safety review was going to be put into action. The Minister told me that he was meeting with the board on Tuesday of this week. I would like to ask him, since he has now had that meeting, when the full and complete review will begin for occupational health and safety.
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
The review has begun. I am still consulting with the board about how this review will be conducted.
The review that was started was a scaled-down review. The previous Minister then promised that he was going to implement a full-scale review, which was stated in the ministerial order that brought the review to the forefront in the first place. Is the Minister saying that a full-scale review has begun, or is it the previous review, which was a small, written-submission review? Which review is the Minister talking about here?
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
We expect to have more than a small, written-submission review. The issue that we are discussing with the Workers' Compensation Board is the budget for the review. As soon as we have agreed on the budget, the scope of the review will be clear.
The board has requested of this government that they have a full-scale review. The board is fully funded and the recent actuarial assessment that was done proved that. There is no question of finances here, not to mention the fact that occupational health and safety reviews are designed to find preventive measures to reduce injuries and costs in the long run, so there is no need for ministerial approval to conduct a review.
What is going on? Is there going to be the full-scale review that was promised by the previous Minister? I have read the comments back to the Minister so that the Minister knows full well what was promised. Is it going to be undertaken?
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
I have answered that. I said that we are looking at the budget of the Workers' Compensation Board and, as soon as we have agreed on the budget, we will know the scope of the review. We expect it to be more than the scaled-down, written-submission review that was first proposed.
The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I would like to request unanimous consent of the House to return to the Introduction of Bills.
Is there unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members:
Unanimous consent has been granted.
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INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 66: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I move that Bill No. 66, entitled An Act to Amend the Landlord and Tenant Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 66, entitled An Act to Amend the Landlord and Tenant Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 66 agreed to
We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 53: Second Reading
Second reading, Bill No. 53, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Phelps.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I move that Bill No. 53, entitled An Act to Amend the Social Assistance Act, be now read a second time.
It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Health and Social Services that Bill No. 53, entitled An Act to Amend the Social Assistance Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I had a lengthy speech on the principle of this bill, but I left it up in my office, unfortunately. I think the explanatory note contained in the bill explains that it is almost a housekeeping matter.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 53 agreed to
Bill No. 94: Second Reading
Second reading, Bill No. 94, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Nordling.
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
I move that Bill No. 94, entitled Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994, be now read a second time.
It has been moved by the Hon. Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission that Bill No. 94, entitled Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
When we look across our nation at the public sector wage restraint initiatives taken by the federal government, by provincial and municipal governments, by school boards and hospitals, what do we see?
Alberta anticipates a five-percent reduction in personnel costs. Manitoba public servants took 10 days off without pay this year, to save their government about $20 million, and approximately 2,000 employees have been laid off in the past three years. In Ontario, government workers have been living with a three-year wage freeze; economic and merit increments have been frozen; benefit improvements have been frozen; managers have had to take eight to 10 days off without pay, and this is the province that, for many years, carried the load for other parts of Canada.
In New Brunswick, school and hospital boards have combined to save money. Thousands of civil service jobs have been eliminated in the past four years and wages have been frozen since 1990. The Nova Scotia public sector is working under a two-year wage freeze, five unpaid leave days and layoffs. In Newfoundland, salaries have been frozen since 1990; up to 2,500 public sector jobs have been cut and the government has cut its contribution to employee pensions by $70 million. Employees are expected pick up the difference, a province-wide teachers' strike began on May 16. Prince Edward Island will - according to press reports as recent as last Friday - plan to introduce legislation that will roll back wages by as much as 7.5 percent. Our neighbours, the Northwest Territories, we understand are looking for a five-percent reduction in payroll costs from their unionized employees.
This is the situation facing our colleagues today. This is the real world for our relatives, our friends and former Yukoners who now live outside the territory in other parts of Canada. From the statistics, we know something of the financial loss that cutbacks, layoffs and unpaid days off mean to individuals, families and communities. We also know that the loss does not end there. Workplace morale and personal confidence and security are also affected by these changes.
Behind the personal stories of job loss, wage reduction, despair and anger, there are the facts. The facts confront us in newspapers, journals and newscasts, and they challenge us - Yukoners observing from a distance - to wake up.
Here are a few of the facts, as reported in Maclean's magazine on March 7, 1994. Ottawa has spent more than it has received every year since 1970-71. The sum of those annual deficits forms the debt, and that debt is growing, as is the interest on that debt. In 1993-94, Ottawa collected $114.7 billion in revenue and paid $38.5 billion in interest. Translation: 33.6 cents of every revenue dollar went toward interest payments - not programs, not people, but interest on the debt.
From the May 18, 1994, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Dominion Bank economist, Mimi Curtis, estimates that, by March 31, 1995, the total net debt of the federal and provincial governments will be $780 billion.
What do these facts mean to office workers, miners, tour operators, labourers and sales people, from Watson Lake to Old Crow? These facts are a reminder that we are part of this group, a member of this community of communities that finds itself in a financial situation that seems to be nobody's responsibility and then became everybody's problem.
What happened? We can blame this politician, or that party, or some corporation or special interest group. We can deny, we can rationalize, we can explain, but that has no impact on the truth.
Though history, social and economic differences, and geographical boundaries separate us from the provinces, we have at least this in common: the need to get costs under control and keep them under control if public services are to be delivered and public sector layoffs are avoided - not just this year, but next year and the year after.
We, like every other government, must find more effective and efficient ways to deliver required services. It is my understanding that the initiatives in such areas as justice and health and social services will contribute to improvements in program service and efficiency.
We, like other governments, are accountable to people working in the public and private sectors. We are responsible for ensuring that the solutions we propose to control expenditures, such as public sector wages, are correct and fair.
I have spoken about the Canadian situation for this reason: in the Yukon we are facing our own financial challenges. They are smaller challenges by comparison, to be sure, but to the 30,000 who call the Yukon home and who must meet these challenges, they are real, significant and demanding.
I am convinced that if we do not act now while we still have the opportunity to act, we Yukoners will also be the subject of newscasts and press reports sent across the country. We will be names behind the layoffs, growing deficits and lost opportunities.
Then who will deliver our services, who will meet our payroll? The Yukon government is committed to holding the line. We do not want to get caught in the upward spiral of deficit spending. We
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have seen the layoffs and the misery caused in other provinces because decision makers were not prepared to say no to deficit spending.
The Yukon government's financial situation is this: when this government took office, it inherited a situation that resulted in a $64 million deficit for that year. This government has successfully wrestled that deficit to the ground and we are proud of the accomplishment.
In order to remain deficit free in the long term, we must continue to restrict government expenditures. To date, cuts have been made to government travel and contracting, and money has been saved through deferred O&M expenditures and reductions in such areas as new hiring. Managers and staff have identified ways of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of program delivery.
We want to acknowledge all of those government employees who have worked with this government toward eliminating the deficit and placing the Yukon Territory in a stronger financial position. With their advice and assistance, the savings have allowed us to moderate our public sector restraint measures. Consequently, we anticipate showing a surplus at the end of this fiscal year.
This is an enormous achievement. In just over two years, we have turned an annual deficit of $64 million around, and will have restored an accumulated surplus position. We need this money to carry out the many capital programs and preventive maintenance activities we had to defer during our first two years in office.
We need long-term savings. We need savings from our payroll over the next three years. By 1995-96, without wage restraint, projected expenditures will exceed projected revenue. Even with wage restraint, it will be very difficult to keep expenditures from exceeding revenue.
Our formula funding agreement with the federal government will be renegotiated this year, and the very best we can realistically hope for is that our funding is not cut.
These are not my facts. These are not the Yukon Party's facts. These are the facts and realities within which tough and fair decisions must be made, not only today, but also in the months ahead.
Our objectives are these: to be clear and up-front about our intentions and the reasons for introducing this bill; to share the cost and responsibility for public sector wage restraint equitably and reasonably across public sector employee groups; to provide certainty by extending existing job security provisions for public sector employees for the next three years; to continue to achieve cost savings in all areas by holding the line on travel and other expenditures; by getting better value for the money we spend on goods and services, and by delivering programs more efficiently; to deliver services that meet public expectations; to do these things without raising taxes; and, finally, to act now.
Through this bill, we are asking employees covered by the Yukon Teachers Association agreement to contribute to cost savings in the following way: effective January 1, 1995, all salaries will be rolled back by two percent, and the collective agreement that would have expired on June 30, 1994 will be extended to June 30, 1997.
We listened to the representations that teachers and other Yukoners made and consequently, experience increments will not be frozen. In fact, less experienced teachers can expect to receive approximately a 10-percent increase in salary over the life of the extended collective agreement.
The Yukon government will also contribute $90,000 per year to the Yukon Teachers Association's professional development fund.
We are asking all other unionized government employees to contribute to cost savings in the following manner: effective January 1, 1995, all unionized employees will have their wages cut by two percent, and the collective agreement that would have expired December 31, 1994, will be extended to March 31, 1998.
The Yukon bonus will be set at $2,042 per employee. Effective January 1, 1995, all new employees of the government will have to complete a qualifying period equal to two years before being eligible to claim their first Yukon bonus. That is one additional year over the present requirement for Public Service Alliance of Canada employees and management personnel. The present job security language in the collective agreement will be extended for the life of the agreement.
We are asking Yukon government managers and Cabinet office staff to further contribute to cost savings in the following manner: effective January 1, 1995, salaries will be rolled back by one percent in addition to the two-percent reduction in April 1993 and the foregoing of merit increases since then. The Yukon bonus will also be set at $2,042 per employee.
We have recognized the advantages of controlling expenditures, but we have also been mindful of the impact of restraint measures on our employees and their families. We have listened to the ideas and opinions of hundreds of Yukoners and have acted responsibly to avoid layoffs and minimize the impact of wage restraint measures on public sector employees.
The restraint measures in this bill show that we are equally concerned about the security of our employees and our obligation to manage the budget, in the short and long term, in the best interests of all Yukoners.
There is a bit of wisdom which says, "A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are for." The easy thing for this government to do would have been nothing. We could wait, continue spending - things might pick up and we could pay our debts later. We could wait some more. The federal government might take care of us. We could stay in the harbour and avoid a tough decision. But, governments are not elected to do nothing. We have not done the easy thing. We have charted a course that is taking us out of the certainty of the harbour. In our determination to improve our short-term and long-term financial position and our belief that there is little time left to do this, we have gone to sea. We have made a decision.
Others took risks also. Negotiators, employees, concerned citizens, all worked to find common ground, to identify shared goals, to understand positions, and to find an acceptable way of achieving cost savings. All options were considered; the numbers were run over and over again. Dialogue and analysis continued up until the last day. In the end, the parties were simply too far apart, and after two months, public sector wage restraint legislation was introduced yesterday. Reporters and researchers may say that the introduction of this legislation was inevitable. They may say that nobody won - not the Yukon government, not the employee unions - and they would be right. Whatever they do say, I trust they will also record that the Yukon government, with its need to cut costs, and desire to avoid layoffs, asked each employee to accept a cut in salary so that all employees could continue to work. Perhaps someone will also write that we faced financial facts, looked for fair and equitable solutions, and then took up the challenge, and left behind the security of ignoring the problem.
Where shall I start in responding to a speech like that - safe in the harbour. I am glad the Minister is proud of himself, because there are not very many other Yukoners who are. The Minister said that the numbers have been run over and over again. Well, he did get that part of it right. They have gone over the numbers so many times, and they have presented the numbers in so many different ways that we will allow the Finance critic to
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go at length over the numbers of inconsistent positions that they have.
I want to point out to the Minister that the right to join a trade union or employee association is protected by law in Canada. The right to bargain collectively is a fundamental right enjoyed by millions of Canadian workers. It is a right that was achieved only after years of struggle. The Government Leader has said that he believes in collective bargaining. The Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission has said he believes in collective bargaining. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services has said he supports collective bargaining, but he will not make a commitment to refuse to privatize highway maintenance camps.
That is only one minor example of inconsistencies on the part of the government.
I would like to tell the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission on the side opposite that to set up a shadow of a deficit and then defeat it is not called "wrestling it to the ground", it is called "shadow boxing".
We have to ask: how much is their word worth? All of these fine words that the Ministers have had to say about collective bargaining and how much they support it.
The Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994 suspends the right to free collective bargaining established in law in the Education Act and the Public Service Staff Relations Act.
To date, 600 Yukoners have publicly indicated that they expect the government to respect their right to negotiate terms and conditions of employment currently held by the Yukon Teachers Association and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. The government has tried to further their argument based on financial crisis.
There is all kinds of hidden cash in the 1994-95 operation and maintenance budget before the House. There is $4.5 million that they were planning to revote from the highway budget - possibly into building some schools, and there is a $2 million contingency fund. This government spends a phenomenal amount of money, and it has provided no evidence, whatsoever, that the wage restraint legislation is needed for financial reasons.
The last-minute tampering with the act by the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission is an admission that the government has more money than they like to admit.
Today, the Minister of Finance has admitted that the gross lapses from last year's budget could come to a staggering $20 million. In Question Period yesterday, the Minister said that the government is looking for $10 million as a personnel savings target.
Let me help the Minister out. Last night in the House the Health Minister provided a breakdown of a projected $10.9 million of unspent, lapsed funding in one department alone.
I might also ask the Minister why they have not taken into consideration their service improvement program, which is intended to find ways to reduce costs of providing services.
If there will be no financial benefit from this program, why do they have it? If they anticipate financial benefit, where are they factoring the savings into the budget?
Why then, are they proceeding with the wage restraint legislation? They are trying to justify it by their financial projections. It is hard to keep track of what this government is projecting with the many different and conflicting claims that they make about the state of the territory's finances. Clearly, the real reason for this legislation is their ideology.
We have a historical record of financial inaccuracy from the Members opposite. Governments consistently under estimate revenues and over estimate expenditures - it looks like they over estimated by $20 million last year. Since the Department of Health and Social Services alone has over estimated by $10 million, how much will the actual total spending be for 1993-94? It is certain to be many times more than the $10 million that they are looking for in savings from their employees.
The Minister stated in an interview yesterday that although they did not reach a negotiated settlement with the teachers, the negotiations were very valuable. Ha. All the actions taken by the government were taken in a unilateral manner.
The government did not negotiate and no one was taken in for a minute by their sham of negotiations. There is no deficit; there is a projected surplus. The government is spending more than it ever has in the past.
Collective bargaining was not given a chance to work, so what is the real reason to legislate wage rollbacks? It is because this government believes that public sector workers receive too much money. But, they are not prepared to debate that. They should be honest about the real reasons for what they are doing.
The Government Leader asserts that the wage freeze and rollback is being driven by financial problems and getting the O&M cost of government down. The Public Service Commission Minister states that the question is not whether the teachers and Yukon government employees are overpaid or underpaid; the Minister claims the issue is what the government can afford to pay.
If they are only concerned about the $10 million in payroll savings, why are they not now prepared to engage in collective bargaining - they say they believe in it - in light of the $10 million of unspent money in the health department alone.
The government has repeatedly complained about the 17-percent wage increase that was negotiated for government workers covering the three-year period from 1989 to 1991. We did a little research, and we took a look at the historical salary comparison between the Yukon Government Employees Union and the Yukon Teachers Association during the previous years of Conservative administration. Here is what we have: in 1979, there was a 10-percent increase; in 1980, 11.5 percent; in 1981, 10 percent; in 1982, six percent; in 1983, five percent. Over a five-year period of Conservative government in the Yukon, salaries increased more than 43 percent for the YGEU. For the Yukon Teachers Association, in a four-year period, from 1980 to 1984, wages increased by 44.75 percent.
The government can blame the previous administration for being too generous. They can ignore the inflation rates - and we have also acquired the inflation rates that go along with those years. However, they cannot stand there and say that they are basing this strictly on financial reasons, when they refuse to negotiate.
Education is an investment, not an expense. An educator's job is not finished at 3:00 p.m. Yukon educators volunteer for breakfast and hot lunch programs, coaching sports, bazaars, swimming lessons, and Women Do Math. I have seen them on the sides of the highway doing highway clean-up with their students. They do curriculum development in their spare time. They help out with science fairs and a host of other activities that benefit our children. I could probably stand here for another five minutes just talking about the volunteer activities that our educators engage in. They do not deserve to be treated like dirt.
The Government Leader has stated that, in the long run, schools are wealth creation, because we teach our children: "The type of education that is being taught in the schools is wealth creation."
Does the government think not realize this legislation will further erode morale in our public school system? Education is indeed a very worthwhile investment in the future, and negotiated wages are an essential part of a trusting relationship with Yukon educators, and an essential part of our Yukon education system.
Collective bargaining is the only way workers have a collective
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voice with which to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment. I wish this government could recognize that better decisions are made when there is input from both employers and employees into the rules of the workforce. Collective bargaining respects workers and, thus, improves morale. Where you have good morale, you have a more productive workforce. It is simple and straightforward, but the government does not get it.
The Yukon government did not engage in meaningful negotiations before introducing this Draconian legislation. I cannot believe that the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said the negotiations were valuable when there were no negotiations.
True collective bargaining is not done with the threat of legislation hanging over one's head. True collective bargaining is both talking and listening. It does not have a government-dictated agenda. The Minister has to take responsibility for the failure of collective bargaining, because he did not engage in it. He can negotiate himself a seat at the Cabinet table, but he has been unable to engage in collective bargaining with government employees, based on trust, honesty and open communication.
If the government is sure of their financial position, why are they afraid of a neutral third party such as a conciliation or arbitration board, as provided for in the Education Act and the Public Service Staff Relations Act?
This wage restraint legislation voids any referral to a conciliation board made prior to the coming into force of this legislation.
Now the Government Leader has told the Government of Canada that budget cuts at this time send a signal that governments lack confidence in the business community and the economy. Yet, there is a long list of budget cuts by this government. They have cut spending on archaeologists, architects, transition homes, the Learning Disabilities Association, the Yukon Association for Community Living and legal aid. They have now targeted teachers and government workers and they are dismantling collective bargaining. Who is the government going to target next?
The public sector wage restraint legislation imposes a 36-month wage freeze on teachers and managers, and a 39-month wage freeze on Public Service Alliance of Canada members. Why is it necessary to impose an additional penalty on union workers?
This time the Member can answer her own question. It is because this government is anti-union. They are for the democratic phrase "free collective bargaining", but they are against the body that brings that collective voice of workers to the bargaining table, the unions and the Teachers Association.
This act legislates the wage freeze and extends the Public Service Alliance of Canada collective agreement until March 31 of 1998. It extends the term of the Yukon Teachers Association collective agreement until June 30 of 1997. Now, the Minister has also stated that he will leave in the job security provisions. But, I see no reference to article 701 in the legislation. Why can he legislate to take away, but not legislate to provide a benefit? I guess we will just chalk that up to being another inconsistency.
This act bows to public pressure to a very limited extent. It states that all employees are to be paid their performance increments when their next entitlement arises, in accordance with the relevant collective agreement.
Then, wages will be reduced two percent and no further increments will be paid for three years. If I am misreading that, I am sure the Minister will clarify it. But, it looks as if only one performance increment will be paid before the two-percent rollback and the three-year wage freeze takes effect.
The Yukon bonus reductions will be legislated into the existing collective agreements - another nail in the coffin of collective agreements and collective bargaining. Why are they afraid to go to the bargaining table to achieve the savings that they claim they need?
I would like to give the Minister some of the comments of Yukoners. There is a growing distrust of government within the union membership and there is a growing distrust of government outside the union membership. A Faro constituent wrote, "Your government recently signed a collective agreement with the teachers. Was that a totally meaningless gesture? In signing a contract, you made a binding, legal commitment."
I would also point out that this last negotiated contract with the teachers saved the government $2 million. So, what is government's commitment worth? Is this it - to overthrow, by legislative force, an agreement negotiated and signed in good faith - this is both unethical and immoral. One cannot rule by whim. If one professes to lead an honourable government, one must stand by one's commitments.
I think the Yukon Teachers Association stated it very well when they came up with the formula to create a Yukon deficit. Here is the formula: add an independent MLA - sitting over there, the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission - and subtract collective bargaining. Multiply the problems, divide the community and that equals a government with a moral deficit - not a financial deficit. It is a moral deficit they have over there.
The Yukon government lacks credibility. The public places very little trust in it. Partnership with education workers has gone.
The wage restraint legislation further indicates that this government has no vision, no accountability, and is prepared to legislate unnecessary wage restraint, rather than engage in the democratic pursuit of collective bargaining.
There is no earthly reason to support this legislation. When the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission stated, "We are the politicians and we are the government. We, as the Legislature, run the government", he was signalling his autocratic attitude. This legislation is not about two percent; it is about a mean-spirited, dictatorial, closed-minded government imposing its will on the Yukon public service.
Surely they do not expect us to believe their own rhetoric about entering a decade of prosperity, when they are legislating wage restraint. There is no earthly reason to support this legislation. We are opposed to the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994, and we will be voting against it.
The comments we have heard today from the sponsoring Minister supporting this measure are completely unbelievable. I have seldom heard such fatuous comments in this Legislature - one platitude after another about whether or not we are living in the real world, homilies about ships in port, asking us whether or not we are doing the right thing, the just thing, the decent thing, calling us to view the real world, calling us to wake up and smell the coffee, as the Member for Porter Creek East once said, smell the coffee, give our heads a shake. It sounded all very familiar to me.
We heard that platitude about being a community of communities - the Joe Clark vision of the country. It sounded alarmingly reminiscent of the comments made when this measure was first announced - that we must be aware of the federal debt situation.
We must be prepared to do our part. We must fight the federal debt, the implication of course being very clear that whatever we were doing now was going to directly help fight the federal debt. Later on, of course, when we got into the Legislature, the Minister of Finance implicitly rapped the knuckles of the Minister for the Public Service Commission by saying, "No, no, we are not trying to fight the federal debt; we want to use all of this money for our own purposes, and we are going to do our darndest to get as much money as we possibly can from the federal government through
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formula transfer negotiations to ensure that we can support the needs of Yukoners first." The Minister of Finance went on to supplement that by saying that he was completely upset that the new federal Liberal infrastructure program was only going to be giving the Yukon a paltry $2 million. This was a program that was not even known about until the last federal election. And yet, suddenly, in order for us to survive, in order for us to be totally self-sufficient, we had to have more money.
So clearly, given that the Government Leader ostensibly speaks for the Yukon Party government, he is not a booster of the claim of the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission to want to engage this whole effort - to go through all of this trouble - simply to fight the federal debt.
The Minister went to some great lengths to tell us precisely what the federal debt was. I worked it out on the Clerk's calculator to being equivalent to $29,000 per person, and that is serious. That compares to $200 per person in the Yukon. We spend $11,500 per person in the Yukon - net, not gross, expenditures. We have an accumulated debt of $200 per person right now, according to the budget papers, which I will deal with in a moment.
The Minister goes on at some length to tell us what is happening in Alberta, what is happening is Saskatchewan and in other provinces. He is saying that because they have such a serious problem, they have to address their problem by taking rather remarkable and unsavoury measures. They have to look at cutting expenditures and cutting services to people, which is a painful thing for any government to do, and cutting employee wages.
In this country, at least one Premier has been cornered in a washroom on the basis of attempts to cut expenditures.
Essentially, our dear Minister is trying to equate the financial situation that the Yukon is facing with the financial situation that is facing every other government in this country that is engaging in the same activity; that is, cutting back public service wages.
We can all agree that other governments are facing some pretty serious situations. Saskatchewan spends 30 percent of its gross expenditures on debt servicing. It has a problem.
Here, we have a surplus. By the Government Leader's admission yesterday during Question Period, we do indeed have a surplus; we have an accumulated surplus. So, obviously, the government's and Minister's claims that we should be looking to other jurisdictions for guidance and direction are clearly unwarranted, given the relative state of financial affairs between this government and other governments in this country.
If the Minister were to come clean and say that he believes that public servants are paid too much, I would understand that argument, coming from a Conservative. I would disagree with it, but we would have that debate. However, he says that we have a serious financial state of affairs in this country, which must be addressed unilaterally by Yukoners. The Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission does not say unilaterally. He says he wants to be in there, mixing it up and fighting the federal debt. He has to listen to the Government Leader, because we have to listen to them both, and the Government Leader is fighting for the Yukon. He is not turning back a dime of this money to the federal government and fighting federal debt, and he is upset that we are not getting enough in the federal transfer negotiations, but also in every other program the federal government is engaged in. He is also protesting federal off-loading, to boot. That was the latest thing yesterday, or the day before. He does not want that to happen, either.
I do not know how the Minister is going to manage all this in his own mind, or how he is going to juggle all these conflicting claims - but I have been trying to do it, because I am a very interested observer of what the government is trying to do.
The government then tells us to believe them. They said they were getting their financial house in order. The Minister went to some great lengths to say that the government had really wrestled the financial crisis we have to the ground.
We were looking like we were in pretty good shape, so when they came to us last year and said "we must have $8 million out of the taxpayers' pockets", the person who is driving down the street right now, right on the other side of this wall, has $200 less in his pocket because the people across the floor said, "we have to have that, so fork it over, and we have to have it because our budget is drawn tighter than a drum and we cannot find one penny, not one dime; we need that money to balance the books. We do not need the money to roll over for federal bureaucrats. We do not need that money because somebody else saw the cold stare of federal financial officials telling us we are not paying enough in taxes. No, we resisted that ogre; we need it because we have to balance the books."
So, what happens? Well, four months later, we find, lo and behold, there are $7 million savings found for a special project. Now the Ministers say "Well, what is wrong with a special project? We believe in it." Well, it is not a question of whether or not we believe in that special project or $7 million for highways, or $10 million for a school - if the government ever decided it was going to build one - or any number of other projects. That is not the point. The point is, in order to fulfill their spending estimates of April/May of last year, they needed every penny, and said they could not reduce spending it by one dollar.
When we had to go through the process, because the government had backed off - I think thanks to even this Minister, I do not know, when he was more independent minded - and had to rearrange its taxing plans, delay it a bit, and consequently we would not get $1.8 million worth of revenue, does the Minister remember what we did? We amended those operation and maintenance budget estimates 43 times because we were so tight in the estimates - so incredibly tight - that we could not possibly find one dime available to reduce the new tax grab that we were going to inflict on the taxpayer.
Then what happened? We had the $7 million worth of savings we found for the special projects. That was a surprise to many of us. Then we came around to budget time last November. That was only six or seven months ago. The tighter-than-a-drum spending estimates from these wizards of financial management turned back $15 million - they could not spend it. They thought they could but, in the end, they could not.
They told us last spring that they were going to table budgets in the spring, because they were going to have accurate spending plans. They were not going to be like that evil NDP government, trying to table budgets way back in November, and then having money lapse through the year. I have quotes here from the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes - quote after quote - and also from the Member for Porter Creek East - I know a good friend of the Minister of the Public Service Commission. We have quote after quote here - four separate budgets - from Hansard, complaining about the lapsed funding, and complaining that, if one tabled one's budgets a little later in the spring, one would not be forced into the situation where one was lapsing so much money, telling us the government wants this money, insisting that taxpayers give up extra tax dollars, and then coming back and not being able to spend it. The NDP were bad managers. They cannot manage their way out of a paper bag.
We did have our budget tabled in the spring. We did have our wizards of financial management in charge for the full year. The first time they came back to the Legislature for a little corrective measure, they gave us back $15 million worth of various capital works programs that we were assured were going to go ahead and put people to work.
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What was the next thing that happened? The next thing that happened was that a new budget was tabled - this budget. This budget said we may have proposed a record budget last year, and we are going to have a very large budget this year, but it is going to be down a little bit, because we are getting the government expenditures under control. Overall total expenditures are coming in under control, and they are coming in under budget.
They did a very neat little thing - I have never seen it done before. They proposed that they were going to spend $468 million, but it was not a record spending budget. Why? Because they had set up a couple of little slush accounts that, for the purpose of the budget papers, were either not going to be spent, or they were going to be spent. Nobody knew. They were in limbo.
This all came down to a surplus for the year of $5.6 million, and an estimated accumulated deficit of $6.2 million. What happens then?
We protested. You cannot have money in limbo. You are either not going to spend it, or you are going to spend it for the purpose of calculating your surplus deficit position. No, the government is going to have it both ways. So, we have this money sitting there in limbo.
Then, we have to go down to the estimated accumulated deficit from March 31, 1995. Initially, the government pretends there will be no lapses for the past year. They calculate none, and they suggest there is none. The Ministers continually argue there is going to be a $6.2 million deficit. The Government Leader, who is the Minister of Finance, in Question Period only yesterday, after he knew what the lapses were, still insisted - because he wanted the deficit so badly - that there was a deficit. When the simple arithmetic was pointed out, he said there would be a surplus, and what was wrong with that? It would be $2 million to $4 million, so what was the big deal? Were we afraid of surpluses?
I am not afraid of surpluses. There have been surpluses in the past. They were not invented by this government; however, I am concerned about the honesty in the projections.
What happens next? The government says they are going to spend less money this year - $468 million. In reality, even though they will not admit in on the budget papers, they are going to spend an extra $6.5 million net, which is going to make this a record spending budget - the highest budget in the history of the Yukon Territory.
We then find out that the Ministers are going to bring in wage restraint measures, because they need to balance the books. Then something happens, and there is a delay. Things are not going as planned. Things are supposed to come down, lickety-split. We were expecting this wage restraint measure. We were told last year that they needed to raise taxes in order to balance the books. We were told this year that they needed to show financial restraint and to cut public servants' wages in order to balance the books.
Then, suddenly, we discover yesterday that we are going to lapse $8 million to $10 million. We discover today that it is really $30 million in gross spending. If you add that to the $15 million they have already turned back, they are turning back $45 million from the estimates of last year. That is 10 percent of the budget.
We have not even finished the year-end accounting yet. These are the accurate managers. These are the managers who told us they knew how it was to be done. Unfortunately for this Minister, a lot of what is being said now by the government to defend this particular measure sounds a whole lot like the taxes argument from last year. We were told it was absolutely essential to have every dime of that $8 million, and that if we were going to shave it back at all, we were going to have to amend the budget over and over again. This year, we are told that even though last year's budget lapsed by $30 million, and that there was a net lapse of $8 million to $10 million - probably more than that, really, is it not? - and because we are lapsing this money and we have the same financial projections in this coming year's budget, one would suggest that maybe this budget is not particularly accurate either.
What we are faced with is a concern that what the government is saying is that their tighter-than-a-drum budget is a pretty loose drum. The problem we are faced with is that the Minister, supported by the Government Leader, goes on the radio and says that these savings are going to be carried on for years. He tried to bootleg in that little comment he made to try to demonstrate that they are super-efficient managers. He referred to the unexpected lapses as resulting from increased efficiency. As I mentioned, he wanted to bootleg this bogus claim that somehow this lapse - this money unspent from last year's padded budget - was a result of new efficiency measures. If it is the result of new efficiency measures, or if even a large portion is, they should be turning back some of that money.
If they do not turn it back to pay back people's taxes, they should be turning it back to the public servants so the public servants can go out and provide a little consumer confidence in this territory. Or, they could be building some schools that they are refusing to do. The problem is they are not promising to do any of those things.
Some Hon. Member:
No, they are not. The Minister of Finance says it is a good idea to consider giving back some money to those poor taxpayers. Well, he did not say that today in Question Period.
Unfortunately, what we have here is a budget for which we can expect - given all the absolutely secure claims that we were given at the same time last year - the sun was shining just as it is now, we were in the same position, everybody was sitting in the same desks as they are right now, except for one critical one. Then we were told this $480 million estimate was absolutely essential. Now, we are dealing with this estimate for this year and one might be inclined to believe that maybe nine or 10 percent of this budget is not exactly real.
So, when somebody comes along and says, "We need ... we absolutely have to ... there is no room to manoeuvre whatsoever and if the Members do not do what we say, we are going to have to amend this budget many, many times."
If we do not agree with less than one percent of the government's budget cuts - being this wage restraint measure - then they are going to throw this whole budget into turmoil. We know last year's budget was not thrown into turmoil and it was out by 10 percent.
This government is not believable. No matter how many times this Minister stands on his feet and makes these claims, or the Government Leader stands up and protests he knows the truth, it will not be believable because now the government has a record. The record is a dismal one when it comes to financial projections and claims that they are on top of things.
Some Hon. Member:
We have heard, over the years, that only these guys on the opposite benches know how to manage money. We have to make it clear that it is these guys who have been saying that these guys are the good managers. We have been told by these guys that, when they set up a budget, they know what they are doing. When they ask for money, it is for good purpose. It is well planned, well considered, and essential. If they have to build a liquor store, it must be built. If they have to shave expenditures or cut services in a particular program, it is absolutely essential. Why? Because we have to balance the books. We want the budget projections to be right on the money, because we know what we are doing.
If they have to extract some dollars from the taxpayer's pocket, it is absolutely essential, and how dare anybody anywhere, or any
Page Number 2736
other Member, particularly a New Democrat - who never raised taxes, because it is only the Conservatives who have experience in raising taxes - not defer to the experienced tax raisers, who know what it takes to balance the books.
Thankfully, time goes on, and people are accountable for absolutely everything they say and do. When the government told us last year that they needed the taxes, and then ended up not spending that money - they asked for $8 million, and ended up giving us back $10 million net - the budget was not as tight as they said it was. It is not believable.
What can we possibly expect then? We have been told that Canada has a big debt and that everyone else is undertaking measures like this. We are told that, despite the $30 million in lapses this time around - $15 million in the fall - all these lapses are both efficient management and, also, one-time savings.
There are so many different signals coming out of this government, it is very hard to tackle them, present reasonable arguments to the contrary, and be consistent, yourself.
We in the NDP caucus, as the Member for Mount Lorne has already indicated, believe that this measure is not justified on financial grounds, nor is it justified on moral or ethical grounds, in our opinion. The Members have put up a lot of arguments claiming financial need, and doing so while they are sitting with all that slushy money around them - they are just slushing around in extra cash. They want us to believe that, somehow, they are still the tight fiscal managers whose credibility is such that they can tell people they should be giving up a little extra, or should be accepting a cut in services or paying more in taxes, and they expect us to believe them. This is not going to happen; it will not happen. It is not believable, it is not reasonable, and it cannot happen. I have been in this Legislature long enough to know what has happened in the past with respect to public servant wage increases.
Some of the Ministers on the opposite benches have complained at great length about the last collective agreement signed by the New Democrat government. They have said that a six, six and six settlement was far too excessive, and it should not have been done.
They said so when the agreement was signed and they said so not because the economy was in rough shape - it was a heck of a lot better than it is right now - but because they felt the public servants were being paid too much and they said so because they felt that the private sector wages should be comparable to public sector wages. That is what they said then. If they are being ideologically consistent, they would be saying that now, but no, they have made these bogus arguments about financial need. They still stand up with all the gusto they can possibly muster, slushing around with cash under foot, saying they have nothing, no money in their pockets whatsoever, and they expect us to believe that.
If these increased efficiencies that are supposed to carry on for years are to be truly realized, if we are actually going to buy this line that they are more efficient as a result of their managerial wizardry, then of course this $10 million translates into $30 million worth of savings over the next three years - or $40 million including last year, into the next three years. That is plenty of money to pay for a couple of schools - I can think of J.V. Clark or Grey Mountain Primary - and give the public servants back their wages; give them an increase.
At the same time, they could give back those poor long-suffering taxpayers their money, too, and that accumulated debt could be wiped out.
Now we are not going to do it. We are going to do it their way - their way or the highway, and they mean literally the highway. It is going to be a highway. We are going to put the money into a highway.
In the past, while I was in this Legislature, the government was busily giving out, up until wage restraint legislation, an average of 10.5 percent per year to employees. They knocked them back through wage restraint to six and five percent in 1983 and 1984. When one compares that to the cost of living at the time, it is pretty comparable to a slight increase over the cost of living over that period.
When the collective agreement was signed for 1990 - the three-year collective agreement, the six, six and six - the inflation rate in the first year was 6.7 percent. I have to admit I was a little nervous at the time that, perhaps, there would be some suggestion that we were paying our employees less than the rate of inflation. At the time, at least, it was expected that this GST-driven inflation was going to carry on for some considerable time. Nobody had any idea - including our own Finance officials - that John Crow was going to tighten the money supply so much and strangle the economy to the extent that he did in order to drive down inflation, causing high unemployment, kicking the living daylights out of the economy to bring that inflation rate down. Nobody expected that. Nobody believed anybody in his right mind would do it, but somebody did.
In any case, at the time, there was every expectation that that settlement would accommodate the GST-driven inflation increase. For our part, we felt it was quite a reasonable approach, certainly consistent with government actions in the past, and consistent with the Conservative government's actions prior to 1985.
Now there is no accommodating people's ideological views. Obviously, there are some people who feel that public servants should just be paid less. If that is what the Ministers believe, they would probably do their cause a great service if they simply just said that. However, they are trying to avoid it, and that is why they are getting into so much serious trouble now because of all the various messages - all the gloom and doom over the last 18 months, then the all-clear signal. The siren goes "all clear, everything is fine" and then, look out, there is the doom and gloom: "we have to raise taxes." So, everybody gets into a blue funk, clouds cover the territory, consumer confidence plummets, and we need to have new fiscal measures taken. Then, a few months later, we have the money again, we found some more money, everything is fine, there is the all clear. The siren sounds again that everything is going okay.
Then, of course, we have the new gloom and doom scenario that things have toppled, once again.
We are riding this roller-coaster of gloom and doom, right through to economic self-sufficiency, right through to the good times and then, within a period of a few months - voom - and it all happened in 18 months. We have been to the depths of the roller-coaster ride a couple of times. We have been to the top a couple of times. I do not know what we are going to do next year. This year we are cutting public servants' wages, last year it was tax increases; what is it going to be next year? What trumped up fiscal crisis are we going to have next year? We are probably going to have a situation where we are sitting on $20 million or $25 million accumulated surplus -
Some Hon. Member:
The Minister of Education says that we should be concerned about Opposition pay. We are the ones in this Legislature who are not guilty about taking home a pay cheque, because we know that we are earning it. Now, if the Members opposite want to continue to cut their pay cheques, and feel some guilt about that, I can understand that entirely.
Order. The Member has about five minutes left.
I promised my colleagues that I would be short and pithy.
I must say that this Minister ought to be very careful about
Page Number 2737
lashing his fortunes onto this roller-coaster, because what reputation he has left is going to be shattered by his latest association with this government, and with its fiscal policies. I do not know how he let himself be sucked into this incredibly exciting ride that they have taken him on. The Minister of Education is reassuring him that everything is okay. I am sure he will get a pat on the back. Nevertheless, the government's credibility, and by association, the Minister's credibility, is really at an all-time low.
We cannot support this measure - period. We certainly cannot support this measure on the information that the government has given us. We cannot support it on the basis of their claims about fiscal or financial projections, or the financial need, because we have heard it all before. It was bogus then, and we said so. We now know it is bogus, and we have the proof - we are sitting on the proof. There is really not much more that can be said.
I will leave it at that. I have a number of things that I would like to pursue in Committee with the Minister about more precise projections of their financial need, what they expected to gain from this particular measure and what the government feels is essential for it to balance its books in the coming year. I am sure that after we spend a couple of hours on that topic, we will have some figures that we can rely on for a couple of months.
I want to reiterate that because of the credibility gap, I do not think that we can support this, and I know that I cannot.
I am loaded for bear. I rise today to put my position on the record with respect to this legislation. I listened to the 12:30 news; we had been tipped off that there was a crisis-management emergency press conference called by the government today to explain the position of the government, because they found that they had this extra $20 million.
This is what the news reported: "The Yukon government will have a hopping budget surplus for the last fiscal year of almost $20 million, but Government Leader John Ostashek says it caught him completely off guard and the trend will not last."
How can the government Ministers even expect that the public would believe anything they say? How do they expect to have any credibility? The previous speaker referred to this government as slushing around and being knee-deep in money. They are knee deep in something, but it is not money.
The press coverage goes on to say that he says the surplus does not eliminate the need for wage restraint: "Officials have projected spending for the next several years and without the restraint the government will be back in trouble within years. Ostashek says it is those projections that justify the need for wage restraint and justify the continuing cost of savings measures."
Just yesterday, and again today, we had the Minister of the Public Service Commission saying exactly the reverse. We had him saying that because of fine fiscal management and because of efficiencies, they are going to carry on with the savings for years and years and years.
I have a lot of trouble with this particular piece of legislation and this particular issue, and I have discussed this with the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. This government took a principle, a concept, an idea, whatever one wants to call it, that I, as a conservative thinking politician, could have supported. I cannot find words to describe what they did to it, but they have made it almost impossible for me to support it. Every time we discuss this issue, I have to take a Gravol because I get so upset with what these people have done.
The management of this particular issue is worse - worse - than any controversial issue this government has had to deal with. It is worse than the Curragh issue - worse than that. It is worse than the Taga Ku disaster - absolutely worse. And it is worse than the way they handled the tax increases.
I remember the debate on the schools versus highways - the Minister of Education was the star in that debate and his performance was absolutely abysmal - and this is worse than that; this is worse.
I also remember the professed concern about conflict of interest - the Government Leader's performance was absolutely abysmal - and this is worse.
This is not just my opinion. I hear this from the general public, on the street. I hear it from Yukon Party supporters, who will, I notice, no longer defend this group of people. All they have to offer as an argument now is, "Well, what is the alternative?" That is no argument.
I can remember being a member of the Conservative Party and, as the Conservative Party was kind of on its roller-coaster going down, I used to think to myself, "God, can it get any worse," and I would say, "No, no, it cannot get any worse." But it did. It got worse and worse, until we got to the stage where we elected a 21 year old leader for the party who did not know whether he should be leader or not and who ended up quitting. It went down the toilet.
Yukoners keep hoping. Bless their hearts they keep hoping that things will get better with this government. But you know what? From past performance and past history, I have no doubt in my mind that things are only going to get worse.
That is depressing. It is very depressing.
No one sitting in the public gallery today, and no one in the public, would be surprised or think something inconsistent had happened if I stood up and said I had no problem supporting the two-percent rollback.
I have been consistent. I spoke out against the 19-percent pay increase prior to an election, so I do not take seriously the threat of electoral defeat. I think some Members on the other side of the House had better be taking it fairly seriously, but I do not because my position has always been clear on the record.
I spoke out about the 19-percent pay increase, because I thought it was excessive for the time, and it was. We have heard all of the speeches about the zero percent and the two percent that other Canadians were taking, and we have had our lecture in national unity and all of the rest of it this afternoon, together with the compassionate speech about our friends living in the real world in other parts of Canada.
I have a lot of constituents here in the Yukon, all of them who are living in the real world. All of them have had to suffer a tax increase, because of the inability of this government to manage the finances.
I have no problem with the two percent. If this bill simply said a two-percent wage rollback, I could even extend it to making that for a few years. I see the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission saying five years, well five something -
Some Hon. Member:
He is saying five percent. I am on the record as having said that I could have supported a five-percent wage rollback. I took a five-percent wage rollback; we all did. I could support that. I had constituents coming and telling me that they could support that, but that was back a year ago when we were supposed to be so broke.
The government is saying that we are going to have $30 million worth of extra money, so how do you tell them they have to take a pay cut? It does not even make sense to people on the street who support this idea.
You cannot justify that to people. It is not a rational, commonsense, logical approach to thinking. You know, the two percent is just fine. The government could have gotten rid of the Yukon bonus. I might not have had too many constituents happy with me that I was agreeing with the government doing that, but I probably could have lived with it.
Page Number 2738
The way in which this issue has been handled has been disgusting, and it really bothers me.
The impact that the handling of this issue has had on the community, on the people, on the public servants, on the business community, I find absolutely unforgivable. I find it unforgivable that this government has treated people this way.
The government could have imposed wage restraint in the last budget. They could have rolled back wages - taken a percentage off the top, left everything else alone. We were supposed to be broke. They could have had their money and negotiated the other aspects, but they did not.
I suggested I would support the Government Leader in that kind of initiative. The Government Leader raised everybody's taxes instead and stuck his hand into every Yukoner's pocket and pulled out a big handful of money. And then, he had the gall to stand up in the House and say, "Oops, we under estimated how much money we were going to get from this and we are going to get twice as much money from the tax increases" and he criticized me for referring to it as a tax grab, and then tried to blame it on Ottawa because Ottawa's figures were not in, or were not accurate, or some silly, ridiculous thing.
They had that opportunity to do it. Then, the next opportunity was after the negotiations. That was another controversial issue that the government handled in an absolutely abysmal way - but this is far worse. So, they go through a negotiating process. First, they pick the same representative to be at the conciliation table that gave the 19-percent pay increase. I do not know what mileage there was in doing that, but that is what they did. A lot of people do not think that was a very wise choice.
Then, there is the conciliator's report. I get a phone call from the Government Leader asking if I would support this government in rejecting the conciliation report. I had some discussions with the Government Leader. I said, "If you are not happy with this agreement, if you have some ideas of something else you want to do - wage rollback, whatever, let us talk about it. I will support the government in not accepting the conciliator's report and if the government has to put people back to work, fine."
Well, I hear from the Government Leader that they are not going to accept it; the next thing I hear on the radio is a big news announcement that the government has decided to accept the conciliator's report. I am sitting in my office thinking, "Well, this is new," so I phone the Government Leader and I say, "Hey, John, what has happened? I thought you were not accepting the conciliator's report."
"Well, we had so many phone calls, we had a bit of pressure," et cetera, et cetera. Well, when I heard on the news that the conciliator's report was accepted by this government, that was the end of it.
I never dreamed that two or three days after the Member for Porter Creek West joined the Cabinet we would be hearing announcements about wage restraint legislation. It just did not make any sense to me. If the government was going to do this, why did they not do it before they accepted the conciliator's report? Why did the government not to it at that time? That would have been a more honest, appropriate, and up-front way to do it.
Can the government not see how bad it looks? I made a comment to somebody that I wonder who the government's strategist is with respect to some of these issues? The person said to me that they do not have any strategy, and their strategist works for the Opposition. It is a joke out on the street. This government is just a joke.
I have been consistent in opposing the tax increases that this government imposed on Yukoners. I have been perfectly consistent with that, as I have been with wage restraint measures. I have asked the Minister of Finance to remove the tax increases and to give the money back to Yukoners. He stood up in this House and said that he wanted to do that, but he could not - he could not do it in this budget. He would not tell us why, at the time, but he said he could not. I asked him more questions about that today, and he still could not tell us why - after you announce that you have $20 million of extra money, and then you say that you still cannot give the tax increases back.
I know that the government does not need my support to pass this legislation. I know they take great delight in saying, "Firth opposed the legislation. She opposed the two-percent rollback." It would give the Minister a new little ditty to sing, instead of "It's Bea and the NDP" - or whatever he keeps singing. It would be worth it to disagree with it just to give him a new ditty to sing.
If we talk about dealing with a dignified group of people, or the dignity of the House - really - there is nothing dignified about the actions of this government and the way they have been doing their business.
I know that the government does not need my support for this legislation, but I have had lots of discussions with my constituents about this particular bill. I am in a dilemma. I can support the two percent, but I have a great deal of difficulty supporting this government and the way they have handled this situation.
I would like to ask the government, since they have this new revenue, since they found this $20 million worth of money - perhaps even $30 million - if they will give the money back to Yukoners and get rid of some of the tax increases that they have imposed on Yukoners?
That way the public servants who are going to take the two-percent rollback will get some money back in their pockets and other Yukoners will get some money back in their pockets. We will take it away from the government, because I do not think any Yukoners have any confidence in the way they are spending the money or their ability to spend the money.
I have no doubt that if you asked Yukoners where they would rather the money was, in the government's purse, or in their purse, they would say they want back in their purse.
I see that as a reasonable approach. I could maybe manage to support this legislation if there was a commitment from the government to give Yukoners back some of their tax dollars. The Minister of Education is tisking away there.
Some Hon. Member:
The Minister of Education is saying that I cannot bring myself to vote -
Some Hon. Member:
I would put my track record of consistency and being able to vote and not flip-flopping and waffling in the wind against that Member's any day - absolutely any day.
Some Hon. Member:
Order. Please allow the Member to carry on.
This Minister of Education has a real bad habit. He has several of them, but this is the one that most people talk to me about. He has a bad habit of saying things. He talks so fast that he says things he has not even thought about yet. It really does get him into trouble sometimes.
We will see what happens come next election time. I do not have any apprehensions or anxieties, like I know the Member for Riverdale North does. Time will tell a lot of tales.
Now, where was I?
Some Hon. Member:
Before I was so rudely interrupted is right.
Some Hon. Member:
Taking a Gravol, yes.
Some Hon. Member:
Order. Would the Members please try to refrain
Page Number 2739
from provoking the Member and allow her to attempt to stick to the subject.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I do not really mind. It is all part of the fun of it, is it not.
I want to know, I want to hear from the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission or the Minister of Finance, or anybody in that government, one consistent position that is going to be representative of exactly what the government's position is, because we have not heard that. We cannot have one Minister standing to say that we are going to have certain savings and have them carry on for years and then have the Government Leader on the radio say that we are not broke now but we might be broke in 1997, so we have to carry on with this wage restraint - and that it is all the previous government's fault. People just are not prepared to accept that.
As I said, I object very much to the way the government has handled this situation. I also want to hear from one Minister, whomever it is going to be, to hear them tell us in this House and tell Yukoners what they are going to do to salve the divisiveness that has been created in the community.
I was so upset when the union representatives lashed out at the business community - many of whom are my constituents, and many of my constituents are public servants as well - to see Yukoners opposing other Yukoners and at other Yukoners' throats because of some poorly handled, poorly thought out, badly planned initiative by this government. I want to know what they are going to do to repair that damage and to try to bring Yukoners together again. I want some answers. I want to know what happens now.
I have no hesitation in thinking that this is going to go on and on and on.
I have heard from the business community that they are feeling the impact of something - they are not quite sure what it is. They are assuming it is the controversy over the wage restraint legislation and that public servants are not spending their money because of the wage restraint legislation. I think it is probably a combination of things. The tax increases reduced consumer spending. I just have to talk to a few of my constituents who have told me that through a combination of their electricity bills going up, tax increases, the fact that the territory is in a turmoil with respect to wages of public servants, they are not spending any money or that they are spending much less money.
It is very easy to find all the problems and to bring all the problems forward. I am interested in suggesting some solutions.
I strongly believe that one of the solutions is to get rid of the tax increases Yukoners had to suffer. I will be very interested to see how one Minister - one person on that side of the House, with one consistent story - will stand up and address that issue, and tell me whether or not that is going to happen.
I have to make special note of how the teachers were treated. The Government Leader told me how great the negotiations had been with the Yukon Teachers Association, how cooperative they had been, how they had given concessions, and so on. I was very surprised, when the announcement was made with respect to the wage restraint legislation, that the teachers had been included in it. We have tried to get answers about that from Members in the House but, so far, we have not received one answer with respect to why that decision was made. There was an answer from the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, who anticipated bad negotiations, so he said they would be included anyway. I believe that was the gist of his argument.
I do not think that was the right way to treat people, nor a fair way. I had no hesitancy in supporting some wage restraint initiatives, when the negotiations broke down with the Yukon Employees Union.
Perhaps someone on the government benches can clear that up for Members when he speaks - and clear it up for the teachers and the general public.
What are we going to do about this issue? What is the government going to do about this issue? What is the solution?
I am sure all Yukoners are interested in hearing what that solution is. I am certainly interested in hearing from either the Minister of Finance or from the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. What is going to happen? What is the solution? How are they going to resolve this issue?
How can they justify this argument? I want to hear some facts. I want the argument of the Government Leader that the government will be back in trouble within years to be justified. What does that mean? One Minister is saying that we are going to continue to save money and the other Minister is saying we are going to be back in trouble in years.
Another statement made by the Government Leader in the big press conference that was reported on at noon was this: "When I was phoned in Gimli that they were coming in better than was expected" - that was the numbers we always talk about - "I had a meeting with my officials over the weekend and we decided at that point to give $8 million back to the employees over three years, and that is exactly what we did. But, the surplus does not eliminate the need for wage restraint, because they are going to be back in trouble within years." The Minister said it would be something like 1996 or 1997. I think we should have that cleared up. One cannot, on one hand, take away from people, and then go and say "well, we will give a little bit back, but we are going to be in trouble again." Why are they giving it back, if we are going to be in trouble down the road?
We do not really know that because we cannot get one consistent story from two Ministers on the other side of the House, so, I think it is only fair to tell Yukoners exactly what that means. For a government that preaches, on one hand, that they are wise managers with prudent fiscal management and yet, on the other hand, they are saying "well, in a few years, we are going to be in a deficit again," it just does not make any sense.
It does not make sense to me, it does not make sense to my constituents and I do not think it makes sense to the majority of the Yukon public.
I just have to go back to the whole debate about budgets in the House, right back to the first budget that was brought in - the first big deficit budget. The government's position now really would make one question of whether or not they did pad the previous budget. We have had debate back and forth in the House about it. I have always been kind of skeptical and suspicious that that had happened. The government has always denied and we get the same song from the Minister of Education about the Auditor General's report. I think the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission even stood up and talked about the $64 million deficit.
It would be very interesting for all Yukoners if we could get one consistent, factual commentary from one Minister on the government side that represented the government's point of view on any issue, but this issue in particular, which, as I have said, has been one of the worst handled issues that this government has had to deal with.
I know that there are other Members who are anxious to speak this afternoon. I am not going to go on; I have pretty well said all that I wanted to say. All their contradictions, inconsistencies, incompetence and talking out of both sides of their mouths is a discredit. All of the comments that are made about politicians, I find to be a discredit to all of us when the government cannot clearly state its position.
I had someone ask me about the 19-percent pay increase; they
Page Number 2740
asked why I did not agree with that 19-percent pay increase. I said that I could anticipate what is happening today - this whole issue. It was one reason why I did not support the increase.
I think that we have a lot of very good public servants in this government and I think they are well paid. I thought they were well paid before the 19-percent increase. I think they will continue to be well paid if there isa two-percent rollback.
That is nothing new for me, but for some of the Members on the other side of the House, it is a completely new concept, because they have used so many phony excuses as to why they had to pursue this initiative.
First we had the deficit; we were broke, which would have been a great time to roll back wages; you could have probably had a lot of public servants support that initiative, but instead they increased taxes. Then we used the issue of the big deficit. We needed to get money for the deficit, only they are a year late because the deficit is gone and we now have a $20 million surplus.
The argument is not even logical any more, except for the Government Leader saying, "If we carry on, in 1997 we are going to have a deficit again." I just want some clear, concise statements of fact from the government. I do not want a bunch of excuses, and a bunch of different reasons. I want to know where they stand. I want to know what their position is with respect to the 19 percent. I want to know what their position is with respect to the pay scales that the government employees are getting. I want to know what their position is with respect to the huge discrepancy that has been created between the private sector wages and the public service wages. Those are all reasons that I disagreed with the 19-percent wage increase. I have not heard that enunciated from any of these Members - from none of them. I have not heard one clear statement of philosophy or principle, or anything.
I will sit down. I look forward to hearing what the Members have to say. I do not know what they are going to do about their communication problem, and how they are going to clear that up. Maybe one of the Members could talk about that this afternoon, in conjunction with the solution and getting Yukoners back together again. Perhaps they could give us some idea of what their plan or their vision is for that particular outstanding issue. I am going to support this piece of legislation at second reading, to get it into Committee. Then I think that we will have some long, soul-searching debates in Committee of the Whole, and an opportunity, I hope, to get some answers to our questions. I will make the decision as to how I will vote at third reading when we get there. I will have an opportunity to stand up and speak to it again at third reading.
I have to say that this whole debate and exercise has had a slightly hallucinatory air about it, right from the very beginning. There was that rather hallucinatory press release that launched the wage restraint action into being.
I have just been going through my file today, trying to figure out what the facts are, and what the suggestions are with respect to the facts. Here is what the action means to the employees of this government - the teachers and the Public Service Alliance of Canada employees.
The data I have been given indicates that, over the three years of the wage freeze, inflation will be something in the order of six percent. The numbers I have are, for 1995-96, 1.9 percent; 1996-97, 2.2 percent; 1997-98, 2.3 percent; and they appear to come from the Conference Board of Canada. So, arithmetically, it is something in the order of six percent over the three years.
There is a rollback of two percent, then there is the Yukon bonus, which I think might be one percent, if I have done my calculations right. Uncompounded, a simple arithmetic addition is a nine-percent rollback over the three years. That is what it means to the employees.
What is in it for the government? What is in it for the people? What is in it for the citizens?
The initial press release purported to tell us that there was some sort of financial problem around that had to be solved. If I can go back to the initial press release, which was a masterpiece of obfuscation, the Government Leader was quoted as saying, "We had two choices, and we decided in favour of wage restraint over layoffs." He talked about personnel costs making up 43 percent of the operational costs, or approximately $161 million.
The Government Leader went on to say in this press release, "Laying off a large number of employees would have an enormous impact on the individual employees and their families, as well as the economy of the Yukon. The price of that, especially on families, would have been too high."
That is the groundwork for the sort of fear crescendo we are building up to.
Then there are the public pronouncements on the debt and the deficit - the need for dollars to build schools and the need for dollars to do this and the need for dollars to do that. There is even some suggestion that we were going to all chip in and help out Mr. Chretien with the federal debt.
Then there were the questions put to the Minister of the Public Service Commission on wage levels and the confirmation that was given to the Minister's answers by the Government Leader. I would just like to revisit those for a moment.
On April 18, the Minister of the Public Service Commission was asked this question: is it the government's position that the members of the Yukon Teachers Association and the government union are overpaid in relation to other jurisdictions or in relation to the Yukon private sector?"
This is the Minister of the Public Service Commission's answer: "No, that is not the question. The question is not whether or not teachers and Yukon government employees are overpaid or underpaid. The question is what we, as a government, can afford to pay them today and over the next three years."
Then the Government Leader chipped in. He was asked this question: "Would the Government Leader assure this House that what is driving the wage freeze and rollback is simply a financial problem that has nothing to do with the wage levels, either in comparison with other jurisdictions or in relation to the Yukon private sector."
This is what the Government Leader had to say: "I have no problem assuring the hon. Member opposite, this House or Yukoners, that it is in fact being driven by financial problems, the balancing of our budget and getting the costs of O&M of government down. Nothing else."
So we know that, as at April 18, 1994, there was no problem in the government's mind with comparative wage levels. What is left unexplained is the reason why the press gets hold of all this documentation with comparative wage levels, bar charts and graphs and box charts and whatever they are called, with wage levels from across the country showing that our public servants are paid well. What, of course, is conveniently forgotten is the higher cost of living here.
We then have this other rationale that was mentioned in the original press release, and that is job security. The original press release talked about large numbers of layoffs, and immediately following that press release, a few days later, we have the Government Leader saying that he is not finished with downsizing.
Eventually, we get some numbers that the savings that arise from the public restraint actions will be something like $4 million per year. Taking off your shoes so you can count all of the employees, that amounts to about 80 employees. It is difficult to believe that this whole action, if in fact it was a genuine trade-off
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for job security could be based on the savings of 80 jobs. Not that those 80 jobs are not important, but one is led to believe that, here on one hand, if we go along with this proposition and cut back wages, we are going to save a lot of jobs.
Let me go back over the verbiage again, "Laying off a large number of employees would have an enormous impact on individual employees and their families, as well as the economy of the Yukon." We have to think that at best that is a slight exaggeration.
What we heard today was perhaps one of the real rationales: we have to have wage restraint legislation because other people have it. It is something like the Personal Property Security Act or the Vital Statistics Act. "They have one of them there acts in Ontario so we had better have one." I think what he referred to was Canada, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and some other provinces.
Now Canada has a real problem; Mr. Chretien has a real problem. Ontario has a real financial problem; Mr. Rae has a real financial problem. Saskatchewan and Mr. Romanow have a real financial problem, and Newfoundland and Mr. Wells have a real financial problem. The Yukon and Mr. Ostashek do not have a real financial problem.
If we look at the national debt, if we are talking about the national debt, which I think is around $500 billion, and the population of this country is 27 million, give or take a few, that means that we have a per-capita debt of roughly $20,000.
In this territory, we do not have a debt, as has been expected for some time and as was confirmed today.
So, what is the problem we are really trying to solve? That is yet to be shown, and there is some suspicion as to what is driving it.
Let me go back in time, though, before I address that. I have some apprehension about the whole process that has taken place in the last three months.
As has been mentioned by the Member for Riverdale South, we have seen our employees - the taxpayers' employees, the citizen's employees - played off against the business community. We have seen anger on both sides - very unproductive anger. We have seen a government very coy about giving out the numbers, and a strong suspicion that the numbers never really existed in the first place - that this whole thing was launched on a hunch.
What is perhaps most apprehensive to me is that there has been an intellectual lock-stepping by various people in the community with the government's propaganda machine. I have heard people say, "Well, yeah, they should be cut two percent." I put the question to them, "But why?"
"Well, there is a financial crisis."
"Oh, what is the financial crisis?"
"Well, you know, they should be cut two percent."
I have to say this about the Chamber of Commerce, and I know we have been beating on the Chamber of Commerce here.
Some Hon. Member:
Oh, they beat on us, do they?
Well, we have been beating on the Chamber of Commerce. I am going to give them their day in court here today. Here is what the Chamber of Commerce had to say: "There is a really strong belief out there that over the last four or five years, there has been a tremendous disparity between the public sector and the private sector, particularly with wages. Chamber members said they are frustrated with hiring and training people who then go on to jobs with the government that pay nearly double. Wages for private sector employees cannot compete with government." One member said she advertised for a position for $1,400 a month and, in the same paper, the same government position was advertised for $2,300.
At least the Chamber of Commerce is articulating the real reason for this exercise. I would have to say that if, in fact, the Members of this Chamber on the government side feel it is appropriate to try to smoke their own employees with reasons that do not hold water, then I cannot be part of that.
The Minister for the Public Service Commission indicated he would be clear and upfront with his reasons. I would have to remind him that when he is clear and upfront with his reasons, he should bear in mind what the Government Leader had to say on April 18, 1994: "I have no problem assuring the hon. Member opposite, this House or Yukoners, that it is in fact being driven by financial problems, the balancing of our budget and getting the costs of O&M of government down - and nothing else."
If in fact the deficit and the debt turn out to be illusory, as would appear to be the case, there has to be some explanation given by the government as to why it is not pulling in its horns. For that reason, assuming that that explanation is not forthcoming - as it has not been for the last eight, 10 or 12 weeks - I will not be supporting the legislation.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I rise today in support of the legislation. I will say I am very disappointed, especially by the arguments from the Member for McIntyre-Takhini. I was hoping for a more valid and consistent argument, rather than the same old rhetoric we listened to in this House during the budget debate last year and during the supplementaries debate. It is the same old rhetoric: "We left you in good shape; you do not have a financial problem."
Some Hon. Member:
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
It was the best in the country, the Member for Faro says. It is a good thing the government changed.
I just want to put this on the record now. What we said in the spring debate on the budget was true and consistent. The Auditor General verified it in the Auditor General's report. The Members opposite said, "Wait until the Auditor General's report comes out. That will prove that the government is just trying to smoke this one by the people of the Yukon." The Auditor General verified the figures. I do not have any doubt that the Auditor General will again verify the figures that are coming out in this budget - the 1993-94 year, and again, we will be proven to be consistent.
The Member for Riverside says he has to see that we need the wage restraints. Well, we do need the wage restraints. We do not have a $20 million surplus, like the Member for Riverdale South said; we do not have anywhere near a $20 million surplus.
Some Hon. Member:
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
The NDP calculator is going again. That is all they talk about - apples and oranges. We are talking about annual surpluses and deficits, and accumulated surpluses and deficits. That is the NDP calculator. That is what got them into so much trouble.
Some Hon. Member:
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
Listen to the Member for McIntyre-Takhini. He was on his feet, and he had nothing to add to the debate - absolutely nothing. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini talked about $30 million dollars in surpluses that I mentioned in Question Period - $29.8 million are the best figures that we have now. What he fails to point out - just because it does not support his argument, is that $15.3 million of that is lapsing recoveries that we know of to date. That brings it down to $15 million right away.
Some Hon. Member:
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I will go with that. That is what we will have. When the figures are all in - that is what we will have. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini made much about us giving back $15 million that we could not spend in the supplementaries. Again, he failed to add to that that we gave back $21 million in recoveries, for a net increase of over $5.4 million.
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The point is that they use figures to try and smoke it by everybody in the public out there, and to try to discredit this government, and they have not been very successful at it.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini goes on to say that we have a slush fund set aside - I think he used that term - of $4.5 million and $2 million in the 1994-95 budget. He went on to say that never before had he seen anything like it. He was absolutely flabbergasted by it. It was just unheard of.
We are not even asking them to vote that money. We are just showing that we are going to spend it. How can it be a slush fund when it is not even voted? We will be coming back to this House with a supplementary. The Member opposite said that never before has this ever happened. I ask him to go back to 1985-86, 1986-87, and those years when they had a line right in their budget called "contingency".
Would they have been happier if we had just added the $6.5 million to the surplus, like they used to do, and then come in with a supplementary and spend it anyway? At least we have given an indication that we intend to spend it.
Yes, they had a line right in their budget, called contingency. Never before had anything like this ever happened in this Legislature. They have very short memories, I can see that.
I also found it very amusing when the Member for Mount Lorne said that they did some research on previous wage increases. I understand the figures she quoted were the ones that were asked for by them, locked up and provided by PSC - great research.
The Members opposite are trying to point out what a huge amount in lapsed funds there is - 6.7 percent. That is such a huge amount, as if they never had any lapsed funds. We go back through the records and look ...
Some Hon. Member:
Order. Would the Members please allow the Member to speak without interruption. I believe that courtesy was extended to the Members when they were speaking.
Some Hon. Member:
After I called order, I felt that things were fairly mannerly, and I would like to keep it that way.
Some Hon. Member:
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I want to address the point raised by the Member for Riverdale South that says we have this huge $20 million surplus. On the projections that we have put out, $19,255,000 is the annual surplus. The Member opposite seems to forget that there was a $13 million deficit on the books that has to be addressed. Take that deficit off, you are talking about a $5.9 million accumulated surplus, if all the figures come in as presented now, and I believe there will be more adjustments to be made to them yet. Even if they did, for the best case scenario, we are talking about less than a $6 million surplus. That is what we are talking about.
I just want to go over the comments made by the Member for Riverside and the Member for Riverdale South on why we need the wage restraints. Let us look at two scenarios: one with wage restraint and one without.
If we go with wage restraint, based on the best information that we have today for projected revenues, and based on 1994-95 expenditures, we would, in 1994-95, rather than showing the $5.6 million surplus that is in the estimates before Members now, it would be reduced to $400,000. In 1995-96, it would be reduced to about $750,000. By 1996-97 - and this is with wage restraints, if we do not cut government costs in other places - we would be back into a deficit of almost $2 million.
By 1997-98, we would be back into an annual deficit of $6.5 million and back into an accumulated deficit of $1.2 million. Clearly, we are not asking our employees to pick up all of the burden of balancing our books. We are just asking for them to contribute some to the cause of getting the books balanced and getting the financial house in order. We are going to have to continue to address the costs of government. We have clear indications of what is coming from Ottawa.
The Northwest Territories has had surpluses for two years in a row, yet they are looking for a five-percent rollback from their employees, based on what they expect to be coming in the next formula financing agreement.
We can stick our heads in the sand. We can say that we do not need to do it today, we can let it go, we can let deficits continue to grow. Pretty soon we will have debt and debt financing. I want the Members opposite and the Yukon public to tell me where the money will come from for debt financing with our small tax base in the Yukon. It will have to come out of these programs. It is the only place the money can come from.
We also have to have discretionary capital. I just want to go over what is happening to discretionary capital over the years. In order to be able to really compare this, we have converted it all to 1986-87 constant dollars.
In the 1985-86 capital budget, there was discretionary spending - that is money that the government has the ability to spend wherever it wants - of $45 million. Ninety percent of the capital budget was discretionary spending. Ninety percent.
In 1994-95, in 1986-87 dollars, we had $36 million in discretionary capital.
Now that is a dramatic drop. It is down to 38 percent of the capital budget, in constant dollars. What has happened over the years, is that the cost of O&M of government has gone up, and the money has come out of the capital side to pay for that increase in O&M in the government. Payroll costs make up a big portion of the operation and maintenance budget. We have to curtail the costs of payroll, as well as other areas of the O&M budget.
Let us take a quick look at what would happen, based on the same numbers I used for the projections to 1997-98 with wage restraint and see what would happen without wage restraint. When I say, "without wage restraint", I am not making any allowances for increases that could have come about by collective bargaining in the next few years. If we just look at the wages now, without any wage restraint, starting with the $19 million supposed surplus this year, that would leave a $5.9 million accumulated surplus. Next year, we would be down to a very mere $77,000, over and above a balanced budget. By 1995-96, we would be back into annual deficits of $1.4 million in 1995-96, $5.2 million in 1996-97, and $9.3 million in 1997-98, and we would end up with about a $10 million accumulated deficit, based on the revenue projections and the spending of the 1994-95 budget.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini said, "Well, if they were going to take that money and build some schools, at least they would be doing something." We want to do that. We do not have the ability to do it, because we do not have the discretionary capital right now. We have to cut the O&M costs of government to have that discretionary capital, so that we can build those schools that we need. We have to build about three of them in the next two or three years here. It will cost $25 million or $30 million in the next two or three years. Where is the money going to come from, if we are just going to go along and stick our heads in the sand, and say that we have no problems. If we just let the O&M of government go, there will be no money for capital projects. That is why we need the wage restraints. That is why we need to continue to control the costs of the O&M of government. That way, we will be able to get our finances back in order, so that we will have some money for capital projects. Let us be very clear here. Those capital budgets done by this government keep a lot of Yukoners working.
A lot of Yukoners depend on that highway job for their year's work. What about the single mother who is out there flagging on
Page Number 2743
the highway? That is the only job she has. What about her? Is the Member not worried about her? There are lots of jobs out there, and it is the capital budgets of this government that keep those people working.
I am not going to speak much longer on this right now. I just want to get on the record and make some corrections to some of the rhetoric from the other side. We will have a good, vivid debate in Committee. I would hope that we can convince the Members opposite that we are on the brink of a financial problem.
It all depends if one wants to walk right on the edge of the cliff, or take a few steps in and get a bit of breathing room.
I have put out projections on what I believe is going to happen in terms of revenues and expenditures over the next four years. If the Members opposite are not prepared to accept them, tell us what they expect the revenues to be. I am prepared to listen. It is easy to criticize. We have done the best we know how on the figures we have today based on what we expect to be coming down from Ottawa, and every other jurisdiction in Canada is doing the same thing. Certainly, we are not in as bad a financial shape as other jurisdictions and, Lord help us, I do not ever want to be in that condition.
Let us be clear that this piece of legislation is a triumph of right-wing ideology over necessity; it is a triumph of right-wing ideology over democratic decency.
We have governments across this country, including the government on the other side, talking about reforms when they mean cuts.
Let us be clear what cuts mean. Cuts hurt people, cuts make people bleed, and cuts produce pain. This bill is politely called the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act. What is its purpose? Its purpose is to cut people's pay. Why are we doing it? Because of some financial imperative? No. We are doing this based on a deep philosophical belief by Tories that working people, including public sector workers - teachers, nurses, clerks, managers and highway workers - are paid too much money.
The second reason is - and let us be blunt about this - that Tories - whether they are called Reform Party Tories or Yukon Party Tories, or recently reformed Independent Alliance Tories - do not like unions, and they never have. I will come back to that.
When this initiative was first announced by way of a press release back in March, I was asked by CBC what I thought, and I said that, firstly, I doubted there was the financial need for it. That question has certainly been put to rest today. Secondly, I said that I was fundamentally opposed to the way the government was going about it. Instead of dealing with this question in free collective bargaining, instead of dealing honestly, directly, fairly and democratically with its own employees, treating them like citizens, adults and human beings, it was going to impose its will. Would it have done that last year? No, because they did not have a majority but, now that they have a majority, they are going to do what they like.
The Government Leader talked about walking near a cliff. Well, I have to tell you, I would not walk anywhere near that guy, because he is wearing a blindfold. He asks why we cannot accept his numbers and projections - because he keeps changing them, almost every day. We have heard the position of "We are in debt, the sky is falling, the world is going to end". Then, it is "Don't worry, be happy, everything is all right", and then, the next minute, we are back in debt again - "We have to crush those public employees, take away the democratic rights of teachers and working people". Then, today, we discover, "We have a lot of money after all, but we will go ahead with this legislation anyway."
I looked at the opening words of the Government Leader's 1993-94 budget address, where he is defending his tax increases and crying crocodile tears. He said they do not like having to do this, that no government does, but it is necessary, and he knows Yukoners do not want to see us sink into the quagmire of debt that is plaguing virtually all other jurisdictions in Canada.
Well, we do not have any debt. From whom do I get that? Who can I trust, whose word can I accept on that point - the Deputy Minister of Finance, a professional public servant, who said it on the radio, just recently?
The Government Leader again refers to his wonderful budget statement, in which he claims they have cut spending. However, below his bottom line, they have added a couple of little slush funds of a $4.5 million and $2 million contingency - contingencies that were done away with a few years ago, on the recommendation of the Auditor General, I might point out, because it was felt they were dishonest budgeting.
You have to make two points here - it is very simple. The Government Leader said he is going to spend this $6.5 million. If he is going to spend it, this next budget is not below the previous year's.
If he does not spend it, he does not even have a current-year deficit. But typically they try and have it both ways, because on Monday, Wednesday and Friday they want to say they have a deficit and the sky is falling and the world is going to end, and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they want to be able to say everything is all right, there is going to be 10 years of prosperity, do not worry, be happy, there is a surplus.
In announcing that they were going to go ahead with this legislation, the government put out a press release and claimed that these moves will save Yukon taxpayers an estimated $10 million between now and March 1998. Employees are going to have their democratic rights taken away from now until the end of the century almost, but the government is going to save $10 million.
Imagine what those employees must think today when they listen to the radio and hear that the Government Leader suddenly found $20 million under his mattress. It was a surprise - totally unexpected. He was flabbergasted and has to call a press conference about it. Look, clever me, I found $20 million.
Of course, his colleague, the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said it was planned all along. Perhaps it was one of those planned surprises, like a little gift one gets at Christmas, or a surprise party.
It does suggest that they are not working entirely in sync with each other, and it reminds us of two basic facts: one, we have no debt; and, two, we have no deficit. We would not even have a temporary deficit if we had not had the write-offs the government was so energetically applying, I think, mainly to make the previous government look bad if they could - anything with a slightly pink tinge, they wrote off.
What is interesting about this press release is the statement in it that says that one factor for changing their original pronouncement was that they had input from government workers. What an astonishing thing. I guess that means people wrote them letters and made phone calls - Opposition Members asked questions. The problem is that that is not the way collective bargaining is supposed to work.
Collective bargaining operates on that basis, but in this country, the law is that there is a legally constituted bargaining unit that represents the will and the wishes of the workers. The people at the table are elected and chosen by those workers. Those workers go to the table and provide their input. It is done in a process of give and take that goes on until such time as they reach an agreement. That is not what happened here.
Today, we had this announcement about the sudden windfall and, over the last few days, curiously, we have been hearing, all of a sudden, about savings and efficiencies. Is this not a classic
Page Number 2744
When the NDP was in government, this money, known as underexpenditures, were called "lapses" and were referred to as examples of bad budgeting, inefficiency and incompetent management. Suddenly, with a wave of their rhetorical wrist, Mr. Drown has converted them into savings and efficiencies - not something negative, dark, depressing and discreditable, but something wonderful and positive - a mark of success for the government.
Now everybody knows, with the exception of the Government Leader, it does not matter what government has been in power, that the average lapses have been $6 million operation and maintenance and $12 million in capital for the last few years. The Government Leader finally admitted today that that is probably going to continue to be the case - further evidence that there was not even a current year deficit this year.
The Minister of the Public Service Commission really irked a lot of people when he wrote the employees. Not because it was public bargaining in bad faith and totally inappropriate behaviour for someone responsible for collective bargaining, but he actually claimed in his letter something that I think he knows is a complete falsehood. He said the government had inherited a $64 million deficit. Everybody who knows anything about it knows that the government did not inherit a deficit, they invented and created a deficit. They wrote stuff off, and they tried to make everything look as negative as they possibly good.
The Members on the side opposite keep talking about the Auditor General. I remember the Auditor General saying that, from their perspective, the expenditures were on track with the budget that year, up to period 9.
They were in government for half the year. Suddenly all of the expenditures that were on target were their responsibility, and everything that was over target - the over expenditures - were the responsibility of somebody else.
Some Hon. Member:
I do not mind if they heckle me; it only encourages me. It is fine. If they say anything intelligent, I will take note of it. It has not happened today, but it may.
What is the ideology that drives this particular crew over there? Is it that the public sector is bad, the private sector is good; business is great, labour is horrible; Conservatives are geniuses, New Democrats are dunces. There is a whole pantheon of beliefs, most of which are patently, provable as nonsense, but they still cling to them like religious fanatics. One of their articles of faith is that they believe in smaller, leaner and meaner government. We got the meaner, there is no question about that. The leaner is a little more difficult to prove. The only sense in which we can say that is that they are leaning more and more to the right, since they have a majority. I think their competence in government is questionable, but I will not say anything about that.
What is interesting is the claim to smaller. That is really interesting. The statistics the Government Leader likes to use like a lamppost demonstrate, it seems to me, by my reading, that since this government has come to power, there have been more public sector jobs created than private sector jobs. That is quite an achievement for a right-wing, Conservative government. Even more interesting is this: did you know that according to YTG Bureau of Statistics the public service of this government of lean and mean right-wingers has grown in the last couple of years? In January 1991, there were 3,020 public employees; in January 1993, there were 3,102. In April 1991, there were 3,106; in April 1993 there were 3,149.
I want to point this out, because I know the Minister of Education will want to know this. In June of 1991, there were 3,187 employees, and in June of 1993, for a brief shining moment, there were 3,173 - 14 less than two years before. A major effort, and the Government Leader says he has not finished downsizing yet. Well, the facts look like they have not started, and perhaps we should be glad of that.
It is interesting that they keep talking about the 19 percent collective agreement, which happened during a period when the Yukon had the fastest rate of growth of any economy in the country. It happened when we had one of the lowest rates of inflation, conditions that were far superior to the time when the Tory government previously gave a 43-percent increase to the public sector over five years - under the previous Conservative government, and some of the people over there were actually proudly associated with it.
Mr. Speaker himself got irritated with my arguing that Tories have a conscious policy of trying to drive down the wages of working people. In fact, I can demonstrate that statistically fairly clearly.
During the period of the 1980s - the high-rolling Reaganite, Thatcherite, Mulroneyite 1980s, when all the yuppies in their BMWs were making millions a year - in Britain, the United States and Canada, a very interesting thing happened. Real wages of working people went down everywhere, but guess whose incomes did not? The people in the top one percent, with incomes averaging over $120,000 a year, did extraordinarily well. They piled up incredible riches. At whose expense did they do that? They did it at the expense of working people, and there is plenty of evidence to show that, in Conservative governments everywhere, it was quite a consciously designed policy to reallocate national income upwards.
An excellent recent article by a labour economist in the New Republic made the case that the decline in wages in North America, particularly in the United States, has been almost entirely as a result of the decline in labour unions. How have labour unions declined? Because governments, starting with Reagan's abolition of the air traffic controllers, and then private businesses, no longer sought cooperation, no longer sought social contracts, no longer sought fair collective agreements, no longer sought the consensus about the social wage, but consciously and quite deliberately began to try to drive down the share of the national income of working people.
What the Yukon Conservatives want to do with employment standards and with free collective bargaining, what they want to do to teachers and what they want to do to public servants, is a story as old as Canada itself.
It began with John A. Macdonald's betrayal of Canadian workers when he pretended to give trade unions rights but in fact did everything to make them illegal. In many places in this country, the army and the militia were used to put down strikes by working people. They were used in strikes by canal workers in Ottawa, by ship builders in Montreal, coal miners in Nova Scotia and in British Columbia - where the working people became very radicalized early in this century, in places like the Dunsmuir coal mines, because they were denied basic union rights.
It is interesting to look back and see when the printers union, for example, organized the Toronto Globe. The great Liberal leader of the time, George Brown, did a very innovative thing in order to break the union. He began to do something that had never been done before: he began hiring women. I hasten to add that he did not do it because he was a feminist; he did it because he could hire women at a fraction of the rate he had been previously paying men. Others sought to break unions in this country by importing immigrant labour who would work much cheaper than the previous employees.
The radio in this recent week has been talking about anniversaries
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of the Winnipeg general strike in 1919.
There was the absolutely absurd piece the other morning by the gentleman from the Fraser Institute, who was arguing that the reality is that working people are capitalists now, and capitalists are all workers. That is quite absurd in a country where you have a chairman of the Bank of Montreal earning $1.4 million a year, and other people trying to struggle by on the minimum wage.
The Winnipeg general strike was interesting. That was a case where returning soldiers - people who offered to give their life in the First World War - found that there was no housing or jobs for them, and the government would not do anything, even though they had been fighting for their country. When the police of that city wanted to come out in sympathy with the other workers, the police were all fired. The business community and the local Conservatives hired militia - vigilantes - to put down the strike. This is a famous incident in Canadian political history, because the first leader of my party, J.S. Woodsworth, was actually arrested and jailed for quoting the prophet Isaiah during that strike.
I am sure Mr. Speaker, as a religious gentleman, knows that the prophet Isaiah talked about the rights of people to gain from the fruits of their labour.
We had R.B. Bennett during the 1930s with his relief camps, which were run by the Department of National Defence, where troublesome, unemployed workers were put into camps and paid a dollar a day, until they broke out and rode the rails east, where they were met by the police. R.B. Bennett ordered the police to meet them in Regina, and there was a riot.
We had the famous case of Lester B. Pearson. He did not like the politics of the Seafarers International, so he brought in a gangster from the United States, Hal Banks, to take over the union and make sure that they moved in the right political direction.
We have other Conservatives, like Clyde Wells, breaking promises about collective bargaining to their own employees.
In this country, we have had a long history of contempt for working people by Conservative political leaders. Locally, one of the best examples I can think of is the incredible case that we had in the last few months, with the Government Leader following a successful round of bargaining with the teachers, in which the teachers gave up $2 million. The government complimented them for their behaviour, their constructive contribution and their manner of bargaining. What did the teachers get as a reward? What was their reward for civilized conduct, constructive behaviour, for bargaining in good faith, for trying to be responsive to the concerns of the government? Their reward was this legislation.
We have to understand that what the government here has done is bad enough, but what is worse is how they have done it, because it is not just a question of money. This is a question of people's democratic rights. Instead of doing the brave thing, the right thing, by sitting down and genuinely trying to negotiate a collective agreement, we stuck a gun to the employees' heads, gave them an artificial deadline and then said, "If you do not settle, we will legislate".
They did not try to legislate when there was a minority government. That would require an act of courage. What they did was wait until they had a majority and then do the cowardly thing; rather than negotiating, they legislated.
If one looks at the recent history of this country, on privatization, on contracting out, downsizing, cuts and free trade - the whole corporate agenda of lower wages, fewer jobs and a smaller public sector - it seems that we are destined to repeat the same mistakes that were made by our grandparents, two generations ago. It seems we have forgotten the real lessons of the last Depression in North America, which many economists now believe was caused by the reduced purchasing power of working people after they had endured cuts and cutbacks and reductions in wages.
They forget the lesson that Henry Ford had realized as he discovered the logic of mass production - that if one wants one's own employees to buy one's products, if one wants to have a market for one's markets, one has to pay the people enough to be able to purchase them.
I heard a little tiny timorous voice in the back row on the other side saying, "What about Bob Rae?"
Well, Bob Rae and Roy Romanow, and a lot of other people, were left with multi-billion dollar deficits, in some cases by Tory governments that talked a great rhetorical line about deficits but left a real crisis for their successors.
What happened to Bob Rae? I am not going to defend negotiating under a gun. It is a matter of fact that there were hundreds and hundreds of collective agreements negotiated under the umbrella of the social contract in Ontario. We did not even try to do that here - we did not try. It is a pity, because one of the things about the Charlottetown Accord - people remember the Charlottetown Accord that was in Prince Edward Island, not one of the other Atlantic provinces - was that we actually had a moment there where some of us who believe in the democratic rights of working people, actually had enshrined in the Canadian Constitution - at least in the draft - the idea of the right to join a union and the right to bargain collectively. Had that constitution passed, and it did not - the Canadian people rejected it, I understand that - it would have been very difficult for this government to do what it is doing today. I believe that the right of assembly, the right of free collective bargaining and the right to join a union are very important rights in a modern democracy.
I do not argue that they are absolute rights. I want to be clear about that - no right is. If there were a genuine crisis, if this territory were facing financial collapse, if there were a natural disaster which required extraordinary measures, then I would argue that, for a brief period, democratic rights might have to be suspended. Even in provinces where it has been very tough going, such as Saskatchewan, where the Tories - that fiscally conservative Tory - left the province $15 billion in debt, the government negotiated with its employees. It was tough and it was difficult, but they got collective agreements. What is that government doing now? Unlike this government, it is improving the benefits for part-time workers in employment standards. It is recognizing that there are big changes going on in the marketplace, but making sure the weakest and the poorest people in society are going to be protected.
Let us face it. Unions are not that popular nowadays. Unions are losing members. Unions have little power in the current political context. They are easy targets for cowards and cheats and conservatives. They have been consciously victimized by right-wing governments and by big business for the last decade and one-half.
I have mentioned this before. I remember a great Premier of Saskatchewan, Allan Blakeney, once said in all seriousness - and Allan Blakeney is nothing if not a serious man - that Tories really do love deficits. They love deficits because it becomes a kind of god they can worship, to whom they can offer up human sacrifices and justify cutting every service no matter how necessary or how needed. The Yukon does not have a debt, it does not have a deficit; in fact, we have $20 million the Government Leader just found today that he did not even know he had, but we are proceeding with this legislation anyway.
We talk about level playing fields and social responsibility and collective good. In a democracy, the collective good and social responsibility is achieved in a dialogue between equals, between people working at the same table with similar rights and similar abilities and the right to speak freely and negotiate freely. We do
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not have that. It is important to ask the question in these anti-union times: who are the unions?
Unions are composed of working people. They are recognition of the fact that someone, whether they are a truck driver for White Pass or whether they are a retail clerk in a food store or a teacher or a clerk for this government, has very little power and influence when it comes to bargaining for wages and for working conditions. How do they redress that imbalance between the power of their employer and their own individual power? They join unions and try to work collectively.
The union members are not the ogres, thieves, gangsters or monsters they have often been painted in the popular press. They are, in fact, our friends and neighbours; they are ordinary people.
What do unions do? On a day-to-day basis, unions give voice to their members and provide the input to employers that the Minister of the Public Service Commission was trying to get by other means. They synthesize that voice and they provide it in a crystal clear way to their employer about day-to-day problems that arise as a result of grievances or other workplace hassles.
Periodically, they go to the bargaining table to bargain for wages and working conditions for their members. Contract negotiations happen a thousand times every day in the commercial sector, happen in the government sector and happen between governments and businesses. There is nothing mysterious or awful about the fact that employees do that and should do that with their employers.
Where do unions operate? Almost everywhere. It so happens that one of the reasons women are so underpaid in the private sector is that they are not very well organized. There are not very many private sector unions that have a large number of women. In the public sector, the situation of women and men is much better. That is why women earn more in the public sector, and that is why their wages are closer to being equitable to men. It did not happen by accident. It happened as a matter of conscious policy of the unions, and in this territory it happened as a result of negotiations at the bargaining table.
Why do they exist? They exist because the power relationship between employer and employee - such as the power relationship of a government that, when it does not like the position of the union, can just legislate them out of existence, if it wanted to, or legislate away the rights of the ordinary worker, who probably does not even have any real sense of free speech about this question - is enormous.
You bring people together to work together, to try and rectify that imbalance. How do they do it? They do it through grievances, they do it through public education, and they do it through bargaining.
Because the financial necessity of this has not been well demonstrated by the government, nor has the method by which the government is proceeding been justified, my fear is that what we are seeing here is a continuation of an age-old problem - a hard reality - that Tories do not respect the rights of working people. Their position is that they should be seen and not heard, take what they are offered and keep their mouths shut.
We see how readily, loudly and enthusiastically the government opposite echoes the position of the Chamber of Commerce on many things but, when it came to discussing something like employment standards, the concerns of working people were barely noticed in their rhetoric.
I think the Liberal Leader is right. In terms of making arguments to justify this kind of initiative, or in terms of expressing concerns about disparities in wages between the public sector and the private sector, the chamber has been much more articulate, logical and coherent than the government. Of course, the chamber usually does not want to look at the situation of disparity between wages in the private sector and the public sector when it comes to the case of professionals - lawyers or engineers, for example - where, in the public sector, they are paid much less than in the private sector. It is not a neat and simple picture; it is much more complex than is sometimes admitted.
There will be lots of arguments about the financial necessity here. In my own view, the case for these cuts has not been proved. Let me argue that, in a purely political sense, they may be popular with people who are not public employees or members of public employee families.
In these tough times, in this recession that we are in, there may be some feeling of vengefulness, or of a need to settle old scores, or to bring in some rough justice on the question of public sector pay.
For me, the much more important question here is what this says about the right to collective bargaining, and what it says about this government's respect for that right. If this right can be disposed of, or put on the back burner, or put on hold so easily by a party with barely more than one-third of the votes of the people in the territory, and their allies, then every other right that we enjoy as a citizen must be at risk. The right to be consulted by various sectors of the economy, including labour, has already been abandoned by the Government Leader. They are no longer consulted on questions such as the economy. Other rights are also at risk.
I want to argue to the people in the gallery, to the leaders of the Yukon Teachers Association and the leaders of the Yukon Employees Union that, if this government is allowed to get away with taking this right so easily, and if they take the right without a fight, this democracy is in real trouble. The taking of money from people is one thing. It may be argued that governments do that all the time. However, I want to say to the Members opposite, who may not like my citing history, that working people in Manitoba, for example, have not yet completely forgotten the Winnipeg general strike. There are people in this town who participated in, and had their heads bashed by police during, the Vancouver post office sit-in a few decades ago.
Order please. The Member has about five minutes left.
I will not even use that. People will remember how this government treated them in this situation. Nobody here is going to argue that teachers are starving, or that public employees are going to have to sleep under bridges or go out on street corners with begging bowls - that is not the point. The point is this: did a government that has to stand for re-election two years from now respect their rights or not? Did it treat them with respect as citizens? Did it seriously try to bargain in good faith with them? Did it respect their intelligence and integrity and sit down with them and say, "These are the facts; we want to discuss them. These are our objectives; can we reach a compromise?" Were they treated with the respect that you would treat a brother, a sister, or a fellow citizen, or were they treated as solicitously as a voter might be treated on a doorstep two years from now?
I will not argue that the public sector employees will not forget what has happened here this day and this week. In fact, if the Government Leader had read his book, Reinventing Government, very carefully, he would read that the authors of that book recommended against treating unions and working people this way. It also contained a warning. It warned that public sector workers who have been treated this way vote in proportionately far greater numbers than anyone else in the election following that event.
We may not be able to stop the government from doing this thing today; we may not even be able to slow them down, but we are going to make sure that everybody who has been hurt by what they are doing will remember it the next time there is an outbreak of democracy in this territory.
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If the Member now speaks, he will close debate.
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
Several of the previous speakers have made good points that I accept as valid, and I acknowledge them. I am sure they will come up again in Committee debate and will be addressed at that time.
The last speech by the Leader of the Official Opposition was nonsense and deserves no response.
Are you prepared for the question?
Some Honourable Members:
Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, would you kindly poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
Hon. Mr. Brewster:
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
Mr. Speaker, the results are nine yea, six nay.
I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 94 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I move the House do now adjourn.
It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday next.
The House adjourned at 5:25 p.m.
The following Legislative Return was tabled May 26, 1994:
Public schools: salary of Assistant Deputy Minister of Public Schools falls under line item "administration" in the public schools branch (Phillips)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2500