Thursday, March 9, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with silent Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I would like Members to welcome Mr. Lloyd Freese. Today he is the chauffeur for our two young Pages from Haines Junction.Applause
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have a legislative return for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Ross River Training Initiatives
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certain of the Members opposite have demonstrated a great deal of interest in what the Department of Education is doing in Ross River with regard to mine training and with regard to our efforts to maximize the economic opportunities accruing to the residents of that community as a result of current and upcoming mining activity.
I am pleased today to reward that interest by announcing a contribution agreement between our advanced education branch and the Ross River Dena Development Corporation that will see more Ross River residents gain strong employable skills in the mining sector.
We will contribute $30,000, and the Development Corporation $10,000, to an on-the-job class I truck driver training program, targeted primarily to individuals interested in self-employment opportunities arising from the Anvil Range mining development, the Cominco advanced exploration project, or other mining activity that may occur in the region. During the six-month duration of this program, Yukon College will provide the classroom training, while Pacific Dena, a joint venture of Pacific Northwest Freight Systems and the corporation, will donate the equipment and drivers on its regular Whitehorse-to-Faro run, to provide on-the-job training.
This new agreement is just the latest example of the excellent cooperation that has occurred among the department, the Development Corporation, the First Nation, Yukon College and, most importantly, the private sector, to ensure that Ross River gets its fair share of the economic benefit from all the activity happening in that part of the Yukon. Much of that cooperation is due to the spirit of goodwill between the Dena and the mining companies, but I am proud that the Department of Education has played some small role in these developments.
As you will be aware, the Ross River Dena Development Corporation has in place an excellent socio-economic agreement with Anvil Range and will today sign a similar deal with Cominco. The corporation is also in the process of negotiating an agreement with the company developing the dormant Ketza River mine, an agreement that may ultimately see the corporation play a lead role in operating that mine.
In these cases, the department has played a facilitative and advisory role, and Yukon College will, of course, play a lead role in the delivery of any training resulting from those agreements. More directly, the department has provided $10,000 to the Development Corporation for an employment skills planner, who is currently assessing the entire adult population of the village to determine what employable skills and aptitudes exist, in order to plan for the most appropriate training. Cominco is also contributing substantial funding for that project. In addition, there are 11 courses being offered through the Ross River community campus of the college that have been funded from the $200,000 mine-training initiative announced last December. The department has also contributed about $30,000 over the last couple of years to the ground-breaking adult literacy project in Ross River, a project that has served as the model for similar initiatives in other Yukon communities.
What is happening in Ross River is just what should be happening in First Nations communities all across the territory in terms of participating in economic development. The First Nation and the Development Corporation are determining, in consultation with government and the private sector, how they want to be involved in and how they want to take advantage of upcoming economic opportunities. The nature of their participation is not being dictated from above, and they are not being forced to pick up the scraps after the fact. They are doing the planning, and we in the private sector are doing all that we can to help turn those plans, those dreams, into reality.
These efforts, I believe, are making a difference in the community of Ross River. There is a growing confidence that comes with self-determination. We do not believe that there is anything magic about that. It is just the result of good ground-up economic planning, and that is something that this government believes in very strongly.
Ms. Moorcroft: I rise to commend the initiatives that offer training opportunities in the communities. I would remind the Minister that we have a great deal of interest in what happens in Mayo, Dawson and Carmacks, and how all Yukon communities can take advantage of upcoming economic opportunities. I agree with the Minister that what is happening in Ross River is what should be happening in all communities.
It is disturbing that the Loki Gold development in Dawson is so far advanced, and that there has been no socio-economic agreement or training program, other than the $200,000 mine-training initiative that was announced in December. The Minister tabled a document when we were debating a new school in Dawson City. It said that there would only be nine local people employed at Loki Gold. I think there should be more training in Dawson, as well as in the other communities.
I would like to congratulate Chief Sterriah and the Ross River Dena Council. The leadership, which went to the Ontario Court of Justice to lobby the Court, contributed to the negotiation of a court order for a socio-economic agreement. Justice Farley, of the Ontario Court of Justice, ordered a socio-economic agreement as a condition of the Faro mine sale, which gave the Ross River Dena some leverage.
I believe that the spirit of goodwill that the Minister referred to was helped along by the leadership of the Ross River Dena Council, which played a lead role in demanding justice for its people.
This announcement is one small element of the training needed. The Minister referred to the $200,000 that he announced in December. When I compare that to $1 million for a Xerox photocopier, it is a very small financial commitment. Forty-thousand dollars for six months of driver training in one community is a small commitment compared to the millions of dollars being spent on machines by this government.
Government should play a lead role in encouraging the delivery of programs at the community level. I would like to know how the Minister will measure the success of this agreement for training. How many people are working in the mines in the area now, and how many people will be working in the mines in a year's time? What kinds of jobs do they have and will they have? It is hoped that this government will take its good work out into other communities, as we believe that it should.
Speaker: We will now proceed with Question Period.
Question re: Forestry policy
Mr. Harding: The Yukon Forest Coalition was recently formed to help give Yukoners a start in having a say in forestry policy development. To my way of thinking, people would not have had to take everything into their own hands if the Minister of Renewable Resources had been doing his job of bringing First Nations, the industry, conservationists and other stakeholders together to discuss forestry policy work for the Yukon.
The coalition recently proposed to the Minister an all-party meeting of the Legislature, together with the coalition, and he refused. Why would the Minister refuse such a positive step toward bringing people on side in forestry issues and policy?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I agreed to meet with the coalition first to determine exactly what the coalition wants from us. After that, I would then have no problem with an all-party meeting.
Mr. Harding: I would ask the Minister to read the paper or go to one of the meetings. Then he would have a clear understanding of what the coalition wants. Most Yukoners do know what it wants: work on forestry policy. There is a serious policy void in the Yukon.
Weeks ago, in answer to our criticism, the Minister stated that three government departments were busy as bees on forestry policy work. What specific steps have been taken since last month to involve First Nations who have serious devolution concerns and other Yukoners who want a say?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member opposite knows full well that forestry is the complete responsibility of the federal government. With the breakdown of the devolution framework that we anticipated, we are now going to concentrate on putting together a policy that parallels the federal government's policy. By doing this, we will be ready to implement a policy when devolution does take effect.
Mr. Harding: This government has been pushing for devolution. They want control, and last year they told us the transfer was imminent, so it is no excuse for them to say that it is the federal government's responsibility. The government should be developing a parallel policy process, and it seems that the government is now beginning to listen to us in those representations.
The Liberals have been allowing raw log exports and other devastation of our forest resources for far too long since they have been government. Does the Minister have any reason to believe that the Liberals are going to do anything different in forestry policy in the near future, if they continue to have control over forestry?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think the Member was at the meeting the other night. I am sure that he was aware of the interview with Mr. Chambers this morning. Mr. Chambers said that there are essentially three areas where the federal government wants to undertake consultation, and these areas include reforestation, stumpage and allocation of the resources.
Question re: Helicopter contract
Mr. Penikett: A northern helicopter contractor who bid for wolf-kill work learned that he was the successful bidder from an official from the Department of Government Services and proceeded to prepare to provide the service by leasing aircraft, moving flight crews and purchasing more insurance, at a cost of more than $60,000. Two weeks later, he learned, when he contacted the Department of Renewable Resources to inquire about when the work would begin, that he had not received the contract after all.
Can I ask the Government Leader why this business owner was told that he had received the contract in the first place?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding of the issue that has been raised by the Leader of the Official Opposition is that the individual was told that he was the low bidder and would receive the contract, subject to confirmation that he and another pilot are qualified as class 1 and class 2 pilots.
Mr. Penikett: That was, of course, not the understanding of the contractor, as it was reported to us.
I understand that the contractor, in this case, asked the Government Leader for an investigation of the situation. Can the Government Leader or the Minister of Government Services tell us what process was followed in the investigation of this matter?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes. I believe that the Bureau of Management Improvement was asked to investigate the issuing of the contract. It did that, and did a report. It concluded that there was nothing improper done.
Mr. Penikett: If nothing improper was done, why is it this government's position, as I understand it, that the business owner may not see a report of the investigation? Further, is it the position of this government that the business owner will not be compensated for the expenses he incurred after being told he had the contract?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I have not seen any claim for compensation by this individual. My understanding was that there would be an investigation because he expressed concerns both to me and to the Government Leader. We asked that the investigation be done. I do not believe this individual was at any time promised a copy of that report, but he was certainly told the results of it.
Question re: Social assistance, fraud investigations
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services about the social assistance fraud investigation last year.
At the time the fraud investigator was hired last year, the media quoted the Minister as saying that welfare fraud was a problem, costing government millions of dollars. Last December the Minister was quoted in the media as saying that social assistance fraud was potentially costing the government about half a million dollars - using the two to four percent fraud rate reported in other jurisdictions. Last month the Minister filed a legislative return showing the amount of identified fraud as something in excess of $150,000 and the number of files of suspected fraud is less than one percent of the total.
Does the Minister agree that the total amount of fraud in the system, both in terms of dollars involved and the percentage of files involving fraud, is considerably less than the Minister originally suspected?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: No. The best guess we have as to the extent of the problem is about five percent. This is quite consistent with other jurisdictions. We have not done enough to establish whether or not it is more, but the report I do have, which will be acted on in the near future with regard to putting out a tender for a fraud investigator, indicates that the losses would be about five percent of $10 million, or in the neighbourhood of $.5 million a year.
Mr. Cable: When the Minister announced the hiring of the fraud investigator last year, he stated that there was a backlog of two dozen investigations by the RCMP. The legislative return given last month states that the total social assistance file sent to the police, both before and after the investigator was hired, was 29. This suggests that the fraud investigator only turned up about half a dozen files of suspected fraud. Do I have my numbers correct?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The answer, unfortunately, is no. A great deal of things happened during the short period the individual worked on contracts for the department last year. First of all, a number of people came forward voluntarily, admitted that they had taken money from the department and made arrangements to pay it back. There was a category of people who actually "fessed up" and paid it back. There were people who applied for social assistance, and when they found out that they were going to be followed up on - that the verification team was going to check out what they were swearing to as being their factual situation - they got up and walked out before they even finished filling out the forms. The best evidence that we have is that the amount being lost to fraud at this point in time is in the neighbourhood of five percent, or half a million dollars per year.
Mr. Cable: Let us get at that evidence. It appears from the sequence of events, that most of the fraud was detected by the department, and turned over by the department to the RCMP before the investigator was hired. Why was it considered necessary to bring the fraud investigator in, if, in fact, the various files, as reported in the legislative return, were already in the mill?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: What happened was that a very small percentage of the overall files - those which were identified as possibly being fraudulent - were turned over to the investigator. Those are the files that were investigated by that individual. The verification team was sent on a different task, and will be supplementing that work from time to time, to ensure that the facts given the department by applicants are true. What the Member has is some very incomplete information that he is trying to draw inferences from, something that I am sure, as his background in engineering would lead him to understand, is a very risky business.
Question re: Curragh Inc. employees, payment of lost wages
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Government Leader. On January 4, 1995, the Government Leader gave a long-awaited ministerial statement indicating that my constituents and others were going to receive $2.48 million of the back wages they were owed from Curragh Incorporated. He said it was going to take some time, though, and in his ministerial statement he said that the delay results from the fact that there are other creditors who are not party to the agreement, and with whom attempts will be made to arrive at individual settlements.
I would like to ask the Government Leader for a progress report and ask him what steps the government is taking to speed up this process?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe when I gave the report in the House, I said it would probably be April before any monies would be paid out. This is only March, but I will check on it for the Member opposite and get back to him.
Mr. Harding: When the money is eventually paid out, the people who receive the funds are going to get a substantial tax bite. I have been looking into ways to try to reduce that and to find options for my constituents, such as RRSPs and investigating the laws as they apply to severance.
Could the Government Leader have his experts in Finance research some of the tax laws and find out if there are options available for dealing with this in the most appropriate way so that my constituents are not subjected to a huge tax bite when they do get the funding?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not at all certain that that is an area that the Finance department should be involved in, for two reasons. First of all, I think that it is a personal matter. They could talk to their accountants or to some tax expert about that. The other reason is that the income tax field is in the federal, not territorial jurisdiction. I will ask my officials if they could give us some quick response to that, but I am not sure how far we would like to get involved in it.
Mr. Harding: I am just asking the Government Leader to come up with some options that they could perhaps follow up, and I could give that information to my constituents. I should point out that most of my constituents do not have accountants.
I would like to ask the Government Leader, in terms of the people who are causing the delays in settling these individual problems regarding the creditor arrangements, who specifically is responsible for the delays? What companies are holding this up? Where is the problem?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know. I do not have an answer for him about that. I know that there were some outstanding claims that were yet being challenged in the courts. It certainly is not the territorial government - we have signed off on everything. My understanding is that the lien claimants have signed off, so it would be the secondary creditors. I will see what I can find out for the Member.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, privatization
Mr. Penikett: Following yesterday's Question Period, we had many, many, many questions about privatization. We recalled that in 1993, a government Minister said that the Yukon Energy Corporation would not be privatized. Then, we found out that the government was secretly negotiating to sell off part of the public utility. Still later, the Government Leader said that there would be no privatization of the Yukon Energy Corporation "at this time". Would it be rude and unkind of me to ask the government exactly what its position is on privatization?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: If the Member opposite is asking about the privatization of the Yukon Energy Corporation, we said that the Yukon Energy Corporation would remain in its present status for the foreseeable future. We have no intentions of privatizing it.
Mr. Penikett: One Minister said that he had considered privatizing highway maintenance; a day or two ago, another Minister said that if Norcan can, YTG will not; and as to privatizing the Yukon Energy Corporation, the Government Leader says, "Not now, later" - after the next election, if he gets a chance, perhaps.
Would it be fair to describe this government's position as being identical to the Liberal position, as expressed in Paul Martin's budget, when he said, "The government is committed to privatizing and commercializing government operations wherever that is feasible and appropriate."?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Since the federal budget came down, the Member opposite is doing his best to put the Yukon Party, the Conservatives and Liberals all in the same bed. He is working very, very hard at that.
I believe that we have made our position quite clear.
Mr. Penikett: As they say in Hillcrest, it certainly looks like a ménage à trois.
The Government Leader claims the employee collective agreements prevent him from privatizing things like highway maintenance, the Yukon Energy Corporation and the like, but we all notice that the Government Leader had no hesitation whatsoever in legislating a wage cut for employees, rather than negotiating one or respecting the collective agreement.
As a matter of government policy, will employees' consent be sought before any YTG operation is privatized - yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is fully aware that if government were to embark on privatization, it cannot do so at the expense of public sector employee jobs. The employees have to be looked after.
This is a hypothetical question that I should not even be answering. We would deal with it - in fact, I think I will deal with it - if and when it happens.
Question re: Xerox, business plan development
Ms. Moorcroft: I have a question for the Minister of the Public Service Commission about something that has happened.
Normally when someone is hired to run a government department, there is an open competition. The Department of Government Services awarded an untendered contract to a Toronto corporation to run the Queen's Printer.
Does the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission think it is all right for a corporate executive to come in and run a government department?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for Mount Lorne is being absolutely ridiculous, and she knows it, when she says the government has contracted for an individual to come in and run the Queen's Printer.
Ms. Moorcroft: That particular Minister seems to have not given up his portfolio as Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. I thought there had been a Cabinet shuffle, but I guess I was mistaken.
The Minister of Government Services said yesterday that the government had placed a person from the private sector into the offices of the Queen's Printer, because it required an individual from the private sector with the expertise to develop a business plan; that is what the Minister said.
I would like to ask the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission what qualifies some businessman from the Xerox Corporation in Toronto to run a government department.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: As far as I am aware, there is no individual from a private sector corporation running any Yukon government department.
Ms. Moorcroft: Let us look at the facts. Sixty days after three senior officials travelled to Toronto at the expense of the Xerox Corporation, the government awarded a sole-source contract to Xerox for management services, including strategic planning. That is what they might call a fast-track contract to provide those management services.
The Minister responsible for Government Services acknowledged yesterday that the government was defending that position to have someone come in from the private sector to run the department, because that is what they believe should happen.
Does the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission think that there should be a fair competition process for the Public Service Commission?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It is interesting to hear the Member for Mount Lorne get up and make those allegations, but she knows the allegations are absolutely not true. If she does not have a copy of the agreement with Xerox Canada, I will provide her with one.
The government has hired a management consultant so that we can operate the Queen's Printer more efficiently and more cost effectively. We leased a very sophisticated piece of machinery and we want our staff trained in the operation of that equipment. We want to run the Queen's Printer as a business within Government Services.
Question re: Xerox, business plan development
Ms. Moorcroft: It is no wonder that no one in the public can believe anything that these Ministers say. They cannot remember what they said from one day to the next.
During the Economic Development debate yesterday, we heard that an Alberta consultant had been hired to help put a business plan together for Economic Development.
Yukon people proved in the 1980s that they can plan for themselves. I would like to ask the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission if he thinks that local consultants can help departments to draft business plans?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, absolutely. In many cases they can. It is not the case with respect to the DocuTech 135, but with respect to property management becoming a special operating agency, the charter documents and the business plan are being developed entirely in house. It is the same thing with the fleet vehicle special operating agency. Yes, we have a lot of very talented consultants in the Yukon.
Ms. Moorcroft: This is the Minister who wants to defend how much he respects public servants, but he is the one who calls them an NDP rent-a-crowd.
I am trying to get some answers -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister said that on the record and it can be found in Hansard. I do not know which Minister is responsible for the Public Service Commission, but I would like to ask him who is in charge and what is happening with the Public Service. Is it Xerox? I would like the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission to tell us if other government departments can expect to have corporate executives brought in to help them - as the Ministers over there say it - to do things right and to run the show.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I think I answered this question yesterday. The Member asked me if we were going to have the private sector come in and give government advice, and the answer I gave yesterday was "yes". The answer I will give again today is "yes". Government has done it in the past. The previous NDP government did it. It sought advice from the private sector. We do it all the time with our training programs. Most of the training programs for our government employees are delivered by private sector companies that have the expertise. This government has done it; the previous government did it and future governments for many, many years will probably be calling on the very knowledgeable expertise in the private sector to give them advice on various issues from time to time.
Ms. Moorcroft: Governments have always hired contractors but nobody has ever been contracted to run the show. There is a difference between a private sector advisor to come in and act as a trainer or a consultant, and a consultant who is put in charge.
I would like to ask the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission whether he thinks there should be a fair competition process for managing the public service, rather than untendered contracts.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The question was whether or not there should be a fair competition process for management jobs in the public service. Yes, of course there should be. The Member should know that.
Question re: Xerox, business plan development
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister responsible for Government Services.
I am concerned about the million-dollar expenditure on the DocuTech and services and the empire that is being built in the Queen's Printer, which is now the highest tech printing company in the Yukon. I think that the Minister has been sold a bill of goods if he believes that any local printing company will be able to bid competitively against the Queen's Printer for work or will get more printing jobs because of the Queen's Printer.
I would like to ask the Minister if he really believes that the government is going to assist and make the local printing companies better off because of the Queen's Printer.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, we expect more work to go to the private sector from the Queen's Printer. I should clarify for the Member that the $900,000 agreement with Xerox Canada is for a period of seven years. That is an average of approximately $130,000 a year.
Mrs. Firth: Big deal. It is still $1 million. It could have been spent on a hundred better things than a printing machine. "It is only $130,000 a year" - indeed.
The Minister said yesterday that he checked every jurisdiction in Canada, and said that they all had a Queen's Printer, no matter how right-wing they were. We checked with the NWT, which said that, because it is better for the northern economy and business to contract out services, that is what they do with their Queen's Printer services. Alberta does, as well. British Columbia does confidential printing in house and contracts out the overload.
I would like to ask the Minister why he chose to build the Queen's Printer into a high-tech empire, instead of contracting out more services to the private sector?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is not what we have chosen to do. We have chosen not to build the Queen's Printer into an empire. We have chosen to make it into a small, efficient, high-tech operation that is connected -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will just wait for the Leader of the Official Opposition to finish. It is connected to other departments, so that we can do printing on demand. In this way, we can be far more efficient and can provide the information that the Member opposite and other departments demand from us.
Mrs. Firth: The Queen's Printer is a tiny efficient crown jewel, one-of-a-kind, DocuTech, high tech, the greatest in the Yukon printing company. It is a little teeny-weeny department.
My question for the Minister is this: instead of sending employees to Toronto for free trips and making million-dollar deals with one company, why did the Minister not direct the Queen's Printer to look at contracting out more services to the private sector, so that maybe someone in the private sector could have bought a DocuTech and done the printing for the government. We would have had a healthier private sector - more business out of government than in government. Why did he not do that, instead of having these people go on a free trip and then make a million-dollar deal?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We are trying to provide efficient services through government departments for the public. It made far more sense to have a new machine at the Queen's Printer. We had two old model 1090 Xerox copiers that needed to be replaced.
The Member for Riverdale South is waving her hand at me. Apparently she is not seeking information, she is making a speech in the House to make her point.
Question re: Special needs funding
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Education. I have been raising the issue about the tremendous problem we have in the Yukon for the funding and help in the special-needs area. The Minister has said that he agrees with me, and that we could be doing more.
I would like to ask the Education Minister this question: instead of buying a new, million-dollar photocopier for the government, would we not be better off putting that money into educational assistance, and other special-needs resources?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We went through a record number of hours in Committee of the Whole, going over and over and over again the same issues. Sometimes I wonder if I ought to suggest that my critic over there, the Member for Faro, should perhaps start wearing a helmet when he plays hockey because we have gone through this before, and he knows the answer.
Mr. Harding: I think it would be a worthwhile investment to spend money on special needs, rather than the new crown jewel photocopier upstairs. I would like to ask the Minister this other question: instead of a million-dollar photocopier for the government, would we not be better off spending the million dollars on new, technologically advanced computers for students in our schools?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I guess repetition makes things better - better from the Member opposite's point of view. On this side, we are very proud of what we have done to make government more effective and more efficient. We inherited a bloated government, but have since brought down the O&M in department after department. In Health and Social Services, we have saved all kinds of money - millions of dollars in some of the programs that were out of control. I applaud the Minister of Government Services for taking strong steps toward bringing down the cost and the waste in his department.
Mr. Harding: For three years in a row, this government has had the biggest spending budgets in Yukon history. They have spent every penny they have received from the federal government, and have brought in the biggest tax increases in Yukon history. I am disappointed that the Minister of Education thinks that the crown jewel, million-dollar photocopier is a better investment than money spent on special needs and technological advances for the schools.
Let me ask him this other question: instead of a million-dollar photocopier for the government, would we not be better off spending that money on First Nations and local curriculum development in our schools?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The ducks are nibbling again. You can hear them quacking over there - quack, quack, quack. We have Donald Duck and nephew, Huey, who asks questions, and his benchmate over there, the Member for Riverdale South, who likes to quack loudly to the media at the end of Question Period. We are being nibbled to death again.
Anyway, I think that, at times, there is money that could be found to put into social programs. I would suggest that a lot of Yukoners would have liked to have seen the $3 million that was wasted on the visitor reception centre, for example, put into First Nations projects and education. I can suggest that a great many people in the Yukon would have preferred to see the sum of $20 million that was wasted by government and the private sector in the Watson Lake sawmill put into social programs.
So, I guess, in principle I understand where he is coming from. However, we have brought down the O&M costs, have put the money into capital projects, and we are in much better shape than they were with regard to the federal cuts that are coming down.
Question re: Social assistance fraud investigator
Mr. Cable: I have some more questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services about the fraud investigator, just to get all the facts on the table.
In the first round of questions, the Minister said that many of the social assistance recipients had voluntarily paid restitution to avoid prosecution, and that some persons had withdrawn their social assistance application.
Just so that we have all the facts on the table, could the Minister, if he knows, tell this House - perhaps by way of legislative return - how many fraudulent users of the social assistance system have paid restitution to avoid prosecution? How many of these people had the fear of government put in their hearts by this fraud investigator?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am glad I sent the Member a note saying that I would be tabling this information next week. That gave him the opportunity to stand and ask questions.
I will be tabling that information, as I indicated in the note I sent over about five minutes ago.
The question is somewhat ambiguous. I am not sure if he is sticking up for the social assistance recipients who are defrauding the government, or if he is suggesting there is no fraud. Sometimes he stands up and seems to indicate that there ought to be more investigation. Perhaps the Member could clarify that for us in his next question.
I could send him a note if he likes - oops - they are quacking in the back.
Mr. Cable: We always know that the Minister's position is weak when he attacks the questioner rather than the argument.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: It says, "Dear Jack, I will be tabling a report on fraud next week."; that was one of my questions today.
Could the Minister confirm that he will be tabling the whole report, which tells us about the identification and recommendation of program changes, and to which the Minister referred in the media by saying it would indicate to us the percentage of fraudulent files there were in the system, and which we hope will tell us how the fraud investigator arrived at that conclusion?
Is this a commitment from the Minister? He made the commitment some three weeks ago, but we have not yet seen it.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: By golly, I had better be careful. I got him mad and he is stirring up those birds around him.
We will be filing information in the House. Unfortunately, the actual report of the investigator himself is not appropriate to file, because it contains confidential client information. We do have a synopsis available containing the recommendations and setting forth the rationale for what we are going to be doing in the area and why we believe that five-percent fraud is the best guess we have at this time, based on the work that we have done.
Mr. Cable: In the first round of questions, the Minister indicated that the files had first been processed through the fraud investigator before being handed over to the RCMP - if I understood the Minister correctly, and he can correct me if I am wrong. From the legislative return filed on February 22, 1995, it appears that 22 files were sent to the RCMP in 1993 and 1994. At least for part of that time, that is before the fraud investigator was hired. Is the Minister saying that his department was not involved in sending files to the RCMP, and that this was done solely through the fraud investigator?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: No.
Question re: Xerox, business plan development
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister for his short answer; he got in under the wire.
Today, the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said that there should be fair competition for anyone who runs a department. Yesterday, a Member of the Legislature asked the Minister of Government Services this question: "I would like to know why this person from the private sector is running the Queen's Printer. Why is that?" The Minister answered, "Because we felt that we needed some expertise from the private sector to develop a business plan."
Was the sole-source contract to Xerox considered to be fair competition?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I thank the Member for the question. It gives me the opportunity to correct the record on that. I was told that that allegation had been made by the Member for Riverdale South and that, on the record today, I should challenge the allegation that this person is running the Queen's Printer. That is absolutely not true. It is a consulting contract to assist us with the operation of the DocuTech 135, to train our staff and to assist us with developing a document management system for the Government of Yukon.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister indicated just now that there was an allegation made by a Member, but what in fact happened was that a Member had asked a question and the Minister had verified the Member's question, which was about whether or not the person from Xerox was running the Queen's Printer. The Minister answered, "Yes, indeed, the person was running the Queen's Printer." Who is making the allegation?
Speaking of quackery and quacking, if it acts like a duck and walks like a duck and talks like a duck - it is a duck.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for McIntyre-Takhini is making himself look silly. Next, the Minister of Education will be including himself with the quacking ducks that are nibbling to death.
I will read for the Member for McIntyre-Takhini what was said. The Member for Riverdale South said yesterday, "I would like to know why this person from the private sector is running the Queen's Printer." That is an allegation that she made about this person running the Queen's Printer. That was absolutely ridiculous and untrue.
The Leader of the Official Opposition sits there and asks, "Why did you say yes?" I would refer him and his silly colleague from McIntyre-Takhini to my answer. It does not say, "Yes, indeed." The answer talks about purchasing equipment and knowing how to operate it more efficiently, and that is why we have expertise from the private sector to assist us.
Mr. McDonald: I feel so embarrassed. I am not sure if I am dealing with a duck or a turkey. The Member for Riverdale South asked, "I would like to know why a person from the private sector is running the Queen's Printer. Why is that?" Mr. Nordling immediately replied, "Because we felt we needed some expertise from the public sector to develop a business plan." He did not reject the notion. He went on to explain why it was true and indicated that not only did the person have to develop a business plan, but that there was all kinds of sophisticated equipment that needed to be tended to only by a person who could do this over a seven, eight or nine year period. So I would like to ask the Minister why he failed to deny it yesterday and why he is being so defensive about it now?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I did not deny it yesterday. It was such a ridiculous allegation that I wanted to explain what this person was doing. I am stunned by the brilliance and insight of the Member for McIntyre-Takhini to have come up with such a thing. I am pleased that he asked me so that I had the opportunity to clarify it.
Speaker: Order. The time for Question Period has now elapsed. Perhaps we could be a little easier on our feathered friends next week.
We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, you really "quacked" us up on that one.
I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Are we prepared to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 3 - Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Department of Economic Development - continued
Chair: Is there further general debate on Bill No. 3, Economic Development?
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister going to bring back today any of the information that I requested yesterday?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am sorry, I should have jumped up and reported that right away. I have the Dawson City economic profile and the fax poll that we spoke about last night for tabling.
Mr. McDonald: Does the Minister have any more information about the consultants from Alberta who will be providing support and assistance in this strategic planning process?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The contract is being prepared right now and I will be able to table it after the afternoon break.
Mr. McDonald: I will have a chance to read through the material over the weekend and perhaps ask some questions about it later.
The government has indicated that it wants to now, somewhat belatedly, work on the development assessment process. We were told that the land claims unit would be leading the discussions with other governments on the design of the new development assessment process, and that Economic Development would be involved. Could the Minister elaborate on what his department is doing and what is happening?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is a three-person team from government. It is headed up by the Executive Council Office, with a member from Economic Development and a member from Renewable Resources. They are working with the Council for Yukon Indians to try to establish a schedule for discussions.
Mr. McDonald: Can the Minister give us more information? What is the state of the development? Is there a public discussion taking place? Is there a draft development assessment process? Where do we stand?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is an implementation plan laid out in the final agreement under land claims. However, because the CYI has been very involved in the finalization of the four final agreements, it has not been able to continue discussions on the development assessment process. We have communicated with CYI, but it has not yet come back to the table. It is a problem of time and resources for them; however, we expect that the process should soon start.
Mr. McDonald: Essentially, the reason that we have not done detailed work on the development assessment process to this point is because CYI is the hold up - is that fair to say?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Essentially, that is true. The reason CYI has been holding it up is because of its involvement with the first four agreements.
Mr. McDonald: Has CYI asked for financial support from either the federal or territorial governments to enable it to participate more thoroughly in the development assessment process?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: CYI has not approached the Yukon government, mainly, we understand, because the federal government has agreed to provide funding to it. That was set up some time ago.
Mr. McDonald: One of the assumptions behind the decision to create the development assessment process was that other processes would be wound up or would be eliminated. Can the Minister identify for us what those processes are?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act will be replacing the EARP process. There is another one involved, but I cannot recall it. They will both be brought in under the development assessment process.
Mr. McDonald: What about other regulatory review processes, such as the Water Board, the Federal/Territorial Lands Advisory Committee and so on? What is in the plan for these review processes? Will the government be advocating that they be eliminated or rolled into the development assessment process?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Not immediately. That is something that could be looked at further down the road. I am not sure about the Water Board - it is a federal responsibility - but FTLAC may well be able to fit into this process.
Mr. McDonald: Given that we are dealing with generalities here and are not able to provide complete answers, could the Minister send me a letter or provide a legislative return that incorporates all the regulatory review processes - the environmental review process, et cetera - that would be wound up or eliminated as a result of the development assessment process being created?
There is a very high expectation by the development community, as well as by others - including members of the environmental community - that we are going to have one window, one comprehensive, efficient review process under the development assessment process, and that the plethora of review processes that have been used in the territory - and which have developed a life of their own - would somehow be wound up, and we would be able to cut through all of that and have a single process - one one-window process - that being the development assessment process.
If the Minister suggests that we are unable to accomplish that task through the development assessment process, I would like to hear from him now. Perhaps he could give us a more complete answer later.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As the Member pointed out, we would like to work toward getting all the processes under the development assessment process so that there is one agency to deal with.
I will ask the Executive Council Office to put together what it hopes to establish as time lines, as well as what its goal is for the process.
Mr. McDonald: I just want to make one point. There are probably a large number of people in the development and the so-called green community who feel that this is a historical opportunity to develop a regulatory process that makes sense and is efficient, as well as being comprehensive and complete. Given that we are dealing with different levels of government, and given that the circumstances are such that there is a high expectation between governments that there should be a single-window approach, this may be our only opportunity for generations to wind up and eliminate processes that have lived out their usefulness.
There has been some suggestion that if we are not able to capture the federal government when it has an interest in talking to us about this regulatory process, we may then face a situation, as we have for the last 20 or 30 years, where the federal agenda turns away from Yukon's development future and focuses on other things, and consequently we may never have a regulatory process that meets our needs. It is also an opportune time, because devolution is high on the political agenda as well, in mining, forestry and lands, and this may be our one chance to see to it that a process is developed that meets Yukon's needs, as well.
I just make the point. Realizing that it is a monumental and huge political job to pull three levels of government together to deal with all the entrenched interests that are currently there to protect one sort of regulations or another, and given that there is big politics involved in trying to resolve some very long-term and outstanding concerns between the development and the environmental communities, I am under no illusions about how difficult this can be.
If there is a person or persons who are capable of taking it on, I think it is the Yukon government that has the most interest and is in the best position to take a leadership role to see something happen. Whoever does take it on and is successful will be forever thanked for their effort and energy.
I asked some questions of the previous Ministers about regulatory review itself and the need to eliminate some unnecessary regulation. I notice that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has sought an opinion from their membership in the Yukon as to whether or not there should be a sunset clause for regulations to ensure that outdated regulations are automatically wound up. There is always an interest in reviewing them.
I am not sure whether or not I am sold on that concept, given the amount of administrative time that would be required to be constantly reviewing all regulations, all the time. What is the government doing to eliminate unnecessary or unwanted regulation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: First of all, I would just like to acknowledge the Member's representation on the DAP process. I appreciate his comments and, in general, I agree. I believe that it is a opportunity for us to actually do away with a lot of regulation. The same requirements would probably be there, but at least it will be under one process. I do thank the Member for that representation.
On the subject of the retirement of regulations or their review, what we want to do with these small business conferences that we are establishing around the territory is to discuss the regulations these businesses face.
I believe that it is noted on the poll results that Members have before them. That is one of the things that we want to discuss with the clients.
Mr. McDonald: From the poll results, I notice that access to financing ranks high in people's minds, which confirms a suspicion I have had - given all of the conversations that I have had with small business owners - that financing is an issue that has to be addressed.
In terms of the regulatory environment, precisely how will the process of elimination of unnecessary occur? I have made suggestions about how this might take place in the past and I am sure that the Minister may remember those suggestions. How is the government planning to tackle the problem?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Under the business plan that we are carrying out right now, we would have a group within the department put together an action plan to review regulatory issues. We would also use the meetings that we are conducting in the communities, together with the results of the poll, to find out what the issues with the various regulations really are. There will also be a group to review the regulations.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister made reference to an action plan. Perhaps he could give us some more information about when that action plan will be developed and whether or not he is willing to provide us with a copy. Also, precisely how is the government anticipating dealing with what are perceived by some to be unnecessary regulations? Presumably the small business sector or some members in the small business community may identify a particular set of regulations or a regulation as being unnecessary and onerous. However, there may be other interests at stake. They may also have an interest in perhaps seeing that regulation either eliminated or retained.
After they have identified the problem areas or the potential problem areas, how are they going to handle the discussion about whether or not a particular regulation or set of regulations should be retained or eliminated?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If, for instance, after the meetings with small business around the territory, we identify a regulation that several small businesses found repugnant, yet there are other groups that believe that the regulations are necessary, we would have to carry out a consultation process. Hypothetically speaking, we may be able to possibly rescind the regulation or substantially change it. There may very well be some very minor parts of a regulation that we can change that would ease the operations of a small business - such as time requirements or something like that. However, we could run into a situation where a group of businesses or individuals want a regulation totally rescinded but there may be some opposing views, so we would have to consult with all the people affected.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister mentioned an action plan. When will it be completed and can he provide us with a copy when it is completed?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The action plan will be part of the overall business plan. I have indicated that when the business plan is completed I will make it available to the Members opposite. I am not sure if this element would be completed at the same time, but we will certainly make it available when it is completed.
Mr. McDonald: Does the Minister agree, or does he have reservations about the CFIB's proposal to give a sunset clause for all regulations passed by government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: A friend of mine indicated that he would like to see all legislation have a five-year sunset clause. He said, "Then all you guys in government would be spending so much time trying to review and reinstate the old legislation you would not have time to bother us." I would not want to see a sunset clause on all regulation. Certainly, some regulations could have sunset clauses, but I do not think it would be a good idea to carte blanche everything in the books.
Mr. McDonald: Just for the record, I agree with the Minister. The idea has some merit in certain circumstances. The government should be in the frame of mind to always be prepared to review what is considered to be outdated legislation but should not be always in the business of reviewing regulations. Once the public gets a taste of what the consultation environment would be for a system where all legislation and all regulation was being reviewed all the time, there would be no time to do anything but review regulation and legislation - even for the chambers of commerce and others who may be involved.
I would like to move on to the question of devolution and federal policy for a moment. We have touched on it briefly. Can the Minister tell us what the status of devolution for mines is at the moment? Can he tell us what work the department has done to promote the devolution of mining?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Right now we are not doing a lot in preparation for the devolution of mining. We want to hear from the federal government some sort of dates when we can expect the devolution to happen. It would be pointless to be passing regulations and legislation, or even drafting those types of things, if devolution is going to be quite a way down the road. If it is going to be within a year, we had better start on it. However, we need to have a little more assurance from the federal government before we make decisions in that respect.
Mr. McDonald: Has the government requested of the federal government that mining devolution be started?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Government Leader met with Ron Irwin approximately two or three weeks ago. They discussed devolution quite seriously. Mr. Irwin did send a fellow by the name of Wright to the territory to look at the whole idea of devolution. I believe that he is an independent - not a government employee. He is a consultant or something. We expect some sort of a commitment from the Minister's office in the not-too-distant future.
Mr. McDonald: Do I take that to mean that the government has requested that mining devolution take place? Has a formal request been made?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, it was made by the Government Leader.
Mr. McDonald: That was a couple of weeks ago, was it? Is that right?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The exact time escapes me, but it was two to three weeks ago, when the Government Leader visited Ottawa.
Mr. McDonald: Did the government request mining devolution before that? To the Minister's knowledge, has a formal application been made to see mines devolved to the territory between 1992 and 1995?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure. I could probably get something back for the Member. I am not sure if we have formally requested the devolution of mining. I know that we have been talking about forestry for quite some time. We have discussed the devolution of all land, forests, mines - the whole works - but I do not know if there has been a specific request made with respect to mining in the last couple of years.
Mr. McDonald: Would it be possible for the Minister to check with ECO and tell us when the first formal request for mining took place?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, we can check that.
Mr. McDonald: One of the problems we faced - and it has come up in Question Period and in discussions with the new forestry coalition - is the concern that the forestry industry, has had with there being a policy vacuum in some very significant areas, which has to do with the health of the industry. In forestry, whether it be the export of raw logs, silviculture or determining what sustainable harvests are, it has essentially all been left to the time when industry is more committed than ever to want to cut trees in the Yukon.
Consequently, the environmental interests are more pressed to want to ensure there is protection for the long-term health of our forests.
One might argue that the federal government did not use the time available to resolve policy problems when it could have. Now we are at the stage where citizens are organizing spontaneously to make something happen. The Yukon government has finally been pressed to look at policy options, in advance of forestry devolution, and the federal government is trying to play catch-up and survive the really severe public criticism it is facing as a result of not having addressed some of the more significant policy issues in forestry.
We know what is happening in forestry. We also know that, in the field of mining, there are also some big issues to address. We face a parallel situation, where devolution is pending. The whole regulatory environment is up for discussion, thanks to the imposition of the development assessment process and the promise to wind up other regulatory processes in its wake.
Thanks to mineral prices, we see a lot more activity in exploration and, ultimately, in mining. We also see First Nations taking some responsibility for large tracts of land and subsurface resources around the territory, which will lead to the need to ensure that there is a harmonious regulatory process between selected lands and Crown lands.
There are clearly parallels to be drawn between forestry and mining about stage to which the regulatory processes have been developed and the state of devolution, et cetera.
From the Yukon government's perspective, would it not make sense to work toward not only devolution of mining and the review of the development assessment process, but in harmony with that, to initiate some discussions on mining policy, particularly where there are some obvious gaps? I have a feeling that this is one area where it will be very difficult to solve our problems by dealing with it on a piecemeal basis. It is the kind of challenge that requires a comprehensive planning approach. It makes sense to have the Yukon government initiate policy work in the mining field, knowing that a lot of that good work can lead to a better understanding of how the development assessment process should take place. It could identify policy gaps that should be filled; it can encourage the federal government to promote devolution; it can make other governments aware of what some of the issues are. First Nation governments will have responsibility for sub-surface rights. They do not have to follow our policies, but I am sure they would appreciate there not being a policy void in the mining sphere on the part of public government, either at the federal or territorial level. Would it not make sense to initiate policy activity in this area, too?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I agree with the Member's comments. I think there are two routes to take in forestry and in mining. If the federal government is going to retain control over mining and forestry, there is a route that we should take. We should be insisting on more of a voice in policy development.
If devolution is going to happen in a foreseeable time frame, then we would take a different route to create our own policies and legislation. Regardless of what happens, whether it is devolved to the territorial government or whether the federal government retains control, I definitely think there is a need for more work and more input from the Yukon government than what we have provided in the past.
Mr. McDonald: I am certain that any work the Yukon government wants to undertake, either in forestry or in mining, would not be done unilaterally. Obviously, there are others whose interests should be respected, not the least of which is the federal government, which technically bears responsibility for both of those areas now.
I think that we all realize that the last few federal governments, philosophically, have wanted out of their responsibilities for certain things in the north. They have accepted the principle that local control provides for efficient management of resources. They have acknowledged that they have difficulty managing a resource from thousands of miles away. We all acknowledge that the federal agenda to consider the issues that are of grave concern to northerners may be superseded by other issues on the federal government's plate. What the federal government really wants is a pain-free transition. It does not want to spend a lot of time, thought and money seeing to it that the transition takes place. That is where we can come in and provide such guidance. We can ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible and thereby speed up the transition.
Now, this is not to say that we should not be respecting all other interests. It is a big job, as I have acknowledged before. There are First Nations governments whose interests are very specific and very clear, and whose views must be respected. There are a lot of people in the industry and in the environmental community who will have to be listened to as well.
I am not downplaying the size of this project, but I am suggesting that it, like the DAP project, is intertwined. While we do not have to proceed in a gung-ho fashion on all fronts, we could initiate work and some thinking in these areas. When the opportunity arises, we could accelerate our activities and ultimately see progress. I make that representation to the Minister.
One concern that has been made to me, and I would like to get the Minister's comments about this, is that with the Land Claims Secretariat leading the discussion on the development of the development assessment process, we have people who may be extremely good at negotiating principles with other governments about what should happen, but they may not be well suited to follow through on the detail work.
There is a lot of concern that, as good as people are at negotiating a land claims agreement, which is all about principles and basic programs, these people should gracefully step aside in favour of those people who will lead discussions with First Nations governments, representatives, the federal government, industry and the environmental groups to ensure that the working reality of the development assessment process is what it was billed to be; that is, efficient, cost effective and comprehensive.
Can the Minister explain what the government's thinking is about this?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The people involved in the negotiations are very experienced at that, and they need to be there, but it may very well be that in the winding down of the actual negotiations and the start of the development of the process - and I do not know how to say this without insulting someone here - it may be that we need different people to do the second phase or the second stage of, for instance, the development assessment process. The negotiation part is, I think, in the right place, but the actual drafting of it should be moved to different people.
Mr. McDonald: That is precisely the concern that has been expressed to me. There is a feeling that the Land Claims Secretariat is a good location for negotiating the principles, but there are other people who are more familiar with industry and the environmental concerns who may be better positioned to work out the detail, acknowledging that it is going to require negotiating skills because they are dealing with other governments as well.
Because so much is riding on a successful conclusion of the development assessment process and a more efficient regulatory environment, we cannot afford to be wrong.
Because this is a historic moment, in some respects, and a moment that can be lost, the fear is that we could be making things worse if we do not do it right at this time. People have suggested over and over again to me - and I realize that this comes from the developing communities, so they obviously have fairly specific interests that they want to promote - that if there is one thing that the Department of Economic Development can do, it is to lead in the development of an efficient and comprehensive regulatory process. If it does that, it, and everyone associated with it, will be heroes for all time and will have their own room at the Yukon Archives. If they all fail, of course, they will not only not be heroes and not get their own room at Yukon Archives, but they will probably be led out of the territory, tarred and feathered and on a rail.
The stakes are high, but I cannot understate the importance of it. I make the point because I think that there are a lot of people watching and a lot of people who want to see some results.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I agree. I think that there is a role for the Land Claims Secretariat. However, I think that role probably changes with time. I am not positive the Department of Economic Development would take it over, but I do understand the representations and I generally agree with them.
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister. What is the role of the economic development process in the economic development agreement?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is the economic development process subagreement, under the economic development agreement.
Mr. Harding: What are the funding percentages? Are they the same as the economic development agreement?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is the same as the other subagreements. It is 70/30 with Canada.
Mr. Harding: We have a commitment that it is going to remain in effect until the end of the 1996 fiscal year, is that correct? The Minister is shaking his head. What commitment do we have that the EDP is going to remain in effect along with the economic development agreement?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The economic development planning and the renewable resources subagreements have both been cut. There are six subagreements, and each one is affected differently. We are still trying to sort out exactly what impact it will have on each agreement.
Mr. Harding: Let me make this representation to the Minister, knowing the complications of the cuts. Before I get into it, when he says "cuts", does he mean cuts of the last federal budget - the one that was recently tabled? The Minister is nodding his head, so I assume the answer is yes.
The Faro Wilderness Recreation Association has been authorized a commitment of funding under the EDP of the EDA. They have been working diligently to hire some consultants to work on the Campbell region tourism project. They have contacted a number of consultants, and a group has been awarded the work. As I mentioned to the Minister yesterday, the problem is that they have been told by the department that they should get as much done in March as possible. It is already March 9, and that does not leave them a lot of time. The consultants they have hired to do this work have to go out into the communities and arrange meetings, do all kinds of investigative work to find out what people want and what our resources are. This is something that is difficult to do in a short time span.
They have been told by the department that if they do some work to get the thing started in March, it will be much easier for them to get funding later, rather than to wait until April 1, when there may be some cutbacks to the EDP program.
I would argue that this should be a priority. If there is a program transfer, the Department of Economic Development should consider this project as a priority. These people have worked very hard, and they have a real opportunity to do something - not just in the form of a report that sits on a shelf, but the actual implementation of some plans for tourism in the Campbell region. This area has to be economically diversified. If we do not spend the money and make a commitment to do that, it will just not happen.
I and the Minister both know it is not something that will happen overnight. I think the people there are taking the proper holistic approach by involving other communities around Faro in the pursuit of the wilderness tourism environment, and to increase the rubber-tire traffic to the area.
I have a lot of constituents who are interested in that field. A lot of them are putting their own money, effort and time into this, and they could really be supported by this project. Right now, their concern is that they are putting the consultants to work with excruciatingly tight time lines in which to come up with something. Once they go through all that work, there is a guillotine hanging over their head that funding might be cut.
I would like to ask the Minister about that, given that I raised this yesterday and many times in the past with this government. I have asked for a legislative return from the department about how it sees this panning out.
In the Minister's estimation, what kind of a priority is this? That should give us some indication about whether or not we will get the funding, and if all the sweat and toil people are going through right now is worth it.
They are holding meetings; they have opened an office in Faro and are staffing it. They had meetings last Thursday and one yesterday. They are continually working. They have done proposal after proposal for the government in draft form. I believe they did three or four drafts before they came up with the final product. They are really putting their heart and soul into this.
Could the Minister tell me if this Campbell region tourism coordinator is a priority with his department?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I thank the Member for his representation. Because the Member brought it up yesterday, or the day before - I cannot recall - and spoke quite eloquently on it at that time as well, I did speak with the official responsible for that area. I guess I have good news and bad news. I will give you the bad news first. That is that it is not known, at this time, if the funding can be protected, because it is not known how much funding there is going to be.
I am not going to quote numbers, but there are X number of dollars that were available; X minus one has been committed, and that is going to leave Y dollars, which is what is being determined - what those Y dollars are.
However, this project is considered to be a priority - that is the good news part of it. I was told that I should get more information by early next week. A meeting is being held tomorrow afternoon, so I am probably going to know more about it on Monday. The people the Member opposite has been referring to have been contacted, and apparently those people are aware of the situation.
Mr. Harding: I thank the Minister for that, and I will certainly look forward to receiving more information next week. I think it is clear now what this means to the people I represent and to the region.
The FWRA has opened up its office and it has engaged an employment contract with the consultants. They have put the wheels in motion. They have also taken a four-month lease in Faro for the solar complex, based on a $6,000 commitment that was made by the department for startup funding. They were hoping that when the agreement was signed, that the cheque would be received, but it has not yet been received. I pass that on to the Minister, and I hope it will be investigated. It would be appreciated if the cheque could be released as soon as possible.
Mr. Cable: I have some general questions. I am referring to a back issue of the newspaper called The Prospector. I do not know if the Minister has seen it or not, but it is a mining paper that is put out by the prospecting industry. There was a Department of Economic Development, Yukon government advertisement in it, which stated, "Stake your claim in the Yukon where mining is number one." Does the Minister's department have an advertising strategy, either generally or particularly related to the mining sector of the economy?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe we have a specific strategy, but we do take opportunities to put the message out in papers like The Prospector, The Northern Miner and we do attend the Cordilleran Roundup in Vancouver. We take opportunities to spread our message, but other than a budget, we do not have a specific action plan for advertising.
Mr. Cable: Who was responsible for placing the advertisement in the March/April 1995 Prospector? Would it be the mining facilitator?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It would probably be the energy and mines branch of the department.
Mr. Cable: Would there be any instructions given by the Minister or by his deputy to these people about where public funds should be expended in advertising and in marketing generally?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is no specific direction given by the Minister. The deputy minister would have to approve that type of an ad prior to publication.
Mr. Cable: Well, this is more curiosity than criticism. I was wondering what market the Minister's department is trying to reach. Has the department decided whether or not this is the appropriate way to reach the market?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have no idea about the circulation or readership of that particular paper. The energy and mines branch would have conducted an analysis about where it is best to spend those kinds of dollars.
Mr. Cable: On that topic, the ad invites people to contact the Yukon Economic Development department to find out more about staking a claim in the Yukon. Do the Minister's officials keep track of the solicitations that arise because of each specific ad placed in the papers? Do they find out the efficiency of this sort of marketing?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not think a cost-benefit analysis is conducted. We do receive responses and enquiries from those types of ads, but I do not believe they are actually tracked or that a cost-benefit analysis is done.
Mr. Cable: Could the Minister table the advertising portion of the budget at some juncture, or is he anticipating doing this when we get to some line item?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I expect we should be able to explain it as we get to the various lines. There will be explanations concerning how much was spent for advertising and so on.
Mr. Cable: Just so that I can get ready for it, where am I going to find the line item that relates to these specific ads put out in relation to mining?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Those ads would not specifically appear as a line item in the budget. When we get to energy and mines branch under either communications or advertising, there will be a figure in there, and if the Member requires a further breakdown for the price of those ads, we would have to go back and get that information for him.
Mr. Cable: It would be useful, at the time we get to that particular item, to determine the amount of feedback we get from those ads so that the Members here can judge the efficiency of that type of marketing.
On another issue, in the Minister's handout from three weeks ago on the Department of Economic Development's current policy activities - we spoke about this yesterday - one of the items was the economic review and short-term outlook. Is that economic review the economic forecast we have been bandying back and forth in the House for the last two or three months?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes.
Mr. Cable: I just wanted to know what the new bureaucratese is for the economic forecast. What sort of time period are we looking at for the economic review?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It should be circulated at the end of March.
Mr. Cable: I was wondering how far into the future are we making projections about what is going to happen in the Yukon economy.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: To the 1995-96 fiscal year - that is my understanding.
Mr. Cable: Perhaps I misunderstood. There appears to be two items: economic review and short-term outlook. Is that one item? The Minister is indicating that it is one document. The economic forecast, then, is simply for a one-year period. The Minister is again nodding his head in the affirmative - it saves a lot of Hansard time.
Do we have anything called long-term economic forecast in the making?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, we do not. The department has two people who are economists. They are fairly busy. We do not intend - at this point in time anyway - to do a long-term forecast.
Mr. Cable: In the Minister's budget speech, on page 8 and 9 - I think we touched upon this when the Minister was first up about three weeks ago -the planning team is discussed in relation to the various sectors. The Minister filed a document a couple of days ago, entitled "A Strategic and Business-Planning Process for the Department of Economic Development". Is that latter document the terms of reference for the planning teams, or is there something more?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The document I handed out the other day defines the process. The teams put together in the department are actually working within that process.
Mr. Cable: The latter document is the instructions for the planning teams and there is nothing more - is that what the Minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is more or less correct.
Mr. Cable: The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment appears to be running a parallel process, at least with respect to some sectors of the economy. It is doing that partly on the instruction of the Government Leader. Those instructions were tabled many months ago.
They appear also to be doing some things on their own.
How are the activities of the council and those of the Department of Economic Development being meshed, with respect to both time lines and subject matter?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The department is in continual communication with the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. The department works as resource people in many cases for the YCEE in the sectoral conferences. Then, the findings and recommendations from the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment will be incorporated into the overall plans of the department.
Mr. Cable: That suggests the Minister has reached the conclusion that the council will finish first. There does not appear to be any time lines in the document that was tabled the other day, A Strategic and Business Planning Process for the Department of Economic Development, Yukon. Have there been any attempts by the Minister's officials to mesh with the council and work out some sort of time line, so that both these groups are working in the same general direction and coming to a conclusion about the same time?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The department has met with the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, and they have agreed upon time lines and on individual sectors of the plan that the YCEE is going to be reviewing.
Mr. Cable: The time lines do not appear to be in this document. Can the Minister table those time lines at some juncture, so we know what is going on?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The first cut of the business plan will be given to me some time in mid-April. A couple of weeks after that, I hope to be able to make that available to other Members.
The Member has to realize that everything is not going to be in that first cut. This thing will go on. It is a three-year plan. There will be additions to it as time goes on.
They are not going to try to address all of the energy issues, for instance, in this first cut.
Mr. Cable: Is the Minister aware of the Council on the Economy and the Environment's timetable for the completion of the various sectoral studies that they are now doing?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We know they are doing energy next. That will be early in the new fiscal year. Then, we believe, they have an interest in forestry. They are not responsible to me or to this ministry, so I cannot say anything beyond that.
Mr. Cable: I believe, though, that the Minister admitted or suggested that there has to be some meshing between the activities of the council and the activities of his officials, for the processes to be efficient. Is he saying that he is not aware of the various timelines that the Council on the Economy and the Environment is working toward?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure if they have any. If they do, I am not aware of them.
Mr. Penikett: I have a couple of questions that I would like to ask the Minister. A few days ago the land claims and self government legislation was proclaimed for at least four First Nations in the territory, which means that those First Nations are very significant land owners in the territory, and, indeed, all four of them own very significant sub-surface rights. However, at the time of that legislation, we also saw that the federal parliament passed surface rights legislation, which dealt with situations where the First Nations held the surface title, and the federal government, in this case, had the sub-surface rights. There are situations where mining companies and oil companies have interests or are pursuing interests.
One of the things that we understood in that process was that, with the advent of the land claims legislation, the self-government legislation, and the surface rights legislation, when a company was working in an area, that part of the new reality would be that they would have to notify and contact the local First Nations on whose traditional territory they were operating, and that, if necessary, the federal and territorial governments would facilitate those contacts, and that the First Nation would be fully involved in what was happening in their traditional territory, especially if it was on land for which they held title. Therefore, I would like to know if the Minister is aware of any mineral exploration activity carried out by a company called Eagle Plains Resources Limited on the traditional territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin, about which the company has neglected to advise the First Nation?
Of course, if the Minister does not know anything about it either, then obviously there can be no blame there. I wonder if the Minister knows anything about that?
If the ministry does not know anything about it either, obviously there can be no blame. I wonder if the Minister knows anything about it.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I certainly have not heard about it, and we do not believe that the department is aware of it. We will check with the energy and mines branch. Normally, when there is a land use permit, we are aware of it, even though we do not have control over it. We have not heard of that particular company doing exploration work.
Mr. Penikett: There are many old mining claims all over the territory that may be owned or traded by different companies, from time to time. As I understand the current situation, the territorial government may not know about those until long after they change hands and long after development has occurred.
Can I ask the Minister this: is it the case that officials from his department have recently been sent to Calgary to meet with oil companies to discuss oil exploration in the Yukon Territory?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The deputy minister and the director of our oil and gas branch are in Calgary this week to meet with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers - CAPP.
Mr. Penikett: I take it that they are Mr. Oppen and Mr. Love. Could the Minister tell us what they are discussing with that petroleum association?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not exactly sure how the discussions are going or what direction they are taking, but there are some companies that are interested in looking at gas production in the Kotaneelee Range in southeast Yukon, as well as in the Laberge Basin and further north along the Dempster. There has been some interest expressed in them recently and those may very well be topics of discussion.
Mr. Penikett: Presumably the Minister authorized this travel, so I would assume that he would have a fairly precise knowledge about what the government representatives are doing.
I will re-cap what the Minister just said. Mr. Love and Mr. Oppen are in Calgary to discuss with oil companies or oil industry representatives exploration in the Kotaneelee field, the Laberge Basin and the Dempster Highway area - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, it is more or less correct. However, the meetings are not necessarily about exploration. They are also to discuss with the oil companies the possibility of keeping the Yukon in mind for future investments.
Mr. Penikett: The reason I have expressed these concerns is because I received a call this afternoon expressing grave concern on the part of one First Nation, a representative of the Vuntut Gwitchin, about the fact that this government may be in Calgary holding discussions about oil exploration in the Vuntut Gwitchin's traditional territory without any discussion with them or the involvement of their representatives in those talks.
It is the view of the person who called me that this is a fundamental and flagrant violation of the kind of good faith that ought to be operating in the wake of the land claims and self-government agreements, and is a violation of the good-faith relationship that ought to exist between the governments when talking about activities on the First Nation's traditional land.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We are certainly not talking about any specific sites. As the Member is aware, we do have one well producing in the Kotaneelee. These are simply the areas in the Yukon where there are known gas reserves. If, in fact, work were to be done on the Dempster, I think that might very well be awhile down the road, to start with. Secondly, before any such activity took place, the Vuntut Gwitchin would certainly be involved in the discussions.
Mr. Penikett: The problem is that, under the umbrella final agreement, all First Nations in the territory are partners in the oil and gas business by virtue of the fact that they have a revenue-sharing agreement with this government. I know that the Kaska are intensely interested in what happens with the Kotaneelee, as are the Ta'an Kwach'an almost certainly interested in what discussions this government may be having with oil companies about the Laberge Basin. I think it is a reasonable position for the Vuntut Gwitchin to take - having settled its claim - that any discussions of this kind ought to involve them.
Could I ask the Minister for the assurance that if his representatives, through his department, ever again meet with Calgary oil companies to discuss exploration on the traditional territories of any Yukon First Nation, the government will make every reasonable effort to involve the representatives of those First Nations in the discussions?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If we are getting into discussions about doing actual exploration, certainly, but all we are doing is trying to encourage the companies to think about the Yukon, think about investing in the Yukon, and maybe doing some work up here. If interest is shown, certainly the affected First Nations would be brought in, but when we are just talking to people trying to interest them in thinking about investing in Yukon, I do not feel it is necessary to involve all of the people who at some point in time may or may not be affected.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister and I obviously disagree. The whole notion of the land claims and self-government agreements is that there is a new reality here that involves power sharing between First Nations and the territorial government in all sorts of matters. It also involves a fundamental right of consultation with First Nations about any matter affecting their interests.
Those four First Nations are now the largest land owners in the territory. They are big land owners. They have a big stake. I am only a very small land owner, a tiny land owner, but if the Minister was having discussions with an oil company or a mining company about exploration on the land I own or in or near it, I would damn well want to be consulted. I would want to be involved in the talks. I would not be content to have the Department of Economic Development acting on my behalf or having discussions that affected my interests without my knowing about it.
This is especially important, since the Vuntut Gwitchin made it fairly clear - I do not know the views of the current leadership, but they made it fairly clear to me during the years we were negotiating with them - that they were not keen about oil exploration in their traditional territory, and they certainly were not keen about oil exploration in the range of the Porcupine caribou herd, of which of course the Dempster Highway is a part.
I would have thought that it was a fundamental question of courtesy, if not law, for their leaders to be notified of the agenda, at the minimum, of any of the discussions the Minister's officials planned to have with oil companies in Calgary.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know whether the Member opposite is playing games with me or not. All we are doing is trying to promote the territory.
Long before an oil company begins conducting exploration, there are a lot of things that would have to be done. The very first thing would certainly be to talk with the affected First Nations if exploration is in a First Nation traditional territory.
All we are doing is trying to encourage people to think about investing in the territory. We do it with mining and tourism and we are doing it with oil and gas. I would hope that we would be able to continue to do that without having to create some sort of a humungous, unworkable process that would not even permit an official to talk to some company and to ask it to think about the Yukon for investment purposes.
Mr. Penikett: First of all, I want to say to the Minister - and I am going to be polite about this point - that I take deep offence to his suggestion that somehow I am playing games, because I am asking serious questions about something I have devoted a good number of years of my life to try to resolve.
We inherited a situation in which there was a huge racial divide and deep suspicion by First Nations of the territorial government. I inherited this when I came into office. We took a lot of abuse from a lot of Tories while we were trying to build bridges between the two communities.
The point is that the new political culture and reality is supposed to be about partnerships between First Nation and non-First Nation people. If I were a First Nation leader, I would be deeply suspicious about a government that is going off to another city to have private discussions with industry - discussions that affect my interest, but about which I had not even been given the courtesy of a notification.
The Minister talks about investing. There are some First Nations that would want to encourage this kind of investment, but not on YTG's terms. They would want to be part of the discussions from the beginning. The Minister says that he does not see why we have to create something that is humungous and unworkable. I do not see anything unworkable about having Mr. Oppen, prior to going to such a meeting, phone the First Nations who have an interest, particularly the Vuntut Gwitchin, whose claim is settled, and tell them that he is going to Calgary to have discussions. He could ask them first if they would like to have someone participate, second, if they would like to go along and observe, or, third, if they would like the department to give them a report when he comes back. It appears to me that that would be the minimum that the new arrangements that we spent years negotiating require.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I really and truly cannot see that. If some oil company had said that it would like to come to the Yukon and look at the potential gas field in the Dempster area, we would most certainly tell it to contact the affected First Nations - no question about that. All we are trying to do is convince some petroleum producers that they should look at the Yukon in the future, and take us into consideration when they put together their investment plans.
Mr. Penikett: I do not want to prolong this discussion, but I would very much appreciate it if the Minister would consider getting back to me with a written response to the following questions: what was the nature of the discussions in Calgary about the Eagle Plains area and will the Minister be providing a report on those discussions to the leadership of the Vuntut Gwitchin?
Having put that question on the record, I would like to turn to another subject, which concerns a letter to Mr. Ron Irwin from the Yukon Conservation Society, a copy of which I received today. It concerns the issue of funding for that organization. It received a $20,000 a year grant from DIAND until 1992. In the subsequent year, the grant was cut to $18,000, and it was told to expect a further reduction to $16,000 this year. Instead, Mr. Martin cut 100 percent of its funding.
The letter from the Yukon Conservation Society lists a huge list of activities in which that organization has participated on the part of conservation-minded people, including activities that contributed to the work of this government and to the public interest, such as the Whitehorse mining initiative, the sustainable forest conference, a technical advisory group for the Aishihik hydro dam, work on the Whitehorse sewage system and various wildlife issues, all of which the Minister would be aware in his capacity as the Minister of Renewable Resources.
In defence of the cut to the Yukon Conservation Society, apparently the federal Liberals said that the cut was justified because they have also cut federal money going to the Yukon Chamber of Mines, in the amount of $18,000, to the Klondike Placer Mining Association, in the amount of $9,000, and to the Prospectors Association, in the amount of $1,800.
I note from the previous discussion on core funding and the discussion about where the government is going on that question that the Minister indicated that the territorial government had provided significant funding to some of these organizations but not to the Yukon Conservation Society. The Minister indicated that he wanted to move away from core funding to something like a fee-for-service proposition, although the matter of government-wide policy on this question is still under examination.
I want to ask the Minister this very direct question: in my view, and in the view of many Yukoners, the Yukon Conservation Society makes a very valuable contribution to this community, not only in terms of economic policy, but also in terms of the policy work of the Department of Renewable Resources. It is one of those organizations that is promoting sustainability, which is supposedly the policy that we all subscribe to.
Given that the government has given very generously to the Chamber of Mines and the Klondike Placer Miners Association and the chambers of commerce, I make this representation: would the Minister consider, in either of his portfolios or both, entertaining an application for funding for services that this organization has provided in the past - and can in the future - to the government and to the public of the Yukon, particularly in the areas of promoting sustainability in questions of developing sustainable forest policy, sustainable economic policy, in recognition of the work they are contributing to the Whitehorse mining initiative and so forth? I recognize that this group has, at times, been critical of all governments, federal and territorial, past and present, but in a democracy it is extremely important when one has eloquent, articulate and effective critics and that they also be encouraged, because that is what makes our system work.
Without having been asked to do this by the organization, and without attaching any dollar figure to this, I would like to ask if the Minister would at least entertain an application to fund the Yukon Conservation Society in the manner similar to what has been done for the Klondike Placer Miners Association, the Chamber of Mines and the chambers of commerce.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think we have gone through this debate. We are moving toward a fee-for-service policy. I expect that our budgets are going to become very limited, as well. We would have no difficulty funding certain services that the Yukon Conservation Society could provide for the Yukon government.
I would suggest to the Yukon Conservation Society - in fact, I was going to discuss this with the Renewable Resources people - is that, first of all, we have to figure out what our funding is going to be. We could then ask the Yukon Conservation Society to act on certain boards or for some service that we require. We would ask them to provide that service. If they were interested, we would pay them a fee for providing it.
In the way of a more direct response, yes, we are willing to look at helping them out, but it would be on a fee-for-service basis.
Mr. Penikett: May I suggest to the conservation officer that they call the Minister's office tomorrow morning?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. That is probably a good idea.
Ms. Moorcroft: I have some questions for the Minister. I thought I would start with the document that he provided yesterday about the strategic planning process. However, I guess he is bringing back the contract on the consultant who is working on the business plan after the break, so I will leave that for now.
I would like to go back to an issue I have asked the Minister about in Question Period, and that is one of the principles of the industrial development support policy.
I have been reviewing the industrial support policy while looking at the standards that they have provided for how they would assess whether projects measure up to fit into this industrial support policy.
The policy states that the Yukon government will place a high priority on education and training to meet the challenges of competing in a global economy, which is increasingly knowledge based. I would like to ask whose job the Minister thinks that is? Would Economic Development play a lead role in the work of the Yukon government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Depending upon the nature of the training, if courses or whatever were needed, we would work either with the Department of Education, Yukon College or the company.
Ms. Moorcroft: How is the Yukon government, through its Economic Development department, going to work toward achieving an increasingly knowledge-based economy? Specifically, what measures is the government thinking of taking that might help? The Minister has been asked a number of questions related to funding assistance to YukonNet and the work of bringing Internet into Yukon communities. Does he have a response to any of the questions that have been asked in the past and to the specific ones that I have put to him now?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not really know what the Member is getting at, but I responded to the questions about Internet some time ago. The Department of Economic Development is involved with Internet, as is Government Services. In fact, the Yukon government is spending a very large amount of money on Internet.
Once, when the Member opposite had asked me a very facetious question in Question Period, she made it sound as if we were not funding this organization at all. As it happened, Internet had asked to have their application withdrawn the day before she asked me those questions. I do not know what the Member is trying to prove or what she trying to get at.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there further general debate on Economic Development?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have copies of the service contract to Anielski Management Incorporated for circulation.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Minister some questions. I am not trying to be mean, but I just want the Minister to provide us with some answers. I think that he should be prepared for questions when we indicate an interest in subjects.
I thought that the industrial support policy is at the core of the government's economic planning. Going from the industrial support policy being a document that the department is using to support economic planning, the advantages and opportunities available in a knowledge-based economy are something that I have tried to explore with the Minister before.
We know that the Liberal budget has provided some dramatic cuts to all kinds of funding. For example, its approach to interest-group funding is changing and the plan is to not continue funding for many groups because of the financial situation.
I think that the programs that are in place are ones that should be taken advantage of, and I think that the Department of Economic Development should provide some leadership. One suggestion I made to the Minister in the past was that the federal partnerships infrastructure program, which is funding a number of projects in the Yukon, could have been used in the Yukon, as it was in other jurisdictions, to support Internet access for Yukon communities and Yukon regions.
I criticized the government for not sending a Minister to the conference on science and technology when the federal Minister of Science and Technology was here, because I think that the Yukon Ministers could have responded to the federal Minister's suggestion that that infrastructure program could serve Internet development.
I am aware that there are customers in place for the Internet service. I am also aware from the Education debate that schools have access to Internet. I am aware that Government Services is a customer for the Internet. However, in looking at the goal of the industrial support policy to have a knowledge-based economy, I think that Economic Development should show some support for infrastructure into communities. I think there is a tremendous opportunity to work with First Nations and communities to use this technology to our advantage.
I would like to know if Economic Development is going to be participating by supporting the regional hub, which is an infrastructure into the communities. When I asked the Minister about this issue in Question Period, he said that the department was waiting for a meeting with YukonNet and wanted them to answer some questions. I believe there has been a meeting, and that the ball is now in the government's court. I would like to know, if that is the case and if Economic Development has a response for YukonNet, if this department will support having the regional hub infrastructure extended into rural communities in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Certainly, the Department of Economic Development has always supported YukonNet, as has the Department of Government Services. The Member opposite, I guess, performed some theatrics for Question Period; I do not know the reason. I am just going to quickly run through what the status of the YukonNet application was.
The applicant applied for assistance for Internet on June 1. At that time, the project scope was a capital cost of $38,000; wages, $43,000; operation and maintenance, $54,000; for a total of $136,923. The project was eligible for some assistance because the benefits would accrue to Yukon businesses under small business support.
It was reviewed by the review committee, and it approved a repayable contribution of $29,000, representing 75 percent of the operating cost. In November, the president of YukonNet returned the offer unsigned and indicated that it could not accept the offer because there were too many changes in the project. So, a new application was submitted that totaled $420,000, including the following: capital cost, $261,000; wages, $92,500; and operation and maintenance, $67,000.
On January 9, the department was advised that the YukonNet was withdrawing its most current application in order to prepare a proper business plan - a marketing plan. In February, there was another application sent in. This was dealt with by the review committee on February 21. It came in just prior to February 21, which was just a few weeks ago. That application was for $192,000. The officer responsible for this particular project is in contact with the president of the society. What he wants to do is look at the feasibility, the practicality, the effectiveness and the efficiency - all of that sort of thing - and also have a discussion with Government Services, because it is committed to funding a very large portion of this project.
It has gone from a very small project, which was approved in June for about $30,000, to another request now of $192,000 for an outright contribution, as well as a very large contribution from Government Services. We want to get all the players involved, find out exactly what the cost is going to be for government and then deal with the project costs in total.
Ms. Moorcroft: This is the government that spends over $900,000 on Xerox equipment in the Queen's Printer.
I am asking the Minister to have some comprehension of the scope of this project. When I was in Mayo, people wanted access to Internet. In Dawson City, people want access to Internet. In Watson Lake and Teslin, they want the same. I can stand here and list all the rural communities in the Yukon that can use it in the schools, college campuses, municipal offices, First Nations offices and so on. It can be of tremendous benefit to the community. It can also reduce the cost of doing business, and
I would hope that this Minister would support that.
Could I ask the Minister if he has a grasp of the concepts and whether he would support a regional hub providing infrastructure into communities? Government Services is involved as a customer and is on the decision-making body because it is purchasing the service. That does not get this Minister off the hook. Economic development in the communities would be enhanced with Internet infrastructure in the communities. Does the Minister support that as a tool of regional economic development?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know what I have to do to convince this Member that we have always been supportive of Internet and of the Yukon node. There is absolutely no question that we have always been supportive of it. What we need to know is exactly what they want to do. At least four applications have been withdrawn. We are trying to work with the people involved and we have said all along that, yes, we are interested in helping out but we need to know the scope of the project.
We need to know how many people are going to take advantage of it in the various communities. We need all of that information. We need a full-fledged plan about how they are going to pay for the O&M costs, and so on. If funding is available, depending on the amount, we will certainly support the project.
My understanding is Government Services is not just acting as a customer, but is actually far more involved, in that it is providing access for other communities. We need to bring all the players together and find out exactly what the ongoing costs are going to be, and then, are there budgets available for it?
Ms. Moorcroft: I think the Minister has put some contradictions forward and I am not really sure how to start untangling them.
In response to my last question, the Minister stood up and said that YukonNet is working closely with the officer in the department on the project. Then, he said that he has to know what YukonNet wants to do. The Minister also said that there is an application before the department and the review committee for $192,000. Is it the Minister's understanding that the $192,000 application is being dealt with in the close relationship they have?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have not seen the application, but, I understand that the officer has been in contact with the president of the society. I believe that some of the requirements that I outlined a couple of minutes ago are being discussed right now.
Ms. Moorcroft: When the Economic Development Agreement Review Committee met on February 21, did it only consider the one application, or did it consider several of them?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have no idea how many applications went before the committee.
Ms. Moorcroft: Does the Minister know how long it would normally take for a response from the committee on the applications that are before it? Is it three or six weeks after the meeting? How long would it be?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The applicant would normally get a response within a couple of weeks. I suppose it would depend on the number of applications that were being reviewed, but I would expect that within a couple of weeks some sort of contact would be made.
Ms. Moorcroft: It has been a couple of weeks since the Economic Development Agreement Review Committee met. The Minister has just indicated that the department considered the application from YukonNet. I would like to know if the Minister supports the application, but that is a dead end. I do not think I will get an answer to that, because the Minister said he does not know what he has to do to demonstrate that he supports it. What he could do to demonstrate that he supports it is give me some answers to these questions.
When can a response be expected? On February 23, the Liberal budget was announced. There are a lot of cuts to a lot of programs, and people are feeling that time is important.
Is this application going to be dealt with in a timely manner?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would advise the Member opposite to have YukonNet phone the economic development office. I cannot be positive, but I believe there has already been some communication between the office and YukonNet. I would advise the Member opposite to phone whomever she deals with at YukonNet and advise that person to phone the economic development officer to inquire about the status of the application - if it has not already been done, because I believe contact has already been made.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister just finished telling me that the economic development officer is working closely with YukonNet. I am not trying to get involved in those specific negotiations between YukonNet and the Department of Economic Development. What I am trying to do is get the Minister to tell us whether or not his department, and that government, is going to take advantage of federal funding before that federal funding is cut.
I want to know if the government would be prepared to consider that a priority to fund through the Yukon government's own funding. Can the Minister answer those questions?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Each application is reviewed by an independent committee on its own merit. I do not even want to look at the applications before Management Committee makes its recommendations. I will not stand here and say that I will approve an application that I have never seen. There is no way that I would be willing to say that I will or will not support the application until it has gone through the proper process.
Ms. Moorcroft: First the Minister was complaining because he could not convince me that he was supportive and now he is saying that he is not prepared to indicate whether he is supportive or not until he receives a response from his officials about whether or not they support it.
Does the Minister think that there will be a change in the availability of funding as a result of the federal budget?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that the small business subagreement is under Industry Canada, and Industry Canada has advised that there will be no change to the funding available under its agreement for the upcoming fiscal year.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister also said he wanted to get all the players together, so he wants to wait for a response from the department and wait until all the players have been brought together before he makes a decision.
Can he give me a time frame for either one of those?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Minister does not make the decision on these applications. There is a management committee that is independent from government. It makes the decisions based on the budget and based on merit.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister just indicated that he does not make any decision on that. Is that what he said?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Minister does not make the decisions on funding these projects. I will say again that the applications go to a management committee, which reviews them, and then either approves or rejects them. If they are approved, it is based on merit and on the available budget.
Ms. Moorcroft: If the Minister does not approve them and the review committee makes the decision based on merit, why did the Minister want to bring the players together and look at the feasibility of what the different groups were contributing to the project?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Because of questions asked by the Member in the House, I got involved in this particular project whether I wanted to or not.
I suggested to the department that they get together with the YukonNet Operating Society, and they had done that, even prior to my making the recommendation. Right now it is up to the project officer to provide information and, I believe, recommendations to the review committee. They are the ones who look at the feasibility, the practicality and the efficiency of the applications.
Some time ago, I asked them to make sure all of that was done. I was not aware of the latest application, so I do not know exactly where it is at.
Ms. Moorcroft: I thought that the Minister was accountable for the policies and programs within the department. I wish the Minister had some understanding of the feasibility, the practicality, the effectiveness and efficiency of the project. It is a project with considerable merit and it could benefit a lot of communities. The more customers there are, the more reasonable the rate for Yukoners.
The Minister is sitting there laughing. He is obviously finding this quite amusing. Sitting there and making insulting comments under his breath is not going to speed this debate along.
I think I will just leave it, with the representation that I would like the Minister not to just indicate support because he is being asked a lot of questions about it. I would like him to show some real support in having a regional hub in Yukon communities and having all Yukon communities have access to an infrastructure, which would help to advance a goal that is supposedly a goal of this department's - to have a knowledge-based economy and to be able to have training and marketing opportunities available in Yukon communities.
Mr. McDonald: I have had a chance to briefly review the Anielski Management Incorporated contract. I do not have a copy of very good quality, so I cannot see the dates when it was signed, or anything like that, but that is not really critical to my line of questioning.
The Minister will remember the moment in Question Period today when the Minister of Government Services was asked whether or not there were any management consultants in the Yukon who can facilitate strategic planning. The Minister of Government Services was quite aggressive in saying, yes, yes, yes, there are consultants in the Yukon who can offer these kinds of services, but when it comes to dealing with high tech equipment like a DocuTech 135 super-duper jewel of the Government Services department, we need specialty help from a specialty company.
The point that he was making was that, when it comes to strategic planning, there are people in the territory who can do it. He went to some length to tell us that he is using local people in the strategic planning for the development of the special agencies within the department.
I was impressed by his performance, but it does not answer why the government feels that it needs to go to an Alberta company for strategic planning services. Can the Minister help us better understand what his department's thinking is?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: From my understanding, this particular company was chosen because it has done this type of business planning for the Alberta government in the past, and has quite a vast knowledge of this type of planning. That is as far as my understanding of it goes.
Mr. McDonald: I can appreciate that the fellow who is the principal of the company is probably very experienced. I am certain that he is probably a competent person; I do not have any information to the contrary. That is not relevant to the question that I am asking. I am asking whether or not there are Yukoners who have gone through strategic planning processes here in the Yukon, who understand the Yukon, understand the Yukon context, who have been involved in strategic planning here in the Yukon and have good reputations with the department, whether or not those people could have been considered for this kind of strategic planning process.
Having read through the management proposal, Mr. Anielski quite appropriately suggests that he is in favour of a quick and dirty exercise - and he means that in the positive sense of quick and dirty, not in the negative sense - which allows people to understand the basic elements of strategic planning, ensures that, as a team, they pull together in the same direction and ensures that everyone's energy is put to the best purpose. These are all things that are pretty routine when it comes to strategic planning. In fact, in his cover letter to Mr. Oppen, Mr. Anielski says that a lot of management consultants do essentially the same thing.
I will just read the relevant section here to which I am referring. He said, "I also had a chance to review the material from the Centre for Strategic Management.
"Other than being a polished and slick package, I found the materials to be based on sound theory for strategic and business planning. In general, there is usually very little difference between the theories adopted by strategic and business planning consultants."
It then goes on to say what he would do and his belief in the quick and dirty exercise.
I know for a fact - and I am sure that the Minister knows - that there are consultants in this town who are very experienced in strategic planning processes, who not only know the theory, who have been to the seminars and understand public and private management, but who also understand the Yukon and its conditions, have a sensitivity to First Nations, understand the imperatives of the umbrella final agreement when it comes to First Nations interests and understand some of the bigger political issues that are facing this territory. This gives them a unique perspective.
When I was listening to the Minister of Government Services say yes, yes, yes, I was saying yes, yes, yes to myself, thinking that there are some good people in the territory who could be used and who have been cultivated over the years. Why can they not be used here? I repeat one last time that I do not believe that Mr. Anielski is incompetent; I believe he may be very competent and very experienced in this field.
He has obviously had some success in Alberta. However, I am sure there are other consultants in Alberta, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and right across the country, who all have good reputations. The issue is: why do we not use a management consultant who has a good reputation in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that the reason that Mr. Anielski was chosen is because of the type of business planning involved. I believe the Member is quite correct that there are probably people in the territory who have been involved in strategic planning.
This is somewhat different from a straight strategic plan. At least, that is my understanding from the deputy minister's description. It is a model based on what is being done in Alberta. Mr. Anielski is quite experienced in putting this type of process in place. That was the reason he was chosen.
Mr. McDonald: I see that we are coming to the end of our day. I do not want to make it seem that I am a great defender of the private consulting industry, but I do recognize the value of the services that some private consultants can provide and I am certain that Mr. Anielski - I am not sure how that is pronounced - will do a competent job.
The Minister has not explained to us what is different in Mr. Anielski's approach versus that which would be fostered by a local person. I am hoping that the government and this department does not start adopting or using Alberta services simply because the deputy minister is most familiar with Alberta and the Alberta government.
I am hoping that the leadership in the department will show great faith in the skills and the knowledge that exists in the local private sector and in the consulting services that are home-grown.
I can only say to the Minister that I think if the department makes a habit of using Alberta services and ignoring Yukon services, then this issue, which is presently really not an issue, will become one. He and I know that we will both be on this subject well into the future.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I agree. I think the Member opposite knows me fairly well. I do agree with keeping the spending here at home as much as is practical, so I take his representation to heart.
Mr. Chair, I would like to move that we report progress on Bill No. 3.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday next.
The House adjourned at 5:27 p.m.
The following Legislative Return was tabled March 9, 1995:
Motor Vehicle Act amendments: list of groups that have met with the Motor Vehicles Act Review Steering Committee since 1992 (Brewster)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1233
The following Sessional Papers were tabled March 9, 1995:
Small business in the Yukon: issues facing - fax poll (Fisher)
Dawson City Economic Profile (February 1, 1994) (Fisher)