Tuesday, December 8, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I have a press release, entitled "Petro-Can to complete sale of ICG to Superior Propane". It appears the Economic Development minister's intervention was too little, too late.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the presence of two licence plates on vehicles aids the RCMP and citizens in the identification of vehicles; and
THAT this House urges the Government of the Yukon to reinstate the use of two licence plates for all vehicles licensed by the Government of the Yukon.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
Energy-efficiency initiative: Yukon Housing Corporation
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I rise to inform the House of another component of our government's ongoing policy response to the recommendation of the Cabinet Commission on Energy. In particular, I wish to focus attention on Yukon Housing Corporation's energy management initiative.
Earlier this fall, the Yukon Housing Corporation was given a lead role in developing and implementing energy management programs to help Yukon people save money by using less energy.
I'm pleased to announce a significant change in the residential electricity management program, or REMP. Homeowners who use 1,000 kilowatts an hour per six months in a one-year period will now qualify under REMP. The previous requirement was 1,500 kilowatts an hour.
This will give even more homeowners access to low-interest loans to replace electricity with more efficient alternative heating appliances. This, in turn, will help reduce the Yukon's reliance on diesel fuel for generating electricity in winter months, which is one of our government's goals.
Although few residential applications have been turned down because of low consumption, it is believed that many homeowners did not apply previously because they felt their electricity consumption did not warrant it.
I'm also pleased to announce changes to the commercial electricity management program, or CEMP. Municipal and First Nation governments will now qualify for the CEMP incentive. It will provide a five cent bonus for each kilowatt hour saved in the first year following energy efficiency improvement.
Mr. Speaker, the Housing Corporation has also undertaken several initiatives to increase awareness of the relationship between home construction and energy efficiency. These include continuing a self-help course in managing home construction, offered by Yukon College; a variety of new training courses and seminars to provide for the private sector and the R2000 building techniques; and, construction of an R2000 duplex in Teslin, to provide information on performance of a multi-unit R2000 building.
In addition, the corporation will partner with the Canadian Home Builders' Association, Yukon to co-sponsor a major consumer-awareness event next March. Homeshow '99 will be a two-day trade fair, with an energy-efficiency theme. It will offer one-time shopping, featuring contractors and renovation specialists, as well as heating and energy-efficient suppliers.
I'm also pleased to report that consumers have responded well to the recent reduction in the interest rate offered under the corporation's home repair program. Response to the special $99 residential energy audit has also been strong.
Finally, following a very successful trade mission in October, the Housing Corporation is actively promoting Yukon expertise in energy-efficient housing in Alaska. Canadian and Yukon construction standards are well-recognized there, and real opportunities exist for Yukon builders who can construct modular or other type of housing to CSA and energy-efficiency standards.
Mr. Speaker, the changes to the REMP and CEMP, as well as our training and consumer awareness programs, are part of Yukon Housing Corporation's contribution to increasing the efficiency and use of energy in Yukon homes and commercial buildings. This is an ongoing effort, and I look forward to advising the House of further initiatives.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I'm pleased to take this opportunity to respond to the minister's statement with respect to Yukon Housing Corporation's energy management initiatives.
Once again, Mr. Speaker, it would appear this government is right out of new initiatives to announce but, because they wish to appear that they are actually doing something to curb high power bills for the majority of Yukoners, they choose to re-announce announcements that have already been announced - slightly tweaked, but that's it.
Initiatives such as the corporation's home repair program and the R2000 programs are initiatives that have been in place for some time and are certainly nothing new, Mr. Speaker. Similarly, the residential electricity management program and the commercial electricity management program are also programs that have been in place for some time. The difference here, however, is that these programs have not been working well because of their limited application. So, in an effort to correct these problems, the government has chosen to introduce changes, about which I am pleased to say a few words.
With respect to the change to REMP, to allow homeowners who use 1,000 kilowatts of energy per month for six months in a one-year period to qualify for low-interest loans to replace electricity with alternative heating sources, I believe this is very welcome news for many homeowners.
While we are supportive of this initiative, I can't help but wonder why changes weren't introduced until just now, Mr. Speaker. When the program's announcement was first made, the minister may recall our caucus taking the government to task for not doing its homework in view of its restrictive criteria in this regard. At that time, we stated that the conditions that applicants must use more than 1,500 kilowatt-hours for six months of the year would disqualify many ratepayers. In fact, the energy minister even admitted that only 300 Yukon homes qualified under that guideline.
So, while we on this side of the House are pleased that the government has adopted our suggestion to extend the program, this announcement would have been much better received in August, when the program was first announced, so that many more Yukon homeowners could have benefitted.
Similarly, we are supportive of the changes being made to the commercial electricity management program, but pose the question to the minister as to why, only now, have changes been made to include municipal governments and First Nation governments?
I'd like to ask the minister if he could tell me how many applications the corporations have received and what net savings this program has provided?
While we are supportive of programs such as the energy guide and R2000 that will enable Yukoners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, we are of the opinion that this government must do more to reduce the unacceptable high cost of energy in the Yukon.
After having promised Yukoners stable and affordable electrical rates during the election, this government did exactly the opposite, despite what the Member for Faro says. They killed rate relief, setting Yukoners off on a harrowing roller-coaster ride of ever-increasing energy costs. If it wasn't for the $10 million received from Ottawa, we wouldn't have any rate relief, Mr. Speaker.
Energy-efficient homes are all well and good, but Yukon homeowners still have to have the financial resources to be able to to participate in this government's upgrading program, and as we are all too well aware, many Yukoners are not even able to do that in today's depressed economy, even at the discounted rate of $99, Mr. Speaker.
Having programs to create energy-efficient homes will assist those Yukoners who can afford them but will do little to help the vast majority of Yukoners who have to contend with the high cost of power through this winter.
The initiative to partner with the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Homebuilders' Association to co-sponsor a home show was a very positive move. With housing starts down some 50 to 60 percent, I only hope that there are some Yukon home builders left in this territory to participate in this show, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the minister's statement on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus. This statement deals with Yukon Housing Corporation's energy efficiency initiatives, but essentially, Mr. Speaker, what we have here is an update on ongoing programs.
Certainly, I am pleased that both Yukon First Nations and municipal governments now qualify for the commercial electricity management program, or CEMP. The uptake on this program in the past has been virtually non-existent. It makes sense to adapt this program to at least make it usable for the Yukon's highest energy users, which are towns and cities.
Perhaps the minister could tell us exactly how much money has been budgeted for the CEM program this year. I didn't see any money in the spring budget for CEMP, and there certainly doesn't seem to be any additional money in this fall's supplementary budget. How much are we planning to spend on this, and where is the money coming from?
The minister has already informed the public about the Canadian home builders' Homeshow '99, which will feature energy efficiency designs, contractors and suppliers.
The minister again makes reference to the trade mission to Alaska in October. Once again, can the minister give more detail as to the number of jobs being created in the Yukon as a result of this initiative and the dollar amount for these trade deals that may or may not have been struck with the private sector here in the Yukon?
Once again, Mr. Speaker, thank you for the update on these ongoing programs.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Housing Corporation has taken on the lead role from the Yukon Development Corporation on these two programs, the REMP and CEMP. Mr. Speaker, I must say that since the REM program has started, 171 people have used this program to install highly energy-efficient heating furnaces or appliances. So, we had a very good uptake with this.
This means basically, again, a savings to the consumer. It means work for trades people. I must say that there was a huge demand last year for this. It was to the point where industry could not keep up with the demand. This also means, of course, huge sales to Yukon suppliers and it means less pressure on the electrical grid and less reliance on diesel generation.
Mr. Speaker, we expect that more people are going to want to access this program. I must point out that 68 homeowners have applied for the $99 energy audit, and we expect this to encourage them to save on future costs by improving the energy efficiency in their homes.
The interest rate reduction and increased flexibility in the home repair program have been very positive, and the uptake has doubled over last year from 88 compared with 41 the year before.
Once again, this means local spending and local work on home improvement. I know the members have always said, "How are we going to be creating one job at a time?" By doing small things like this, this is creating work for Yukon people, and we will continue to try to improve programs like that. I think a little improvement - like cutting back to 1,000 kilowatts per hour - means that there will be more people able to access this. Some that may not have qualified in the past - maybe have used wood or other source of heating - that would like to qualify for this program now are able to do it.
Mr. Speaker, I think that Yukon home builders are quite capable of building high quality, energy-efficient homes and entry-level housing. I think they build them at very competitive prices. Our trip to Alaska has shown a lot of interest in Yukon houses and the way they're built. I think that the interest there in Yukon-built houses gives our home builders and us more opportunity and more variety to expand outside of the Yukon, and possibly build in Alaska. We will continue to follow up on that trade mission, and that trip to Alaska.
A member of the Yukon Party said that CEMP was not working well. I mentioned to him that 171 people have taken up this program, and it's working quite well. We've made changes, as the Liberals have said, to CEMP, to encourage municipalities and First Nations to access this program. I think that it's only fair that everybody be included in this, and we expect that we will have uptake in that.
And once again, we are working to reduce energy in the Yukon. We've had large amounts of dollars targeted to reducing the average homeowner's electrical bill - $10 million went into rate relief, Mr. Speaker.
I think we're doing a lot for Yukoners, and we'll continue to do that.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Land claim settlements
Mr. Ostashek: My question's to the Government Leader on the current status of land claim settlements in the Yukon. Mr. Speaker, in December of 1996, when we were in the Legislature, after the Government Leader had relieved most of the Land Claims Secretariat people of their duties, we asked him at what date he hoped to complete land claims, and he gave the Legislature the end of 1998 as a reasonable target date.
Mr. Speaker, we've heard some reports that Carcross First Nation and Kluane First Nation are close to settlements, but no new information has been forthcoming, while we're getting very close to the end of 1998.
My question to the Government Leader: does he still hope to settle all land claims by December of 1998?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, I think it's fairly obvious that some difficulties that the Kwanlin Dun have experienced make it impossible to complete all land claims by December of 1998, that being this month. I'm sure the member's aware of that in asking the question.
With respect to the other claims, Mr. Speaker, we are substantially complete on many of the other claims. The member has mentioned Kluane and Carcross-Tagish. The Liard First Nation is very much in that category as well.
So we are very close to completing the land claims, Mr. Speaker, but there are some difficult elements, and certainly the Kwanlin Dun negotiations will prove to be somewhat difficult to conclude.
Mr. Ostashek: Yesterday morning, I heard the Minister of Economic Development touting the construction of a large national gas pipeline from Fort St. John to Chicago. He went on to say that any spinoff benefits for the Yukon would depend upon reaching a land claim agreement with Liard First Nation. Otherwise, the pipeline proponents would be looking elsewhere for gas to fill their pipeline.
Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact Liard First Nation is in the midst of an election, this statement sounds like a thinly-veiled threat to me. My question to the Government Leader: is the government now resorting to intimidation and bullying tactics to finalize land claims?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, Mr. Speaker, we've disavowed ourselves of the record of the Yukon Party and I'm not taking any such tactic when dealing with First Nation issues, land claims or otherwise.
The election at Liard is to be held tomorrow with respect to the election of chief and council. Whether the chief and council are the same as those who are currently in place or not is immaterial. We will work hard to complete the negotiations, and feel that we have made substantial progress.
Mr. Ostashek: Whether the Government Leader wants to believe it or not, we have received several complaints from members of the Liard First Nation who believe that in fact this government is meddling in their internal politics.
Mr. Speaker, since the land claims are not going to be settled by the target date that the Government Leader himself set of December 1998, what is the new target date that the government is now aiming for for the finalization of all land claims in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I find it hard to believe that the member would be getting reliable information from Liard First Nation members, or anyone for that matter, that we are interfering in any First Nation politics, because the fact of the matter, of course, is that it's not true.
But in answer to the question the member has posed - what the new target date is - I can say to him that we have made substantial progress on the land claims. The agreements that I have mentioned are substantially complete. We will work very hard to complete the remaining two land claims negotiations as soon as possible.
The Ross River negotiations could conclude next spring. We've made very good progress in Ross River, even better than I had originally hoped. Kwanlin Dun is a matter that we're working hard on and, Mr. Speaker, I cannot give the member any specific target date on Kwanlin Dun because I simply, at this point, cannot tell.
Question re: FAS/FAE among inmates
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Speaker, a new study says that the federal government must find out how many inmates in Canadian prisons suffer from FAS/FAE. The author of the report is recommending people be screened when they go through the court system and has estimated between 60 to 75 percent of all people with the disability wind up in our prisons. It would be interesting to know if these same percentages apply in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
I understand such a study is already underway. The author, who is a clinical psychologist at Queen's University, has stated that the very first thing we should do is to be able to identify any FAS/FAE individual who enters our system. If this information is important to the functioning of the criminal justice system, it is even more important to identify this disability among our children and perhaps such an early diagnosis might actually prevent them from later entering the criminal justice system. Would the minister not agree?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, what I can agree with is that a good deal of diagnosis is already done. As a matter of fact, I think if the member were familiar, perhaps, with some of the studies in this regard, he might be aware of the fact that, frequently, the ability to diagnose - particularly FAS - diminishes with age, specifically into adolescence. The medical characteristics of an individual with FAS are largely determined by certain physical factors as well as a history of prenatal alcohol abuse. However, that can be done at a relatively early age. At a later age it becomes more problematic.
Most doctors and health nurses in the communities do identification, and one of the things we are working with right now is a screening tool that we're going to be able to provide to doctors and health professionals in this regard. We anticipate that this will support our medical professionals in that diagnosis.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, the previous Yukon Party government placed considerable emphasis on early identification of young people with this disability, but it's obvious that the minister does not. As a consequence, many of the problem children in our schools, the youth in our group homes and the adults in our jail suffer from this disability and are not receiving proper treatment.
Will the NDP government now reconsider its fear of labelling children and do the right thing in identifying children with FAS as early as possible, so appropriate care and treatment can be provided?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Precisely. My colleague, the Minister of Education, has said that's exactly what the healthy child initiative is about - not specifically with regard to FAS, but in terms of all early developmental problems.
The member, unfortunately I think, is shooting in the dark. He really doesn't understand some of the issues, some of the health-related issues, around this, but I can tell him that we are doing a tremendous amount of stuff. We have a variety of programs from age zero through five; we've got a number of programs from age six to 18; and so on.
By my understanding, Education spends approximately 20 percent of its overall budget serving special programs.
So, as far as his allegations that we're doing nothing, he's completely wrong - not that I'm surprised, because he's generally completely wrong on most issues, and if he had even a passing understanding of the health issue, he would understand that there needs to be considerably more work done around how we identify FAS in a medical context, and we're -
Speaker: The minister's time has expired.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister didn't say anything, Mr. Speaker. The only one who's in the dark, and isn't doing anything is the minister. Study after study, medical specialists and professional educators have all stressed early diagnosis of this FAS disability. Only this NDP government is dragging its feet reluctantly to even admit it has a problem.
Will the minister advise the House when the FAS study among inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre will be completed and released?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, it goes to the question of just how confused that member is when he's asking me a question that relates to justice. I can tell him that we have had some discussions with our own medical staff about what the most effective diagnostic tools are. We've also had some discussions with the statistics branch as to efficacy and parameters of any kind of a study that would be undertaken. I can tell him that there are things. It's not merely a question of going in and tossing darts and hoping that you hit the right person. This is a medical diagnosis that would have to be done with proper medical constraints and proper medical parameters. It's not something that you make up on the spot, much as the rather inventive Member for Klondike might like it.
Question re: Nurse reclassification
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, I also have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services, and they concern the recent nurse reclassification.
Mr. Speaker, almost three weeks ago, the minister announced that the reclassification was done. Well, it's not done. According to documents sent to nurses, it will take some time "to assess and calculate the pay implications for each employee, and this process will not be complete until the new year."
Well, Mr. Speaker, for a number of rural nurses, it means no cheque for Christmas. Why is the NDP dragging this sorry episode out another two months?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, it's pretty consistent to have the Liberals trying to politicize personnel issues on the floor of the House, but the issue of reclassification is a very complex one. It's one that the politicians do not interfere in. There is a system in place so that people are classified so that politicians aren't deciding who gets fired, who gets hired in the public service, and who gets pay raises and who doesn't. So, that's why we respect that, but the Liberal Party obviously doesn't.
We're pleased that the reclassification ended up getting handled the way it was in terms of the respect for that system, and the nurses were told at that time that there was an extensive, heavy workload in the Public Service Commission as a result of implementing the pay increases to the public servants and the managers through the recent collective agreement that was reached, and they would get the money retroactively in the new year.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, one of the members of this House said the money would be there for Christmas. Another member of the House is saying something completely different. I know that these are complex issues, but maybe a little lady like I can wrap her mind around them.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the NDP are running around taking credit for something they haven't done. I guess this isn't unexpected.
There are some nurses who are unhappy with the new reclassification already. Apparently the Washington company that did the work didn't satisfy everyone. In a letter to their union, nurses have described the offer as an "insult". Has the minister solved the problem or are we still undervaluing the work that our nurses do in the community?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, what the member's implying is that if she were in government, she would be, as the minister responsible, determining the classifications of government employees, what people get paid, who gets moved up in a bracket, who doesn't, who gets hired, who gets fired. That's completely inconsistent with the law in the Public Service Act. I'm appalled that the members opposite would try and politicize those personnel issues on the floor of this legislature.
Mr. Speaker, there is an appeal process in place for reclassification issues. That is the proper process for handling concerns about the reclassification. Some people have expressed some concern to the Public Service Commission about it; some are quite happy. I've received thank you letters from some nurses. So, there's a proper place for these types of issues to be dealt with, and that's in the reclassification appeal process.
The company that was brought up was brought up to ensure that a full hearing on the important issues that we are concerned about for the nurses - because we do know what they do for the community - were raised. We stand by that, and we think that the result was fairly good.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I'm asking questions about health issues because I am the critic in that area, and that's my job - I'm in the opposition.
Now, the letter goes on to suggest that certified nurse-practitioners working in the communities where there is no physician should be paid at a higher level. It also suggests that paying relief staff who are fully qualified at a lower rating than the certified nurse practitioners is an insult.
It goes on to say that relief certified nurse practitioners who are not treated equitably will choose to work elsewhere, thus leaving the health centres with infrequent relief.
This classification seems to have left a number of problems unresolved. Is it going to take the minister 19 months to deal with these problems, or can we expect a faster response this time around?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member is asking for the intervention, by the government, in the classification issues. I've explained to her that we have a process in place so that the politicians don't decide who, in the public service, gets hired, fired or gets raises or gets moved up. That's the reason we respected the process in bringing the people who originally designed it up to finalize it and actually put this in place for these professionals. Now, the member could quote from the letter that she just read, or she could quote from the thank you letter to the editor that was published in the local media on the good work that the government did in terms of, first of all, as a first principle, respecting the classification process and, number two, seeing some resolution so that we can improve our retention of nurses and also our recruitment of nurses. There is obviously, for people who don't feel it went far enough, a classification appeal procedure and that, Mr. Speaker, is how those kinds of personnel concerns should be handled. Not by that member or this member on the floor of the Legislature.
Question re: Ambulance attendant reclassification
Ms. Duncan: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
Over the past few years, considerable time and resources have been spent upgrading the Yukon's ambulance services in terms of both equipment and the training for attendants. What our attendants deal with and what they can do has increased dramatically in the last few years. Attendants are now out there dealing with things like gunshot wounds, HIV, hep C and drug addiction.
Mr. Speaker, we have fully trained these individuals to meet the emergency needs of Yukoners, but we have failed to meet their basic human need of proper recognition for what they do. Ambulance attendants and shift supervisors requested a job reclassification almost two years ago. They are still waiting for a response from this government. This is a repeat of the heel dragging with our rural nurses.
Why is the reclassification of these valued employees taking so long?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, there has been a classification backlog in the Yukon government for some time. When we came into office, it was extremely large. We actually brought in some more resources.
Sorry, I can't hear over the three amigos opposite.
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The peanut gallery gets quite loud.
But, Mr. Speaker, we brought in some more resources to help deal -
Hon. Mr. Harding: We made some very good gains, in terms of dealing with reclassification. We have experienced more requests in the recent future for reclassification, and we have to get to them as soon as we possibly can. It does take resources. The members opposite are constantly telling us that hiring people in operation and maintenance is growth in government, and it's bad, so it's ironic that they would be standing here, asking us to add more resources to O&M to deal with this important problem, but we may end up having to do that to deal with the classification backlog.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it shouldn't take a crisis like the rural nursing shortage to prompt the NDP government to treat their employees with respect. The work of these ambulance attendants should be valued by this labour-friendly government. The NDP government shouldn't have to be continually challenged on the floor of this House before they do the right thing. We know that Whitehorse residents who took over 2,000 ambulance trips this year alone value the services of these employees.
Will the minister quit the stalling and the excuses and blaming Bre-X, and commit that the reclassification will be done before the House resumes in the spring?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I don't know where the member heard me say the word "Bre-X" today in the House, but she's obviously somewhat -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, we do treat our employees with respect, with the utmost respect. We were the government that brought collective bargaining rights back to public employees in the territory - the Yukon Teachers Association and the Yukon Government Employees Union. We've negotiated two collective agreements with our employees. We brought in a harassment prevention coordinator to try and expedite concerns for harassment in the public service. We brought forward a workers' advocate in the Workers' Compensation Board to help injured workers work through the system at WCB.
So we do care very much about our employees. We brought in additional resources to deal with the reclassification backlog in the past. We made extensive progress in dealing with those important issues, and we may have to reassess and do some more of that to deal with the concerns that have been raised -
Speaker: The minister's time has expired.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, we're paying these people the same money that we pay firefighters at the airport. Now, no offence to the firefighters, but they don't deal with what these people are trained to do. They aren't making 2,000 ambulance trips a year. Mr. Speaker, these people don't want excuses and delays; they want action and a response from the government.
Ambulance attendants have been quietly serving Yukoners, waiting for a response for almost two years. There are no excuses. When will the reclassification of ambulance attendants be done?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I guess what the member is saying is that she believes, as a politician, she should be determining what people get paid within the public service, who gets raises, who gets moved up in classification, ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Mr. Harding: ... who gets hired and who gets fired. It's completely inappropriate and again, it's against the law in the Public Service Act. I can't believe the Liberal Party can't understand why it's important for politicians to respect procedures that are established for issues like grievance procedures for reclassification.
Now, the issue of the backlog is a concern to us and we have, as I told the member, brought in additional resources to deal with it in the past. We made extensive gains but, unfortunately, due to the number of requests with the transfer of federal government nursing programs to the territory, we've had some further delays.
So, I tell the member we are working on it. We do want to see the process respected. I, as a politician, am not going to decide how the firefighters stack up to the ambulance drivers. I think that that would be a mistake for us to do on the floor of this Legislature, and I'm going to respect existing processes and work within them so that we don't politicize the entire public service.
Question re: Taxation, squatters
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Government Leader in his capacity as the Minister of Finance and also in his capacity as the chief negotiator for the Whitehorse waterfront.
On December 3, I raised the issue of taxation of squatters' land with the Government Leader, but received instead some bafflegab from the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Mr. Speaker, it has long been the policy of the Yukon government to tax the improvements of residents who are not in legal occupancy of the land they are living on. It is my understanding that the Government of Yukon, in attempting to relocate the residents in the Sleepy Hollow/Shipyard area, approached the City of Whitehorse asking it to write off the $56,000 in back taxes owed by these residents. Can the minister advise the House if it is now the policy of the Yukon government not to tax squatters?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, as the member may or may not be aware, it has been the policy of the Yukon NDP government to deal with the squatting situation throughout the territory, both when the squatting policy was proposed back in the late 1980s, as well as dealing with the remaining squatters on the Whitehorse waterfront.
The policy, Mr. Speaker, has always been for the government to tax improvements on lands, not the lands themselves.
With respect to the circumstances on the Whitehorse waterfront, the situation here is that we're trying to encourage the residents to leave through a package of incentives, and to do so in a civil and humane way.
There is no overall policy in the Government of the Yukon to encourage all squatting situations in the territory to leave through financial compensation. We have made a special program for the waterfront in order to provide for waterfront development, which is a public priority in this territory, and we've done so because we want to see the clearing of the waterfront done in a humane way. Consequently, we've put forward a package of incentives that will hopefully accomplish that task.
Mr. Jenkins: Boy, did they ever put together a good package, but is it fair? Is it fair to everyone, Mr. Speaker? That's the question. Is the Government Leader saying that squatters shouldn't have to pay taxes now and, in fact, should be rewarded at the rate of $1,000 per year, to a maximum of $45,000, for illegally occupying land? Is that fair and equitable for the balance of the Whitehorse taxpayers who pay their taxes? Is this a fair way of going about it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, it is fair for the Government of the Yukon to try to provide some compensation to the Whitehorse waterfront residents, who are also squatters, in order to encourage them to leave their homes - in some cases, homes that they have occupied for up to 45 years.
Now, the member opposite, by his questioning, is suggesting, in effect, that any provision that the Government of the Yukon may adopt to deal with the squatting situation anywhere, including allowing squatters to buy lands for the price of a survey, which was the fundamental underpinning of the old squatters policy, is also wrong.
Well, Mr. Speaker, that was debated here in this Legislature 10 years ago, and the vast majority of Yukoners believed that the squatter situation should be regularized in an appropriate way. There were a lot of people who were in that situation, historically. There are some remaining squatter situations on the waterfront, and we're trying to deal with that in a specific way, in order to ensure that the government acts humanely and that the public objective of the waterfront being cleared is also achieved.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we have a similar case that happened a number of years ago, with the Whitehorse escarpment. Now, we have a new policy - totally different.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: No one was dealt with that generously at that time. We have equivalent replacement value that these people are receiving - flat rate equity, long-term occupancy, special allowance for senior citizens, moving expenses. What is this government prepared to offer law-abiding Yukoners who pay their taxes faithfully? What is the reason for this double standard?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member should not have raised the issue of the Whitehorse escarpment area, because, unlike him, I was there when the Whitehorse escarpment program was undertaken by the Yukon Progressive Conservative government, and the federal government. Compensation was indeed paid to those residents, including squatters there who had no land tenure whatsoever.
What the member is essentially doing is saying, Mr. Speaker, that he disagrees with the Whitehorse escarpment program; he disagrees with the old squatting program - which regularized giving some benefits to squatters that wasn't given to all people who purchased property; and he's disagreeing with this particular program to see the clearing of the Whitehorse waterfront for public development. He's suggesting that there should not be any - in principle - benefit to those long-term residents who we are clearing from the Whitehorse waterfront area.
Mr. Speaker, I can only say to the member that I disagree with him. I find it inconsistent with the criticism that he raised - he and his party raised - when we first announced this particular initiative, when they insisted that we be sensitive, and we be caring -
Speaker: The minister's time has expired.
Question re: FAS testing
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Justice on FAS testing at the jail.
The government announced, in September, that it was planning a survey of inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre in an effort to come up with some firm numbers on how many inmates suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects. Now, a few weeks ago, I asked the minister some questions about the survey, but I didn't get any answers, so I wonder if the minister, today, would give us some background information on this survey. Who is doing it and how long is it going on? How many inmates will be surveyed, and is the whole jail population going to be surveyed?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, as I believe I informed the member opposite when he raised this issue the first time, the Department of Justice has been part of a group that's working on options for independent living to identify alternative housing needs for FAS adults. That examination of a living alternative may apply to offenders or to non-offenders.
Mr. Cable: Are we in the same room together? I asked about the survey. Who is doing it, how long is it going on, how many inmates will be surveyed, and is the whole population going to be surveyed? Could the minister answer that question?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the answer to the member's question is that the Department of Justice is working with the Options for Independent Living, as the community group is now naming themselves. It includes members of the public service from a number of departments. It includes people from Challenge, from vocational rehabilitation and from the Department of Justice. They are looking at identifying alternative housing needs for FAS adults. We are also looking at a needs assessment for FAS offenders, because we want to identify alternatives to incarceration. The restorative justice work that I announced in this House yesterday, in looking at rehabilitative programming and alternatives to incarceration, will be built on community involvement and on partnerships with First Nations.
Mr. Cable: Let me ask this question: the minister has been asked about the diagnosis of school children with FAS or FAE, and she's trotted out the labelling argument. She has, in effect, said that, in that context, diagnosis is equivalent to labelling. A confidential interview with a child about learning disabilities would be like sticking a sign on the child. If that equation holds true in the schools, why doesn't it hold true in the jail?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the member's premises are completely wrong. We agree that early diagnosis of FAS is helpful. Diagnosis is done by medical professionals. According to information from the Yukon Medical Officer of Health, doctors in the Yukon are far more informed and able to diagnose FAS than doctors elsewhere in the country. An early diagnosis is important. The healthy child initiative that my colleague, the Minister of Health, has announced is about early diagnosis. It's about both prenatal and postnatal care. That diagnosis is beneficial. So is dealing with the needs, with the disabilities, whether it's in the education system or in the justice system.
In the justice system, I can tell him that we believe that the way to reduce the number of offenders is to help them lead safe, productive lives, and to look at alternatives to incarceration, both for offenders who may have FAS and for all offenders. That's what we're doing with restorative justice.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. Private member business.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I'd like to inform the House that the members of the official opposition will call Motion - sorry, Mr. Speaker - do not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, December 9, 1998, under the heading of opposition private members' business. This is based on an agreement among the House leaders, and the government House leader informed the House on December 1, 1998.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to inform the House that the members of the third party do not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, December 9, 1998, under the heading opposition private members' business. This is based on the agreement between the House leaders.
Speaker: We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 13 - Third Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Chair: Committee will be dealing with Bill No. 13, Third Appropriation Act, 1998-99. Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, there was a question put to me yesterday evening with respect to the Northern Accord resource revenue-sharing agreements, and particularly the First Nation sharing and resource revenues.
To be a little more precise and to verify information I provided last night, I can indicate that the resource revenues to which I am about to refer only refer to royalties. Other revenues, such as bid bonuses and lease rentals are not to be shared.
The sharing involves the first $2 million in royalties that the Yukon receives and that will be shared at a rate of 50 cents on the dollar. Any revenues over $2 million will be shared with First Nations at a rate of 10 cents for each additional dollar collected.
There is also a cap on the royalties, of course, and this is based on per capita First Nations' incomes, inclusive of royalties being shared, but not exceeding the national average per capita income.
That is the nature of the agreement with First Nations.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that. So, I recall the 50 cents on the dollar for the first $2 million, and 10 cents on the dollar to First Nations on anything over and above that. Where would the cap kick in? I mean, I'm trying to get my head around that. Would it kick in at $5 million? Would it kick in at $10 million? Where does the cap come on where the federal government takes everything over and above? At some point, we only get up to a certain level, and then the federal government gets the royalties. That is my understanding of the Northern Accord. Could the minister just relay that information to us? He can do it in a legislative return if he wants.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the cap, as I indicated, is not a set amount. It is based on the per capita income of First Nations. There is a more precise formula, but it's a floating cap, depending on the income of First Nations.
With respect to the offset arrangements, perhaps rather than read this into the record I can just send it over at some point to the members and they can read it for themselves.
Mr. Ostashek: This question is sort of supplementary to the main question.
We share with the First Nations, 50/50, the first $2 million, then we give the First Nations 10 cents on every dollar up to a certain cap. Then there was a cap where the federal government kicks in.
Once the federal government starts getting the rest of the money out, do they still share it with the First Nations, 90/10, or does the federal government take 100 percent of it over a certain level?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The revenue to be shared with First Nations only refers to the revenue that would otherwise go as part of the Yukon revenue. The federal government takes its revenue.
Mr. Ostashek: I've got just a few more questions in general debate that I think we need to explore while we're here.
The first one is in relation to the Faro mine. It has come to our attention that the federal government - the Liberals in Ottawa - want to mothball the mine and mill for five years, to sell it in a better environment, they hope, when metal prices are at a higher level and they would get more return on the dollar.
First of all, let me ask the Government Leader if, in fact, our information is correct, and what is the territorial government's position on it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, what I've got to say I'll have to check with the minister responsible for Economic Development, because the positioning that the federal government has taken, and that many of the parties have taken, in the negotiations around the actions that will drag the receiver through the courts evolves, and so the federal position may have changed or may have involved some elements that the member cited. I don't know that and I won't know that until I check with the minister.
However, in more general terms, I can tell him that it has only been recently that the federal government has adopted the position that the mine should be held in some usable form for resale purposes. There was a period, very recently, in the negotiations that the federal government was siding with those who wanted to simply sell off the mine piecemeal, and the Yukon government successfully argued with them that this would leave them more liable to public exposure for taking responsibility for the environmental cleanup that they would otherwise be.
If it is more difficult to operate the mine or if it is difficult or impossible to sell the mine, then there is less likelihood that there will be a purchaser, of course, and a purchaser who will ultimately invest in the environmental trust fund. So, the Yukon government's position is that we have been encouraging the mine to be held in as usable a condition as possible in order to encourage as early a start-up as possible, so that the Yukon can receive the economic benefit of having a mine actually operate. Ultimately, of course, the new mine operator will invest in the environmental trust.
What the federal minister indicated to me the last time we spoke was that she was coming to the conclusion that, in order for the mine to sell, the federal government would have to assume some portion, or a large portion, of the existing environmental responsibility so as to make it more likely that a new or prospective purchaser would take up the mine or buy the mine.
It's very difficult to sell the mine now with the substantial environmental liability hanging over the head of the new purchaser. So the federal government has been talking about, at least, the assumption of some of that environmental liability, and we've been encouraging them to think precisely in that way.
Mr. Ostashek: That's precisely my concern: the fact that if in fact this property is mothballed it makes sense to be able to sell it - it would be easier to sell it - but there are going to be a lot of creditors who are going to get hurt. Has the government given any consideration to that, because there are no other assets to sell, and we have a substantial number of people out there who are holding claims against the assets of the mine who are behind the federal government. I know the federal government is first in line, and it appears like the federal government is waving the big stick now, from what we hear, and I guess this'll all come out in the court case on December 22 or 23.
Has any thought been given as to what's going to happen to the creditors? Some of them may go into receivership if they don't get the money from the sale of these assets.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Like I say, Mr. Chair, most of the time that we've spent has been dealing with trying to accommodate the creditors' interests without jeopardizing the general public interest, which is to see the mine operate. We want to see this mine operate. Clearly, we've been having endless discussions in this Legislature about what the economic impacts are on the territory of this mine not operating. We would like to see the mine operate.
It would turn the economic fortunes of this territory around very quickly, but we are aware that there are some creditors - everybody from the Ross River Dena Corporation to business people in Whitehorse - who have invested a lot of resources in the mine. Of course, their interests are very much on our minds as well.
We want to try to accomplish both tasks, and we feel that, in the short term and the long term, it will be beneficial to the territory.
Mr. Ostashek: We will pursue that a little more with the Minister of Economic Development. I just want to talk to the Finance minister and Government Leader in general terms about it.
Another question that is asked by a lot of constituents is if, in fact, this scenario does play out - that the properties are going to be mothballed for an extended period of time - how long is the territorial government going to go on funding the Town of Faro as a municipality which, regardless of the number of people in it, takes a substantial number of tax dollars? Has there been any thought given by this government as to how they're going to deal with the issue of the Town of Faro?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, there has been some thought given to what the ultimate impact will be on the expenditure side in Faro, and clearly, with respect to operations such as the school, we have already reduced some of our expenditures there, because those expenditures are very directly tied to the number of students in the school.
With respect to the municipal grant to the Town of Faro, no decision on changing that grant has been made. As a general proposition, Mr. Chair, the Government of the Yukon does not want to be the one leading the charge in abandoning a community in trouble. We would like to provide as stable a force in difficult times as we possibly can. Of course, there will come a time eventually when the new reality, if it settles out and settles at a much lower level - if the activity in the town settles out to a much lower level than it is today - that will ultimately be influential in determining what resources we can bring to bear to provide support.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I thank the Government Leader for that. Nobody is asking the Government Leader to lead the charge on this, but again, our questioning is to see what planning this government is doing in the face of what may become a reality, and it may become a reality in a very short period of time.
The fact remains that, regardless of the number of people who are left in Faro, under the Municipal Act, the municipal grant will still be in excess of $1 million even if there are only a couple of hundred people because population only plays a small role in the amount of the grant. So, that is the reason I have asked the Government Leader and Finance minister the question. This does have an impact on financial resources of the government. If we're going to be paying in excess of $1 million for a population of a couple of hundred people, there has to be some alternate way that we can support the town without that major expenditure.
All I'm trying to find out from the Government Leader is what thought has been put into those scenarios if, in fact, the December 23 decision of the federal government is to mothball this property for an indefinite length of time or to try to sell it as an operating mine rather than selling off the assets.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We are certainly aware, and I've been personally involved in a couple of scenarios where we've had to deal with the aftermath of the mine closure. Certainly, there is plenty of Yukon government history in the procedures for mothballing the Faro mine and dealing with the closure. The member has gone through it himself and so, there is a lot of corporate memory as to what is required.
With respect to the fortunes of the town, we will be watching carefully what happens in terms of the population fluctuations. That will be the signal as to what we do next. We will be keeping an eye on it over the course of the next year and we'll see what needs to be done to provide good economies but also required support for the remaining residents.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that. Can the minister tell us how many people are in Faro, as of now, and how many children are in school?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I understand that there are over 400 people in town; there are about 120 students in the school. That is the current projection. We will see what happens over the course of the winter and into the spring and summer, and we will be there and provide the level of service that is required for a community of whatever size.
Mr. Ostashek: I just want to move on to one more topic, while we're on general debate, and that is the O&M costs of government and the size of government. I know this is a debate that can go on and on between the Government Leader and me - as to what role devolution plays in it.
By the government's own figures, as of October of 1998, excluding devolution of the second phase of the hospital, there's been an increase of 17l employees between June 1997 and June 1998. That causes me some concern, in a shrinking private sector economy, where we have a growth in government to service a smaller number of people in the population.
Mr. Chair, that 171 people amounts to a 5.2 percent increase in the workforce. This is in the statistical review of October 1998. It is comparing apples to apples: it's June of 1997 to June of 1998. June of 1997 would have been after the devolution of the hospital and the 200 employees that came over on April 1.
This appears to me to be another increase of another 171 employees, and I would like to ask the Government Leader the reasons for that increase and where does he see the size of government and the cost of government going - excluding devolution, because this seems like growth in government not attributable to devolution.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, we do have interesting debates, Mr. Chair, on the subject of growth in government. The member will, I hope, forgive me if I'm not entirely certain where the opposition stands on the subject because, when it comes to summing up what has happened or what happens, the members in the opposition uniformly, Liberal and Yukon Party, criticize the government for any growth in O&M budgets. Even in the Question Period today, Mr. Chair, there were more requests for more O&M funding. Every day there is an incessant stream of requests for O&M funding from the government.
So, I'm not certain where the members in opposition stand. Perhaps the leader of the official opposition is the most consistent on this subject, but I can tell the member that, from my vantage point, the overall advice being provided by the opposition is entirely inconsistent on this point, and there is no doubt that, if one were to accept the propositions being put forward by just the opposition members alone, just in Question Period, the O&M budget of the government would rise dramatically.
In terms of the numbers of growth in full-time equivalents in the Yukon government, excluding devolution, Mr. Chair, our figures show only an increase of 13 FTEs in the Yukon government. Statistically, the figures draw reference to federal, territorial, municipal and First Nation governments. As far as the Yukon government is concerned, the records from PSC show an increase of 13.
Now, from the member opposite's perspective, that's 13 too many, I'm sure, and perhaps would like to see that reduced. There we can agree to disagree, but the figures that the member is mentioning are not the figures we have when it comes to the calculation of the Yukon government growth.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, these figures should not be new to the Government Leader. I raised them over six weeks ago, or a month ago anyhow. These are taken from the government's publication, the Yukon Monthly Statistical Review, October of 1998. This is not a total of all government employees - municipal, First Nation and federal. This is in the column, and this is on page 2 of the review under the column of territorial government. On the sidebar, it says that the total government employment increased by 188 or 3.7 percent, and that the federal government employment decreased by 2 or .2 percent, and that the territorial employment increased by 171 or 5.2 percent.
I'm referring only to the territorial government employees in the Government Leader's own government's own publication. This is what the public is getting. The public on the street sees this and says that the territorial government is growing by 5.2 percent between June of 1997 and June of 1998.
Now, the Government Leader is telling me that there are only 13 more people. There is a discrepancy.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I recall the press release to the member put out about a month ago, and I recall - I don't have the papers in front of me - that the member was comparing not only pre-devolution when he was talking about 378 employees, if my memory serves me correctly. That was a pre-devolution figure. He was also talking about a winter-employment figure, which is lower than a summer-employment figure. If one compared the exact same months, then the figures were different. So, I recall that, Mr. Chair.
The information that I have got from the Public Service Commission shows an increase in actual employment for government of 13 full-time equivalents. I'd be happy to provide a breakdown for the member.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm not satisfied with just what the Public Service Commission is saying. This is a document that is put out by the territorial government. If it's wrong, then it ought to be corrected. He should not stand here in the House today and say that there are only 13 more employees because, clearly, that's not what his statistical branch is telling Yukoners. So, I'm not satisfied with just a return from the Public Service Commission saying there are only 13 more full-time equivalents when this document says there are 171 more as of June 1998 compared to June 1997. We are comparing apples to apples.
If the Government Leader can't answer that on his feet today, I don't know, why because I've raised this issue time and time again and he keeps refuting it, saying the government isn't growing when, in fact, the statistics branch is saying it is growing - and growing quite alarmingly when you look at the decrease in the population of the Yukon as a whole.
Government is here to service that population. Why does it take 171 more people to service this population? If the Government Leader can't answer it now, I would be satisfied with a return with a clear explanation as to where the discrepancy is between the statistics branch and his Public Service Commission.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I can provide that.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? We'll proceed to Yukon Legislative Assembly. Is there general debate?
Yukon Legislative Assembly
On Yukon Legislative Assembly
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Legislative Services
Ms. Duncan: I'd just like to state for the record that the briefing we were provided indicates that some of these funds were required for employees of our caucus. These employees are a result of having our employees the same status as other employees. We have, up to now, in fact, been saving some money by having contract work done. We asked to have our employees on the same status as other caucus employees, and that was the requirement for those additional funds.
Legislative Services in the amount of $22,000 agreed to
On Legislative Assembly Office
Legislative Assembly Office in the amount of $7,000 agreed to
Elections in the amount of $1,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for Yukon Legislative Assembly in the amount of $30,000 agreed to
Yukon Legislative Assembly agreed to
Executive Council Office
On Executive Council Office
Chair: Is there general debate?
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister for an explanation? Is this the result of the settlement with the Public Service Commission, or are there additional projects anticipated with this funding?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The increase required for the Executive Council Office is due to two items. The first is $109,000 to support the increase in wage levels in all branches, and this relates directly to the negotiated agreements.
One hundred thousand dollars is related to two items. One is the public consultation related to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, which is now going to be undertaking public consultations and public discussions around work on the economy, and the second is the review work related to the code of regulatory conduct, which is being led by the Executive Council Office.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, would the minister indicate, then, have there not been any additional resources dedicated to either devolution or land claims?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, we did, in the main estimates, dedicate greater resources to devolution and to land claims. We are funding everything from the special council dealing with the Yukon Act to the negotiators, who have been putting in a mountain of work to support the devolution negotiations. Whether all those funds will be required depends very heavily on whether or not the project continues past December.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I have a few areas I want to cover under Executive Council Office, just to be brought up to date from the spring session. Basically, what is the status of the commissions? I have some questions on land claims; I have some questions on the DAP and some questions on devolution, before we get into the numbers on the department expenditures as a whole.
I just wonder if the Government Leader could give us a quick update on the status of the commissions and, if some have been disbanded, what has happened to their employees? There were four deputy heads, called deputy commissioners; what has happened with them? Could he just give us a complete update on the commissions.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, of course the development assessment process commission is still working and will be continuing to work as long as there is a need for public input into the development assessment process. The energy commission has concluded its work. The forest commission has concluded its work, and the Yukon hire commission has concluded its work.
The employees have been reassigned to other tasks. In the energy commission, for example, the deputy commissioner has been reassigned to devolution work primarily.
The forest commission - the deputy commissioner has been re-assigned other tasks, temporarily at least, in the Executive Council Office, in the department itself. I'm not certain where ultimately the deputy commissioner will go.
All but the development assessment process commission are concluded.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, this is one of the criticisms we had of the commissions when they first started. The Government Leader stood on his feet in this House day after day after day and said that these commissions had a finite lifespan.
The fact remains that the employees are still in the system somewhere and hence the increase in the size of the civil service.
Is it the intention that these people will be employed in government for time immemorial? These were four commissions that were established by this government as their way of developing policy, and it involved basically the hiring of four more deputy ministers in this government.
So are these positions going to be maintained in government? That's very high-priced help, and I just want to know from the Government Leader what his plans are for them.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the employees for the commissions came from the system, and they're going back to the system. The deputy commissioner for the energy commission was a deputy head of government, and that person is working now on the revisions to the Yukon Act. So they did come from the system; they were in the system, and they are now returned to the system to work on government priorities.
With respect to the development assessment process commission, that was a new hire, and that person will be leaving the government, I understand, when the development assessment process commission is concluded. The local hire deputy commissioner was hired as a new hire for the purposes of the development of the local hire commission, and that person has left the government.
The deputy commissioner of the forestry commission was hired out of the Department of Economic Development, was transferred from the Department of Economic Development to the Executive Council Office, and is, for the time being, doing some work in the Executive Council Office.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, well, at least one of these deputy commissioners was replaced by another person when this government took office. Another deputy minister was hired in place of that one, and the one is still an assistant. So, what I'm saying is that we do have a lot of high-priced help around and it is adding to the cost of government. I'm just asking the Government Leader to justify maintaining these positions, regardless of what they're doing.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, in the case of the energy commission deputy, Mr. Chair, I will justify it by saying that I think that as long as the devolution project is on track - and that may be debatable by the end of the week - necessary work must be done on the Yukon Act. Consequently, the person who has been assigned that task is a senior person, and also a person who was assigned the task as constitutional advisor some years back and is well-suited to perform the duties that are being assigned to him.
I think that is a useful expenditure and a useful dedication of public resources. The member obviously disagrees. I don't.
With respect to, as I mentioned, the development assessment and the local hire commission, both are hired from outside the government; one has left and the other will be leaving when the project is complete.
With respect to the forestry commission, I don't know precisely what the person is being assigned to do right now, but I understand that they have been assigned some tasks in the Executive Council Office, but that person came from the system and is back in the system.
Mr. Ostashek: I will leave the commissions until the spring session, Mr. Speaker, when we get into the main budget and new estimates and expenditure for the Executive Council Office.
I want to just spend a little time on land claims. We only got one question in Question Period on it today. The Government Leader himself has indicated to me that a couple of the bands were close to finalizing their land claim agreement. He said in Question Period today that others were making progress. Could the Government Leader tell me if he expects an announcement in the near future on the finalization of, say, the two that the public has been led to believe are very close to being finished, the Carcross First Nation and the Kluane First Nation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Kluane First Nation negotiations are substantially complete. I know of no outstanding issues at all. With respect to the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, the major issues have been dealt with and it was scheduled to be wrapped up right at the point when there was a death in Carcross and the final wrap-up session was postponed.
Ta'an Kwach'an negotiations are substantially complete - for all intents and purposes complete - but there is a dispute over implementation costs with the federal government and that is holding up the initialling of that agreement, and we have no ability to change the nature of that dispute unless we were to put money into it ourselves, which, of course, we won't do.
The few remaining outstanding claims are Ross River, Liard and Kwanlin Dun. As I indicated in Question Period, I expect Ross River to be completed in the spring. Substantial progress has been made. Liard is complete. There may be a couple of outstanding issues. I would not consider them to be major. It could happen before the end of this month or it could happen January 1. That has yet to be concluded, but we're very close.
As for the Kwanlin Dun, I have no way of knowing when the negotiations will restart in earnest. We've always indicated that we are prepared to negotiate. We have been prepared to go to any tables that may be convened but, to date, no formal negotiations have restarted. There is, as the member knows, still uncertainty as to the nature of the leadership at Kwanlin Dun. I don't know when that will be resolved. We have played no part in that.
As far as transboundary claims are concerned, we have indicated that we are prepared, under the UFA and pursuant to the UFA, to negotiate transboundary claims, and I expect that, probably in January or February, the negotiating table for transboundary claims will be underway in earnest.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Government Leader for that update. I want to talk a little bit about Kwanlin Dun, because that is probably going to be the most difficult claim of them all to settle. I know that I received quite a bit of criticism from the Government Leader when he was in opposition for not proceeding faster on it, but it is a very difficult claim, and I'm not going to chastise the minister for not making any progress on it, like he did me.
But, at the same time, it's an issue that's going to affect many, many Yukoners. In fact, I believe it's affecting them now, with land that's been basically put on hold pending the finalization of the claim. Many Yukoners come to me, and they're frustrated and looking for, well, wanting to see the claim finalized.
I understand the position of the territorial government. I understand the difficulty in trying to complete that claim but, in light of the difficulties with reaching a final agreement with the Kwanlin Dun, how long is the land going to be held in abeyance without any opportunity for any development? Is it going to be held in abeyance forever for Kwanlin Dun to come to the table, or what's going to happen? What's the Government Leader's position on it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, I can assure the member that, if there was an active negotiating table, the Yukon government would be present. The moment someone convenes one, we'll be there.
With respect to the general prospects for development, we have spent some time developing a process of appropriate consultation with the First Nation to ensure they are informed of land development proposals.
We've, of course, initiated some land development proposals in the City of Whitehorse. The Range Road mobile home development is an example.
We have indicated, in the first instance, that we are not going to be developing lands that are considered approved selections at the table, and we have considered approved selections as being the selections that were approved by negotiators during the period of the previous administration. I understand there are some outstanding issues as to what constitutes approved lands and what are not, and that's a grey area.
For the purposes of what we're doing now, we are seeking to develop some lands and are working with the City of Whitehorse and Kwanlin Dun, when we can get an ear, to see development take place. We do not believe that no development should happen while we get the negotiating table back in operation. So, we're talking with the First Nation, we've been consulting with them about land development activities, and so far so good in terms of ensuring that there are no angry confrontations between the two orders of government.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, one of the major difficulties I found when we took over government was that in the dealings with Kwanlin Dun, they hadn't progressed in negotiation with the previous administration prior to our taking office. There was a set of maps that were put out. When we came to the table, there was a new set of maps presented, which basically put everything back to square one again.
What position is the Government Leader taking on the lands that have been negotiated and initialled off so far, because my recollection is that about 85 percent of the selections had been completed and agreed to by all the parties at the table. There were still some outstanding major issues that needed to be covered off, but I would hope that we're not going to go back to square one with a new set of negotiators and start the process all over again.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the set of maps that I'm referring to, Mr. Chair, are the maps that were considered initialled by negotiators during Yukon Party administration. In some respects they are substantially complete. We have not advanced that. We have not had a table to continue the land selections or try to finalize land selections and that sort of thing. However, I am aware that there is an outstanding issue as to what the understandings were when those land selections were approved by all orders of government.
The understanding, as I understand it, was that those selections, with some notable exceptions, were to follow the laws of general application. That was the position of the Yukon government that was disputed by the First Nation government. It felt that that was not a settled matter. The Yukon government negotiators indicated that had they been aware that the lands would have full self-government powers, they would have approved a different package of lands. So, that dispute is not settled, and the finalizing of the lands package has not been settled.
What we are doing is ensuring, through interim measures, that there is appropriate consultation to allow development activities of some nature to continue.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you. I want to move on here.
I want to talk a little bit about DAP. At one meeting that I attended in Whitehorse, DAP was not very well received by the general public.
The Yukon territorial government is the signatory to DAP - as is the First Nations, as is the federal government - even though it is federal legislation, I understand that. But in light of the rejection by a great number of Yukoners - about 70 that were at that meeting - is the Government Leader satisfied with DAP in its present form, or does he believe it needs major revisions?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I am aware of the concerns around DAP. One of the reasons why the Government of Yukon - the NDP government - took such a strong position to encourage a more methodical, deliberate, public approach to the development of DAP was because people were concerned about whether or not it would be one window, whether or not it would be efficient, and whether it would meet the needs of the whole community. Consequently, the DAP commission was established to help provide that public input.
There are still concerns - even after the work that has been done now by the three orders of government. The Yukon government has a table of interests - development and conservation interests - that is used as a focus group for discussing the various items. Even after all of that, there are still some concerns about the provisions in the draft DAP legislation, to be taken into the federal Parliament.
I've had discussions with the DAP commissioner on the subject, to encourage him to encourage the other parties to the negotiations, to ensure that we do further work and try to influence it so there is further work, to ensure that some of the issues that have been identified by people can be addressed, and should be addressed.
Part of the problem we face is that the procedures are new, and people assume the worst when it comes to anything that is new.
I felt, and the DAP commissioner feels as well, that it's important that we identify what those procedures are in some detail so that we will know better what might actually happen in specific cases that would come before the development assessment process boards and officers.
It is certainly in the Government of Yukon's interest, given that we have a capital plan that contains projects - many projects; large projects that would be subject to the development assessment process. It's incumbent upon all of us to ensure that the process is efficient and effective and meets the promise that was identified in the land claims agreements.
We are looking through our options now to determine what further input can be achieved and what further discussions should be undertaken in the community to try to make the legislation better.
Mr. Ostashek: I don't want to get into the details of DAP here. We don't have time in this forum. We're running down to the end of this session. What I want to know from the government - my understanding at that meeting was that DAP was going to the federal government in January, that there wasn't much time, and this was a major concern to everyone who was in that room at that meeting, that this was going ahead, come hell or high water.
What I want to know from the Government Leader is if he'll go on the public record today and say whether he will support it going to the federal government in its present form - and he has a lot of power, because he's one of the signatories to it - or is he prepared to delay it until he can get better consensus on DAP and not push it through to the federal government?
The timetable that was given to the meeting was that this thing was supposed to be passed as federal legislation by June. From the comments that I heard from some very knowledgeable people - not just the ordinary person on the street, but people who deal with this type of legislation on a day-to-day basis - is that there are some major difficulties with DAP in its present form.
What I'm looking for from this Government Leader is, does he sympathize with these people and is he prepared to push the federal government for some major revisions, or at least get these people on side before he allows it to go to the federal House of Commons for approval?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the member has a lot more faith in my ability to turn back the forces of the federal government than others do. Certainly, every effort was put forward to get it delayed in the first instance, and I think we were very fortunate to get that delay. The member was right in suggesting that DAP will happen, and DAP will happen whether there's unanimity or not. We do have some influence, and we're going to exercise the influence to try to bring people on side. If there are fundamental problems with the legislation, then we'll do what we can to get those changed. If there's a problem in interpretation by people who don't know what the legislation means, then we will try to ensure that there is appropriate education on the proper interpretation.
We will do what we can to ensure that the promise of DAP is respected.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the Government Leader, when he took office, took ownership of DAP. He took ownership of it and was going to make it a simplified process. Those were his words. And it had to be, if it was going to work for Yukoners. By doing so, he raised the expectations of everybody in the community, that this would be a simplified process. Quite the contrary. Today, nobody believes it is a simplified process. They believe it's going to be a far more complicated process.
The Government Leader does have the ability to not agree with this going to the House of Commons until such time as more Yukoners - I wouldn't ask him for all Yukoners, because that would never happen - would be comfortable with it. But I do believe that some of the people I heard in that room, voicing their concerns that night, were very knowledgeable people in the permitting process. They voiced their concerns about the difficulties they encounter now going through permitting in the Yukon - one of the major obstacles to development in the Yukon. They all are firmly convinced that DAP will just make the process totally unacceptable in its present form.
So I'm asking the Government Leader if he will make that commitment, to see that either people understand it better or that it undergoes major changes so that it's going to be far more acceptable and more palatable to the people who have to work in the Yukon and to the people who are going through that process to permit their developments in Yukon. Otherwise, I think we're in for a long time of very little investment in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the Government of Yukon, the NDP government, did influence a delay and did force a review of the legislation, and I'm happy that we did that. Certainly, the Chamber of Mines even acknowledges the fact that substantial improvements have been made to the draft proposals that were put forward by the federal government back in December 1996 and January 1997. I think everyone is thankful for the work that the various orders of government have done, which the focus groups have influenced in the intervening period.
The member is right that there is still concern, and it is the objective of our government to ensure that people understand it better or that it has improved so that it meets the promise of the land claim agreement and so that all who look to DAP to provide appropriate and efficient environmental assessment see that promise realized, and that is precisely what we're working toward now. We are not making ultimatums to the other governments. We are stating very clearly that there needs to be work done. We've said so. We have been saying so for the last two years. We've said so even recently, since the public meeting, that we are trying to influence, not only a better understanding of what is there, but also improving the legislation itself.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, members of the Chamber of Mines that the minister just quoted have said that DAP, in its present form, will kill investment in the Yukon. Several of them are on the public record having said that.
When asked at that meeting of some 70-odd Yukoners, who would invest in the Yukon under these regulations, nobody put up their hand, and there were some investors in the crowd. So, I'm saying to the Government Leader, there are major problems with this legislation going through in its present form. I urge the Government Leader to do everything in his power to hold up that legislation until it is far more acceptable by industry and Yukoners in general so that we can have a process in place that will protect our environment, will address the concerns that different levels of government and environmentalists and industry have, but will also allow permitting to be done in a reasonable length of time.
That comfort isn't there for people who are looking to invest in the Yukon today, and we don't need anything further to drive investment away from the Yukon. We need to do everything we can to make it attractive for responsible developers to come here and to invest their dollars and create the jobs that we so badly need in the Yukon.
So, once again, I'm urging the Government Leader to do everything in his government's power - and his government has a lot of power in this case - to see that that legislation doesn't hit the floor of the House of Commons until it's in a better form.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I'd like to explore with the Government Leader the issue of ministerial travel, and the issue is the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and his use of the government vehicle for the extended period of time that he had it out.
The Government Leader kindly provided a listing of the events that he tabled. Would he have the backup travel warrants for each one of those occasions that he could table in the House with the appropriate listings of per diem and what the actual events relate to? There seems to be an abuse that has arisen there, and the information that the Government Leader has provided doesn't seem to have been well-received or believed in the public domain. Could we just set the record straight there?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the member has made an allegation of abuse. Perhaps he could explain what he means by that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, using a government vehicle for constituency work, abandoning a vehicle in the government parking lot for an extended period of time. There appears to be a lack of responsible care of that vehicle, certainly in the second case cited, and the first case appears to be a lack of the understanding of the rules as to how a government vehicle can be used and what it can be used for, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, both allegations, based on what the member has presented as information, are outrageous. They're wrong. The member suggested that, because a government vehicle is left in a government parking lot, that that's abandoning the vehicle, and he's characterizing the deposit of the vehicle - where it's clearly well known to everyone where it is, and it's in a government parking lot, right beside the main government building - as being abandoned, and nothing could be further from the truth.
What criteria is the member using to suggest that leaving a government vehicle in a government parking lot constitutes abandoning a vehicle? That's ridiculous.
The second point, Mr. Chair: government members do do government business in their constituencies. Ministers do do business in their constituencies, and there have been occasions when ministers do undertake, do provide, ministerial business in their constituencies, and the budget that handles that travel is funded out of the Executive Council Office. There are times when the member goes in on constituency business and the budget is handled out of the Legislative Assembly budget.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, would the Government Leader clear the air and provide a copy of all of the travel warrants for the period of time that the Minister of Community and Transportation Services had the vehicle out? I'm sure it would clearly indicate where the minister travelled, the purpose of the travel, and the reason, and that would clear the air.
There is a well-respected understanding of how vehicles out of the fleet vehicle agency are signed out and where they are to be returned, and the fact it was left in the government parking lot here is not respecting the rules that the minister has agreed to abide by.
So can the Government Leader clear the air with respect to this use of a government vehicle?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the air has been made muddy by the member himself. He is muddying the waters, and then he's asking me to clean the waters.
The member suggests that he knows the proper procedures for the pickup and delivery of government vehicles, that if a vehicle is deposited in the government parking lot, and it's not picked up, that constitutes abandonment of the vehicle - a wanton abandonment of a vehicle. Presumably leaving a dangerous situation, or an irresponsible action on the part of the government, for leaving a government vehicle in the government parking lot.
Mr. Chair, I don't accept the member's proposition at all. I don't accept his proposition, I don't accept his conclusions, and the member wants me to table a lot of information to justify that the ridiculous allegations he's making are not true. What a waste of time, Mr. Chair.
The member has not made any allegation that is believable or has any kind of substance or foundation, whatsoever. He's made all kinds of accusations about breaking the rules. Show me the rule, Mr. Chair, show me the rule that has been broken. Show me any kind of justification which justifies the irresponsible - what he refers to as - abandoning of a government vehicle. I've heard no such thing; I don't accept his conclusions.
Mr. Phillips: I want to enter this debate for awhile.
Mr. Chair, I don't buy the Government Leader's explanation. He says there's been no breaking of the rules. Well, Mr. Chair, I believe there has been.
Mr. Chair, there is no way that a minister should take a vehicle out of the car pool for the number of days that minister did and have ministerial business every day that he said he did.
It's not up to us to show proof that the minister was on ministerial business. It's up to the Government Leader to show proof he was on ministerial business.
The document that the minister provided did not show any proof that he was on ministerial business. In fact, many of the comments were "meetings with his constituents".
We all meet with our constituents. We don't get a car to do it.
Mr. Chair, if the Government Leader was sitting on this side of the House, he would pursue this matter for weeks on end as abuse, as abuse of a government vehicle by a minister. And the Government Leader should be ashamed of himself in trying to defend this minister.
Mr. Chair, the Government Leader was one of the people who criticized the previous Yukon Party government for having government cars given to each minister. And then, through a back-door arrangement or whatever, or by just ignoring the fact, the Government Leader gave his Minister of C&TS a car to use for most of the summer.
Mr. Chair, I'm going to get a copy of the release that was tabled in the House and I'm going to go through it with this minister, item by item, and ask the minister to provide for this House a list of what business he attended.
Constituency business is not good enough, because constituency business is the responsibility of the MLA.
Many times, when you look at the list the Government Leader gave us, the MLA was driving back to his constituency on the weekend and using the car on a weekend. What business in his constituency did the MLA attend - as a minister, not as an MLA, because you don't get paid to drive around in government cars as an MLA - on those weekends that constitutes legitimate - legitimate - government business?
I don't believe the minister was on legitimate government business for most of the time. He might have had two or three meetings. There are a couple of cases in this document that was tabled that are legitimate. "Ministerial meetings in Whitehorse on July 8," Mr. Chair. That's a Wednesday. Where were the ministerial meetings in Whitehorse, other than the government building, that he needed a car for?
Because I don't think it's policy to give ministers cars to drive all over the City of Whitehorse. I see the Government Leader, when he goes to meetings in the City of Whitehorse, he hops in his personal car, and he goes to them, like everyone else. That's what everyone else does. That's what they did in the past; that's what they do now; that's what the Government Leader does.
So I want to know, in the first instance, why did that minister have to use a government car to get to ministerial meetings in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, the member starts off with the threat that he is going to deal with this issue ad nauseum in the Legislature. He must understand, I've been here longer than he has. I'm perfectly prepared to spend the next two weeks on this subject, because I know what this is all about. We'll do it.
Now, Mr. Chair, let's talk about some of the allegations this member has made about the minister that are untrue and unfounded. We've dealt with the Member for Klondike, who's famous for making these allegations without foundation. Let's deal with what this member has done.
This member spent the summertime, himself, in his constituency, lolling around, bragging about the fact that he was on holidays, bragging with me about the fact that he was on holidays, doing nothing, the good life, being in opposition, hardly ever showing up for office work here in the Legislature. I was here every day. I didn't see the members opposite.
The member finally comes - I saw the Member for Porter Creek whatever - South - occasionally.
The member opposite, the Member for Riverdale North, comes into the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member's saying, now we're going to get into it.
Hey, Mr. Chair, let's be clear about something. I don't mind doing this. If we want to spend the next week and a half on this, this is fine by me, because I can trade the shots as well as the bullies across the floor can.
Mr. Chair, -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. Order please. Let the member speak, and I'd like to remind members not to use unparliamentary language.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the member opposite comes back from his extended holiday, arrives back in Whitehorse, doesn't see the Minister of Tourism and, within a day or two, puts out a press release asking where is the Minister of Tourism and saying that the Minister of Tourism is abandoning his job. This is coming from a person who spent very little time here in the Legislature himself. If anything is outrageous, that's outrageous.
He's been trying to make it stick every time, repeating it over and over and over again, and grinning to the members of the media, trying to make this image stick.
What's so obnoxious about it is that the opposite is true. What's so obnoxious about the claim is that the minister, who is spending most of his time in rural Yukon and a lot of his time in Whitehorse, worked very hard all summer long, while the member himself was drinking a mai tai with his feet up out at Marsh Lake - communicating with his office only through the fax machines so that the poisoned pen letters coming out of the Yukon Party office once a day could be given some sort of okay, but basically living the life of Riley - has the gall to come back and criticize the Minister of Tourism for having, in his view, abandoned his job.
Mr. Chair, not only that, but when the Minister of Tourism has a courtesy car from some fix-it shop in town, what do the members do? What do they spend their time doing? Going out there and checking around the licence plates and sniffing around his car to see whether or not the Minister of Tourism and Community and Transportation Services has taken the trouble to get a licence plate - what picky, picky, picayune, trivial criticism.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the member opposite says that if I were in opposition, I would be hounding the government on this matter for weeks on end. Nothing could be further from the truth. No way would I be as trivially minded as the members opposite.
The Member for Klondike shouldn't hold his breath. Mr. Chair, there is no way that I would accept that.
The member opposite says the information that the government has provided with respect to the ministerial business that the member was on, the member has said that this is not believable. Well, he's demonstrated no proof, made lots of allegations - no proof, no information whatsoever that the business that the minister was on was anything other than ministerial business. The minister has indicated what business he was on. The members opposite just say, "I don't believe it. Provide more evidence." Now, Mr. Chair, that's not good enough.
The members opposite want to go on some of these long witch hunts. They can spend as much time as they want going on these long witch hunts. I know what the member opposite is all about. I know the way the guy operates.
Mr. Chair, the Minister of Tourism is a hard-working minister. The Minister of Tourism spends a lot of time at his job. The Minister of Tourism is seen throughout the communities, not only in his own riding, of course, but throughout the territory, and people like to meet with the Minister of Tourism.
So, I believe, Mr. Chair, that he is a hard-working colleague and I believe that when he says he's gone on government business and he's been out there working on government business that he is telling the truth. And the only thing we have to contradict it is two - maybe three, maybe more - members in the opposition, all with a vested interest in just simply smearing the minister - just smearing him; it doesn't matter what the allegation is; just smearing him - saying, "Well, I don't believe that's true. Provide more information to justify why I believe the opposition's hypothesis is true."
If the opposition members are making an allegation, they should prove it. I can tell the member that the comments that he's personally made about the Minister of Tourism about not being hard-working or abandoning his job are patently false.
I saw the Minister of Tourism every day and I saw the Member for Riverdale North maybe once or twice in the entire summer when he was eager to tell me how good the life was in opposition.
So, Mr. Chair, the member opposite is not believable. He has not provided any kind of reliable information. He has made a lot of unfounded allegations and he wants the government side to prove them. No.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, did I push his button or what?
Mr. Chair, it's interesting how the Government Leader hides behind a problem by attacking someone personally. It's not going to work. What annoys me more than anything else about what the Government Leader just said is the fact that the Government Leader knows that he and I have had discussions from time to time as people - not MLAs, as friends - when we've crossed paths in this parking lot out here, when he was in government and when I was in government. We made personal comments. We both laughed at them and joked about them. And now that individual - disgustingly, disgustingly - has brought those personal comments in here as the truth.
Well, Mr. Chair, let me tell you something. That same member, if he wants to play that game, we'll start tabling notes that he has said about his colleagues over there. Then they'd find out how he feels about some of the speeches they make from time to time. Or what he said about the Member for Faro when he was the House leader and he told me the Member for Faro had a big mouth. Does he want that stuff? Don't say he didn't say that. He told me the Member for Faro had a big mouth. Do you want to bring that crap into this House, when we joke around with each other in the parking lot and we kid around with things like that? Is that the kind of man that person is, to whom friendship and just kidding around with each other means nothing and that he wants to use it to his political advantage?
How low can you go, Mr. Chair? Well, the Government Leader has just demonstrated - just demonstrated again in this House today...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: ...that he can crawl around in the gutter with the best of them.
If he wants the public to know all the things that he and I have talked about in the future, then let's get at it. Because it would be pretty embarrassing to him and his party and a whole bunch of other people out there when I start talking about the things he said about his people - when he thought they were private. When he was joking. When he was making light.
He's disgusting, Mr. Chair. He's a disgusting individual, who will stoop to no level at all.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Point of order, Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the member opposite is making personal insults. He has clearly gone way overboard, and there's no doubt in my mind - there is no doubt in any reasonable person's mind - that the member has lost control of himself, that he's out of control, that he's insulting, and he's personally insulting people.
Chair: On the point of order, Mr. Phillips.
Mr. Phillips: I don't believe there's a point of order, Mr. Chair. The same member was talking about my work ethic previously, and he didn't seem to think that was a point of order then.
Chair: Order, please. The Chair has found there is a point of order, pursuant to the Standing Orders, 19(1)(j), where "A member will be called to order by the Speaker if that member ... uses abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder".
I would request that the member cease and desist using such language, and for others to abide by the same ruling.
We will continue with debate. Mr. Phillips.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I'd like to ask the minister a couple of questions, and this time I'd just like the minister to answer the questions. He didn't answer my question before.
The first question I'd like to ask him is, when he stood here before, he said he saw the Minister of Tourism in here every day. I'd like him to tell me if that was a fact, if the Minister of Tourism was in here every day in the summer, Monday to Friday. I don't think that's a fact, but that's what the minister said.
The second question I have goes back to the car, and I want to go through that with the minister. On July 8, a Wednesday, they've got "Whitehorse ministerial meetings". Normally ministers use their own vehicles to go to ministerial meetings in Whitehorse. What ministerial meeting did the Minister of Community and Transportation Services or Tourism attend that he couldn't use his personal vehicle, as the Government Leader and other ministers previous to him have done for years and years and years? What meeting was it, and why did he have to use a government vehicle for that day?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: You know, the member opposite began his remarks by criticizing me for criticizing or attacking people, as he put it, personally. Well, Mr. Chair, the incredibly slanderous comments that have been directed at the Minister of Tourism are completely unjustified, and the members opposite, think that it's some kind of game in the Legislature, to slander a person mercilessly, and try to make the criticism stick. Then, to go outside the Legislature and ignore that; they're all just buds outside the Legislature. They can slander a person, and their name could be mud in the community - not just disagree with people's positions on things, but to make them look small, try to make them look small and insignificant, and think that that's okay to do, just like that famous cartoon of the sheep dog and the coyote, that, you know, you try to kill each other during the day, and then you just punch the clock and go home.
That he could be that vicious in this Legislature, trying to slander a member's name, which is unjustified, is something that I can't abide and that I don't agree with.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: On a point of order, Mr. Phillips.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, the member is accusing me of slandering somebody's name. I believe that is unparliamentary.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'm drawing conclusions about the effect of a member's criticism - and I'm referring to the criticisms being vicious, and that it slanders someone's name - I am not criticizing the person. I'm not saying that the member opposite is, as he referred to me, "a disgusting person", I'm saying that the effect of what he has done has slandered someone, that the effect of what he has done has demeaned someone unjustifiably, and so that, I say, is legitimate.
Chair: On the point of order, the Chair will review the Blues and get back at a later time. I would like to clarify the Standing Orders for the members. It is unparliamentary to say that a member is slandering someone. However, it is not unparliamentary to say that the effect of the member's remarks is to slander someone.
Is there further debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I am sure that with careful review, the hairs will be split, and we'll get a ruling at some point, one way or another.
Mr. Chair, the point of the matter that I am raising here, of course, is that the minister has been unfairly criticized, and it's time that the member opposite was called on it. I felt that he got away with it for far too long, and I felt that I had to speak up for my colleague, particularly when I feel that he has been unduly criticized.
With respect to the specific question the member has asked, he asked whether or not I'd seen the Minister of Tourism every day. Mr. Chair, I agree that that's hyperbole, that I was being overly generous, just as I indicated that I saw the member himself, the Member for Riverdale North, a few times this summer. That's hyperbole too and being overly generous. I don't think I saw him that often.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I have some concerns with this list of travel that the Government Leader has put forward that says it's legitimate use of a vehicle because, quite clearly, if a government vehicle is being used by a minister for these meetings that are on this list, there has been a change in policy from what ministers have done in the past, under my administration and under a previous NDP administration. It was the NDP that got rid of ministerial cars because of ministerial abuse - perceived ministerial abuse - by a previous government. And now, for the Government Leader to bring this list in and to stand up and defend it, then there had to be a change in policy, and I want to ask the Government Leader, has there been a change in policy of ministerial use of pool cars?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, there hasn't been a change in policy, Mr. Chair.
First of all, Mr. Chair, to go back in history about what was happening in 1984, was that the Progressive Conservative government, the predecessors to the Yukon Party, had leased cars full time for each of the ministers for personal and public use. That action was done away with in 1985: no more leased cars for personal and public use.
With respect to the policies respecting government travel, I remember the member opposite saying to me, when I was in opposition, that he would encourage me, in opposition, to take a government car into rural Yukon because it was substantially cheaper for me, in opposition, to use the government car than it was to charge the mileage rate.
Now, Mr. Chair, that was something that was consistent, presumably, with government policy: using government cars to ensure that the cheapest possible form of transportation was used by members of the Legislature, including not only, I guess, the leader of the official opposition at the time, but members of this government to undertake public business. So, there has been no change in government policy. There has been an attempt to use government vehicles in a cost-effective way, and the actions taken by the Minister of Tourism are consistent with that.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm sure the Government Leader won't be surprised that I disagree with him, because nobody in the general public believes this was a legitimate use of a vehicle - 4,000 kilometers on a vehicle that was signed out for two days and extended on a weekly basis, and then we're given the explanation that it sat in the parking lot for a week and wasn't returned. It just doesn't hold much water.
Let me ask the Government Leader: are all his ministers using government pool cars to attend ministerial meetings in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, generally, Mr. Chair, they don't use government cars - it doesn't mean to say they can't, but they don't - to attend to government business.
With respect to the allegation that nobody in the public believes that the use that the Minister of Tourism made of the government car was legitimate is not true. People in rural Yukon, people whom I have spoken to, actually have noted that the Minister of Tourism and Community and Transportation Services has been around to their communities - and often - and they've appreciated the effort. So, whether the Minister of Tourism went around with his own car and charged the mileage rate at a much greater cost or whether he travelled with the government car at much lesser cost, nevertheless the attention was appreciated.
Mr. Ostashek: Government policy does not provide vehicles for MLAs to do constituency work. Most of the travel is done in the member's own constituency. I don't recall posted meetings. We're not complaining about legitimate use of a government vehicle for ministerial business. What we're complaining about is this Government Leader defending this as legitimate use. There are a lot of holes in it, and he hasn't satisfied this Legislature that this is legitimate.
Nowhere in the past do I recall where cars have been signed out for ministerial meetings in Whitehorse. A lot of these trips are back and forth to the minister's home riding. "Discussion with residents" - give me a break. That just doesn't hold much weight, with me or many people in Yukon who've been phoning us on this issue.
Mr. Chair, we fully support the use of government vehicles for legitimate ministerial business. If you're going to have a policy in place, then that policy has to be the same for everybody, and we have no qualms about the minister travelling to rural Yukon on ministerial business, none whatsoever. But we do have qualms if we feel the system is being abused and, in this case, we believe it is being abused, and we believe that the Government Leader is party to it.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, to restate one comment the member made at the beginning of his comments, the member won't be surprised if I disagree with him. The member's preposition suggests that it is okay for ministers to do ministerial business in rural Yukon but, presumably, according to the member's logic, it's not okay for the minister to do ministerial business in his own riding and, Mr. Chair, I can't agree with that.
Now the member seems to suggest - and I will check this fact, because this borders on the factoid rather than fact. I'll check this. The member suggests that, in the past, and during Yukon Party administration, at no time did a minister of the Crown, who represented a rural riding, claim mileage in the minister's own riding.
I will check that. Because if that's the case, Mr. Chair, then of course the member would be accused of being inconsistent. But I will check that, because I think it's worthy of review.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, for the record, once more, we said we had no difficulty with legitimate travel, whether it was to the minister's home riding or not. We believe that the system is being abused here.
And I'll say to the Government Leader - as he said to me when I was on the opposite benches - if you don't like it the way it is, change the system. That's what I say to him - if he feels that his ministers should have freer use of vehicles, then change the policy of government. Don't stand here and try to defend it - that the system is not being abused - because that just doesn't make sense at all.
Mr. Chair, this travel listed in here - for a lot of this travel, there had to be a travel claim. I'm going to ask the Government Leader now to table the travel claims for this ministerial travel for this minister. We've already got a written question on the Order Paper, Mr. Chair, asking for all ministerial travel - vehicles used by all ministers. I would now - using the vehicle is one thing, but with that is a travel claim that is authorized by the Government Leader, and I would like him to table the travel claims for these legitimate trips - that he says are legitimate. Will the Government Leader do that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, of course, Mr. Chair. Members have asked for travel claims before, and I'll provide them in the future. The member has made the allegation that the travel is an abuse of the rules. He has made the allegation that the trips are not legitimate. He has presented no evidence to suggest that that's the case, just has made the allegation, just has made the assertion.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member says that the list that he has read from, that says "meeting with citizens" or "meeting with this group or that group", that that's not legitimate government business. I disagree with him.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, maybe the minister could explain to me what's happened here. On July 10, a Friday, there were ministerial meetings in Whitehorse and the minister used a government vehicle, according to the list that the minister has provided. He may be the only minister in this government who uses government vehicles to go to meetings in Whitehorse, when everyone else uses their own personal vehicle for that. On July 11, Saturday, the minister went to Teslin and had discussions with residents. On Saturday and Sunday he had discussions with residents.
Wouldn't the minister agree that he could have taken his own vehicle back home to his constituency for discussions with his residents? It was the weekend. Normally, he goes home on the weekend anyway. Why would he book out a government car to go home on the weekend to have discussions with his residents and not take his own vehicle? He was going to stay in his own house. He was driving home. What would prompt him to take a government vehicle home?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the question the member puts is a question he knows I would have a difficult time answering because I don't know the circumstances of the trip itself. Nevertheless, he makes the allegation that government policy suggests that ministers who need to have transportation to ministerial business in Whitehorse can't have a government car.
That's not my reading of government policy. Generally speaking, ministers, for ministerial government business, use their own vehicle, but if they don't have a vehicle and they need to get around, then they can use a government vehicle if they have legitimate government business to attend.
With respect to the meetings with the citizens in Teslin, that's a question that the member can put to the Minister of Tourism, as to precisely what the business was, and he can satisfy for himself, to the fullest extent that he wants, what the issues were.
Mr. Phillips: The minister can bring that information back to us. I would appreciate getting that.
On July 15, it was a Wednesday, the minister went to Carcross for discussions with residents. Could he bring back a travel claim for that particular trip as well. On the same day, he drove back to Whitehorse for ministerial meetings. Now, Carcross is in his constituency. I would expect, like most members that have meetings in their constituencies, that he would have taken his private vehicle down there and then drove back to Whitehorse, as he has to come back to work.
Mr. Chair, on the Wednesday and Thursday, he had meetings in Whitehorse on both days, and he used a government vehicle again - the only minister that does use a government vehicle to drive around the City of Whitehorse when his is sitting parked in the parking lot.
Mr. Chair, on Friday, the 17th, the minister decided to go to Teslin again for another weekend, and again, it appears that rather than take his own car, he took the government car to Teslin for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Maybe the minister can come back and tell us why he didn't take his own car home that weekend. Was it broken down? Was there a problem going home to his own constituency so that he couldn't take his own car? What was the reason? I mean, government business or no government business, he was going home to his riding that weekend. Why did the taxpayer have to pay for it?
On July 20 - the Monday - he drove back to Whitehorse. He came back to work, like we drive to work every day. We take our own cars. So do all the other ministers take their own car, but he had a government car.
Mr. Chair, on the next few days - July 20, 21 and 22 - he attended a First Nations retreat - "FN retreat"; I imagine that's what that stands for. Maybe the minister could come back and tell us where that was, where the First Nations retreat was, and if any other ministers took a car to the First Nations retreat. Did the Government Leader himself drive in his own car to the First Nations retreat? Did the minister go himself? I'm just trying to find out what the use of the car is.
On Thursday, he made a long weekend out of it, and he went back to Teslin again.
He took the government vehicle for Friday and Saturday. It says, "discussions with residents in Teslin for Thursday and Friday", and Saturday he drove back to Whitehorse, I guess, because it says "car parked", but it doesn't say car parked in Whitehorse. I imagine it was parked in Whitehorse. I don't think he parked it in Teslin. We didn't have to pick it up there, I hope.
I just want to know more details on this. Like, this is pretty sketchy and it's up to the minister or the Government Leader, who is responsible for this, to make sure that people are following the rules that are set out by his government for not only ministers, for not only any other MLA, but for all government workers. I think everyone has to abide by the same kind of rules with respect to the car pool.
So, I've kind of laid out a few questions I want the minister to answer and, like I said, I would like, as well, for all of these times that the minister was there, to find out whether per diems were paid to the minister and what other information is available with respect to meetings that he attended.
"Discussions with residents" doesn't cut it. I mean, the Government Leader himself, if he was on this side of the House and I'd taken a car somewhere and said "discussions with residents", he'd say, "Well, just do your job. You don't need a government car to do that. You know, you're being paid to do your job."
The Member for Watson Lake can't bill the Government of Yukon for discussions with residents; it's his responsibility. That's what he gets his pay cheque for: discuss with the residents.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, the Member for Watson Lake made the comment, "At least I'm earning it." Mr. Chair, that's my point: some of us are earning it and some people may be abusing privilege that we have, and there isn't enough information here provided by the government to determine, or at least convince us on this side of the House, that the Minister of Community and Transportation Services wasn't using this vehicle for his own personal use. It's obvious that he was.
To me, it's obvious that he was. I mean, he was in Whitehorse - think of it this way, Mr. Chair. He's in Whitehorse. He has to go home on Friday. And he walks out and he walks past his truck or his car, and he climbs into a government vehicle and goes home to his riding. Then, on Monday, he drives back here and he drives a government vehicle back. Why did he have to take the government vehicle to his riding? Why didn't he take his vehicle to his riding, for discussions with residents? That's not ministerial business, no matter how you cut it.
So, I'd like the minister to come back with much more comprehensive information than he's provided to this House, and I'd like a commitment from the minister that he will certainly - I know we can't get it in this session, but that he will certainly do it before we come back in the spring session.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I hope that when the member was using the words "some of us are earning their pay" he was using the royal "us". I know that, when he said that, it certainly raised a few eyebrows, and I would certainly hope that $1,000 an hour for this particular investigation this afternoon will not be a perfect reflection on one's view that they're earning their pay.
Nevertheless, Mr. Chair, I will point out to the member that the information the members across the floor have asked for with respect to travel claims, I will provide.
With respect to the suggestion - the member made the suggestion that, if the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes returns to his riding, the taxpayer shouldn't pay for it. I'll disagree with him on that point because -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member says he should use his own vehicle. Yes, if he uses his own vehicle, he will still get paid. He'll get paid out of the Legislative Assembly Office, because rural members have the right to have their way paid from their constituency to Whitehorse and back, just as the Member for Klondike has the right to have his way paid, in his own vehicle. And I'll tell you, Mr. Chair, that it is more expensive in a member's private vehicle than it is in a government car.
I will disagree with him on the question of whether or not the member should have their way paid by the taxpayer. The issue, according to the member opposite - as far as I can detect from this very useful two hours - is whether or not the Executive Council Office should pay, or whether the Legislative Assembly Office should pay. But there should be no doubt that the taxpayer should pay for a rural member travelling back and forth to Whitehorse.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, how funny a difference in time makes things in this legislature. The Government Leader is just talking about "wasting" $1,000 an hour, but he conveniently forgets about the 76-day session, where he and his colleagues played tag-team in this House, and went on and on and on, asking repetitive questions, just to keep somebody here as long as they could. That was all useful debate, I suppose, in the member's mind then. But now, trying to justify a minister's use of a vehicle - the minister takes offence to it.
Mr. Chair, I'm not arguing that a member shouldn't get paid for going back and forth to his riding. That's part of the policy we have. The issue here is what is the policy? I mean, is the policy that all ministers and all members who are in this House can now use cars to go back and forth to their riding? Is that what the member is saying? I'm not quite sure where he's coming from there. Or is he saying we should use our own vehicles?
When we go back and forth to our own riding, as a member, most times, we all use our own vehicles. What I'm asking the Government Leader is that this appears to be an abuse of that, and the minister hasn't justified the use of this vehicle for the number of days that the minister said he had it.
So I want the minister to give us a commitment - which he didn't do, by the way - that he'd bring something back before the next spring sitting, so that we can have the information in front of us - all the travel claims, per diems - anything that was paid to the member.
I wouldn't even mind getting the gas receipts for the time that the member had the vehicle, to make sure. Maybe it would be interesting to see if the gas receipts we receive corresponded to where the minister said he was on certain days. It would be interesting to see if the minister claims he's in Teslin, and all the gas receipts are for around the Dawson City area. I mean, I don't know.
So maybe the minister could provide us with the gas receipts for the days that they say they were using the vehicle as well, and we could have a look at that. I'm sure that, since there's no rush to have that information - the next spring sitting is probably at the end of February or March - the minister's got lots of time to prepare that information. I'd appreciate receiving it.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, the member started by saying that he's not arguing that a member going back and forth to their riding should not have it paid for by the taxpayer. That's precisely what he was arguing. He was saying the taxpayer - the member should go back and forth to his riding, and the taxpayer should not pay for it. That's what the member was saying. That's what the member said.
Now, he may want to disavow that, because he just realized that that's a wrong statement. It's a wrong statement, Mr. Chair, because, of course, his own colleagues, and previous colleagues, do and did, travel back and forth to their ridings at government expense. In fact, if they use their private vehicle, they travel back and forth at greater public expense to the taxpayer than if they used a government car.
So, Mr. Chair, even the leader of the official opposition, when he was government leader, was encouraging me, as leader of the official opposition at the time, to use a government car rather than my private car on public business.
So the member who is championing the taxpayer is, by extension of his argument, suggesting that the taxpayers should pay more, in any case, whether it's public or private, whether it's going back and forth to his riding on MLA business, or whether it's ministerial business - what he's essentially arguing is that the more expensive option should be adopted.
Well, Mr. Chair, I don't necessarily agree with that. I've indicated to the member that the business may well have been ministerial business, as was the claim as the minister has indicated. The minister can provide more details about that ministerial business. If it were private business, if the members want to go back and forth to their riding, then they have the right to have that paid for by the public. There is no question about that, in my mind at least. Whether the member agrees or not is irrelevant.
With respect to the information with respect to travel claims, I will provide the information with respect to travel claims, which do include all claims, but if members want more information - if they want to make an allegation, I would really recommend, Mr. Chair, that what they should do is actually bring some information to the House that actually justifies the allegation and, therefore, justifies the work. But what happens is that the members opposite quite often make an unsubstantiated allegation and repeat it, particularly if it gets covered in the media, and then they ask the government to defend itself and bring all kinds of information forward to defend itself.
So, that makes it very convenient for a member who does not want to do much work outside of the Legislature. It makes it very convenient for a member who doesn't want to do much homework themselves but will come into the Legislature, make an allegation, watch the government try to defend itself, and if they haven't got all of the information on the table immediately, they get the public servants to generate as much of the paperwork as possible. If there is no justification, as so often happens to the allegation, then it is just passed over. We're on to the next issue, the next allegation, the next justification, the next demand for the government to do something to prove its innocence from the unfounded allegation.
Well, Mr. Chair, the government has before tabled travel claims, and the government will again table travel claims. We have no problem doing that at all.
With respect to the issue of taxpayers' support for rural members, Mr. Chair, going back and forth to their ridings, I believe that taxpayers do have an obligation to pay for rural members going back to their ridings, and I disagree with the member on that proposition.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, before the break, just a couple of points. It's the minister himself, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and the Government Leader, who have come to the House with this document, saying that this was all ministerial business. Mr. Chair, I don't buy the explanation that the minister has given us. We've asked for more information. I hope he will bring that back to us. I would like to get a commitment from the minister, because he didn't answer it yet. I've asked it, this will be the third time. Will the minister bring back that information that we are seeking in the written question, as well as the questions that were asked today, before the beginning of the spring sitting, so that we can have it in our hands before the beginning of the spring sitting? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Of course, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Is the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are on the Executive Council Office, general debate.
Motion re appearance of witnesses
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I understand that, by agreement of the House leaders, there is a motion that we should be putting forward with respect to the introduction of the Workers' Compensation Board representatives coming before the Committee.
I therefore move
THAT John Wright, chair of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Tony Armstrong, president of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m., on Wednesday, December 9, 1998, to discuss matters related to the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Motion agreed to
Executive Council Office - continued
Deputy Chair: We will continue now with the Executive Council Office. Is there any further general debate?
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to change the topic somewhat and, hopefully, the tone.
I'd like the minister, if he could, to provide us with an update on the devolution talks.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the devolution talks have been underway, of course, for a couple of years now, and the Government of the Yukon has put a lot of energy into all of the position papers pursuant to the original federal proposal that had been made by Minister Irwin some time ago.
To cut a long story short, we had a response put forward by the federal side last week that was inadequate. It was put forward by negotiators, and I have committed to the federal government that I will not respond publicly to the federal response until the federal minister has had a chance to speak with me in a conversation that I hope will be tomorrow or the next day.
Ms. Duncan: Well, I certainly wouldn't want the minister to break any confidences. In a general sense - I have the sense from the minister's response that there's still hope that there will be a reasonable conclusion sometime in the near future.
Perhaps the minister could respond to that and, secondly, are we still of the opinion that devolution must proceed as one - nothing can be taken out of the basket, so to speak; we can't proceed on forestry separately, we can't proceed on anything separately; it must be contained as a whole? Is the minister still of that position?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, that was the all-or-nothing proposal - it was the nature of the federal proposal that was put forward by Mr. Irwin, back in the summer of 1996, I believe. We have responded to Mr. Irwin's initial proposal, but there are some outstanding items that I've indicated are significant for the Yukon, and constitute deal breakers, if we cannot achieve satisfaction.
The first is the cost of forest fire suppression in the event of outstanding - or high cost - years. At this point, the federal position is, in my view, inadequate.
The second concern is the assumption of environmental responsibilities - and liability - for all environmental cleanup prior to devolution, for those sites that have been identified as having been initiated prior to devolution. So any mine that was regulated, or permitted, prior to devolution, any toxic waste site that was deposited by the American army - any of those prior to devolution would be the responsibility of the federal government.
Everything after devolution will be the responsibility of the new regulatory agency or government, and that would be, in that case, the Yukon government. There is, of course, one great big potential environmental liability in the Faro mine. At this point, we have not yet received language that's comfortable to the Yukon on that particular proposition.
A third issue, as well, in the forestry area is the issue of forest management services, and we want to ensure that there is some funding available for basic forest services, reforestation and other management responsibilities.
We also believe that there is a need to ensure that the language that's contained in the First Nation final agreements with respect to incremental increased costs associated with First Nations assuming Northern Affairs-type resource management responsibilities are borne by the federal government. That is important language for the First Nations.
I'm personally of the view that the language is in the self-government agreements. The First Nations feel that if it's in the self-government agreements there should be no objection to putting this language in the devolution agreements, and they're right. But there is resistance, and there is a concern.
Then, of course, there is the issue - not as significant as the first couple - of head office costs. At this point, the federal government is being very conservative in their positioning around allowing the Yukon government a share of head office costs.
Those are the outstanding items.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has outlined the outstanding items, and I appreciate the update.
The minister used the words "deal breakers". The deadline for the transfer, according to a news report today - the minister can attest to the accuracy - is December 31 of next year. These deal breakers - is the minister saying that if they're unable to agree on language in the next month the government is going to shelve discussions for a number of months? What is the overall direction, in terms of reaching an agreement?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, December 31 - I've seen a news transcript that makes reference to December 31, 1999. I don't know precisely what that refers to, unless a federal official is referring to the transfer agreements being done, and all transfers being taken, and all legislation being passed, by December 31 of 1999. What that means is that we have to have a the basic elements of the transfer agreement signed now. It means we have to have the detailed transfer document completed by the end of the fiscal year, federal legislation into the House by June or July, and legislation in our House by next fall. That's what it means.
So, if we can't overcome the significant elements now, then I would suspect there's not a lot of point investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in negotiations for no particular purpose.
Ms. Duncan: So, is the minister saying that if we can't reach agreement on these outstanding issues he and the government are prepared to say, "We'll leave the devolution discussions for another day, and another government"?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I'm saying that. I'm saying that because the vast majority of the work that has been put into the devolution discussions has been done by the Yukon government. We have presented seven volumes of positions to the federal government, and they have responded with a memo. We have allowed timelines to slip, not because we were never ready to negotiate, but because they were still analyzing some position that we had taken.
So, Mr. Chair, there is a limit to what the Yukon government should bear with respect to this matter. We have put in a mountain of effort. We have acted in good faith. We have put forward, on all non-essential items, a minimalist position. We have not looked to make giant profit. We have not looked to achieving any profit. When it comes to issues of cars and buildings, we have taken, as I said, a minimalist position.
But there are some items where we cannot put the Yukon citizenry at risk, and the issue around forest fire suppression is a good example. The latest proposals provide no real protection for the Yukon in the event of a severe year. The annual budget for forest fire suppression now is $6.5 million. It was booked in this last summer at $24 million. The supplementary this year, if we had no protection, would be us seeking to spend $18 million to pick up the bills from last summer. We obviously can't agree to that, and there is no recognition, at least up until this point, that that is a problem from the federal perspective.
So, as much as I want devolution - and I want devolution. All of the time that I have been in this Legislature, people have wanted devolution, and it is a reflection of the Yukon coming of age, taking responsibility of its own resources, making things happen and taking control of the future.
It's got all the basic elements of a worthwhile political project. It cannot be done at any cost and, as I indicated before, the government's policy was that we would not buy this devolution. We will not assume federal costs. There will not be federal offloading, but, at the same time, we have made it very clear to the federal government that we're not asking them to spend more on devolution than they would otherwise spend for providing a Northern Affairs program.
We've said that we're not asking them, for example, to put $100 million in a trust to clean up environmental sites across the north. We've not said anything like that. We've not even said that they have to have money set aside to handle bad forest fire years. We've been saying quite the contrary. Because they have much, much deeper pockets than does the Yukon government, we want them to be there in the event of a catastrophe when it comes to forest fires, as the Northwest Territories has now. They've got, in their formula financing agreement, protection for forest fire years that are extreme. We have not been offered that. We've been offered very little protection.
I won't make the federal position known. I'll just say that we're not there yet. The federal minister is being briefed now, I understand, on the Yukon response to the federal position. We've got a phone conference set up for tomorrow, and I will get a signal from the federal minister one way or another: are they going to deal seriously with the issues now or are they going to string us along for another year or two years, as appears to have been the case, or can we bring this to a satisfactory conclusion? I think we can. I think the makings are there, because we're not asking for the federal department, DIAND, to go to Treasury Board and secure oodles of new funding.
We're taking, I think, a very responsible approach. We're not looking to make a profit on this transfer at all.
Because we want the transfer badly enough, we've taken - in my view - a very reasonable position. But there are some things that are deal breakers, and I don't think it is worthwhile - the member will know from the budgets here - even the work we're doing on the Yukon Act is going to cost us a lot of money. The public consultation around the Yukon Act will cost some extra money, but the work we've invested through senior and able government negotiators, and the funds that we've provided to First Nations so that they can participate too, is a substantial investment in this project, and it cannot be carried on indefinitely when there's no clear indication that the fundamentals will be addressed.
Ms. Duncan: Well, the Government Leader has essentially indicated that tomorrow's conversation is a fish or cut bait, on this particular project. In the event that there is some willingness, or there is some movement, in that discussion, what sort of a time frame is in the Government Leader's mind at this point in time - if there's some movement tomorrow?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I would like to see a conclusion to the major issues by the Christmas break. That is what we have been seeking, and we've - as members know - we've let timelines slip. The time has come, in my view. We've talked around the issues ad nauseum. There are some very clear big-ticket items there that we have to have some movement on. We've presented a mountain of material to the federal government, even as much as a year and a half ago, to justify our positions. We've done the research - the cross-Canada research - for the negotiations. We've done the background work.
It will not be for lack of trying and hard work that this does not come through, but I believe that the time has come to make a decision, and if the federal government wants to make it happen - the federal minister wants to make it happen - it will happen.
If she does not, or if she feels it's a realistic option just to allow negotiations to limp along, then I can't justify, in this Legislature, that expenditure.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, just before we leave that discussion, my sense of understanding of this from the minister - the Government Leader referred to this as a very worthwhile political project, and certainly anyone who has been involved or followed Yukon politics for some time would agree that control over our resources, and the resources to manage them, is incredibly important, and we see that every day in forestry in particular.
If there is no agreement, I would assume that we would be at the status quo and dealing, as I said, in particular on forestry, with some of the ongoing frustrations in that particular issue. I asked the minister at the opening of the general debate on the Executive Council Office about additional resources dedicated to devolution and land claims, and the minister indicated that we dealt with those in the spring.
Leaving the devolution discussion aside, the minister indicated some progress in land claims. What is the current status of those resources? Have there been people who have been working, for example, on the Dawson claim who have now gone on to other jobs within the public service? Are they working on other claims? Where are the human resources going as claims reach agreement and as devolution proceeds, or a decision is reached on devolution? What happens to the human resources?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, with respect to devolution, we have put forward some of the best, most experienced and able public servants in order to see that this project is given the best possible chance.
Certainly, most people will be reassigned to other projects. They were doing other projects before, and they will be reassigned to other projects that are now more important if the devolution does not proceed. Certainly, the member is correct; if devolution does not proceed, that will be unfortunate, to say the least, and that we will be no worse off than we were before. However, of course, I think, in respect to forestry, the fact that the federal government has agreed to adopt the Yukon forest strategy, or to abide by it, is most certainly an advance, but it would be a lot better, of course, for us to be in a situation where we were the actual managers and regulators, and the frustrations that we've had in the last number of years would be lessened, or at least the issues would be resolvable at the Yukon government level, and debatable in the Yukon Legislature, which would probably be a significant advance for the future of our territory, socially and economically.
With respect to the land claims personnel, many of the land claims personnel are gradually moving over to implementation issues. Each land claim itself carries with it a whole series of new obligations by government, which have to be realized - everything from management plans for SMAs, to agreements to work up, to economic development agreements. There are a host of responsibilities that are associated with every First Nation final agreement. In the next month or two, or so, there'll be three more such agreements with three more sets of new obligations, and then, within a couple more months, there'll be probably a couple more agreements.
There are going to be substantial new workloads on the implementation side for a period of time. Now, it's my hope that line departments will queue up to what those responsibilities are in time.
But in the transition period, the people in the Land Claims Secretariat - those who are primarily involved in the negotiation - are moving gradually to implementation and directing the implementation, and then, ultimately, as intergovernmental relations improve and the sophistication of people's understanding of the land claims agreements improve, presumably that simple service can be phased out.
Mr. Cable: Just to clarify, is the devolution group fully staffed now? Secondarily, if, in fact, there is a green light given in these negotiations in the very near future, is it anticipated that more people will have to be brought into the picture to conclude the negotiations?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't believe that more people are required, Mr. Chair. Some people in line departments will be asked, if the green light is given, to finalize the final actual technical agreements - transfer documents. There will be some personnel required, probably on a contract basis, to do things like job descriptions and that sort of thing. I believe that is going on now as a matter of fact, in anticipation of a green light. If it's a red light, hopefully, all this work can be stored and used again in another attempt with another federal government.
I don't expect that the Executive Council Office will be seeking new funds to do more devolution work. We've got people working on the reference legislation - reference legislation meaning adopting federal laws so that the transfer can take effect. We've got a person working on a revamping of the Yukon Act, because there has been no work done at the federal level on this act, so I've asked that, in aid of this project, we do the work ourselves. We've really been priming this pump constantly to make this happen, and a lot of the work is done at the territorial level - the vast majority of the work, frankly.
But apart from things like drafting job descriptions, et cetera, I don't think there'll be a requirement for new resources.
Mr. Cable: I would assume that there'll be either a master agreement or a series of agreements, such as we had with the Northern Accord, and then there'll be a series of pieces of legislation. I assume there'll be amendments to the Lands Act and there'll be our new forestry act that we've talked about.
Is the Justice department in gear on this? Do we have enough staff in the Justice department to draft these agreements and draft the various pieces of legislation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair. I believe we do have the staff mobilized. Up until very recently, this was a project that was go, go, go.
I genuinely believed, and I will be able to say definitively tomorrow, hopefully, that this was a good project that had a future, and I believed that, despite the fact that we were doing a lot of the work, it was worthwhile work and we had mobilized a lot of resources. Executive Council Office has devoted a lot of resources to this project to make it happen.
There are interdepartmental work teams that have been used to identify problems and solutions to problems that have been identified.
The federal government, for its part, has retained the services of a devolution coordinator, too, who has spent a lot of time in Whitehorse trying to work through the details.
So I think at various levels there was an assumption that this was going to proceed. Who knows? Maybe it will.
Mr. Cable: If, in fact, the Government Leader's successful in getting the green light in the immediate future, when would we think that this basket of legislation would come before the House?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The fall of 1999 would be the target for the Yukon legislation. The federal legislation would be in the spring/summer in Ottawa, including amendments to the Yukon Act - or a new Yukon Act.
Mr. Cable: Could the Government Leader, at some juncture, give us an outline of the legislative tree that's going to be necessary? Could we get a letter or legislative return on that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I can provide a listing of the legislation that will be required to be changed at the federal level, and that which we are looking at - at least as far as titles and general framework - and which we will be looking at passing here in the Yukon.
Mr. Cable: Just on another devolution issue, what department is driving the devolution of the Crown Attorney? Is that the Justice department, or the Executive Council Office?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Both departments are involved. The Minister of Justice is a little closer to this particular devolution project than am I. I do know that they are looking at the potential for a working group meeting in January, but I will leave it to the Minister of Justice, perhaps, to give the member a more thorough analysis of what is happening there.
Mr. Cable: Just one final question to prepare us for the lines. The minister has given the Member for Laberge two mandates: one to look at tax reform, and the other to deal with the millennium fund. I think there was a statement the other day on that.
Where are we going to find the expenses of those two mandates in the lines? Could we get that given to us?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the cost associated with tax reform or reviewing various tax proposals will be found in the Department of Finance. The cost associated with the millennium fund will be found within the Department of Tourism estimates.
Mr. Ostashek: I just have a few more comments and questions in general debate on the Executive Council Office.
I want to get on the public record on devolution - the leader of the Liberal Party didn't say it but I sense she was asking the Government Leader if there was a hope of going at devolution, piece by piece, if negotiations on the whole works broke down. I want to be on the public record saying that, prior to the paper proposition being put forward by the federal Minister Irwin in 1996, there were several years of work that went into developing that package to devolve all of the DIAND programs at one time.
For the benefit of those members who haven't been in this House for as long as some of us have, there were some real, legitimate reasons for devolving the whole package at one time, and that was because we were being piecemealed to death on each of the devolution programs as they were being transferred over, and we felt that by devolving the entire package we wouldn't be piecemealed on each individual program. That was why we moved and that was after the bad experience we had with the forestry transfer, which we had to walk away from because of the cuts that were being demanded by the federal government to the funding arrangements that had been already negotiated.
So, I would just urge the Government Leader to stand firm on the position of devolution of the entire package, because I think it's the only way that we can come out of it with a reasonable amount of funding to carry on the duties.
We've tried the piecemeal route with devolution in the past, and I'm sure the Government Leader has found the same thing that I have, that we get whittled down on the amount of money we think is needed to administer the programs in a fashion that's going to enable the Yukon to move ahead.
I don't think any Yukon government is looking to get rich on these devolution transfers, but we were looking for funding to be able to provide the service in a manner that would be able to move whatever responsibilities we took over forward. I was quite surprised to hear the Government Leader today say that there are still outstanding issues on the forestry funding, on silviculture, and some of those areas. One of the things is that an inventory has never been done on the Yukon. We don't even know what we have. The federal government has never done that, and it's going to cost a lot of money to do that.
One issue that I can fully support the NDP government on is the stand that they've taken until now on the devolution of the entire package, and not at any price, because that's what forced us to walk away from the forestry transfer. Even though we wanted it really, really badly at the time, it wouldn't have been in the best interest of Yukoners to accept it on the terms it was being given to us by the federal government, and it was better in the long term to walk away from it and try to get a better deal. So, I am fully supportive of the government and their stand on it.
I just have one question for clarification, which was brought up by the Member for Riverside. The Crown Attorney's functions are not part of the package that we're talking about - that the Government Leader is going to be talking to the minister about tomorrow. Am I correct that that is a separate negotiation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair. The Crown Attorney function is an entirely separate negotiation. The principles are the same, but the negotiations are separate and with a different federal department as well.
I think it's important to point out, too, to supplement some of the comments that have been made here, that the responsibilities that are being transferred at this point for land management, water resources, environment and forestry are, particularly in the field, carried out by one office and sometimes one person, and to try to divvy up the responsibilities is enormously difficult. So, even from the federal perspective, it makes more sense to do it in one lump sum than it does on a piecemeal basis.
The economies of scale would change if we had to have a person doing different functions that are now housed through one office, one person. In any case, in terms of encouraging good land management and good resource management, it's always an integrated process and it's difficult. Even now, with the oil and gas transfer, without devolution we're still going to be going to the federal government, talking about land permits and going through all that whole permitting process.
We can't promise an integrated resource management system unless we have responsibility for all the resources. We can't work toward it unless we have it, and that's the challenge that we're going to have to face.
There's no doubt that if the devolution goes ahead it would be a major event for this territory, and there would be probably 10 or 20 years' worth of work to be done to bring things together, to reorganize, do reviews of legislation, et cetera, et cetera.
I think that's a step worth taking. It's a legacy to leave to our children, and I'm prepared, if the conditions are right, to take that step and provide our children with the obvious opportunities that come with the transfer - and the obligations to do a lot of hard work.
But, as the opposition leader has said, the terms have to be right. If forestry had been transferred three or four years ago under the same terms that we are discussing today for forest transfer, I can tell you exactly where the one-time census adjustment would be going, without any change. That's something that we have to bear in mind when we don't have one-time assessment adjustments to count on.
So, I'm saying that we have to get the terms right. We don't believe that it's an unreasonable proposition for the federal government, because we're not asking the federal government to do anything that they wouldn't otherwise do or anything that they're not going to have to do anyway.
What if the devolution does not proceed? If the devolution does not proceed, then they're still going to have to fight forest fires next summer, and the summer after that, using the same fire attack policies, and bearing the same costs.
I think our position is entirely reasonable. We're mindful of their limitations, but we cannot put Yukon people at risk.
Mr. Ostashek: I want to move on. I just have one final question. The Government Leader talked about the Land Claims Secretariat and the fact they've taken on the responsibilities now for implementation, and he was hoping that, in time, the line departments would be able to take over those responsibilities.
I know there's a transition period, but departments have been working for some time now to be able to handle the implementation of the land claims agreements that are going to be their responsibility for many, many years to come.
How long does the Government Leader believe that the Land Claims Secretariat will have to be kept in its present form and identified as a separate branch of government?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I would expect that after the final land claim is settled - and I'm assuming that will be Kwanlin Dun, based on what's happening at this stage in the game - that it will be probably a few years before the Land Claims Secretariat would be phased out. I would think that implementation issues and the obligations will keep us busy for some time in order to ensure that the land departments are brought up to speed on their obligations, and are helped through the process of fulfilling their obligations.
Many of the land departments are - when one actually boils it right down - sometimes one person, carrying out the responsibility. In the province, there may be 50 people carrying out that responsibility; in our government, there may be one person carrying out a particular responsibility. It's very difficult to bring everybody up to speed on all the obligations. But that process is ongoing, and the implementation side was actually started back even before the land claims agreement was signed, and they will continue for a little while yet.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the areas of concern that's been brought to my attention is the tremendous increase across the board by this NDP government in advertising. It appears that any time you pick up a newspaper, there's more and more advertising done by this government through the various departments. Some of it's directly funded out of ECO. What's the rationale for this? Is this just the spin doctors saying you have to spend the money on this area to get the message out to convince the people to re-elect us, or why is there just a tremendous increase in the amount of money we're spending on advertising, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It's interesting that, when the government explains government programs, it's spin doctoring; when the opposition explains, it's criticism. It's just simply providing advice, or free information to the public, in good conscience and honestly.
That suggests a certain particular bias, Mr. Chair, on the member's part.
One of the reasons for increases in this particular area is because the NDP government believes in public consultation, and many of the projects that we have underway are being undertaken with the advice of citizens. It was quite often the case in the past, particularly under the Yukon Party regime, that the member feels confident in supporting in terms of its legacy, that public consultation was given fairly short shrift. It was considered an afterthought.
The reality is that it is important for the Yukon NDP government, which believes in ensuring that people are consulted - particularly those people who are affected by decisions that are made by this Legislature and by the government - should have a say and a role in knowing what the government is doing. This is undertaken not only in the context of some of the major policy initiatives that we have identified - local hire, the energy commission review, the DAP consultations, the forestry consultations, which were major initiatives to encourage public participation and maximum public contribution to the policy debate - required public meetings.
It required notices of those meetings. It required an awareness of what the government was doing.
This theme has also been taken up, Mr. Chair, in terms of the other many policy initiatives that the government has undertaken that are led by line departments. Whether one undertakes work in the surrounding protected areas and wants to encourage people to understand precisely what's happening, what's going on, how they can participate, when they can participate, and who is participating, this has been an opportunity for the government to ensure that there is a maximum public contribution to important public initiatives.
Some of the latest initiatives that we have undertaken in trade and investment, tax round table and banking review have all required the government to make people aware of the fact that these initiatives are being undertaken and, in many cases, initial consultation with the community itself, the business community and others - business and labour and conservation groups.
We want to let people know that these are opportunities for their participation, both in Whitehorse and in the communities.
So, there are so many things to tell people about, there are so many government initiatives to tell people about, Mr. Chair, that the need for public communication has been increased manyfold, because the government does want to participate with people and with the valuable contribution that they will make to the debate to ensure that a policy is well developed.
So, I'm pleased with the fact that this is happening. I understand and would hope, even despite the tenor of the member's question, that he would support it, too.
Mr. Chair, I would move that you report progress on this bill.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: 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 Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Deputy Chair's report
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, at 4:45 p.m. Committee of the Whole passed the following motion:
THAT John Wright, chair of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Tony Armstrong, president of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, appear as witnesses before the Committee of the Whole from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m., on Wednesday, December 9, 1998, to discuss matters related to the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Further, Committee of the Whole considered Bill No. 13, Third Appropriation Act (1998-99), and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Speaker: The time being 5:30, this House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:30 p.m.
The following document was filed December 8, 1998:
Merger of Superior Propane and ICG Propane: Petro-Canada completes sale of ICG (news story dated December 8, 1998) (Ostashek)