Wednesday, December 9, 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 with the Order Paper at this time.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have for tabling today the High-Risk Alcohol Use in the Yukon: A Synthesis of Research Results, by Florence Kellner.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to introduce?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: FAS/FAE testing
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Minister of Health and Social Services. In the report the minister released this morning on high risk alcohol use in Yukon - I might add, after a two-year delay and some change in the original focus - it is clear that there are significant costs associated with our health care, education and justice systems to address the FAS/FAE problems.
One of the research report recommendations was early diagnosis for FAS/FAE - before the age of six was recommended in the report. Early identification is key, yet this government continues to ignore this central recommendation for fear of labelling. The minister continues to reiterate old problems to address the FAS/FAE issue. What new initiatives is this minister going to undertake to address the FAS/FAE problem that we have here in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think, first of all, I'd like to just comment that the Kellner report - or the Kellner synthesis, if you will - with regards to the delay, this was a report that was begun under the previous government, and we carried through with it. The delay was the result of a variety of circumstances, many of which were not of our making.
With regard to the FAS diagnosis, I think I've reiterated that we do a considerable amount of diagnosis of this problem. With regard to new initiatives, I think we've had some discussions very recently with some medical staff about such things as perhaps looking at FAS as a reportable disease - in the same way that we treat tuberculosis, diabetes, STDs - where we could get some further information at a very early stage.
As well, as I said earlier, our public health officials and our physicians do a high degree of diagnosis at very early ages.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if we look at the government's news release that came out this morning, it states that the study confirms the Department of Health and Social Services is moving in the right direction. That simply is untrue. That is not an accurate statement, Mr. Speaker.
The issue is diagnosis, but we carefully hide it away somewhere and we won't address it head-on for fear of labelling. The minister won't accept the fundamental recommendation of early diagnosis. Is the minister going to change his position on this issue as a result of this report, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well first of all, we have launched our healthy families initiatives and we are devising an FAS screening tool for physicians. With regard to diagnosis, I think the member is making a rather simplistic argument, and I can see why he is making a simplistic argument because he can't grasp some of the complexities of the issue.
FAS is a medical diagnosis. It's not the kind of thing that one does on sort of a half-baked basis. It requires, essentially, some physiological signs, primarily facial characteristics combined with revelation of prenatal alcohol abuse history.
Those two things are necessary to make an accurate FAS diagnosis. I know that the Member for Klondike is all things to all people, but the last I heard is that he wasn't an MD.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what we have here is a minister offering excuses, Mr. Speaker. If we were to go back several months or a year in this House, he wouldn't recognize that FAS/FAE was a problem. Now that many groups and individuals have identified FAS and FAE as a serious problem, why is the minister so reluctant to address his responsibilities head-on, identify those with FAS and FAE, establish new programs to identify those individuals so afflicted? Why is he so reluctant?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely no reluctance. I think I've said before here - and I'll say it again and the member doesn't seem to understand and doesn't seem to hear - that the Minister of Education and I have met with the statistics branch. We have asked for what can be reasonably done in this regard, what kinds of basis of evidence they need, what kinds of records they would need, what kinds of things can they deliver to us. We've also met with medical officials to ask about the idea of medical diagnosis, and we're using that information to see where we can go.
Now, what the member seems to be confusing is the question of a prevalence study versus a diagnosis. He doesn't seem to have that clear, and he seems to be mixing this up.
What we've said is we are willing to look at some kind of study that would probably be a survey of records, so to speak, because that's something very different from a diagnosis. A diagnosis is a medical assessment of the condition, and that is somewhat restricted in what kinds of evidence one can use to make a diagnosis.
Question re:Tourism, official road map
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Tourism. One of the most important Tourism documents that our highway visitors need and use is the Yukon official road map. This map is used extensively by the many thousands of visitors who travel in the Yukon every year. The map, Mr. Speaker, has everything on it that tourists need to know. The problem, as I understand it now, is that I hear that these maps are in short supply, and some people in the industry have been told that there are no plans or money to reprint the map for this next upcoming tourism season.
I'd like to ask the minister if he feels we have enough maps to get through this next tourism season, and when they plan on reprinting a new map.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I can check into the situation as alluded to, or brought forth, by the member across the floor there. I can further say that our budget process is going on at this very time. We'll be looking at next year's budgets, and certainly will be able to take care of the problem through there.
Mr. Phillips: I would have thought the minister could answer the question, because I, in fact, phoned the department the other day and basically advised the department that I'd be asking this question, Mr. Speaker. Maybe the department should put the minister's briefing notes on Delsey bathroom tissue and at least they'd have some use, because the minister doesn't seem to be reading them.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like to ask the minister again if he could find out for this House what map we're going to be using for next season. I understand people in the industry have been told that we're going to be running out of this particular map and that we possibly might be using Canada's Yukon, the map that's inserted in the middle of the visitor guide, that really isn't a road map and has all kinds of deficiencies on it.
Can the minister confirm that this might be the map that we might use for this next season for our travellers up and down the highway because the minister didn't budget enough money in his budget to make sure there were maps for this next fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker, as I've worked endlessly many hours this summer to develop ideas on marketing funds, tourism strategies, working with airports, extending airports, enticing charter airlines to come into the territory, I will continue to do that good work on behalf of all Yukon people, because certainly all Yukon people benefit from it.
Mr. Speaker, I will continue to work with the department as per the process, and I must say that the process is very much the same process as when the previous member was the Minister of Tourism. It hasn't changed all that much, and I'll certainly continue to work with the departmental staff so that we do have a bang-up vacation guide and maps for our people.
But I must again reiterate that there is process and I will be following that process and working with the department and our other partners, the Tourism Industry Association and others, that are encompassed underneath that umbrella, and will continue to work with them in that manner.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Phillips: We know one thing for sure, Mr. Speaker - the minister has got a lot of work to do, to develop a bang-up visitor guide for next year.
In his answer, the minister talked about the airports. I'm talking about the highway visitors. They don't drive down the airports. They need a Yukon map. They've always had a map, under our government and the previous NDP government. The map is running out. They need a comprehensive map for this tourism season. I want assurances from the minister that he will ensure that, by the beginning of the driving season next year, he will have a comprehensive Yukon map, and not this map out of the visitor guide - a comprehensive Yukon map, like we've had in the past, available for our visitors when they come to the Yukon. Can the minister give us those assurances - that he will make sure that that map is in our visitor centres and available this next season?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I do believe there is a certain amount of posturing going on in the House again today. I will reiterate that I will continue to work with the partners. I will continue to work with the Tourism department. I will continue to get more, and look for more, dollars through our established processes for tourism. Tourism is very, very important, and I will continue to work within the process and, of course, the map is a part of that process.
So, yes, Mr. Speaker, we will continue to do the very fine job that we have been doing in the past.
Question re:Liquor Act review
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation. Two years ago I asked the minister several questions about a public review of the Yukon Liquor Act. In the spring of 1997, the minister said, "We will beginning this at the end of the summer, and going on a community-by-community basis." When I asked in April of this year what had happened to the public review, the minister replied that it was no longer on. Instead, the board of directors of the Yukon Liquor Corporation are to be visiting the communities to get feedback from the public.
I wrote to the minister in June, asking for a schedule of those community visits. The minister responded, several months later, that the board had held one public meeting in Dawson in May. He said they planned to visit as many communities as possible.
This is being put off, and put off, and put off. When will the board of directors of the Liquor Corporation be visiting Yukon communities?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, at times it is very difficult to get board members from communities together and take them on these trips, but there is a commitment to do that. The Liquor Board did go to Teslin and Watson Lake, and had public meetings there. There were very good comments and feedback, and they do plan to do north Yukon this winter, through January and February.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, there's been public demand from many communities and individuals for a review of the Liquor Act. At their General Assembly this summer, the Council of Yukon First Nations asked for a review in relation to the availability of alcohol, including the days and hours of its sale in the Yukon and in relation to measures and actions to facilitate the healing of our communities.
The resolution from the General Assembly noted that the impact of alcohol on First Nations people has been culturally and socially devastating, and that the ready availability of alcohol in communities has been a contributing factor. There have been other calls for actions from the communities of Dawson and Carmacks.
The minister has promised to review, and gone back on that promise. The community reviews that the minister just responded on - although he had committed to publicizing and advising me of the timing of those meetings, that promise has not been lived up to, nor has the promise of a review of the Liquor Act. When is the review going to happen?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, we don't have it in our plans to do a review of the Liquor Act. I have had a meeting with Shirley Adamson, from CYFN, to talk about the resolution that came out of the CYFN General Assembly. We did go over some of the concerns to try and find ways of dealing with the issue that was raised at the General Assembly.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, a study was tabled in this House today on high-risk alcohol use in our territory. It reports that the per capita costs for alcohol-involved problems in the Yukon are estimated to be 66 percent higher than for the rest of Canada. That's $441 for the Yukon versus $265 in the rest of the country. There are a number of groups that believe that a review of the Liquor Act would deal with some of the issues raised in the report. Why is the government so reluctant to consult with the people on this issue when they seem anxious to consult on every other thing?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, we have been going to the communities. I have asked the board to meet with the communities and have public meetings and they have been doing that. They have a schedule that's laid out and they continue to work with the public.
Other departments, Health and Social Services have had consultation with communities and have been working on this whole issue. I think that it's not a government issue when you look at community healing; it's the communities that have to go in that direction.
Mr. Speaker, there have been a lot of communities working toward that, and we will continue to work with them to see how we can help.
Question re: Family Violence Prevention Act implementation
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Justice and it concerns her foot dragging on the implementation of the Family Violence Prevention Act.
Mr. Speaker, on November 18, 1997, the Minister of Justice told this House that implementation of the new act might take six months, eight months or even up to a year. The NDP has missed all these deadlines. This piece of legislation does nothing - absolutely nothing - to help victims of violence until it becomes law, and it is still not law.
Mr. Speaker, when is this minister going to get around to protecting women from domestic violence in this way, and doesn't she think that a year is a little too long to wait?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, what an interesting question from the member opposite. It seems that if they try one approach and they're not satisfied, they'll try the complete opposite approach.
When I introduced the Family Violence Prevention Act in this House, that member and her caucus colleagues stood up and said that we were pushing this forward too soon, that we needed to spend more time talking to the communities. And, Mr. Speaker, as we had intended to do all along, we are consulting with the communities. We are meeting with the women's shelters, with non-government organizations and, just over the past six weeks or so, have been holding meetings in Whitehorse and the communities about implementation of the Family Violence Prevention Act.
Those have been very well attended, and we've heard some interesting responses from members of the community. We will work with those responses and bring forward regulations in place when public education is complete and when the communities are all advised and in support of this initiative.
Mrs. Edelman: It's very interesting sometimes in the Legislature. I went to one of those meetings in Whitehorse, and two people attended. Perhaps two people attending is good attendance for the NDP.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the minister told this House this spring, "Don't worry. We'll get this act done. There is plenty of time. Trust us." Six months after those promises, implementation is still not done. Occupancy rates at the women's shelter are through the roof this year. That's because of the bad economy. The minister tells these women, "You can just wait."
Now, Mr. Speaker, the minister went on and on in her budget speech a couple of nights ago talking about what a great job she was doing in protecting women from violence. She talked about what great strides this government had made by bringing forward the Family Violence Protection Act.
The minister has already missed all the deadlines that she talked about. Does she have any idea when this legislation will actually be in place?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, perhaps what the member opposite is not aware of is that there is an advisory committee in place that's working on the implementation plan on the public education that we've undertaken for the Family Violence Protection Act. We have the women's centre and Kaushee's Place participating with departmental officials. We have had a number of people from various communities come forward with their suggestions on how to make the new emergency intervention orders effective in rural communities and in Whitehorse. There is also a need for training for justices of the peace. The Territorial Court Act, which I have brought forward in this Legislature, will also encourage training for the public and members of the judiciary.
We want those new emergency intervention orders to work, and we want the public to be informed of them, and the JPs to be trained on them. That work is continuing and will be concluded soon.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, it's a simple question: when?
Now, we're talking lots of hype and no action. We're months behind on making this bill a reality - months behind. Consultation is not done. Regulations have not been drafted. Policies are not written.
Mr. Speaker, the NDP has been running around, claiming that this act is doing great things for women in the Yukon Territory.
It's not true. Mr. Speaker, why has this minister been telling people that something is done when it is not? Why is this not a priority with this government?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm very troubled to hear that the member opposite doesn't think that talking to the community is important. I'm very troubled to hear the member opposite suggesting that getting advice from the front-line workers in communities on how to implement the family violence prevention act isn't important. That is important. That is action that we're taking now.
The legislation has passed the House. That's another action that has already taken place. We're working on developing the regulations. The regulations will be developed after we have completed receiving all the input from members of the community, and have the regulations ready to proclaim.
Question re: Street lighting in rural communities
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. The tragic fatal accident in Ross River has identified a long-standing problem experienced by many rural Yukon communities: the lack of proper street lighting. Community members in Ross River fought two years ago to get more street lighting for the very road where this accident occurred. Their efforts were in vain, and now a tragic death has occurred that may have been prevented. It shouldn't take a death to cause this government to act.
Will the minister now agree to do something about the serious problem of the lack of adequate street lighting in rural Yukon communities?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, this government, this department, does work with communities. We work with communities in every aspect. We look at the community development. It's something that's very, very important and dear to our hearts. For the member opposite to even allude to the point, as it is, is an atrocious point.
So, Mr. Speaker, we'll continue to work with communities in healthy development and safe development.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, there isn't anything atrocious about life and safety of Yukoners, or individuals anywhere. The official reason why communities such as Ross River do not qualify for street lighting is because of the per capita formula. The minister, coming from a rural riding, knows full well that formulas just do not apply in many parts of rural Yukon.
Will the minister give an undertaking to review the street light policy for rural communities and implement a policy based on common sense?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, that's absolutely wrong. It's not done by per capita formula; it's not done by quota; it's absolutely wrong. This government will continue to work with communities, whether they're hamlets, whether they're advisory councils, and work with them to their wishes.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, we'll continue to work with communities.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, where was the minister two years ago when Ross River asked for more street lighting on that road? I've fought for street lighting for my own riding, a potentially dangerous situation. We had school children standing out around Henderson Corner waiting for the school bus; no street lighting and highway graders coming by, almost hitting them. That potential situation has been resolved but there are many, many more that exist in parts of rural Yukon.
Will the minister give an undertaking to examine these types of situations and implement a policy for street lighting based on common sense? Will the minister give an undertaking here today, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to point out that the member opposite, by doing his job and identifying spots within his riding, did not have to fight with this government. He was simply doing his job, and I will continue to work with any MLA in this Legislature to do their job for those safety precautions.
So, it's not - as the member is not alluding to but categorically stating - that he had to fight. Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely wrong.
I encourage all MLAs in this Legislature to work with their communities and to continue to work with their communities.
Mr. Speaker, I will continue to work with the Ross River people and the Ross River round table to bring the community together to look at the different situations that happen here, because it is more deep-rooted than simply what the member opposite is speaking of, and we will continue to work with the people to overcome the tragedy, maybe, that is in the Yukon, but also so that we can maintain good services for the people of the Yukon.
Question re: Education, capital planning
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Minister of Education regarding capital planning for education. At the fall meeting of the school council chairs, schools were asked to develop their own three-year capital plans. These capital plans are to be submitted to the department, I understand, by the end of January next year. The notes I've seen from the council meetings state that the department will then shortlist year-one capital projects for all schools, and a final capital project list will be established by mid-March.
Mr. Speaker, mid-March is prior to the next all-school council chairs meeting. In the past, the minister has indicated that the capital planning for the department was decided upon by school council chairs. Who will be making the decisions on the capital plans submitted by school councils - school council chairs collectively at a spring public meeting, or will the decisions be made behind closed doors by department officials?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite is aware, this government has made a commitment to having capital funds available to support education needs around the Yukon. As we also know, there are needs in all communities, and all school councils put forward requests for consideration for additions or for new schools.
What school councils have been asked to do by this government, and what they have done, starting two years ago, was to develop both a list of the criteria that the Department of Education needs to consider when it is making final decisions on the budgeting priorities and also to come up with a consensus position on which projects should proceed first - and the order in which the projects should proceed.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, they did that, and decided Old Crow, Ross River and Mayo. I'm asking about the future. However, in keeping with this minister's non-answers, one of the obvious questions regarding capital planning is whether or not the Wood Street Annex will continue to house all of the programs operated out of that facility. I wrote the minister about this issue on October 13 and have yet to receive a reply. Programs like experiential science, taught by the award-winning teacher, Bob Sharp, the MAD program, the entrepreneurship centre are all housed in the Wood Street Annex. Can the minister tell the House today what the capital plans are for the Wood Street Annex by the Department of Education?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, it seems to me - and perhaps the member didn't realize that - in the preamble of her question that she's answered the question herself, in relation to the long-term commitments.
Old Crow, Ross River, and Mayo take us over a three-year period that proceeds not just into next year's budget, but the year after that. The member did write to me about Wood Street, and I responded to her, and have a copy of that letter available that we can provide her with, if she didn't receive the first one.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, capital planning is fundamental to education programming. We all know that. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out that if a facility like the Wood Street Annex is no longer there, the programs offered are either discontinued or they're accommodated in existing facilities.
I'd like an answer from the minister on the Wood Street Annex. Have the high schools in Whitehorse been asked in their three-year capital plans to accommodate additional programs or has the government made a three-year commitment that the facility, the Wood Street Annex, will remain in place? Perhaps the minister will share the answer she supposedly sent me.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker - as I believe I indicated in a response to the member previously on Wood Street - we have committed to keeping the programs offered in that facility until the end of the present school year. We will continue to offer those programs in the future.
Question re: Protected areas strategy
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, my question's for the minister responsible for Renewable Resources, on the protected areas strategy.
Last week, the minister gave a ministerial statement in the House outlining the strategy. Shortly after that, there was an article in one of our local media, which said in part, "One of the first regions to be assessed will be the Wolf Lake north of Teslin. Parks Canada has had its eye on this area to create a park, but YTG has insisted that it wait until the protected areas strategy was finished. Now the work can begin, Fairclough said."
My question to the minister: is the feasibility study on Wolf Lake national park going ahead, and who is going to be doing the work? And how does that relate to the minister's comment, "Now the work can begin"?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'm glad the member is taking an interest in this. In the strategy that was released along with the work plan, we did identify a number of things that we would like to do in planning areas and planning teams that we would like to set up. What would need to take place is the establishment of a planning team, and once that planning team is established, they go out and hold public meetings, and so on. That is where the federal government, Parks Canada, can come in and identify an interest.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, there have been several public meetings already held on this Wolf Lake national park. There was one 10 days ago in Teslin and there was a substantial amount of money being waved around for this feasibility study. So, I'm asking the minister when he says, "Now the work can begin" - has, in fact, the work begun? Is there a feasibility study going ahead on the Wolf Lake national park?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I've just explained to the member the process. I said that we now have a strategy in place. We do have a work plan in place. Now the work begins; we need to be able to start with the planning areas and start sending out planning teams. We have identified three areas, and once those teams are in place, then those with interest - community people, those who are affected, whether they are industry or whatnot - can voice themselves with this planning team to look at study areas and boundaries and look at lines on a map, and that's what needs to take place.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, if I understand the minister correctly, he's saying that the federal government has jumped the gun by holding public meetings - two now that I know of that have been held - in Teslin. There is $2 million being waved around in front of the people's faces, saying this is what we're going to spend on this feasibility study.
My question to the minister: has the federal government jumped the gun by proposing the feasibility study to the people of Teslin?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, they did hold a public meeting, and they did want to get feedback from the people of Teslin. We have stated our position to them that we want to put this strategy in place first, and we felt that they should be following the process.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: 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.
Chair's ruling on unparliamentary language
Chair: Order please.
Yesterday the Member for Riverdale North raised a point of order about language used by the Government Leader. The Chair stated that the Blues would be reviewed and the Chair would respond later.
The Chair, as a matter of course, reviewed all the proceedings that took place during the time when the point of order was raised. Although the statement was occasioned by a specific point of order, the following thoughts should also be understood to apply to those entire proceedings, which members must agree contained a number of intemperate and unrestrained remarks.
In preparing this statement, the Chair has once again reviewed the direction found in the Assembly's Standing Orders and in Annotations 485 to 494 in Beauchesne respecting the language that should be expected in this House.
Standing Order 19(1)(j) states: "A member will be called to order.... if that member uses abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder."
Members will recall that the Speaker, in a statement to the House on December 2, 1998, provided advice similar to that found in Annotation 491 in Beauchesne when he stated: "Members, too, must be aware that the context matters. A word may, on one occasion, be found to be unparliamentary if the Chair views it as being abusive or insulting and likely to create disorder. On another occasion, however, the Chair may not interfere when the same word is used because, at that time, it does not create a problem for members."
Returning to the point of order raised by the Member for Riverdale North on December 8, 1998, the member, in stating his point of order, said, "Mr. Chair, the member is accusing me of slandering somebody's name. I believe that is unparliamentary."
The Government Leader, in speaking to the point of order, stated, "Mr. Chair, I'm drawing conclusions about the effect of a member's criticism ... I'm saying that the effect of what he has done has slandered someone ..."
A review of the remarks being referred to by the Member for Riverdale North and the Government Leader indicate that the Government Leader used the following expressions:
Yesterday, at the time the point of order was raised, the Chair said that it would not be unparliamentary to say that the effect of a member's remarks would be to slander someone. It would, however, be unparliamentary to say that a member is slandering someone.
The Government Leader, in speaking to the point of order, expressed that same point. The difficulty, however, is that the remarks being referred to do not convey that subtlety - they, in fact, make the direct statement that the comments of the Member for Riverdale North were slanderous and that they were deliberately slanderous.
The Chair accepts the Government Leader's contention that he was attempting to describe the effect of the remarks of the Member for Riverdale North. The Chair, however, would conclude that the Government Leader's statements went beyond that description, and would ask that, in the future, greater care be taken when phrasing remarks such as those made yesterday.
The Chair again notes that the Government Leader's remarks were made in the context of proceedings in which much of the language could be considered conducive to disorder. The Chair's practice has been to restrict interventions by the Chair, in order to permit full and unfettered debate. In light of yesterday's events and the increasing frequency of points of order respecting unparliamentary language, the Chair, in the future, will be more attentive to the language used and will step in more frequently to ensure order is preserved.
Finally, the Chair can only repeat the appeal made by the Speaker on December 2, 1998, when he said, "The Chair urges members to be careful that the language they use is respectful of this House and of every member who is privileged to have a seat in it."
Bill No. 13 - Third Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Executive Council Office - continued
Chair: Committee is dealing with Bill No. 13, Third Appropriation Act, 1998-99. We are on Executive Council Office. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Ostashek: Yes, we are still in Executive Council Office. It was our understanding from the debate yesterday that the Government Leader was going to have a conversation with the Minister of DIAND this morning. I would like to take this opportunity, since we're still in general debate, and ask him if, in fact, the conversation took place, and if he would care to share some of it with the Legislature at this time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, the conversation took place this morning between the federal minister and some of her staff, and the Yukon government, represented by me, of course, and Shirley Adamson was present, as well, and partook in the conversation.
If I were to characterize the state of devolution negotiations right now, or sum it up, Mr. Chair, I would characterize them as being on life support systems.
The federal minister indicated in the context of the discussion that in the end the federal position put forward last week in Vancouver characterizes a full and final offer needs work, that it is not full nor is it final. The minister also indicated that she requires time to consider the issues raised in the teleconference that we had and she asked for three weeks to contemplate the federal position.
We indicated that while we wanted to bring this matter to resolution quickly, as timelines are being pressed and that substantial resources have been and are continuing to be invested in this project, this request was acceptable only if the most senior people in the department were assigned to the task and that the minister would personally come to the Yukon in early January to deliver the federal position and present their final offer. These conditions were acceptable to the federal minister.
The Yukon government's position has been, and I presume will always be, whether these negotiations bear fruit or not, that we would like to see devolution take place, that it would mean an advance for this territory but only if the arrangements do not put Yukon people at risk.
I think the one difficulty that Yukon negotiators have had - not just on this devolution project over the years, but on other devolution projects, many of which have been successfully negotiated with the federal government - is to get across the difference in scale and size between the federal government, with its massive budgets, and the Yukon government with a budget that's probably one-tenth the size of DIAND's budget.
To indicate that the risk factors for Yukon are much more significant, given the size of the budget and the size of the tax base in this territory, than they would be for the federal government, is often a difficult concept for federal officials to contemplate.
Nevertheless, we have put forward what I believe is an entirely reasonable position and, when negotiations are concluded - and even if they fail - I will certainly make public both the Yukon and federal positions around devolution.
Mr. Ostashek: I want to thank the minister for that, and I can assure the minister that I can understand the difficulties that he's going through in trying to reach an agreement that will be fair and equitable to all Yukoners, if in fact we are to take responsibility for our destiny, something that all Yukoners want us to do, but I don't believe all Yukoners want us to do it at any price. So I want to say for the record that, once again, my caucus is fully supportive of the position being taken by the government in negotiations on devolution. I'm probably a little bit optimistic that the DIAND minister didn't slam the door but, on the other hand, having dealt with DIAND ministers in the past, I know that really doesn't count for a lot. It's just a softer way of saying no, sometimes, by prolonging the negotiations when the goal line is not in sight. And that's a decision that the Government Leader is going to have to make, probably in the very near future, as to when do we say, "Enough is enough," and set this aside for a period of a few years, and wait for a change of government at the federal level and a new mandate, either for this government or some other government in the territory, in the next election, to take another stab at it.
I appreciate the position that the Government Leader has taken on behalf of Yukoners. It's a position that I took: that as bad as things are, they could be worse if we didn't get the right deal with the federal government. So, while having full control over our destiny would be very, very nice, we cannot do it at any cost.
I just have one question that I'd like to ask the Government Leader, not in regard to the negotiations at all. I don't want to get involved in that, but I know that one of the outstanding issues is the firefighting budget.
Have the Government Leader's officials explored with DIAND the possibility of having that addressed under the federal disaster fund - that they could declare a national emergency in the event that we had another year like we had this year, where costs had escalated to four or five times what they usually are for fighting fires? I would just like to know if that area has been explored as a possibility, maybe something that could break the log-jam on that one issue.
I know that there are other issues that are outstanding as well, but that is one major issue that I know. If the minister can answer me, fine. If he can't, I'll accept that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the disaster fund has been raised. The federal minister has raised that option as an option as well. I have to say that after having had some long discussions with Gary Filmon about the disaster fund, I would prefer, in the interests of the Yukon taxpayer, to have a more fluid process. The disaster fund dollars are generally 50-percent dollars, and what that would mean in the future for us right now is that, if last year had happened and we were the responsible government for fighting fires, we wouldn't be looking for $18-million overage; we'd be looking for $9-million overage. It's still a tremendous amount.
In any case, as I reiterated to the minister this morning, we are not asking the federal minister to come up with large reserve funds and to do things that they weren't doing before. We're not asking the minister to put down deposits and set aside trust funds for environmental cleanup, or any of that sort of thing. We're simply asking for the federal minister and the federal government to invest what they would otherwise have to invest in the Yukon anyway to provide these services. And sometimes there will be a moment where they've had to go and seek extra funding in their base to cover such contingencies as a fire season that has exceeded the $6.5 million in their budget. That's what they'll have to do next year, or the year after, if we don't have the responsibility.
So, we're not asking them to do anything that they are not going to have to do, anyway. But we are pretty clear that we're not being persnickety over some of the details of one-time costs, and that sort of thing, either. I'm sure the member wasn't when he was Government Leader. Those are details. Some of them are important details, but they're not deal-breakers. There are some clear deal-breakers, and we've made those very, very clear to the federal minister.
The other issue, of course, that was mentioned was the issue of funding self-government. We have made it very clear - and this was aggressively supported by the Grand Chief of Yukon First Nations - that the federal fiduciary responsibility is to First Nations. That means it is the federal financial responsibility to pay for self-government, whether it be in Northern Affairs-type programming, or whether it be for education, health, social services, or any other field of endeavour. Those incremental increase costs to provide that self-government must be borne by the federal government.
There cannot be any mistake about that. And what we would like to ensure is that the language that's actually being negotiated in the final agreements now, be simply accepted or referenced in the devolution of Northern Affairs' programs. This is not an unreasonable position for Yukon people to take at all.
I feel strongly that the positions we take have been entirely reasonable and respectful of the federal government's needs. I have not looked at Northern Affairs, or DIAND, or the federal government itself for that matter, as being one large cash cow to milk. We've taken a minimalist position in order to see the transfer done, but we can't put people at risk in the Yukon.
Mr. Ostashek: I'll thank the member for that. I just have one other question on that part of it.
This is now being delayed until sometime in January. What does this do to the target date of the devolution - which was supposed to be April 1 of next year? Is this going to push it back to the fall of 1999, or does the Government Leader think that if in fact everything were finalized - which I find hard to believe also could be done in the next three weeks - would there still be time for the April 1 transfer?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, my position, Mr. Chair, is that the timelines can't slip. I realize this puts us all in a very awkward position, because even this Legislature is going to be asked to deal with reference legislation in the fall. There's a big body of work to be undertaken. Obviously, as I mentioned before, we'll be simply adopting - for the time being, at least - federal laws and regulations.
But even that is a big task. And the Yukon Act - which I've indicated to party leaders in this House - should be the result of - at a minimum - an all-party agreement, as to the terms of that legislation - at least the legislation we would propose to the federal government.
And that's going to require some effort on the part, of course, of not only the drafters but also the party leaders as well, because we're going to have to go through these Yukon Act issues ourselves. But we have the window of opportunity, which is essentially the spring/summer session of the federal Parliament, to get the legislation through in order to see it happen.
So, I'm still going to be trying to stick to the existing timetable if we get agreement in January.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to thank the Government Leader for the answers yesterday in the House when I raised these questions on devolution, and thank him for the forthright manner in which he has presented the Yukon's position.
Other members in this House have noted that not everyone has been in the House for a long time, and I, in particular, have not spent years as Government Leader or years in this House and had the benefit of talented staff providing me with extensive briefings on this issue.
The minister said that there's indeed a mountain of material on the subject of devolution from the Yukon perspective. I would like to say that, having reviewed the answers given by the minister and the positions that the Government Leader indicated he took, or has taken, on these four key issues, most especially the cost of forest fire suppression and the environmental liability issues, which are coming more and more to the fore every day, and the forest management services issues and the others, I would like to express our caucus support for the Government Leader's position and for -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it's unfortunate the manners some people bring to this House.
The issue is devolution and I am expressing my support for the position that the Government Leader has taken, most especially the position that we do not want this at a cost to Yukoners.
It is an important political step and I wish him the best in the negotiations and would ask at this time if it's possible for me to have an extensive briefing on these issues with some officials. I would appreciate that opportunity.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I thank the Liberal leader for those comments and I will indicate to her that I will ask the Yukon negotiators to brief her on the state of negotiations - and the leader of the Yukon Party, as well, on the so-called state of play in the negotiations. Certainly as we proceed into what hopefully is a final and successful conclusion to these discussions, they will be kept informed of what is happening, even outside the Legislature.
As I've indicated to her before, the work on the Yukon Act is going to take on a new force. Even if we do not propose an act that changes what is currently the state of reality in our Yukon Legislature, there still are a number of issues that have to be addressed and there is obviously not a lot of time to do so. So, I think we'll be busy this winter. If all goes well, we will be busy.
Ms. Duncan: I have one final question in general debate for the Government Leader and I wonder if I could have a response by legislative return. The minister indicated in yesterday's debate that about half the money in this department was accommodating salary settlement and the other half was for the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, public consultation and the other expenditure, which escapes me at the moment. I am wondering if I could just have details on the consultation by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment and if I could have the details on the balance of the other project.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The other project that the member refers to is the work on the regulatory code of conduct. We had indicated, in approving a regulatory code of conduct, that an initiative would be taken to review existing rules and regulations, as well as to put new rules and regulations through a more difficult test - new standards. We've had preliminary discussions with, particularly, the business community, but also labour and the Conservation Society, to discuss not only how they would suggest we proceed with a review of existing regulations, but in what order we would be reviewing the regulations.
One of the suggestions that was made, which we're going to adopt, is to do a survey of, basically, all business people, to ask their thoughts about what the most onerous rules are that they consider to be unnecessary, that they would like to see reviewed. That will take place over the course of the winter. We will have, as we have already, a focus group of business groups and labour, and others, to oversee the project as we go.
The public consultation related to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment is the result of a request that I made to the council back in early October to undertake public discussions on the state of the Yukon economy, and what communities might do to improve their economic fortunes, not simply to focus on what the government can do for them, but what they can do for themselves, and to make recommendations to the government by the summer of 1999.
We have had many discussions. We have had round tables with the business community and others, on everything from tax reform to trade and investment.
There have also been requests, as a result of discussions that I have had with people around the territory and the dozens of community meetings that I've had, for a review by the council, as more of an objective body, to speak to the issue of economic renewal. So, I've asked the Council on the Economy and the Environment to undertake those consultations, and the remaining budget will be dedicated to that, along with the work of the review of the regulatory regime in the government.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, can the Government Leader advise what the cost breakdown is between those two projects?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It's about $70,000 for the public consultations by the Council on the Economy and the Environment and is $30,000 for the code of regulatory conduct. Both of those items show up in the line in the budget of public communications, and they account for all of the increase - $7,000 in that line item is for wage increases related to the negotiated collected agreements.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, when we left debate yesterday, I was asking the Government Leader some questions about the advertising policy and what is driving the tremendous increase in advertising that is being undertaken. I had a chance to review the Blues, and the Government Leader said that one of the reasons for increases in this particular area is because the NDP government believes in public consultation.
The other explanation explains government programs. But when we look at the majority of these ads, it's just the government patting themselves on the back.
We don't have any quarrel with the explanation of government programs or policies that are coming out or announcing meetings dealing with upcoming policy reviews; that is all very well justified. But when, after the fact, the government goes on and on with ads on the same topics, virtually patting themselves on the back in these areas, that's not a good expenditure of the taxpayers' dollars.
If it were just in one department, Mr. Chair, we could single out that department and have it addressed in that one line item, but it's across all of the departments. And we're going to the extent of full-page ads on to funding that's given out in some of the categories.
Now, this is politics. This isn't anything to do with a good expenditure of the taxpayers' dollars - to announce programs, to explain programs, or to go out and consult with the public.
Now, we can't ask the minister to cease and desist but, my gosh, this is a blatant expenditure that, in a lot of cases, is totally unjustified. Is the Government Leader going to have a look at this, or is he just going to go on his merry way and keep patting himself on the back?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I disagree with the member on virtually everything he said. Holy smokes, I don't agree with him at all, frankly.
First of all, he has referred to explaining government programs as the government patting itself on the back. I'm glad he thinks that the programs are attractive enough, or the protected areas strategy, or whatever the issue is, is popular enough that it's reinforcing in the public's minds that this is a good project, but I don't agree with him that this is not a good expenditure of public money at all.
With respect to some of the issues or things that we have undertaken, I would point out to the member that even some of the things we undertook a couple of months ago were not even known to members in the opposition, and that was patently obvious during the entire debate on the economic measures. One member of the Legislature indicated that he believed that nothing at all had happened on tax reform. This is after we'd had three round tables with the business community participating. For a member of the Legislature, who has seen the government's press releases, to be unaware that the tax round table had been meeting on many occasions already, then this suggests a need for even more public discussion, more public communication.
So, the basic focus of the member's point I don't agree with.
Mr. Jenkins: It's not my point, Mr. Chair. It's an area that I looked at and have concerns with, but it's brought to me by a considerable number of my constituents and people elsewhere in the Yukon pointing out that ads are continually appearing, full-page ads, and that in a lot of cases the same ad is repeated throughout and goes on and on and on.
So, there is an issue out there, Mr. Chair, and there is a big issue as to how much this government is spending on advertising to blow its own horn and pat itself on the back.
And that's exactly what a lot of this money is being spent on - blowing it's own horn. If we look at the public communications service line item, it's going up by $107,000. How much of that component of the total $2,207,000 that we'll end up spending in that is for advertising? And how much is the increase over last year? There has to be a significant increase in that one line item alone, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the member picked the wrong line item, because I just explained that line item, and it has no increase associated with this particular area. I just explained to the Liberal member what that entire increase entails, and it entails none of what the member's been talking about. So, that is a bad example.
With respect to the general proposition that hordes of his constituents have been complaining to him, I would ask him to explain to us what the nature of the criticism is, and perhaps maybe even direct them to me. I have not heard it myself; I've spoken to literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. I think it was even in Dawson, too. And I've not heard this issue raised with me once - not even by a partisan player, whom you'd expect to hear it from.
I don't live in isolation, Mr. Chair. I'm out in the streets all the time, speaking to people constantly. I've had almost 50 public meetings in the last month, where this issue has not been raised once.
So, Mr. Chair, I think that the need for public consultation and public discussion and public explanation is high, frankly. I do not agree with the member - and I've listed some examples where even the members of the Legislature clearly don't know what is happening.
I suggest that maybe even the newsletter of government actions going down to the opposition offices might be helpful. But the point the member makes, which is that he thinks this public discussion is unreasonable, I can't and don't accept.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if the Government Leader wants to start by providing information to this Legislature, he can start with having himself and his minister answering the questions in Question Period. That's where he can certainly start.
But of the line item that I mentioned, you know, the minister touts - I think yesterday the figure he used was 45 public meetings; today it's 50, so he must have been very busy yesterday with five additional public meetings. But, be that as it may, it may or may not have occurred. But the fact remains that there's been a considerable increase in government advertising, and it's across all departments and all government agencies, and it's not just one-time ads. The same ad is being repeated throughout the same paper. So, there is a considerable expenditure in this area.
Now, I guess we can go on and explore it throughout the various line items of the various departments, but I'm just looking at a fair way of dealing with this issue at this juncture, Mr. Chair, a fair way to the taxpayers, and that is to have a policy in place dealing with advertising and dealing with the expenditure of public funds in this area.
A lot of these ads cross the line from being explanations of government policy, or public policy, or programs, or being announcements about public meetings. They cross that line. They're just this NDP government patting itself on the back or blowing its own horn. That's all it is.
Now, if the minister is prepared to bring forward a policy in this area to distinguish between these areas and tooting its own horn, we can have a look at it, but, until that time, it's being identified by more and more individuals out there in the public as an expenditure associated with NDP governments, as an expenditure that appears to be needless in a number of cases, and unjustified.
So, if the Government Leader is prepared to bring back a policy in this area, we're prepared to look at it, but until that time, we are here to seek justification for these expenditures, and a lot of them are not justified with respect to advertising.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the member has already voted against the budget. I don't expect anything to change on that front, so if the member thinks that I am going to spend a great deal of time trying to convince him of every last little expenditure - or I am going to go out of my way to do that - he's nuts.
With respect to the allegation that he's made, he's made the allegation that these are not worthwhile expenditures, and he has not cited anything specific. He's just said that, overall, these are not valuable expenditures, and I disagree, as a general proposition. He's presented it as a general proposition, and I disagree, as a general proposition.
The member said that if we just answered questions in Question Period, things would be all right. I doubt that very much. First of all, Mr. Chair, we do answer questions in Question Period. What the members don't like are the answers, the answers that are provided every day.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. Order please. Let the member speak.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member doesn't like the answers that I give. That's too bad, Mr. Chair. The member is living in a glass house, and he's throwing stones when it comes to questions of competency. The member, if he only had a chance to look at his own performance, would realize that.
With respect to the questions in Question Period, they are not so much questions as they are typical bald-faced allegations that they want the government to respond to, and so they are responded to in kind. So, what's the puzzle there?
The member comes forward with a general proposition; no specifics. He says that he's heard it from more and more people. I've not heard it from one.
Apparently, with respect to the number of meetings that I've had in the last number of months, or even the last month, they've exceeded 45. Forty-five is just for the pre-budget consultations. I've had a lot more meetings than that with people.
The member opposite insists that we change the government's actions with respect to this matter and he has not convinced me at all. He's not brought any information forward, he's not stated his position well, he's not stated it clearly, he's made a general allegation and he wants me, on that basis, to change what he believes or to develop new government policy, and I've indicated, based on how the member has characterized his claim, that I disagree with him and cannot do whatever it is he is asking. I'm not even certain what it is he's asking for.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Cabinet and Management Support
Cabinet and Management Support in the amount of $11,000 agreed to
On Land Claims Secretariat
Land Claims Secretariat in the amount of $26,000 agreed to
On Intergovernmental Relations
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could I ask the minister to give a brief explanation on that increase?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This expenditure may not be required, but this is a transfer from the cabinet commissions to the intergovernmental relations to deal with devolution and the workload behind devolution. A lot of it is the special council working on the Yukon Act, but there is other additional staffing. If, of course, the devolution doesn't proceed, then of course we won't need the funds - and probably even less than this.
Intergovernmental Relations in the amount of $156,000 agreed to
Policy in the amount of $10,000 agreed to
On Public Communication Services
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, on this line item - I won't ask the minister to do it on his on feet, because I know he probably won't have it there with him - but if he could get back to me by letter or leg return as to how much of the public communication services budget is dedicated to advertising and how much it's gone up over the last fiscal year - if he could do that by letter or leg return.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll do that, Mr. Chair.
Public Communication Services in the amount of $107,000 agreed to
On Bureau of Management Improvement
Bureau of Management Improvement in the amount of $1,000 agreed to
On Bureau of Statistics
Bureau of Statistics in the amount of $14,000 agreed to
On Office of the Commissioner
Officer of the Commissioner in the amount of $1,000 agreed to
On Cabinet Offices
Cabinet Offices in the amount of $24,000 agreed to
On Cabinet Commissions
Cabinet Commissions in the amount of an underexpenditure of $141,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Executive Council Office in the amount of $209,000 agreed to
Executive Council Office agreed to
Chair: We'll take a two-minute break.
Department of Community and Transportation Services
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are now on general debate, Department of Community and Transportation Services. Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I'd like to briefly outline and present the highlights of the Supplementary No. 2 for the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
Mr. Chair, the department has come forward with a request for estimated operation and maintenance expenditure increase of $440,000, of which $393,000 is an increase in personnel costs arising from the impact of the recent collective agreement. The remaining $47,000 is a fully recoverable expenditure.
The department is therefore reporting a net operation and maintenance expenditure increase that is required to meet its obligations under the collective agreement. The department's estimate for capital expenditures has increased by about $13.4 million.
This consists mainly of revote requirements of $2.8 million for projects, the funding for which was voted by the House in a previous fiscal year, and a $10-million increase in new Shakwak funding. The increase in capital recoveries of about $10.2 million relates to the corresponding expenditure increase in the Shakwak project of $10 million, with the balance mainly being a recoverable portion of expenditure under the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program.
This supplementary reflects that the department is carrying on with the delivery of its programs with prudent budgetary controls. If the members have specific questions relating to the supplementary, I'd be able, and glad, to answer the questions.
Mr. Jenkins: What we have here, Mr. Chair, is a budget that tells very well where this government is heading and where the economy of Yukon is heading. The increases are, by and large, attributable to the costs of the new collective bargaining agreement. On the capital side, the major expenditures are those flowing for the Shakwak project.
But what is also very telling - and it's directly related to the economic conditions here in Yukon - is the downturn in revenues from the transportation division: weigh scale fees, commercial vehicle licences and private vehicle licences. All of these areas added significantly to the revenue base of the Yukon.
Coupled to that is a lessening of the requirement to maintain the highways to the levels they were previously maintained to, and I'm specifically referring to the route from Faro down to Skagway. The level of maintenance has gone down because the highway isn't being used to the same levels as previously.
So we've had a little bit of a cost saving but, in general terms, I'd like to know what the department is doing to bring costs down and into line with where we're anticipating to be. I mean, about the only business the weigh scales are receiving these days are a few fuel trucks and freight trucks, and the biggest business is probably moving trucks heading south.
I also notice that there is a property tax write-off, and I believe that requires further explanation about how that came about.
The capital write-off associated with the Chateau Jomini in Faro deserves further explanation, but the property tax due to an adjustment of assessed values, that's quite an interesting abnormality. Could the minister provide further explanation on that area?
And then there's also some other land that has been transferred, and has gone to a non-taxable status. Could the minister provide some explanation as to how this has come about? Even if it has a non-tax status, if it's within municipal boundaries, there's a grant-in-lieu paid on that area, or on that parcel of improvements. It's not paid on the land, but it's paid on the improvements.
So, we could probably just start right there as to what steps the department is taking to bring their expenditures in line with the downturn in the economy, and directly relate it to the downturn in revenues coming from the various areas that are revenue generators. We can go into the other general areas, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I can endeavour to explain what the department is doing to bring the costs down. We're hopefully into a situation with our economy that we're going to be rising out of, Mr. Chair. Certainly we - the department - is always looking for new ways to spend money smarter, and we'll certainly continue to do so.
I would hope, though, that the Member for Klondike would understand that we do have basic obligations - as per the highway, transportation, et cetera - as the member had spoken of. We are going to have to keep roads open, the highways plowed, and maintain a presence, because certainly we're not going to be in this quagmire for long. We're going to be working with due diligence to be able to come out of it.
So, we will continue to focus on spending smarter, Mr. Chair.
The member is right. The revenues are not what they should have been as per the projections, but again, we anticipate that we will be coming out of here, so we're going to have to spend smarter and spend in line. We do have a Supplementary No. 2 budget here that does speak to helping to bring the economy into line.
The Chateau Jomini was purchased in 1985, I believe, for the price of $641,000. Now, it's listed in the inventory as land that is available, and we certainly know that the land is not available. So, it's sitting right now as a government asset. With the Auditor General's report talking about bringing the property into line, then certainly, we thought that this was a good move to make on the Chateau Jomini, to write it off in that sense. The building is now, as I can say, a part of Government Services' assets and, therefore, has to be excluded from the land inventory for sale.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we ended off with the Chateau Jomini in Faro, and I'd like to explore with the minister just what is going to be occurring with respect to Faro, and what the assessment branch is doing in Faro as we speak.
Now, I can recall that when the announcement came about for the closure of the mine site at Clinton Creek, there was an appeal made by the owners to reduce the assessment down to zero, and that was subsequently agreed to. In Faro, it would appear that the Auditor General has picked up that the government's assets there are being overstated, and the government has taken the steps to write them down or write them off.
What is the assessment branch doing in Faro with respect to the assessment, as we speak, and when is that assessment going to be adjusted for that community, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I'll have to provide in writing to the member opposite what is happening to the assessments in Faro.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, hinged on that assessment, through the minister's department, is the municipal block funding. I'm aware of a pledge being made by the Government Leader and the Member for Faro to the Town of Faro to maintain it for the next year?
Mr. Chair, I do have concerns with that kind of a pledge being made in light of the downturn in the economy. It would result in what would appear to be a windfall amount flowing through to Faro, in light of their population base and all the other factors that are in the municipal block funding formula. What we're looking at is Faro receiving probably an amount well in excess of $1 million, on the same level as what Watson Lake and Dawson receive.
Does the minister feel that that kind of sum would be fair and justifiable in this case, given the values for the community of Faro, given that there is not a great number of people paying their taxes there?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly I can answer the member's question. In the Town of Faro, the population has remained above 500 residents, and that certainly is the requirement for the status under the act.
So, Mr. Chair, it's something that we'll be working on with the Town of Faro to continue to provide the services, but certainly, as per the formula, at this point in time, the town does meet the requirement.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's just what I'm getting at, Mr. Chair - the population. It has been admitted by the government that the population in Faro is now 400. Given that the population figure to justify the existence of the community is 500, what does the minister have to say to that? I believe it was the Member for Faro who gave the information in the House, that the population in Faro is around 400.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Faro has been monitoring the population movement within the residential areas of the town, so now, as I said, the town will have to provide some financial and physical assistance to residents who will be located from the town, but certainly, they are maintaining validity, as I understand, as a town.
Mr. Jenkins: Is it that Faro is maintaining its validity as a town, or the Government of Yukon is maintaining its validity as a town? Which is it, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It's the Town of Faro.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it would appear that they do not conform to the population requirement necessary to support their town status. Now, given that it's been admitted that the population there is considerably under 500, which is the threshold, why is the government comfortable in maintaining that status?
What we want to look at overall is ensuring that the residents there are well treated and have the basic services that are provided by government, but I believe the exercise of government is to provide the highest consistent level of service at the lowest possible cost.
Now, does the minister feel that that is a fair way to treat the Town of Faro?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, certainly, Mr. Chair, it's an unfortunate situation that Faro is in. But certainly, Mr. Chair, we'll continue to work with residents there. Now, the population, it says here, for purposes of the formula, has remained above 500 residents. That is the requirement for the town's status now. Also, the municipality has the ability and the background to restructure its operations to meet the needs of the decreasing population.
Mr. Chair, the Town of Faro certainly understands the situation they're in. Full kudos should go to the mayor and to the council he works with because they recognize they have to restructure. They realize that their status is in jeopardy. They're not saying that they don't accept that, but they're working. They have the ability and the background to work with the decreasing population and the reduced revenues that are brought in from the declining user fees. So certainly they are working within the system, and I will continue to work with them.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what steps is the Government of Yukon taking to assist the Town of Faro, from an engineering standpoint, to reduce its O&M costs? Previously, they shut off water loops and shut down sections of their water system to bring their costs in line. What steps is the Government of Yukon taking this time? Previously, that was done with the assistance and cooperation of the Government of Yukon. What involvement does YTG have at this juncture, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Chair, the community services branch and engineering and development branch will continue to offer assistance to the town and to work with the town as to what it takes to spend smarter, if I might say it in that manner. So, we will continue to work with them. As to a specific example, such as if we're shutting off a certain portion of the town, or whatever - as I've said earlier, the town is working with its citizens, but I would have to get a specific answer, and I will provide a specific answer to the member.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the supplementary budget gives us an opportunity to go through some of the projects that were started in the main budget and will continue through the supplementary budget.
One of the projects that came up in the main budget was the rural road program - if you recall the rural road program. One of the roads that was upgraded was the one out to the Tagish Lake Resort. I believe that the operator there was given the opportunity to go into the C&TS pit and get out gravel as part of the deal, even though there's a private contractor right beside the C&TS pit.
Now, it's my understanding that the owner of the Tagish Lake Resort was supposed to have gotten $25,000 worth of gravel - up to $25,000 worth of gravel. Now that could be six days of gravel hauling. I'd like to know who was looking at controlling the amount of gravel going out of that pit? How much was taken out, and what was the approximate value of that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, we did provide assistance through the rural roads program to assist with the road. I'm thinking off the top of my head right now; I think it was $25,000 - if I can recall off the top of my head. A certain portion was allocated to the folks there because the whole purpose is to have the ability to put local people to work within the community, of which she is definitely one of those persons. So the department in its wisdom said, "Yes, you can do specific portions of the project." And I do believe that there was clearing - again, I'm talking from memory here - of up to $5,000, I do believe, specifically toward this.
As per the example about getting the gravel from the territorial government's pit versus getting it from the commercial pit, it is definitely something that I will have to check into.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I was made aware of this situation this summer. As the minister is fully aware, we have a place out that way. It is my understanding that the owner of the resort did go in and use the Community and Transportation Services' pit instead of using the local businessman's pit right beside it, and depleted considerably the resources there. It was my understanding that he hauled for six days a minimum of 10 loads of gravel a day.
Now, that's an awful lot of gravel, and the Minister of Community and Transportation Services knows that that's an awful lot of money and, coming out of the Community and Transportation Services pit, that's to the detriment of the private contractor right next to it, and, to say the least, it is a crying shame and should be investigated, particularly because the people who are doing the road maintenance in that area need that gravel supply.
If the minister could get back to me on that, I would greatly appreciate it. It's quite a large issue in that area because, as the minister knows, in small towns, everybody is aware of the issue.
Now, another issue that came up this summer was the construction of the - and I see that there is some reference to it in the supplementary budget - Destruction Bay sewage arrangement. Now, there were some concerns raised this summer about the lack of consultation with the local people. It was their impression that one day they woke up and there were a lot of Cats on their front lawn doing a sewage system that they knew nothing about. They knew that there had been some consultations that had taken place two or three years earlier, but they had no idea which option had been chosen, and they were quite surprised when the Cats arrived.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Edelman: Those would be large, industrial Caterpillars.
I wonder if the minister could update us about what sort of consultation was going on with the people in Destruction Bay about the new sewage system.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I just received a note on the Tagish Lake Resort. I won't use the gentleman's name but, certainly, Tagish Lake Resort was being given a $5,000 service contract to perform upgrading work on Ten Mile Ranch Road. The contract includes equipment rental at rates far below market value and a very limited amount of crushed aggregate from our pit at kilometer 30 on the Tagish Road and it will be used under the direct supervision of the road foreman in Carcross.
Now I can say that, but certainly the Member for Riverdale South has said more and I certainly will definitely check into the situation as to what has been stated.
Now, that puts that to bed, and I can speak to the Destruction Bay sewage system. Yes, I myself have spoken to residents. I have taken the time to go up there - fall time; I can't quite remember the date - and yes, there was somewhat of a problem because people said that they were surprised to see it happening without consultation. But certainly consultation had taken place previous to that, and I guess the followup hadn't really happened because the department felt that adequate consultation had taken place.
So, I went up there and I chatted with them. There was one person who was a little upset. I talked to that person and she told me that it shouldn't be happening like this, but the person told me that they did like what was going on because it certainly had to be done.
So, we did have a meeting, as recently as September 11, with them to inform the community and to address their concerns and their concerns were built in. So, certainly, it's something that we will continue to learn from.
Mrs. Edelman: Another issue that came up this summer - and it comes up every year, and it has for many, many years - is out in the Marsh Lake area, and that's the question of the requested recreational reserve, the area on Doehle Drive that goes around in a U-shape, meeting the Alaska Highway. There were two requests for agricultural leases in that area and, if you will recall, we've spoken about this in the House before. There was a considerable lack of follow-through on all departments' part for the request for that recreational land.
Now, that recreational land is extremely well utilized by the people in that area. The minister is aware that the Marsh Lake area is about the third largest community in the Yukon right now, and that area is used extensively by skiers, by snowmobilers, and by others in that area. In the summer, there's a ball diamond out there, and I know for a fact that kids are through there with their motorbikes, and running on the trails, as well.
Now, that recreational reserve has been requested by the people in Marsh Lake since - let's see, I have it going back to the early 1980s. The issue still hasn't been dealt with by any level of government. What I'm wondering about is, what is this government's position on making that area into a recreational reserve?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, certainly, pending budget approval, Marsh Lake is slated for planning in the 1999-2000 year. So we'll be very desirous of working with all members of Marsh Lake, whether they're recreational users or full-time users. We will be going out there to chat with people.
Do I have a specific position on the recreational reserve? Well, certainly, people have to be listened to, if I could say it in that way. I don't know if it's up to me personally to make decisions, but certainly it's up to me to foster an environment where people feel comfortable.
I can say that I do believe in recreational reserves being a part of a community, but it will be incumbent upon the community to be able to relate that.
So, yes, we are going to do some work with Marsh Lake and in terms of planning we're also looking - as the member knows - that we don't have a real expression of a deadline for results of a consultation with the community on forming a local representative body, whatever it might be, but that work is also happening now with residents out there.
I can say it's been difficult at times to do a proper consultation because it really depends on the subject and the number of people who come out, but certainly we're going to endeavour to work with the community in terms of focusing on a local area government of sorts, if that's what they choose, and I really don't know if they will. But certainly on land planning and developmental-type planning, which should, of course, include a recreational reserve, I'm looking forward to working with the people on that.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I'll take from those remarks that, as part of the planning process in 1999-2000, the minister will get an idea from the people in that area about the proposed recreational reserve - and it's been proposed many, many times to many, many levels of government over many, many years - and at that point the government will make a decision whether or not to support that request. Is that an understanding of what the minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, that's a basic understanding. There are processes - the Federal/Territorial Land Review Committee, FTLAC and LARC and a lot of others - so certainly I would encourage if anything is happening then that people use those and express their opposition or their support, whichever it might be, through those processes. But, yes, we are looking to seek funding within the next year to do planning and to talk to people about their community.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I've never heard of any actual problem with people making that area into a recreational reserve.
Now, also in the summer - and the minister will recall the horrific fire season we had - there were issues around road closures and people not hearing about the road closures, and they'd get to an area and they'd be burnt out and they couldn't get through, and I'll read to you from a newscast of July 6. It's from CBC, and it says, "There was a telephone number set up by the territorial government for people to call but callers were disappointed. The information line was not updated until Friday afternoon. John Steinbachs is a spokesperson for C&TS. 'Okay, well, we did have a problem with the road report on the weekend, with some information not being updated. The department apologizes for any inconveniences it may have caused motorists. However, we have taken steps to ensure their update system is working properly, 24 hours a day, and we don't expect to have any more problems from this point on.' "
Were there any more problems, and is it working?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, certainly Mr. Chair, under the capable hands of Mr. Steinbachs, there were no further problems. We do have a good person on the job, and he works very efficiently with it. These people know it's a high-stress time for our travellers, and for Yukoners in general, when it's a fire season such as we had this previous year, and we will do everything we can to aid tourists and locals alike through these emergencies.
So, again, we can always do it better, and in this case we very much attempt to do that ourselves.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I'll take that as a commitment to keep on top of it. It sounds like the problems were ironed out.
The land development out at Mendenhall subdivision - apparently that subdivision is going to be extended next year. That's one of the plans of the government. Now, is it in the plans to develop a firebreak around this subdivision at the time of development? Is that one of the possibilities?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, the government, in its wisdom, has created a program, through the forest commission, for fire safe communities, and that is there. But I can also say that as government goes out and plans new communities, firebreaks and fireguards are definitely part of the planning process.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, that is really good news. It is certainly something that our caucus has supported for a number of years.
Now, Wajax is a company that has recently left the Yukon. They serviced all our diesel trucks and 12 jobs have been lost. Can the service shop do the warranty work or are we going to have to go outside for that type of work?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I've been informed that it will certainly depend on the nature of the work, but certainly, I can endeavour to ask the department to get a more detailed response.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this has the potential of being a very expensive proposition, if we can't do it in house. If I can get that information back from the minister, at his earliest convenience, it would be greatly appreciated.
The last issue on general debate are the issues around NavCan. The minister put a letter into the paper, just prior to this sitting of the House, and he gave some positions on the NavCan proposals. I wonder if I could go through them again with the minister. Maybe there have been some moves forward on the part of NavCan.
Now, one of the things it said - this is an executive summary of the Northern Service Review from Nav Canada, dated September 14. It says that the recommendations will be dealing with a number of issues, one of which is that territorial governments, northerners and northern communities want employment opportunities in the north to be maintained or increased. Now, it was my understanding that a number of positions are going to be cut from the tower in Whitehorse, in particular. Where do we stand with that today?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I can tell you that we fully support the proposed service changes, which include extending the Watson Lake CARS station service to 24 hours and the commissioning of the new remote communication outlets in Burwash, Faro and Dawson. We've expressed our desire to move immediately toward the implementation of the recommendations, while continuing to work with NavCan to resolve some of the outstanding issues. And that certainly is the only outstanding issue - the closure of the tower.
We suggest that we have one way of doing it, and we want NavCan to effectively show us that there is a cost savings. At this point in time, NavCan has not effectively shown us that there is a cost savings to it. I've just signed the letter and sent it off to the president, Mr. Crichton of NavCan, expressing exactly that. If you like, I could provide a copy of that letter to both respective members.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, also in this report, there is a conversation about a hearing on Friday, November 13. Now, were there representatives from the territorial government that went to that hearing? What was the position that we put forward as a government? Or, is that in the letter as well?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, I can inform the member opposite that there were folks working at the meetings and the hearings, and we'll continue to have folks there. Yes, the position is pretty well as I related, and it is articulated in the letter, but that is our position, as I articulated earlier.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, before we leave Faro, I'd like to explore with the minister what's going to happen, what plans the department is making, and what the timelines are. On December 23, there is a meeting in Toronto of the receivers for Anvil Range and, from the information that I have received, it doesn't look very good that the mine will be going back into production. In fact, the number I was quoted was probably less than a five-percent chance of the mine going back into production for the next two or three years.
I was hoping that the minister could apprise us, given the tremendous downturn in the population in Faro, and given the fact that after school gets out next year - it's one of the largest graduating classes ever in Faro, and it would appear that some of those people will be moving out after they have completed their education - there will be less and less of a requirement for government services. What are the plans, and what kind of timelines have we got in place, Mr. Chair, to start curtailing some of the services that the government is providing in Faro and some of the funding that is being provided in Faro?
Right next door in Ross River, we have a community with virtually the same, if not a greater, population than Faro. Why aren't they being accorded the same level of funding and services as Faro is receiving? Some of that money could be moved to other areas for purposes of enhancing those other communities, Mr. Chair.
What are the timelines after the decision is known as to the potential for the mine reopening before we start reducing costs?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I've been informed that it's done on a yearly basis, that the numbers that were crunched now are as per what I'd said earlier. It's done on a yearly basis, and it will stay within the process.
So, we'd be looking now, or talking now, for the previous year ahead at this point in time. So, I hope that answers the timelines for the Member for Klondike.
As to the services and the funding, I think I spoke to the funding at that point in time, and the services will be looked at at that point in time, also. Now, I can also say that government is here for communities. It's certainly within our mandate and our objectives to continue to work with communities, and we will continue to do that.
The Member for Klondike spoke of Ross River as being just next door, and certainly that is absolutely the case. I'm very pleased to be able to say that the town council and the round table people from Ross River are working much closer together now, in terms of economic opportunity, whatever it might be.
If you don't mind, I'll just take a few moments here to speak about the round table, because certainly, upon being elected, recognizing and knowing many people from Ross River for many years, they approached me and said, "Help." Simply, "Help; we need help."
They said, "We'd like to do all these things. We're tired of living" - in their words - "in the shadow of Faro, but we don't necessarily want to do it in the way it's outlined here, the way you're saying to do it. We don't know if we want an advisory council or a hamlet or whatever it might be out of the Municipal Act. So, could you please provide a forum that will enable us to come together?"
So, we've had many chats. I spent a lot of time with those folks this year talking on a personal basis, wherever they might have been, to get their ideas and their thoughts. There was an overwhelming desire to work together, to identify what their problems were, and that was easy. Identifying problems is terrifically easy.
They then went into working with the department and with the government at large, I guess I could say, because we do have a high-level group of deputy ministers at the Deputy Ministers Review Committee level who work with this to identify solutions.
So, Government Services seconded folks for six months to work with them in terms of social development. We've put people from Economic Development together to work with them to help to come through the quagmire - again, I use the word "quagmire" - that they are in with their development corporation and many issues of working with the youth, and on capital projects such as the pool, which is still ongoing and has been in the works for two or three years now. So, we're very much endeavouring to work with the community in terms of identifying what they want to do in terms of service agreements. It's been a bit of a slow process, but it's certainly a process that has been established within the community at this point in time. So, we'll continue to work with the community to see how we can start to foster a better living environment based on what the people really are desirous of having there.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Jenkins: I have a suggestion for the minister, Mr. Chair. If he wants to resolve the issue in Ross River, he could take all these high-level deputy ministers or assistant deputy ministers and move them to Ross River. They'd come to a solution a lot quicker living there than they will living in Whitehorse and dealing with the issue out there.
But let's go back to Faro, Mr. Chair, and let's go back to the issue of a contingency plan. I would be of the opinion that, by now, the minister could just open his briefing book and elaborate on the contingency plan that the government has in place for Faro. Is there a contingency plan in place?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It is as I stated earlier, Mr. Chair, on the issue of the funding and the services, but, certainly, Community and Transportation Services is not the only department involved. Every department within government is involved. Yes, we do have a government-wide contingency plan, but I will have to endeavour to find it and be able to speak to that to provide information to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what I'm concerned about is Community and Transportation Services' contingency plan with respect to Faro. If the minister doesn't have it with him, would he kindly provide it by way of legislative return as to what his department's contingency plan is for Faro? Could the minister provide that undertaking, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, I can provide the process to the Member for Klondike. That's not a problem. I've been informed that it's the Minister of Economic Development that would be responding to the government-wide plan, so certainly, he might be able to ask him questions when he comes up.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other areas that there's been quite a number of concerns with around the Yukon this last while, Mr. Chair, is the issue of leases - Government of Yukon leases - to individuals. They pay a percentage of the assessed value of the land annually for their lease. In addition to that, they pay taxes on the improvements and on the value of the property - unlike some other people that we have living around the Yukon, Mr. Chair. Now, a lot of the values from the assessment branch have been raised astronomically. The formula hasn't been changed, and the values that these people are now required to pay for the lease on their land has grown very disproportionately - it's grown at an alarming rate for those individuals.
Now, I'm sure this has been brought to the minister's attention by a number of people who have been so aggrieved by this government policy. Has the minister had a chance to review it and either adjust the rental rate - the percentage of the appraisal - for the property, and adjust that percentage downwards, so that we don't see something going from $400 a year to $1,000 a year, plus taxes and everything else?
Has the minister done that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, as I've stated earlier, I do believe it was in budget discussion last year. We were looking to put together a newly implemented computer-assisted mass appraisal system, commencing in 1998. That will now allow for the cycles to occur every two to three years. Certainly that, Mr. Chair, will, in turn, tighten up that shocking appraisal value. So, certainly that is one of the things that we have said that we would do, and we have gone out and done it.
Mr. Jenkins: The one thing we're not making more of in the Yukon Territory, Mr. Chair, is land. In fact, access to land in the Yukon is becoming more and more restricted all the time, and individuals who have - and we might as well get specific - waterfront property that they've had a long-term lease on, are being charged an exorbitant increase in their lease rates. And it's not just one or two individuals. There is quite a number of them. When property values and appraisal values on land increased in the Marsh Lake area, the government saw its way clear to implement a new tax rate, a new mil rate, so that at least the taxes these individuals paid were down.
But I'm referring specifically to the lease rate, and the minister can intervene in these cases and he can establish a new lease rate. It doesn't have to be the 10 percent of the property value every year, because property values are, in a large part, driven by the lack of availability of land, which is traced right back to the hands of the government.
So, the government drives up the price of land. Land is appraised at market values. People who occupy these lands are in a catch 22. They can't win.
Is the minister prepared to conduct a review on these types of lands that are leased, and treat these individuals who lease these parcels of lands in a fair and equitable manner? To see increases of 300 and 400 percent for lease rates in one year is unacceptable, Mr. Chair. A gradual increase, which won't be accomplished by doing the assessment every two years instead of every four; what it means is that there is going to be a steady increase.
Mind you, with the downturn in the economy, land values might hit a plateau and start going down, but there are some recreational lands that will hold their value and will, in fact, increase, specifically waterfront lands. So, we have to treat those people who have leases in these areas fairly and equitably.
Is the minister prepared to review what these people are charged?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, this government has said that we would not raise taxes, and we haven't, and we won't, Mr. Chair. Certainly, though, I would be prepared to talk with the department and to delve into it in a deeper fashion, and then to get the proper information, and then to make the decisions, and I will certainly get back to the member opposite on it. I will talk with the department.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other issues that we explored with the minister in previous debates was the cost of providing water and sewer in rural Yukon communities that are overseen by the Government of the Yukon. The government was undertaking an assessment in this area, a rural service review, or studies review, of some sort.
Could the minister tell the House just where we're at on this issue, and when we can see the results of this study, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It is getting close to nearing completion and, once it has been through the process and through the Cabinet process, I would be more than willing to share it with both opposition parties.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other areas that's been brought to our attention is the difficulty the general contractor has had on the extension to the Whitehorse Airport. It would appear that he's not in a position to - or he hasn't paid some of his trades.
Could the minister advise us what is happening to this contract, if in fact the general has been paid, and has the bonding company been called in on this situation?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, yes, I will have to look into the situation and find out. I'm not sure about bonding or anything as such, but certainly I'll have to look into the situation and get back to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what I'm looking at, if the minister is going to bring that information back: has the general provided a statutory declaration as to having fulfilled all his payments, paid his WCB and all that they are required to fulfill in order to receive payment? Has that been made? Has the general been paid? Is there a holdback, or is it that just some of the subs haven't been paid? What's the status of the whole project? It would appear that some of the subs on that runway extension have not been paid.
Can the minister provide that undertaking, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, certainly, Mr. Chair. I will.
Mr. Phillips: I have a couple of questions in general debate.
Mr. Chair, last spring, I believe, or early summer, there was a group of people who went around in the Marsh Lake area talking about solid waste. I'd like to know from the minister if there is any update on where we're at. They took suggestions away from the residents in the area, and they were going to get back to everyone on options, from doing what we do now by just taking everything up to the dump, to possibly putting containers up at the dump, or hauling our waste somewhere else to some other area.
I know that that particular study was tied in with a similar study, I believe, in the Carcross Road area and some other areas, and I'd just like to know from the minister where it is at and when we can expect to hear something about the solid waste study in the Marsh Lake area.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, I just had a chance to chat with one of the operators that maintains the dump in the Marsh Lake area. He's been going from consultation to consultation to consultation within the area, and he gave me a pretty good view of what was happening. Certainly, in some cases, a lot of people come out, and in some cases, not many people come out. I know that the department has had to go back a couple of times and chat with other folks, so that we could get actual consultation from folks, so it costs us twice the jelly doughnuts, I guess, than normal. Certainly, this is such a serious concern to many Yukoners that we have to get people's thoughts out. So, certainly, we're looking to have all recommendations in soon and out over the course of this winter season. So, that's where it's at. As the member is aware, there are implications in everything you do, but certainly, we have to be very careful and deliberate on this consultation. But certainly, when it is completed, I can forward it to the member opposite, and I can endeavour to provide a more specific timeline.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, there were some percolation studies done. I think EBA or somebody came up to Marsh Lake dump and went all around the bottom, lower end of the dump, and drilled a bunch of holes in the ground, and put in some equipment to draw water out or do some testing to see whether there was any seepage of the contaminants from the dump getting into the lake. I wonder if I could get a copy of that study that was done by EBA. Maybe if the minister knows what the results are, he could tell us now. Was there any seepage of contaminants into Marsh Lake from that area? Marsh Lake, of course, is sort of the headwaters of the drinking water of the City of Whitehorse, and that would be an area of concern if there were.
I know that the equipment has been sitting there for awhile. I believe the study has been completed, but I'd just like to know from the minister if he's got a copy of the study, could we have it and if the results are readily available, will he consider making them available to the residents of Marsh Lake who may be concerned with respect to any seepage that might be going into the lake?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, when the study is completely finished, I will get a copy to both members from Riverdale - and to the member who lives at Marsh Lake.
Mr. Phillips: My next question then leads up to the minister's last answer. He said, "when the study is done" and so I'd like to know when the study is going to be done. Was there a target date? When was it supposed to be done? Is it this winter they're compiling the information or do they have it now or is there a release date?
I don't need the overall solid waste study. My concern at this point is whether or not the existing dump is creating problems. So, if that particular part of the study is completed, I'd appreciate receiving a copy of that.
As to how we deal with the dump in the future, more consultation might need to take place and I'll respect that. I'll wait till we hear and I'll look forward to the jelly in the doughnuts that the minister provides at the next meeting out at Swan Haven.
We can go around the issue again with the individuals who were there. I know there wasn't a large turnout there. I think I was one of two or three people who turned out at Swan Haven when they came by there earlier last spring, including the individual, I might add, whom the minister must have been talking to, and discussing solid waste with that particular individual can eat up a lot of your time, because I've been there and done that, and the individual has a lot of interesting comments on how to make it better.
If the minister would get back to me on the study, I'd appreciate that, and for the other information, I'll wait until we hear the results.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, when the final version is ready I will provide it to the member over this winter.
Mr. Jenkins: I have a couple of questions of the minister in general debate on the emergency measures situation. There are funds in and out and some recovered. There has been an unbudgeted recovery from the Marsh Lake fire department for their contribution toward a rescue boat purchase.
Could the minister kind of sum up just where we're at with EMO? Are we covering all of our capital purchases from Emergency Measures Canada? And do we have sufficient O&M to continue with the maintenance and ongoing funding of the various EMO organizations throughout the Yukon Territory, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, we have been. The rescue boat that the member is talking about has been a wonderful exercise in community partnership. We partnered with the Marsh Lake fire department on that, and it certainly turned out to be a wonderful partnership.
Yes, within the Emergency Measures Organization, which is comprised of a group of volunteers throughout rural Yukon who deserve many thanks for the work that they've done, yes, within not this budget but within the next budget we'll be taking a very careful and deliberate look at what the requirements are of the EMOs within the different areas of the Yukon.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on the issue of emergencies, the fire hall in Burwash - can the minister confirm that this is within budget, in operation and completed, and that no further funds flowed from the Government of the Yukon, Mr. Chair?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly. I'm sure that the member's driven by it also, and it is beautiful. I don't know what's happening to us here, we're starting to fall in love with fire halls. But, certainly it is there. The construction began in September 1997, with the official opening in April 1998.
Now, the Kluane First Nation completed the project for very close to the original estimated budget. The final bills indicate that the project was over - and I can say only over - by $7,660. We consider it, certainly, a success for the provision of local employment opportunities it's given the community. Also, it's given the community a very much centrally located fire hall, and it provided local people with an opportunity to manage the construction of the project.
So, certainly, Mr. Chair, many thanks should go out to the community for being able to do what they said they could do.
Mr. Jenkins: What was the total cost of the Burwash fire hall to the Government of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The total cost was $331,800.
Mr. Jenkins: Was it $331,800? Is that the number that we are to accept, Mr. Chair? Or $331,008?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: It was $331,800, then? Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Can we just look at sports and recreation with the minister for a moment?
I'm not sure how the funds flow here. It looks like the department advances funds to various groups and organizations, and recovers it from the Yukon Lottery Commission. Is that in fact the case?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, why are we flowing it from the Lottery Commission to the sports and recreation budget and then out to the various organizations? Why does it have to take that path, Mr. Chair? Because the Yukon Lottery Commission makes the decision as to where the funds are going to flow, and funds flow accordingly. Why does it have to flow through this department?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, certainly, Mr. Chair, it comes from the commission with recommendations from the YRAC, and then they determine the amount through grant concessions, and then it is allocated.
Mr. Jenkins: But why can't the funds flow directly from the Yukon Lottery Commission to the end-user? Why does it have to flow through the department?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I will let the previous minister explain.
Chair: Would members please wait to be recognized.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Perhaps I can shed some light on this. A number of years ago, the Lottery Commission did make decisions on direct funding to groups, and at that time, there was considerable concern. Because of the nature of lotteries and the diverse elements in the commission, it was felt that it would be better to direct the money through YRAC, which is made up of individuals from both sports and arts, and that they in turn could disburse the funds more readily to the representative groups.
The decision was made that the Lottery Commission should focus in primarily on such things as community discretionary grants - to increase the community discretionary grants - focusing on travel for groups, as well as focusing on, I suppose, less O&M and more, sort of, capital-related projects.
An agreement was struck through the government that the funds would be broken down - I believe, at the time, it was 46 percent going through YRAC and 54 percent being retained by the Lottery Commission for disbursal for their own projects. This seems to have worked out fairly well. The sports and arts groups preferred that arrangement.
It also freed up the Lottery Commission from sometimes having to make very long and extremely protracted decisions on projects where they might not have the range of expertise that the YRAC representatives might have.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that still doesn't answer the question as to why the funds flow from the Yukon Lottery Commission through to the Department of Community and Transportation Services. Now, I can understand that there's a separate body making separate decisions as to where the funds are to flow, but why do the funds have to flow to Community and Transportation Services, and then the decision as to where they are disbursed - the cheque is cut by Community and Transportation Services. Why can't the Lottery Commission cut the cheque directly to the end-user, based on the advice of YRAC? Why can't the funds flow directly?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, I have been informed that that is the decision. First of all, I'd like to thank the member, my colleague, the Minister of Health and Social Services, for his corporate memory and working as the chair of the commission. Certainly, Mr. Chair, I've been informed it was an accountability issue and that the Lottery Commission, in its entirety, was very desirous of that being the process.
Mr. Jenkins: It just seems like quite a convoluted way to get the monies to flow out to the end-users by a very responsible and accountable body. But, if those are the wishes, so be it.
I just have a couple of other questions, Mr. Chair, in general debate. Just going back to Faro and the population of the community, what is the date that is used by Community and Transportation Services for municipal block funding to establish the population of the various Yukon communities? Are we using the Yukon statistical review? What are we using now for the date for municipal block fundings, and are we using the Yukon statistical review for that purpose?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I've just got to say that that red is nice.
Mr. Chair, I've been informed, but I'll have to check on it, but I understand it's the calendar year and, yes, it is the Yukon statistics.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are dealing with Community and Transportation Services. Is there further general debate?
I would remind members to wait until they are introduced.
Mr. Jenkins: I just had an opportunity to go back into Hansard and review what was said previously about the Burwash fire hall, as to its cost and its position and to whether it is complete. The minister stated, just a few minutes ago in the House, that it was complete and that it was just $7,000 over budget - seven thousand some-odd dollars. The original estimate was $223,000. How did we get from $223,000 to $331,800 total expenditure?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I can say that we signed a capital funding agreement for $235,000 with the Kluane First Nation, and earlier, a CFA of $50,000 was used to purchase and install a thermosiphon unit. So, that was $235,000 up, and then $50,000, with a total cost of $331,000, and that was due to the unique circumstances of the land.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, this must be some new NDP math, once again. We have an agreement for $235,000 and then $50,000 for a foundation system. Now, when I went to school, $50,000 and $235,000 was $285,000. Now, how did we get from $285,000 to $331,800 - and call it a $7,000 overrun, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I will provide the member opposite with a detailed breakdown as to the costs.
Mr. Jenkins: Let me just go back, Mr. Chair, to March 31, 1998, when I asked the minister virtually the same question. The minister's response - the Hon. Mr. Keenan - as to whether there was money in the budget for cost overruns, was "No, Mr. Chair, there was nothing in the budget to cover cost overruns, as the member is well aware."
We went on: "Well, could the minister confirm that the Burwash fire hall was done on time and on budget?" He went on at great lengths to say that it might be $5,000 over budget. So, we've come up with the costs here today, Mr. Chair, of $285,000, and when the minister responded on April 1, 1998, there was a capital funding agreement of $235,000, plus another $50,000 for the foundation. That comes up to $285,000. That's a long way from $331,800, but what concerns me are a couple of things. The minister stated that the fire hall was complete. Could the minister confirm that, as of today's date, an occupancy permit has been granted for the Burwash fire hall?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I could not absolutely confirm it as of this minute, but I will certainly make the logical assumption that it is. I will have to get back on that specific question. As I said, I will get back with a specific, detailed breakdown as to the total cost of the fire hall for the member.
Mr. Jenkins: It's also come to our attention, Mr. Chair - and I was hoping the minister could confirm it, but obviously he doesn't appear to have a handle on this area of his department - that there remain 11 outstanding deficiencies, as per the building inspector, on the Burwash fire hall.
Some of these go back to over a year ago, Mr. Chair. Can the minister confirm the position of the Burwash fire hall with respect to these deficiencies? Can the minister confirm that these deficiencies exist in the Burwash fire hall?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, Mr. Chair, I certainly cannot, but I will certainly check into it and find out what it actually is. I do have, at this point in time, a detailed breakdown of the project itself, Mr. Chair.
What we have here, Mr. Chair, is that, in 1995-96, $10,000 was put aside for a well and survey costs; in 1997-98, $235,000 for the construction of the fire hall and $50,000 for the thermosiphons; there's a $25,000 engineering and design cost; and then $7,000 for geotechnical survey, with the completion of the land survey of $2,000; for a total of $329,000.
Mr. Chair, as to the deficiencies alluded to, I'll certainly have to check and get back to the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that explains some of it, Mr. Chair, but previously we were told it was on time, on budget, and there was $5,000 in cost overruns. Now, the minister has explained $329,000 of the expenditure, and we're told that the total cost was $331,800. Those are the figures that the minister has given. Where is the difference? How does this NDP math work? I need an explanation, please.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I can reiterate that $10,000 was spent on a well; $235,000 on the construction of a fire hall; $50,000 on the thermosyphons; $25,000 on engineering and design; $7,000 for the geotechnical survey, and $2,000 for the land survey. I have been led to believe, and I assure you, that that is the figure.
Mr. Jenkins: So, Mr. Chair, what is the true and accurate figure? The minister quoted a figure of $331,800. The numbers that the minister has just given out in the House today add up to $329,000. Now, it's a small discrepancy we're getting there. Could the minister please explain how this NDP math works? I'm at a loss.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I would say that the figure is $329,000.
Mr. Jenkins: So where did the figure of $331,800 come from, which the minister stated previously?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: That came from a briefing book here, Mr. Chair, which is a condensed version of the information I just provided to the member. So, Mr. Chair, I would suggest to the member that, with $10,000 for well surveys, $235,000 for the fire hall, $50,000 for the thermosyphons and $25,000 for engineering and design, $7,000 for geotechnical survey and $2,000 for the completion of the land survey, would be the figure.
Mr. Jenkins: Can the minister advise the House how much more money this fire hall is going to cost before it's completed?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The fire hall is completed.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, as the minister is well aware, there's still a lot left to go on the fire hall and, if he isn't aware, he should be aware. There are 11 deficiencies left outstanding in the building itself, as per the building inspector, that haven't been completed.
Further to that, to get into the building, there was a considerable amount of gravel that had to be put into the front, into the driveway and around the building to access it.
Now, we're talking several thousand dollars of additional expenditure. Just how much is this fire hall going to cost, and who's going to pay it? Fire halls of a similar type design in rural Yukon have cost right around the $200,000 mark. Why is it, when this minister undertakes this kind of a project through his department, at this point in time, it's a hundred-odd thousand dollars more - over 50 percent more, Mr. Chair? And it's still not completed.
How much more is it going to cost to complete the fire hall? When is it going to be completed? And who is going to pay for it, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair. Maybe the leader of the official opposition can spread gravel in the wintertime but it's probably not the ideal way of doing it, so I would certainly start -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I heard you talking now; let's not say you didn't. Come on. Let's be that totally honest with one another, at least.
So, Mr. Chair, I know where the member is getting his information and I would like to say that yes, certain things are seasonal. We cannot do it when there are seasonal requirements, and we'll continue to be that way. That's what I said about the deficiencies to the Member for Klondike. Certainly, Mr. Chair, I will check into that and get back to them, but, again, the deficiencies are the responsibility of the contractor, as I've been informed.
Again, Mr. Chair, the costs as have been told here - and I've given the member a detailed breakdown - are $329,000. I can say that, by comparison, in 1994 the Mount Lorne fire hall cost $287,000, funded through a $199,000 CDF grant and an $88,000 community contribution. The Tagish fire hall was built with a $165,000 grant and a $20,000 community contribution - without a training room and excluding the cost of the well.
Since then, in last year's budget, I do believe there was $50,000 for the addition of the training room and I do not know what the cost of the well was, but I'm sure it would around the sum of $10,000.
The cost of constructing the Klondike Valley fire hall was $489,000. The Marsh Lake fire hall cost $500,000 and the latter two of which I speak were built in the early 1990s, Mr. Chair.
So, certainly, Mr. Chair, I think that if we look at the unique circumstances of where we are with permafrost in that location as well as in the Dawson location, that would certainly be the reasoning for the extra costs in these two unique locations.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, you can certainly see which fire halls were built under a NDP government and which fire halls were built under a Yukon Party government, because they're all very similar type of designs and constructions. The minister also forgot to mention the Ibex fire hall, which was brought in at a very reasonable cost, and it's a similar design to a number of the other fire halls throughout the Yukon.
But let's get back to the issue here, Mr. Chair. The issue is that the minister provided incorrect financial information to the House on the fire hall. It appears that we've substantiated $329,000 of the figure that the minister brought out - $331,800.
I just want to be on the record, Mr. Chair, as stating that we have more than ample reason to believe that there are still a number of deficiencies remaining outstanding on the Burwash fire hall, and the minister stated that the contractor will be paying for those deficiencies.
Now, I want the minister to be on the record as to just how much more financial involvement the Government of the Yukon will have in the Burwash fire hall to complete it.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The total dollars allocated to the Burwash fire hall for its completion is $329,000.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, will the department be putting any more money into the Burwash fire hall to cover off the deficiencies and bring it up to a standard where it can be used?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, it does not have to be brought up to standards. The standards are built in. It's just been explained to the Member for Klondike that the deficiencies are the responsibility of the contractor.
So certainly, Mr. Chair, when you build within unique circumstances and unique terrain, circumstances will always certainly be different, but the total cost for the Burwash fire hall here, as a breakdown I've provided, is $329,000.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair, but the minister didn't answer my question. Is the department - or the minister - putting any more funds into the fire hall?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, as life evolves - and life in the Yukon does evolve, we've come from the Beringia era to the era we're at - I'm not sure if things have changed all that drastically, but certainly things do evolve.
Mr. Chair, as I stated earlier - in the instance of the Tagish fire hall, with the addition of a $50,000 training room - those types of things I can never rule out. I can't rule those types of issues out into the future. But as to the terms of this contract, Mr. Chair, $329,000 is the totality of this contract.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we're not asking about the other fire halls, Mr. Chair; we're asking about the Burwash fire hall. And I'm sure the minister must have received some briefing note - or some note - from someone, somewhere, that tells him that it's not complete at this juncture.
So, if $229,000 is the final figure, and the contractor has to complete it, how are we going to substantiate that that is, in fact, the case? Because I'm sure the minister is going to end up finding a way to funnel money through the contractor to complete it.
We were told categorically that - on March 31, by the minister - "There is nothing in the budget to cover cost overruns, as the member is well aware."
Now, that was then; this is now. Now, we're told that there has been a cost overrun, and the government has paid it. All I'm looking for is, how much more money is the government going to be paying out to complete the fire hall? Is there an upper limit, or is it an open cheque book, Mr. Chair? Which one is it? How much more money is the minister going to pay out to complete the fire hall?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I do believe I've answered the question in three different ways. I cannot rule out something for the future, Mr. Chair - I can simply not rule it out. But certainly, Mr. Chair, I'm going to say twice - twice - and I will speak to the gentleman who built a home on Kluane Lake, also, because he seems to be the "I spy" as he drives by the highway.
Certainly, Mr. Chair, at this point in time, the total cost is $329,000, and I've already given the breakdown on that. As I've said, it is finished; the job is done. The deficiencies that are being alluded to and spoken of, at this point in time, will be and are the responsibility of the contractor. So, Mr. Chair, I do not anticipate putting any more money this year into the Burwash fire hall.
Mr. Jenkins: I wouldn't imagine that the minister would be putting any more into the Burwash fire hall this year, but I'm sure, come January 1 - when it rolls around - the minister will be putting more money there to complete it. What I'm looking for is the minister's assurances that the deficiencies, as reported by the building inspector - that there'll be no more financial recourse through the Government of Yukon to fulfill these deficiencies.
There is also the issue of the gravel. I'm told it's in excess of a couple of thousand dollars. Now, who is paying for that, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, this is going to be absolutely the last time I rise to answer this question. I have said, quote, "Deficiencies are the responsibility of the contractor.", close the quote. Mr. Chair, I have said, quote, "...that $329,000 is the total amount of the Burwash fire hall.", close the quote.
I will also say, quote, "That I will not rule out something in the future but, Mr. Chair, the deficiency is the responsibility of the contractor. The Burwash fire hall is up and done for $329,000." I can close the quote on that, because I do believe those are all the questions surrounding it. I will not rule out, in other years - and I can assure the member that there is nothing planned at this point in time - to inject capital as we have done with other fire halls previously - close the quote.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, anyone in the private sector who constructs a building for the government doesn't get paid until it's completed. They receive progress payments, Mr. Chair, but not until the final deficiencies are cleared up is the final payment made, and then the statutory declaration has to be signed off. But I guess we've gone a different way to construct this building.
What steps is the minister going to take on this building to ensure that all of the deficiencies are cleaned up in a timely manner and that it conforms to the original design and completion specs? What steps is the minister going to take to ensure that happens?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: As I've said, the deficiencies are the responsibility of the contractor. I do know that the department will be working with those folks and, of course, Mr. Chair, sooner is always better than later.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other areas that we explored with the minister, Mr. Chair, was the secondment of C&TS engineering staff to Public Works Canada for various highway projects in southern Yukon and northern British Columbia. Could the minister advise how this secondment worked - whether we have been paid, or were the individuals paid directly by Public Works Canada? How did this flow?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I'll have to provide that information to the member opposite. I don't have the information on the secondment at my fingertips, but I will certainly say here that we haven't paid for it. It would be them picking up the cost, but I will provide that information to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we'll be back in the spring, and I'm sure the minister will have had a full review of the Burwash fire hall undertaken by that time and a full cost analysis available for our purview at that time. I would be very, very hopeful that he can assemble that information over the course of the next few months, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister will recall that we had quite a discussion around bridge painting some time ago, and, this summer, indeed the bridge in the Marsh Lake area over the Yukon River was painted. I indicated during our previous discussion that there are a number of other bridges that were in need of painting and an assessment of the existing condition of those bridges and of the paint itself.
Has the minister done anything, or has the department done anything with regard to the bridges in the Yukon? Have we done an assessment? Have we analyzed the flaking paint? Have we done any cost estimates? Has there been any action taken at all?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, the budget process is ongoing at this point in time. To be considered within that process is the painting of bridges, as per the five-year capital plan, and all bridges are a part of that inventory.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, more specifically, was there an assessment done this summer of the bridges in the Yukon and a priority list established in terms of repainting those bridges?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: You'll see, as we get into the line-by-line items, that I'll be speaking to a revote that will speak to the bridge assessment program. But certainly, Mr. Chair, yes, on an ongoing basis the engineering department is on top of the assessments of the bridges on a timely basis, but I'll be speaking to that later. There's a revote of $50,000 so that we can catch up to it.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, can I ask the minister formally if I could receive a copy of the report within the department on the bridges and the assessment of these bridges? If I could receive a copy of that report? I would assume it's not confidential in terms of the identity of individuals, so rather than file an access-to-information request, could I have that report from the minister's department?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I can give the member whatever information we have on the briefing as to the process, if she so chooses. It's not a problem at all.
Mr. Jenkins: We seem to be spending quite a considerable sum on exploration work along the Dempster Highway for sewage disposal. Could the minister explain the rationale for that? All of the camps have extensive septic fields in that area. What are we doing now, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I'll have to get back to the Member for Klondike on the specifics of the testing.
Chair: Is there any further debate?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Office of the Deputy Minister
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, how much of this is EMO-related?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, a portion of this $38,000 is to reflect the transfer of the function and responsibilities for transportation of dangerous goods, and coordination of the response for the dangerous goods incidents on the highways, from the transportation division to the emergency measures.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this is a substantial change in policy. Is this the way it's done in other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I'm not sure if that's the way it's done in other jurisdictions, but certainly it's to enhance the ability to provide highway-emergency, safety-related training, which is a priority. But I can check out other jurisdictions for the member.
It was certainly a decision made to realign the work activities to enhance program delivery, and it was done following a program audit and recommendations from 1996-97, so it was done based on an audit.
Office of the Deputy Minister in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Corporate Services Division
Corporate Services Division in the amount of $68,000 agreed to
On Transportation Division
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister provide the rationale for the increase of $251,000 here, please?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair. The increase of $251,000 consists of a $307,000 increase, due to the impact of the collective agreement; and it's offset by a net expenditure decrease of $56,000.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, this is the area where we're seeing a change, Mr. Chair, in the structure of the grader facilities, as to the number of personnel, and there seems to be a restructuring, and a reclassification, of a number of these individuals, specifically in Whitehorse.
Can the minister explain the rationale for these changes in restructuring?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I've been informed, Mr. Chair, that any of the reclassifications, which can be triggered by an employee if they so choose, are done in conjunction with the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm not at all comfortable with the answer the minister provided, as he could probably suspect, given the numbers of layoffs throughout the Yukon and given the number of individuals who have been reclassified. Now, obviously, something had to trigger this change. Now, what has triggered this change?
It's not the employees, because I've spoken with virtually all of the employees in question. So, the employees didn't trigger this change. Something within the government has changed, some policy somewhere. What was it?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I can assure the member there has been no layoffs, but there might have been a reduction in hours of work, et cetera, in highway maintenance arising from small savings in various activities.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it probably doesn't surprise the minister if I stated that, for the record, there has been both a reduction in the number of hours and a reclassification of the number of individuals. What I'm looking for is the explanation for what has triggered the reclassification of these individuals. It appears there's a whole new category created in highway maintenance.
What has changed to trigger this change in classifications, Mr. Chair? What it means is that an individual who was previously working for about eight months of the year - five or six to eight months - will now be down to about three months, or four months, max. So, here we are, creating one job at a time, but it looks like it's a heck of a shorter period of time.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, the question asked by the member is something I'll have to take up with the Public Service Commission and get the information back to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: But this doesn't stem back to the Public Service Commission. The Public Service Commission implements the policy changes. Now, we don't want to get the messenger in between the minister and I, Mr. Chair. What we need is a clear and concise policy definition as to what has changed in that policy that has precipitated the layoff of - let's refer specifically to the three grader operators, or three equipment operators, from the Whitehorse grader station. They were HEO-1 classifications. We also have, at the same time, a number of layoffs in other areas of the Yukon. It's interesting to note that these individuals, if they're seeking more training to gain the HEO-2 classification, which is primarily a grader operator, although they're allowed to grade snow in rural Yukon with an HEO-1 classification - but not in Whitehorse - oh, heaven forbid. You can't do that in Whitehorse, but it's okay in rural Yukon, because that's where you go to get your training.
But there has been a change in policy, and that's from within the department - not from the Public Service Commission. That's what I'm looking for - that change in policy. What is that change in policy, and why?
Can the minister provide that information by way of legislative return?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I can get information back to the member opposite. There has been no policy change, but I can certainly get the reasoning and the financial data back to the member opposite. That's not a problem.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess this leads to one concluding question as to why there appears to be a double standard within the department. You have to have an HEO-2 classification to plow snow or operate a grader in Whitehorse for snow plowing, whereas in rural Yukon you only require an HEO-1 classification. What's the rationale for that, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: First of all, let me say that it's such a pleasure to hear the Member for Klondike sticking up for the rights of the City of Whitehorse as compared to the rest of the Yukon, or TROY as it's been so commonly stated in this House. It's certainly a change.
Mr. Chair, there are certainly different complexities involved in plowing snow within rural Yukon compared to plowing snow within the Whitehorse area. But certainly, as I've stated earlier, I will provide written information to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like it's a case of the snow being denser in Whitehorse and requiring a higher level of skill to remove, and it's denser as a consequence of the political snow that the minister is attempting to push our way - some snow job, Mr. Chair.
Could I ask the minister to provide the information on the legislative return on that issue before the House rises, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I'll give my very best efforts to provide the information to the member opposite. Absolutely.
Transportation Division in the amount of $251,000 agreed to
On Municipal and Community Affairs Division
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, can we get more detail on that line, please?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, the increase of $71,000 consists of $53,000 for an adjustment for the impact of the collective bargaining, and an increase of $13,000 for sport and recreation to provide additional funding required for sport and recreation groups, of which $7,000 is recoverable, and other miscellaneous items totalling $50,000.
Community and Municipal Affairs Division in the amount of $71,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the O&M recoveries?
Questions on revenue?
Mrs. Edelman: Just to clarify, private vehicle licences are way down because of the poor economy. Is that a fair assessment?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes.
Mrs. Edelman: Is part of the revenue some of the money that should have come from the Marsh Lake fire boat? Is that part of the revenue that should have come to this section? If not, where is it supposed to be going in?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No. The instance you speak of is a recovery covered later on.
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Community and Transportation Services in the amount of $440,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Office of the Deputy Minister
On Regulatory Planning
Regulatory Planning in the amount of $75,000 agreed to
On Corporate Services Division
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Mr. Jenkins: Why in these times when we're shrinking government, shrinking the department, are we spending more on office furniture, equipment and space. What's driving this?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, this increase of $97,000 is a revote for systems projects that were in progress in 1997-98. The projects that we're speaking of requiring this funding are the year 2000 compliance work, finalizing the implementation of the computer-assisted mass appraisal system, which would complete the departmental network infrastructure.
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount $97,000 agreed to
On Transportation Division
On Highway Construction
On Non-YTG Funded:
On Alaska Highway - Shakwak
Alaska Highway - Shakwak in the amount of $10,000,000 agreed to
On YTG Funded:
On Alaska Highway
Alaska Highway in the amount of $1,085,000 agreed to
On Klondike Highway
Klondike Highway in the amount of $31,000 agreed to
On Campbell Highway
Mrs. Edelman: Can we have detail on that line, please, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The decrease of $23,000 is due to several tenders being lower than estimated for reconstruction and BST from kilometre 0 to 427.
Campbell Highway in the amount of an underexpenditure of $23,000 agreed to
On Dempster Highway
Dempster Highway in the amount of $75,000 agreed to
On Top of the World Highway
Mrs. Edelman: Can I have detail on that line as well, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: This decrease of $75,000 again is due to lower-than-estimated costs of the revegetation and BST surfacing from kilometre 0 to kilometre 60.
Top of the World Highway in the amount of an underexpenditure of $75,000 agreed to
On Bridges - Numbered Highways
Mr. Jenkins: I hope this additional cost is to extend and continue the studies for the river crossing at Dawson City, Mr. Chair. Can the minister confirm that we're going to be spending some funds on that in this supplementary, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. This increase of $50,000 is a revote to bring the bridge assessment program back on the schedule, and that's what it's for.
Bridges - Numbered Highways in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Other Roads
Other Roads in the amount of $48,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, in light of the fact that witnesses will be appearing before Committee of the Whole this evening, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 13 when the Speaker resumes the Chair tonight.
Motion agreed to
Chair: The time being 5:30, Committee will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: We will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, it gives me pleasure tonight, as the minister responsible for the Yukon Workers' Compensation Board, to present to the House the chair of the board, who is just taking a seat now, Mr. John Wright, and the president of the Workers' Compensation Board, Mr. Tony Armstrong. Gentlemen, please take your seats and make yourselves comfortable.
Tonight, we're going to be discussing issues pertaining to the Workers' Compensation Board. Mr. Wright has been on the board as chair for over a year now. He was selected as chair of the Workers' Compensation Board as the result of a fairly extensive consultation with both business and labour. He was thought to be, and I think has demonstrated, a great sense of direction and neutrality, in terms of dealing with some complex issues with the board. I've certainly appreciated his energy and candor, in terms of dealing with some difficult issues.
Mr. Armstrong has just recently come on as the president of the board. The board recommended to me that he be selected to fill this position and, by the legislation, I appointed him as a result of that recommendation - the government did - through order-in-council, to that position.
Tony has also shown a lot of energy in the position.
So I welcome them tonight. I know that they want to make some statements to you - to the legislators here. As well, after that, they will entertain questions from the opposition over the next couple of hours of the evening.
So, with that, I welcome you, and I invite your opening remarks.
Mr. Wright: I thought it would be useful to make some general comments, and I'll be brief. I'll talk a little bit about past history.
In the last two or three years, we've seen a number of crises that have required the board to take a more hands-on approach in the day-to-day operation of the running of the board. I believe that the act contemplates exactly the opposite. It spells out very clearly that the board's responsibility is one of a fiduciary responsibility, quasi-judicial appeal function, and a governance role.
We were fortunate enough to be able to put Tony in an acting capacity in place in August of 1997, and he's now been confirmed in that position.
As a result of that, we have been able, as board members, to move back into the legislated role that we play, and that I've already described.
I think it's probably important to present to you what our understanding is, philosophically, about how we do business. Workers' Compensation is a compromise, some say. We see it as a contract between employers and workers, and that contract is articulated in the legislation.
The board members' responsibility is to ensure that the contract is respected, which includes not altering it without the express permission of the parties. We make policies, as required by the act, that meet with what we, in our collective judgment, consider the legislation and the intent of the legislation. I say "our judgment", and by "our" I mean the four board members: Karen Waroway and Joe Radwanski, for the workers of the Yukon, and Arden Meyer and Hank Ambrose for the employers of the Yukon.
Nothing is accomplished or changed without agreement among the board members who represent the parties in this contract.
During the time that I have had the duty and pleasure of serving these board members as their chair, they have made decisions by consensus.
Let me talk a little bit about what we've done in meeting our governance, fiduciary and quasi-judicial appeal responsibilities. In governance, we've participated in an intensive strategic planning process with our staff and the stakeholders, a process that will shape, essentially, the direction we take in the foreseeable future.
It has been an extensive and time-consuming labour that has taxed the time and energy not only of the board members, but all of the staff, and it's now before the stakeholders and will involve them in making the decisions as to where we go in the future.
We've created two advisory committees, one to assist Karen and Joe, and the other to assist Arden and Hank, by providing a regular opportunity for them to meet with their respective constituents, to seek advice and to pass information too. These committees will be a great source of help in developing policies in the future.
The challenge for members of these committees' members will be to assist their representatives to find a middle ground so employers' and workers' needs are identified and met.
In the fiduciary end, we've initiated the review of our investment policy and our funding policy - indeed, all the financial responsibilities we have for the fund. These efforts have produced some options around classification of rates that have now been before the stakeholders. In the appeal process, we've undertaken a complete review of the process and, in consultation with stakeholders, we'll soon be producing a policy on these important matters. We have begun exploring in that area, with some success, the use of alternate dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve some of the conflict.
I'll conclude by saying that we've embarked on what I consider to be - and I've spent seven years as chair of this board over the years and I had five years from 1987 to 1992 - of unprecedented scale for us, a consultative approach to managing the business of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. We are committed to being open, transparent and inclusive in the way we make decisions.
I have served now, as I said, on the board for seven years and we are blessed with as competent, concerned, committed board members and staff as we ever have been. In the next two years, we will all reap the benefits of the extraordinary work that we and, yes, the stakeholders have done and engaged in.
Mr. Armstrong: I'll just give you a few brief comments as an administrative overview of the Compensation Board just to provide a bit of a backdrop or some historical information, as I said, from an administrative perspective.
1997 was a year of adjustment for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and, in particular, we saw the implementation of the public inquiry recommendations. Specifically, of the 52 recommendations that were made, 37 were implemented. Seven were not accepted due to the wording and were being dealt with through other avenues. Seven recommendations were not within the jurisdiction of the board, and one was already addressed through the act itself.
In 1998, as John commented on, we undertook a strategic planning process that was comprehensive in its nature, involving, at times, all staff of the organization, and is now out with the stakeholders. We also conducted a complete review of our financial situation and, specifically, that included a review of our benefit liability, a review of the classification structure, an assessment-rate transition, and an administrative costs review.
On the assessment-rate transition, we find, in looking at our assessment rates in the six-industry classifications that the Yukon currently has, that two of those classifications critically underfund the claims cost that they generate - those two areas specifically being mining, construction and trucking. Other areas, such as business administration, specified trades and service industries, are either at a break-even point or, in fact, are paying higher assessments than the claims costs warrant. Lastly, the area of governance is at a break-even point.
In 1995, the board of the day went out and talked to stakeholders about assessment rates and an increase in assessment rates. That saw the implementation in 1996 of a cancelling of the merit rebate program and a reduction in the amount of subsidy by the board from 45 percent to 35 percent.
The information that was presented at that time is as accurate now as it was accurate then, looking at the classification structure.
In looking at the classification structure, comments had been made by our stakeholders about the inappropriateness of the structure. The current classification structure was brought into place in 1973 and was adopted from a model brought out of Alberta. It doesn't represent the economic realities of the jurisdiction any more and we've put forward two particular options around classification structure for the stakeholders to consider. One of them is a 10-category, risk-base classification structure. The other is a modification of the existing classification structure.
On administration costs, an internationally renowned firm of Coles Hewitt was contracted with by our organization to review the administration costs. They undertook an extensive evaluation in an attempt to bring forward, for the public in Yukon and the stakeholders in Yukon, a realistic picture of what the administrative costs in this jurisdiction were.
In order to do that, they had to create two different measurements. One was an expense standard; the other was an expense index. I think it's important to note that, up until this time, no other jurisdiction had made an effort to do a cross-Canada comparison on administrative costs. This jurisdiction led the way in doing that.
As a result of that review - and I'm sure that we may have questions on it later - we find that the administration costs of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board are in keeping with the administrative costs of other jurisdictions. That's not to say that it was an evaluation of efficiencies or effectiveness, but simply a comparison of this organization against like organizations across Canada.
In fact, we find, when we compare the Yukon against the expense standard for all of Canada, in 1995 and 1996 we were at 98 and 99 percent of that expenditure, and in 1997 we were at 113 percent of that expenditure.
I'd also like to announce, although I don't have the information to release in full form yet, that on December 15, the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada will be releasing a report containing a number of key statistical indicators, one of which will be a comparison of administrative costs done by a different methodology across all of Canada. In looking at the preliminary draft, our administrative cost report falls well in line with what the AWCBC will be releasing.
A bit of claims information for you: our time-loss claims in 1998, to November 30, number 322. Our time-loss claims in 1997 were 533.
When we look at what the organization does, we have to be mindful that it's not just the current piece of legislation that we're administering claims under, but it is, in fact, all pieces of workers' compensation acts, dating back - pre-dating, actually - 1958.
So, as I was saying, we had 322 time-loss claims in 1998 year to date; however, we also had 1,875 claims with activity. Now, I'm talking about 1997 figures. There were 1,875 claims with activity, 533 new claims in that year of time loss, and a total claims administered in that year of 4,552. That number, on average, represents 50 decision points per claim, or a grand total of appealable decisions of 227,100. Out of that, we're averaging in 1995, 1996 and 1997 an appeal number of approximately 40, and an appeal rate, just based on claims, of two percent. Based on decisions, the fraction is too small for me to work out when we give it as a decision that's appealed, and not a claim that's appealed.
1999 will be a year of implementing our strategic plan. It's prevention focused, it's service focused, and it's a focus on efficiencies and effectiveness within the organization.
Our proposal is to carry out that implementation, based on the feedback that we get from our stakeholders, and look at the year 2000 as a year of evaluation and review regarding the implementation of that strategic plan, efficiencies within the organization, effectiveness within the organization, and the operation of the organization.
Chair: Thank you, gentlemen. I would like to remind all members to address their questions to the witnesses through the Chair. Are there any questions?
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to begin by, for the record, just stating the public perception of WCB. The public perception that is conveyed to me, Mr. Chair, is one of having too high administration costs and of the injured workers not having their needs addressed in a timely and reasonable manner. Both issues relate to one another.
I have an initial question for the current chair of WCB, and I take the chair back to the Supreme Court decision rendered by Mr. Justice Hudson between Mr. Farrell and the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, the Commission of the Yukon Territory, and Alan Nordling. In it, Justice Hudson says, and he is referring to the past president, "I believe it pertinent to consider that the members of the board, including the chair, are part time and not specifically trained for the handling of confrontations between employer and employee at this level. The plaintiff, however, as can be seen from his CV and letters of reference, which he drafted, has the skills necessary to persuade a group of well-intentioned non-professionals to his advantage. As between the president and the board members, or the board as a group, there was not a level playing field."
Does this condition still exist, Mr. Chair?
Mr. Wright: I will say that, certainly since I took over as chair, the board members have - well, first let me comment on what I believe the credentials are of the board members. Arden Meyer is a successful business man; Hank Ambrose, a chartered accountant, I understand, certainly very knowledgeable in that area, spent a lot of time in business; Karen Waroway has been very much a part of workers' organizations; Joe Radwanski, as well, has been very much a part of workers' organizations and understands that, as well as running his own business.
So, I think we start out with four board members who, in their own right, are certainly qualified to take on the responsibilities of managing the board.
What we did do, in 1997, and have continued to do through 1998, is provide education opportunities and training for the board members. We've increased the number of meetings we've had, to ensure that we have explored the problems that we're faced with as thoroughly as they need to be explored.
I can't, in any way, subscribe to a theory that suggests, even, that these board members are not competent to carry out the responsibilities that they're required to under the act.
Mr. Jenkins: What was being suggested in the judgments by Justice Hudson was that the president had the ability to motivate the board and get them to do as he wished.
But let's look at the size of the existing work force that is growing over at the office. While I appreciate the actuarial study that was done on administration costs, we have to bear in mind, Mr. Chair, that it was done by the same firm that continually does the actuarial reviews for the Yukon WCB.
The question to pose is, why is the overhead in the staffing levels as high as they are and why are they continuing to grow? We look at the smallest province in Canada in 1997 and their administration costs were $2.6 million. Here in the Yukon, we're looking at double that cost. Why so much staff and why so much overhead, Mr. Chair?
Mr. Wright: Well, this isn't the first time this question has been asked. I guess I have to step back every once in awhile and keep my eye on the ball. By that I mean, I step back every once in awhile and I look at two, what I consider to be, important indicators as to how successful we are as a board. One is the level of benefits that we provide to injured workers, which if not the highest and best in Canada, it's certainly no lower than second. And the second signpost I look at are the rates. If you look at the average assessment rate, we are among the two or three lowest in Canada. I remind myself that this didn't happen by accident. This happens because of good management. It happens because we've got resources in place to make sure that happens. Now, that's part of the answer and perhaps Mr. Armstrong can add to that.
Mr. Armstrong: I think, first of all, it's important to recognize - and we speak certainly as Coles Hewitt noted in their administrative cost report - that a straightforward comparison of administration costs as published by the financials from each of the jurisdictions isn't truly representative of, in fact, what those administration costs are in each of the jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction accounts for its administration expenses in somewhat different fashions. The Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada is making every effort to put in place the ability to make comparisons through the published financial statements that each board puts out but, at the present time, that's not possible.
I would point out that there are a number of factors that drive administration costs within every jurisdiction, and whether it drives the administration costs up or, in fact, has the opposite effect of bringing them down. There are a number of commitments that are either driven by the legislation or by other pieces of legislation. In this jurisdiction, the drivers for increased costs are an increased focus on rehabilitation, particularly with the passing of the 1993 act. There was a focus, at that time, requiring the provision of rehabilitation services in a real and meaningful way that drew out the commitments to a number of programs delivered.
Case-management and care-management programs drive administration costs in this jurisdiction, but we can draw a parallel or draw an equation from that that the appropriate management of a claim, in fact, has the effect of reducing the cost of that claim.
There have been legislated changes, as I referred to, with the 1993 act bringing in the area of rehabilitation, but also with the shift of occupational health and safety over to a responsibility of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
There are increased responsibilities also within the organization for the delivery of a number of other programs that drive up our administration costs, and the anticipated result, though, is, again, a reduction in the claims costs over the duration.
There is an increased level of service to the Yukon territorial government, and there are process changes within the organization, Mr. Chair.
Those are some of the issues that drive us.
Just in closing on that, the most significant difference between the smallest jurisdiction in Canada and us in claims costs is, in particular - this jurisdiction in comparison with that - is the dedication toward occupational health and safety. In this jurisdiction, upwards of 80 and 90 percent of occupational health and safety costs are provided for by this organization, whereas in the smallest jurisdiction in Canada, that number is somewhere around the neighbourhood of 25 percent. Also, the delivery of services in the smallest jurisdiction is much simpler, in that the distribution of the population is not at all what it appears to be in the Yukon or what it is in the Yukon.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's one indicator and one set of overviews, Mr. Chair, but when we look at the basic number of people that we are insuring, we have a workforce here of about 13,000 that's dropping.
Current statistics were around 14,000 this spring. That's probably down and dropping to about 11,000 to 12,000 employees covered through WCB. The federal government is covered through the Alberta WCB plan, so they're excluded.
Given the small number of individuals that we're covering, how can we justify this five-point-something million dollars a year in administration costs, given the small number of claims. If the board can't see that the costs are out of line for the size of the population we're servicing and the number of claims that we're experiencing, perhaps it is time to look at a management audit by an outside group of WCB here in the Yukon to see if we're on track, because I hear one story from the president and the chair and the general population's perception, Mr. Chair, is that it's not an efficiently run organization - that it's top heavy, it's got an attitude problem, and these can only come out by way of a management audit.
So perhaps we can ask the chairmen what they feel about a management audit or a management review.
Mr. Wright: The question of conducting a resource audit or an operational audit is something that has been discussed before and we are committed to do that. I guess what we may disagree on is the timing of that. It's our sense that, given the strategic planning exercise we're in, which is in consultation with the stakeholders shaping the direction that we're going to go in and what goals and objectives we're collectively going to set together, I think we need to go through that exercise first and then do some evaluation of the resource base to make sure whether we have too many human resources or too few human resources.
I guess the other thing that has occurred to me, from time to time, is that the costs of administering programs in the Yukon, indeed the costs of doing anything in the Yukon, are somewhat higher. Businessmen have made a solid case, for example, that it costs at least 10 percent more to do business in the Yukon, and that's the edge that they're given on some of the contracting. Correct me, if I'm wrong.
The other thing that strikes me is that, without being facetious, I suspect that if we did a per capita cost of providing a Legislature, what does it cost to keep 17 members in the House? How does the cost per member compare to a place like Ontario?
What is the cost per capita? Some of the reality is that there is a basic infrastructure cost that we have, like any organization here has. I know that this doesn't address directly the comparison between Prince Edward Island and us, where it appears as though our costs are double. The only thing I can say to you is that somehow, despite that - or probably because of it - we've been able to have the lowest rates for employers and the highest benefits for workers.
Now, if the price of having the lowest rates and the best benefits is $4.5 million a year in administrative costs, then it seems worthwhile. It may very well be that in years to come, if we could, for example, by spending another $1.5 million on prevention further reduce the assessment rates, would that not be money well-spent? So, those are some thoughts.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I certainly can't agree with the chair of the WCB's comparison of the Yukon WCB to the Yukon Legislature. We all know we're well over-governed here. But we certainly can compare the Yukon WCB to Prince Edward Island's, if you start looking at our costs being over double what WCB in Prince Edward Island incurs to operate their programs, and if we just look at what they are down there and allow for a 10-, 15- or 20-percent differential, we should come into the range of reality.
So I do take exception to the high cost of administration, and to the board's lack of initiative in addressing those high costs in a timely fashion. What we're looking at is an ongoing review that will probably take two years before decisions are made and implemented, and come to fruition. During that time, there's less and less money there.
And for certain periods of time, Mr. Chair, we're spending more on administration of WCB than we are paying out to injured workers in the course of the year. Now, that's not a fair way to run a board. So I take the chair back to a management audit, or an operational audit, and ask once again if they will consider doing that kind of a review, in a very timely manner. They can parallel existing programs; they can parallel existing in-house reviews, and probably come to a decision in the next six months or a year, if it's implemented very quickly, Mr. Chair.
We're not talking a big structure to conduct an analysis of; we're talking a small structure in one of the smallest areas of Canada, population-wise. It shouldn't be a great big initiative to undertake an operations management audit of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Why won't the board chair and president buy into this type of approach?
Mr. Wright: Mr. Chair, first of all, the chair and the president don't make those kinds of decisions. The board makes those kinds of decisions. And the board has made a decision to audit our resource base as part and parcel of the strategic planning, and particularly the implementation phase of that.
Now, that's the decision that we've made so far. No doubt the results of this evening will cause the board to reflect on that issue again. But I can't, on behalf of a board, make those kinds of commitments here tonight.
Mr. Armstrong: If I can just elaborate - first, I just want to clarify on figures. The Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada's key statistical measures, or key statistical indicators, just as a matter of reference: for 1996, the administrative costs in Yukon are $3.8 million. The administrative costs in Prince Edward Island are $3.2 million.
In 1997, the administrative costs in the Yukon were $4.2 million - I'm rounding - and the administrative costs in P.E.I. were $3.6 million. Granted, we were certainly higher than Prince Edward Island, but it's not double the rate.
As for an operational audit or an operational review, as the president and as the chief executive officer, it's one of my primary responsibilities, I believe, to conduct an organization in the most effective and efficient manner possible. The issue around the timing of an operational audit, however, is also of concern to me. The organization and the stakeholders now have put a great deal of effort in looking at what is the future direction of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board; where do we see the organization going in the future, recognizing the expectations rightfully placed on the organization for appropriate delivery of service to workers, to injured workers and to employers? As I said, the organization has undertaken that strategic planning process and is implementing it in 1999.
Regarding an operational audit, it seems to me that it would be key for the organization - rather than looking retrospectively at where it was or even where it is right at this moment - it would seem important that the board implement the strategies that are identified through that strategic planning process and as soon as possible thereafter look at an operational audit, so that we get a picture of does the strategic plan make operational sense as opposed to does the board in 1997 or does the board on December 9, 1998, make sense. I think that, as an administration, we recognize that the organization does not reflect either what it itself would see it being nor what the stakeholders expect the organization to be, but we want the opportunity to move the organization forward and then to conduct an operational audit and find out: have we in fact met what those expectations of the stakeholders are; are we in fact operating with efficiency and effectiveness?
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's just the question that has to be posed and it's best done by an outside group of individuals, not an in-house review. That's why it is of paramount importance to move very quickly on a management audit or operational audit at WCB. The numbers I have differ from what Mr. Armstrong has provided the House with, with respect to operational costs of the WCB in Prince Edward Island. Perhaps when Mr. Armstrong is next on his feet, he can just cite how many people are covered by the WCB in Prince Edward Island and how many lost-time accidents they have and he will find it's about a 500 to 600 percent additional workload for less money than we spend here in the Yukon
So, that says something in itself, Mr. Chair, and it speaks very, very loudly for efficiency of various organizations.
But let's leave that one alone, Mr. Chair, and let's go on to the situation that arose a couple of years ago when we were told - the employers who pay the premiums - that the WCB was underfunded and rates must go up considerably, and that as a consequence of this underfunding we have to eliminate the merit rebate. Then, all of a sudden, this same firm of actuaries discovers a $30-million surplus - the same actuarial firm; just a different time. What gives? What causes this change - a massive, dynamic change?
Mr. Armstrong: In my opening remarks, I did make very brief reference to the discussions that were held in 1995 around assessment rates. The issue at the time was looking at the six classification groups that we have in the Yukon - namely, mining, as one; construction and trucking, as a second; business administration, as a third; specified trades, as a fourth; service industries as, a fifth; and, lastly, government, as a sixth.
The concern that the board had and maintains to this day is that assessment rates and revenue versus claims costs have traditionally been lower, in comparison, right from 1992 - and before 1992, but the figures I have before me - through to and including 1997. In 1992, for example, the cost of claims being paid out by the Workers' Compensation Board was more than double the assessment revenue coming into the organization; 1993 and 1994 were very similar to that. During the years of 1995, 1996 and 1997, we've seen a minor reduction in the cost of claims in the jurisdiction, but still not to the point where there's a balancing of assessment revenue in and claims costs out.
The discussions that the board had back in 1995, and the adjustment they made both in the removal of the merit rebate program and in the reduction of the subsidy from 45 percent to 35 percent, were efforts to make some move toward balancing assessment revenue in and claims costs out.
However, as I said, that disparity remains. Now, when we've looked at it, our concern is that the evaluation, or the work that was done in 1995, wasn't as comprehensive as we felt it should have been. Therefore, in 1997, we held the assessment rates where they were, and in 1998, we held the assessment rates where they were, while we undertook, in 1998, a comprehensive review of our financial situation.
Why the change in the benefit liability? The benefit liability is, first of all, a reserve of funds that are set aside to pay all of the future costs associated with a claim. So, for example, if you spent $1,000 in this current year on a claim from this year, that's this year's claim cost. There is then an actuarial number that you multiple that by to ensure that you have set aside all the monies to pay for that claim for however long it lasts. So that if you never collect another assessment dollar, that injured worker is assured that all of their benefits are provided through that benefit liability.
When the current benefit liability was first put in place, under the 1993 act, there wasn't the statistical information - Yukon-based - to do that. So, two different approaches were used and were blended. The first was claims experience from a national perspective, and then claims experience from a few, select other jurisdictions. They blended it and came up with an actuarial assumption, in order to maintain that benefit liability reserve.
In 1993, when that was done, based on the actuarial review done by the same firm at that time, one of the points that was made by the actuarial firm was that, in order to do this more effectively in the Yukon, the Yukon had to start to accumulate data so that there could be Yukon-specific experience on which to measure that actuarial assumption and to balance that benefit liability. Starting in 1993, we started to accumulate the statistical information to the point now where we have the years between 1993, up to and including 1997, to provide Yukon statistics and Yukon experience on what that benefit liability should be. That has caused a re-evaluation of what our actuarial assumption is and a re-evaluation of what the benefit liability is - moving the benefit liability from in the neighbourhood of $92 million to approximately $63 million.
So, the impact of it was that the current review of the benefit liability was done based on Yukon experience and Yukon data. In 1993, when it was established, there wasn't Yukon data or Yukon experience to do that with, so it was a blended approach from national statistics and a couple of other jurisdictions.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, let's just simplify the issue before us. What we have is an insurance program. Now, the insurers, being WCB, can make funds or make money on the underwriting side or they can make it on the investment side. Now, between the two, they have to cover the costs of injured workers, the rehabilitation, pensions, whatever, and the cost of administration. We have a surplus of $30 million. That surplus, on the investment side, would realize just over $2 million a year, at current rates in the secured investment types that you want.
If we were to take the operational cost - the administration cost - of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and cut it in half and then do our actuarial review, I'm sure we'd find that we'd be well-funded and well in a position to, in fact, lower some rates in some of the categories and provide some incentives to do something as well as address the needs of the injured workers in a more timely fashion.
That's all we're looking at: to run it like a standard insurance business. And I'm sure, when it's looked at in that light, of taking the administration cost and cutting it in half, and looking at the investment side, it will cover a great deal more than it can right now.
Mr. Armstrong: The benefit liability that we have set aside right now - the approximately $64 million - does, in fact, take into account that, yes, we have to generate money both through the investment side of the portfolio and through the rendering or the levying of assessment.
The $64 million that we have set aside is, in fact, not all of the costs that we would experience or that we will experience through the duration of those claims.
For example, we had 1,800 claims being paid as of December 31, 1997. The projected payments to those claims is $126 million. The benefit liability is approximately $64.5 million. The difference between the $64.5 million and the $126 million reflects, in fact, the investment income that's anticipated by the organization to offset that.
Recognizing the need for incentives and appropriate practice by the organization when it comes to classification, I'd like to point out that one of the two options that the board has taken out to the stakeholders we feel is very much inclined toward that. That is the 10 classifications, rather than the current six classifications, and rather than going industry-based, going solely risk-based in moving industries into those 10 classification groups.
Should the stakeholders recommend that back to the board, and the board, exercising fiduciary responsibility, select that option, the net effect would be, for a number of different industries and for a number of different employers, in fact, a reduction in their assessment rate. Current assessment rates run from 75 cents to $3.25, recognizing that there's a 35-percent subsidy in place. With the options that the board has put forward and the 10-classification structure, based on risk, unsubsidized rates would range from 50 cents to $15. Subsidized at 45 percent, the assessment rates, in fact, are 27 cents, through to $8.25.
Transitioning over to those, the board has committed that any industry group or employer that would experience a reduction in their assessment rates in 1999 would experience that effective January 1, 1999. Conversely, any employer or any industry group that would experience an increase in assessment rates would not experience that until January 1, 2000.
The board is committed to capping those increases to no more than 20 percent in any given year, while expecting a minimum of five-percent change in any given year.
Mr. Jenkins: I just have one final question, Mr. Chair, at this juncture before I turn it over to my colleague here. Could the president or his officials undertake to review these new rates of 27 cents to $8.25, taking the administration costs and cutting them in half for Yukon workers, WCB, and cut the administration costs in half and factor that in and see what the rates would be? I'm sure that we'd find that they'd be considerably more acceptable than what is being proposed here, even with the subsidy, Mr. Chair. Can I ask the president to undertake that kind of a review, Mr. Chair, please?
Mr. Armstrong: We can certainly undertake to look at what impact a reduction in the administrative costs would have on assessment rates. Right now, when we're talking about setting those assessment rates, it's based on the claims experience for a particular risk group, or, under the current structure, what's the claims experience for a particular industry group.
The assessment rates of $8.25, or 27 cents with the subsidy, are based on and required as a result of the claims experience, not so much on the administration. Effective administration of claims should have, and I believe does have, the effect of reducing the cost of claims. If, in fact, we were to look at a reduction of $1 million or even $2 million in the area of administrative costs, you may have the net effect, however, of increasing claims costs significantly. So, the realized return on that may not, in fact, materialize.
You may, in fact, find that the claims costs escalate with a reduction of the administration costs. For example, if you don't provide rehabilitation to an injured worker, the claims cost is going to go on for a great deal longer than if you provide effective rehabilitation. If you provide early intervention, you return that worker to the workplace much quicker than if you don't provide early intervention. Those sorts of programs are reflected in administrative costs and have the effect of reducing or lowering the cost of the claim and, more importantly, mitigating the effects of a disability on an injured worker.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions about the appeal process and the timeliness of claim processing. I had a chap in the office this morning who had launched a first-order appeal to the internal review committee. He had done this about mid-year, there was a hearing in August, and a decision was rendered in November, which he received some time in December by way of mail. Now, he doesn't agree with that decision, so he is going to go on to the second-level appeal - to the appeal panel, and it's expected that he will have the appeal heard some time in February and the decision at some juncture after that. So, there will be roughly a 10-month period that will elapse between the time this person had launched the first-order appeal and the time that he will either get an award or the decision to the contrary will be rendered. Is that usual for the handling of appeals in the two-level appeal process?
Mr. Armstrong: Mr. Chair, I'll speak to the internal review committee's side of that, and I believe that Mr. Wright may have comments regarding the appeal panel of the board.
Is it a matter of normal practice taking, I would imagine, if it's 10 months in the total process, then it would be five months that we were allocating toward the internal review committee? No, that's not a standard of practice. In general, between when the organization receives an application to appeal and the scheduling of that appeal is 30 days. It may take further time between the scheduling of the appeal and the actual hearing of the appeal at the IRC level. It may take a further 60 days for an internal review committee to hear that, and that's simply a matter of recognizing the availability - I think Mr. Wright is going to speak about that at the appeal panel level - of staff within our organization to conduct internal reviews, and also the availability of those parties external to the organization that may wish to participate at the internal review committee level.
As far as the duration in getting a decision out, many things can impact on that. It may be that, through the appeal process at the IRC level or at the appeal panel level, further investigation is warranted, whether that's medical investigation or further adjudication. It may be that the internal review committee requests new information, and time is taken to go out and get that information. As much as it may leave the impression of slowing the appeal process down, I think that to the benefit of the worker, every effort has to be made by the organization to explore all avenues to be able to render an appropriate decision at the internal review committee level.
Mr. Wright: My impression of the appeal panel process is that it is much quicker than five months. This would be an exception.
I think we need to understand the appeal process too. We've talked about the internal review committee's work. If a worker is dissatisfied with that decision, they can have an appeal. They can also appeal the appeal. There is provision in the act for a worker who disagrees with the decision of an appeal panel to petition the board to reverse that decision or strike that decision and have it heard again.
Now, we have to be careful, when people are talking to us about appeals, which appeal they're talking about. There have been three or four decisions of the appeal panel in the last year that the board has struck and ordered that another appeal panel hear it. That complicates matters because the panel that heard the original appeal shouldn't hear the second appeal. When you combine that with the fact that we have part-time board members, all of whom have very busy lives, just the scheduling problems become part of the built-in delay.
I guess some of this problem will probably be addressed in the upcoming act review, and one might look at - and I'm not suggesting for a moment that an internal review is not a useful tool, but it may be, for example, that that step might not be necessary. To get a quicker response, it might be more appropriate to go directly to an appeal. Who knows?
But we're well aware of the problems around appeals and of the urgency to deal with them as quickly as possible. For example, I know that I have five scheduled within the next four weeks that I'm sitting on. Recently, I have to admit, I haven't been available because of other commitments, so I haven't been here to carry my share of the load, and David Hughesman, as the alternate chair, has been the only one available to chair those panels. So, if there are some delays in these last few months since August, that's probably part of it.
Mr. Cable: What is the view of the board, or what is the board's policy on the payment of interest on awards? I gather the awards will go back to the time of the accident or the time of the application, but is there any interest paid to the worker on the eventual award?
Mr. Armstrong: No, the board doesn't pay interest on the award to the injured worker.
Mr. Cable: You see, what happened years ago when the injured worker's right to sue was removed was that they took it out of the court setting. Now, if it had remained in the court setting, under the present law in the Yukon, interest would be payable from the time of the accident. I think that was brought in as an incentive to get insurance companies moving. They couldn't just fool around and waste time and keep a plaintiff at bay for several years while their money was collecting interest and the plaintiff's money - in this case it would be the worker if this legislation was not here - was at stake.
What is the president's and the chair's view on the payment of interest if, in fact, that is authorized under the act, and if not, whether the act should be amended to bring that situation into line with what the worker would have had if we hadn't taken away the right to sue?
Mr. Wright: That's an interesting question, because it raises the whole issue of what the courts might do. It raises a whole bunch of other possible questions about what the courts might do if these were suits, rather than claims, against the board. I mean, there's a whole other area.
But dealing specifically with this one item, I guess I'll plead ignorance. I would have to read the act again thoroughly, to see - and maybe Mr. Armstrong can help me - if it prevents it.
If it doesn't prevent it, the question is, do we have - looking at the intent of the act, and the financial duties and responsibilities imposed by it - do we collectively, does the board judge that they have some room to move on that? Those are things that I haven't looked at. But you've raised an interesting question.
Again, talking about the review that comes in the fall - if there's nothing that can be done now, it's probably a good question to be raised in the course of legislative review.
Mr. Armstrong: I'll be very brief. The expenditure of funds by the Workers' Compensation Board is governed particularly by three pieces of legislation: Workers' Compensation Act, Public Trustee Act, and the Financial Administration Act - only certain sections of the Financial Administration Act, mind you.
But within that, we don't find jurisdiction for the board to, in fact, be able to pay interest, which is a reason that we've not been doing that. We're mindful of the issue. We find that there may be other areas, as well, that would warrant attention in that regard.
Chair: Thank you. Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call the House to order.
Mr. Cable: I want to deal with the appeals in greater length, but before getting there, I would like to advise the board that I've had a number of complaints on the way that section 23 of the act is interpreted and policy CL-35, which, on my reading of it anyway, seems to contradict section 23 of the act.
The board's policy, CL-35, in relation to average weekly earnings, states that as a starting point in the calculation of how much a worker will receive in the event of a work-related injury, a wage rate is established by a reference to the average weekly earnings of the worker at the time of or preceding the injury. Now, that doesn't seem to be the starting point, according to the way the act reads. That seems to be the way it is done. The weekly earnings should be calculated on the rate that the worker was receiving immediately before the work-related disability arose, as the act says.
Now, I don't want to get into a legal discussion here, but I would like to know. This policy, I think, is being challenged. Where does the board now sit on this policy? Is the policy, CL-35, consistent with section 23 of the act?
Mr. Armstrong: Firstly, section 23 of the act is the section that commonly is referred to as the deeming section, as opposed to the actual setting of weekly loss of earnings for the purposes of compensation right. If you read section 23 in its entirety, it says, "The worker's weekly loss of earnings is equal to the difference, if any, between (a) the worker's average weekly earnings up to a maximum wage rate immediately before the work-related disability arose, and (b) estimated average weekly earnings that a worker could, in the board's opinion, earn from time to time in a suitable occupation after the disability arose."
So, the equation that's applied is, once an injured worker has plateaued or reached the point of maximum medical recovery and maximum vocational work, the organization then goes through a process of determining what is a suitable occupation that that individual may return to. Workers' Compensation in the Yukon has as its focus employability versus employment, so in utilizing section 23, what we do is look at what is the employability of an injured worker and what would be a suitable occupation for that injured worker. Once we've made that determination, we would then look at what is the earnings rate that that worker would expect to receive in a Yukon context for that suitable occupation. We would then look at what was the average weekly earnings of the worker prior to the disability and what would be the expected earnings of the worker in a suitable occupation; the difference between the two would be the wage loss that's paid.
Now, as far as policy CL-35 goes, the current CL-35 policy is under review by the board and should be coming before the board at some point in the late winter of 1999. I'm expecting somewhere between January and March that, in fact, the board will have a look at that. The issue that we have around CL-35 is, in particular, the issue raised with seasonal workers and the appropriate setting of loss of earnings for seasonal workers and how the organization would go about that. The board does have the authority, within the legislation, to determine what a disability is and also to determine what that loss of earnings is. It will be those particular sections within the legislation that a new CL-35 would be built upon.
Mr. Cable: I wasn't wanting to deal with the second part of the section. It's the first part of the section that, I think, is being misinterpreted - for what my opinion is worth. The first part of the section talks about the worker's average weekly earnings, up to the maximum wage rate for a week, immediately before the work-related disability arose. Now, I don't see how you can interpret that any other way. It says "immediately before the work-related disability arose". That means the hour before the work-related disability arose. I think what the board has done has expanded that to average out the earnings for a period going well back to the period immediately preceding the disability. I'm just wondering on what authority the board is doing that.
Mr. Armstrong: I recognize the wording of section 23(a). What causes me to look at both areas of section 23 is the fact that the word "and" is placed right within the legislation and requires us to look at that section in its totality, just as we're required to look at the whole of the legislation in its totality and not take a particular sentence out and deal with that in an individual sense.
Compensation for loss of earnings is driven by section 22, "Where a worker is entitled to compensation, the board shall pay compensation to the worker in an amount equal to 75 percent of the worker's weekly loss of earnings from all employment." Subsection 2 of that says the method and manner of making a payment under subsection 1 will be determined by the board. And it's that in the definition section of the legislation that gives the board the authority to do that.
We find in looking at section 23 that, in fact, we have to deal with it in its totality because it's proposing an equation where you have two sides and you have to apply the two pieces in order to get your conclusion or your answer. So, it's the "and" that requires us to look at section 23(a) and section 23(b) in order to do that.
Mr. Cable: Let's agree to disagree on that one. That brings me to a more important point: the role of the board in appeals. Now, in some jurisdictions, the appeal panel is really a board of adjudication - it's not the Workers' Compensation Board with another hat on - and that is the method that I think would well behoove this act to set up.
What we have now is the Workers' Compensation Board, the employer of the people whose decision is appealed from. We have the board, with another hat on, setting policies like this one we just talked about, which is arguable, and we have the board with a quasi-judicial hat on. Here we have an injured worker walking into the room with this board staring at them, defending their policies, maybe defending their workers and the perceptions are all wrong.
What I would suggest is that a pitch be made to the minister, when he comes to amend the act, that he set up an adjudication system similar to the one we have under the Human Rights Act, where the Human Rights Board does not sit on the final decision. That is handed over to a panel of adjudicators.
Let me have your thoughts on that, Mr. Chair, and Mr. President.
Mr. Wright: It's certainly an observation that's been raised before, and it's something that we've thought about. I'll give you a personal opinion. I think the potential for perceived bias is there, and as long as the perception is there, it's going to rankle people who come and appeal before those panels.
We struggle - as members of appeal panels - to be as objective as we can. And I guess that goes without saying - I don't need to say that.
But let me comment on the suggestion that a separate appeal board or commission might be an answer to this. If we look at costs, there probably are some basic infrastructure costs for such an appeal board. But I don't think that they necessarily would be prohibitive, because where you had appeal panel members sitting and being paid per diems to hear appeals, you would now have someone else - I presume - hearing appeals, but for the same per diem. The workload on the board members would decrease.
So that part of it, I think, would balance out. There might be some additional legal costs associated with that particular entity receiving legal advice, from time to time.
My feeling is, in the legislative review - keeping my ear to the ground, and listening to people - is that that issue will become one that is - if not at the top of the list - near the top of the list of things that will be raised in the course of this legislative review.
Chair: Are there any further questions?
Mr. Armstrong: If I may, Mr. Chair, I just wanted to express an observation I have of the organization. As much as we may go to whatever appeal process would flow out of the review of the legislation, as an administration I feel that it's important for us to have an opportunity to take a sober second look at any decision that we've made. That's not to say that I don't view an external appeal process as being appropriate or inappropriate, but I would want to see an opportunity where, when a decision is made by an adjudicator, that, administratively, we can have a second look at that, if there is disagreement by the person that, in fact, that decision impacts on. So, I just think that's an important element for the administration to maintain - that ability for a sober second look.
Just on the matter of employment so that we have, I suppose, it for the record, my employer and the employer of all staff at the Workers' Compensation Board actually is the Public Service Commission and the Government of the Yukon. The supervision and responsibilities for the staff all flow through me as a deputy head, and the representative of the employer is the Public Service Commissioner. The Public Service Commissioner and the Public Service Commission are also my employer. The board, however, is my direct supervisor, and my hiring and my release are on the recommendation of the board, but all other personnel matters are solely my responsibility, and that is something that, in fact, the members of the board are very careful to stay away from. It's a small point, but I just thought I would clarify that.
Mr. Wright: I would just add one more important piece of information that might be useful. Even under the present system, in the last year and a half, on one occasion, an appeal panel has declared that not only a policy but a directive - it happened to be an occupational health and safety policy and directive - was, to use the Latin term, ultra vires, and we declared that that policy and that directive were of no force and effect.
So, we have the ability, and we demonstrated that - to make those kinds of decisions so that it may be that, on reflection when we review this, we should also consider that, and there may be some way of enhancing the appeal panel's ability to make decisions by somehow highlighting that capability in the legislation.
Mr. Cable: I don't want to belabour this because I have a couple of other points, but I should point out that there is a socialization between the board and the president and the staff that raises eyebrows if one is going to be judge and jury at the same time. So, that is the perception that I think has to be dealt with when the act is amended, so that, when people come in for justice, justice is seen to be done as well as is being done. And that's the point I make to you.
The gentleman who was in my office this morning was talking about going to a hearing where there was a battery of lawyers around. I think there was a lawyer representing the board and there was a lawyer representing the board employee, but there was no lawyer representing him. On occasion, there are complex legal issues that have to be dealt with. I know the workers' advocate is doing a top-notch job, from all the reports I get, but on occasions there's a need for a lawyer representing the injured worker. The challenge of that policy that we just talked about, CL-30, for example, might be one of those cases.
What is the board's position on the payment of legal fees for an injured worker who eventually wins his appeal?
Mr. Wright: The act, as we read it, is very specific about paying legal fees for those purposes, and it's our interpretation that it's not possible under the present act.
Mr. Cable: See, what happened when the worker's right to sue was taken away, the worker also lost the right to get costs then. Does the chair think it is fair that, when the worker gets a successful award, he or she then has to cut out a big piece for the lawyer, whereas the board turns around and pays for the lawyer for the board and the lawyer for the board employee?
Mr. Wright: I guess I'm mindful of my position as chair of the board. In the face of what I interpret to be very specific direction prohibiting those kinds of expenditures, I'm mindful of my duty publicly to reflect the views of the board. I find it very difficult to express an opinion publicly on that issue. You've asked the question, and I can say that that question has been asked at the board, we've considered it, and that we feel that the legislation speaks to that issue.
Mr. Cable: I guess what I'm working up to is that there is going to be a review of the legislation. Now, I know at the present time that subrogated claims, where the board takes over the worker's claim, the costs that are recovered will pay the lawyer, and eventually the claim goes back to the Workers' Compensation Board. So, there is, in principle, a basis for paying lawyers on these claims.
If we've taken away the worker's rights to sue, and we've taken away their right to interest, more or less, because they can't operate under the Judicature Act, as a plaintiff could against an insurance company - and you people are basically an insurance company - then the worker is doubly jeopardized in the handling of a claim. So, could I encourage the board, when they make a submission - I assume they'll be making a submission on the review of the act - to ensure that both of these things are considered, so that there is some sort of carryover of equity for the injured worker, and the injured worker is put back to where he or she was at the time when the act was brought in with respect to recovery on their claim.
Mr. Wright: Mr. Chair, I can make the commitment to take this interesting insight to the board. I will do that.
Mr. Cable: Could I ask the president how many appeals there were at the IRC level and at the appeal panel level in 1977 and to date in 1998. I think the president did, in fact, go over some stats when he was talking earlier, but I didn't catch all of them.
Mr. Armstrong: I'm not able to comment on the number of appeals. If I heard correctly, for the year 1977? I don't have the number of appeals made in 1977 before me, but what I can do is go over the statistics of appeals, both at IRC and at the appeal panel level. I do have the figures for 1995 through to 1998, the year to date, if that's helpful.
Mr. Cable: Yes, I misspoke myself; I meant 1997.
Mr. Armstrong: That was good. I was struggling with how I was going to go back and find statistics for 1977.
In 1995, at the internal review committee, there were 69 appeals. In 1996, there were 36 appeals. In 1997, there 41 appeals. In 1998, year to date, which would have been approximately October 4, there were 39. That's at the internal review committee. Before the appeal panel in 1995, there were 33 appeals; in 1996, there were 26; in 1997, there were11. In 1998, again, year to date - early October - there were 24 appeals.
Mr. Cable: I gather the success ratio for the injured worker has gone up markedly since the workers' advocate arrived on the scene. Is that correct?
Mr. Armstrong: Through 1995 to and including 1998, we're averaging about a 50-percent split between confirmed or reversed on the decisions. So statistically, there hasn't been a significant change over those years.
Mr. Hardy: Over the years, I've had to deal with Workers' Compensation, and I represented and defended some people and gave them advice on how to deal with Workers' Compensation before the workers' advocate came along, and I got to know a lot of people who struggled with the WCB.
In regard to the draft strategic plan that's come forward, some of my constituents have come forward and have gone through it and are quite concerned. There's a feeling that they have and that is that the injured workers and employers are being treated on an equal footing now. Is that the direction that the WCB is going in and how it's going to be dealing with the injured workers?
Chair: I'd like to remind the members to address their questions to the Chair.
Mr. Hardy: Oh, sorry, Mr. Chair. I talk personally to people sometimes.
Mr. Chair, can it be construed that there's an equal footing now? There's a view that employers and injured workers - the view will be they're treated equally.
Mr. Wright: Mr. Chair, I may not have understood the question carefully, and I would encourage Mr. Hardy to interrupt me, if my answer seems to be off base.
Let me respond by saying that in the appeal process certainly employers and workers have some rights of appeal. Employers, for example, can appeal assessment rates. So the appeal process tries to be as fair and treat employers' appeals with the same degree of fairness as they treat workers' appeals.
I'm not sure, Mr. Chair, if that's the question that's been asked.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Chair, Mr. Cable had mentioned a little bit of the history of why we have workers' compensation. It was established to remove the rights of the workers to sue. So, in that regard, it's my view that WCB is in place - my personal view, Mr. Chair - to assist the injured workers. If you take away their right to sue, therefore WCB is in place to assist the injured workers. So, if WCB itself starts to adopt an attitude that that's not their role any more, everything's equal again, then maybe WCB has wandered away from the reason it was created and maybe the right to sue should also become part of an injured worker's ability when they're injured on a job site.
Could I have the president and the chair respond to that, please?
Mr. Wright: I'll just be brief. It's my understanding that workers' compensation was a compromise, and that workers gave up the right to sue for sort of guaranteed benefits, and what we, as a board, are charged to do is to administer that contract, which is, as I say, a compromise. It's a balance that has been struck between workers and employers. I think it would be inappropriate for us to be seen to take sides with either of those parties. To the best of our abilities, we're charged to administer that contract.
Mr. Armstrong: As Mr. Wright was just referring to, one of the principles that workers' compensation in Canada, and certainly in this jurisdiction, is founded on was the Meredith principles, of which this jurisdiction is aware of six. However, in looking at some other jurisdictions, it seems that they've found an additional two, which I'm not aware of.
Those six Meredith principles were, firstly, that the liability of employers for injuries in the workplace should be collective rather than individual, with employers paying into a central fund used to pay benefits for injured workers; secondly, the benefits payable to injured workers must be guaranteed in the legislation; thirdly, in return for guaranteed compensation, workers have no legal right to sue their employer or co-worker for workplace injuries; fourthly, the workers' compensation system is a no-fault system; fifthly, the system should be administered by a body independent of government, headed by a neutral chair, and comprised equally of representatives from labour and industry; and, lastly, the board must have judicial-like authority for making final decisions on claims for compensation.
Those, as I said, are commonly referred to as the Meredith principles.
When we, as an organization, went through our strategic planning process throughout 1998, we held very close we felt to the principles that Sir Roy Meredith spelled out at that time. The draft strategic plan that we've sent out to the stakeholders I don't believe, in our view, and certainly not in our intent, removes or steps away from any responsibilities, obligations or desired outcomes for injured workers, but represents an attempt by the organization to draw as many of the parties as possible into the equation for effective, efficient recovery from disabilities that injured workers may experience.
We recognize that, 10 years ago or 15 years ago, the approach that was taken on an injury or a disability was very different from the type of approach that is required now. Some 15 years ago, it would have been a very much a "Stay at home and wait out your two months and, hopefully, you'll be better at the end of that period of time and return to work." The desired outcome for compensation in all jurisdictions, I believe - but I think in this jurisdiction in particular - is to mitigate the effects of that disability. That requires the involvement of other people, including family support and the employer, and drawing and maintaining those important contacts so that we can treat, we can provide service to the whole person, rather than eight hours of that person - that time that they would have been at work.
So, we certainly had no intent of stepping away from obligations and responsibilities to workers, but we had every intent of drawing others into that equation for the mitigation of disability or the effects of disability on an injured worker.
Mr. Hardy: I do have another question after this one, but the more I hear, the more I keep getting pulled down this line. The constituents were very concerned about this, and I think they have a legitimate concern.
Now, you said roughly 50 percent, when you were answering Mr. Cable earlier on. It was stated that there was a 50-percent kind of a success rate, if you want to look at it that way - and yet the terminology - it gives me a headache - is guaranteed compensation, but only 50 percent actually get compensation, and yet you are also denied, as a worker, to sue. So, you are taking something away, and then the role as guaranteed compensation - I've heard it said, Mr. Chair, by the president and the chair - and "guaranteed benefits", as well, is another term. So, I guess maybe I'm finding this a little hard to believe.
So, maybe another question is, and I don't want to go down this one too much, but I'm kind of concerned how much a lawyer is used now. Maybe from 10 years ago, has there been an increase in the number of lawyers used to deal with injured-worker claims at whatever level? Could you just touch on that?
We're running out of time, and I know that the member across the way does have some more questions. I do have one more question after this.
Mr. Armstrong: Just to clarify the two percent, then, what I was talking about was if we take the number of claims - and that's not what's appealed; it's the decision that's appealed - that the board deals with, 98 percent, to use the reverse, do not receive an appeal. Two percent of the claims that we handle receive an appeal.
Of the two percent that are appealed, 50 percent of those are either reversed or confirmed. So, that was the clarification, as far as the two percent goes. If we look at it - and I won't go through the statistics again for everybody - and remember that it's not a claim that's appealed, it's a decision that's appealed - a decision of the adjudicator in the first instance, there are, on average, 50 decisions per claim. So, that's the clarification there.
I'll speak briefly on the role of legal counsel, and perhaps Mr. Wright may wish to comment on that, as well. The role of legal counsel, or the independent appeal panel counsel that sits at the appeal panel level - because I'll point out that that doesn't happen at the internal review level - are brought in. Their role is not to act as legal counsel for an appeal panel member but to provide guidance in the area of administrative law and to facilitate the bringing of evidence before that appeal panel. I'll just make that brief comment, Mr. Chair, and Mr. Wright may wish to speak.
Mr. Wright: We have instituted, on a trial basis, what we call independent appeal panel counsel, and their role is quite specific. That is to ensure that all of the relevant evidence is brought before the appeal panel members. Our experience - and I've sat with the assistance of these - is that the board members have certainly benefited from a more complete presentation of the evidence, and my sense is that that has served, as well, the workers who have brought their appeals before us.
Mr. Hardy: I guess with using the independent counsel a lot more, it also raises the cost of the operation of WCB, and the administration of WCB, and time spent; therefore, less money is available for the injured workers. That seems to be the rationale.
But I'm not going to go down that path right now. Are you familiar with experience rating? Could you - just very, very quickly, Mr. Chair - could I have the president explain what experience rating is, please?
Mr. Armstrong: I believe the context that we're using experience rating would be based on the claims experience of a particular employer, or it may be experience rating based on a particular industry group.
What's done is, you look at, historically, the number of claims, and the costs associated with those claims, that either a particular employer, or a particular industry group may have experienced over a given period of time.
Experience rating, then, is done on that historical analysis of the claim's experience, that the industry group or the employers had, and a rating is applied to that particular industry group, or the particular employer.
In this jurisdiction, we do it on the industry basis and not on a particular employee basis.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I was just wondering - following that with the experience rating, is that an area that you are interested in exploring, and possibly looking at and implementing in the Yukon?
Mr. Armstrong: Yes, in fact, we're quite interested in looking at experience rating, but also mindful of what the desires of our stakeholders may be.
As I was mentioning earlier, we had taken two proposals out to our stakeholders in this area - particularly, this is the classification structure in the Yukon.
One of those classification structures is a risk-based or experience-rated-based classification structure, wherein there would be 10 classification groups going from the lowest risk to the highest risk, based on industries in the Yukon. It would be possible, based on input from the stakeholders, to take that one step further.
We're proposing to the stakeholders that should they go that way that we would do that based on industry experience and we would go from 89 industries to 55 industries and slot those 55 industries into 10 experience-rated classification groups. However, it would be possible - potentially not every situation but in a number of situations - to be able to do that right down to the employer level.
What that would do would provide incentive then for an employer or an industry group to put in appropriate prevention activities within their organization. Any reduction in the claims experience or the rating experience would have the effect of lowering the assessment rate for the industry group if we maintained it at that level or for a particular employer if we were to go that far into the classification structure.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the Member for Riverside explored with the president and chair of the WCB some of the issues surrounding the policy CL-35, and it appears now that a number of individuals are being revisited under this section. It would appear that workers who have been on a claim for numerous years, some of them approaching 10 years, are having their claims re-evaluated. Then, based on that information, the board is reducing their benefits. Now, what is the rationale for these reviews being undertaken at this time, Mr. Chair?
Mr. Armstrong: Mr. Chair, I would have to go back and have a look within the organization to see whether, in fact, claims of 10 years' duration or shorter were being reviewed pursuant to policy CL-35. As a matter of practice, the policies that are established under the current legislation, such as CL-35, are generally applied to claims that come into effect during that same period of time. There are some exceptions to that, and the ability to provide exception to that is through section 90 of the legislation, which is commonly referred to as the transition clause.
Mr. Jenkins: Policy number CL-35 has been approved and in effect since 1993, and there appears to be quite a change in its implementation, as there has been in some other areas. Is there no statute of limitations, or does the board not consider it appropriate to have a statute of limitations to go back and review some of these older claims?
Mr. Armstrong: Mr. Chair, I'm not quite sure I have the question in a form that I am able to respond to. Could Mr. Jenkins rephrase it for me?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, just how far back are we going to go with some of the injured workers who have been on claim for one, two, five, seven, 10 years, if they've been receiving compensation for that time? Some of them have retired now. How far back is the board going to go and review these cases?
Mr. Armstrong: The fact that an injured worker has been on compensation for either a short period of time or a long period of time - but specifically, for a long period of time, and we'll deal hypothetically with the 10 years. The status of the benefits that entitlement is granted for can change through that period of time. It's not so much a question of a statute of limitations or the effective date of any particular policy, but it is more a reflection of the changing nature of that claim itself.
For example, as a worker - and we were talking earlier about section 23 of the legislation and the deeming and the assignment of wage loss to a worker - matures, it may well be that, through employment practices, they've increased their earnings, or there has been an increase in the disability. On an annual basis, the organization is compelled by the legislation to have a look at that situation and re-evaluate what is an appropriate level of wage loss for that particular individual. We don't have individuals who are on loss of earnings that are on claim for that length of time.
Typically, a worker would be on a form of loss of earnings - and there are two different issues here. But typically, a worker would be on a similar type of loss of earnings for probably up to two years, depending on their circumstances. Initially, it would simply be as a replacement of the earnings that they would have had, had they still be in the workplace. But if they're not able to return to that workplace, there's a hierarchy that's looked at in the rehabilitation of that worker. It may be that they go out for vocational rehabilitation, at which time there would be an allowance provided that would be very similar, and may provide for a few more benefits than a straightforward loss-of-earnings payment would.
Typically, after two, or possibly three years, they've plateaued, medically there's no further recovery, and vocationally they've reached a point where employability has been attained. Then we're on to the wage loss, and that's the longer term benefit that they receive. We are obliged by legislation to review that on an annual basis.
Mr. Jenkins: If I could, I would just go back to the administration side of WCB, Mr. Chair, and explore the contracting out of some of the services that WCB does. I refer to VocAid. They were recently up in the Yukon and travelled through the Yukon communities identifying employment opportunities. They met with employers and employees to see how they could match up injured workers with openings.
Mr. Chair, we have - I'm given to understand - three vocational rehabilitation people on staff in the office down here. Why do we need to go and hire an outside firm, and contract with them that type of service?
Mr. Armstrong: In fact, we do have very competent rehabilitation coordinators on staff, within the Compensation Board, who are tasked with - in conjunction with the injured worker, and in conjunction with other parties - setting up rehabilitation programming for those particular individuals, with an attempt to get them back to employability.
Recognizing what they're tasked with, and what some of the further requirements may be to accomplish that injured worker's ability to return to employability, there are times when the organization will look for further expertise to come in and assist with that particular type of an evaluation. It would be - I would suggest - inappropriate for the organization to look at hiring or bringing that kind of an individual on to the staff, who has those areas of expertise, to do those types of analysis for it. Nonetheless, we've recognized in other areas that a non-Yukon experience, that is, looking at what happens in a different jurisdiction, and what jobs are like in a different jurisdiction, doesn't always transfer easily into the Yukon context.
Every once in a while, I think it's important for the organization to bring in that expertise and look at what is the Yukon context here, what the jobs are actually like in Yukon communities, and bring that information back in a meaningful way to the organization. But it does require a particular skill set.
Mr. Jenkins: It would probably make a good argument for an outside management firm, Mr. Chair, but let's go on to explore one of the other areas that was contracted out this summer. It was an inspection and consulting contract to 16263 Yukon Incorporated, from Newburgh, Ontario. This gentleman was here and did a lot of field service work inspections throughout the Yukon Territory. Yet, we have people on staff.
Can the president or the chair explain why we are again going out and contracting with an individual from Ontario when we have people on staff who could perform these related duties? Is this part of the Yukon hire policy, Mr. Chair?
Mr. Armstrong: There were, in fact, two different individuals who were contracted with over the summer to come up and work with the Compensation Board, and in particular work within the area of occupational health and safety in inspections, training, prevention and enforcement.
The intention in bringing those individuals up was to capitalize on particular areas of expertise that we don't have in this jurisdiction, but we recognized a need to increase our skill and ability within. Specifically, the intention during that period of time was to look at particular types of mobile equipment, to look at logging trucks, to look at cranes and lifting equipment and also to look at hoist equipment. The two individuals who were brought in didn't share all of those areas of expertise, but between the two of them, carried off those areas of expertise and were able to offer their services to employers in the area of training around hoists, lifts and cranes, to also provide training and mentoring to the inspections officers that we have here in the Yukon to better enable them to go out and conduct those kinds of inspections. So, it was a short-term effort to increase awareness in the territory and to provide training and awareness to our staff.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given the fact that we've contracted out a number of these services, has the cost benefit analysis been conducted as to whether it would be more prudent to contract out these services totally and not conduct them in house because, right now, we're doing both in house and contracting them out and this is a cost to administration.
There could be another cost-saving area. The exercise here is to look after the injured workers, and boy, I've heard an awful number of excuses tonight as to why we can't do it, hiding behind a whole series of legislation, and I'm not very comfortable with the majority of the answers that I've received, Mr. Chair.
But has that area been explored - of contracting out a number of these areas, Mr. Chair?
Mr. Armstrong: As a matter of practice, what we have tried to do is bring in, enhance and maintain an area of expertise within the Yukon as it pertains to the administration of workers' compensation and, more importantly, as it pertains to the delivery of services in the territory. The organization has gone a long way to enhance the skills and abilities within to provide appropriate programming.
On the issue of contracting out, I think that the experience may be that one would have to be quite careful in what parameters were set around contracting out, and it may be a cost saving, but a cost saving to whom?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Seeing the time, I'd like to thank the president and the board chair, Mr. Wright, for coming before the Legislature, and the members of the House for asking questions. I'd like to thank the board employees, and the injured workers, labour, employers who put so much time into this system.
I'll be looking forward to working with them on the legislative act review. A number of interesting issues have been raised tonight that we have to explore in the context of that review, and I look forward to that.
So, once again, I thank you very much for coming, and I appreciate your responses.
Chair: I'd like to thank and excuse the witnesses.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole considered Bill No. 13, Third Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and directed me to report progress on it.
Further, John Wright, chair of the Workers' Compensation, Health and Safety Board, and Tony Armstrong, president of the board, appeared as witnesses before Committee of the Whole from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 2, passed yesterday, December 8, 1998.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Speaker: The time being past 9:30 p.m., this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.
The House adjourned at 9:32 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled December 9, 1998:
High risk alcohol use in the Yukon: a synthesis of research results (dated August 1998) by Florence Kellner, Carleton University (Sloan)