Wednesday, March 3, 1999 - 1:30 p.m.
Clerk: It is my duty, pursuant to section 24 of the Legislative Assembly Act, to inform the Legislative Assembly of the temporary absence of the Speaker, as he is attending a funeral. In his absence, the Deputy Speaker shall take the Chair.
Deputy Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with silent prayers. I would ask members to bow their heads in a moment of silent reflection.
Deputy Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Are there any introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motions?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Telemedicine pilot project in the communities
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I rise to inform the House of a significant development in our government's policy of fostering healthy communities in the Yukon.
This new development is changing the face of health service delivery in rural Yukon. It provides a new option for patients to be diagnosed and treated without having to leave their home communities. I refer to the telemedicine project that our government recently launched with pilot workstations in the communities of Teslin, Dawson City and Ross River.
Through this program, health care workers in these communities can capture static or video images and transmit them electronically to the Whitehorse General Hospital for clinical diagnosis by medical personnel at this end.
The focus at present is on dermatology, as well as physio and occupational therapy. With new products and techniques rapidly becoming available however, the repertoire of diagnostic possibilities could expand significantly in the future.
An example of the effectiveness of this service comes from the visiting dermatology specialist, who reports that the electronic images that he is receiving are textbook quality and much better than the Polaroid images he's been working with from the Yukon for the past 20 years.
Mr. Speaker, telemedicine offers tremendous potential for improving the quality of life for people in rural Yukon. It will make a wider range of diagnoses and treatment options available closer to home, with possible savings in both time and public cost. The current pilot project will be a learning experience for our community nurse practitioners, physicians, the hospital and the department. It will expand our knowledge and allow us to make sound decisions regarding future health care technology.
There is an extra spinoff benefit, as well. As members know, people in rural Yukon communities use the Internet more than people in other parts of Canada. This project has allowed us to expand the capacity for other Internet users - in Dawson City, for example.
This telemedicine project is being jointly funded by Health and Social Services, Government Services and Northwestel, with partial funding from the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education.
Mr. Speaker, this partnership reflects our government's commitment to work with people to improve services for Yukon people, and I am proud to bring it to the attention of this House.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I'm pleased to take this opportunity to respond to the minister's statement regarding the community telemedicine project, and I'm pleased to offer our support for this very important initiative.
Over recent years, telemedicine has grown into one of the most elaborate systems in North America, providing a technical network service for delivering medical services to people living in rural and remote areas. Available in other parts of the country, the system has proven to meet a need for an efficient, cost-effective communications system to augment health and educational services in Canada, and I am pleased to see the Yukon has jumped on board.
Given the geography and demographics of the Yukon, telemedicine presents an opportunity to provide improved access to medical services and improved quality of care to people throughout the territory. Through the use of cameras and other equipment, Yukoners living in Dawson, Teslin and Ross River are now able to have their medical information shipped electronically to the Whitehorse General Hospital for diagnosis.
Whereas the number of health care services may not be readily available in rural Yukon, telemedicine has the potential to be particular useful. The ability to be diagnosed and treated without having to travel hundreds of miles is a worthwhile initiative in itself. Not only does it offer a tremendous potential for improved access to medical care for rural Yukoners, but it has the potential to realize cost-savings by not having to send patients to Whitehorse for diagnosis.
While the Yukon Party caucus is pleased to offer our support to this project, there are a number of questions that I would like to ask the minister to respond to in rebuttal.
The cost to install the telemedicine project has been reported to be $590,000, and is funded through a joint agreement among the Government of the Yukon, Government of Canada and Northwestel.
I'd like to ask the minister to provide a breakdown of the funding provided by each of these parties, and if he could provide an estimate cost as to how much the O&M will be to run this system. Will the costs of operations be shared among the three parties, or will the Government of the Yukon be incurring the sole cost for O&M?
The Yukon community telemedicine project is a pilot project that is scheduled to run three months. That's a large concern for us in view of the dollars that have been spent to install the system. While we don't have any qualms with respect to this expenditure, we are somewhat concerned that the money could go by the wayside if a decision is made by the powers that be to maybe not continue with this service.
It's my understanding that a full evaluation will be undertaken in June. Does the minister have any idea when, in fact, a decision will be made as to whether the telemedicine project will be continued or go by the wayside?
While this project has only been underway for a month, a number of questions have been raised that remain outstanding, questions such as who is legally liable for the patient when advice is rendered, what happens with the data that is taken, who administers the information, and who owns it, and who stores this information? Have we taken a look at other jurisdictions in Canada to see what has worked and what hasn't, and will that be part of the evaluation?
Among these questions are also concerns regarding Yukon's telemedicine infrastructure and its ability to handle the increased band width required to operate telemedicine. Communities such as Teslin have adequate digital equipment to handle the system; communities such as Dawson, Old Crow and Ross River rely on outdated and antiquated analog equipment. Have upgrades to our infrastructure in this regard begun? What is the cost of these improvements, and who is responsible for these additional costs?
Again, Mr. Speaker, our caucus is pleased to offer our support to this initiative, and we look forward to hearing more details about this project and its future operation in Yukon.
Mrs. Edelman: I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to respond to this ministerial statement on the community telemedicine project. Our caucus is quite supportive of this new technological breakthrough for rural medicine in the Yukon. This program does have the potential to save money and unnecessary trips to and from our rural communities.
I do have a couple of questions for the minister about the program, and perhaps he can act out a few answers. Apparently, the images take some time to download and the receiving physician has to be sitting in front of a monitor in order to receive them. How will the physician be remunerated for this time spent, and what is the legal liability of the physician making the diagnosis based on these images?
The other point I would like to make today, for the record, is that technology can never totally replace in-person, medical care. Information put into a computer has to be digitized. Much of the information that a physician or health professional gathers cannot be distilled down to the numbers or checkmarks on a page. For example, Whitehorse General Hospital will very shortly become the first chartless hospital in western Canada. So, when a physician or nurse enters information into the computer about the patient, that information will have to be in the format of the chart forms already programmed into the computer - the little bits and pieces of human information will be lost, like the other sibling reacting poorly to the new baby, or that the patient is low because they didn't get a visit from their family. That information will be lost.
So, sure, our caucus supports the use of emerging technology. We want the standard of health care for all Yukoners to be very high indeed, but we don't want the minister to forget to guard the most sensitive aspect of health care - that personal connection between the patient and the healer.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that's how I'll take it. I should remind him that six times 10 is still only 60 and that must be the collective intelligence quotient of the members opposite.
Just with regard to some of the comments that were brought up here, I would like to address a few of the points in perhaps a more serious vein. We are at an early stage on this and we have been able to install it, as we said, in three of the rural communities. We are looking at the opportunity to expand it. We're also going to be assessing it.
We began with dermatology because of the ability to use digital cameras for still and video images, but when I was over at the hospital we use it as well for physio services, which I thought was quite interesting. They had the ability to actually take a patient - I believe it was in Dawson - through a series of exercises designed for physiotherapy and then have the physiotherapist there monitoring them, giving advice and so on - being able to examine the range of motion. I thought it was an interesting and a particularly exciting sort of project.
This project does use both still and moving images. We have a store-and-forward technology, which allows us to collect it and send it by e-mail to our health professionals.
We've also expanded to some other areas, some other allied professions. We're not planning on doing away with the people aspect of medicine, not at all, but what it does allow is perhaps a person who has a burn or something like that who needs to be monitored, and perhaps one of our nurse practitioners in the community wants some advice on the treatment, she can send the image forward to the hospital, and this will be perhaps for some advice and consultation - our nurse practitioners are becoming more familiar with the application - by e-mailing a motion clip and still picture to the Whitehorse General Hospital on a weekly basis.
We have requested a three-month extension of the pilot project to CNARIE, which is the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education.
This request is based on the delay to the pilot telemedicine project in Ross River, and orientation of the Ross River staff is expected to begin in early March.
The funding, as the member has indicated, consists of $150,000 from the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education, $153,000 from Northwestel, $80,000 from Government Services, and $85,000 from Health and Social Services. There has also been in-kind funding provided by both YTG and Northwestel.
The member has asked some questions on terms of legal liability. I'll get back to him in the form of a return or a letter. What the experience has been in other jurisdictions is - we have built on some previous experience from other jurisdictions and, as I said, we're relatively new at this.
With regard to future funding, I think one of the positive senses that we've had from the federal budget has been that there has been a good commitment, or there appears to be a good commitment, in the realm of information technology, and this is one aspect we're quite excited about - perhaps accessing some of those funds to be able to expand out telemedicine.
I guess if I'm looking down the road, I would see not only using a digital camera for such things as still images and moving images, but I would also hope to be able to see such things as perhaps ultrasound, things of that nature, being done, and perhaps the transmission of medical images. That would be the ultimate goal, as well as, of course, the main goal that I would have, which would be to see it expand out to all Yukon communities.
So, we're quite excited about this. We think it's a very positive step and we look forward to the expansion of this program into other realms.
The member has raised some issues on, for example, such things as bandwidth, and digital versus analogue technology. Shifting gears a little bit, we have made representation to the CRTC in our -
Deputy Speaker: Order please. The member has 10 seconds.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Teacher shortage
Mr. Phillips: Hark, Mr. Speaker, let the performance begin. What hemp and homespuns have we swaggering here, so near the cradle of the Yukon queen? I'll be a minister of the Yukon government or an actor, if I see cause. Is it ministers of the Crown that I see before me, or is it the charlatans of the acting profession? I have a question for the acting Minister of Education. How's that for an Oscar preamble? I hope I meet the acting critic's approval.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: How ridiculous, Mr. Speaker. In many jurisdictions in Canada and indeed in the western world, there is an acute teacher shortage. For example, in Ontario alone, by the year 2004, there will be 40,000 teacher retirements and, within the next six to seven years in Newfoundland, there will be more teachers who retire than are active, and I would suspect that the Yukon will be similar.
This shortage is being caused in part by the baby-boom generation reaching retirement age, while at the same time fewer and fewer students are being attracted to the teaching profession. The Yukon is certainly not immune to this trend.
Can the minister advise the House what she is doing to keep our existing teachers here, and what she's doing to attract new teachers in this now highly competitive marketplace, as well as advise how many new teachers the department is planning to recruit for this next year?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of things that are attractive about living and working in the Yukon, not just the opportunity to be present in this House, but for teachers, there is the opportunity to teach in a jurisdiction where we have the highest paid teachers and the lowest pupil/teacher ratio of anywhere in the country.
There are always resignations, and there is, overall, a change in demographics, not just with fewer teachers, but with fewer pupils. There are a number of things that we're doing to ensure that teachers will be available. I don't have the exact number of vacancies that we anticipate at the end of this school year, but I can tell the member that we do have a professional development fund, we have a Yukon native teacher education program, and we have a very attractive package to offer for teachers here in the Yukon.
Mr. Phillips: Forsooth, I expected more, in view of acting lessons for the minister, Mr. Speaker. The minister has failed her acting class again. May I suggest that she and her colleagues take answering lessons, rather than acting lessons.
There is a crisis out there in the teaching community at the present time, and it's forecast to get worse. The programs the minister just laid out in the House are programs that have been going on for years.
I want to know from the minister, what is the minister doing new in trying to attract teachers to the territory? It isn't just our low student/teacher ratio that does it; it isn't just the wages that do it. Other jurisdictions are going out and making extra efforts to attract teachers, because they know there's going to be a shortage, and there's lots of concerns out there, Mr. Speaker, that there's going to be such a shortage that less-than-qualified people are going to end up in our classrooms.
I don't want that to happen in the Yukon. The minister seems to think there isn't a problem, and I'd like to ask the minister what she is doing, over and above what they've done in the past, to ensure that we don't fall victim to the teacher shortage that is looming?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I don't think that the member is listening. He's busy trying to create a crisis again, and it's not serving anyone's interest. I find the member to be full of sound and fury, signifying nothing on many occasions.
Let me assure the member that the Yukon is competitive when it comes to attracting teachers to work in the Yukon. We have a number of good resources that we provide to applicants, and we do receive applicants for vacant positions. We have a web page that we use to post vacancies on, as well as conducting recruitment within the Yukon.
Mr. Phillips: Well, it appears that the minister's struggling with her acting lessons a little bit.
Maybe if the minister would put on some camera-type makeup, look more directly into the camera and smile, take that kind of advice, it might bode her well in the future, Mr. Speaker - and maybe not at the taxpayers' expense. If she did it herself, it would be nice, as well.
I'd like to ask the minister why the minister's department has been advertising outside of the Yukon in national newspapers for teachers, and it hasn't started advertising locally for teachers yet. What about the local hire? Why is the department doing that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has his facts wrong. This is not something new for the member opposite. I can tell the member that the advertisements have appeared both in local media and in outside media for teacher vacancies.
Mr. Speaker, the member starts out by saying, "What are we doing to ensure that we're competitive, and how are we making sure that we can attract teachers to the Yukon?" We are doing recruitment, both within the Yukon and outside the Yukon.
Question re: Acting lessons
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, Yukoners are suffering under 15 percent unemployment. We have an NDP government that's deep-sixed the economy - we have hundreds of Yukoners leaving the Yukon - and instead of this NDP government spending money to put Yukoners to work, they're paying for acting lessons for their ministers - asking the taxpayers of the Yukon to pay for acting lessons for their ministers.
My question to the Government Leader: does he feel this is an appropriate use of government funds?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, firstly, based on what I've heard this afternoon from the member and his colleague, we don't have to act to sound mean and nasty, as the members opposite have clearly done already.
We are clearly trying to communicate better to people; we are looking for ways to speak to people - not only through the television camera, but through the media, directly on the doorstep, in coffee shops around the territory. We have been out around the territory - ministers and MLAs - and speaking to people in coffee shops and on doorsteps around. That's something that the opposition has also objected to.
We want to communicate well with the public. We are communicating well. We're also an activist government; we've got a lot to communicate. We have one of the most active governments in attempting to kick-start the economy in the history of the Yukon.
All of the initiatives that we have taken, Mr. Speaker, with the full support of the business community - and labour and others in this territory - have been rejected by the opposition members in this Legislature. They have objected and been completely negative about it. But we are still working hard, and will continue to work hard, to communicate effectively with everyone in this territory. That's our job, and we're going to do it.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, we certainly have an activist government when it comes to the economy - they've really put the boots to it. That's what they've done. And we've got a Government Leader who won't get up and answer the question. I ask the Government Leader: does he believe that this is an appropriate use of taxpayers' money? This is the same Government Leader who condones the personal use of an automobile for his ministers, and now he thinks the taxpayers should be paying for their acting lessons. Does he believe this is an appropriate use of taxpayers' money?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I ask the member opposite: is establishing trade and investment funds, new tourism marketing funding - is this putting the boots to the economy? Is securing the oil and gas transfer to the Yukon and trying to expand the oil and gas industry trying to put the boots to the economy? We did some ground-breaking work, in terms of getting air charters from Europe to the Yukon. Is that putting the boots to the economy?
Far from putting the boots to the economy, Mr. Speaker, we are communicating more effectively - not only communicating what we're doing, but listening better than the Yukon Party ever did. And we've been going around the territory - even using government cars - and talking to people in community halls - lots of meetings - listening to them, hearing them, taking their advice, putting submissions in this budget that will improve the lives of the people of this territory, and what have we heard from the opposition, from the Yukon Party? We've heard nothing but negativity - mind-numbing negativity at every turn.
Mr. Speaker, what we are doing is communicating better. Not only are we communicating better, but we are working harder than ever, ever before.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, my colleague was right. They should take lessons in how to answer questions because, once again, the Government Leader has avoided answering the question. This is an abuse of taxpayers' dollars - a real abuse, and this Government Leader thinks nothing of it. What did they do for the economy? They took over an economy that was booming - the largest workforce in the history of the Yukon - with seven and a half percent unemployment. Now, he has his Economic Development minister hand him figures from 1997, as if that's the fact today, in the year 1999.
That's what they've done to the economy and they can't even make up the ground they've lost.
I want to ask this Government Leader to restore that government money and make those ministers, those $67,000-a-year ministers, pay for their own acting lessons. Yukoners want to see what they elected, not some actor on the front bench.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, speak about a poor performance. May I borrow some of those marking cards that the members have used, the cards used in this lame attempt at critiquing the government side?
Mr. Speaker, the Government of Yukon is working with the community to improve the economy. We have had endless meetings, productive, constructive meetings with the business community and the ideas that the members are so fond of critiquing are the same ideas that are coming out of the community, not just the business community, but communities around this territory. These ideas are found in this budget and are the community of Yukon's valiant attempt to lift itself from the economic fortunes in which it has found itself, thanks to the drop in metal prices.
Mr. Speaker, the members opposite, in the Yukon Party particularly, who had done virtually nothing new to diversify the economy at all when they were in office - nothing - can only come forward now when people are working so hard in this territory. They dismiss their efforts and suggest we just spend more money. That's the only prescription coming from the Yukon Party benches: spend more money, just spend more money. Spend more of the savings account. Don't think about tomorrow; think about just today.
People around the territory are saying, "Do no such thing. Hold the course. Pay no attention to the Yukon Party; they don't know what they're talking about."
Question re: Acting lessons
Mr. Cable: I also have some questions for the Government Leader on his caucus' acting lessons.
The NDP caucus retained a theatre director to give the caucus lessons on how to perform for television during Question Period, presumably.
I gather the caucus paid for these acting lessons out of the caucus budget, so indirectly the taxpayers paid for these lessons. Could the Government Leader tell us how much the taxpayers paid for these acting lessons?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I believe the total from the caucus budget is around $600.
Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I did not get any suggestions on how to improve my performance, because I take it that, for me, there's no hope. I've just been here too long and I can't change my style; I can't do a thing about my hair; I am slightly overweight - I'm working on that - but, Mr. Speaker, I come into the age of television ill prepared. But I am doing my best in my later years, as a politician in the Legislature, and I will try to communicate as well as I can. Others will try to improve their performance so they can communicate better with the public, and I wish them all well.
Mr. Cable: This is a contract with the caucus, but I wonder if the Government Leader would let us in on a little secret. I assume that some advice was given on how to answer questions - or, probably, how to avoid answering questions. Was this part of the services rendered by the theatre director?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Answering questions has never been the problem because, Mr. Speaker, the information provided is so extensive - there's such an array of things that the government is doing. If members ask me about the economy, I have lists and lists of activities going on in the territory right now, sponsored by the government, in partnership with the people of the territory. There's so much to deliver in such a short time, it is a challenge for us to communicate so much action in such a short period of time.
But what we often commiserate about is the ill-directed nature of the questions, the fact that the questions are fuzzy or they don't really target in on any specific issues, whether they're too clever by half, or they're far too craftily constructed, so that you really don't understand anything - they could be saying anything to anybody.
So, we ought to get together - opposition and government - sometime to perhaps improve performance for the people who listen to the legislative debates, but, Mr. Speaker, I have no problem whatsoever communicating the government's activities, because there's so much that's being done and there's so much that we are doing at the present time.
Mr. Cable: The Government Leader may not have recognized it, but he did answer the question on whether they got advice on how not to answer questions.
My final supplementary is for the Minister of Government Services.
This minister has a habit, Mr. Speaker, of using highfalutin references to old literature that we cultural grunts on this side of the House don't always understand. He's talked about Polonius; last week it was Virgil's Aenid; and yesterday it was a reference to Ozymandias-like structures of the Member for Riverdale North, who we thought might have some health problem.
Now that the minister is an accredited thespian, could we get his commitment not to talk down to us on this side of the House and to the people who are watching television?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I will attempt to keep this short, but I hope that when I use references like that I'm not being insulting or condescending. It's just that sometimes, being familiar with theatre because of my family's background, it tends to slip in.
Question re: Pensions of government employees
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
Now that he's had time to reflect on and review Hansard, I'd like to revisit the issue of patriation of the Yukon's pensions, and I'd like to keep this question, in response to the Government Leader's earlier comment, as straightforward as I possibly can.
Can the minister advise me today if he has received support in writing from the professional associations, the Yukon Teachers Association, and the Yukon Employees Union to proceed with discussions surrounding patriation of Yukon's pensions?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have a letter of support from December 20, 1991, from the former president, Mr. Taylor, to the Public Service Commission. I have a jointly signed off statement by Mr. Hobbis and Mr. Huff, the subsequent president of the YTA, that states that work on patriation is now in the very early stages and explaining the process. This is also signed off by the Public Service Commissioner.
So, I guess the short answer is that there is some support in writing from the YTA.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank the minister for that answer. There is a real political urgency to this issue. The pension reform changes at the federal level are scheduled in the House of Commons this month, I'm told. And the minister said yesterday in a news report that he wrote to the federal president of the Treasury Board. I'd like to get a copy of that letter.
The difficulty is that the Yukon right now isn't even on the radar screen, federally, on this issue, and another piece of paper to the federal Treasury Board president isn't going to get attention. That's my concern.
The minister has said he has support of the individuals involved. What's the minister's next course of action with respect to this issue?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I would have to agree with the member opposite that it is frustrating the way we are often treated by the federal government in Ottawa - ignoring our pleas for action on particular issues, particularly when they are issues facing our employees and the Yukon taxpayers of some $10 million.
I can only imagine what the collective bargaining environment would be like if we would have to make up some kind of a contribution of $10 million because the federal government has decided to change the way that they are calculating our pension valuations and the employer contributions here in the territory. That's why I wrote Mr. MassÚ. I've copied, in the communication, the YEU as well as the YTA. As well, Mr. Speaker, we have also had discussions at the officials level with the employee organizations that I just mentioned. There is a lot of work to do to try to convince the federal government to not undertake this particular initiative.
I'm sure the Minister of Finance will also be raising this when he next gets an opportunity with the Minister of Finance or the Prime Minister as well.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the clock is ticking on this issue, and it seems to me, from my reading and research on this issue, that there are three options open to the government and the workers working with them. The options are to take the terms of the patriation being offered by the federal government as of late December, continue to be part of the plan after pension reform takes place - and the minister has already talked about some of the implications of the changes and some of the unpopular options - or try to get more favourable terms for the Yukon to get out of the federal plan after pension reform. It seems to me that those are the three options.
Would the minister either outline what he sees as the options open to the Government of the Yukon, or indicate what action we're taking next on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I don't think that the federal government has to do this to the Yukon government employees or the YTA or the teachers. There's a giant surplus in the pension plan. It's going to make it extremely difficult. It could lead to cuts in services and health care and education. They cut $20 million out of the formula annually - the federal Liberal government. They finally, after taking $8 billion out of the health care system, put $2 billion back, of which we have $2 million, and then they turn around and are looking at taking another $10 million out of the system in the Yukon.
So I can't control what the federal government is going to do. What I can do is work with the employees of the government - which I have been doing - to try to convince the federal government that this is an incorrect course of action.
Now, the federal government can listen to that or they can ignore it. My hope is that they will listen to our pleas, jointly, and that they will entertain a change in their course of action.
The member opposite wants to know what my next course of action is, Mr. Speaker. I would argue that we will do whatever we can do to convince the federal government not to entertain this, what I would believe is a financially draconian action, that would affect everything we do as Yukoners.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Act review, Injured Workers Alliance funding
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the minister responsible for the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
On Monday this week I asked the minister if he would fund the Injured Workers Alliance, to enable them to present their own brief, in relation to the Workers' Compensation Act review.
The minister responded by saying that there are 16 different parties in the advisory group, and it would be too expensive a proposition to fund all these groups.
Would the minister not agree that the two major stakeholders in the Workers' Compensation Act review are the injured workers - the workers themselves - and the employers?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I said that there was a deferral, pending some discussion with the Workers' Compensation Board, about the policy implications of funding one particular organization to participate in what will be a fairly comprehensive review of the act.
I think it's important to remember that while the Injured Workers Alliance is an organization that speaks for some injured workers, there are also the other labour organizations and non-union labour workers out there, who are not represented under the umbrella of the Injured Workers Alliance, who we do not intend to cut out of, or not allow to participate in, this review.
While I would agree that workers and employers are the owners of the system, it's much broader than just limiting it to the Injured Workers Alliance, in terms of considering what the cost impact would be to the taxpayer or to the employers who contribute to the workers' compensation system.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given the minister's answer, can the minister explain why he is so reluctant to fund the Injured Workers Alliance, while he has funded the Yukon Federation of Labour at $36,000 per year for three years? Part of the Yukon Federation of Labour funding - and I quote from their 1997 funding proposal - "is being used to prepare for the round of discussions on possible changes to the Yukon Workers' Compensation Act". Why is the minister prepared to fund unionized workers to participate in this review, but he isn't prepared to fund the Injured Workers Alliance, which is predominantly non-union? Why the disparity, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Government of Yukon provides funding to organizations like the Tourism Industry Association, the Chamber of Mines, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Chamber of Commerce - big organizations that provide input to government on a whole range of issues. The Yukon Federation of Labour clearly falls within that category. They represent some thousands of workers in this territory through their affiliations. They provide input on employment standards, on local hire, on developing labour-sponsored venture capital corporation funds - a very, very broad range of services.
Now, there will be some discussion with the board that is funding this review because it's a Workers' Compensation Board matter about what funding there will be for participation. The case isn't closed, but I would argue that there are serious implications for employers and for people to consider around this particular issue.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, could I perhaps offer the minister an explanation? That is that the Yukon Federation of Labour contributes heavily to the NDP during election campaigns. So, in effect, this NDP government is just giving back money to the Yukon Federation of Labour. Is that the reason why unionized workers receive better treatment from this government than non-unionized, injured workers? Would the minister explain this double standard that he's created for Yukon workers?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There is no double standard. The Government of Yukon has provided significant support to the Injured Workers Alliance. As a matter of fact, it was largely on their recommendation that this government hired the workers' advocate to help work with injured workers and to deal with their issues to give them good access to the system.
The member's premise is faulty, because he says that, somehow, there's some support from the YFL and, thus, they are funded. Is he saying that the reason we give funding to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Industry Association, the Chamber of Mines, is because they're also affiliated somehow with this government politically? I would argue that his logic is faulty, that there is no basis to his allegations, and I would also argue that the Yukon Federation of Labour provides a whole range of input to government on important policy matters. We feel it is very important to have labour's input. They represent thousands of workers from affiliated locals across this territory.
Question re: Range Road mobile home park development
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation. The Housing Corporation has spent $1.9 million on a mobile home park that no one wants to live in. It's that big patch of land on Range Road that looks like it's been used for military target practice.
I wrote to the minister last fall and asked him to tell me how many applications the government had received and how many lots were sold. He didn't answer the question, saying that we think people are waiting until closer to spring to put in their applications.
It's wishful thinking, Mr. Speaker.
Can the minister tell Yukoners how many lots have been sold in this $2-million trailer park?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The member would like to downplay this whole issue. We're trying to provide a more healthy lifestyle for those who are living in poor conditions in trailers, and this is what we're trying to work toward. We've been held back on construction by weather, and we would like to continue to finish off this project and have these lots available.
I can provide to the members, in writing, the number of those who have been interested in the program and who are working with the Housing Corporation to try to see how they can acquire a piece of land, and how they can get their trailers upgraded and moved to this area.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, we have another $1.5 million in this year's budget for the trailer park that no one wants to live in, and one of the reasons that no one wants to live there is because the NDP promoted this as an affordable mobile home park. They seem to have forgotten the affordable part, Mr. Speaker. Can the minister explain how a $32,000 lot is supposed to be affordable for people with low incomes?
Now, that $32,000 is just the beginning of the cost. There is upgrading the mobile home, there's moving costs, there are the condo fees, the mortgage fees, the hookup costs for water and sewer, insurance and future infrastructure costs that all have to be paid. How can the minister call these lots affordable?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, the members opposite are calling this a project that has been pushed by us. We have taken concerns from people living in mobile home parks and they have asked us how can they have their units improved. We have responded by developing this park. We've responded by putting programs in place that can help them upgrade their units and, Mr. Speaker, we will continue and finish this construction and have it ready for people to look at to see where they could be moving to and to have the programs available for them, and see how they can fit into the whole situation where they are paying less than they would renting a pad and paying their mortgage.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, there is nothing wrong with the concept. The problem is that it's very expensive and nobody wants to live there.
Now, this project is a great example of NDP economics. There is another $1.5 million in this year's budget to finish the work on this park that no one wants to live in. Does the minister have any idea what the final cost of this project will be?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, if we did not act on the wishes of the people in mobile home parks, I wonder what the questions would be from the members opposite as to what we should be doing. Maybe they would suggest that we do work on programs and work on putting a mobile home park together for people to move into.
Mr. Speaker, the whole idea is to try to get people into better units and living in a more healthy lifestyle, and the budget that we did put forward has not grown any. It's the same as it always was and we don't anticipate it to be above what we said it would be.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed and we will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Clerk: Motion No. 153, standing in the name of Ms. Duncan.
Motion No. 153
Speaker: It is moved by the leader of the third party
THAT it is the opinion of this House that, since its election to government, the NDP government has not lived up to its commitments made to Yukon people before and during the last election.
Ms. Duncan: Today we are discussing the fact that the NDP has not lived up to the promises made to Yukon voters in the last election.
We should start with what the NDP did promise voters. Most, but not all, of those promises are in A Better Way, the orange document that members opposite love to wave at us.
Although we could start with the ill-fated, negative campaign that the NDP started the election campaign with, "You be the Judge." Remember that one? That should have been the first clue to Yukoners that this government was not going to follow through on commitments to Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, the NDP made a lot of promises to Yukoners before the last election. They made even more during the last campaign. There was the famous A Better Way document and numerous promises made at various meetings and forums during the 30-day campaign.
A Better Way should have been called "The End Justifies the Means", because that's how this government has operated.
Over the last two and a half years, the NDP government has simply not lived up to the commitments they made during those 30 days, and we will go through those broken promises today.
I'd like to begin today not on page 1 of A Better Way, but on page 23, the section entitled, "Greater Accountability." It says, "Piers McDonald and the New Democrats believe the growing cynicism with government can be reversed if the government is more accountable for its actions. Without this accountability, there can only be a further erosion of trust in government." This is so true. I only wish that the NDP, Mr. Speaker, had followed their own advice.
Let's look at some examples of this accountability. Remember the contract registry - the fall of 1997? The NDP government refused to provide it to the Legislature - refused steadfastly, in this House and outside it. They even made a mockery of it. The minister has gone out of his way since then to try to make up for this blunder. Why didn't he just do it in the first place? Why - well, we know now today why the theatrics. Why then? Why did it take public pressure to have this government live up to what they had spelled out as a commitment to Yukoners?
The review of group homes - we pursued the Access to Information Act from July 1998 to almost Christmas of 1998, trying to get draft copies of the review. It wasn't until the access to information commissioner ruled that the report should be released that the government finally relented. They hid behind a wall of excuses and phony arguments that in the end held no water - just six months of stonewalling from a government that promised Yukoners and committed to Yukoners greater accountability.
My colleague for Riverside has letters that are almost two years old that have never been responded to and never will be responded to by the no-longer-in-existence energy commission.
We asked for numbers on the cost of the community tour and the number of people who attended the public meetings. Pretty straightforward, simple information from a so-called "accountable" government. We know the cost was high, and the participation was low, and as a result - guess what? No answers. Open and accountable government.
Tourism. Where do we begin? Money spent on marketing - on Air Transat. Questions were asked in this Legislature, in general debate, for months. Questions asked last December - I finally got an answer, two days ago. And it's still incomplete.
Basically, the minister's response is, "None of your business. We're just doing what's good for the territory, and who are you to ask questions?" Well, that's our job. It's our task to ensure the government lives up to the promises they've made to Yukoners.
We filed access-to-information requests to get the standing offer agreement for the Yukon government's agency of record; access-to-information requests to find out what taxpayers' money was spent on the abattoir; access-to-information - the Barr Ryder report on health and safety at the Correctional Centre. The Future Ground consultant's report on the Whitehorse Correctional Centre - it was asked for repeatedly in the House - repeatedly - by the Liberal critic for Justice.
The list goes on and on and on, the longer this government stays in office. The myth about being open and accountable has been laid to rest.
Also on page 23, we have this quote: "Yukon people today are looking for more openness and greater accountability from government at both the political and bureaucratic levels. They want to put the conscience back in Yukon government." Put the conscience back in the Yukon government?
Well, the Liberals fully understand - as do all Yukoners - the issues surrounding the late teacher, Flo Kitz.
This government, the one that promised to put the conscience back in government, has denied the family of this woman $24,000 because of a technical oversight. This is the same government that stands up, day after day, and defends their actions, saying we had a contract. This government has also written letters saying, "Well, we could amend this part of the contract", but they won't answer the letter asking them to deal with this issue. They won't even answer it, preferring to dig in their stubborn heels, unwilling to admit they made a mistake.
Members of their own party are publicly saying that they're not living up to the philosophies of that party, let alone the promises to Yukoners.
They talked and talked and talked in those 30 days, just as they talk and talk in this House, about restoring the partnerships in education. Well, how well have they followed up on this one?
The Department of Education action plan that was developed on February 24 and 25, 1998 - how did the NDP restore the partnership in education? This report asked departmental staff to offer a current reality assessment, to really listen to what they had to say, and people responded honestly and frankly. This was done 18 months after the NDP had started supposedly restoring the partnerships in education.
Page 11, current reality assessment, under the heading "Collaboration"; first comment: it's not there.
Let's move on to problems with condescending manner, a lack of gender equity. What about communication? This is how staff feel they're being treated by their NDP masters.
"We don't know how decisions are being made, and we aren't always included in decision making when it affects us. We don't have communication about the direction and where we fit in." Those aren't my words, Mr. Speaker. Those are the words of the people who work in that department, 18 months after the NDP supposedly were going to restore the partnerships in education.
"We just don't know what decisions are being made." That relates to hidden agenda perceptions. A hidden agenda with the NDP in power - now, who could imagine?
Responsible leadership and direction - this is where the minister comes in. This is where the accountability - restoring Yukoners' faith in politicians who are supposed to keep their promises - this is where the minister comes in, to provide leadership, direction and restore the partnerships in education, just like she and her colleagues promised.
How much was accomplished by February 25, 1998? Well, let's look. Leadership - "doesn't have knowledge in all areas. There's a deficit in management skills. There's uncertainty in the direction of the department. The department lacks leadership. The "old boy network" exists."
It's so fascinating that they should USE that quote, when the members opposite used it continually when they were on this side of the House.
"Blatant disrespect, lack of support and trust, public humiliation" - Mr. Speaker, ex-employees are relieved when they leave the department. There's a hidden agenda for change.
Those are the comments from people who worked in the department. I raised this issue publicly when the report came out. What was the open and accountable NDP government's first response? The member's got her facts wrong - the same, old response. I didn't write the report.
They said it was a draft, and went so far as to accuse me of whiting out the "draft" on the copy I'd received. They resorted to personal attacks, their favourite method of defence when something goes wrong. When they don't answer a question, the member has her facts wrong, the member is at fault for asking it - standard defence.
Mr. Speaker, the NDP did everything except deal with the contents of the report. This was a cry for help. This was people responding to the promise, the commitment, that they would restore the partnership. That's what this was - it was an honest response.
There was nothing from the government - just shoot the messenger. The contents of that report and the minister's response tell Yukoners we still have a long, long, long way to go to restore the partnership in education and it also tells us that the NDP did not live up to that promise to Yukoners.
I'd like to move on to pages of A Better Way that I'm sure ministers would like to forget, particularly now.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Well, I hope they have read it.
The economy pages - remember those? Let's go to page 7: "Jobs and the Economy...making our economy work better to meet the needs of all Yukon people", and this particularly famous quote, Mr. Speaker, from page 8, "New Democrats believe unemployment in the Yukon is simply too high." Well, my goodness, look at the unemployment rate today.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: It's interesting that the Member for Watson Lake would be kibitzing from across the benches about the federal Liberals.
There was a fascinating letter to the editor published in the Globe and Mail. The headline was: "How the NDP Collapses an Economy in 12 Easy Steps". It's interesting that this letter writer referred to other NDP governments; however, point 1 applies. "In a time of slow economic activity, the NDP will blame the federal Liberals and low mineral prices." - surprise, surprise, surprise.
Sometimes, you know, Mr. Speaker, I feel sorry for the NDP, particularly for the Minister of Economic Development. He's out there peddling as hard as he can in the oil patch, peddling his conservative roots, trying to sell the Yukon. The response? "Well, you're an NDP government. We'll wait till you're gone. Thanks, but no thanks."
And sometimes I feel sorry for the NDP being painted with the same brush as their counterparts in British Columbia. And then I think about it for a few seconds, and I don't feel sorry for them any more. They are the same. They're both good at doing in vibrant economies.
And, you know, Mr. Speaker, you think long and hard as to how to phrase this in the most statesmanlike manner and you think about how to put it forward as constructive, and then I think about thousands of Yukoners who have left this territory looking for work - the 2,000 Yukoners who are now Albertans, Manitobans, living elsewhere. They are Yukoners who spent a lifetime in this area, building hopes and dreams, raising children, and now they're leaving. They made the tough choice to leave because of what the NDP have done to our economy and our investment climate.
As my colleague noted the other day, in good times the NDP believes business is the enemy. In bad times, they're falling all over themselves trying to please them.
Mr. Speaker, the high vacancy rates and high unemployment rates prove beyond a doubt that the NDP has failed to make the economy work better for all Yukoners. The Government Leader suggests that, when I bring the budget to human terms and talk about the unemployed and the seniors who have phoned me, I've dreamt these people up from somewhere.
They're real Yukoners who don't have hope, who are worried sick about their future, who are worried about their children.
Well, Mr. Speaker, page 23 is obviously one of my favourites. It also talks about participation for people. It says: 'Yukon people have a right to not only be consulted, but involved in things that affect them, from the beginning of the process until the end. What we are proposing is a fundamental change in the way government conducts public business." That is on page 23 of A Better Way. This is their commitment. Well, let's look at some -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Deputy Speaker: Mr. Fentie, on a point of order.
Mr. Fentie: We have no quorum, Mr. Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(2), if, at any time during the sitting of the Assembly, the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring for four minutes and then do a count.
Deputy Speaker: Order please.
I have shut off the bells and will do a count.
There are 10 members present. A quorum is present. We will now continue debate.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that.
Before we broke to have all members observe the rules and decorum of the House, I was referring to a promise from page 23 of A Better Way. The promise said, and I quote, "Yukon people have a right to not only be consulted, but involved in things that affect them, from the beginning of the process until the end. What we are proposing is a fundamental change in the way government conducts public business."
Now, I'd like to look at some examples, and just put the promise to the test. Let's talk about the NDP government's version of consultation, which generally seems to be, "Hold public meetings until you agree with us, then we'll carry forward."
Consultation. The Minister of Education makes a unilateral decision to cancel noon-hour school busing of kindergarten students. She tries to save $100,000 on the backs of five-year olds. Only after a great deal of public outcry, and some embarrassing questions in this Legislature, does the minister relent and consult with her partners in education. Why, when this government promised Yukoners that they would be involved, why were they the last ones asked? And it was no surprise to anyone, when the minister finally bothered to ask the parents and the school councils, that they don't think it's such a good idea to cancel noon-hour busing for kindergarten students. Why didn't the minister do that in the first place?
Why did it take questions in the House? Why did it take endless school council meetings, when the school councils could be spending a whole lot of time doing what they want to do, which is talk about education? Instead, they spent endless hours on this issue, and it was totally unnecessary. If the minister had just taken the time before she made the unilateral decision and asked, the minister would have learned that it was not something school councils or parents supported.
The Grey Mountain Primary School - you know, it's an interesting thing about Grey Mountain Primary School, Mr. Speaker. It's everybody's commitment in opposition, but get to government and it's, "What school? Oops, I've forgotten."
The NDP announced at a meeting of school councils that they are conducting a Riverdale school consolidation project. Is it anybody's surprise that the project ends with the closure of Grey Mountain School? Is anybody surprised that the conclusions are there before the report is done? Not I.
You know, Yukoners can see a pattern developing here - announce something first, then consult with people. The NDP have it backwards. They're supposed to consult with people first. That's what they promised. After public outcry and questions from the Liberals in the House, the NDP backtracked, admited they made a mistake and reversed their decision - just like they did with the Wood Street Annex. It's the same situation - behind-the-scenes plans to move classes to some other schools is done without consultation. It is stopped by questions and public outcry.
There are also the famous - or should I say infamous? - local hire consultations. There was no support for a union hiring hall or for the creation of a new department of labour, yet both those recommendations made their way into the final report. The member in charge had some preconceived ideas that he wanted to implement. It didn't matter that it wasn't a suggestion that came from the public.
The consultations were a really good opportunity for the public to agree with the government. So much for listening and involving people in decisions that affect them.
Mr. Speaker, there's a very clear example of this with the lots at Tagish. The lots at Tagish are perhaps the most glaring example of this. Yukoners, people who enjoy their lots, who live in Tagish now, are told at a public meeting, "Lots will not be sold". Yet - at another meeting - they are told they are.
We presented a petition in this House. The government's response - I think "less than satisfactory" is parliamentary, and it's probably the best way I can describe that response. The minister is still backpedalling on that one.
The commitment was that Yukon people have a right, not just to be consulted, but to be involved in things that affect them. What the NDP said is that they were promising a fundamental change in the way government conducts public business. Well, if they lived up to that promise, why do we have so many questions around Public Service Commission hirings? Why do we have so many questions, if they've instituted this fundamental change? The papers are full of questions about the hiring practices of this government.
There are the protected area strategy meetings. Right on the flow chart, in full public view, there's this line that says, "How do we get the public to buy into this?" Not, "What do the public want to say to us on this? What do Yukoners feel?" but "How long do we have to consult with them, till they're going to agree with us?"
That is not true consultation, and it's not participation from the people. It's been replaced with, "Here's a chance to agree with us, and if you don't - guess what? We're going to do it anyway."
Another promise: an NDP government will ensure a fair process is put in place to select people involved in decision making so there is a balance of views represented. Well, let's review how long it took the NDP to break this promise.
The NDP were really interested - this is a lot like Grey Mountain Primary - when they were in opposition in having a say on appointments to boards and committees, like Yukon Energy, Yukon College, housing boards, et cetera. In December 1996, the NDP was still on board. The Minister of Economic Development said he hoped to have some recommendations ready by the spring of 1997. So, a few meetings were held with the Member for Lake Laberge taking a lead for the government - meetings, I suppose, that were to pacify, to get the buy-in from members who still believed in the process.
Well, it rapidly became clear at the end of those meetings that the NDP said, "Nope. We said one thing in opposition, we made another commitment in our election campaign, we made commitments in A Better Way, but guess what? - we're just going to do it our way anyway. We want to keep making all the decisions. Oh, you can submit some names but in the end we'll make the decisions, thank you very much."
So much for ensuring that a fair process is in place to select people for appointments to these types of boards.
You know, Mr. Speaker, I have to laugh when the NDP introduced a motion in this Legislature calling on the Government of Canada to elect Senators to reduce patronage. They stand up and shout, "We're against patronage. Honest."
They had a choice to do something about reducing patronage. They talked the talk, made promises in A Better Way, made promises in public forums, but in the end they go back to their real campaign book. The end justifies the means.
They run for cover when they're asked to actually live up to a commitment.
We have worked together in this Legislature to find an ombudsman, for example. It can work. It's been proven that it can work. It can work for other appointments if the government is willing to participate, to live up to their commitment. They are not.
The NDP are too arrogant to let go of this power. Do you know the most common phrase heard downtown? "It took the Penikett government two terms to get this arrogant", to say, "We know what's best for Yukoners. We know how to do this," and yet, when it comes to really listening to Yukoners or putting Yukoners to work, this government ...
Back to A Better Way, Mr. Speaker. It says, "The NDP will ensure that ministers obey all laws and regulations." Well, of course. That's what everyone would expect. Well, let's look at Government Services' general terms and conditions for tenders. Term 2: in order to maintain fairness, consistency and predictability, bidders are not to contact any individual in the Government of Yukon other than noted in the tender document, whether during the tender or the evaluation process. Failure to comply will result in revoking the bid.
That's exactly what happened a year ago. The Minister of Tourism visited a bidder during the tender period for a new tourism marketing contract. It's clearly outside the rules. It's clearly not following A Better Way.
We all know government refused to revoke the contract, which is what the contract regulations called for. However, when asked, there was the steady, "No, we can weather this storm. We'll just sweep this under the rug. We made a mistake and got caught, but this is what we wanted, and the real campaign book says the ends justify the means."
So much for another promise.
Mr. Speaker, people are cynical about how government contracts are awarded in this country at all levels of government. This example did not help. We can do without it. We don't need that type of activity here. It's not how any government that I was leader of would go about handing out contracts. It's wrong, and the government knows it. They know it now, and they knew it then.
Their comments and commitments on fiscal responsibility are interesting. If you'll bear with me, Mr. Speaker, on page 24, fiscal responsibility: "Piers McDonald and the New Democrats are fed up with the fiscal irresponsibility of the Yukon Party conservatives." Well, let's look at some of the projects done under the watchful eye of the minister responsible for Government Services and see if this government has lived up to its commitment to be fiscally responsible.
Mr. Speaker, that minister stood on the floor of this House after I repeatedly questioned him about the land information management system - remember the NovaLIS affair? He committed that yes, there would be work done locally. Well, a year and a bit, or maybe 18 months later, we're finally seeing tender notice for the local guys for the crumbs that are left.
And then there is the HRIS system, the minister's favourite $3-million payroll system. The project started out at $1.4 million and ended up at almost $3 million.
What about the Taylor House project? This is another project that the Minister of Government Services looked after. This one started out at $450,000 and came in, we hope, under $1 million, but the final figures aren't out yet.
Mr. Speaker, Yukoners can thank their lucky stars that this minister doesn't have any fast ferry projects in Government Services. Who knows how much he would spend if he had those to look after, although we might get to talk about ferries and other projects later this afternoon.
Both of the projects I mentioned earlier - Taylor House and HRIS - had huge cost overruns, and both were handled by the fiscally responsible NDP government.
The NDP government also talked about collective bargaining, and it also is on page 24 of A Better Way. Page 24 says, "New Democrats believe free collective bargaining is a fundamental right in a democratic society. New Democrats opposed the Yukon Party's Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, which arbitrarily withdrew collective bargaining rights for public servants and teachers." That is also a quote from A Better Way.
"An NDP government led by Piers McDonald will: begin negotiations with the public service unions on new collective agreements to reflect current labour conditions; repeal territorial Bill 94, which ended free negotiations, at the earliest opportunity."
Well, the record speaks for itself. As a Yukoner, I've been extremely disappointed with the way the government has worked with - or not worked with - our public service. In the run-up to the last election, the NDP promised everyone who would listen they were going to give workers back their two percent. Now, the government loves to stand up and deny that but, on the doorsteps and in private conversations in coffee shops - at the doorstep as recently as my door-to-door in October of this year I was asked about it. They wrote to the union and promised to fully rescind the wage restraint legislation.
The Yukon Liberal Party was very clear with voters and with union members. We said, "Two percent is water under the bridge." We said that we would rescind the act and begin collective bargaining. We didn't say "fully rescind", because we had no intention of returning the two percent. We also made every effort to be honest with the voters, and we were.
Mr. Speaker, shortly after being elected, it became clear that the NDP had only made an election promise that they had no intention of keeping - no intention. And if they don't believe that that irritates the voters, then talk to the people in my riding. Workers care, members of the union care, people care who picketed the NDP convention and asked the Government Leader to resign, and they vote. YTG employees still talk to me every week about this issue - about that phony promise and how betrayed they felt by what they thought would be a labour-friendly government. The NDP failed to live up to their promise to restore the two percent, and we'll see what voters think about it when the next election rolls around.
Mr. Speaker, the NDP are 0 for 4 in labour negotiations. They have yet to negotiate a contract of any of the workers in this territory. The labour-friendly NDP has yet to sit down with workers and come up with one negotiated settlement. We had a 17-day strike at the hospital, brought on partly because the NDP fired some CNAs - CNAs they had promised to support during the last election. Another broken promise.
Negotiations with another professional workforce - the teachers. Mr. Speaker, the highlight was the NDP daring the teachers to go on strike. "If you believe in your issues, prove it and go out on strike." So much for working with the partners in labour. We hoped to see negotiations. Instead we've seen arbitrators and conciliators brought in to finish what the NDP has been unable to do in every set of negotiations. That's nothing to be proud of, Mr. Speaker, and it's not what they promised Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, the bungled negotiation with YTG employees was bad enough on its own. There were other real impacts in costs, as well. The NDP are already out, trying to do in the Yukon's economy, and they make it worse by creating complete uncertainty with the biggest consumers in the territory. Plenty of people I talked to in the spring and summer of last year put off purchases because they didn't know if they'd be working or not.
This, combined with a private sector that is very worried about the economy - well, talk about two birds with one stone. The economy's gone, under the economic plans, and the ham-handed attempts to negotiate with public servants aren't making it any better.
The Minister of Economic Development was asked, when the negotiations were resolved, if he'd have crossed the picket line. He refused to answer, but I have no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that there will be quite a litany of comments from the members opposite in response.
The Member for Faro has commented that my remarks in my motion today do not deserve a response. I'd just like to remind him that my motion - and he can take this as flattery, if he wants - is exactly the same motion that he brought in in 1996 - exactly the same. He stood in this House, went through the then-Yukon Party government's four-year economic plan and pointed out what they had done and what they had not done. Fair criticism.
I didn't publish A Better Way and make sure it was delivered door-to-door in the Yukon, and I didn't say I was going to live up to it; this government did. And, Mr. Speaker, Yukoners have a right to pull out this document and ask themselves: did they live up to the 25 orange pages of rhetoric to Yukoners - plus the commitments?
The government benches are saying yes, they did; we're saying no, they didn't.
It's not two years.
If they lived up to the commitments they made in A Better Way, then how come there are questions about every single commitment they made?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Which is my job - to ask them. There are questions out there. Piers McDonald promised local hire. Well, an N.W.T. firm designed the new school in Old Crow. We had land claims negotiators, for a very brief stay, from British Columbia. Their acting lessons are not local hire.
We have this pledge of support for labour; this pledge of support, this commitment, "This is us, we're going to do it. We'll sign the petition for the CNAs of the Whitehorse general hospital." Guess what? Twelve layoffs.
There was the promise not to raise taxes. Tell it to the families paying $60,000 to the Yukon recycling fund on their juice. Tell it to the families. This government wasn't going to raise taxes.
I've already gone on, Mr. Speaker, about the NDP's positive relationship - and I use the term loosely - between government and labour.
Maybe the Member for Whitehorse Centre would also like to talk about his commitment for the homeless shelter.
The NDP promised that they would make the economy work better. Well, in April 1998, Mr. Speaker, it was at 17.5 percent, and it would be a whole lot higher if we hadn't lost in excess of 2,000 Yukoners to southern Canada looking for work.
Mr. Speaker, I would love to talk about the energy rates, and I'm going to quote again. "The government said it would reduce Yukon's dependence on diesel for electrical energy. Has it done that? No." A quote from Hansard - who is it? Quick guess. None other than the Member for Faro. On April 17, 1996, he gave a fascinating speech. He also went on at great length about integrity of the caribou. And it's interesting that, just as an aside, he used a "weasel-word phrase", but he didn't get called to order for it. Anyway, he got to use that word. I prefer not take four-footed animals in vain. Comments about catch-and-release are another side of this now-minister that were interesting to read in that speech.
My point, Mr. Speaker, is that the minister went on and on about caribou. We saw just last week a full-page ad on this very issue, decrying what the government said during the election campaign and what they've done when in office - full-page ads not taken out by the political parties. They were taken out by citizens who feel that the NDP did not live up to their broken promises.
Mr. Speaker, that perhaps speaks the loudest of all - the way that citizens have spoken about this. And last week is just one example. I've detailed many others today, and there are more - making land claims a top priority. We've gone through a number of examples. There are others, but I want to give others in this House an opportunity to speak.
Most importantly, Mr. Speaker, the NDP have let Yukoners down. They've failed to create an environment that creates jobs. They've failed to be open and accountable for their actions and, ultimately, their own words are going to come back to them, and Yukoners will be the judge. Yukon voters will judge this government as to how well they've lived up their promises. We'll see if Yukoners approve of this government.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: Well, if that was the Liberal leader's attempt at proving to the Yukon public that this government is not living up to its commitments to the Yukon public, if I were her, I'd be rapidly seeking out that photographer to get the tape back before Yukoners see it, because that's proof positive that there's absolutely no substance in the Liberal leader's motion or her attempt at debating that motion. It will also show to Yukoners that a Yukon Territory with a Liberal government would be similar to a multi-million dollar airport and a ten-cent control tower.
There is absolutely no substance here, Mr. Speaker, and this is the same Liberal leader who made a solemn promise in this Legislature in the fall of 1996 that the Liberal Party was going to be the alternative to the politics of confrontation.
Well, Mr. Speaker, you can't even tell the difference between the Yukon Party and the Liberals any more. It is the united alternative. I half expect to see Preston Manning's smiling face over there one of these days. That was a promise made to the Yukon public on the floor of this Legislature, and they have failed at every turn. They have not kept that commitment to Yukoners.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: There is a lot of chirping from the Yukon Party benches, but we'll see if there is enough time for you to get up to speak to this motion.
Deputy Speaker: Order please, order please. Let the member speak.
Mr. Fentie: Unlike last week's motion, where this government tabled a motion that was productive, that this Legislature could come together on and actually deliver something to the Yukon public, the motion brought forward today by the Liberal Party is a complete waste.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader talks about delivery - well, I haven't taken my camera lessons yet, and I offer them to her, because she needs them - that's evident.
One of the reasons I'm on this side of the House, a member of the NDP government, is because this group of people does honour and keep its commitments. The list of those commitments made - those promises made, and those promises kept - there are reams and reams and pages and pages of those commitments, those promises, and the delivery on those promises.
You know, awhile ago, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Liberals put an ad in the newspaper, and this ad was nothing more than pure propaganda, nothing but fabrication. And it's all about this so-called list of promises broken by the NDP government. Oh, by the way, they paid for it - the Yukon Liberal Party paid for this. A waste of money - you should have kept it in the coffee jar.
But anyway, Mr. Speaker, nothing here is factual. It's nothing but a fabrication. It's an attempt at political partisanship through the news media, and the fabrication here is simply not acceptable to the Yukon public. They know better. They know better - and after witnessing this motion debate from the Yukon Liberal leader, the chances of that Liberal Party ever becoming a government here are very, very slim. Very slim.
You know, in sitting here this afternoon, listening to the leader of the Liberal Party, it comes to mind that all that's happening over there is that the Liberals are complaining. Everything that's been done they complain about. In fact, they complain so much I want to give the Liberal leader a nickname, the "Ayotallah Complainey". Because that's all they're doing, is complaining about the delivery of this government. Over and over -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: - it's coming out of my head. The Member for Riverside wants to know who writes it. Nobody wrote it; I'm merely speaking it. Unlike the Liberal leader, I'm not reading my motion debate; I am just speaking to this motion, and I will show Yukoners what a ridiculous motion it really is.
You know, the Liberals said in one of their statements in the newspaper ad, that the NDP set up four commissions - forestry, development assessment process, energy, local hire - to develop policy. They go on to say that the promise was broken. The four commissions spent over $1 million employing backbenchers and friends of the NDP, and failed to resolve any of the outstanding policy issues. Pure fabrication, Mr. Speaker, and I'll show and prove -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Point of order.
Deputy Deputy Speaker: Point of order called.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Deputy Deputy Speaker, on a point of order, it doesn't appear that we have a quorum present.
Deputy Deputy Speaker: Pursuant to Standing Order 3(2), if, at any time during a sitting of the Assembly, the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring for four minutes and then do a count.
Deputy Deputy Speaker: I've shut off the bells and will do a count. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. A quorum is present. We will now continue debate.
Speaker resumes the Chair
Mr. Fentie: This side of the House certainly wants to follow the rules of this Legislature.
At any rate, the Liberals say that the four commissions spent over $1 million employing backbenchers. Now, I find this one fascinating: employing backbenchers.
Mr. Speaker, whether we rolled up our sleeves as backbenchers and went to work on a difficult policy issue for this territory, or whether we sat here and stared out the window and did absolutely nothing, we were getting paid. This is not about putting backbenchers to work, employing us. We were employed, we were elected to be here. Pure fabrication. And then they go on to say that we hired friends of the NDP.
Well, I want to expand a little bit on that. For example, the forestry commission. Every person on that commission was a secondment out of existing government departments who, by the way, were also getting paid to do their job.
This was not hiring friends of the NDP. These people were already in government, and we picked them and put together a team to focus on a very difficult policy issue.
Mr. Speaker, the comments, and the very point the Liberals are trying to make, simply does not bear the weight of scrutiny, and Yukoners know that. The commissions have delivered. These are issues that the former Yukon Party government ran and hid from. You couldn't even find them. When you needed something out of your government, to protect and represent Yukon's interest in forestry, you couldn't even find them. When you were lucky enough to track them down, they said, "Oh, there's nothing we can do. That's a federal problem."
This government rolled up its sleeves, went to work, took on a hard issue and delivered. It's called the Yukon forest - Mr. Speaker, the forest commission did its work, it delivered its policy, and that policy is the framework, the guide, for forest management in this territory today and into the future. It was also such a good work that the federal government had no choice but to use it as a guide for forest management. That's unheard of in this territory, when it comes to us dealing with the federal government. It's a first. Everybody out there in the public knows that.
So therefore, if we can point out the discrepancies in this so-called ad in the newspaper about our broken promises, it's obvious that the Liberals are doing what they normally do, and simply fabricating the facts - creating the facts as a Liberal would.
Mr. Speaker, I go back a long ways when it comes to Liberals, and I've never, ever had a happy, positive experience when there's been a Liberal government around. I mean, Liberals will tell the public anything they want to hear. You name it - they'll build this, they'll create that. They'll even train us how to jump off roofs, flap our arms and fly. They'll tell you anything.
They'll tell the public anything to get a vote, and when they get in, they deliver zero - nothing. That's the Liberals.
I mean, I think back to - and God, it would be a scary moment for the Yukon Territory to see a Liberal government getting elected here, but let's go back years. Let's go to the national energy program. The national energy program was going to solve Canada's problem in the oil and gas industry. It was going to nationalize it. It was going to create great things for Canadians. All it created was a stream of oil field equipment heading into the States. In fact, it shut down the oil industry. This was a homespun creation by the Liberals, which was complete folly. And the list from the Liberal governments goes on and on and on and on and on.
If we go to recent times, the Liberals promised to create jobs. Yes, the red book - "You vote us in, boy. We're going to create jobs all across the land. Jobs, jobs jobs." Well, when it comes to the Yukon Territory, what did they create? They created a moratorium in forestry that killed jobs - a hundred-plus jobs in that sector, and they put a moratorium on it and shut it down. That's creating jobs all right. And the co-conspirators over there, the Yukon Party, hid in their offices, scared to stick their heads out - "Forestry, that's too tough for us to tackle. We'll have to hire an American facilitator to deal with the federal government, because we can't handle the feds." That's the Yukon Party's answer. For the Liberals, that was a moratorium - "Shut her down. Get rid of them jobs. We don't want that."
The Liberals promised to protect health care, oh yes. And the first thing they do, disguised under the guise of getting rid of the deficit in this country, is that they cut health care. Literally billions of dollars were cut out of the health care system, and a small jurisdiction like the Yukon was dramatically affected by that.
Yup, protect health care - that's another Liberal promise. That wasn't kept.
Now, who can forget the GST? The Liberals - Sheila Copps, standing on her podium announcing to the Canadian public, to the voter in this country, "If the GST is not abolished, I'll resign." What a pathetic joke. The GST is not abolished. The GST actually penalizes those of us who live in the north because we already pay more for goods and services and it simply is not a fair way of taxation. It was an invention by the right-wing elements in this country so they could put more money in the pockets of their buds, that small centre of influence that controls conservative governments, such as the Yukon Party in this territory - a very small centre of influence.
But anyway, that's another Liberal promise to the voters of this country that was completely ignored - completely.
Here's another gem. The Liberals announced, "We would never, ever sign that free trade agreement. Uh-uh, that's no good - that's not good at all for Canada; we'll never sign it." Well, they never even got their phones hooked up once they took office and they signed that agreement. That was another promise to the Canadian public - never sign that free trade agreement.
Now, let's look at an example of what that free trade agreement's doing to this little territory. One of the initiatives underway by the federal government - which I must applaud them for, for actually making an attempt to help the situation around the timber regulations - was the creation of a market-driven stumpage system, a sliding scale, a royalty system that could be flexible with market conditions and the times that industry would find itself in.
Lo and behold, through all the process of - for the better - changing the timber regulations and creating this market-driven stumpage system, the free trade agreement is in the road.
There was a legal problem with the market-driven stumpage, the market-driven royalty, because of the free trade agreement - another negative impact to the Yukon Territory; another promise made by a Liberal government; another promise not kept.
I mean, the list of unkept promises from the federal Liberals goes on and on, but this NDP government, instead of fed- bashing, has continued to work diligently with the federal government to improve the situation here. And we have done that. It can be said, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the NDP government has been successful in working with the federal government, in working with First Nations, in working with the Yukon public, to improve the situation we're in today and, indeed, the future, Mr. Speaker.
Now, let's look at the Yukon Liberals and some of the great commitments that the Yukon Liberals have made to the public here in the territory. One of those was tourism - and this is a really good one, really rich. Tourism - they would encourage wilderness tourism; they would continue Beringia; they would encourage all-season tourism. You know, the first thing they did in regard to that promise to the Yukon public, when all those things became a reality through the budgeting of this NDP government, was vote against that budget.
You can't have it both ways, Liberals. This is a promise you made to the Yukon public, and you were not consistent with that promise. You did not keep it. In fact, you completely contravened your promise to the Yukon public.
Then, their approach for improving tourism marketing in this territory is to assassinate officials on the floor of this Legislature - attack the department officials, assassinate them. That'll help the tourism industry in this territory.
It makes one wonder, how do the Liberals think -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Porter Creek South, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, the member has accused me of impugning motives, and the rule on that - if I could just find it - rules of debate. Oh - impugns false or unavowed motives to another member - section 19(1)(h), I believe has been violated, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: On the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has said that the - or the member on the government's side, the Member for Watson Lake - has said that the member's tack has been to engage in character assassination of public officials. That has been stated on the floor of this Legislature many times. It is not impugning motives; it is merely a statement of fact. We have nothing here, no point of order, just a disagreement between two members.
I understand it's a very sensitive subject, the character assassination of public officials, that has been engaged in by the Liberal leader. But nonetheless, that does not deter from the fact that precedents have clearly been set around this particular phrase in the House. It was used by the Yukon Party, it was used by the New Democratic Party in this House, in the past, and I think it's completely in keeping as a statement of fact, and a description of fact.
Speaker: On the point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, on the point of order. The member has made remarks that are not in keeping with the good graces of this Legislature, and because there have been mistakes made in this Legislature before on rulings doesn't mean that makes it right. I suggest that the Speaker consider his ruling on this one very, very carefully so that we can have some semblance of order in this House.
Speaker: On the point of order.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, in my comments there has been absolutely nothing unparliamentary. I'm merely using a verb which would denote the member opposite's actions on the floor of this Legislature - absolutely nothing unparliamentary here, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Order please. I will review the Blues and get back to you on that matter, so will the member please continue.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, back to the tourism issue in this territory and the Liberals' promise, and how they've already broken that promise to the Yukon public, because when we created legislation for wilderness tourism so that we actually will have that part of the industry up and running in this territory, they voted against it. They voted against us continuing the Beringia Centre. And, actually, we continued it, so that when the Yukon Party members in this Legislature are through with their political career, we can display them at the Beringia Centre, given their prehistoric view of this territory.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Well, the leader of the official opposition is now threatening that my career is going to be short. Well, that's up to the Yukon voter. When it comes to me, the Member for Watson Lake, it's up to the people in my community, and I accept whatever decision they make. It certainly is not up to the leader of the official opposition. In fact, he's quite lucky he's still in this Legislature, given his dismal performance as the Government Leader for four years.
Going on with the tourism issue and Liberal promises, Mr. Speaker, they said they would encourage all-season tourism. Through our budgeting and helping out Yukoners, now there is actually the beginnings of all-season tourism. They voted against that. They broke their promise.
What the Liberals would really say to the Yukon public is, "Vote for us, let us become government, and tourists will be raining down out of the skies." That's not how it works. You have to develop the mechanisms, the tools, the marketing - all the pieces necessary to actually create a tourism industry in this territory. It doesn't just happen.
The Liberals have broken those promises, and far be it for me, Mr. Speaker, to claim that. I've read letters from the business community in this territory admonishing the Liberal leader for her inopportune display in this Legislature when it comes to the tourism industry. So, it's not I who am saying it; I'm merely repeating what the Yukon public believes today.
Well, here's another good one. The Liberals promised to the Yukon public over there at the No Pop Shop, as they stuff those ballot boxes, they promised electrical rate relief. My goodness. Yes, sir. Electrical rate relief. But do you know, there's one thing that the Liberals have yet to tell the Yukon public: how they were going to do that. How were they going to manage when the biggest customer that Yukon Energy has in this territory goes off the grid? How were they going to actually accomplish rate relief for Yukon people?
Getting back to the fabrication that the Liberals put in the newspaper around the commissions, this government created a commission, a focused team to tackle a very difficult issue in this territory. And what happened with that? Well, the results are that we have stable rates for the ratepayer in this territory for the next four years, even with the largest customer off the grid. I'd say that that is consistent with our commitment to the Yukon people. We've delivered, Mr. Speaker. We have stabilized rates in this territory, and we'll continue to work on the issue of energy in this territory as long as we're in office.
Mr. Speaker, also on energy, we've set up the green power fund because people on this side of the House have a much broader view of the Yukon Territory, a much wider vision, more far-reaching. We understand that, in today's world, if you take, for example, the development of a forest industry in this territory, it goes hand in hand with green power - a total 100-percent utilization of the resource extracted.
A very, very logical option is cogeneration. We've moved that concept ahead considerably. We've also involved ourselves, consistent with our promise to the Yukon people around energy conservation, by looking at the waste heat from our power plants. This is again, Mr. Speaker, proof positive that this government has been consistent with its commitments to the Yukon public.
Well, Mr. Speaker, when we look at another promise made by the Yukon Liberals - the workers' advocate and the Workers' Compensation Act review - the Liberals promised to establish a workers' advocate and to review the legislation. Now that that's all happening - the advocate is in place, the review of the legislation is upon us - they're complaining about it. They voted against this very concept of the establishment of a workers' advocate and reviewing the legislation. They are now against it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: They voted against the budget that created the workers' advocate. This is another commitment to the Yukon public by the Liberals that has been completely ignored.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Well, the hon. Member for Riverside who, by the way, I quite enjoy in this Legislature - he's a good Yukoner; there's no doubt about it - but he shouldn't be sitting there as a Liberal. He's much too good a person. He has much too much ability, and he's shortchanging himself by being a Liberal. There is no question about it, because Liberals do not keep their promises, and I know the Member for Riverside is extremely proud of his honesty.
Here's another good one. In listening to the Liberal leader's diatribe on all these things - the so-called examples of this government failing to live up to its commitments - which, again, Mr. Speaker, the total speech delivered here this afternoon by the Liberal leader on the motion that she tabled, was nothing more than fabrication. She said that we don't listen to Yukoners, consistent with our commitment to the Yukon public of involving them in decisions that affect them. No, we're not listening to Yukoners.
Well, Mr. Speaker, this budget, throughout, from front to back, to a great degree, was created by listening to the Yukon public. It's there in black and white on the pages. I cannot believe the Liberal leader actually used that as an example, because we are debating a budget that's proof positive that this party, this government, listens to the Yukon public and, from that, delivers what the Yukon public desires.
That is another example of this government's commitment to the public and its consistency in keeping to those commitments, delivering on its promises.
So the Liberals, true to form, who had promised the voting public anything it wanted to hear, voted against the budget that is very much about listening to the Yukon public and delivering.
Openness and accountability - a very big commitment by us, and from having sat in the offices here and working in my riding, in fact, in my duties as forest commissioner, in many ridings throughout the territory, I can tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this government is very open and is extremely accountable. There's no question about it.
I know it; the Yukon public knows it; I've experienced it, and we make a point of being open and accountable.
That's what good governance is all about. Unlike the Liberals, who yet, throughout history - at least my history in this country - have yet to be open and accountable. The reason I say that, Mr. Speaker, is because they continually disguise their true position. That true position is: they don't have one. They're fence sitters, waiting for that moment when they're absolutely positive that that's the right side to be on. That is not open and that is not accountable, Mr. Speaker.
The Liberals continue to criticize and criticize and criticize everything that's done on this side of the House, and every time they do that, they are breaking the promises that they made to the Yukon voter in the 1996 election.
You've broken every promise, and the most important one, Mr. Speaker, is to be the alternative to the politics of confrontation. They have never, ever delivered on that in this Legislature. That's a travesty. How can they treat the Yukon public in that manner? I'm astounded. Shame on the Liberals, Mr. Speaker. Shame on those Liberals for not keeping their promise to the Yukon voter.
You know, I'll even go on with this concept of the politics of confrontation, because it was also a very big campaign commitment. It resonated through the public - the Liberals are not going to be confrontational; they're going to be productive; they're going to do all kinds of wonderful things.
Well, after that statement was made, the Liberal leader has done nothing but be confrontational. Sorry, I must tell the truth. I'm an elected official; I must tell the truth, and those are the facts. That's another promise that was broken.
I mean, I don't have enough time here this afternoon to list all the promises that the Liberals have broken in this territory - already.
Mr. Speaker, I find the motion that the Liberal leader has tried to put on the floor of this Legislature today - that the NDP government of the day here in the Yukon is breaking its promises - is ridiculous. The Yukon public knows that. The Yukon public realizes that we are keeping our promises. They know that. They are very aware of that fact. Unfortunately, the Liberals seem to have missed a very important part of good governance, and that is being consistent with your commitments to the voting public. They've forgotten about that.
Mr. Speaker, when I looked at making the choice of becoming an elected official and representing my community, I made some commitments to my community. And there's nobody in this Legislature, or anywhere in this territory, who can say that I haven't been consistent with those commitments. I promised to work hard for my constituents, and there's nobody who can say I have not done that. I've worked very hard.
I've also promised my constituents that Watson Lake would have a voice - it would be heard. Well, go anywhere in this building, anywhere in the Yukon government, and I'll guarantee you that they've heard about Watson Lake now. Over the last two years, they've done nothing but hear about Watson Lake, and I'll continue to do that, because it was my commitment to my community.
I also committed to my community to get a bigger piece of the action for that town, long forgotten through four years of Yukon Party's complete - they ignored the communities, but Watson Lake itself, they completely ignored - neglect of that community. I promised to get a bigger piece of the action. Well, in this budget and in the previous budget, the proof is there that I am remaining very consistent with my commitment to my community.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Well, you should go ask the constituents I've got. All one of them; the same one that got the floor mopped up in the last election by me. I applaud the Liberals. They've talked to one person in Watson Lake. Hoorah. Yes, that's great.
Mr. Speaker, there's no doubt that I have been consistent with my promises, and I will continue to be consistent with the promises I make to my community, this government. And when I made that choice to run for elected office and had to make the decision to join the NDP, I had to feel comfortable that this group of people, which could possibly become government, were capable of delivering and keeping the commitments they were making to the Yukon public. And when I look at the team and the leadership, and I compare the leadership sitting on this side of the House with the leadership across in the opposition benches, huh, am I ever glad I made this choice. We got a leader. We have a leader, Mr. Speaker, there's no question about it.
I look at other members in this caucus and how we've been able to come together and plan and visualize and try and grapple with the hard issues and deliver on those hard issues, and I can tell you that, every day, I feel very happy that I made the choice I did, because we are delivering. We are responding to the Yukon public's needs. We are remaining consistent with our promise to the Yukon public - all our promises.
We promised, Mr. Speaker, no tax increases. Well, that is a fact. There has not been a tax increase. The Liberal leader harangues about tetrapacks. I would submit to the Liberal leader that that's the cost of buying that particular item. What would you have them do? Blow around the streets? You have to recycle this stuff.
This is not a tax increase. It's the cost of buying that item to ensure that it isn't blowing around the streets of the Yukon Territory. The Liberals would just ignore that, "No, no. No, no. Let's just walk, step over it. Whatever." And then they use that as saying we did not keep our promise. We increased taxes.
What a bunch of rubbish. What a bunch of rubbish, Mr. Speaker. This government committed to the Yukon public not to raise taxes, and we have not raised taxes. Three budgets in a row, and I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, as long as this government's in office, we will endeavour to ensure that the Yukon taxpayer is given a fair shake.
You know, being small a businessman, and understanding what it's like to have to make payments at the end of the month, and pay wages, and coordinate all that stuff - we promised the Yukon public that we would develop pay-as-you-go budgets.
Now, that's an important fact, Mr. Speaker. A pay-as-you-go budget is all about ensuring that what you do today, what you finance today, what you spend today, you're not mortgaging your future.
The Yukon Party mortgaged our future, time and time again. They could not come up with a budgeting process that didn't contribute -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: - the Yukon Party government failed to develop a budget that did not add to the boom-and-bust cycle in this territory's economy. In fact, they helped create that whole situation in this territory for four years.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie:Well, the Member for Klondike says that our economy is "all bust". Well, I've got news for him. Our economy has finally turned the corner to where we can diversify, to where we can strengthen this economy, to where we are no longer subjected to the boom-and-bust cycles.
Mr. Speaker, we promised a pay-as-you-go budget to ensure that we didn't mortgage the future. We promised a savings account and, in three budgets in a row, we've delivered on that promise.
That is fact. We've said and promised to the Yukon public that they would participate in the budgeting process. "We're going to involve you." Well, the Government Leader has had over 50 meetings in developing this budget, the 1999-2000 budget. That is another promise made and another promise kept, and throughout the pages of this budget is proof positive that the Yukon public did participate.
Transparent and long-term capital planning was another major commitment. The Liberals have criticized that, but what is their position? Why don't they tell the Yukon public what they would do?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Oh, the Liberal leader says, "Call an election." Well, you know, why would we go to the polls now and shortchange the Yukon public and dump on them the cost of another election? We're well aware of the democratic process. We don't need to call an election. In fact, we are telling the Yukon public, on a daily basis, what we're going to do. What is the Liberals' position? What would they do about transparent, long-term capital planning? Well, they have yet to show what they would do. They have yet to explain what they would do. They're waiting to attach themselves, as all Liberals will do, to the winning side, to what they think will be the best process, the one that they can use.
Well, here's another good one: a promise to the Yukon public to sound fiscal management. I can remember the Yukon Party, in its magical tour in the pre-1992 election period, screaming about fiscal responsibility, how they'd be so responsible, and they're the only answer, that we must have good, sound fiscal management in this territory, and the Yukon Party is the one. So, let's move this ahead, Mr. Speaker, to today.
And when this government tabled its budget, the Yukon Party and the Liberals have taken a completely opposite tack now. They're saying, "Forget fiscal management - let's spend. We've got to spend our way out of this economic downturn. Let's spend all the money, spend the savings account and borrow money. Let's get into debt. Let's spend our way out of this." That's not how it works, Mr. Speaker.
So, we have kept our promise to the Yukon public to be a government that is a sound manager, a good fiscal manager. The Yukon Party and the Liberals have not kept that promise. They have taken the opposite tack - another promise broken by the opposition.
Now, collective bargaining - and I know how the Liberals think they've found a chink in the armor, but I can tell you it's a red herring. It's a complete red herring. They accuse this government of failing in that regard. We promised to restore collective bargaining and that's exactly what happened. One of the first initiatives taken on by this government when we came into office was to restore collective bargaining in this territory. We committed to do that, we've done it, and now the labour people in this territory have access to collective bargaining.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals continue to say that we didn't honour that commitment. Well, that's wrong, Mr. Speaker. The Liberal leader is wrong. We committed to restoring collective bargaining; we made that promise and we've kept that promise.
Back on the energy front, Mr. Speaker, consistent with our commitment, we've established a $10 million rate stabilization fund - 10 million reasons that prove to the Yukon public that we have honoured our commitment.
For four years, rates will not vary. We have four years, Mr. Speaker, ahead of us. And we have put another $1 million into energy efficient initiatives to reduce electricity costs.
Those are the types of things that have to be done here. There's no way the former Yukon Party government would tackle those issues. They were going to build a coal plant for a customer base of 30,000 people. Where's the economics and fiscal responsibility in that idea? One of our major problems is customer base.
Three million dollars in the green power fund - I alluded a little bit to the development of a forest industry in the Yukon Territory and the use of residual fibre. A very logical approach is cogeneration. We've put money into initiatives that can help develop that.
Two million dollars set aside for a wind turbine on Haeckel Hill - as long as the Liberals and the Yukon Party are around in politics in this territory, I'm sure that that wind turbine is going to work very efficiently. They create a lot of wind, Mr. Speaker.
Then we get to the issue of this motion - the spirit and the tone of this motion - about the NDP failing to keep its promises. We kept our promises, Mr. Speaker. The Liberals, who promised rate relief, voted against the budget that established it - another promise broken by the Yukon Liberals. By voting against the budget, I submit to this House and to the Yukon public that they have broken their promise.
Local hire - well, we've heard a lot from both sides of the opposition about local hire. But the truth of the matter is that we promised local hire. We promised to tackle a hard issue, and the results before us today, consistent with that commitment to the Yukon public, show that we've gone from 59 percent of business four years ago of Yukon government contracts to 89 percent today. We've increased local involvement by 30 percent, local hire in Yukon government contracts.
Another promise made, another promise kept.
However, the Liberals have voted against successive budgets that have helped to create a 30-percent increase in local hire.
Support for small business - well, we promised to do that. We promised the Yukon voter that we were going to support small business. We're going to support small business, because we know that that is one of the main ingredients of the economy here in the Yukon Territory. Small businesses are key, and we're going to do everything we possibly can, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that small businesses in this territory flourish and become a very integral part of the Yukon's economy, today and well into the future.
We're going to do that. How are we going to do that? Well, we're going to do it by cutting red tape. One of the biggest steps ever in the Yukon Territory has just been reached. We have negotiated a devolution agreement.
Now, the Yukon Party leader, the leader of the official opposition, has been haranguing for days now about ownership. This is no good, because we didn't get ownership. Well, how much longer does the leader of the official opposition want to negotiate with the federal government and, indeed, the country, for this territory to be able to take down federal powers and make its own decisions?
What the member is proposing - that we go through some constitutional process, make sure that seven out of 10 provinces support it - how long will that take? There might not even be any need for devolution by the time that's all done.
We have negotiated a sound agreement to ensure that the people in this territory can make decisions, so we control our destiny. We made that promise to the Yukon public in the last election, and we delivered. Another promise made, another commitment made, another promise and commitment kept.
Encouraging investments - well, there's a list of initiatives around that, and I will endeavour to speak to some of them. Encouraging investments, Mr. Speaker, a 22-percent tax incentive for mining exploration. That's very much about encouraging investments. The development of a Yukon forest strategy - one of its intentions, one of its main ingredients, was to ensure that we laid the groundwork, created the environment, that would result in investment in this territory in the forest sector. Mr. Speaker, there is investment in that sector: in southeast Yukon, $12 million of investment on the ground; Champagne-Aishihik moving toward creation of a manufacturing sector; Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation and other corporate entities here in the Yukon Territory are moving toward investing in the forest sector.
There's no question, Mr. Speaker, that we have, consistent with our promise, consistent with our commitment, encouraged investments for this territory. The Liberals, on the other hand, and the Yukon Party, vote against that time and time again in this Legislature. They have broken their promises to this public, and the Yukon voter will remember that in the next election.
Partnership with the private sector, Mr. Speaker, the trade and investment strategy - this whole concept is about partnership with the private sector. It's producing a product, no question about it. Even today, another company in the Yukon is benefiting from our initiative, benefiting from our promise to the Yukon public to partner up with the private sector. We've delivered on that, so now we've got another company benefiting from that whole initiative. And this is a huge contract in regard to the sale of garbage cans into a market that we are cultivating today in a number of sectors.
And I want to applaud the Department of Economic Development, led by the minister, for the good works they've done in that regard. We promised to partner with the private sector, we committed to do that, and we've done it. And the trade and investment strategy is now bearing fruit, and I'm sure it's going to continue to produce over the years to come.
Yukon small business tax credit - all about our commitment to the Yukon public - a 25-percent tax credit. Another promise made, another promise kept, but the opposition, their promise to the Yukon public has been broken. They talk about the economy - the Yukon Party goes on and on about the economy and what we need for the economy, and that's it, it's finished - doom and gloom.
The only thing that the Yukon Party understood about the economy, when in government, was, "Got to have the Faro mine running. That's a fact. If that mine isn't running, the unemployment rate in this territory is going to dramatically increase. Well, we have to have that mine running, and build roads." That was the Yukon Party's economy.
They did absolutely nothing to diversify this economy. They did absolutely nothing to address the boom-and-bust cycles that we have suffered under for some time. They just spent money. And, Mr. Speaker, they spent money from a very small centre of influence.
On the other hand this government, when it budgets and spends money from the public purse, ensures that there's something for everybody. That's good governance. That's consistent with promises. That's consistent with commitments to the Yukon public. We're keeping those commitments. We are delivering.
Mr. Speaker, training - the Yukon Party goes on and on about training, we're losing our workforce, and all this stuff. Little does he realize that there are only 30,000 people in this territory, out of which - I don't know - maybe between 15 and 20,000 are possibly in the workforce.
But one of our mainstays in the economy, mining, brings an influx of people into this territory because they are professional people, trained people. We don't have enough people in the population to cover all those bases, and when those mines shut down those people leave and go to another mine, like they've done throughout their lives. Some of these families are in second generation of travelling this country working at mines.
We've created training funds and targeted training dollars to where we believe we'll do the most good and will actually create an employed person at the end of it all.
Oil and gas - we've targeted monies to oil and gas, which we committed to the Yukon public to ensure that they participate in the development of an oil and gas industry, so we are committing funds to training people so they can fill the capacity and can participate.
That was a promise. We kept that promise. The opposition, on the other hand, has voted against that. I don't even think the opposition understands what an oil and gas sector really means in this territory.
Again, this is part of diversifying the economy. We committed to the Yukon public to diversify this economy. We committed to move ourselves away from the boom-and-bust cycles that we've been weighted under for years. Oil and gas is one example of our promise kept.
Mr. Speaker, another area of training that is bearing fruit is forestry. We committed to commonsense forestry. We committed to work with the federal government, to work with First Nations, to work with the Yukon public, to get Yukoners back in the bush, to get people to work, and do it in a sustainable manner. That's happening now, and one of the areas that has helped that situation out is our commitment of training dollars to Yukoners so that they can participate in the development of a manufacturing sector in forestry in this territory.
That is proof positive: 26 employees are trained and ready for the mill start-up in Watson Lake. That's consistent with a promise kept, consistent with our commitment. On the other hand, the Yukon Party, when they were faced with forestry, said, "There's nothing we can do; it's a federal problem."
During an election when we promised and committed to Yukoners to go to work on this issue and resolve it and work with the federal government and work with First Nations and Yukoners, the Yukon Party flew into Watson Lake - no, they don't even drive down there and take a look at the whole riding - landed and announced to the community and to all Yukoners, "Well, we'll solve your problem here; we'll commit $1 million of taxpayers' money in this territory for a stumpage subsidy - $1 million." Then they said, "We can't work with the federal government; it's impossible. We don't know what to do here, so we'll also hire you a facilitator out of the United States."
Mr. Speaker, upon taking office, this government went to work immediately. The stumpage problem, the royalties that were completely out of line with the market conditions and the abilities of a Yukon forest sector at the time, we helped to facilitate at no cost to the Yukon taxpayer - other than a flight to Ottawa - we helped facilitate a drop by 50 percent - half. We did this by working with the federal government and the Yukon public. That was a promise, that was a commitment and another example of a promise and a commitment kept.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party said, "Well, we'll hire a facilitator. That'll solve all the problems. We'll get ourselves a high-priced gun and bring him up here, and that'll fix that federal government." - at another cost to the Yukon public.
Instead, Mr. Speaker, we put people already being paid, already involved in government, and we organized a very focused team and made a surgical strike on a very, very difficult issue in this territory, and we produced a product, completely consistent with our promise to the Yukon public - and we've delivered.
The proof is the Yukon forest strategy. Is that strategy now, as we're going through the beginnings of the implementation process, thanks to a commitment from the federal government, to use it as a guide, bearing fruit? No. I've got to say there are a number of regions, a number of businesses, a number of people now involved in the establishment of a manufacturing sector in the Yukon Territory.
We committed to the Yukon public to do this, to work with the feds and the First Nations, to work with the Yukon public, to get people back to work - that's happened. Today, as we debate this motion today, 30-plus loads a day are arriving in a sawmill in Watson Lake - 30-plus loads of logs every day. That's proof positive, Mr. Speaker, that this government is consistent with its commitments.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: The Member for Riverside is saying that this side of the House said we couldn't do anything. That's false. We've never said that. That's the Yukon Party. The Yukon Party neglected, ignored, turned their backs on this issue in this territory, and they paid the price for it at the polls. They paid a big price.
We did not say there's nothing we can do, that it's a federal problem. We went to work, and we delivered.
This government knows that, in the future, the not-too-distant future, the mining industry will be back. It's cyclical. We understand that, and we're very conscious of the fact that, right now, there are properties that are moving through stages of development. We've got mines sitting there right now, with all the equipment necessary to go into production. Not when there's a regulatory change, not when there's a change in government, but when the price of zinc reaches a profitable level, those mines go back into production.
There's something to be said for a government that can actually manage an economy in a manner that will bear fruit.
Mr. Speaker, another initiative that this government brought in, that the Yukon Party managed to deep-six when they got into power, because they called it a slush fund for ministers - nothing could be farther from the truth. Every community in this territory has benefited from the community development fund. We promised the Yukon public that we would reinstate - bring back - the community development fund. Consistent with that promise, we did so. Over the last two and a half years, monies have poured into the communities, have created work, and have helped establish and bring to a reality community initiatives. Consistent with a promise to the Yukon public, we've delivered again.
In my community of Watson Lake alone, the CDF - going back pre-Yukon Party government - built the Wye Lake Park. Dozens of people worked on that, and equipment, and the list goes on and on. Once we got back in, we had a number of initiatives that the CDF helped to trigger and create jobs.
The ski hill in Watson Lake - we're very fortunate to have that ski hill. This government realized that, and this government put money, through the CDF, into that ski hill - enhancing an asset for a community.
Mr. Speaker, the Help and Hope Society - one of the most terrible situations that we face in this territory is the situation of domestic violence. This government, through the CDF, has helped that. The Help and Hope Society is a vehicle to break the cycle of that violence, and we've seen fit to put money into that, through the CDF, consistent with our promise and commitment.
The fire suppression program - another example of good governance was this government tabling a motion in this Legislature around fire suppression.
We tabled a motion, not to be confrontational, not to beat up the opposition who, quite frankly - I'll get to another promise they've made and have failed to keep - we didn't table a motion to do that. We tabled a motion that this Legislature could unanimously stand on and deliver to the Yukon public, an initiative that today has resulted in communities in this territory lessening the risk of wildfire around their buildings and homes and, at the same time, creating jobs for Yukoners. That's consistent with the commitment we made to the Yukon public, Mr. Speaker, and we delivered.
Again, last week another motion, tabled by this side of the House, was another example of good governance, and that motion also was unanimously supported by this Legislature, and I submit to you that that will help the Yukon. It will help the Yukon because we were productive here.
The motion today is a bunch of bunk. It is completely contrary to the Liberals' commitment to be non-confrontational. The spirit of that motion was nothing more than, "Let's have a day today to beat up the NDP government."
Well, I'll tell you something, Mr. Speaker. On this side of the House, if that's the way the opposition wants to play it, you'll find we're willing participants. But what I say to the opposition is: use facts. You cannot fabricate situations and bring them to the floor of this Legislature and expect the Yukon public to buy into them.
There's absolutely no doubt in Yukoners' minds that this government has kept its promises. They will be the judge in the next election.
At any rate, the Liberals broke that solemn promise in this Legislature again today with this motion - an ill-advised motion, very ill-advised, non-productive, no substance, a complete waste.
The Yukon Party stood in this Legislature and promised to be an effective opposition. They promised to be an effective opposition on behalf of their constituents, on behalf of Yukoners, and that they were going to be an effective opposition. Well, they have been nothing but, Mr. Speaker. They have not demonstrated once in this Legislature that they are an effective opposition - another promise broken.
I think back to the Yukon Party's platform: that they were going to create 2,000 jobs in this territory.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Well, I'd like the leader of the official opposition to stand in this Legislature and tell the Yukon public where those jobs were. Where were those jobs? I want that leader, the leader of the official opposition, to tell the Yukon public where those 2,000 jobs were. The Yukon Party, as a government, conspired to shut jobs down. It's called a moratorium in the forest sector.
Mr. Speaker, we promised to protect health care. We've done that. That was another promise made to the Yukon public and it's another promise kept. Even through tough times and major, major federal Liberal government cutbacks in health care funding, we did not dilute our health care system in this territory. We promised to ensure that the level of health care was kept, and we delivered.
Mr. Speaker, we said that we'd address the social deficit. Well, there are a number of examples of where we've delivered on that promise. Multi-year funding for NGOs - that is very much about addressing the social deficit. Anti-poverty initiatives - the Member for Whitehorse Centre was a major player on the anti-poverty initiatives, and I applaud that. That shows that this side of the House cannot only manage an economy and manage a budget, but also have a social conscience, something that the opposite benches should sharpen up on. The child tax credit, Mr. Speaker, and low-income tax credit are all consistent with our commitment to address the social deficit.
I know the Liberal leader likes waving around the document - the election platform document - but if she wasn't cherry-picking and trying to fabricate this whole situation, she'd have no choice but to say, over and over again, "Promise kept. Promise kept." Over and over and over.
Mr. Speaker, I want to talk again a little bit about tourism. Now, one of the initiatives -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: That's exactly what I'm going to talk about: the runway extension. One of the initiatives this government embarked on was extending that runway - a two-year project - to help bring in wide-bodied planes to help the tourism industry, direct flights out of Frankfurt, Germany. It sets us up to take on direct flights out of other areas offshore - tourism. That initiative was very much about improving tourism in this territory.
Well, what did the opposition do? While Yukoners were out there diligently working away on that project, extending that runway, they dumped all over it. "The runway isn't paved - can't land planes, it's not paved." Well, you've first got to put the base in; you pave it last.
"Clear-cut the trees." The Member for Klondike went on and on and on in this Legislature, wasting taxpayers' money, with "We've clear-cut the trees." Well, what does the opposition expect? Land wide-bodied planes via obstacle course? Of course you clear-cut the trees; it's a runway. I cannot believe some of the rubbish that comes out of the opposite benches.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Now the Liberal leader's fabricating again. Anybody that ever has been around an airport would understand that you can't have obstacles on the runway. And you've got to have pavement before you can land any of those big planes. I can't imagine trying to pull one of those out of mud.
We've established a tourism marketing fund, Mr. Speaker - another commitment to the Yukon public in regard to tourism. So, we've put our money where our mouth is. We put money into the tourism marketing fund. The Yukon Party didn't even have a program, a plan created at all in four years. All they did was build a visitor reception centre and the Beringia Centre and did some CAP projects, but there was no plan.
They said, "Well, what are we going to do about tourism?" They did nothing, Mr. Speaker. This government went to work immediately and, through the good works of the Minister of Tourism, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, we have developed a marketing fund that is definitely going to bear fruit.
The Yukon film location incentive fund - there is no doubt in my mind that that is a good expenditure - money well-spent and it will bear fruit and is consistent with our commitment to the Yukon public.
Mr. Speaker, I could go on, and on, and on, and on, but I'm sure that there are other people who would like to speak, so let me try to wrap up as quickly as I can.
We committed to the Yukon voter, to the Yukon public, that we would protect our environment. Now, anybody who thinks that protection of the environment is not paramount in the establishment of an economy - whether it be forestry, tourism, oil and gas, mining - it's all related. Protection of the environment ensures long-term sustainability.
The Yukon protected areas strategy - the former Government Leader announced boldly, for only one reason in my mind: to see if he could get a couple of votes out of that environmentalist community - that they would have it done by the year 2000. They never even had words written on a piece of paper, let alone being able to get the strategy done by the year 2000. This government has delivered, and in a very short time, there will be representative areas in this territory. That's proof that we've protected the environment and it's consistent with our promise to the Yukon public. We've delivered again.
We've delivered on devolution, as I spoke of earlier, and on land claims, another issue that the leader of the Liberal Party likes to go on and on and on about. Well, the former Yukon Party government couldn't even open up a dialogue with First Nations. There was no hope. This government, through its diligence and good governance, has managed to bring a number of the land claims to fruition. They are there, all chapters in the UFA negotiated, and the land claims are there. We understand there are a couple of difficult ones, as the Government Leader alluded to - Ross River, Kwanlin Dun - however, we promised to get on this issue and get to work on the land claims, and we delivered. We have done that, consistent with our promise to the Yukon public.
Mr. Speaker, we promised better government. Well, I've got to tell you, anybody out there in this Yukon Territory who has had an opportunity to compare this government with the former Yukon Party government is going to realize immediately that there's no doubt - this is a better government, completely better, on all fronts, and it starts with its people right here. The members sitting on this side of the House are where that begins. We're the ones who are making sure that we remain consistent with our commitments to the Yukon public, and I take a lot of pride in that because that's what I believe government should be.
We've made services more accessible to rural communities. Initiatives like the rural roads program are making government better because we've created an option here in budgeting that allows us to hit moving targets. We're not tied to year-by-year, fiscal year timelines. We can actually create work through budgeting when that work crops up. The rural roads program is very much about that. It's targeting government expenditure.
It's working quite well, Mr. Speaker. A number of communities have accessed the rural roads program and, through that process, it became evident that we should make it even bigger and better. That's what we've done in this budget before us today.
We've passed a new Municipal Act to give municipalities more of a say and more involvement. We've improved intergovernmental relations with First Nations in the Northwest Territories, Alaska and B.C. Let's look at British Columbia. Nobody ever attempted to go to the British Columbia government and seek reciprocity and fibre flow. All the Yukon Party did was try and shut it down because of the export. We're astute enough to realize that the options are there. We can't close it down completely. We've got to find ways to make it work now, that sets us up for the future. So, we go to the B.C. government and begin the negotiations of a reciprocity agreement on fibre flow. That means, when that agreement is wholly developed, we have the option to bring fibre from British Columbia into the Yukon, to counter fibre flow out of the Yukon. That's a vision, that's hard work, and that's good governance.
Alaska - you know, the Yukon Party made much about all the jobs they created by spending all those dollars on highway construction, but they forgot to go to the Alaska government and negotiate the balance of the Shakwak funding. They forgot all about that. They thought it was just going to keep happening. We did that, Mr. Speaker. Through the hard work of the Government Leader and the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, we got the Alaska government to commit in the neighbourhood of $90 million U.S. to finish the Shakwak - the north end.
First Nations, Mr. Speaker - we've taken a giant leap ahead in working with First Nations in this territory as governments, government to government. There is no question that we are not afraid to tackle those hard issues, but we go to work on them. We do that, Mr. Speaker, because we committed to the Yukon public to do that.
Mr. Speaker, the issue of strong, safe communities is always there, but we finally finished the community health transfer. It's completed. The anti-poverty strategy is developed. The seniors strategy is a very important one. The seniors said in this territory, "Look, we've got to do something here." I have witnessed and I have seen the documents, and if we take the seniors in Watson Lake, it was 13 long years of trying to work with the Yukon government to address the issues involving seniors in that community. Nothing ever happened. Well, it has happened now. We took on that hard issue. We committed to doing it, and we've delivered on that commitment, and that is the seniors strategy.
In Watson Lake alone, we've established, through funding through the Signpost Seniors Society, home care. Because we can't build an extended care facility in every community, we are taking on the hard issues of how can we improve the delivery of health care in the communities with what we have today. We're doing that through renovations in the hospital. We're looking at housing. We are delivering on our commitment to seniors in this territory.
Mr. Speaker, I could keep going on, but I'm going to let -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Well, I'm glad my colleagues aren't tired yet.
Mr. Speaker, I want to go back on the economy a little bit, because I believe that this government is on the right track. The problem with the economy in the Yukon Territory has always been the boom-and-bust cycles, and diversification of that economy has always been the uncharted, untouched issue. Today, we can safely say, through the hard work of this government, that we have turned that corner. We are on the cusp of diversifying our economy for the betterment of all Yukoners, now and into the future.
We are going to have a mining sector in our economy. We are going to have a forestry manufacturing sector in our economy. We are going to have oil and gas as part of our economy. We are going to enhance one of the mainstays, tourism, in our economy. We're going to ensure that small business plays an integral part of our economy. The list goes on and on.
Initiatives - I think there are over 50 of them - new initiatives, never been tried, never attempted. This government has had the intestinal fortitude to take on those issues and do something about them.
You know, when I think about this motion, Mr. Speaker, and the feeble attempt of the opposition to beat up the government, it makes me wonder what they are really doing over there. Why would the Liberal benches table such a motion, and lead with their chin by saying the Yukon New Democratic government has not kept its promises? I've just spent the last hour and a half listing a multitude of promises kept by this government, promises made and promises kept.
Why would the Liberals lead with their chin? I can't understand it, Mr. Speaker. In fact, it's so bad at being a good, effective part of government - and the Yukon Party can be put in the same boat here - it's so bad that I believe that the opposition benches, in their entirety, should resign for being a leak in the system.
You're a cost to this territory - you've got to show that you can be an effective opposition. And you're not going to be able to do it by bringing in Mickey Mouse motions like this one, which are absolutely, completely, out of the realm of reality and facts. It's a fabrication, Mr. Speaker.
Now, I really didn't want to go after the Liberals too badly today, because I am a compassionate person, and I believe we have to work together. But after listening to that harangue - that diatribe - I had no choice, Mr. Speaker. There was no choice.
And I urge the opposition in this Legislature to seriously think about what they're doing. You're here to represent Yukoners. You're here to ensure there's good governance. The opposition benches in this Legislature are not delivering. In fact, the promises made by the opposition are the ones that haven't been kept.
We are very open and accountable as a government. We've made many promises to the Yukon public, and we've kept them in their entirety. The Yukon Liberals, and the Yukon Party, the opposition benches in this Legislature, have not kept any promises to the Yukon public. I urge them to be a better opposition. Try harder. You can be an effective opposition. We can make the Yukon a better place.
It's your duty to help that situation, and motions like this today don't cut it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie:The Liberal leader says to me that "it's a two-way street". Well, I've twice now, in this Legislature, brought forward a motion on this day that resulted in delivery of a product. That is what I'm talking about, Mr. Speaker.
I have absolutely no understanding of why the Liberal leader brought such a motion forward today, and I urge them to not waste this day any more. I urge them to not throw away taxpayers' money by such a ridiculous attempt at playing partisan politics and beating up the government of the day. Because you've failed miserably.
Mr. Speaker, it's obvious I will not be supporting this motion.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, after that long speech, I thought the member opposite would be supporting the motion. I'm surprised.
I guess, Mr. Speaker, we can forgive the Member for Watson Lake being a neophyte politician. From some of the comments he made here today, it's quite clear for all Yukoners to see that the NDP spin doctors have got him brainwashed - totally brainwashed. That's the former Reformer that turned socialist - the worst kind - the Member for Watson Lake.
I can remember having conversations with him in Watson Lake when he thought that socialists were despicable people. He had no time for them. Talk about a political opportunist.
What really surprised me, Mr. Speaker, is that the Member for Watson Lake would bite the hand that feeds him. He forgets that they've got a huge majority there because of the Liberals - because of the Liberals.
They're not intelligent enough to treat the Liberals nicely. They bite the hand that feeds them. It's unbelievable. They forget, Mr. Speaker, that 60 percent of Yukoners voted for a right-of-centre government and they got a left-of-centre government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Listen to the Member for Laberge, who is here by the good graces of the Liberal Party, and we'll see if he's here after the next election. We'll see. I'd almost take bets on that right now.
Mr. Speaker, I'm not here to beat up on the Liberals this afternoon, but there are a few things that need to be put on the record. The Liberal leader said that she sometimes felt sorry for the NDP Cabinet ministers. Well, that doesn't surprise me, because I don't think Yukoners will forget for many, many years in the future that it was the Liberal Party that elected the first NDP government in the Yukon and then supported them in the first four years.
Yukoners won't forget that every time that they start toying with the Liberals and a substantial number of Yukoners vote Liberal they end up with an overwhelmingly majority NDP government. I don't think they'll forget that.
But a lot of things that the Liberal leader said this afternoon were very, very true. Very true. It's unfortunate that members opposite have their blinders on and can't see. It's unfortunate they can't understand what Yukoners are saying.
Mr. Speaker, nine out of 10 Yukoners who talk to me now on the streets - the one question that nine out of 10 ask me is, "When's the next election?" Mr. Speaker, I'm certain that they're not asking me because they want to support an NDP candidate. I don't think that they're asking me because they want to support an NDP candidate.
I thank the Liberal leader for the credit she gave the Yukon Party for the vibrant economy that this government took over.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: That's what she said. She said that this NDP government took over a vibrant economy, and I agree with her 100 percent. It was a very vibrant economy. There was 7.5-percent unemployment, the largest workforce in the history of the Yukon. She was absolutely right. The NDP destroyed a very vibrant economy, and that, Mr. Speaker, the NDP will pay for when they get courage enough to call an election. They'll pay for it in spades.
We sat on the government benches and listened to the Member for Faro and the NDP say that 7.5-percent unemployment was a disgrace. It was a total disgrace to Yukoners to have 7.5-percent unemployment. It wasn't good enough. We had to do better.
Well, what have we seen under an NDP government? They've never even gotten close to 7.5-percent unemployment. It kept going the other way, and it's up now to almost 15 percent, and quite possibly, this Friday, when the figures come out, it could be over 15 percent - double what it was two and a half short years ago. They've devastated a very vibrant economy. They devastated it.
They say they kept their election promises. Well, many Yukoners tell me that they don't believe they did keep their election promises. They took one position in opposition, and when they got on the government benches, they forgot about what they said in opposition.
We keep reminding them, and they keep saying, "Oh, no, that's not true." Their own word and their Better Way come back to haunt them. Time and time again, when you look through this - we had the now Minister of Economic Development, who I must say, Mr. Speaker, will have the distinction of being the Economic Development minister during the period of the worst economic times in the territory - in the history of the Yukon. That's the distinction he'll go out of office with. Even the editorials are saying that. The people on the street are saying that. He's failed, and this government has failed. They've failed Yukoners. And the sad part of it is that they're sitting on a big pool of money and for absolutely no reason, except there's a conscious decision by them, that ever-caring government, to not put Yukoners to work. They'll pay for acting lessons for their ministers, they'll allow their ministers to have private use of a pool car, but they won't put Yukoners to work - no way.
We have to stabilize the spending of government - no more boom and bust. Well, Mr. Speaker, I can say that's one thing they've accomplished. They've flattened this economy out to where 2,000 people have had to leave the Yukon. We won't need to worry about any booms or busts because they're going to keep it so depressed, as long as they're in office, that nothing is going to happen - absolutely nothing is going to happen.
And they say that things are going good, that it's metal prices - as soon as metal prices turn around. Well, we have mining companies that have left the Yukon - lots of them. They're not even exploring here any more. Why are they not exploring? Well, the Minister of Economic Development says it's because metal prices are low, it's because of the Asian flu, and it's because of Bre-X.
The reality of it is, Mr. Speaker, junior mining companies can't raise any dollars to explore in the Yukon because we have an NDP government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Or anywhere else, the Member for Kluane chirps. We see Alaska booming, we see the Northwest Territories booming - even Ontario. Ontario is booming with exploration dollars. And we have Canadian junior companies going to Alaska to explore. Coming to the Yukon? No. No, they're not coming to the Yukon.
The reality of it is, Mr. Speaker, even the people in the Department of Economic Development that work in the mining area will tell you, and tell you quite clearly, if we can't sustain $30 million worth of grassroots exploration every year, we're not going to have a mining industry in the Yukon.
This government, in their desire to diversify the economy - the desire of any government is to diversify the economy - has lost sight of one of the main economic engines of our economy for the last hundred years: mining. The Yukon was created because of mining. And this government has dismissed it out of hand. Just totally dismissed it. Dismissed it. "Oh, yeah, we're going to have a mineral strategy. But we're going to have a protected spaces strategy to offset that. We're going to have a DAP; we're going to have a DAP. We're going to take ownership of the DAP. We're going to do a great job on it."
Well, if this government was going to be judged on the work they've done on the DAP, I'd say - most Yukoners would say - they have failed. They have failed.
Now, they're trying to distance themselves from it. They've abandoned the DAP commission. "It's a federal piece of legislation. We're going to do what we can to change it." That isn't what they told voters. That isn't what they told voters when they were going to get elected.
That isn't what they said at all. Let's go to A Better Way, the little pink book, and see what they really did say.
The development assessment process - here's what they said about it, Mr. Speaker. Let's see if they have accomplished what they set out to do. They said it was one of the most important elements of the land claims agreement. Well, they're absolutely right on that. It affects what development occurs, how it's carried out, how communities will reap the benefits of development, how they will handle social, economic and environmental effects. Then they go on to say, Mr. Speaker, that in many parts of Canada, processes like the DAP have often been cumbersome, complicated, time consuming, expensive and, worst of all, unsatisfying for most people involved - developers, environmentalists, communities and First Nations. "The Yukon DAP offers a one-window approach to environmental assessment of development, federal, territorial and First Nations interests, all rolled into one process." Great words.
Well, how do we judge whether they were successful in their efforts in the DAP? Did they satisfy the developers? I'd suggest to you, no, not from the number of letters that have crossed my desk or the number of letters that have gone to the Minister of DIAND.
Did they satisfy the environmentalists? I'd suggest no, they haven't satisfied the environmentalists - who have criticized them for their DAP. Have they satisfied First Nations? I don't know; I don't think so. I heard some First Nations who are very concerned about it speaking out against it as well, because First Nations want to see development in the Yukon. They don't want to see development killed.
I think it's only the NDP government that doesn't really care if there's development in the Yukon. They seem to think that if we hire enough government employees, and we're prepared to stabilize the spending of government at a much lower level than we have today, everything will be well and good. They forget the fundamentals.
Government does not create. Government is not wealth creation. Government is wealth distribution, and you have to have somebody to create that wealth.
Now, we know the members opposite are quite content just to get the cheque from Ottawa all the time - get the cheque from Ottawa. We've been told they're fixated on it. It's all they think about: how much more money can they get from Ottawa. They have done absolutely nothing. In fact, they've set back development in the Yukon many, many years with some of the policies that they have brought in - set it back many years. There was an economy that was booming when they came to power, and they've done everything in their power to tear it down. And let me say, Mr. Speaker, that's one thing they've been very successful at - devastating the Yukon economy.
We have people crying out for economic leadership and it's just not there with this government.
I read an interesting article in a Victoria paper last fall sometime, Mr. Speaker, called "Amazing Coincidences, Yukon NDP Appointees Department." It says, "It's time once again to review the amazing coincidences involving various NDP governments' government appointees, always mindful that none of these connections could be explained by cronyism or patronage." Pure coincidence. Pure coincidence." And they go on to name the principal secretary, John Walsh, who came to the Yukon and then went to B.C., back to the Yukon - along with several of his officials. Then they go on to say that Mr. Walsh was one of the two officials who ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: .... , according to Mr. Harcourt's memoirs, met with the doomed leader to inform him, and get this, Mr. Speaker, that the word out of B.C. Federation of Labour was, "He had to go." So, who dictates to the New Democratic parties? The B.C. Federation of Labour in British Columbia, and I suggest to you the Yukon Federation of Labour in the Yukon, to whom they've cut $100,000 worth of cheques to look at the Workers' Compensation Board legislation.
There are similar coincidences. The B.C. Federation of Labour said he had to go; not the NDP membership. I suggest to you that the same holds true in the Yukon.
They go on to name a lot of people who used to be here and who went to British Columbia and then some of them came back, even a former Government Leader, Mr. Penikett, was one of the last to arrive in British Columbia where he is now the chief negotiator for the public service labour negotiations. He was at this time, but I understand he's got a different title now.
What they didn't say a lot about here is that there are a lot of things that have happened. What about the people who were in the Yukon and went to B.C. and who are now back in the Yukon? They are Deborah McNevin; Randy Brant, B.C. to Yukon; Jim Beebe, Yukon to Ontario to B.C.; Nancy Campbell, Yukon to B.C. to Yukon; Marjorie Beers, Manitoba to Yukon to Manitoba; Terry Sargeant; and, as it says at the bottom, "The trough goes on."
Mr. Speaker, this government thrives on cronyism and moving their people around from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and then they try to pride themselves on local hire. Give me a break. Yukoners aren't that na´ve; Yukoners are far too intelligent and this government really doesn't understand that at all.
They say to the private sector, "We support the private sector." Yet, when they have an opportunity to do so, do they do it? No. Did they discuss with the private sector if the private sector could provide the services of an extended care facility? No, they didn't do that. They just made a conscious decision to go ahead and...
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Mr. Ostashek: ...build it, Mr. Speaker, and staff it with some more government employees.
What did they do to Crossroads? They took it away from a non-profit group and ran it themselves. I understand that the problems haven't disappeared, that they're just as bad there now as they were before and maybe even worse under the administration of the very capable Minister of Health and Social Services.
So, they don't work with the private sector, and I could go on and give numerous examples of where they could have helped the private sector. What they have lost sight of is that government must find a balance between the private sector and the public sector. We can't have a society that's all private sector, and we can't have a society that's all public sector. We need somebody out there creating the wealth so that government can redistribute that wealth - and that's government's role - and government could help when things aren't good, and this government is not doing that.
I have only a very short time, Mr. Speaker. It's unfortunate, because I have a lot I could say, but they have failed on the major issue that faces all Yukoners, and that's our economy. They've made nice, glowing words in their A Better Way on jobs in the economy, and Yukon people want to stay in their communities without being forced by circumstances to move.
My God, Mr. Speaker, we heard the Member for Faro, when the Faro mine shut down, giving advice to his constituents - "If you get a job somewhere else, I suggest you move." That's what he said. That's what he told his constituents. "Time to leave, folks. Time to leave. Take the bus. Time to leave." They gave up as soon as the Faro mine went down. Why? Because the history of NDP -
Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Mr. Livingston: The member opposite, the leader of the official opposition, talked about speaking with nine or 10 Yukoners about the Yukon economy, and I would just urge him to get out more. I think that it's really important to try to hear from a lot of Yukoners, and I know I've been out talking with people, and he and I must be walking on different streets, because I'm hearing some different things.
This debate, in many ways, Mr. Speaker, is about credibility. It's about believability, and also, I believe, it's about integrity and about trustworthiness and where people choose to, and where they have chosen to in the past and where they'll choose to in the future, place their trust. And, of course, only time is going to tell on the future.
There are some records that Yukon citizens are going to be looking at - records both within government and out of government - and people will be looking at the track record of people's performance when they make those judgments about believability and trustworthiness.
Mr. Speaker, the person who has just spoken, the leader of the official opposition, is the one who called any tax increases "obscene" in 1992, and then proceeded to raise both personal and corporate income taxes, as well as the tax on gas and tobacco. Now, who can we believe?
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is the same one who has engaged on a number of occasions - and the members of his party have engaged - in mean-spirited and personal attacks on people because they can't get to the more substantial issues or they're not able to raise more substantial objections. They don't have any. So, they've simply made mean-spirited and personal attacks. I know they've done that in my riding. They've circulated newsletters - unsigned - but with all kinds of spurious and obscene comments, and there you have it.
Mr. Speaker, I know from talking to former members of his party - former Conservative members, former Yukon Party members - in my riding, they talk about being chased out of the party by the current leader of the official opposition. They are finding a home in our party because they believe that they're seeing good government. I have different constituents - really, people from across the riding, who have talked, for example, about tax reform - "If you can pull off tax reform - I may have voted Conservative for a long time, but I can tell you, I'll come over to voting for you, if you can pull that off."
So, Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives, whether they're in Yukon Party colours or in Liberal colours, may feel they've got it in the bag, but I can tell you, that's not what we're hearing out there.
Mr. Speaker, it was the same member who just spoke, only a couple of days ago, who was misleading the Legislature when he was talking about the DAP commissioner and the DAP commission being ended, and said it's all done. Well, in the same paragraph, in the statement that was made, it talks about the DAP commissioner being asked to carry on.
I don't know what else to call it, Mr. Speaker. His statements in this House are simply not believable.
Mr. Speaker, we see right now in the newspapers the Yukon Party wannabe candidates started their letter-writing campaign, trying to, with a lot of rhetoric but not much substance, trying to lay their foundations, I suppose, for future candidacies. And, Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that the issues of believability and the issues of trustworthiness are the ones that people are going to be making their judgments on.
Mr. Speaker, it was the former Government Leader who was opposed to taking the DAP to the public. He said, in this Legislature, only two years ago, his government had it all done; his government was not going to - there was really nothing further to be done, it was simply ready to be sent off to Ottawa.
That was with no public consultation, Mr. Speaker. He was simply going to rush it through and hope that nobody would look at it.
Well, Mr. Speaker, it was our government, it was the DAP commission, that insisted on taking the DAP draft legislation to the public so that we could have the benefit of their comments. And I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that the Yukon government is not yet satisfied with DAP. We've got more work to do on it, and we'll continue to stick with it, until we get it right. Because, in one respect, the opposition leader is right: our economic fortunes are somewhat tied to having processes that are going to work; environmental assessment and development assessment processes that are going to work.
Mr. Speaker, we have worked with labour in this economy. I won't apologize for that. We've worked with labour on tax reform, on training trust funds, on a whole range of issues. But Mr. Speaker, we've worked with a lot of other partners in the Yukon economy as well. We've worked with small business; we've worked with agriculture, with tourism, with the resource industries. Mr. Speaker, this is not a narrow-interest government, but this is a broad-based government working with all Yukoners, from rural and urban areas, be they women or men, be they seniors or youth. No matter what part of the economy they're in, we're interested in working with them to make the Yukon a better place.
And we've seen that, Mr. Speaker, in the budget that was just brought down here last week, the budget that provides for environmental protection, provides for economic development, provides support for families, provides support for communities. Mr. Speaker, it's a budget that speaks to many different people.
The tax reform initiative that I had the opportunity to work on, the privilege of working on with this government, I see in the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce newsletter. It notes the Yukon small business tax credit, the labour-sponsored venture capital corporation, the mineral exploration tax credit, and notes as well additional monies for the mining incentives and tourism business sector, such as the trade and tourism funds. There's a great deal of support from a number of different sectors of this economy of this community for the work of this government.
Mr. Speaker, records do speak for themselves. The leader of the official opposition, the Yukon Party that was in government, of course, from 1992 to 1996, is the one that didn't freeze taxes. He called tax increases "obscene". What he did freeze was hiring and spending within government. He froze - in fact, no, he rolled back - the wages. The wage restraint legislation was imposed on workers who worked for this government. "No negotiations, we'll throw out collective bargaining, and simply roll back all of the workers' wages." That was what the leader of the official opposition - that's the kind of government the leader of the official opposition stands for.
His was the government, in 1992, that chose not to open the extended care facility so they could save the government $3.5 million, never mind the people who were waiting for beds, looking for chronic care facilities. "We're just not going to open it, so that we don't have to spend that money." This is not the sign, Mr. Speaker, of a warm-hearted government. Rather, this is the sign of a mean-spirited government.
This is the same government that said it wouldn't build an abattoir, primarily because they didn't like the plan that was presented - the fairly broad-ranging plan that was presented to it. And the voters spoke loud and clear. They spoke in the by-election in Whitehorse West, where the Yukon Party candidate came in dead last, and they spoke again, of course, in the general election in September 1996, which elected a New Democratic Party government and relegated the Yukon Party almost to third party status.
So, a mean-spirited government is not the kind of government that Yukoners are looking for. It's not the kind of government that they're wanting to support.
Now, Mr. Speaker, my colleague, the Member for Watson Lake, did an eloquent job of talking about our government's record and of talking about the shortcomings of both the Liberal Party and the Yukon Party, about the difficulty they've had, and certainly would have had had they been in government, of fulfilling some of their promises during the election campaign.
It was our government that, during the election campaign, didn't promise a pig in a poke or a million dollars here and a million dollars there. We were the party, Mr. Speaker, that promised stable and fair spending, and we were the party that didn't trot out a whole bunch of election goodies. Eight million dollars was our estimate on the promises that were made - the cost of delivering on the promises that we made - during the election campaign. That's a far cry from the Santa's sleigh that we saw from both the Yukon Party, with over $50 million worth of promises, and the Liberal Party, with their close to $50 million worth of promises. They were going to build a bridge at Dawson. They were going to put in $25 million worth of electrical infrastructure, new poles and wires, which was going to be paid for by ratepayers, ultimately.
I'll tell you, Mr. Speaker, we looked at the easier route - the easier route of promising a dollar here and a dollar there. We chose the responsible route, and it was the one that Yukoners chose as well - that of responsible spending, not wild spending just for the purposes of an election campaign.
Mr. Speaker, I'm going to make reference to a few of the - I wish I had time to go through A Better Way, which has been referred to so much by the opposition in this Legislature. I wish I had time to go through it point by point. Time doesn't permit me to do so, but I'm going to make a few references as I run through and talk about some of the different accomplishments of this government.
We indicated that we would negotiate in good faith with the objective of concluding all outstanding land claims as quickly as possible. Mr. Speaker, we have been doing that, and we have new claims signed off, and we're close to signing new ones off, and I am very hopeful that, during the course of this mandate, we will significantly complete that, if not entirely complete it.
Mr. Speaker, we did talk about the development assessment process, and I've spoken about it earlier. We did set up a public process prior to it moving out to public consultation, but also we put a great deal of stock into what people have said during the public consultation process, and we continue to be committed to doing that.
Mr. Speaker, we said about devolution that we would ensure that any program developed from Canada would supply sufficient funding to deliver those services, and are we sticking by that commitment to Yukon voters? You bet we are, and that's caused a few bumps on the road in order to get to an agreement about devolution, but it's one that we've stuck to, and we will continue to stick to.
Mr. Speaker, we also committed to getting the federal government to agree that nothing in devolution will prejudice the unsettled land claims of individual First Nations. We've been able to deliver on that promise as well.
About jobs and training for Yukon people, we've said that that has to come first. We talked about adopting a Yukon-people-first hiring policy for projects involving Yukon funds. We also talked about that with respect to Yukon contracts. As the Member for Watson Lake has pointed out this afternoon already, we saw an increase that literally increased the amount of government funds going to Yukoners for Yukon projects by half again. And that's a significant contribution by anybody's measuring stick.
We also indicated that we would improve training in other programs so that job goals can be met. We've done that within government, Mr. Speaker. We've also established a number of different training trust funds with a number of different organizations and industries across the territory to further improve the training, and so on, that people have available to them.
We also indicated, Mr. Speaker, that we'd develop youth works - working with youth, not having decisions made for them, but rather involving them in decisions and matters that affect them, involving them in real work experience that can help to fulfill their career goals - and we are doing that and have done that for some time now.
We've also done a number of different things on the economic front, and I want to talk for a couple of minutes about some of the commitments that were made during the last election campaign by all of the parties.
When the Yukon Chamber of Mines circulated a questionnaire to the various parties, the parties, of course, made some responses, and the Yukon Party said that it sought devolution and a fair financial arrangement, and that it would facilitate agreements between industry and First Nations in the area of training, all around the whole devolution question.
Well, Mr. Speaker, we not only have a devolution agreement, but we have also worked on the issues of training.
The Liberal Party said that it would take devolution down in its first term, and ensure that First Nation interests were protected if devolution happened before the settling of land claims. Well, the irony here, Mr. Speaker, is we've not only kept our own promises, we've kept the Yukon Party's promise and the Liberals' promise with respect to devolution and working with First Nations on devolution.
Mr. Speaker, the whole area around private sector investment, around the importance of having a climate that is conducive to private sector investment, was another one of the areas that was questioned, and the Yukon Party indicated that they were seeking regulations that were streamlined, fair and open, and a favourable tax regime.
Well, I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party government in the Yukon has kept that Yukon Party promise as well. We're continuing to work with industry and those who are interested in working on a DAP that's going to work. With devolution, we'll have opportunities, Mr. Speaker, to work on some of the other permitting processes, and so on.
I know already our government, through the Minister of Economic Development, is working on blue-book processes, trying to arrive at more streamlined processes.
And guess what? We've also introduced that mineral exploration tax credit - 22 percent, the highest in Canada. Now, if that's not a favourable tax regime for mining, I don't know what is.
The Liberal Party promised something very similar. They talked about a competitive, regulatory, and taxing regime. Once again, Mr. Speaker, we've delivered not only on our own promises, but on the promises of the other parties as well.
The Yukon Party, in response to questions about park creation, indicated that they would do it with full public consultation. Well, Mr. Speaker, this government - the Yukon NDP government - has just spent two years involved in consultations about the Yukon protected areas strategy. So we have, indeed, fulfilled that commitment of the Yukon Party.
The Liberals said they'd establish a comprehensive protected areas system in the Yukon. Well, we're well underway at doing that as well. So, we're not only keeping our commitments, Mr. Speaker, but we've been keeping their commitments as well.
The Yukon Party talked about reducing dependency on diesel generation; the Liberals talked about making decisions - although they didn't really say what the decisions would be - about energy supplies. Well, Mr. Speaker, as all Yukoners know, we've made a significant contribution to the green-power fund, to the windmill up on Haeckel Hill, which is clearly a form of sustainable energy, we've made contributions to energy conservation programs, that residents and business can make use of. Mr. Speaker, we've done a great deal of work on that area.
I want to turn, briefly, to agriculture, because agriculture is a matter of some considerable interest in my riding. The Agricultural Association also queried politicians prior to the last election on what kinds of commitments they would be making. Mr. Ostashek, in an open letter to the Yukon Agricultural Association - in the Whitehorse Star, Thursday, September 26 - talks about the existing agricultural policy being reviewed. Indeed, our government is doing that. He uses a couple of wiggle words here. He talks about "fiscal restraints", but "would like to see an industry-established, approved abattoir."
Mr. Speaker, our government has simply gone ahead, worked with the Agricultural Association, and established that abattoir.
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Mr. Livingston: Mr. Speaker, the lists are too long. Two minutes is simply not enough. We made a commitment to re-establish the community development fund to work with communities on priorities that they saw in their communities. We've done that. I know that the members opposite don't like to hear about this. They've voted against the community development fund. In the budget they've queried it, and so on. Some of the recent community development fund applications, or monies, that have been approved are for the Miles Canyon Historical Railway Society, Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Society, Yukon Amateur Hockey Association, Historical Museums Association, the Yukon Trappers Association, Whitehorse Concerts, Girl Guides of Canada, Crime Prevention Yukon, Yukon Council on Aging, the Yukon Agricultural Association. Mr. Speaker, I wish I had more time, but the members opposite have voted against these, have spoken against these, each and every time.
We've provided support for small business, Mr. Speaker, in the form of reviewing contract regulations, by ensuring that Yukon contractors receive the bulk of contracts, by cutting red tape, by going through the code of regulatory conduct. We are working with the mining industry to try to ensure a future with certainty, despite what the Member for Klondike describes as a downturn in mining that's attributed, in part, to low metal prices and the Asian flu. That's what the Member for Klondike, from the Yukon Party, says in his own newsletter to his constituents.
Mr. Speaker, tourism is another area that clearly is very important. We've worked at diversifying industries. We're committed to quality health care. It's interesting that the Liberals during the election campaign paraded as the kind of people with a social conscience, that they wanted to see -
Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Mr. Cable: I'm going to deal with one of the election themes that this government put forward in the last election that has troubled me quite considerably. One of the main pitches of the NDP during the last -
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I don't believe there's a quorum in this House.
Speaker: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(2), if, at any time during the sitting of the Assembly, the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring for four minutes and do a count.
Speaker: I will shut off the bells, and I will do a count.
We have nine members present. A quorum is present. We will continue debate.
Mr. Cable: One of the main pitches of the NDP during the last election was the word "integrity". That was one of the main themes. It's sprinkled in their literature. Yet while they were putting this literature out, what they were doing was a very cleverly orchestrated campaign by the NDP to misconstrue my voting record, particularly with respect to the public sector restraint legislation. As recently as last Thursday, we had the Government Leader standing up, telling this House that I had voted with the Yukon Party on their budgets consistently, and that I had voted for tax increases. Let's go over the record.
Fortunately, division was called on June 3, 1993. The vote was tied and the Speaker had to break the tie. I knew, as the NDP knew, that the government could have fallen if the Speaker had not broken the tie. The minority government could have fallen. We could have been out on the street, but I was not prepared to vote for the tax increases.
The next budget was the 1994-95 budget, the First Appropriation Act, 1994-95. This was the second budget of the Yukon Party minority government and it involved what was called, at the time, the Bea Firth amendment. The opposition - that's the NDP - Mrs. Firth and I all supported an amendment by Mrs. Firth to remove $4.5 million from the road budget so that Grey Mountain Primary School could be built. Division was called on the amendment and it's in Hansard for all to see.
Then we came down to the third reading on January 18, 1994, and what it says is, "Motion for third reading of Bill No 12 agreed to." My recollection is that after the $4.5 million was removed by the Bea Firth amendment the budget was then supported by everyone, including the NDP, and this appears to have been the recollection of the then-Government Leader, now the leader of the official opposition when he was quoted in the newspaper as saying that everyone supported the capital budget. He was quoted on CHON-FM: "The third reading of the capital budget, which was passed without any dissenting votes..." That's the then-Government Leader speaking.
The NDP clearly didn't want to go to the electoral wall, so they cleverly sat on their hands and did not vote against the budget.
Then we have the 1995-1996 budget. I voted in favour; I'll confess. Whether that was wise politically is debatable, particularly in view of the misrepresentation of my voting record by the NDP flacks during the election and subsequently.
The last budget, the 1996-1997 budget, I voted against, as did all the opposition. It's in Hansard for all to see.
There you have it. The Liberals - two budgets for, two budgets against. The NDP - one budget for, three budgets against.
Now, let's look at the public sector restraint legislation. We have the son of the public sector restraint legislation. The first bill that came in, the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, No. 1 - the rollback for the managers and the MLAs and the caucus employees and I believe the judges. There were amendments made by NDP members, and it was moved out of Committee on June 2, 1993, with third reading on June 3, 1993. There was no division called, and the NDP, like the other opposition members, accepted the government's position that this rollback was necessary.
If they hadn't, they would have called division.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Whitehorse Centre, on a point of order.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I believe that the motion doesn't pertain to what the member opposite is talking about. I believe that the member opposite should stay with the motion and not be talking about past voting patterns of himself. We are all very familiar with how he voted back then, and I'd recommend he speaks to the motion.
Speaker: The Member for Riverside, on the point of order.
Mr. Cable: The point I'm talking to, Mr. Speaker, is the word "integrity" found in the election documents. The misrepresentation of my voting record relates to integrity.
Speaker: The Member for Whitehorse Centre, on the point of order.
Mr. Hardy: The motion is about the people's confidence in the government. I believe that the member is using this motion to talk about his own political history, which doesn't address the motion whatsoever.
Speaker: The Chair would ask the Member for Riverside to assist the House and the Chair by ensuring that your remarks relate to the motion before the House.
Mr. Cable: I have no trouble giving that assurance whatsoever. I know the opposition doesn't want to hear it, but they are going to hear it.
We look at the public sector restraint legislation - the first bill - where the NDP voted for it. They voted to whack the managers, the people who were not represented by unions.
Then we have the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994. I voted against that, and division was called. It's clear in Hansard that the Liberal Party, as represented by myself in this House, did not support the government on rolling back wages and doing away with the collective agreement.
And while this was going on, while this clever campaign of orchestration was going on, we have the New Democrats writing to PSAC, the political action committee of PSAC, on September 17, 1996, saying what they are going to do. "Yes, the New Democrats are prepared to fully rescind the wage restraint compensation act at the earliest opportunity." What would anybody believe when they read that? They would believe that the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act was going to - poof - disappear, and that the money that had been taken out of union members' pockets would be restored. That's what you would believe when you read A Better Way - "Collective Bargaining . . . an NDP government led by Piers McDonald will repeal territorial Bill 94, which ended free negotiations, at the earliest opportunity. "
So, here's the opportunity. I offer this to the members opposite, and their leader, to clear the record - to live up to that campaign theme - that campaign promise - of integrity, to inform the union members, with whom they seem to have some association, of the true voting records. They can go on the record, they can write a letter to the union, they can correct the record in this House, and then when they have done so, they would possibly fully understand the meaning of the word "integrity". They would understand what that means to people in the street. There is a limit to political games. Misrepresenting voting records, and carrying on and orchestrating campaigns during an election with misrepresentations is not my view of the word "integrity", and I don't think most people in the street would follow that, either.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hardy: While I'd like to thank the members opposite for their generosity in allowing me the whole 90 seconds that there is to speak, it was an interesting motion that was brought forward and I believe that everybody probably would like to have spoken to the motion. I believe this motion was actually brought forward a year ago as well, so we have gone around it once and we're going around it again a second time, and it doesn't seem -
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m., the Speaker will leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Debate on Motion No. 153 accordingly adjourned
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
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 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. Committee is dealing with the main estimates. We are on the Department of Economic Development.
Department of Economic Development - continued
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I can table some terms of reference on the mining and environment research group for the Member for Riverside and, as well - well, I'll wait for more questions. There is some more debate we're going to have to have, so I'll just wait and find out what else members want to know.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I was somewhat surprised by the very brief introductory statements that the minister gave in his opening comments in general debate on Economic Development.
It's no secret to anyone that the economy of the Yukon is not doing very well, and the minister's own department's short-term economic outlook says there's more pain to come. That causes me some concern and I know this government is taking the position that they can't do a lot about it - that mining's down, it's not their fault, and we're just going to have to do as well as we can until mining comes back. That causes me some concern also.
We have the Member for Faro, who is now the Minister of Economic Development, who, when in opposition, said 7.5 percent unemployment was just far too much and couldn't be condoned. We have the short-term economic outlook that says we are going to lose some more people in the Yukon. They are forecasting the population to be 31,500 in 1999. They are forecasting another 700 people to leave the labour force in 1999.
They're forecasting that the average number of people employed in 1999 will drop to 13,100. So, Mr. Speaker, there isn't much good news in this short-term economic outlook, and I wonder if the minister could maybe tell us now, in light of the statements he made in opposition when 7.5 percent unemployment was too much and that the government of the day should have been doing a better job, how does he reconcile all that with the high unemployment that we've experienced under the NDP administration in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I don't know why the member is asking such silly, partisan questions in Committee of the Whole debate but if he wants to, he can go ahead - I'll be here.
First of all, the member opposite tries to portray 7.5 percent as if that was the unemployment rate throughout their administration. Well, of course it wasn't. There were unemployment rates of 17.3 percent when the Faro mine was down. They lasted, I think, until the Faro mine was back up. Actually the following year, in 1994, they hit over 14 percent. That's at a time when they had the Shakwak project and $50 million of federal money for construction of the hospital going on right in the middle of the City of Whitehorse. So, the member opposite, first of all, leaves a very false picture of their economic record.
My point with the member opposite was that they were falling into the exact same trap that other governments in the Yukon have in the past, which is to have no focus on diversification and be completely resource based.
One can only see the results of that, Mr. Speaker, now that our government has had to try to function on a whole new range of initiatives, based on diversification, that if governments years ago - including his - would have been able to deliver on more, we would be in better shape today and able to withstand the downturn.
One of the things in some of the jurisdictions - none are doing great right now, particularly in the west - that has worked well is the fact that when they have had downturns, they've moved to diversification.
I'll use the example of Alberta. In northern Alberta there are some places where there were 600 wells being drilled last year. This year there's 50, because of the downturn in oil prices. But because the economy there has a wide range of things to offer, they haven't faced the downturn as much.
In Alaska - I got a note today from the governor's office; a friend of mine there is chief of staff to the governor. The governor's latest budget is proposing income tax for the first time in Alaskan history, and tying into the permanent fund, because of the downturn in oil prices.
This idea that somehow you can just turtle and ignore the world resource economy in the Yukon is patently ridiculous. The member opposite knows that.
Mr. Chair, the member said that we said that we can't do a lot about it. Well, that's not what we said. We've done a lot about it. We brought in a mineral tax credit. We brought in a film locations incentive fund. We're developing an immigrant investment fund. All three are brand new initiatives in the territory.
We're moving on oil and gas development, something the member opposite couldn't do. We've announced that we're going to have nominations for land - the first in 20 years in the territory for land disposition. We brought in a millennium fund. We've created the technology innovation centre to start working on applications in development of research and development in northern climates.
We participated in trade missions. Today, I found out that one of the companies that I was on a trade mission with in Alaska this year just signed a $750,000 contract over there on precisely the issue that they were working on when they were on the trade mission over there when I was with them.
We've been working in a number of areas on attracting long-term mineral investment. Some of that work was initiated by the member opposite - the former Government Leader, particularly - as it involves some of the Japanese companies who are very seriously looking at a couple of properties and a couple of companies in the Yukon right now, but it has taken a long time.
There is the trade and investment fund, the tourism marketing fund, small business investment tax credit. I mean, I guess the member opposite has just forgotten about that.
I know it's not a tax increase. It's not his style of economics, but I think it's a good move.
We've been working on other ways to improve access to capital for Yukon businesses, looking at the whole issue of credit unions, dealing with banks about being more responsive to Yukoners; we've been working on red-tape initiatives. The Minister of Government Services met last week with the business community.
Mr. Chair, let me tell the member opposite that his view of what's out there in the business community and my view are very different. I know there's trouble. I know it's a tough time. I know the unemployment rate is high. But I also know there are a lot of businesses out there that know that this government has brought in a lot of initiatives and is trying very, very hard, in difficult global circumstances to make things happen.
The member talks about people leaving. Well, I've got the labour force statistics right here. Mr. Chair, the labour force in January 1999 is the second-highest January figure in the history of the Yukon Territory, second only to January of 1997, another year when we were in government.
Now, I can't explain all these. Do I have to table the facts for the member opposite? Can he get that through his head? It's right here, from the stats branch. I'll get another copy made and I'll send it over to him. But in January of 1999, according to the stats branch, we had 15,400 in the labour force.
The next highest January number is 15.6 - January of 1997. In January of 1993, Yukon Party government - 14.5. January of 1994 - 14.3, Yukon Party government. January of 1995 - 14.2.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you. I'll send that over to the member opposite.
January of 1996 - 15,000. January 1997, 15.6. January -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yeah, that's the labour force. January 1998 - 15.1. January 1999 - 15.4.
So, let me just say to the member: it's just facts. I'm telling the member opposite. He states that everyone's left. The whole labour force is gone. Well, prove it.
Mr. Ostashek: I never heard so much political rhetoric and garbage in all my life.
The one thing that is fact is that this minister will go down in history as presiding over the worst economic time in the history of the Yukon.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Ask people. And this is the minister that said - aside from all the political rhetoric tonight - that 7.5 percent unemployment was too high. He said it when it was 7.5 percent - not when it was 14; not when it was 12; not when it was 10; not when it was going down - but 7.5 percent was too high.
That's what he said. Now we hear the political rhetoric, "We've done this, we've done that, we've done that". We haven't put any Yukoners to work, though. We haven't put any Yukoners to work. We haven't put any Yukoners to work.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Now we hear the brains from Laberge. My God, he doesn't know anything about economics; never worked a day in his life; never created a paycheque in his life - and now he's talking about economics.
Knows nothing - never met a payroll in his life.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: On a point of order, Mr. Livingston.
Mr. Livingston: On a point of order, the member opposite is simply taking this Legislature down into the dirt here, speaking about members that he really doesn't know very much about - members that have worked hard for this territory, like many other teachers, like many other labourers have. The member's just going off the top here.
Chair: Mr. Ostashek, on the point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, if the member would mind his manners on the back benches there, and not be kibitzing, he wouldn't get himself in trouble, like he is.
Chair: I would ask members to refrain from making personal remarks and concentrate on the budget.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Chair: On a point of order, Mr. Phillips.
Mr. Phillips: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, you too have a job to do. It's one thing, Mr. Chair -
Chair: On the point of order, Mr. Livingston.
Mr. Phillips: I'm speaking, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Then sit down when another member rises. You sit. Read the rules.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Chair: On the point of order, Mr. Jenkins.
Mr. Jenkins: There really isn't a point of order. It's just a dispute between members. If the side opposite would stop their chirping, sit down and face the reality of what they're supposed to be here for, we'd get along a lot better.
Chair: Mr. Livingston, on the point of order.
Mr. Livingston: The member opposite for Riverdale North has simply insulted the position of the Chair, and that's simply unacceptable, Mr. Chair.
Chair: On the point of order - Mr. Phillips, please do not speak until you are introduced. Mr. Phillips, on the point of order.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, on the point of order, what I was criticizing is you criticized the opposition leader for what he said -
Chair: Order please. Order please.
Mr. Phillips: - but you didn't say anything about the -
Chair: Mr. Phillips. Order please.
Mr. Phillips: - hooting and hollering -
Chair: Mr. Phillips. Order please.
Mr. Phillips: - of the member opposite.
Chair: The Chair did not criticize anyone. The Chair is trying to maintain order. It does not appreciate being accused of criticizing anyone in this House.
Now, I'd like to remind members that we're discussing the budget, and to keep your remarks parliamentary and to refrain from personal attacks.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, we know the -
Mr. Phillips: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Phillips, on a point of order.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I want you to apologize to me for just cat-calling at me, as the Chair of Committee of the Whole, or else get out of the Chair and sit in the back, where everyone else is.
Chair: Mr. Harding, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I would ask that members in this House respect that it's not appropriate to be addressing the Chair in such a manner. Everybody should just relax, including me, and let's just get on with this debate.
Mr. Ostashek: I know that the Economic Development minister -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Order please.
Chair vacates the Chair
Deputy Chair takes the Chair
Deputy Chair: One moment please.
Okay, now we'll resume general debate.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, we were questioning the Economic Development minister on taking a position in opposition that 7.5 percent unemployment was too high, and now he's presiding over much higher unemployment numbers and doesn't appear to be wanting to take any responsibility for it.
I've heard the minister list off a lot of programs that this government has embarked on, and we'll be getting into them in detail in a few minutes, but he has to admit that they haven't produced the jobs for Yukoners that Yukoners deserve.
We can rattle around numbers all we want - he said, I said - the fact remains that this government, regardless of what they've done, have not been able to spur the economy on.
The minister went on at great lengths about oil being in the tank in Alberta and that we should understand that. We don't have oil here, but we had lots of mining when this government came to power. We had a lot of exploration dollars coming into the Yukon. This government doesn't appear to be able to build the confidence of junior mining companies to be able to raise dollars to explore in the Yukon, and that's the point we've been trying to make with this minister for a couple of years now.
Mr. Chair, if we don't have exploration in the Yukon, we're never going to have mines in the Yukon, and this government, in spite of what they've done and in spite of all the words they mouth, haven't got the confidence of investors to invest in the Yukon. As a result, we have almost 15 percent unemployment, as of last month. I suspect it could go higher this month and probably higher the following month with BYG now being out of the circuit.
My question to the Minister of Economic Development: how far is he prepared to see the population of the Yukon drop before he takes some real action to put Yukoners to work?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's not really worth debating the member opposite's right-wing ideological fantasy world about his ability to stimulate mining activity in the midst of the worst downturn in Canadian mining in many years. He believes that the world markets and the impact of the Bre-X scandal on the junior sector is non-existent; it's all a farce.
Well, Mr. Chair, I'm not going to waste my breath on the member opposite because he believes, even though he operated in an environment before there was an Asian flu or before when everybody was putting money into Bre-X, that that just has nothing to do with anything; it's all the NDP government's fault in the Yukon. It doesn't matter if the regulatory process is federally controlled; it doesn't matter if they bring in a mineral exploration tax credit; it doesn't matter if they have a good reputation in the industry as a government that supports responsible mining - it doesn't matter to him. I'm not going to try and convince him of anything different. What's the point?
I will tell the member opposite that this is the second-largest labour force in the history of the Yukon, at least according to Statistics Canada. I have no doubt that the economy is suffering and I will tell him that we've been working on the mining front and many others. However, these are the toughest markets. When you talk to junior mining companies, they say that these are the toughest markets that they've seen. Some companies that work out of Vancouver seem to be in a smaller office every time I talk to them every year, and this downturn has carried on longer than they expected.
But our approach has not been to just try and jump-start the London metals market. Our approach has been to jump-start this economy, and a lot of the initiatives that we have undertaken have created jobs for Yukoners. I dispute the member that it hasn't created jobs for Yukoners. No, we haven't spent our way or taxed our way into providing a job for every Yukon person with the Government of Yukon, but we have been trying to create jobs. I just look at the business community and what they say. Just look at the recent Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce newsletter. It says the budget contains good news for Yukon businesses from a taxation investment perspective. Some of the ideas put forward by the Whitehorse Chamber were adopted.
Now, when I meet with the business community - the Government Leader and I attended a speech with the business community the other day, quite a few members of the business community. I talked to a lot of them and they were quite impressed with the agenda the government's put forward. A lot of them say, "There's a lot you're doing and we recognize the world environment. The member sort of completely dismisses the numerous initiatives we've undertaken." I didn't even mention all the initiatives we've undertaken in education and training initiatives and some of the work we've done with, for example, the Southeast Yukon Forest Corporation with their training money. The members opposite always say, "What jobs are you training for?" Well, there's a good example. The training we did up on the north highway with companies like Golden Hill, where I think 10 out of 11 of our people were eventually placed - well, the Liberal leader is kibitzing across the floor about her knowledge of that. I, too, know the issues that were generated through that process. There were some hurdles, but the bottom line is that 10 of the 11 were placed, as I understand it.
So, Mr. Chair, I dispute what the member says. I don't look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. I represent the community of Faro and I know how difficult it is in that community right now. I know that people in Watson Lake are having some tough times, and I know some of the businesses in Whitehorse and throughout the territory are experiencing problems.
But the member opposite knows that, if we were not to be in a political debate here, but in a rational one about the economy, anybody, including the member opposite if he'd just look at what happened when the Faro mine went down when he was in power, knows that you can't take 22 percent out of the gross domestic product, and 700 or 1,000 Yukon jobs, and not notice it. You'd notice it in a province like B.C. or Alberta or Saskatchewan. You'd really notice it in workforce of some 15,000 people.
Mr. Ostashek: I didn't say that the government wasn't doing anything. I said that what the government is doing isn't working. That's what I said. It isn't working. There are no results from it. They are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's not showing up in more jobs in the Yukon, and that is fact.
Let me relate another fact to the minister. Let me relate another fact to the minister that coincides with NDP administrations. Exploration in the Yukon in 1992 was less than $10 million under a NDP government. There was no Asian flu. Metal prices were high, but what we had then and what we have now that's the same is an NDP government. That exploration went up dramatically under our administration, and now it's in the tank again. I'll never get that minister to agree with me, and I don't intend to, but it's important that Yukoners understand that this minister has failed in his job to get the economy moving.
Mr. Chair, I wrote several letters to this government - one to the Government Leader on January 11, one to the Minister of Economic Development on January 11, and one to the Minister of Government Services on January 11 - asking for contracts, asking for different information, and I haven't received a reply to any of them. I would like to know why.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I'd like to ask the member opposite why he dismisses the $12 million that the Southeast Yukon Forest Corporation invested in southeast Yukon as a non-investment in our territory. I think it's insulting, frankly, to the people who have invested in the Yukon.
I'd like to tell him that I met with Cominco and with Minto on their projects in the Yukon; Cominco has three mining projects, including Kudz Ze Kayah, Sa Dena Hes, and potentially Faro. They are absolutely committed to those projects; there's no waning whatsoever to seeing them come into production. But they're not going to do it at 45 cents zinc.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the Member for Klondike from the peanut gallery says, "Not while you're here", and that's completely false. Why do you think they put $4 million into Sa Dena Hes to reopen it? Well, they were going to do it until the Asian flu came along, after $4 million was spent, and the price went from 79 cents to 40 cents. That's what happened.
Now, the Minto mine has the mill footings poured; all the equipment's been moved across the river. It's completely ready to open. I know that the company is still trying to work with other backers, including Asarco, to lever monies to open it. However, Asarco has said they're committed to the project, but not at the lowest copper price in 15 years.
So that mine will go when prices turn around. And that's a short-term economic outlook that our economist tabled. That economist doesn't - nor does any other, frankly - know what's going to happen in terms of commodity prices. Things can change in a real hurry.
I remember in September 1997 when Cominco flew up and announced they were going to open Sa Dena Hes, and put $4 million in. Four months later, Asian flu hit. They decided - the price went from 79 to 42 or 40 cents, 39 - they had to change their plans.
So I'm not convinced we won't get a turnaround, but I'm not going to pray for it because we can't afford to do that. We've got to work on all the other initiatives, economically, that we're working on.
The member opposite talked about NDP governments being plagued by NDP governments. Well, 1992 was a low year for exploration in the Yukon. It was also the lowest year in Canada in 27 years, across the board, for mineral exploration. Every jurisdiction was at a low point. And I can provide that information for the member opposite - although there's no reason to because he's going to believe what he wants to believe. But that was the information provided me by the Prospector and Developers Association of Canada.
The year 1992 was the worst year in 27 in Canadian mining history. Then, I will also say the best year in mineral exploration history of the Yukon was under an NDP government. The best year was 1989 - ever - in mineral exploration. So, what his point is, I don't know. With regard to the information he wants, I'll check on the answer to that question.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I'm not satisfied the minister is going to check. I mean, it was January 11 that I wrote the letters, and I haven't received a reply to any of them. So, I'm going to ask the questions tonight.
I wrote a letter to the Minister of Economic Development regarding the investment readiness program. I'll read the letter to the member opposite, so he knows what I'm talking about: "I understand the Department of Economic Development has sole sourced some consulting contracts in relationship to the development and the management of the investment readiness program. Would you please provide me with more information concerning these programs and how they are being utilized in the territory? Recently there have been announcements concerning both the sale of Takhini Hot Springs, as well as the interest of Taiwanese investors in constructing a five-star hotel/convention centre on the Whitehorse waterfront. Could you please advise me what role, if any, the Department of Economic Development played in those two initiatives?"
I have not received an answer from the minister, yet this is the government that calls themselves the open, accountable government. It is almost two months later, and I don't have an answer. I've got some letters to the Government Services minister - same thing. I've got letters to the Government Leader - same thing. No replies.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll have to apologize to the member opposite. Most of the time we do our utmost to try and provide responses to the member in a reasonable time. Now that the member has tweaked my memory, actually, responses have been prepared. But there has been some changing circumstances, and I wanted to give the member opposite some current information. I hope that's not too alarming to him.
With regard to the five-star hotel, that's a private sector project. I've had a couple of meetings with the potential proponents - that's it. At those meetings, they've discussed their plans, they've gone over them. They have had some more extensive discussions, I understand, with the city about the land. We've kept it at a very preliminary level. My officials, I understand, are also speaking to them because they've made some requests about immigrant investment funding. This is far too early to even consider that, simply because the money hasn't been raised yet.
Right now, there are about $1.25 million that has been signed and we're looking at about $6 million more, potentially. And if we get an extension, a lot more than that. But we have to decide how to spend that money, and the issue of competition was raised by the member opposite with the Government Leader, and that's something that has to be considered as well. So it is very cursory on that particular project. That's a private investment and these people are free to talk to the media, to talk to the city, as they so choose. And in what way we can assist them, we will, as long as it falls within the parameters of the type of assistance we can offer. And we're more than pleased to do that because we do want investment in the territory.
Secondly, on the Takhini Hot Springs, the government has identified that we believe we have a number of areas in the Yukon that are of very good potential for the territory and we're looking at putting together some investment-ready packages for those to try and stimulate that kind of growth and investment, because you're talking about major dollars from major players.
I had a discussion today with a hotelier in town who recognizes the complexity and the extent of investment it's going to take to realize on some of these major areas. The Takhini Hot Springs was one, because it had been for sale for a long time. We, like many Yukoners, saw the investment potential there and we felt that it would be helpful to try and capsulize it and perhaps help with its bankability to help stimulate some investment. I believe the contract was given to a company called Ile Royale, which has had some experience in the Yukon before. They looked at the project and they prepared a report with the existing owner. It was not given to anybody in any way, shape or form, as is my understanding, until after the purchase was made. The purchase actually came as a little bit of a surprise to myself.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the member says he hasn't answered my letter because he wants to give me current information. I want to just draw the member's attention - January 11, I wrote this letter. The contracts had already been issued. We found on the Net, in the contract listings, that they had been issued and that was the reason that precipitated the letter to the Minister of Economic Development. I would like a copy of those sole-source contracts, and I would like them forthwith so that we can debate them while we are in the Economic Development debate. I don't want them next week or the week after. I want them in the debate on Economic Development.
Well, he might be lucky and he might be out by next week or the week after. It depends on how forthcoming he is with information.
I also wrote a letter to his Government Leader on the same date regarding the sale of the Takhini Hot Springs, and I basically said, "It was recently announced that a consortium of local families purchased the Hot Springs and would he please advise me if the Government of Yukon was involved in the purchase." I noted there that there was small contract for Takhini Hot Springs investment prospectus that was sole sourced to Greg Komaromi in September 1998.
I just can't understand why the government won't be forthcoming with this information. I mean, it was January 11 when I asked for those contracts. Now it's March 3 in the House debating Economic Development's budget and we still haven't got the information.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have a letter here dated February 27 to the member opposite.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: He hasn't received it yet - well, I'm sorry. I apologize for our mail system, but I sent the member a letter and in it there is the contract information. The copies are provided, so I don't know what the member's concern is. It's in the mail. It probably might even be in his office.
There is a lot of information in here about who was involved. So, the member need not be so confrontational.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'm not being confrontational; I'm trying to do my job.
I wrote a letter on January 11 asking for the information. Now the minister stands up today and says, "Well, you were mailed one back on February 27." That was almost two months later. I don't think that's a very timely response to a request by the opposition for information.
On the same date, I wrote a letter to the Minister of Government Services, noting that there were some consulting contracts and asked him to provide me with copies of the contract to Ile Royale Enterprises. There were two contracts that I'd given him the numbers of, and everything else, and I asked to receive any further, more recent contracts that the government had with Ile Royale Enterprises.
I also asked him to please provide me with a copy of the contract of Greg Komaromi that was issued in September. Again, no response.
The member opposite has to remember that when we wait two months for information like this, which I believe we are entitled to, it does cause us some concern, and we wonder what's going on. The Ile Royale contracts have amounted to a substantial amount of dollars, and they've all been sole sourced. It's a substantial amount of money, and it's our job as opposition in this House to question those contracts.
Will the minister have them for us by tomorrow?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I've already apologized for the delay. I don't know what more the member wants. The information has been sent to the member. He will get it. He is free to question me, by all means.
Mr. Cable: On another topic, I had asked the minister yesterday about evaluation of his various programs and, in particular, job creation and how he was going to determine the amount of job creation, and he widened the discussion to talk about performance indicators generally.
I ask him now: has he set up a group of performance indicators for each of his programs?
Hon. Mr. Harding: No.
Mr. Cable: Is it anticipated that he will have terms for each of these programs - and I think of things like the trade and investment diversification strategy and the business incentive tax credit - terms of reference, performance indicators?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I should elaborate. My previous answer was too short. There are some performance indicators already established, which I've told the member about in the past. If the member is referring to strictly number of jobs created, I think it would be a worthwhile statistic - if we're going to look at that - to look at the whole range of performance indicators surrounding jobs.
It might be worthwhile to make an estimate as to how many jobs, perhaps, we have otherwise saved through the initiative, and the economic activity that we feel we've generated. There's a whole range that could possibly be considered.
However, I don't want all the energies of the department - which are considerable, and they're working very, very hard - to be completely ensconced in statistics gathering. I think there's very strong evidence that the initiatives are being successful - just judging by the public reaction, and the partner reaction we're getting.
Mr. Cable: Well, I'd be the last one to suggest to the minister that there be a lot of busywork created for his department. I also agree with what I think he is suggesting - that good judgment and, I suppose, intuition are some driving factors. But we should be able to look back at some juncture, in the future, and pass some kind of judgment on these programs. I mean, this shouldn't go on forever, without some kind of evaluation.
So I'm a little taken aback by what I think the minister's saying, that there won't be any evaluation, or he doesn't think they're capable of making any evaluation, on these various programs. Is that what he, in fact, is saying?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the public is continuously making evaluations of these programs. I would argue that there will be an evaluation within the next 18 months, by the Yukon public, overall.
I would argue, Mr. Deputy Chair, that this territory has no choice but to go with these programs. When we entered into the export trade investment initiative, our partners signed on, I think, for a three-year commitment, because they knew that the results - in terms of hard, quantifiable data - would be difficult to ascertain.
What we're talking about here is more than just hard jobs numbers, we're talking about a whole attitudinal change. As an example, I had one businessperson in my office day before yesterday - well-known local Conservative Party activist - saying that if it weren't for our emphasis on this agenda, they never would have thought about exporting as much. And now they're able to look at bigger markets and new things, and were understanding completely the discussion we were having about the world resource economy, and agreeing on that particular reality in the territory.
I had one other business say that since we've done this just last week - since we've put this emphasis on - they're doing work in the Yukon and outside. They're able to live in the Yukon and, as they put it, they're having their cake and eating it, too.
Now, I see every other jurisdiction in Canada doing this kind of work. It's probably more difficult for us because there's been so much government dependence in this territory. I think if we're truly going to be self-sufficient, and if we're truly going to be more diversified and able to not be so susceptible to the world resource swings, then we've got no other choice than to follow through and drive this agenda hard.
Mr. Cable: I'm a little taken aback by the minister's - I won't say cavalier - attitude toward evaluation, but there's a lot of public money being put into these programs and, in that other jurisdictions are doing them, and assumedly, some of them, anyway, are judging their effectiveness, I'm just wondering why it's so hard to do some preliminary evaluation of the programs at some juncture. The minister says that people are walking into his office. Is there any collection of statistics at all?
Let's have a look at the trade and investment diversification strategy. It came out in the fall of 1997. I gather there is an export component and a diversification component. Now, there's a pile of money in that particular program. There was $4.2 million in the present fiscal year, together with the last fiscal year, and the minister wants another $1.597 million. One would think there's enough money in that particular program that it's worthwhile to see whether it's working - get something more than just some anecdotal evidence about people coming into the minister's office.
For example, the export component - is there anything the minister is collecting in the way of export opportunities?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the Yukon Party heckles about the example I used. That was just one example. There are dozens - hundreds, actually.
Mr. Chair, I said to the member opposite that I heard today about a contract signed in Alaska for $750,000. These people were with me on the NEBS tour and were meeting on this particular initiative. It just culminated in this deal.
Northerm Windows has signed contracts in Alaska. I'm just reading Canada Export Magazine about some of the Yukon initiatives that were featured in here. NMI Mobility are authorized satellite dealers now in Juneau and Anchorage where they're selling.
Does the member know how difficult it would be to determine - I suppose we could make these wild claims about these jobs being created, but I don't want to get into that game. I think it's pretty important to note that it's a pretty good deal when Yukon businesses are going out there, to their credit, and earning these contracts. I can think that only common sense -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: We hear from the Yukon Party again. Their view is that the Government of the Yukon, taxpayers of the Yukon, have to provide every business opportunity for Yukoners in the Yukon with Yukon government money. That's their so-called free enterprise.
My view is that we have an obligation to provide a reasonable environment here but, Mr. Chair, there will also be opportunities for work elsewhere and it's to the credit of our businesses, not to their detriment and not to the negative, that they go out and find those other opportunities to complement what they do in the Yukon. It happens in any other successful province and it should happen in the Yukon.
Mr. Cable: I think the minister should appreciate that we on this side of the House are asked to scrutinize what the government puts forward, and we don't have access to the information that the minister does. His department, assumedly, is the department that's conducting the activities. It's the department that's involved with the people who walk in the door and who are asking for assistance, say, on the export component or the diversification component. While I understand there can't be total precision, at least there could be some sort of evaluation.
Is the minister saying that there's going to be no formal evaluation of these programs? For example, the trade and investment diversification strategy program - it's been around for about one and a half years, I think. It was started some time in the fall of 1997. Is there not going to be, at some time, a look backwards to see how successful it is?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's constantly being evaluated for how successful it is. Constantly. And, at some point in the future, it may be even very formally evaluated.
Mr. Cable: At what point in the future is there going to be information made public? Is there going to be information given to the opposition here so that we can see whether these programs are working?
I think, probably, our judgment is the same as the minister's. These programs are worth trying, but they don't have any absolute value. They only have a value in the sense that they'll create some economic activity and, hopefully, some jobs. It isn't something simply to keep the minister busy.
Is he saying that at some juncture there might be some kind of formal evaluation that he might give to us? Is that what he's saying?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes.
Mr. Cable: My colleague has pointed out to me that the Government Leader has said, in his response, I guess it was, to the Committee of the Whole, even though the budget creates, I think, approximately 40 private sector full-time equivalents, it is not going to put every unemployed person in the territory to work. Where did that number come from, for example? I assume it came from the minister's department because it's his department that is responsible for economic development.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, it probably came from the fact that there are estimates put forward on the roadwork. There had been, for a number of years, formal contract bids put in for how many jobs, for example, a highway contractor might provide on a particular piece of the Shakwak project. It's a long, historical amount of information.
I ask the member to tell me how many jobs are going to be created by that $750,000 contract that has been signed with a Yukon company to do business in Alaska. How do you put a number on that? How many Yukon jobs are created? How would the member do that?
Mr. Cable: I haven't the foggiest idea, but that's what the minister's paid to do and that's what his public servants are paid to do. I'm not paid to run around and analyze contracts. That minister is responsible for Economic Development and he's responsible for bringing millions of dollars' worth of budget items before us. Is the minister saying, "Shucks, I don't know whether these programs are going to work or not." Is that basically what he's saying?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, is the member somehow trying to tell me that it's not a benefit for these companies to get these contracts - that it doesn't have some impact? Now, that seems to be what he's trying to say, because he's somehow trying to make the case that if hard data on actual jobs created is not surrounding all of these contracts, then they may not be worth the investment we're making as a government to help the over 70 businesses we're working with on export investment initiatives.
Mr. Chair, I don't understand what his issue is. I asked him to give me some feedback, and he says, "I'm the opposition; I just ask the questions." Well, I don't think it works that way. I think that the member opposite should have some suggestion to make to this House.
Mr. Cable: Let me make this suggestion to the minister. I think he's been around enough that maybe at some juncture in the future, he'll invest in a business, or maybe invest in stocks. He has some performance evaluators. He won't invest in stocks that have no future to them. He must sit down, when he makes an investment, and determine what he is going to do to analyze the performance of the stocks, for example. Or, if he gets into business some day, he is going to want to see some return on the investment.
All I'm asking is: how do the taxpayers find out if they're getting a return on these investments that they're making in these various programs? I don't find that to be a silly question. I mean, the minister seems to be having this affected umbrage about me asking him this question. What's wrong with asking the minister whether or not his department has been charged with analyzing whether they're -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: Well, maybe the minister can stand up. He seems to be giving an answer from the sit-down position. Stand up and give us the word.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member opposite has asked the same question 50 times. I've told him that it's under constant evaluation. I've told him that one of the companies I went on the trade mission to Alaska with has signed a contract in Alaska for $750,000. Under my performance indicators, that's pretty good. Under their performance indicators, that's probably pretty good.
That's just one. There are many initiatives that are being worked on. There are over 70 businesses involved. That, in and of itself, is a performance indicator. The fact that more and more people want to be a part of the strategy because they're being involved in their businesses in these activities, to me that's a performance indicator.
So, there is a constant evaluation. I've told the member that, I don't know how many times. So, of course, it's frustrating that the member opposite wants to try to nail down something, Mr. Chair, and I don't understand what his objective is, other than to try -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the member opposite heckles over, "Just the obvious." It's not obvious. I've already told him that it's under constant evaluation.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, it's really quite ironic to listen to this member speaking about all the trade initiatives with Alaska, being a member of the party that was dead against free trade - dead against free trade. Now it's the be-all and end-all for everything.
Mr. Chair, I think the questions that the Member for Riverside are asking are very legitimate questions, and the Economic Development minister just wants to go back a few years to when he was on the opposition benches. No matter what the government did, they wanted some performance indicators. They wanted to know how many jobs were going to be created. When we told him how many jobs were being created, we spent days in this House trying to justify that that many jobs were going to be created. He felt that those were legitimate questions then, and I suggest to him that they were, but I also suggest to him that taxpayers have a right to know whether the money that this government is spending, in whatever area it is, is being well -pent and they are getting product for their dollar.
I don't think that the minister should get defensive when he's asked questions about what he is using for performance indicators, and say, "Eighteen months from now we'll have a performance indicator." Well, we have that every four years, but I still think that the people of the Yukon have a right to know if the programs that this government is embarking on are working. The only way we know that is if the minister has some benchmarks that the department is using to find out if, in fact, the hundreds of thousands of dollars that they are spending are producing results.
I don't think anybody is asking him to quantify them down to the last man-hour of work. We want to see that these - and I don't believe a program should be wrapped up after 18 months. I believe we do have to go three or four years before we see how well it's working, but after 18 months there have to be some indicators that are giving the government some signals as to whether the program is working, whether it needs re-jigging or whether maybe we better embark on a different route altogether.
That's what we asked. We want to know what the government's using to measure those programs - what benchmarks.
Mr. Chair, while I'm on my feet - to help the minister and his staff there - I'm going to read off the contracts in the book as of January 31, that I would like copies of tomorrow, and that's one to Ile Royale Enterprises, for $15,630. Another one to Ile Royale Enterprises for $25,000. Three to Greg Komaromi - the two to Ile Royale, one was for development investment readiness program, the other was for project management investment readiness. Greg Komaromi, Takhini Hot Springs investment prospectus; Greg Komaromi, casework support export readiness assistance; Greg Komaromi, writing a Yukon mineral strategy.
We would like those. Some of them I asked the Minister of Government Services for, and I never got them. These are only up to January 31, and I would like any other consulting contracts that this minister has put out on his department - on trade and investment, mineral strategy, on immigrant investment - any contract there so we can have that.
I understand that a substantial number of contracts have gone to Ile Royale Enterprises, and I'm concerned that they were all sole sourced.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Okay.
Mr. Ostashek: So much for the contracts. I would like the minister to respond to my comments on benchmarks for the programs he has within his department.
I thank him for his submission.
Mr. Chair, I find it somewhat disheartening that this minister has to be so defensive. We have a legitimate right to ask questions in this Legislature and I would expect that he should do his best to try to answer them. If he can't answer them, he should be able to come back with the information.
We can't do our job when we're going to have a minister who just sits there and defies us and says we don't have a right to know, because we do have a right to know, and his department is spending millions of taxpayers' dollars. We have a right to know and the taxpayers have a right to know if we're getting fair value for our dollar.
That's the debate we're supposed to have in this Legislature and we can't do it if the minister's not going to cooperate.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a break?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes, please.
Chair: I call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee is on general debate, Department of Economic Development. Is there further debate?
Mr. Cable: I was a little taken aback by the minister's response to these evaluation questions. I have to say to him that practically any business activity has annual statements, where people have a look at the performance of the business. I'm not going to press it any further, because it's obvious the minister doesn't accept what I would have thought would have been fairly conventional wisdom.
Let me ask him about this: the immigrant investment fund - Hansard shows that the minister first talked about this on November 20, 1997, yet there doesn't appear to have been anything done until fairly recently, and I gather we're working up against a deadline that the federal government has set. In that the minister first talked about this on November 20, 1997, why wasn't it put in gear earlier, so that we wouldn't have had to now face these deadlines?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, it's not the case that nothing was done. There was lots done. It's a complicated process. We engaged, many months ago, Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank of Canada. It took us over six months just to negotiate what we eventually had to print and launch with the federal government to approve the program. So, we've been working on it for a long time. But you have to get approval from the feds.
There has been extensive work done by the government, and the reason we're up against the deadline is because, as I said, it took - from the time we engaged the federal government to the time we got approval - six months. And the reason for that was because we wanted to ensure that we had a very credible program. To that end, the Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank of Canada wanted to have at least an advisory role in any investments that were made. Under the federal guidelines of the program, the bank could not ever have had that role - they couldn't be the investment decision maker - and, in this particular case, this is a precedent within the program. It's the first time that a bank has had this kind of a role in a program.
It took a long time to negotiate that particular provision. It was something that we felt we needed and it was something, certainly, the bank that was also putting their credibility on the line in terms of marketing this investment felt they needed.
There were also other hurdles because the federal Minister Robillard has been trying to change the program. So, they were not exactly keen to see new funds being launched. So we encountered some resistance on that basis as well.
However, while I'm on my feet, the federal minister was in the territory last week. We had an excellent meeting. We explained the need for some consideration of perhaps a transition period to the new program she's envisioning because there's a lot of questions about it, quite a bit of concern out there, particularly in some of the smaller jurisdictions - and also in Quebec; they don't like it. So, we've said we need to address a marketing plan and a whole bunch of issues around it. So, that's kind of the short history of the fund.
Mr. Cable: The minister has an offering memorandum out, which assumedly sets out the rules for the investment. Now, if we don't meet this March 30 deadline, what happens? Do we have to amend the prospectus or do we give the money back? Where are we going if we have problems?
Hon. Mr. Harding: My understanding is that there would be some loss as a result of the cost and the work that's been done. We'd obviously have to pay that out. We would have to return the money to the investors. Of the ones who are signed, most of them have probably, only to this point, engaged in the deposit and they worked out loan options with the bank to cover the $250,000 per unit.
So, to give you a short answer, we'd have to give the money back and there would be some of the costs of the work we've done so far - obviously the marketing, the trip that I was just on with my deputy minister, those kinds of things. Those costs will be lost if we don't meet the minimum, but I don't think that's going to happen.
Mr. Cable: I think the minister has indicated in this House before - or perhaps it was a conversation outside the House - that there are four on the dotted line, I gather - five, the minister is indicating. That would be $1,250,000. Where do we sit with respect -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: Okay, we're going to have to take off our shoes and socks if there are any more. There are nine, which, just doing some quick arithmetic, is $2,250,000, so we're $750,000 short. What are the prospects? Do we have enough people on the line? Do we think we're going to get that other $750,000?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Our fund is pretty good. We're competing with Quebec. They had 84 percent of the investment in Canada last year, largely because they have their own immigration stream and it's quicker. But our fund is doing actually better than I thought. I figured we had a shot at $4 million to $7 million if we don't get an extension, and last Friday, the number was 5. I'm told that it's probably up to 9 now. There are some 20 to 25 in the pipe. So, there is good potential there for, you know, $4 million to $7 million, and maybe even more.
If we get the extension, I'm confident that the fund could very likely be sold out. It would take some more marketing, obviously. I think that the federal minister is really considering an extension, based on her reaction. I think that the reason is that we gave her a good solution to her problem in our meeting, and I think she's considering it. So, I'm actually pretty positive about it.
The way these funds work is that when you are out marketing them, you don't really meet too much with individual investors. You do sometimes, and I did on my trip, but a lot of times you are meeting with immigration consultants in the different countries, who actually go out and market your fund just like a mutual fund, like a FPC would do to market a mutual fund here. They might have Trimark or Templeton or whatever. They compare them, and they'll market them to their clients, so you never quite know until you get the signed document saying how many are in the pipe. But there are some agents that Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank of Canada is very reliant on, and they can tell them and give us a bit of a feeling, a snapshot at a certain point, of how many are signed and how many are in the pipe.
Mr. Cable: Just for the record - this may be in the offering memorandum - but how is the investment controlled? Do we have a group of trustees? Is the minister going to be making these decisions? What's the name of the game?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There's a board for the Yukon Government fund, which is the Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Justice, and the ADM in Finance. They are controlling - the advisor is the Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank of Canada; they've got that formal role in the prospectus. And I've also said, beyond that, I would like to have some broader public sounding board, if possible, on some of the ideas that might be put forward, and the consideration that I would like to try. I have not discussed this with this group formally yet, but perhaps the broad cross-section on the board that we're using to evaluate the tourism marketing fund and the trade investment marketing fund.
We're having a meeting tomorrow night. I may pose this to them in an informal fashion, but I'd like to have some public grounding too. But we'd be looking for pretty secure investments for the money - we'd have to be.
Mr. Cable: Have there been any terms of reference created for these three gentlemen the minister just mentioned? Is there something that can be tabled in the House so we know what they're supposed to be doing?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I can provide the prospectus, which outlines most of that. Does the member not have a copy now?
There may be some more, but if there's more that I can table for the member, I will.
Mr. Cable: Just out of curiosity, I know Mr. Penikett - this is from conversations I had with him years ago - had some reservations about a government, particularly an NDP government, entering into this program where certain people jump the queue and can buy Canadian citizenship. I know that's a fairly common comment I've heard about this program. Does the minister have any reservations along that line, about the principle behind the immigrant investment fund?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Absolutely. But, on the other hand, we don't always have the luxury of being as pure as the driven snow on all matters. I think that other jurisdictions - every other jurisdiction - has benefited from this particular initiative. I believe immigration and immigrants have played a great role in developing this country and that, in all aspects of life, they have created a lot of investment and a lot of opportunity for hundreds of years in this country. And we are going to have immigration. Some of them are going to be through the refugee stream, some are going to be escaping human rights violations, but some are also going to be able to come into the country and provide some money for government to do some good works for people in the different jurisdictions, and I don't see anything wrong with that. The idea, though, is somewhat difficult for some people to accept, but I do believe that they will make a positive contribution to the country, so I think that, in that sense, it's a good thing.
It does give me some difficulty. I tend to go back and forth on the issue in my own mind.
Mr. Ostashek: I'd like to explore with the minister a little more about the immigrant investment fund. Let me just put on the record, for the minister's information, that I believe it could be a good fund. I believe it could be of benefit to Yukon businesses. I raised the issue with the Government Leader the other day that some businesses see that it could be a liability to them and a detriment, especially at a time when our economy is down. They are concerned about the terms of reference as to how the money will be invested, and I'm sure that the Economic Development minister appreciates that this is a very legitimate concern of businesses that are scratching in the Yukon today to keep their heads above water.
Does the minister have a criterion? Could he make available to us some guidelines, some rules, of what investments would qualify to be funded by this fund? What could they invest in? Let's just use an example.
Could they invest in the Takhini Hot Springs? That was one of the issues that was raised with me on January 11, when I wrote the letter to the minister. I received an urgent phone call from a constituent who had just received information from somewhere that the immigrant investment fund was going to be announced and that Takhini Hot Springs was going to be the first thing that it financed.
So, whether there's any merit to it or not, I'm just telling the minister that was the call that I got. So, I think it's important that we have a very clear criteria, so that everybody in the Yukon understands where these investments will be directed.
I believe in the fund. I don't have great difficulty with the fund. But I'm very, very concerned about who's going to administer it and what the terms of reference are for investments, because if it's going to invest in businesses that are going to be in competition with other businesses here -
I know it's a difficult position. It's not an easy position. It's basically going back to the same problems that government had in administering the business development fund and some of the other economic development funds we've had in the past. There was always somebody complaining that somebody was getting money to go into competition with them. It's a tough job to try to walk that line in between.
But I'd just like to hear from the minister what the criteria is, in a general way, today, and if he does have a term of reference as to what the fund will be able to invest in, I would appreciate receiving it. I'll get on to more about the board after that.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I don't discount the concerns of the constituent who raised the matter with the member. I would argue that at a time when the economy is down we need investment capital more than ever. The question then becomes: what should the investment capital be invested in? And the member is quite right. It can be quite an issue determining where investment will go and who will receive it. That doesn't mean, as a government, that we shouldn't recognize the need that we do need this investment.
In terms of the terms of reference on investments, I'll provide anything I can to the member opposite. We would want to avoid, as much as possible, investment that is going to create undue economic hardship on any Yukon business - absolutely.
That would be one of the major criteria. The member opposite asked about the Takhini Hot Springs. I don't know where that comes from. I suppose, conceivably, there is the possibility, but it would depend on what was being proposed, who was proposing it, what kind of competition was being conceived. All of those questions would be very upfront. It certainly was never considered, to my knowledge. We hadn't even raised the money yet at that time. We didn't even have the prospectus out.
I had two meetings with people wanting a piece of the immigrant investment fund - three calls in one day after the fund was announced. They had two meetings in one day prior to leaving for Asia, so I understand what the member is saying. Everybody wants a piece of this fund, but what I've told Yukoners is that it's got to go into very secure investments. If it doesn't go into secure investments, then you'll never raise another nickel on the immigrant investment fund, because these immigrants expect to get their money back, plus two percent in five years.
Mr. Ostashek: I appreciate that. I understand, though, that there has been some difficulty with one of these funds, specifically in the Northwest Territories, where they got into a lot of trouble, and I wouldn't want to see that happen in the Yukon.
Could I ask the minister if he could go on the record with his thoughts as to what he believes would be good investments for this fund?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the member opposite is right in some way. I'm not familiar with much of the details in the Northwest Territories. I don't know if it was real trouble or media trouble. My understanding is that they had some issues about where they were going to invest the money, but I expect that that's going to be an issue in a small jurisdiction like the Northwest Territories or the Yukon for any government. Does that mean we shouldn't do it? I don't think so. I think we've got to take some risks in the territory, particularly now in an economic downturn. I don't think we have the luxury of being too cautious.
In terms of types of investments, I see good potential in infrastructure. There is potential in partnering with the private sector in some public infrastructure.
I think the investments are going to have to be as secure as possible. If it's private business, then it's got to be a major advancement in the territory, as I see it. It's got to be something that has an element of the public interest in it - something we've needed. You know, to put up another hotel alongside an existing hotelier, with the same kind of rooms and the same front door, would not be helpful to that existing hotelier; nor would it be helpful to the public interest in the territory. So why would a government do it?
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I didn't glean much out of that, but I think I'll just leave that for now. The minister is either being very coy or he really doesn't know where the money's going to go, I'm not sure which. But it causes me some concern when he says, "A hotel that has the same front door as a hotel across the street." That would indicate to me that maybe he believes that it could go to fund an ultra-modern, high-class hotel, which would still be in competition with the other hotels.
I'm not sure if that's what he meant by that or not, but I guess again, we get back to the five-star hotel that's being talked about on the waterfront.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: But would that qualify for a loan under the immigrant investment fund? I'd like the minister to answer that question.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I already told the member opposite there's already been a request made by those people. The response has been that there's a lot of work to be done there with those people on that particular issue.
We believe that if there are competition issues, then they have to be fully addressed. If the member's asking me if the terms and criteria would completely abandon any investment in a business in the territory that already exists, then I think that would be a stretch. I think there's going to have to be a very serious look taken at any investment in private business - all aspects. Whether it's a hotel business, or whether it's a trucking business, or a railroad business, or whether it's a mining business - it doesn't matter. There's going to have to be a lot of work done on those types of issues.
I've used the example of a hotel simply because the Taiwanese group has been in the paper talking about it.
Mr. Ostashek: I want to get round to the board. As the minister responsible, he must have done some research into what kind of boards in other jurisdictions administer this fund. Could he enlighten me with what he knows on what the makeup of boards are in other jurisdictions, and what does he see the makeup of the board in the Yukon being?
Hon. Mr. Harding: My understanding is that our makeup, according to the Hong Kong Bank of Canada who has done these funds for PEI and Newfoundland and other jurisdictions - oh, not PEI, excuse me. They've done them for Newfoundland and I think they've done them in Quebec. This is pretty typical and I already told the Member for Riverside that the Yukon government board would be the Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Justice and an ADM from Finance.
Mr. Ostashek: Is the minister saying that there would be no private sector people on this board, that we will only have three bureaucrats on this board and no private sector people involved in the operation of this fund in the Yukon? Is that what he's telling me?
Hon. Mr. Harding: No. I already explained to the Member for Riverside that I have a desire - it's not in the formal prospectus - to try and involve a broader public, not just business but other interests, in discussions about how these funds could best be spent.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'm concerned about that. I'm concerned with the position it puts the government in, be it the government he's involved in or a future government. When we have three deputy ministers making a decision as to who gets the funds and who doesn't without any private sector involvement, I wouldn't feel comfortable with it. I wouldn't feel comfortable with it if I were the Minister of Economic Development or the Government Leader.
Even if it were done in a perfectly fair manner, there would be criticism on distributions that these people made. I think it's putting most people in a very tenuous position, as well, to administer that fund without any private sector people on the board. I would like to see it a little broader than that so that there couldn't be any criticism or favouritism being played. I'd like to ask for the minister's response on that.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I'm not even so sure we have the flexibility because the federal criteria is very, very strong about the formal board structure and the fact that it has to be a government fund. That doesn't mean there can't be input.
Now, the member will remember that the BDF had a totally above-board business interest in other people overseeing all loan decisions. That didn't stop the criticism.
So, I understand his point, but I'm not even sure how much flexibility we do have on that subject, and the other thing is that I would like to involve the broader public to get a sounding board on those difficult issues.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister's right. The BDF did have a board, but the problem with the rules that were set up for the BDF was the board could be overruled by the minister - and was on several occasions. As a result, it caused a great concern to many, many Yukoners.
I'm fully supportive of the fund. I'm not trying to pour cold water on it, but I really believe it's in everybody's best interest that we do everything we can to see that this fund is administered in a manner that's above reproach, regardless of which government is sitting on those benches over there, because it really doesn't matter what government is there, the criticism will be the same from people who are refused money, and if somebody else gets it, it's going to be a problem. So, the minister says that he's not sure how much flexibility he has, but I would ask him if he would explore that and get back to me on that, though.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I will do that. There are always risks; all of these issues have risks. We've got 20 percent of the GDP of the economy gone. I'm not going to sit around and do nothing. I've been accused of that by the members opposite. This is an avenue that we can use to raise investment capital. This is what we are doing. Sure, there is potential for downfall, potential for risk. I fully understand that. I'm prepared to accept that responsibility. Our government and my colleagues have all accepted that in discussion around this particular initiative and all the other ones we have. They all have risks.
I would say, though - you know, the member opposite said that the problem with BDF was that the minister could overrule the board. In this case, I would argue that the government must have a say. By the federal government rules, it has to be the ultimate determiner of investment. So, I recognize the baggage that comes with that particular initiative. Someone could argue that it would be better not to do this because it's too risky. I guess I feel I'm paid to try and do things that, hopefully, are going to help people, and I view this particular initiative as one.
Mr. Cable: I'll move on to the mineral exploration tax credit, which I think has been fairly well received in the industry. As I understand it, it's actually a grant system - is this correct?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the member opposite can call it a grant if he wants. In other jurisdictions, it's called a tax credit. I prefer to refer to it as a tax credit.
Mr. Cable: I'm just trying to get my head around it. It's called a "refundable tax credit", which I gather is a euphemism for a grant. Is it expected that the money would, in some fashion, be paid back?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The people who receive the tax credit will not have to pay the tax credit back, no.
Mr. Cable: I wonder if the minister could walk us through how this is handled in the budget. If, in fact, it's a grant - well, let me ask this question: what is the expected take-up during this upcoming budget year - in relation to the budget that's under debate now?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, it's difficult to estimate. As one company, out of Vancouver that does business in the Yukon said, it's a good initiative, but unless the markets turn around worldwide, it's still going to be difficult to raise the exploration dollars. I don't think it's going to be a lot better exploration season than it was last year. If it's not, the take-up could be in the vicinity of $2 million to $3 million. If things take off, it could be considerably more than that.
Mr. Cable: How is the minister going to handle this? Let's say there is a $2-million to $3-million take-up. I don't see anything in the capital budget. Is the $2 million to $3 million reflected in a projected reduction in tax revenue? Is that how it's going to be handled, or is being handled in the budget?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, we've factored in an approximate level of expenditures and, in this particular year, it's not based on a major increase in exploration expenditures because of the situation worldwide. However, we do realize that that may change, and if indeed it does, our estimates on revenues are going to have to be readjusted.
Mr. Cable: Before the minister put this out, was there any review of the program in other jurisdictions? Is there any background paper that the minister's department based the decision on or based the recommendation on to the minister?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We did an internal review across the country - absolutely. We also engaged Price Waterhouse to do some work on it for us.
Mr. Cable: Is the minister prepared to release those documents to the opposition?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I will look into that. I don't see any reason at this point why I couldn't do that.
Mr. Ostashek: I have two more questions about the mineral tax credit. Is it going to apply to all exploration, new exploration? What are the terms of reference for it? If it's just going to be applied to explorations going on anyhow, I don't know how it will help us.
Hon. Mr. Harding: No, it's going to be for - and we are still trying to finalize some issues with Revenue Canada on it - offsite exploration initiatives. For example, for BYG, who was constantly trying to find new ore, that wouldn't be an exploration expense under the program. As companies have said, if they were going to do $1-million worth of work, they might now do $1.2-million worth of work.
So, that's the incentive behind it. The other thing it says is that, when they go out and compete with other jurisdictions that are offering these kinds of incentives - Manitoba has an outright grant program; I think it's $9 million or something - they can say that the government is standing behind this mining. It's obviously supportive. Look at what they're doing with the tax credits. There are a couple of avenues that it's useful for.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I understand that in order for a company to qualify they have to file a territorial tax return, and there is some criteria set out by Revenue Canada as to who can and who cannot file a territorial tax return.
The minister said he was working some things out with Revenue Canada. Can the minister tell us - pick a company that doesn't have any facilities in the Yukon at all and is going to come in here and spend some money on exploration. How would they qualify for the mineral tax credit? What would it take to satisfy Revenue Canada that they were legitimately a Yukon-based company?
Hon. Mr. Harding: These are some issues that we are still trying to get finalization on with Revenue Canada. We've recognized that the reality is that most exploration companies don't live in the Yukon. They live outside the territory. A large number of them live in British Columbia. So, we recognize that, and our position initially with the federal government was that they should be eligible for the tax credit if they're doing work and are spending money in the Yukon. If they can justify through their expenses that they use Yukon company chopper time or they use Yukon company geologists or they use Yukon company assessment people, whatever it is, then that would make them eligible for this return.
We are still dealing with the federal government on this issue.
Right now, what the federal government has said is that, in order for a company to get tax credit, they have to fill out an additional form when they file their income tax return. They'd have to apply beforehand for the tax credit. They'd just fill out a form when they file their return.
It's between the taxpayer - i.e. the company in this case - and Revenue Canada.
Mr. Ostashek: Surely, the minister must have some idea of what Revenue Canada is going to be asking the companies for, before they will accept them as qualifying for this tax credit. Could the minister enlighten me, please?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I just did, Mr. Chair. I've told the member opposite what our position was; I told him what Revenue Canada said.
Revenue Canada has said that they want the company, at this point, to be a Yukon company, in which case we've said, "Well, we would like these companies to be able, in some way - that are not from the Yukon - to take advantage of the tax credit." Because, realistically, they're the companies that are most likely going to take advantage of such an initiative, because of the reality that most exploration companies don't exist here. And a lot of them are small, and just the costs of setting up offices, and hiring people here, and maintaining that kind of presence is enough, probably, to be somewhat of a disincentive in some way, to doing work here.
However, these issues we are trying to resolve with Revenue Canada.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the reason I asked the question is very simple. I mean, this program has been rolled out with much fanfare. The government has taken a lot of credit for it. I want to know that it's going to work. I want to know that it's going to make a difference.
And I believe I heard the minister - or somebody on behalf of the government - say at one time, "Well, it would be easy; all they'd have to have is a warehouse, or a power shack out on the claims, and that would qualify them as a resident." That's why I'm asking the minister: what does qualify for a Yukon resident, for them to be able to claim this tax credit?
Because I think it's the key to the minister's program. If Revenue Canada says, "No", I think that this thing could backfire, and we could get a bad name, by going out and promoting a tax credit that Revenue Canada basically turns down, so I think there are some real issues here that the minister needs to resolve, and resolve very quickly.
Revenue Canada may take the position - I know Revenue Canada is not the easiest department in the world to deal with when it comes to taxation issues - that they want them to be a Yukon company. And I appreciate the minister's position that these companies aren't Yukon companies, for the most part. They're exploring the Yukon and spending their dollars here, but if we're promoting that they're going to be able to have a 22-percent tax credit, then we have to be able to be sure that they're going to be able to qualify for it.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I don't disagree with what the member is saying. The reviews I've heard from mining companies are that, "It's a tough market out there. This is a help. Thank you. We'll use it as best as we can." Hopefully, they can. We're working on that. We think that it's important that the definition of "a permanent establishment" is accepted quite loosely by Revenue Canada, and that's what we're trying to get agreement on from them. They hold the cards, and we're working on that. I realize that these companies are trying to compete in a tough market. Hopefully, the whole requirement and the whole situation surrounding a permanent establishment gets resolved to our favour very, very quickly.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the reason I say that, Mr. Chair, is because - let's just take an example. As the minister said, quite clearly, these junior mining companies don't have much money. They go out and raise the money. So, all of a sudden, they see that the Yukon has a 22-percent tax credit and - let's use the minister's example - they come here and instead of spending $1 million on exploration, they spend $1.2 million. Then, they go to Revenue Canada and can't get that money back - or, they won't be accepted. So, then I think we've put ourselves in a very bad position.
When do they file the form? I'm not sure if the minister knows this, but when do they have to file the request with Revenue Canada? Before they start to work in the Yukon, or before they put in their tax claim?
Hon. Mr. Harding: After, when they file, as I said.
Mr. Ostashek: And I think that's why it's important that they know exactly what the ground rules are before they come here and spend the money, because it would give us a bad name then, not a good name.
I want to ask the minister another question. I think the tax credit could probably help the Yukon in the long run. I don't expect to see a -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Yes, I know the minister only has it in for two years, but I'm not certain that two years will be enough to really assess whether it's going to be good for the Yukon, especially in a climate that's not very good for investing in the Yukon. But I'd like to know from the minister: how does he reconcile going through all these gyrations to get an outside company recognized by Revenue Canada as a resident company, yet on the other hand his government has excluded some long-time Yukoners from doing business with the government because they changed the status of who was a resident of the Yukon or not? How does the Economic Development minister reconcile that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: First of all, we have a good climate for investment here in the territory, and I think we're proving that on a number of fronts. The markets suck for the junior mining sector in almost every jurisdiction in North America. A few places in Mexico are hot. Around the Pogo is hot. There are a couple of big players involved. You talk to anybody in that sector and they will tell you. If you don't want to listen to me, I can table reams of information by analysts and experts on that subject.
Anyway, that's the reality but I don't want to get into another big partisan debate, but I will if the member wants to.
Anyway, I'm not clear what the member opposite is referring to. Our government has done an excellent job in terms of trying to get Yukon businesses into Yukon government contracts or opportunities. They're up to 89 percent, I think. The reality of the mineral sector is a bit different from any other sector, so I can reconcile the fact that we're trying to make what I would consider to be some extraordinary efforts to attract that investment because we know, for the most part, it's going to have to come from the outside, unlike some other initiatives in some other sectors in the territory.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I know that the minister reads the newspapers. I know he follows them very diligently. He had to see the letter that was in there the other day from a Yukon businessman who has been in the Yukon for 40 years and, because of the definition that this government has brought in of who is a Yukon business and who is not, he has been excluded from bidding on government contracts. That's wrong. I think that's wrong.
Another business that I know of had to change their whole method of invoicing to be able to continue the type of business they have been doing for many, many years in this territory.
Now, we have this same government, which is coming along and giving a tax credit, which I agree with - don't get me wrong; I agree with it - and I'm just wondering how this government can reconcile those two diametrically opposed views, where they exclude Yukoners who have lived in the territory for years and years and years, done business with the government, and all of a sudden they are excluded. They are excluded, not grandfathered in or anything else, but they are excluded, and then we turn around and we're getting newcomers coming in that are going to get a tax credit.
It doesn't sit very well with those businesses. Now there may only be a handful of them, but I really don't think the government thought very carefully before they changed the definition of what was a Yukon business before they made that decision, because they've had an impact on several businesses in the Yukon that I'm aware of.
I just want to know how this government reconciles that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Maybe I could just jump in here. I think the member is referring to the business that essentially acts as an agent for outside firms bidding on contracts. So, in other words, what they do is they act as an agent for Vancouver firms.
We had several meetings with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce on the question of definition of a Yukon business. And in that, the Whitehorse Chamber was quite concerned about this whole issue of agents. When we raised that issue, they were fairly adamant about the idea that they felt that to qualify as a Yukon business, one should meet certain criteria, including the idea of employees, payroll here, real property.
We had several discussions with them, and they gave us their views, which were largely accepted, in formulating the definition of a Yukon business. I can tell the member that the question of agents came up.
We have offered, for example, with the parties involved, that they could meet the criteria of being seen as a Yukon business by some very, very simple changes to their invoicing, and so on, that we think would be relatively painless and still meet the definition as discussed with our friends in the business community.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House hear the report of the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 14, First Appropriation Act, 1999-2000, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: We have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being 9:30 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:30 p.m.