Monday, April 19, 1999 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with silent prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Skills Canada Yukon competition
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This weekend at Yukon College, I saw how much our young people have to offer the world of trades and technology. More than half the job opportunities available today require vocational or technical training.
This weekend saw the first annual Skills Canada Yukon Competition. Over 70 participants from half a dozen schools and post-secondary schools participated in 18 different skills and trades.
They ranged from carpentry to baking to Web site designs.
I'm sure that the Yukon competition will grow in future years. Many of this year's students will go on to represent the Yukon at the 1999 national Canadian skills competition in June in Kitchener, Ontario. I want to offer congratulations to all the participants at this weekend's skills competition and to wish them well in Kitchener and in the future.
Mr. Phillips: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and the office of the official opposition, I am pleased to pay tribute to the participants of the first annual territorial skills competition that was held in Whitehorse at the Yukon College on Saturday.
As we enter a new millennium, Mr. Speaker, the skills of our workforce are going to be integral to the success of the Yukon's ability to compete on a national level and the success of Canada's ability to compete in the global marketplace. While we require a steady flow of fresh ideas and new technologies to be able to compete on a level playing field with the rest of our counterparts, we require a highly skilled labour force to employ these new products and services. The competitive advantage, therefore, relies on our ability to provide skilled labour.
I am pleased that the Yukon has joined with the territories and provinces in holding its very own skills competition, as I believe we have much to offer here in the Yukon and much to be proud of when we look upon the skills and talents of our young people.
The skills competition is a tremendous opportunity for the young Yukoners to showcase their abilities in a wide range of competitions. At the same time, Mr. Speaker, it provides us with an opportunity to recognize the trades and technology workforce in the territory, and their contributions to our communities and to Yukon's economic and social well-being.
Again, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to congratulate all participants in the first territorial skills competition, wish them well in future competitions, and wish them well, as well, in the very tight job market in the future in attaining a job in the skill they were trained for.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to pay tribute to the first annual territorial skills competition which took place this weekend at Yukon College.
Spectators may have been watching their future employees. They had a chance to observe young people demonstrating in a practical and safe way the skills needed by workers in specific trades and technologies.
Academics are important and skilled labour can be hard to find. Our country needs people with expertise in both areas. It's important that we have trade and technical workers available now and in the future.
At the territorial skills competition on Saturday, both secondary students and apprentices took between four and eight hours to demonstrate their knowledge in a number of categories, including carpentry, auto service, graphic design, Web site design, culinary arts, computer-assisted design and electrical wiring. Some of the categories were totally hands-on, and some involved theory exams.
I'd like to congratulate all the winners - gold, silver and bronze - in the various categories. Those who took the gold medals will represent the Yukon in the national skills competition in Kitchener, Ontario, June 2 to 7 this year. Then, Canada will host 33 other countries in Montreal at the 35th world skills competition, November 11 to 14, 1999.
I'd like to join with others in the House in wishing our Yukoners much success, both at the national competition in Kitchener, and at the world's in November.
Rotary Music Festival
Mrs. Edelman: I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to pay tribute to the Rotary Music Festival. This year marks the 31st anniversary of the festival. It started at the Yukon Arts Centre yesterday, and the final concerts will be on Saturday night.
Mr. Speaker, in the beginning in the Yukon, the festival lasted only two days. It had about 60 participants and one adjudicator. Last year, there were over 1,000 participants, and this year there are four adjudicators and 740 groups or individuals who are entered.
The groups include the Whitehorse Community Choir, with approximately 80 members, and several large school choirs and bands, so the participants number over 1,500 this year.
Mr. Speaker, this festival is a major event for our territory. It takes over the entire Arts Centre for a week. Groups travel in from Dawson City and Faro to participate.
The Rotary Music Festival is also a major event in the musical lives of the participants. Each one gains experience in public performance and a professional critique of their work. The sessions include piano, vocal, choral, bass, woodwinds, strings and guitar, in styles ranging from Renaissance through contemporary serious music to jazz, folk and pop. There is emphasis on music by Canadian composers as well.
The students of three dozen private teachers of music are represented in this festival, including my son and my daughter. In addition, another half-dozen senior students are now teaching the younger ones. Another dozen teachers represent the schools and larger ensembles like the community choir.
I'd also like to recognize again this year the Whitehorse Rotary Club in organizing this festival, especially Joanne Lewis, chair of the festival committee, her parents the Reverend Don and Isabel Lewis who travel here from Red Deer each year, and Henry Klassen, who has been involved from the very beginning. Planning for the next music festival will start next week. It's a year-round, very time-consuming process, and the festival wouldn't happen without many dedicated volunteers.
Mr. Speaker, there's a great deal of musical talent in this territory, and a lot of it can be heard at the Arts Centre this week. The sessions run morning, afternoon and evening, and are open to the public. The admission charge is just a toonie per session, or pay $5 for a program and get in all week, up until the final concerts. I urge everyone to spend some time at the Rotary Music Festival this week.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, I had planned today to sing my tribute to the Rotary Music Festival but, by popular demand, I won't. I raised it with a couple other members and some of the opposition and they suggested that I should just do a regular tribute.
So, to save everybody the agony of me singing it, Mr. Speaker, I would, on behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and the official opposition, be pleased to join with members in recognizing and paying tribute to the 1999 Rotary Music Festival.
In its thirty-first year of operation, the Rotary Music Festival is a tremendous opportunity to showcase the talents of our young Yukon musicians throughout the territory. There are performances in piano, flute, voice, violin, choirs, band and wind ensembles, and the festival fosters an appreciation of all forms of music in its influence in our schools, our homes and in our lives.
The organization and success of this week-long event requires a lot of dedicated hard work, perseverance and strong management skills, all of which members of the Rotary Club committee have clearly demonstrated year over year over year.
Many thanks to the numerous volunteers and enthusiasts who have also contributed time and effort each year to this festival. Also, thanks to the Yukon businesses and the sponsors who have made contributions to the festival.
Not enough can be said about events of this kind and the benefits that are derived in our community. Whether one is competing in the festival or whether one is simply enjoying the chords at work, the music festival is a great opportunity for everyone.
Again, best wishes for another fun-filled and successful Rotary Music Festival in the territory.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: On behalf of the Yukon government, I would like to express our support of the Rotary Music Festival. We're all very proud of how well the participants do in the various categories.
I'd also like to thank the many teachers and parents and volunteers, without whom the Rotary Music Festival would not be possible.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: I have for tabling the annual report for the Yukon Human Rights Commission for the year ending March 31, 1998.
Are there any other returns and documents for tabling?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I have a document for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I have for tabling a tourism strategy discussion paper entitled "The Promise and the Challenges".
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
1) the Yukon Party developed the Beringia Interpretive Centre without a proper business plan and without proper consultation with affected community interests;
2) the NDP government has failed to live up to commitments made in their Beringia Interpretive Centre business plan;
3) the NDP government has been negotiating, without any consultation with affected interest groups, the takeover of the Beringia Centre by a community group;
THAT this House urges the Government of the Yukon to live up to commitments made in the Beringia Interpretive Centre business plan; and
THAT this House urges the Government of the Yukon to engage in discussions with the general public and interested parties about the future of the Beringia Interpretive Centre.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to recognize the importance of tourism to the future of the Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the Government of the Yukon to ensure that tourism strategy consultations, which were announced on December 1, 1998, include all Yukoners by holding round-table public discussions in all Yukon communities.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Second Appropriation Act, 1999-2000
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My question is for the Government Leader in his capacity as Minister of Finance.
The Government Leader promised Yukoners stable and predictable spending by government, and in the now infamous NDP campaign document, A Better Way, the Government Leader stated he wanted to bring an end to crisis-to-surplus-to-crisis style of governing, and present a pay-as-you-go budget.
Well, Mr. Speaker, once again that was then, and this is now. Instead, what this NDP government is doing can best be described as yo-yo financing. I can't recall ever, any previous Yukon government presenting a supplementary budget for the same fiscal year as the main estimates, without the main estimates having yet been passed.
My question to the Government Leader: can this visionary Government Leader explain the unexpected revenues that he received from Ottawa? What were the unexpected revenues for, and how much did they amount to?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I appreciate the compliment, Mr. Speaker. I think the commentary about being visionary should be left to the voters to decide.
With respect to the matter before us, I would point out to the member that we tabled a supplementary in the Legislature last year. So he said he can't remember a time when this has happened; well, last year it happened. Exactly the same time and exactly the same manner.
I don't regard tabling a supplementary that puts people to work, Mr. Speaker, as a crisis. I think that it is good news, and it'll be much appreciated by the many people who will be benefiting from the work that this supplementary would pay for.
Mr. Speaker, the information from federal Finance came to the Yukon Department of Finance in March, and it was finalized in the middle and end of March, and we were made aware that there would be, as the year-end accounting determined there would be, approximately $9 million more in revenue, largely one-time, for the last fiscal year.
We made a decision that this money could put people to work, that we could advance work from next year into this year, and that it would be much desired, without affecting next year's finances or next year's plans.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, there's quite a big difference between last year and this year. Last year, the Government Leader had the courtesy of consulting with opposition parties before bringing in a supplementary budget late in the session. He didn't do that this time. So much for long-range planning and stable spending by this government - when they don't know from day to day how much money they have coming. It's unbelievable.
From the first day in office, this Government Leader has been giving yo-yo financial predictions of government surpluses. When the yo-yo went down, he complained that the $40 million or $50 million that was left by the Yukon Party wasn't there - it just wasn't there. When it went up, he had to change his estimates again.
On February 22, the Government Leader tabled his main estimates, and a graph on page 6 of the budget address shows the accumulated surplus for March 31 at $60.5 million.
My question to the Government Leader: can he advise the House what his new revised estimate is for the surplus as of March 31?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I thank the member for finally letting it be known what this line of questioning's all about. Last year, it was okay for the government to put forward a supplementary, in exactly the same way, using exactly the same reasons, and the member claims that he was consulted.
This year, Mr. Speaker, we have done exactly the same thing. He claims he hasn't been consulted, so his feelings are hurt.
Mr. Speaker, we spent two months consulting with the opposition about what their priorities are. We're talking to the opposition in non-confrontational terms virtually every day about what they think should be happening in this territory.
I remember the member himself saying that if there was $13 million more in capital spending, he would've supported the budget.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the member says, "We didn't make it." So, $5 million more and we'll get the Yukon Party's support.
Mr. Speaker, we made the decision that we're not going to spend money until we know we have it. We can't spend more money than is coming in. This is money that will put people to work throughout the territory, and I urge the member to at least support this one measure.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, what's clear is that this government is no better at predicting surpluses than any previous government - in fact, worse in many instances.
This year, the supplementary is not just for capital projects; there's O&M included in that as well. They didn't do a very good job of putting their main estimates together. So much for stable and predictable spending.
Mr. Speaker, the so-called economy 2000 budget didn't even stand the test for 35 days before it was found seriously wanting and had to be increased.
I want to ask the Government Leader to explain why he just didn't amend the main estimates for the 1999-2000 budget, rather than present another supplementary budget for the same fiscal period?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Does the member mean that we should amend the budget the way he did, I think, in his first or second year of office, where he amended the budget something like 40 times in one sitting alone? I presume he would like us to imitate that particular behaviour.
Mr. Speaker, what we are doing differently here is that we're not telling the public that we're in a crisis situation, because we're not in a crisis situation. What happened with the Yukon Party was that whenever there was an upswing or downswing in revenues there'd either be a crisis or there would be a spending spree, and the Yukon Party used that crisis mentality when their revenues did dip a bit to sock it to all kinds of organizations and groups and people around this territory.
Mr. Speaker, we're not doing that. We're planning ahead very carefully. We're not spending unless we know we have the money, and when we do have the money and where it doesn't jeopardize our long-term plans, we are putting the money to work to put people to work. That's what our objective is, and I believe, Mr. Speaker, that the largely capital items that were put forward in this budget - there is one O&M item for Legislative Assembly Office for Elections Act work - but the bulk of this supplementary is clearly to put people to work.
Speaker: The Government Leader's time has expired.
Question re: Second Appropriation Act, 1999-2000
Mr. Ostashek: The time expired and he didn't say anything, Mr. Speaker.
What about the crisis at Yukon College? There is no money for programs. They have to cut programs because this government said they had no more money. What about the Dawson doctors? There's no money to pay them for call-outs. Talk about crises.
Mr. Speaker, once again my question to the Government Leader in his capacity of Minister of Finance: in opposition, this NDP government made much to-do about record budgets. Now they are headed that way themselves - $487 million for 1999-2000. Now, once again, Mr. Speaker, that was then, and this is now, and we in the Yukon Party are not going to criticize them for spending money to put Yukoners to work. We're not going to criticize them for that at all. Instead, I would like to ask the Government Leader: why didn't he listen to what we've been saying for the last year and a half in this Legislature? Why didn't he listen? Why didn't he listen to the business summit leaders who were recommending earlier to spend money to put Yukoners to work? Why did he wait until the 27th day of this session to take action?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, Mr. Speaker, I want to make the obvious point that not only was the Yukon College not cut, but we've added $300,000 to their base budget. That's the first point.
The second point, Mr. Speaker, is that we do not spend money until we know we have it. It's a cautious approach - truly. But where we do have it, where we have an opportunity to spend money to put people to work, we will take it.
We have been consulting with people throughout this territory on an ongoing basis for the last three years. Some of it has been targeted around budgets. A lot of it has been around various other initiatives. We have a very clear sense of what people are saying they want as top priorities, and we've put those priorities into this budget. This budget is the result of many requests from community groups throughout this territory. The spending is well-balanced between urban and rural, and it ensures that there will be people put to work this year.
So, we are doing what the public wants, Mr. Speaker, but we're not going to be foolhardy about it. We are going to spend the money only when we know we have it.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the captains of the Titanic and the Exxon Valdez would have likely made better Finance ministers than this Government Leader, who appears to be trying to follow their disastrous course.
My question to the Government Leader: can he explain why he didn't act earlier to put the Yukon economy on the right course? Why didn't he utilize some of the $60.5 million surplus he predicted back in February, which has now probably grown quite dramatically? Why didn't he use that surplus then, in the main estimates, rather than the piecemeal approach he's taking now?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I like the way the member delivered that line that he probably had Mr. Steele drafting all morning. He delivered it quite well, about the Exxon Valdez and the Titanic and all that sort of schmozz.
Mr. Speaker, the reason why we're not spending the $60- million surplus is because we have, this year, an annual deficit of over $20 million. There's a projected annual deficit next year of over $20 million. We expect that, in the longer term, our revenues will climb, so what we are doing is using our reserve to cover the times when we expect our revenues to dip.
That's what we're doing. It's a responsible approach. It ensures there should be no crisis mentality in this territory. We're not going to spend it all now just so that we can spend it now. We're thinking about the future, including after the next election.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader has been portrayed by his Economic Development minister as the pilot of a supertanker with a steady hand on the rudder. Now that the Government Leader is aware that this NDP supertanker is headed for an economic disaster, will he now admit that his economic diversification strategy is in shambles and will he now remove the Member for Faro as the minister responsible for this economic devastation and replace him with somebody who will listen to what Yukoners have been trying to tell him, and get Yukoners working before the unemployment rate gets much, much higher?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, where is this question coming from?
First of all, in terms of the order of things that I must do in order to carry out the member's instructions - should I first go to the 70 businesses who are working with the trade and investment group to diversify the economy? Should I go to them first and say what they are doing, too, is a disaster? That they shouldn't be expending their resources and their energies in that direction? Should I start with those businesses, Mr. Speaker, or should I just listen to the one member across the floor, who clearly has taken all the initiatives - over 50 initiatives - in this budget alone, and dismissed them?
Tax reform means nothing. Red-tape reduction means nothing. Trade and investment funds, tourism funds - which are just like the old EDAs - they mean nothing. All the capital works, they mean nothing.
The best thing to do, Mr. Speaker, is just to - the member's laughing. Yeah, why don't we just all resign? We'll all resign, even though we've been the most activist government in Yukon's history.
We're not going to do what the Yukon Party did, Mr. Speaker. They moved us all from crisis to crisis to crisis, even though they were spending the greatest amount of money in Yukon's history. We're not going to copy -
Speaker: The Government Leader's time has expired.
Question re: Tax reform report
Mr. Cable: Just before we all resign, I have some questions for the Minister of Finance.
Last year, there were a number of public consultation exercises conducted by the minister, and one by the Member for Laberge, and an exercise by some of the minister's officials, relating to a number of financial matters.
We haven't had a lot of feedback, other than an initial report of the round table on tax reform, delivered through the newspaper.
When are we expecting the round table to deliver its final report on tax reform, and what form will the final report take?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, there is no final report for the tax table. The tax table, as the member will remember, sent a letter to the government, which said, in the first round, that they would like to see a number of tax measures undertaken. They made that letter public.
As the member will note in the budget, and from the amendment to the Income Tax Act that we've just tabled, the government agreed to all the measures that the tax table recommended and is implementing them.
The tax table continues. I've had a meeting already. I had a meeting just a month ago. The tax table continues; there are many other ideas that are being promoted that are, in some ways, more complicated, but the members of the tax round table - which includes business, labour and others - are coming up with new ideas as we speak for ways to use the tax system to improve the economy.
So, there won't be any final report. There will be ongoing work, and it has already seen results.
Mr. Cable: Okay, I'll be more specific. When the round table on tax reform was set up last September, the minister was fairly cautious on tax cuts. There was a newspaper article last September that stated, and I quote, "McDonald, also the Finance minister, skirted the notion of tax cuts but did concede there may be an opportunity for income tax cuts in the future."
Now, the minister just got $8 million from the federal government. What was the rationale for increasing expenditures rather than reducing taxes or reducing the deficit?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, Mr. Speaker, my information from Finance is that this is largely one-time revenue for last year. It's not an ongoing revenue. That's the first reason.
The government has just tabled seven separate tax measures that all involve cuts to the main estimates. So, we are, in fact, actively pursuing tax reduction in this territory.
We started, of course, with the people who need it most - people with low income. But, Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons why we're undertaking expenditures is because we've been told every single day by members in the opposition that we should be increasing expenditures - increasing expenditures every single day. And we're listening.
And, Mr. Speaker, not only that, but, of course, the public would also like to see some expenditures made in strategic areas throughout the territory. So, we're listening to them too.
If there is money to put people to work, we will put the money to work when we know we have it, and that is what we're doing with this supplementary.
Mr. Cable: Well, let me be even more specific. Many Canadian jurisdictions are cutting taxes across the board. Is a general tax increase one of the options being considered? The Government Leader, the Minister of Finance, indicated that the discussions on taxes are ongoing. Is that one of the options being considered by this government?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Has the member asked me whether or not we're going to raise taxes?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, we've got the Income Tax Act on the table. There are five measures in the An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act right now that speak to the reduction of taxes for people. The full measure of tax reform is going to see a reduction of approximately $4.5 million in revenue, we expect. That's a fairly significant commitment to taxpayers of this territory. So, we are decreasing taxes. We have not wound up the tax table. It continues.
Where we can strategically either spend or reduce taxes in order to improve our economic fortunes and also ensure that some notion of social equality in this territory meets our commitments to the basic services that people want us to do, we will consider all of those in the mix. We listen to the opposition every day. We listen to people in the community, and we are going to do what we think we can do in terms of a good balance of measures - both tax expenditures and capital expenditures - in order to improve our economic and social fortunes.
Question re: Marsh Lake sewage lagoon
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Now, last summer, this NDP government opened a $320,000 sewage lagoon in the Marsh Lake area. In the past, sewage was hauled to Whitehorse or Carcross or Tagish, and this is quite expensive for Marsh Lake residents who ended up paying for it in higher service fees. The lagoon was built to reduce these costs for residents of Marsh Lake.
Mr. Speaker, there is only one problem. The facility is not being used.
In fact, the road into it was not even ploughed this past winter. The result is that the residents of Marsh Lake are not saving any money. Now, why did the NDP build a $320,000 sewage lagoon and then not use it?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I do believe the member is wrong. It is prepared for use and is being used. So, I'd have to definitely look into that, though, to see if that's right, but my information says that it is being used.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, a lot of taxpayer money has been spent on this project, and apparently for no reason. The predesign was $55,000, licensing was $20,000, detail design was another $20,000, and final construction was $225,000. That's $320,000 of taxpayers' dollars. The project was commissioned in the summer of 1998 and not used all winter.
Mr. Speaker, what are the government's plans for this facility and will it be used next winter?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the prices that are quoted by the Member for Riverdale South are exactly on line with what it does take to build and develop a sewage lagoon, unless there's some peculiar problem or other with it. But, as I said, my information is that it is serviceable and, certainly, I'll dig in further and find out if there are problems with it that I'm not aware of.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that interest, because that's $320,000 down the drain, so to speak - and that's for a facility that wasn't used all winter. That's an enormous waste of taxpayers' money for a facility that is not being used.
Now, Mr. Speaker, it is the Marsh Lake residents who are most affected by this and it is their bills that are staying high because of this $320,000 facility sitting unused. Has there been any consultation with the residents at all on the future of this facility?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, it is not a waste of taxpayers' dollars. It's definitely a spending for the benefit of the taxpayers. Certainly, the Member for Riverdale South realizes that we are speaking with the community of Marsh Lake in all areas of governance on how they would like to formulate a governance for what they would like to see in capital works.
Question re: Social assistance statistics
Mr. Jenkins: I have questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services on social assistance.
As a consequence of this NDP government's disastrous economic policies, more and more Yukoners are having to rely on social assistance to make ends meet. Social assistance costs have increased by $1.1 million from $8.5 million in 1996-97 to $9.6 million in 1997-98.
Would the minister provide the social assistance statistics and costs in order to determine if the situation is getting better or worse here in the Yukon? Could the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm not sure exactly what statistics the member is seeking. Is he seeking specific statistics for a particular community or is he just seeking the general overall costs? I can certainly provide that for him.
I should mention to him that we have received or we are, at this point, looking at some levelling out of social assistance costs.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I guess costs have gone up and up and up. Now as the population is going down and down, we're levelling out on our social assistance payments.
It's also come to my attention, Mr. Speaker, that the Yukon government provides social assistance to individuals who have outstanding warrants against them. It is my further understanding that other jurisdictions in Canada deem individuals with outstanding warrants to be ineligible to receive social assistance. So, guess where these individuals end up coming to - the Yukon.
Why is the Yukon different in this respect from other Canadian jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think the member is suggesting that we somehow are sending out signals to come here so we can give you more money. On one hand, I don't think that we do encourage people to come here. We do have, as the member is probably aware, differential rates so that people who come here on a short-term basis don't receive the same level as people who are here on a permanent basis.
I can check into the issue that the member has raised, but we're certainly not encouraging people to come here for social assistance, and nor do I think that people do.
Once again, it merely reflects the member's general feeling that people on social assistance are somehow less deserving and perhaps dishonest, and I think that's implicit in his comments.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I think the ones that are wanted on outstanding warrants in other Canadian jurisdictions are dishonest, Mr. Speaker. I think that's the issue. It's easier to get social assistance here in the Yukon than other Canadian jurisdictions, and there are more loopholes in the system than other Canadian jurisdictions.
I'm aware of instances here where individuals with outstanding warrants received social assistance - one for over two years.
Will the minister be endeavoring to bring Yukon social assistance eligibility requirements in this regard in line with other Canadian jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Speaker, if the member would even pay some remote attention to what has been going on with the entire discussions around the social union framework, he would realize that one of the things that we are endeavoring to do on a national front is to harmonize social programs across the country, in terms of general principles, such as residency requirements, and so on.
So yes, we are working in conjunction with jurisdictions across the country, and I think that's the direction that we're all continuing to move in this country.
Question re: Yukon business summit report
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Minister of Tourism. The recently released Yukon business summit report contains a number of recommendations for the NDP government.
This one relates to tourism. It says, and I quote: "The government should improve the ability of Yukon to access and maintain competitively priced air access without compromising the sole year-round major carrier, without any government subsidies."
This recommendation speaks to the fairness and a level playing field for all the airlines that fly to the Yukon. Essentially it says governments should try and market all airlines equally or get out of the subsidy business altogether. Does the Minister of Tourism agree with the recommendation that there should be perceived fairness to all airline companies?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It's not perceived fairness, Mr. Speaker - it's absolute fairness. When we go out to speak to people about improving air access, this NDP government, over the last two years has proven that it can be done, because it has done it. It has created equal opportunity for all airlines, so I very much appreciate the opportunity to stand here and talk about the tourism marketing fund, the good work that we've done with air access, and will continue to do with air access, on, for and on behalf of the tourism industry and all the people of the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: The Yukon government currently treats airlines quite differently. Last year, Air Transat received $285,000 in marketing money from government. Canada 3000 was to receive $24,000. The amount paid to Era Aviation has never been made public. Clearly, the playing field is not level.
This year, there's $250,000 in the budget for marketing agreements. The recommendation from the business summit said, "Treat all airlines equally." Is the government prepared to do that, or is the government going to continue to pick favourites?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I look forward to the Tourism debate. That's going to be Tourism 101 for certain ones of us in the room today, and I definitely will take the time to go through, as I did last year, and talk about the airline cooperative marketing agreements.
Yes, we have cooperative airline agreements with Canadian; we have them with Canada 3000; we have them with all our airlines. We have different magnitudes, different levels; they have different reaches, different areas where they surface.
So, certainly, we're going to continue to do the good work, and I look forward to the debate, and maybe I can help to explain it and clear up some of the muddle that is there.
Ms. Duncan: This is the muddle: Air Transat receives $285,000 in marketing money; Canada 3000 receives $24,000; the amount paid to Era Aviation has never been made public.
The business summit recommends treating all airlines equally, or get out of the subsidy business.
Now, the minister has just said, in agreement with my last question, there's $250,000 in the budget for marketing agreements.
Is the government prepared to spend this money equally or are they going to pick individual airlines and subsidize them in varying amounts? What is the minister doing with this money? Is he following the business summit recommendation?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, first of all, as has been pointed out by the Minister of Economic Development, we are going to have a detailed reply to the business summit.
The second question here is that it is not a subsidy. They are marketing agreements. Marketing agreements are vastly different from a subsidy. With marketing agreements, you look at what you can do with that one - if I can say - peculiar airline, that one airline, because you all have different services - some are charters, some are regularly scheduled, so you treat them all differently. That's what we'll continue to do. It's to do good work on an individual basis for the benefit of the Yukon people to keep air access as we have been and will continue to do - open skies for the people of the Yukon.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the members' wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 14 - First Appropriation Act, 1999-2000 - continued
Department of Justice - continued
Chair: Committee is on the Department of Justice. We are ready to begin with the capital estimate. Is there general debate?
On Capital Expenditures
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: There are two line items in the capital budget in the Department of Justice.
The first is for management services. The main line item there is a law library development project. We have approached the Law Society for a potential cost-share in increasing the floor space available in the Justice building and, if we're successful with that and the Law Society also supports the project, we anticipate being able to begin construction later this year.
The second line item is in community and correctional services. That is largely for the correctional reform facility planning. We all know that Whitehorse Correctional Centre is more than 30 years old and in need of replacement. Before we can build a new secure custody facility, we intend to engage in a discussion with the public about correctional reform.
There are a number of sentencing alternatives presently in place where offenders may serve all or a portion of their sentence in communities. In our restorative justice consultations, we'll be speaking with communities about what kinds of measures they would be able to support in their communities and, from there, we will begin planning for a replacement secure custody facility.
As was discussed in the main budget speech, there is a multi-year commitment to continue with the work of designing a new facility once we have completed those restorative justice discussions.
Mr. Cable: I have a number of questions on the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. I can deal with them when we get to community and correctional services, or I can deal with them now. What's the minister's pleasure?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: Okay, let's deal with them when we get to the lines, then.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
On Management Services
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $165,000 agreed to
On Law Library
Mr. Cable: We received information on that expenditure in the Justice briefing. I wonder, just for the record, if the minister would spell out where the negotiations are with the Law Society, and what's intended.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the Law Society, at its annual general meeting in May, will be canvassing their membership to determine the level of support, and from there will be hearing back from the Law Society what their interest is in the project.
Mr. Cable: So, in order to approve this expenditure, then, what we're saying is if the Law Society's on side, this $210,000 will be advanced for the library - is that what we're saying?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That's correct. I believe that there is a recovery shown for the 50-percent contribution on the part of the Law Society if they're interested in participating in the project.
Law Library in the amount of $210,000 agreed to
Management Services in the amount of $375,000 agreed to
On Court Services
On Prior Years' Projects
Priors Years' Projects in the amount of nil agreed to
Court Services in the amount of nil agreed to
On Consumer and Commercial Services
On Prior Years' Projects
Prior Years' Projects in the amount of nil agreed to
Consumer and Commercial Services in the amount of nil agreed to
On Community and Correctional Services
Mr. Cable: I'd like to go over the legislative return that the minister provided to me - dated March 24, 1999. Does the minister have that with her?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: All right, well just let me go over it in general terms. It was a response to a two-part question. One was a set of questions relating to what the fire marshall wanted and then there were a set of questions relating to what the occupational healthy and safety branch wanted.
The fire marshall appears to be reasonably happy, except that he wants the centre eventually brought up to code and the major structural deficits, or problems, corrected. Is that an accurate recapitulation of what the fire marshall's position is at the present time?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, it is.
Mr. Cable: Okay, let's go over the occupational health and safety branch orders then, because this is where there appears to be quite a distance between the government and the occupational health and safety branch.
Are there any major disagreements between the occupational health and safety branch and the department with respect to the jail?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I don't think it's entirely accurate to characterize the relationship between the department and occupational health and safety as - I forget the exact word that he used, but being a distance apart.
My officials in the Department of Justice have worked cooperatively with the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board to address many of the deficiencies. The majority of those deficiencies have already been responded to. I believe that there are only nine items that remain outstanding from the occupational health and safety orders that are the subject of a further appeal that will be heard relatively soon. The majority of those have to do with the fire doors and with changing the way the doors swing.
The difficulty with that is that it's not a simple matter of taking the doors off the hinges and putting the hinges on another side and having the door swing the other way. The weight of the doors, and the number of doors in the wall, would mean that there would be major structural repairs needed, including potentially filling the walls with concrete, which weight the floors would not be able to carry.
We have to strike a balance between rebuilding what is an ageing and fragile structure and closing the facility down. We have done the work that is essential to maintain safety for inmates and for the workers at Whitehorse Correctional Centre, and we have also made plans to build a new secure custody facility as soon as we have completed our consultations on restorative justice and have designed a facility that can accommodate alternatives as well as meeting our needs for a secure facility.
Mr. Cable: When the Occupational Health and Safety Board issued its order, I think there were 52 items outstanding, and I gather from what the minister just said that that has been reduced now to nine items, and there are only nine items in issue. Has the occupational health and safety branch agreed with the other 43 items having been completed?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I believe that they have. We are working with the Occupational Health and Safety Board to meet their requirements. They have agreed to a stay of their order on a small number of items while we continue to work with them on how to resolve those.
Mr. Cable: Well, this matter is set for about 10 days from now - April 30, 1999. That's the date the appeal was set over to. Has that been stayed or pushed off into the future?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We have brought in an expert, as they have asked us to do, and the department and the occupational health and safety branch are working on preparing a joint position for the hearing coming up at the end of the month. That's still the date, as far as I know.
Mr. Cable: What's the projected cost of the nine items, which I think the minister said are in dispute? Are we talking about $100,000, or million, or $10 million? What's the order of magnitude?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, that's one of the questions that the department and occupational health and safety are working on reaching an answer to. We would have to bring back a return with that information. It hasn't been completed yet.
Mr. Cable: I'd appreciate the minister doing so. The forward-planning aspect of the correctional institute - there's $210,000 for correctional reform facility planning, and I gather that - at least I assume - that that expenditure depends on what the minister hears when she goes out for her consultations. Is that correct?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, it's true, Mr. Chair, that we need to begin with the community consultation before we work on preliminary design concepts of a new secure custody facility. Once we know more about what Yukon residents think the new jail should look like, and what programs it should offer, we'll be putting together some technical information to help us proceed with the planning for the new facility.
Mr. Cable: Has anything happened under this line item? I know the money's not authorized as yet, but has anybody set about doing correctional reform facility planning, or are we just waiting for the minister's consultations in the communities to take place?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, we have been speaking with federal officials about the possibility of cost-sharing. We also have ongoing work in proceeding with the restorative justice discussions with the communities. We are preparing an information brochure on correctional reform, why it's necessary and what our commitment to it is, the reason it's a priority, and have framed some questions for the communities to help us determine our future secure custody needs.
Mr. Cable: Who is actually going to be doing this planning? Does the minister have it in mind as to whether that will be done internally in the department or will it be farmed out?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: At the present time, it is being done in-house and, certainly, at the initial stages we anticipate that we can be doing that in-house.
Mr. Cable: Who is involved in the planning at the present time? What are the positions of the officers who are doing that planning?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the director of community and correctional services and the superintendent of Whitehorse Correctional Centre are involved, as are some policy people in the Department of Justice.
Mr. Cable: Are there any terms of reference for the people the minister just referred to that she is prepared to release?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, for the present time, the terms of reference are the restorative justice discussion paper. As we conduct community consultations and hear from communities about correctional reform, we'll be proceeding to summarize what we've heard and some terms of reference for moving forward into the planning stages.
Mr. Cable: Just so we're certain then, this $210,000 is not for internal payroll then. I assume it's for some external assistance to be given to the department. Is that right?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That's right, Mr. Chair. It will include both in-house work and some technical work that may be done with some help from people who are outside of the employment of the department.
Mr. Cable: Is there any advice being sought from the federal correctional authorities, or has any advice been offered - I guess would be the operative question?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes. The director of community and correctional services has been speaking with federal officials. She's also well aware of the federal standards that are in place. There have been many changes to corrections just over the last two or three years, but certainly over the 30-plus years since Whitehorse Correctional Centre was initially built.
Mr. Cable: Then, as one last question, when is it that the minister expects that the $210,000 will be expended? When does she feel her consultations will be finished, and she and her officials have their collective heads around what they want to do with the correctional facility?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the line item is to cover expenditures throughout the entire budget year, from April 1 to March 31 of next year. The community consultations will be done over the month of May. I expect that, by the fall, we'll be going forward with further expenditures, and that the bulk of it would be in the fall and winter.
Mr. Phillips: Can the minister give us some up-to-date figures on the current residency at Whitehorse Correctional Centre - a breakdown of the number of inmates we have there, as well as the number in remand?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I believe I have that information here in a report but it might be easier to bring it back in writing for the member, because I'm not certain exactly how current the inmate population is in this note.
Mr. Phillips: It fluctuates considerably. It seems to go up in the winter months sometimes and down in the summer. It might have something to do with the nicer weather.
Can the minister tell us if we are overcrowded at the present time or is it down from its capacity? Does she have any idea of the general numbers?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we're not crowded at the present time with the number of inmates at the facility.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, the minister's discussions are going to take place with respect to a new facility. There is going to be talk, of course, about location, but I wonder what the government's position is with respect to remand. Is that something that's going to be included in the overall discussions or does the government feel that, because the main ports are here in the City of Whitehorse, remand would probably or should probably be here as opposed to being in a remote community? What is the position of the government with respect to remand?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, that has been a subject of discussion for any number of ministers, regardless of party affiliation, and it's an issue for both the correctional staff and other players in the justice arena.
Remand inmates are most likely to be called for court dates and so they have normally been in the capital city, close to the courts, and that does make sense.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, that was basically the information that I was given as the Justice minister as well - that it would be rather expensive to have remand inmates who go back and forth to court on a more regular basis housed relatively close to the court so you wouldn't incur all the transportation costs and that kind of thing.
The minister said it makes sense, but what I was asking the minister was, is that the position the government's taking with respect to this, that we'll probably be looking at the possibility of two facilities, a remand facility and as well, possibly in a rural community, maybe a more longer-term correctional facility? Is that where we might be heading with this?
I suppose we could have both in Whitehorse, with respect to the consultation, depending on how it turns out, but I just want to see if the minister's coming from where the advice that has been given in the past to Justice ministers that the remand be in Whitehorse. With the main correctional facility, there's a little more flexibility there. I'm just wondering if that's the position of this government.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, firstly, the number of offenders at Whitehorse Correctional Centre is approximately 70 at the present time - and I'll bring the member back the precise figures.
With regard to the remand centre, we haven't predetermined the results of the discussions with communities. First Nations, the RCMP, the victims groups and a number of others who will have an interest in the whole question of correctional reform, as well as specifics to do with a remand centre and a secure custody facility.
We haven't made a decision at this stage about whether the two should be in the same building and they both should be in Whitehorse or whether it may be two separate buildings with different locations. We are prepared to consider options that are put forward and suggestions that are made from the public and from interested parties.
As I've indicated in response to the previous questions, it does make a lot of sense for the remand centre to be in Whitehorse where the courts are located. There may be representations put forward to us to ask for the correctional facility to be in a rural community rather than in Whitehorse. We'll see what comes forward.
Mr. Cable: There have been a number of discussions on locating the jail in Faro, and we've talked back and forth in the House on that. Just for the record, where does issue stand? The department was looking at the use of Chateau Jomini up in Faro for the jail - minus the remand centre, I believe.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we did receive a letter from the Mayor of Faro requesting that we consider Chateau Jomini as a potential correctional facility. The Department of Justice and Government Services officials are looking into that. We do not have a final report for the member.
Mr. Cable: How is that - analysis, I guess we'll call it - going to fit in with the restorative justice consultations that are taking place?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, that suggestion will certainly be part of the number of ideas that we're considering, based on what communities have suggested that we do. I will be pleased to report back when the officials have looked at the Chateau Jomini and told us whether it would be feasible and cost-effective to consider using that facility for correctional purposes.
Mr. Cable: If I'm hearing the minister correctly, then, what's she's saying is that there will be an initial screening of the feasibility and cost efficiency and then, at some juncture down the road, assuming it meets those two hurdles, the Chateau Jomini could be used as a jail or a detention facility in Faro, if the restorative justice consultations suggest that that's proper. Is that her position?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
On Replacement Equipment
Mr. Phillips: That's a fairly significant increase from last year. Could the minister just outline what that is for?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: This replacement equipment includes miscellaneous items such as a hammer drill, a cordless drill and metal venting, as well as the TV-monitoring system in the control room.
Replacement Equipment in the amount of $59,000 agreed to
On New Equipment
New Equipment in the amount of $1,000 agreed to
On Correctional Facilities Renovations
Correctional Facilities Renovations in the amount of $90,000 agreed to
On Correctional Reform Facility Planning
Correctional Reform Facility Planning in the amount of $210,000 agreed to
Chair: Any questions on the recoveries?
Community and Correctional Services in the amount of $360,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Justice in the amount of $735,000 agreed to
Department of Justice agreed to
Public Service Commission
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I am pleased to introduce the 1999-2000 budget for the PSC. Its request is for $10,060,000 for O&M expenditures over the next year. This funding will be to provide corporate management with direction and administration of human resource services within the Yukon government. PSC is committed to the effective development and delivery of a comprehensive human resource management service that is consistent with governing legislation. The commission endeavours to be responsive to the general government policy and supports departmental and corporate organizational goals.
In support of the government's agreement to collective bargaining, the Public Service Commission will be commencing negotiations with the Yukon Employees Union and Public Service Alliance in October, and the YTA in February.
The government continues to emphasize training and development. In support of land claims and employment equity it has included $400,000 to support these initiatives. Initiatives in this area include land claims training, temporary assignments between governments, mentoring, literacy programs, support for the integration of disabled employees, and executive development programming.
In response to participants and departments, we are revising delivery of land claims training. The training will be delivered in two phases, with the first phase focusing on First Nations culture, intercultural communication, and the history and processes of land claims. The second phase will include an overview of the agreement's specific obligations, and will be tailored to departments' specific needs.
The government is committed to the implementation of land claims agreements, and the commission is moving ahead with the representative public service plans for each Yukon First Nation that has settled its claim. Plans have been drafted with three First Nations and are now in the approval process. Planning with additional First Nations is being scheduled.
The increases to the commission budget result mainly from impacts of the collective agreement with the Yukon Employees Union, an increase to the accessible earnings for WCB, and a forecast increase in the employee termination benefits as a result of an increased number of employees approaching retirement eligibility.
This concludes my introduction to the O&M budget for the Public Service Commission for the fiscal year 1999-2000.
Mr. Phillips: I just have a few questions. I first of all want to thank the department for the briefing that we had regarding the budget and the information they passed on to us since then.
Mr. Chair, there were some issues raised with respect to the hiring practices of the Government of the Yukon, and I think in this specific issue it was regarding the director of marketing in Tourism, some questions about references being checked, and accusations made to the department about their processes. And I just wonder if the minister could tell us: have we changed anything in the last year with respect to our processes in which we do interviews and follow up references and that kind of thing? Has there been any policy change in the government?
Hon. Mr. Harding: None from when the member opposite was minister.
Mr. Phillips: Maybe while I'm on that topic, Mr. Chair, the minister could bring us up to date. There have been some fairly significant changes in the Department of Tourism with respect to several positions, and I'm just wondering if the minister could bring us up to date on the recruitment. I know that they are recruiting for a director of marketing. They are also recruiting for a couple of other positions, and I just wonder if he could bring us up to date on those.
Hon. Mr. Harding: There was a competition run locally for the director of marketing, and my information is that there was nobody certified, and so they are running a competition outside.
Mr. Phillips: That sort of helps me half way. I'm trying to get an idea from the minister: is there a closing date for when we expect to fill the positions? It's a pretty critical time for marketing in tourism, and I'm just wondering if we're making sure that there's a high priority to this particular position. We should be in the marketplace now with those people working on our marketing. I know it's a bit of a concern in the marketplace itself, and I just wonder what our target date is for filling the position and getting the individual on board.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, it's a high priority, and we don't have the closing date right now. We do have people who are very capable working in the position right now. It would be nice if this situation didn't occur, but it has, and we put a high priority on replacing the position, and the people who are in the job, I think, are following and carrying out the work in an appropriate manner. And as soon as we can get somebody in the position, we understand the importance of it, and it's got to be done tout de suite.
Mr. Phillips: We don't have a closing date for the competition? I thought usually when we put this out we have a ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: ...closing date. Oh, okay, the minister said he doesn't have it with him, and he'll get it for me. I'll accept that.
Mr. Chair, the public service pension plan - we did receive some information on the public service pension plan. The government sent a memo out on March 15, 1999, sort of informing the employees of the status of the pension plan. Has the government had any feedback from the employees with respect to the memo that was sent out?
Hon. Mr. Harding: A few questions - not a lot of feedback. The new act, which was tabled in the federal Parliament on April 15 - and that act does present some pretty scary propositions for the employees of the Government of the Yukon, and it will be felt by the taxpayers and the government and the employees, all the same.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I know we debated the matter in the House here, and hopefully we sent the debate to the Liberal minister. Did the minister get any response from the Liberal colleagues in Ottawa, with respect to the debate? Or did it just sort of get lost in the mail somewhere?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, we're very concerned about what the Liberal government's doing to the employees and their pension plan - very, very serious issue. The response so far has been that they'll brief us when they are more aware of what they're going to do. We're extremely concerned about it and have been continuing to raise concerns. This Legislature has unanimously raised the same concerns. One can only imagine the impacts on collective bargaining if the taxpayers of the Yukon are being asked now to come up with $10 million more than they originally had to put into the pot to cover the pension commitments.
That's essentially the ballpark costing that we've come up with and it's something that I don't think the federal government has really considered. I had some discussions about it with the PSAC head, Mr. Bean, when he was in the territory. They're extremely concerned. Some of the things that the federal government has talked to him about include paying out some people within the federal government more without consulting the other people who are part of this federal superannuation plan and this, of course, is of great concern.
There are also a number of Crown corporations across the country that are in this plan, so I don't think they're really considering the impact of what they're doing very well or they just feel that there's an issue here that they can ram home and there won't be enough outrage about it. I would argue, though, when this becomes more apparent to people about what's happening and when the impact is felt, that this issue will come home to roost.
Mr. Phillips: I just want to tell the minister that we certainly share the minister's concern over what the federal government is doing with respect to this program and our view has always been that this money is money that belongs to the Yukon government employees and the federal government shouldn't be tampering with that program and should be sitting down with the Government of Yukon and working out mutual agreements.
Mr. Chair, there were some discussions before about the position of the YTA with respect to their pension plan and their participation in early retirement with the pension and those kind of things. The minister has said that he had mixed messages from the YTA with respect to their position and I'm just wondering if the mixed message has been cleared up. Do we have a position now from the YTA with respect to patriation? Are they on board on? I believe the Yukon Employees Union was and we had mixed messages from the YTA, so I'm just trying to find out if, since the last debate we had in the House, we've received a clear signal from the YTA of where we're at.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll start with the Yukon Employees Union. They've since sent us a letter saying that, as a result of what the federal government's done, they're not interested in any patriation discussions on the pension. So, that's another result of what's happened here with the Liberal government's move.
Secondly, with regard to the YTA, what I referred to in mixed messages was that the PSC, before my time - and I think during my time - had received some correspondence from Mr. Huff and Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor, in particular, was extremely adamant about the need to patriate the pensions. We have received requests at the bargaining table for early retirement packages and those kinds of things, which would only be able to be delivered if we had patriation locally of the benefits plan - or the pension plan, excuse me; we've patriated the benefits plan.
At my first meeting with Mr. Nordahl, he expressed some concern that the government had taken the position that the YTA was contemplating patriating the pension plan, and it was news to him that the employer had undertaken that without consultation with a group he had been a part of. I had some research done, and it was very clear that the position of the leadership, or at least the president, in correspondence, was that they wanted to pursue patriation of the pension plan.
So, we're still in some discussions. I understand the Public Service Commissioner had some discussions with the YTA president. They didn't touch on this subject, I don't believe, recently, but I'm sure they will be in the near future. We still maintain that we think it's a good idea to do it because I frankly don't trust the federal government with their money, and I think that locally controlling the pension plan would make sense. We could have equal representation of workers and the employer on the pension group - no advantage for the employer. We're just interested in ensuring that the workers get all the money that they're entitled to through what's negotiated and the portion of surplus.
So, we think that that's the desired way to go, but this is certainly not an issue that we would push with the employees if they're not prepared to come along. It rests in their hands. I'll continue to work with them on this agenda item if they want to go ahead with it, but there's a lot of fear out there right now about the pension plan.
Mr. Phillips: Well, we'll have to wait and see, I guess, and hopefully the recent moves by the federal government aren't going to affect all the employees' future benefits and pensions.
Mr. Chair, I received a letter from the employees union with respect to concerns they had over privatization of the Beringia Centre, and the letter basically was a letter that went to the minister expressing concerns about not being consulted in any way, shape or form, and hearing about it by means other than from the minister. And I just wonder what the minister's reply has been to the letter. I haven't seen a copy of the reply, and I wonder if the minister has replied to that, and what will happen with respect to the employees of the Beringia Centre if the government goes ahead with this privatization to the MacBride Museum Society? How do we cover the employees, or how would the employees who, I believe, are on-call employees and union employees be covered or protected as they are now under this new regime that the government might set up?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, in the strict terms of the definition of "privatization", it would impact the positions of the seasonal employees. The collective agreement is pretty clear. It doesn't call for consultation. There are some pretty hard and fast criteria that the government must meet though. If there is a contracting out of services, you can't lay off or reduce hours, and the contract is pretty clear on that, and we would intend to honour those provisions as they apply within the contract, and further discussions will take place. The idea is strictly conceptual and in the very early stages right now.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, why didn't the minister or somebody from the government contact the employees union so that they could at least be aware that there were some discussions taking place? I know that they were quite surprised when I contacted them that such discussions were even taking place, and they weren't aware of anything like this and were very unhappy about it in the initial contact. I'm just wondering why there wasn't some kind of an initial meeting called with all of the players, including the representatives representing the employees of the Beringia Centre, where they could have had some meaningful discussions on options for the future.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Because it was too early. The issue came out in the Legislature. It's still very early, and there were no assurances on the table to the union at that time because it was still very early. Subsequently, they've had some discussions. There's been some discussion in here. The Minister of Tourism has talked to them, and they're a lot more comfortable.
We don't intend to avert the collective agreement anyway. It was just too early.
Sometimes in the Legislature you try to give full disclosure about issues that are - even conceptually, even if you're thinking about it sometimes, you say it in here. And sometimes the cart gets put ahead of the horse, and that's what happened in this case. But I want to assure the union that all aspects of the collective agreement will be lived up to.
There's no requirement regarding this for consultation in advance. It would have been, perhaps, nice, but again, it's not even something that's been even close to being finalized yet - or even decided, if that's the direction to go. There's been nothing to Cabinet, so it's still extremely early.
All those considerations for employees would be duly considered, and I have to apologize to the union if we gave them any unnecessary alarm. But the reason for that would be that the idea was just so very early in its infancy, and we have already taken steps, hopefully, to allay their concerns in terms of our commitment to the collective agreement.
Mr. Phillips: Well, let's explore for a moment, Mr. Chair, what the options are. Maybe the minister can help out here.
Mr. Chair, I guess the government could transfer over to the MacBride Museum or some other agency the whole management contract of the Beringia Interpretive Centre. Is it possible to do that - to a non-profit organization - and maintain the employees as bona fide Yukon government employees? I'm just trying to find out what arrangements could be made.
I mean, we all know, for instance that MacBride, or any other non-profit organization right now, would be non-union, so how would it work out? I'm just trying to get my head around what kind of arrangement could be made. I know the minister says we're going to honour the existing contract - the collective agreement - but I'm just trying to figure out how you could take an organization like Beringia, which is really part of the government, and make it part of the private sector, with respect to a non-profit organization, without affecting those employees in a dramatic way.
I'm just trying to find out where the minister's coming from on that. Could he maybe explain how that would work?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, no, I can't, because I'm not going to further speculate on this subject. The discussions will take place with the union if we get to that point and we're not there yet. What I can say now is that the provisions of the collective agreement will be lived up to. I don't want to get into hypothetical discussions to further raise speculation about this when it indeed might not even be the case and we would intend to have further discussions about the details if this were ever to be considered with the union first before I would speculate on the floor of this House.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I don't think it's an "if". It's a "when" right now. The Minister of Tourism said that he's going to move this from the realm of the management of the Department of Tourism into the private sector, regarding MacBride or some other arrangement, but specifically MacBride and he said that to the media. He said that's what he was going to do, so, it isn't an "if", it's "when".
My concern is, since the minister said that, surely the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission must've thought about how this would work. So, I just want to know from the minister, how is this going to work? If it goes from the public sector to the private sector, there are no two ways around it; you're privatizing it. Now, are there ways within the collective agreement that you can transfer responsibility over to a non-profit organization and still provide the protection you do under the union's collective agreement or does it make the agreement null and void? How does that work? I think that's a reasonable question.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, I know the Beringia debacle is held squarely around the neck of the member opposite and the $3 million that he blew on that particular issue, but this albatross around the member's neck. I know he's desperately trying to deflect issues and trying to find people to take up causes that he would believe are on his behalf.
I want to say to him, one more time, that the minister said he had had preliminary discussions.
He said "if"; it's still an if.
I read the paper the other day, Mr. Chair, and I saw a lot of issues raised by the NGO that there were some conceptual discussions with, so it's far from finalized, so it's still a hypothetical question, so I'm not going to speculate further. Further discussions on these types of issues will have to take place with the bargaining agent if there is to be anything to proceed. I can tell the member opposite that nothing has come to Cabinet and, therefore, there would be no approval for this.
Mr. Phillips: It's too bad that the Member for Faro hasn't appreciated the fact yet that the Beringia Centre was the most visited site in the City of Whitehorse - more than any other site in the City of Whitehorse. So this mistake, as they like to call it, has been the most sought after attraction. So we'll leave it at that.
It isn't all about "if". It's about "when". The Minister of Tourism said it was going to happen. He was negotiating and discussing with these people. He told the media it's going to happen. He's since talked to MacBride, and he's talked to others. I want to know what protection there is for the government employees.
I mean, the government's indicated this is where it's going to go. Now, all of a sudden that it's been caught with its pants down in this issue, and it's gotten a nasty letter from the government employees union, the minister's saying -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Chair: Point of order, the Member for Faro.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I don't think it's parliamentary to say that the Minister of Tourism got caught with his pants down. I think that that would be unparliamentary, and I would ask the member to withdraw it.
Chair: I see no point of order. That language has been used often in this House.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: The Minister of Education says, "Don't go there", and I'm not going to go there.
Mr. Chair, the fact of the matter is that this is the goal the government's working toward. The Minister of Tourism has indicated that.
So, in that thought process of moving in that direction, how are you taking care of the employees who are up there now - the on-call auxiliary employees - who are concerned about their jobs? What options are there for the government to move in that - let me put it this way: I'd like to know from the minister, what are the options? One, I guess, is to remain as it is. Another is to privatize it to the private sector re: the MacBride Museum. I'd just like to know from the minister what happens to the employees in either case? In the first case, I imagine it would be the status quo, but in the second case, are there any options or other arrangements that can be made to ensure that the employees still remain as union employees, or is it you're a union employee or you're not a union employee type option? Where does it go with the discussions continuing?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, what a transformation we have here. We have the member opposite who voted to take away the collective bargaining rights of the public employees. He's now become a sweatshop lawyer for the employees.
Mr. Chair, the member opposite should know that the protection for the employees has been duly negotiated in the collective agreement. Nothing has come to Cabinet; therefore, no options have been prepared, because it's far too conceptual right now. I don't want to speculate further on it, and I won't here. There will be further discussions with the people involved, including the employees. I don't want to debate it here on the floor of the Legislature. I think it's important that we have some further discussions, if that direction is to be pursued, and that's a big "if". We will do that, and we will honour our provisions for the protection of the employees that are in the collective agreement.
Mr. Phillips: Well, the minister is right about one thing. There has been a major shift change here of position. The member says that he restored collective bargaining, but he's the minister who has been in discussions with the MacBride Museum to privatize a government department without any discussions whatsoever with the employees union or the employees up there. I mean, on one hand, he says that he's doing great things for the employees in restoring collective bargaining - and I think he'll get an argument there from a lot of employees, because the promise was that they'd restore the two percent, not just the collective bargaining. But what we have now is them talking about privatizing a segment of one of the government departments.
It's not a hypothetical question. The government is going to move to make some significant changes in the management of the Beringia Centre. I just want to know - and I've been speaking to the union officials, and they are concerned, and they expressed that in the letter they wrote the minister - about what their future is. And I'm just asking the minister: what are the options? Is there a plan A where it's a status quo, plan B where it's privatized and the people become non-union employees, or is there a plan C where they can have a little bit of both? Is there an option for a little bit of both in the government moving in this direction with an NGO? Is there some kind of an arrangement we can make within the collective bargaining agreement where we can still maintain people as employees, and the Government of the Yukon pays them? I don't know. That's why I'm asking the question.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I tell the representative of the Molly Maguires opposite that we're not privatizing a government department. We promised to restore collective bargaining for our employees, which is exactly what we did as one of our first acts. It resulted in a collective agreement duly voted upon by the members, recommended by a conciliation board that was independent.
And with regard to the Beringia Centre, those discussions are conceptual. I don't intend to speculate on options. We haven't even prepared options because it's far too early to do that yet, because the idea is just conceptual - preliminary discussions - and we intend to honour the collective agreement.
Mr. Phillips: I don't have a problem with that. I'm just asking the minister: within the collective agreement, what are the minister's options? I mean, one is the status quo, two is to virtually privatize and have the employees non-union. Is there a third option within the collective agreement now with an NGO -with any NGO? And that's a reasonable question. For this department or any other department, is there any other way we can make an arrangement with an NGO where there were previously paid government employees and then no longer paid government employees - now, the management has changed?
Is there any precedent of that in any other department?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll look into that and get back to the member opposite with some options analysis on how that might be handled.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, the member has an official with him. I'd just like to know if there's any precedent for that. Has this happened before with any other NGO, where the management of a government department has been shifted over to the NGO and how we've managed it?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We'll have to research that thoroughly. There's a myriad of things that would have to be considered if this plan were ever to be brought forward. The Public Service Commission would look at precedents, and based on the member's question we'll research thoroughly what has taken place in the past.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Chair. The impression I was left with with the letter from the employees union was that there wasn't too many options. The main option is that these are employees that have some protection by the union and that they will remain that way.
Is that the impression the minister got as well?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Again, I won't speculate further. We intend to research this question. We have the union's position. There is a collective agreement in place, which we intend to honour, and we'll continue to research this matter thoroughly in due course and, in the fullness of time, if there is to be a decision, we'll be more than adequately prepared to address it in accordance with the collective agreement.
Mr. Phillips: Is there a timeline that the government's set for this possible transfer? I mean, are we looking at the status quo at the Beringia Centre for this summer with respect to the employees in the operation and management of it, and that discussions will be ongoing for the summer, and that possibly maybe next fall or winter things will change, or are we looking at a change in the next six weeks or so?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the member will have to talk to the Tourism minister. Nothing has come to Cabinet. It's far too early to tell. I have no idea, because we're talking about things very early on in the planning stages. The Tourism debate will be scheduled shortly, and the member opposite can have a full discussion about what is now a very preliminary discussion, which may or may not even be taking place right now.
Mr. Phillips: Is the Public Service Commission minister telling us that he's never asked the Tourism minister whether he wants this to happen this spring or not?
I think we're almost in the process of hiring employees for this year, or calling back employees for this year. Are they being called back as Yukon government workers for this year? Is it the status quo for this year and the plan change will take place next spring?
Hon. Mr. Harding: No change has been made.
Mr. Phillips: No change has been made in what? The decision for preliminary discussions, or it's going to be the status quo for this year? Is that what the minister is saying: status quo for this year, with a possible change next year?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There have been no changes made from any other previous year with regard to the member opposite's Beringia Centre and the hiring practices around it.
Ms. Duncan: I have a number of questions for the minister. First of all, I'd like to follow up on a question I asked of the Government Leader regarding devolution and the discussions around the transfer of staff. I asked the Government Leader this in Question Period and the Government Leader indicated to me that negotiations, he hoped, would be successfully concluded in June.
The minister has a number of staff members who work on the devolution of employees and on this discussion. Can the minister elaborate on where the discussions are at?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We've started very early developing a workplan and there's lots of work that has to take place and it's obviously a priority to have a smooth transition. There will be numerous issues arising from this. The same thing happened when we took over the nurses. There were numerous issues that had to be worked through and, overall, I think it went fairly well.
I think, in this case, it will as well, but we have a lot of work to do and we're developing a workplan. We have to work with the federal government very closely and we have started that work already.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, there are those who would take issue with the statement that the transfer of nurses went fairly well. There were some real classification issues and that was one of the major points: classification. I had several discussions about the hiring of a classification firm to do this work.
Obviously, one would suspect that classification is one of the key issues that has to be dealt with. Can the minister give a sense of what some of the other issues might be in these negotiations?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I believe that the care, which is the primary concern for the people of the Yukon, went very well upon the transfer. People out in the communities received a good level of care. There are issues around classifications. There will always be issues around classifications. There were some successes in the classification appeal system by some of the nurses, and some of them are still raising concerns about classification issues.
I would suggest that that will continue, and that's part of the process. Employees have the right to raise classification issues and to raise appeals. There's virtually never a penalty for doing it, never a setback in terms of wages or benefits, so it doesn't cost anything to put in a reclassification request by an employee, except in the case where they have to remain in the position if they want the retroactivity as it's defined in the Public Service Act, and that's a concern for some.
But we're doing a lot of work in that area. We are going to have all kinds of issues to deal with. It's a very large project. There are going to be issues around job descriptions. Some of the federal jobs aren't the same jobs that we have. I would imagine there are going to be issues about housing, location - all kinds of issues - and they will have to be worked through very thoughtfully, very methodically by our managers and by the people working in the line departments within the Public Service Commission.
I think the experience we've gained through the transfers over the last couple of years will be helpful. I think that, without a doubt, overall, the nursing situation did go well. We do face a problem in some of the rural Yukon communities and that's largely as a result of the fact that we have a very difficult situation with nurse practitioners and their availability nationally. But in terms of the benefits and wages paid, and some of those issues, we are comparable to anywhere else in the country, and things have improved rather dramatically due to some good work by the Department of Health and Social Services and by the Public Service Commission.
I know, certainly from the point of view of the community that I represent, things have improved, but it's something that we have to work through methodically. It's very easy sometimes when there is political pressure put on by opposition members and by particular groups of employees who would like to see more swift action to intervene in a sort of a knee-jerk way. And that can cause short-term gain, but it can cause long-term pain because, the minute you do that, the whole classification system becomes altered, and therefore you end up with the politicians essentially in charge of the classification system. And I think that would be a step toward political interference that no one in the Legislature or the public service would, in the long run, want to see.
That can be debated. I've had questions in this House on classifications for ambulance attendants, for nurses. I've tried to respond, and the task is going to get bigger as we go through devolution, but I think we'll be up to it, and I know the department is thinking about it and planning for it, and they've been capable of very good things in the past, and I'm sure they'll be able to do it in this case as well.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, that was quite a statement from the minister. I take issue with a number of comments that the minister has inferred in his statement. The minister has suggested that, by questioning how the classification was going and suggesting that from the questions in this House, members opposite have denigrated the ability of these people to provide care, have tried to politicize the process - a host of bootlegged in comments. And I'd just like, for the record, to advise the minister that, first of all, no one has ever questioned the care provided by nurses, nurse practitioners or doctors anywhere in the Yukon - number one.
Number two, it's our job in opposition to ask questions, as the member knows full well. And asking questions about classification and classification procedures - it wasn't I who stopped the ambulance attendants in Tim Horton's and said, "We're going to get that done" and politicize the public servants.
The issue was raised with me, and I raised it on the floor of this House - the issue around contracting for the classification and the issue around the classification for ambulance attendants - because they waited a long time, Mr. Chair.
I had received information from the department with respect to the number of classifications that are still outstanding. It's in excess of 300, if I recall my notes correctly.
We are undertaking a major project in the Yukon. The Government Leader himself has labelled it "the deal of the century". The key test of the Yukon government, regardless of who's in power, is how they treat their employees. That's a key factor - how they treat Yukoners, fellow Yukoners. This is a major issue.
How are these employees going to be transferred? Is the work underway? How well is it being done? Let's not have the same issue we had with the classification of the nurses. Let's not run into the same problems.
And Mr. Chair, we're talking about transferring in excess of 200 people. We've got in excess of 300 right now in a backlog awaiting classification. Obviously, this is a major issue.
Now, the minister has talked about work plans. Can he share those with us? What time frame are we looking at? Have we got a dedicated team working on these issues, or are we just going to willy-nilly, in the panic of the moment, when faced with questions in this House, contract a Washington firm to deal with this?
What's the minister's game plan for dealing with these major issues that concern staff?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I wish the member opposite would have one modicum of substance in most of her comments in this House. It's really pathetic to listen to her natter on - hollow empty vessels of criticism.
Anyway, Mr. Chair, I will attempt to overlook her approach.
First of all, the Washington company is the one that designed the classification system that's been around for a long time, so that's the reason they were used, but I guess that doesn't matter to the member opposite. She is so holier than thou, she is just here to ask questions on behalf of the people of Yukon in her role as opposition member.
Well, Mr. Chair, she did try to politicize the process of classifications. There's a request right on this floor of this Legislature to change the classification for a particular group of employees. And, of course, there were the Joe Bennett attacks by the member opposite, where she continuously accused the minister of hiring this person and asked the minister what he was going to do to publicly flog this particular person.
Well, Mr. Chair, I would consider that political manipulation of the job that the member was supposed to do as an opposition member. It is not the job of the opposition to push ministers to make specific changes to the classification system.
If she wants to raise a backlog issue, that is a concern. It's an issue of resources; it's an issue of how much time can be spent on that particular issue; it's an issue of the Public Service Act - that's fine, but there are specific cases where we've seen that member become very personal about personnel moves and ask for exactly what she's saying now she hasn't asked for, and that was political interference.
So, Mr. Chair, the member opposite has a credibility problem on this issue with me and with many other Yukoners that I've talked to. I don't know what she was talking about in regard to Tim Horton's. I think she's hallucinating, or something, but I can only - maybe she can stand up and tell me what she saw in Tim Horton's - enlighten us.
Anyway, there are issues about classification. They are handled. The issues of classification for the nurses were compounded by a nation-wide nursing shortage that I guess doesn't really matter to the Liberal opposition party. I mean, it's just this utopian world, this la-la Liberal land they live in, but anyway.
It is a factor. Some changes have been made. We have managed to deal with some of the lifestyle issues that some of the nurses have raised because, frankly, some of them would like to come in on a relief basis and work for a number of months and then go elsewhere. So, we try and work through those issues.
I suppose the job could always be done better and I will take responsibility for that. However, to trivialize the issues surrounding this does nobody a good service, including the people who work in health care in this territory.
So, we have a plan; we are working on a plan for devolution. The member opposite will have to stand in judgment of that, as I'm sure she will, like she does on everything else in this House, and I'm sure she will no doubt criticize this as she criticizes everything else in this House.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister stood on his feet and said that the job could be done better, speaking in reference to classification. How does he intend to have that happen?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the job can always be done better, Mr. Chair, and what we will do is the best we can. We have initiated the work. We are going to be working with the federal government to try to make sure that things happen as smoothly as possible. We have been and are developing workplan issues. There are a myriad of things that have to be considered. The work is underway and we will continue to work on ensuring we have adequate resources.
We will probably have to attribute more personnel to this major task, and I think we will end up with as smooth a turnaround as possible. However, if there are nationwide shortages of employees and there are person-power problems that are identified, we will have to work through those as well.
The point is, we're going to try and do it in a thoughtful and a methodical way, and I'm confident that the Public Service Commission staff recognize the challenges ahead of them. We certainly do at the political level. I know that the deputy minister is aware of the task that she has and that I have as the minister responsible, and we will work through all of these very complicated issues. We intend to do it thoughtfully, as the Government Leader stated in Question Period just a little while ago.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I heard little or no substance in that answer. The minister said, "Trust us, we're going to work on it; trust us, we're going to do this in a thoughtful manner; trust us, we have the staff to do this." I'd asked for a work an and I asked how the minister intends to deal with the classification backlog. Two things - a workplan for the issues around devolution and the transfer of staff, and a workplan for how the government intends to deal with the classification backlog. Is the minister to provide me with both of those?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I fail to see what the member is talking about when she says there's no substance. I told her we're going to have to hire extra help; we're going to have to, where possible and we have the resources, try and apply the appropriate number of people to it so that we can get the job done. It's pretty simple stuff.
With regard to the issue of how we're going to handle all of the myriad of issues, we are developing a workplan with the federal government for the transfer. I'm not going to get into all the issues on the floor of this Legislature about that particular transfer. There are probably dozens and dozens and dozens. However, I will provide to the member opposite as many details of the work plan as I can, but I don't intend to stand on my feet here as the workplan is being developed and worked through and list them off in the House.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the Government Leader has indicated he expected the devolution to be signed off in June. We're looking at a month-plus away. Now, there are a lot of issues around the transfer of staff. I've asked the minister responsible if there is a workplan. The minister has said they're working on it and that the department will provide as many details as they are able.
Can I ask the minister, in a general sense, is there a specific team assigned in the Public Service Commission? What sort of approach are we taking to this? Are we just saying, oh, by the way, there are six people on there and added to their responsibilities are discussions around devolution?
One of the issues around the implementation of HRIS was that there wasn't a specific team pulled out and all they would do would be HRIS. At the end that happened. Other governments started with that from the beginning. This is a major project. Have we pulled a team to do just devolution, or are we just linking it in with other responsibilities?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, it's interesting, you know. The member opposite has just said that the HRIS model was the appropriate way to work through these issues. Well, she spent great and considerable time in this House taking shots from above at the HRIS work systems, so at least she's being consistent anyway.
Mr. Chair, I will say to the member again that we have a team in place. We have an internal government devolution negotiating team, a team that has been working through the issues. We've been identifying dates when certain things like job descriptions have to be put forward. There are numerous issues. I can understand the member's anxiety. I can assure her that it's felt by everybody in government. There are a lot of issues. There's no lack of effort underway in terms of dealing with them and, frankly, we had hoped that the federal government would have given us a commitment on devolution sooner. We were ready to go before last Christmas.
Ms. Duncan: The classification review, the backlog - 300 plus. How is that being dealt with?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, that is a concern for me, as a minister. I have seen that somewhat ebb and flow in terms of the classification issues. They have gone down at some point. After we came into government, there were some extra resources applied to it. We now have a situation whereby they have gone back up again. We are trying to apply significant resources to ensure that the situation improves.
I have also been informed that the volume of the requests is due to several factors. We've got a number of departmental reorganizations underway. We've got employees requesting reviews of their classifications, and, of course, there is normal updating of position descriptions by supervisors. We think that if we are diligent at the efforts underway, we continue to make progress in this particular regard. However, it is a big task and, as I told the member opposite, there are a limited number of resources that can be applied to this particular task.
I may be wrong; there may be other exceptions, but from what I've understood from the bargaining agent, the only downside of a classification appeal request is that you, in order to get full retroactivity, would have to remain in a position until the request for reclassification has been finalized. That is a downside to it - people have to make a choice whether they want to actually move from their position, or wait for their full retroactivity, and the classification request to come through. And I think that's outlined in the Public Service Act.
So it's a question of resources, and we're putting as much as we can to it, to try and deal with it as soon as possible.
Ms. Duncan: Thanks, Mr. Chair. Well, if the minister's got his chippy, right-wing cheap shots out from under his belt, perhaps we could talk about an issue we agree on, which is patriation, and the discussion around patriation of the pension benefits.
There was quite a lengthy discussion in the House, and a unanimous agreement on the motion that was put forward, including the amendment put forward by our caucus on the patriation of the benefits.
Now, the minister had indicated that YEU had stated clearly to the minister that they were not interested in the patriation. There are other employees, and representatives of employee organizations, who have had the sense - and have said in discussions with me - that the Yukon is losing an opportunity.
There's also, of course, the very real concern, with the tabling by the federal government of the pension changes. There's an article that was provided to me, from the Ottawa Citizen on Thursday, that said that the Public Service Alliance of Canada is looking at legal action, in response to the federal government's proposed changes, or the tabling changes.
Did the minister discuss this with the representative of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, who was recently in the Yukon? And is there any thought to participating in those discussions? Would the Yukon be part of that legal challenge?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I had some discussions with Mr. Bean about this, and they have made it pretty clear that they would consider a legal challenge. With regard to our participation and the bargaining agent's court challenge, we certainly haven't been requested to, and they are still trying to suss out, as are we, exactly what the federal government is going to undertake, and we're still lobbying for change.
I don't think they've undertaken legal action, nor have they asked us, as an employer, to undertake it, but certainly if there was a strength in joint action of any sort on this particular issue and on many others, we'd be prepared to consider it.
Ms. Duncan: There's a real recognition by everyone that this can't proceed unless everyone is on board - YTA, YEU and the Yukon government. The minister has stated, in response to a question from the other critic, that there was a reluctance on the part of the YEU.
What efforts or discussions are ongoing now? What efforts is the government making to reach an agreement on a common position with the two other parties at the table, so to speak, before lobbying further in Ottawa? Is the minister having any discussions with union representatives on a joint position, or does the minister not have a sense of urgency about this?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We have a very great sense of urgency with regard to what the member's colleagues in Ottawa are doing - a very great concern about it - and we've put forward a motion on the floor, I believe sponsored by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. I've written letters; we've had some discussions with the Yukon Employees Union about it. I believe that some discussions have taken place with the YTA, although I'm not entirely sure of that, but I know that there have been discussions around this patriation issue of pensions at the YTA.
The Yukon Employees Union is waiting to see what happens with regard to the PSAC national organization before they discuss it with us further.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, what sense of a time frame does the minister have from the YEU? I mean, if the Yukon Employees Union is waiting to see what happens with the union at the national level, I would infer from that that there isn't the same sense of urgency that other representative union organizations feel on this.
The minister is quite right. The government sees this as an urgent issue. The motion was put forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, amended by myself, and passed unanimously. There is a real sense by a number of parties that the Yukon is losing an opportunity to get out of this and to have greater control and to be able offer things like early retirement. We can't do that and we can't proceed to Ottawa in discussions without a united front.
So, is the minister saying that no further action will be taken, other than what's been done to date, while we wait for the YEU? Or is he making any effort to sit down with the YEU and say, "Look, the YTA feels this way; we feel this way. Let's reach a common position here." I'm asking for what the minister is doing currently on this issue with the YEU.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the Yukon isn't losing an opportunity. The Yukon is having a federal Liberal government ram something down the throats of us and our employees. The member opposite shouldn't try and somehow infer that somehow we're tripping up here as a territory on behalf of our employees, both in the YTA and the PSAC and Yukon Employees Union. I just don't accept that. There is concern by our employees about the whole issue of pensions and I believe a lot of it has been stirred up as a result of what the federal government's doing, and it has made the task difficult for them to consider patriation, at this point.
I share a common objective with, I think, everybody in this House that it would be a good thing to see the patriation of the pension plan. However, we've had long-standing issues with the federal government at Treasury Board level about ensuring that the employees of the government get the surplus that we feel they're entitled to on any patriation. I can't force the employees in this climate of anxiety, created by the member opposite's federal colleagues, to participate in something that they're nervous about. I can argue, and I have argued, that it would probably be better for them if we had a joint, shared, mutual management where it's equal, where they have an equal say in everything that takes place and where we have a solid system of legislation here that they can support. But we're not there. I'd love to have unanimity on this issue but, in this environment, with the federal government's action, that's very difficult.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister said he could argue and he has argued that there are benefits to patriating the pension plan. When was the minister's most recent discussions with the partners on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The PSC have ongoing discussions with both the YTA and the employees union on a whole range of issues. I have received correspondence from the YEU just recently on it, and we have corresponded and raised the issue numerous times with the federal minister. We have discussed it in detail with the head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and that was just a couple of weeks ago. So, there have been numerous attempts on an ongoing basis, but I've always taken the position that the employees, whose money this is, should not feel like they are being led into this by the government. I want them to drive the process.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister said that he had received correspondence from YEU just recently. Would the minister state the date of that? I understand that it was correspondence directed to him, so I'm not asking him to release it unless he feels comfortable doing so, but could he state the date on that? And he also said that there were ongoing discussions regularly between the Public Service Commission, YTA and YEU. Is the minister saying that there is no specific working group? I know that there is a specific working group for the benefits. Is the minister saying that there is no specific working group on the patriation of pension?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The president of the Yukon Employees Union is not interested in discussing this patriation of the pension plan right now. I don't know how much more clearly I could say that.
The correspondence that I received was a month or two ago. As I said, I had further discussions a couple of weeks ago with the head of the PSAC nationally, who had been discussing it with his members here in the Yukon, and there is a working group on these issues. That's how we achieved the patriation of the benefits plan, but if the Yukon Employees Union doesn't want to talk about it in this aura of uncertainty created by the member opposite's colleagues, then I can't force them to do that, nor would I, because this has got to be something that they feel comfortable doing. And the Yukon government has no interest in dragging these employees, kicking and screaming, to this process. We want to work with them to resolve this issue created by the federal government, and we will continue to try and do that.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, let's be clear about a couple of points. First of all, no one in this House has disagreed with the point that there are real problems with the pension reforms tabled at the federal level. There is no question about that - that there are real problems. There are very specific issues for Yukoners. The minister's been clear on that. We've all been clear on that - that there are specific issues for Yukoners.
We've all been absolutely clear that this cannot proceed unless all three organizations, or representatives, are agreed and at the table. No one has suggested to the minister that anyone be dragged through a process against their will - no one is suggesting that.
The concern that I have and that every Yukon taxpayer and every Yukon worker is concerned about is that these proposed changes have very real financial implications for this territory. That, to me, moves the issue to the top of the agenda.
Now, the minister has said that the local representative of the Yukon Employees Union does not want to discuss this issue, and I'm asking what efforts are being made to resolve that impasse. Is there any attempt to say, "Look, we've got a situation where these reforms were tabled on the 15th, there's a potential $10 million or $11 million cost to Yukoners, and we feel it's worth talking about"?
I know there's at least one other party that wants to deal with this at the table.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: I'm not suggesting anyone be dragged to these discussions against their will. What I'm asking is, what are the problems? Is it simply a reluctance, given the national situation? Is it just simply saying, well look, the national Public Service Alliance of Canada isn't happy, therefore we're not happy, we're not coming to the table? Are they aware of the potential cost to Yukoners of these changes?
This is a time, Mr. Chair, not to throw up our hands and say, well, it's a federal Liberal problem, we're not discussing it. It calls for political leadership.
I'm asking the minister: has he brought these people to the table? Have they sat down and discussed it? Or are we just going to throw up our hands, and say, "No, it's those federal Liberals, the federal government." That's how we ended up with - we have to push these issues, and I feel there has to be a reasonable discussion and a sense that, all right, this is what Yukon is looking at. If the Yukon Employees Union has said, "Look, we've considered all these issues, and we're not prepared to move on it", and that's their final and firm position, well, I'd like the minister to say that, and I'd like the minister's reassurances that he's made his best effort to bring three parties to the table on this. That's what I would like from the minister.
Hon. Mr. Harding:Well, Mr. Chair, we have no impasse with YEU. Our issue is with the federal Liberal government, and they are in control of this agenda. They only tabled the bill four days ago. And they have not talked to us about it. And the issue for the Yukon Employees Union is this: what's the cost-benefit analysis of patriation to the Yukon government for Yukon employees?
And until they know what Big Brother in Ottawa's going to do, it doesn't make any sense to further the discussions. And that's why they're taking the position they are.
So I don't know how I could spell it out any more clearly to the member opposite. This is not an issue everybody could just hold hands and make a trek to Ottawa, and somehow that's going to stimulate something, Mr. Chair.
We have been dealing on a national and on a territorial level, and the organizations themselves have been dealing with it on this particular issue, and we are all trying to get a sense of what the federal government's going to do. There's no impasse between the Yukon Employees Union and the Yukon government on the pension issue.
It's a question of sussing out what the member opposite's federal counterparts are going to do. The member opposite stands up and says, "Well, are we just going to blame the federal Liberals?" Well, it's them who's bringing the bill forward. I'm at a loss to understand where the member's coming from. Mr. Chair, I just don't understand the member opposite sometimes.
The Yukon Employees Union has been placed in a very difficult position. We have no impasse with them. We have an impasse with the federal government, and we've all raised concerns - we, as a Legislature, we, as a government, me, as a minister, the opposition, as a party to this discussion, the Yukon Employees Union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
When we have a better sense as to what the federal government is going to do, then we will strategically decide how we will respond.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister said there is no impasse. Then, what's the Government of Yukon's common position with the employees? What common position are they taking?
The minister stood on his feet and talked about a cost benefit analysis. Has the minister done his homework on this issue? When I asked in the briefing, I couldn't even be told how many retirees we were looking at. I finally got that information. I asked in the briefing.
We should know this. We should have a sense of this. We should know what the N.W.T. withdrew at. I thank the minister for that lecture he just gave me; now, could I have some information? If there is no impasse, what's the common position?
The minister belittles me and says, "Well, we cannot hold hands and go to Ottawa." Has he even considered meeting with the Minister of Treasury Board or the deputy minister? He's been suggested that by me on the floor of this House, as well as by the others. The Yukon isn't even on the radar screen on this issue. We're not even making an impact.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we have every right to be. We're talking about a significant portion of the Government of the Yukon budget. This is an issue. I would appreciate it if the minister, as opposed to passing his wisdom from the mount, as he seems to want to do in a patronizing lecture - I'm asking for some information.
The minister has said there's no impasse. Well, then, what's the common position? Have we reached an agreement based upon the research that was done? There's no working group. There are no regular meetings. I cannot see how saying, "Well, the federal proposal is awful; we're just going to wait and see what happens" is an answer. I'd like some proactive action by the minister.
The minister is shaking his head, "What am I supposed to do?" How about reaching a common position? We have to have a common position with both employer and employee representative groups before - the minister said it can't proceed, every member has said this can't proceed without the agreement of all parties. Well, have all parties reached an agreement? What's the common position?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We have asked for briefings from the federal government and been denied. We're not on the radar screen because of lack of effort, not a lack of credible effort by this government. We are not on the radar screen because the federal government, in a snit of arrogance, is ignoring the legitimate concerns of our employees.
With regard to a common position, I've told the member about 15 times this afternoon that everybody agrees that this bill shouldn't go forward, and that position has been indicated to the federal government in spades.
With regard to meetings with the federal minister, they have never been acquiesced to by the federal minister. They've never felt that we should be involved in a meeting with them, because the requests have been made for meetings, Mr. Chair.
So, I say to the member opposite that the position is one that everyone shares with regard to this bill, that information has been requested and not provided by the federal government, and there is a lot of anxiety around this issue, and there is no impasse with the Yukon Employees Union. The issue is one that is of concern to the employees of the Government of the Yukon because a lot of anxiety has been created by a bill that has been done with precious little consultation and that has wide-ranging implications.
So, the member opposite should realize that it's very difficult to force a federal government that doesn't seem to really want to listen to our concerns, to listen to them. They do carry the big stick.
Ms. Duncan: What the minister has just confirmed is that the common position is that there will be a lobby effort to change the plan that's been tabled in the House. The common position is that we don't like the present situation. That's the common position. We're going to lobby for changes. Is that accurate, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We have been.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, would the minister provide me with correspondence that he has had with either Marcel Massé or with the Deputy Minister of Treasury Board?
Hon. Mr. Harding: And the department? I'd be happy to.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'd like, for the record, to have that before the session ends, if possible.
The Deputy Minister of the Treasury Board has also been appointed to the Carleton University Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work, and the research theme that was endorsed by this particular individual was "Gender and career development in a public service; benchmarks for building a world-class workforce". There is a conference to be held in October in 1999, and the major goal of the project is to identify effective ways of keeping career development alive in these days of downsizing and restructuring.
Now, downsizing and restructuring are not the issues, per se, with the Yukon government actually increasing with regard to devolution. I've asked the minister before in this House what the representation of women was in the Yukon public service, and I've been told that the estimate was 34 percent, and I don't believe that has changed any. Has the minister or his department given any thought to either participating in the research or participating in the conference in October? Has the minister's department followed developments in this field?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We don't know about the specific conference in much detail, the deputy minister nor myself, so we'll investigate that.
With regard to the workforce, 61.9 percent of the Yukon government workforce is women. That's an increase from November of 1997. In management positions, there's 37 percent female representation, and 49 percent of middle-management positions. That's MGO-1 through 6, and LEO-1.
Ms. Duncan: The increase to 61 percent, would, I assume, be at the lower levels of the Public Service Commission. Did I understand the minister correctly that there would be a commitment to investigate the research in this area? I understand, for example, the Saskatchewan government has followed it quite closely and participated. Did I hear the minister make a commitment to look at the conference, as well as examine some of the research work that's being done at Carleton?
The minister has nodded. It would perhaps be a good way to forge a link with the DM of Treasury Board, and perhaps we could lobby on other issues at the same time.
The HRIS system has been in place for a little over three months now; we're at April 19. Has there been any review by employees on how well the system is working, or has there been any feedback to either the Public Service Commission or others on this system?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There are more tools in the tickle trunk that have to be delivered, and then we're going to do an evaluation, once the thing is fully doing all that it's capable of doing, which involves, as I understand it, some new things the departments don't normally do right now, or aren't doing.
So, they're not doing an evaluation until everything that it can do is being done.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, a year ago the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said that we had six wrongful dismissal suits, and that this was a fairly standard number. Some of these were long outstanding. Can the minister advise where these are now, and if the number of outstanding wrongful dismissal suits is reduced at all? Have we settled any of them? And what's the current number of wrongful dismissal suits faced by the government?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There are currently six, so the number still stays the same - alleged wrongful dismissal, in a number of areas. The former Cabinet secretary, Mr. Lawson - he lost his decision; that's now under appeal. That decision makes for some interesting reading, in case the member is interested.
There are three more - Mr. Farrell, notably, publicly reported in the local media - that's under appeal. And we have a couple of others. I can't discuss the details of the lawsuits, but the situation hasn't changed since last year, other than a couple of them have gone to appeal.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I was not asking the minister to discuss the details; I was asking for a summary.
The First Nation government transfers - there was a secondment program in place, and there were a number of different secondments undertaken. Has the secondment program been assessed by employees? Has there been any review conducted or - "exit interview" would be the wrong term, given that these people aren't leaving. But once a secondment has been completed is there any effort to work with them and to do any kind of an interview process to assess how they felt about their secondment? And have any interviews or meetings taken place between the supervisors in either level of government - either the First Nation or the Yukon government?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, as I understand it, there is some review done by the departments, but I think it's probably a good idea to step that up a little bit. I take the member's suggestion, but there is more of a global overview as to how the program is working that we could do. I think it's probably a good idea.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, for the record, the minister has stated that the evaluation of a program is a good idea. I'll be sure to share that point with the Member for Riverside who has questioned the minister repeatedly on this.
We've had many discussions, the minister and I, with respect to third-level grievance and the hearing procedure and the minister indicated to me, when I've discussed it before, that the minister felt that a request to change the procedure had to come from the union, that it was part of the collective bargaining process, that this is the way third level grievances were heard. Was there any suggestion during the union negotiations that this be changed or is it still the same, and is the backlog still the same?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, like classification appeals, I think we have some work to do there, but when I say "we", I mean both us and the union. The backlog still exists, and we no doubt will try and deal with this up to and leading into the next round of collective bargaining with our employees.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister just said, "We will try and deal with this." How does he intend for that to happen?
Hon. Mr. Harding: One of the areas we've really worked hard at is in the area of harassment prevention. We've hired a coordinator to deal with those kinds of disputes in a much more expedient fashion. That was a significant generator of what could be considered grievance issues, both of a harassment nature but also of the general workplace difficulty nature where there are strange relationships.
We think that this will help to alleviate some of the backlog. Some of them are just, frankly, very challenging issues, with very strong differences of opinion. They're usually never black and white. We intend to have full discussions with the union on these issues in the regular discussions that we have, and the union may wish to raise it as an issue once again in collective bargaining.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, highlighted in the minister's remarks earlier this afternoon and earlier this session was the tabling of a report, Spotlight on Diversity. The Spotlight on Diversity survey was phase 1 of the research, and there were to be consultations on the results of this survey and the government's response to the report in consultation. Where is the time frame for this particular project, and what sort of a time frame are we looking at for recommendations to actually be implemented? I didn't see a specific timetable in the report.
Hon. Mr. Harding: There has been some work done on the response in terms of concrete steps and times, and I'll provide that for the member.
Chair: Is there further general debate? Seeing none, we will proceed to O&M expenditures.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Finance and Administration
Administration in the amount of $500,000 agreed to
Finance and Administration in the amount of $500,000 agreed to
On Corporate Human Resource Services
On Staffing Administration
Staffing Administration in the amount of $870,000 agreed to
On Staffing Operations
Staffing Operations in the amount of $63,000 agreed to
On Employment Equity
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there is a slight decrease in this particular line. There have also been issues raised with certain departments and a lack of equity in their staffing. Can the minister explain the decrease, and can the minister elaborate on any initiatives to ensure that departments comply with efforts that have been stated by other ministers in the House to ensure equity within the public service?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, that's a modest decrease. My understanding is that there is less cost because we're not responding in a committee structure to the issue now. However, with regard to the departments, we've done extensive work on employment equity through the land claims training, and a lot of the deputies are really working hard to make sure that their departments are responding. I think it is going to show up in improvements. Spotlight on Diversity, I think, was a good initiative. I think some of the work that's being done on reintegration of employees, some of the work that we've done with regard to the representative public service planning to meet our UFA commitments will also help. So, I'm looking forward to hopefully improving trends in the coming months and years.
Employment Equity in the amount of $358,000 agreed to
On Classification/Competition Appeals
Classification/Competition Appeals in the amount of $38,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the statistics?
Corporate Human Resource Services in the amount of $1,329,000 agreed to
On Pay and Benefits Management
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Administration in the amount of $918,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the stats?
Pay and Benefits Management in the amount of $918,000 agreed to
On Staff Relations
Administration in the amount of $501,000 agreed to
On Yukon Government Employees Union/Public Service Alliance of Canada
Yukon Government Employees Union/Public Service Alliance of Canada in the amount of $193,000 agreed to
On Yukon Teachers Association
Yukon Teachers Association in the amount of $68,000 agreed to
On Managerial/Confidential Exclusion
Managerial/Confidential Exclusion in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
On Long Service Awards
Long Service Awards in the amount of $90,000 agreed to
Indemnification in the amount of $1,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the stats?
Staff Relations in the amount of $858,000 agreed to
On Workers' Compensation Fund
On Workers' Compensation Payments
Workers' Compensation Payments in the amount of $1,912,000 agreed to
Workers' Compensation Fund in the amount of $1,912,000 agreed to
On Planning and Research
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to give a line explanation of that 20-percent increase, please?
Hon. Mr. Harding: That's a reflection of the workplace harassment coordinator - cost of the wages.
Administration in the amount of $264,000 agreed to
Planning and Research in the amount of $264,000 agreed to
On Employee Leave and Termination Benefits Adjustment
Employee Leave and Termination Benefits Adjustment in the amount of $2,259,000 agreed to
On Staff Development
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, has there been any written assessment of the land claims implementation training? Is there any new information to add to what the minister sent over? I think it was at the end of last session that the minister sent over some information. Is there anything new, or any assessment of that program?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There's been some shortening and compressing from eight days to five. The feedback's still generally been quite positive. There have been some changes in emphasis in terms of program delivery, which I can provide for the member.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, is there any plan to include the Yukon teachers in the program?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We have had teachers in some of the courses, and we're also looking at what might be able to be done over the summer.
Ms. Duncan: Can the minister elaborate on that comment? Is this looking - discussions with YTA, in terms of professional development? Is it a fulfillment of - under the Education Act, there's a requirement for a degree of First Nations training. Would this suffice for those who have that requirement outstanding? Would the minister elaborate on what discussions have gone on with YTA, with regard to providing teachers with the land claims training?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We're looking at whether this particular program fits within the Education Act and that section we have run some of the teachers through in the communities. I think it would be a good initiative. It would be a question of timing and dollars of commitment away from classroom time but we'll work through those issues. If we can deliver it and it makes sense, then we will. If it fits within the criteria that is in the Education Act, then it's something that could be worth our pursuing to try and ensure that there is a solid level of understanding of commitments that have been made for all time in the land claims agreements.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, when this program was first announced, I asked the minister responsible if the government would consider allowing executive directors or volunteer heads of non-profit organizations to participate with the government and I haven't heard of any that have participated. Has that offer gone out or is the minister waiting for a request?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, we've been concentrating on our own employees right now and some First Nation governments, and that's been the emphasis. If there were requests from NGOs and whatnot, we'd consider it. However, they'll have to be considerations of time and cost, as with everything.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I understand the limitations with respect to time and cost. My concern is that there are a number of non-profit organizations that have contractual relationships with the Government of Yukon. I'm thinking of executive directors who work for these organizations. The cost would have to be factored into the organization's budget or would have to be covered some other way. I have raised this issue before with the minister and haven't seen any difference in the answer.
Is the minister waiting for a request from these NGOs or is the minister actually actively developing policy with respect to this participation?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I don't think my answer can change as I stand up this time. We are focusing right now on our own employees and the First Nation governments. We will consider whether we want to extend this to all the executive directors of NGOs that may want to participate in this particular initiative.
We're still trying to get through the first wave, so that's why my answer hasn't changed between this year and last year.
Chair: Do members wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Committee is dealing with the Public Service Commission. It is on staff development, general debate. Is there further general debate?
Administration in the amount of $1,570,000 agreed to
On Employment Equity/Land Claims Training
Employment Equity/Land Claims Training in the amount of $450,000 agreed to
Staff Development in the amount of $2,020,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Public Service Commission in the amount of $10,060,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, does the minister want to offer a comment on the decrease in the capital expenditures?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The abacuses that we bought last year are still hanging in there, so we didn't need as many this year.
Actually, no, overall in this budget we've been very tough on cars, computers, office space, and we have, for that reason, reduced the capital budget from last year's allotment for that. I think, as well, last year there was more in the way of a change. Some of the people were quite cramped in some of their quarters and we've made a few moves there to alleviate that.
On Finance and Administration
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $20,000 agreed to
Finance and Administration in the amount of $20,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Public Service Commission in the amount of $20,000 agreed to
Public Service Commission agreed to
Department of Renewable Resources
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The total proposed expenditures for the Department of Renewable Resources reflect a decrease of $521,000, or three percent, from the 1998-99 budget forecast. In the O&M, the decrease is $30,000, or less than 0.25 percent. At the same time, the O&M recoveries are decreased by $75,000, because the recovery from the federal government in the last fiscal year for their contribution toward the Yukon protected areas strategy was a one-time only contribution.
The highlights planned for the year are pretty well outlined in the handout that was provided in the opposition briefing session.
So, I will not go in detail into that information. However, there are a few major initiatives I would like to address.
We continue to make good progress on the protected areas strategy and the implementation, as described in the approved workplan, and it will be the major focus of the parks and protected areas branch in 1999-2000.
The steering committee was established pursuant to the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in final agreement, and will recommend final boundaries and begin preparation of the management plan for the Tombstone park.
Local planning teams are being established for the Teslin and Old Crow areas. The YPAS Secretariat has been fully established, and office space has now been secured in the former Environment Canada weather centre under a cooperative agreement with the federal government.
The Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act, which was passed in this Legislature in December 1998, will come into effect May 1, 1999. Preparations to implement the act and initial regulations are well underway. The parks branch, working closely with Yukon Tourism, will take the lead to ensure a smooth start-up.
In keeping with the government's policy in providing NGOs with some assurance of stable funding, $10,000 has been budgeted for a contribution agreement with the Yukon Agricultural Association, which will assist them with a number of the initiatives in which our government has an interest. Some of them include the Klondike Harvest Fair, education in the classroom, and careers in agriculture.
Other organizations will continue to receive funding for services to, and on behalf of, government - $61,000 to the Fish and Game Association for the operation of the Whitehorse fish hatchery; $48,000 to the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, as our share for their operational costs; $48,000 to the Yukon Trappers Association for trappers' education; and $45,000 to the Yukon College for the ecosystem monitoring project.
The major initiative most of the branches will be involved in is the preparation of devolution. We'll be implementing a regional management structure so that all our department services can be delivered in rural communities in an integrated manner. The entire structure has not been finalized, and I'll be providing the Legislature with details when I'm in a position to do so.
With the funds provided through this budget, the department will continue to provide critical support for key government initiatives, such as land claims, devolution, and the formulation of the development assessment process.
With respect to FTEs, members will note that there was an increase of 4.89 in the O&M area. This is primarily due to converting the previous seconded system administrator position to a permanent position, and converting the YPAS positions that were previously in capital to O&M.
I would like to make a few comments on the capital budget. In the capital, there is a decrease of $491,000, or 24 percent. This decrease is due largely to the fact that the 1998-99 figures reflect the first supplementary of $410,000 for various job-creation initiatives with respect to campground facilities, as well as revoted monies totaling $190,000, included in Supplementary No. 2. Without the effect of these two items, we would have reflected a net increase of $109,000.
Members will note that there has been an increase of $71,000 in the budget for operational equipment. This area of the department's budget has been considerably underfunded for a number of years, and the increase will assist in replacing worn-out equipment, as well as the purchase of additional required equipment.
There are two new projects in policy and planning. The $60,000 in GIS will allow us to implement a number of systems applications, and $20,000 in land use planning initiatives will allow us to participate in various land use planning initiatives, particularly those falling out of the various First Nation agreements. There are four new projects in resource management. The $15,000 in lands and facilities will allow us to add a small building to our compound in Watson Lake to accommodate the needs of our regional biologists for storage and wet lab space. The $25,000 in the campground self-registration system will allow us to address the problems we have experienced over the past summer with vandalism and theft in respect to our self-registration vaults and to provide a simple and more efficient system for people using our campgrounds. There is $100,000 for the Porcupine caribou international lobby to assist with the costs of lobbying in respect to protection of the herd's calving grounds, as well as to support public information and educational initiatives. The $25,000 for the Whitehorse Rapids fish hatchery will allow us to purchase and install equipment to enlarge the capacity of the existing hatchery, which will eliminate the need for fish import for stocking programs.
Mr. Chair, that covers all the major new and changing initiatives of this department. I look forward to a challenging year, and I'll be happy to answer any questions that the opposition may have.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I thank the minister for his overview of his department today, and I just want to tell the minister that I want to explore many different areas within his department this session. We haven't had the time in the past to do it and we have a little time this time so I'm going to go into more detail on some of the things that are happening in Renewable Resources.
It's a fairly large department. It deals with many aspects of Yukon society, and we need to have a little more information on what's happening within the department.
I want to be covering areas such as Tombstone. I want to cover areas of the agricultural policy and how it applies to the squatters. I am going to be covering the protected areas strategy as well as the bison hunt, and numerous other areas within this department that we need to have more information about, such as contribution agreements.
I heard the minister list off a myriad of contribution agreements that his department has entered into. The one I didn't hear mentioned was the Conservation Society, which I understand gets some $75,000 from this department as well as from other departments in government. The ones the minister rattled off all appeared to be fee-for-service agreements, or similar to fee-for-service agreements. I want to know what contributions the Conservation Society is making on behalf of the general public to earn the $75,000 that I believe is contributed to them. The figure may not be exactly $75,000, but I believe that's what it is. I could be wrong on that, though, Mr. Chair.
I'm also going to be wanting to talk to the minister about the assessment of the Aishihik caribou recovery program and the reports out last week where the wildlife populations have increased quite dramatically after the removal of predators in the area. I want to know what the minister's plans are in that area.
In the area of the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act, I understand that the minister's coming under quite a bit of criticism from First Nations, and I want to get a better understanding of what he's doing in relation to that criticism.
Since the minister has stated, I believe, quite clearly in this House that he has no intention of changing the limits on catch-and-release fishing, I want to know why the Fish and Wildlife Management Board is still continuing with the study, and what the minister's going to do if the Management Board comes back with some recommendations that are not in line with what the minister has told us in this House. I want to know how the minister's going to reconcile that.
I also want more details about what the minister's doing in education for catch-and-release. I know it was addressed in the technical briefing, and I will go through the briefing book, as we go along, as I have made notes of numerous questions in here that I will need answered, as we move through this.
Let's start out, though, with a general question about the minister's department, and if he could tell us how many positions are vacant within the department now that are budgeted for. And how many of these positions does the department intend to fill in this fiscal year?
The reason I ask that is because departments have a history of budgeting for vacant positions, knowing quite well that they probably won't even be filled through the year, but they use this as a little place to store funds that they then transfer to other projects in a supplementary budget.
So I want to know, what is the number of positions being budgeted for in the Renewable Resources department, in this budget? And how many of them do they actually believe are going to be filled in this fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have approximately 152 positions budgeted for in this budget. We don't have numbers as to which positions are vacant at this point, but we can bring that information to you.
Mr. Ostashek: I would appreciate that information and, if possible - I don't know if we can get it by this evening or not, but it would be nice if we could. If not, I'd like to have it for the House tomorrow. I don't think we'll be out of Renewable Resources tonight, but miracles do happen at times.
I would like to know how many positions are vacant, and I would also like an indication from the department. Let's put it this way, while we're gathering the information, if it's not too much work for the department, how many positions are vacant? How long have they been vacant? How many do they expect to fill in this fiscal year that they have budgeted for in this department? Could the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we can put together all the information that we have that the member is asking for and try to get the information as speedily as we can.
Mr. Ostashek: Let's turn to the contribution agreements. The minister spoke of the Fish and Game Association, the Trappers Association and other associations, and with each one of them, he said what each organization was doing for the government for this contribution agreement. What are the arrangements for the Conservation Society in the minister's department?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I don't have any of that information with me, so if we continue this debate, maybe we'll continue it after our break, we'll have that for you, and if you ask that question again, I'll be able to give you more detail.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I would like the minister to come back after the break. In his budget address here, he laid out - I believe it was the Fish and Game Association and how many thousands of dollars they were getting for the running of the fish hatchery. He laid out the trapper education one for some kind of educational program. He laid out a couple more. I'd have to review Hansard to get the proper names for the organizations. I believe the Agricultural Association was another one.
It's all well and good. I don't have any difficulty with that, but I believe that the Yukon Conservation Society gets a substantial amount of money from this minister's department. I want to know: is it core funding? Is it a fee-for-service agreement? What is it, and what are the arrangements with the Conservation Society? If he doesn't have that now, I would appreciate getting that when we come back after the break.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I can bring the breakdown to the member after the break.
Mr. Ostashek: Let's turn now to the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act, which the minister says is coming into force on May 1. In the last couple of weeks, especially after the aboriginal tourism conference that we had here in Whitehorse, I hear several First Nations people complaining that their guides can't comply with the requirements of the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act. Is the minister in discussion with First Nations, and what's he going to do with respect to the criticism that has been raised by certain First Nations of the stringent measures that they believe are being put on them by the government in regard to wilderness guiding?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We've had some concerns with those guides that have difficulty with reading, especially in regard to the first aid course that they need to take. From the information, I gather the test can be taken orally, and so on. That has always been in place, so that portion of their concerns is taken care of.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, from my understanding of the media reports I've seen, it was more than just the fact that they couldn't read the test. It was that they wouldn't qualify, they wouldn't be able to pass the test. I believe one First Nation person said they might not be able to pass the test but they know what they're doing out there in the wilderness.
I want to know if there are any special exceptions being made for those guides this season. And I'm not talking just about aboriginal guides. I'm talking about non-aboriginal guides as well. Is the process that the minister put in place going to apply to all wilderness guides, regardless of whether they're aboriginal or non-aboriginal? That's what I'm trying to find out.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, it applies to all guides. It doesn't matter as to race or gender.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, I thank the minister for that.
Are there going to be any exceptions made this season? The minister said the act comes into effect on May 1. That means that all the regulations under the act that the minister has brought in, it would be my understanding, have to be abided by, or are there going to be some exceptions made to the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act in this first year?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No exceptions are made to anyone at this point. What we have said, though, through the department, is that we will work with people to try and get them through this. If they're having difficulty with part of the necessary requirements, such as first aid, we can, through the department, help out maybe with some suggestions with regard to getting them through the course.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, we'll leave that one for now. We may come back to it later.
I want to turn now to Tombstone park. The minister said - I believe in a briefing book - that the steering committee would be recommending the final boundaries of the park.
The minister is aware that there was a mineral study done prior to the boundaries being set under the previous government, which clearly identified the high mineral potential in the Tombstone Range, and the recommendation was that there be extensive mineral assessments done prior to the finalization of expanding any of the boundaries.
What further mineral assessments is the minister's department - or the government - going to be doing with regard to Tombstone park?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I know that there was some work done over the last couple of years, and the steering committee will be taking and using that information. We have been in discussion with Economic Development. If any further studies need to take place, as a requirement of the steering committee, then we can get the Department of Economic Development to do more mineral assessments, if need be, although the steering committee is just using whatever existing information is out there - all the studies and so on that are there right now - for their decisions.
Mr. Ostashek: That's where I'm having the difficulty. The minister's own protected areas strategy says that there have to be mineral assessments done. There was one done in 1994, I believe, or 1995 - I have it on my desk; I don't have it here with me in the House right now - that said, before the boundaries were changed, there should be extensive mineral assessments done.
The NDP election document, A Better Way, says that there need not to be conflict between establishing territorial parks if, in fact, intensive mineral assessments are done. The government is not following their own guidelines for establishing territorial parks, and I want to know why the government is not following their own guidelines.
We went through a long consultation process with the public, at great cost to the taxpayers; we came up with a protected areas strategy that says mineral assessments will be done. We have a report on Tombstone that says there hasn't been enough done yet, that the potential is great.
The Government Leader himself, in the election document, said that there need not to be conflict between mining and environmentalists when it comes to parks, as long as they're careful about how they set park boundaries.
I don't see how this is being careful, when we're going against a report that very strongly said that there was tremendous mineral potential in the new boundaries that this government is now proposing in the study area of Tombstone park.
Now, if we're not going to have conflict, if we're going to build some credibility with investors in the Yukon, then we have to follow the rules that we put in place. Does the minister not agree with that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, we have no intention of swaying from the process laid out in the protected areas strategy. The member knows full well that this particular park - the Tombstone park - is part of a First Nations final agreement. It basically is an SMA, and in there it calls for a committee to be struck, and to look at the study area and to make recommendations to be included in the boundaries of the park, or any portion of the study area.
So I know it's a bit different process, and we still use our YPAS - protected areas strategy - as a guide, but we have to follow what is laid out in the First Nation final agreement.
Mr. Ostashek: I think the minister and his government are mixing apples and oranges here. They are creating a territorial park at the land claims table. This is not a special management area. It's a territorial park. There are guidelines in place for setting out a territorial park. There is the minister's protected areas strategy, which enforces those guidelines. It's in legislation what they have to do to set out territorial parks. The minister can't circumvent that process by saying that this is at the land claims table, because he is setting up a territorial park through the land claims process. One of the difficulties with the process and the way it's being handled is that all people will not have an input into it, and that's unfortunate.
But the minister's own information that he has on file now says that more mineral assessment work has to be done. What I'm getting from the minister right now is that, well, we're going to follow our protected spaces strategy, but we don't really have to because this is at the land claims table, and that supercedes everything else.
Well, I can't agree with that approach, because what I understand the minister is doing is setting up a territorial park in order to satisfy the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and the land claims agreement, and I believe that the minister should be following the rules that are in place for setting up territorial parks, if that's in fact what he's doing. And, in fact, if he's not going to do that, it's going against what his own Government Leader said to the people in the Yukon in the last election campaign, that there need not be conflicts in setting up territorial parks.
So, I believe the minister needs to do more work. He says there is more work done. Can the minister table what further work has been done on Tombstone? I want to see what further work has been done.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, I told the member that, and he knows that there has been additional work over the last couple of years in regard to mineral assessments and some mineral studies, but we still cannot ignore the fact that this is a part of the land claim agreement.
It's not at the table. It's already been negotiated, and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in final agreement establishes provisions for the development of a special management area in the Tombstone area.
Also, the final agreement states that the final SMA will be designated as a natural environment park under the Yukon Parks Act.
Mr. Ostashek: What the minister and his government are doing here is exactly the thing that upsets Yukoners and doesn't instill any confidence in investors in the territory, and that's unfortunate, because we need investment in the territory. The minister and his government could have handled this in a much better manner. We now have claims in the study area, because they didn't move quickly enough to remove it from staking if, in fact, they wanted to expand the park boundaries.
I want to ask the minister: why didn't they ask for the area to be removed from staking immediately upon taking office when, in fact, they promised during the election that, if they were elected, they were going to expand the park boundaries?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, we have started the process of getting interim protection in the study 1 area it's called - and we call it the core area. It went through a lengthy process with the federal government and, seven months later, this was established.
The general public, the people in Dawson City, knew full well what was going to be presented as far as a proposed park through the First Nation final agreement. That's been talked about for several years and, when they were very close to agreeing to what they thought was the study 1 area, which is the expansion of the core area, people knew that this was basically going to be in the land claim agreement, along with a study area that was to be looked at by the steering committee.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, that didn't answer my question. I asked the minister why his government didn't remove it from staking immediately upon taking office, when they promised the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in that, if they were elected, that's exactly what they would do, that they would expand the boundaries. They didn't do that. As a result, we now have a block of claims staked in the study area. The Government Leader himself has admitted that these are legitimate claims. He admitted in the House in Question Period a few weeks ago that he believed them to be legitimate claims.
I want to ask the minister: does he believe they are legitimate claims, and does he believe that the people should have the right to do further exploration work on them?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, first of all, this government doesn't have the ability to just go out there and put interim protection on these proposed parks, and so on. It goes through the federal government, and sometimes it can be a lengthy process.
I believe that these claims are legal. We have no reason to believe it is anything other than that at this point, with the information that we have. They went through the proper process, and they were given the ability to do work on those claims. At this point, we are trying to deal with the matter through two governments and through the First Nation, and also to have the steering committee continue to work on the information they have, to recommend to us a final boundary.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, this raises several more questions. The minister says he believes the claims are legal, yet his department has filed an intervention to stop the people from going in and doing exploration work. He's asked the federal government to delay the decision. That's what his department has done.
He says that it takes some time to remove an area from staking. I want to ask the minister, what was the date of the letter with the request that was given to the federal government? What was the date of the letter that went to the federal government to remove this area from staking?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I don't have that letter in front of me - to what date that letter was sent off.
Mr. Ostashek: Will the minister endeavour to get that letter, and either table it or give us a copy of it, or at least give us the date the letter was written as to when the request was made?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We can have the department look for this particular letter on when we started talks with the federal government to have interim staking banned.
Ms. Duncan: Could I put on the record that we would like a copy of that information as well, please?
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, in the minister's opinion - since it's his department that has filed the intervention against these people doing exploration work on these claims and has asked the federal government to delay it, I believe, for more information - I don't know what more information the minister wants. It's a land use application that has been created for people to go in and do work.
I believe, in my mind, at least, that the territorial environmental branch ought not to be opposing miners from doing work on their claims. I believe their role should be to see that there is no environmental damage with the work that is being done. They should be there to mitigate the damage, not to stop the project from going ahead. I believe that would be far more productive, than saying no, we need more information. What we ought to be doing - the minister's department ought to be doing - is saying, what can we do to help this company be able to fulfill their desires of exploring their legitimate claims and to mitigate any potential environmental damage.
Does the minister not agree?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair. No, I disagree with that. I believe that this is a unique situation that we haven't been faced with in the Yukon, to this day - or recently over the past few years, anyway - of having a type of land use application going in a potential park.
What we've said is that we would not want to see any decision to be made until such time as more information is gathered as to what the environmental impacts could be with a mining claim such as this in the middle of a park.
We believe in the processes set out in YPAS and through the First Nations final agreement, and also with the federal government, through DIAND, looking at more details before issuing a land use permit to this particular company.
Mr. Ostashek: We have the minister responsible for the environment saying he doesn't believe it's his department's duty to help mitigate environmental damage, that he believes it's their duty to stop economic development. That's what he just said on his feet here: to stop economic development, in this instance.
We have the Department of Economic Development going out there encouraging investment in the Yukon. Does the minister not see any conflict in the two positions by the different departments?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the member knows full well what our position is when it comes to the protected areas strategy. This involves a park, and this is a protected area. We've said to the member that we will be looking at all 23 ecoregions and having a representative area of each of those ecoregions protected.
That's still our goal, and we still have an aggressive work plan that we will be continuing to work at. There's still going to be a lot of area outside of these protected areas that will be used for many different developments - whether it's agriculture, or mining, or forestry, or oil and gas.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the minister has said on his feet here now today that he believes they are legitimate claims, and yet his department is saying, "No, you shouldn't be allowed to explore on them."
Let me ask the minister: what does he believe should happen with these claims now?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, I've said to the member that we believe in the process that's been laid out, and we think that it should go through proper screening and so on and that, when DIAND does make a decision on this, they should take all factors into consideration, including some of the things that we've laid out with regard to the Dall sheep and the fact that it would be producing acid-rock drainage and so on - and if they look at all that and do not interfere with the future development of the park.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the minister hasn't answered the question. I asked him what he believes should happen with these claims, not what DIAND believes. I asked the minister, since it's his department that intervened and is saying to put a hold on it. How long? One year, two years, five years? Does the minister believe they should ever be mined? That's what I'm trying to ask the minister. Does he believe they should ever be mined?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, the member must have the letter to DIAND, to the chief mining land use person. That letter came from us as a government. It wasn't a departmental letter. It was internal with all the departments. We have agreed on this position.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister still hasn't said that he believes these claims should be mined ever or whether they should be - what does he believe should happen to them? Does he believe they should be expropriated? He must have some opinion on what he believes should happen to these claims. He admitted in the House that they're legitimate claims. Now, what does he believe should happen to them? If the miners are going to be delayed in doing exploration work on them, what does the minister believe should happen to them?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I think the member is fully aware of our position on this. We said that we did not want to see this interfere with any future development of the park, and this is a special feature park. It is one that does not allow for alterations in its physical appearance, and we've said that. It's been quite clear.
I believe that these claims should not even have been staked in the first place. I believe that many people knew, through the negotiations, what was coming down and, as far as I'm concerned, they're nuisance staking.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, minister, just a minute now. The minister is on record here saying that they were legitimate claims. Now he's saying that they should have never been staked in the first place. You can't have it both ways. They're either legitimate claims or they're not legitimate claims. If they're legitimate claims, the government has to deal with them.
Mr. Chair, I'm going to ignore the kibitzing from the Member for Watson Lake. The fact is, the government can't have it both ways. If they're legitimate claims, the miners, the company, has a right, after due process of applying for a permit, to go in and explore the claims, or the government's got the alternative to expropriate them. Or does the minister think that this company should just walk away from them because he doesn't believe they should have staked them, because they should have known and should have read the government's mind, because the government sent all the signals but they didn't back it up with action? Then he stands in the House and admits that, along with his Government Leader, he believes they're legitimate claims but then, a few minutes later, he gets up and says they shouldn't have been staked in the first place.
Which is it? The minister can't have it both ways.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the fact is that these claims were staked. We have said that over and over, and we have not said that they were not legal. We have no reason to believe at this point that they are, unless people have some information to share with us that they may not be legal. What we have said over and over, and it's in our letter, as far as the recommendation goes, is that no decision should be made under the land use mining regulations that would take away from the integrity of the values of a future park.
That's still our position, and we're not going to move from it.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, it's fine to have that position, but the fact is that the minister, first of all, said that these claims were legitimately staked. Then he says that they shouldn't have been staked. Well, in fact, if they were legitimate claims, they had every right to stake them, even if the minister doesn't think they should have. The fact is, they have a legal right to stake them. Once they have them staked, they have a legal obligation to do assessment work on them. And that's what the process for the application is.
Now we have the territorial government saying, "Well, yeah, they're legal claims but no, we don't want you to do the assessment work."
I say to the minister, if they're legally staked claims - which this government admits - if this government is adamant that they don't want this company to mine them, then what is this government going to do? Does he expect this company to walk away from them? Or are they going to expropriate them?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We continue to follow the process that has been laid out in front of us through the First Nation final agreements. The steering committee has been set up. They're looking at a boundary to make a recommendation to the First Nation and to the territorial government and then work on a management plan.
I don't think the position would be any different from what we have said in taking away from the integrity and values of a future park. There's a lot more to this mining claim that is being talked about right now. If it was to continue to be developed, it would require a road into the mine, and it would go right down the centre of the proposed study area - approximately 30 kilometres or more of road. I don't think anybody's taken that into consideration.
We're saying it's legal. There is a land claims agreement in place. The First Nation may feel otherwise about this, but they want a park. They negotiated with the federal government to have a park in the Tombstone area.
The steering committee calls for doing a review and a development of the special management area in the Tombstone area to be designated by the steering committee through the establishment of boundaries and management plan as a natural environment park.
You can, I guess, take it any way you want. When you look at this whole thing, there are many things that need to be taken into consideration, including all the things that we laid out in the letter to DIAND.
Chair: Order please. The time being past 5:30 p.m., Committee will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee is dealing with the Department of Renewable Resources. Is there further general debate?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Member for Porter Creek North had asked me about whether or not I could bring information back on the contribution agreement between Renewable Resources and the Conservation Society. I can table one tomorrow. I have one right here that's got some notes on it, and so on. It is for $40,000, and $35,000 goes toward a number of things that have been asked for for contributions. It's things like the Yukon forest legislation policy and development, energy policy and development, DAP and review of the Aishihik caribou recovery program - that type of thing.
It's very similar to the Chamber of Mines. We have a $32,000 contribution agreement with them. In addition to that, another $5,000 was allotted for environmental awareness through education. To this point, they have not brought anything forward on that. They have not accessed that $5,000. But I can get that contribution agreement over to the member tomorrow.
I have two letters here. One was a reply to our deputy minister. We wrote a letter to Mike Ivanski, regional director general of Indian and Northern Affairs, on April 28, 1997, with regard to interim protection Tombstone, and there was a reply on June 24, 1997. I'll just table that.
Mr. Ostashek: I'll thank the member for that information. The point I was making with the Conservation Society is that it appears that this is not the only department that helps to fund the society. I know that they get some money under the Executive Council Office as well, and when we start adding the numbers altogether, it ends up being a substantial amount of money. I don't know that other organizations are doing as well as they are under this administration.
The minister said that they wrote the letter about Tombstone on April 28 1997, to ask if it could be withdrawn from staking, I would presume - he didn't tell me what was in the letter. Was that letter asking it to be withdrawn from staking?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, that is the study area number one, which we call the core. It wasn't until May that the First Nation signed off the agreement in principle to the land claims agreement.
Mr. Ostashek: I would appreciate receiving copies of letters tomorrow or sometime, if the minister wouldn't mind.
The point I'm trying to make here, and it's just been verified by the minister - April 28, 1997 - the NDP were elected in September 1996. They assumed office sometime in October of 1996. They waited until the end of April before they wrote a letter asking the federal government to withdraw that area from staking, and my understanding is that the claims in there were staked in the interim, in the winter of 1996-97, sometime prior to the area being removed from staking. So, regardless of whether the land claim negotiation was signed off in May, or whenever, if this government said they made their intentions known during the election that they were going to make a larger park, then they should have taken the appropriate action upon assuming office. One of their first tasks should have been to make sure that we didn't run into conflicting uses in that area, as we have now, with legitimate claims.
I couldn't get him on the record as to what he thought should be done with the claims now that he admits they are legitimate claims, but we'll just leave that for now. The fact remains that they were legitimate claims. The minister is trying to circumvent the issue by saying, "Well, this was at the land claims table. We don't have to follow the protected areas strategy; we'll use it as a guideline."
I want to draw the minister's attention - as a former chief he knows full well that, at the land claims tables, governments bent over backwards to protect third-party rights. They didn't trample on them, as was done in the case of the expansion of the Tombstone boundaries. That's unfortunate because we have a situation now where we have claims and we have a land claims agreement that overlaps those claims and that, I don't believe, has ever happened on any other claim. In fact, we need only look at Lousetown where the federal government ended up buying out the claims to satisfy the land claims agreements.
After many, many years of negotiation involving third-party rights - even down to grazing leases - the government has been adamant that land claims can't supercede those third-party interests.
I know it has caused some problems for First Nations in settling land claims in some areas. And any of us who have owned property in the Yukon have come up against this. I know I had a grazing lease that was involved in land claims negotiations with the Kluane First Nation, and the territorial government and the federal government both were adamant that third-party rights had to be protected. We haven't had that protection for this company with their third-party rights in the Tombstone area.
And I'm going to leave that for now, because I've got my concerns on the record with that as to how unfair I believe this government has been in handling this situation, and I would hope that they would come to an amicable agreement with the company as to what's going to transpire with those claims. If they are legitimate claims, the company has the right to mine them. If the government doesn't want them to mine them, then they had best sit down and try to expropriate them, because I don't see any other solution to this if they are going to have any credibility at all with the investment community.
Mr. Chair, in the briefing book that we got along with the technical briefing, I have some notes here that I'd like further information on. There are supposed to be amendments to the Parks Act required for the implementation of the protected areas strategy. When are these amendments going to be coming forward?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: In the fall session, we would have the amendments to the Parks Act come forward. I just want to go back to some of the things that the member mentioned in this House. One thing that we were not going to be doing as a government is interfering with negotiations. It wasn't until the final stages before the agreement in principle was signed off that we knew where the boundaries were going to be for the study one area, and we acted before the AIP was signed off.
I can tell the member that we have done many, many things in regard to getting the Yukon up and going, and we have a lot of credibility out there with the rural communities, the business communities, and so on. The Minister of Economic Development and the Government Leader have listed many of the things we have been doing, and every time we go to the communities, it's mentioned to us again. I was just in Dawson yesterday, and they had a lot of good things to say about the kind of things we as a government are doing. I had a good opportunity to sit down with the steering committee and talk about Tombstone itself.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, that doesn't do much for the company that has the claims there, and the minister can believe what he likes. I'm not going to get into the debate that I had with the Minister of Economic Development, but political rhetoric just doesn't cut it in the Yukon. We need to see some action - see some credible actions - and that's been sadly lacking by this government.
Mr. Chair, on the protected spaces strategy, the minister's in the process of looking at two areas, I believe, in the Wolf Lake area and one other area - I'm just not exactly certain where it is, maybe the minister can enlighten me again when he gets on his feet. He's in the process of setting up steering committees.
At what point is the land going to be interim protected, and for how long is it going to be interim protected?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We're looking at two areas - the Eagle Plains area, which involves the Fishing Branch - or, it's separate from the Fishing Branch - and also the Wolf Lake area. These are very much at beginning stages. The local planning team that's being set up will look at, basically, the ecoregion, and look at what we should be looking at, with regard to protection.
So there's lots of work that needs to be done in both areas. Wolf Lake, with the community of Teslin, wanted to take a bit more time, I guess, to go and consult with the community members, and just talk about park status around the lake area, and how the community is feeling about the whole thing.
So we agree with that. They can go and consult the community people in Teslin, although we're still going to be setting up the management planning team, and having people appointed to that team.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, that's all well and good, Mr. Chair, but the minister hasn't told me when the land is going to be interim protected, and how long it's going to be interim protected. That the answer I'm looking for.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We don't have a timeline for interim protection. We would like to have the team have an opportunity to deal with the matter first, although what we have been saying is that we want to put as short a time frame as possible so that we don't have a team that's stringing out the process and things aren't getting done.
For these two, I don't think at this point we could even say how long the time frame could be. What we don't want is for it to go on for years and years. We think that maybe a year or a year and a half would be sufficient time for the planning team to get all the information that they need to make recommendations to us.
Mr. Ostashek: This, again, goes back to the same concerns that have been raised over Tombstone. Here we have a government that has sent a clear signal to the public saying that they're going to be looking at park status in those two specific areas in the Yukon. No land has been given interim protection. That means that you could conceivably have a staking rush in either one of these areas, and the lands are going to be staked.
Is the minister going to come along and say, "Well, the mining company shouldn't have staked those lands because we sent a signal out that we were going to create territorial parks there? Is this the approach he's taking? What's going to happen?
Suppose 1,000 claims are staked in the Wolf Lake area? It could conceivably happen, with the mineral bodies that have been found in that area. What's going to happen to those claims?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: First of all, Mr. Chair, what we're looking at is protected areas. A park could form out of Wolf Lake, but we are looking at representatives of protected areas in that ecoregion. Now, it could be broken into one or two or three different spots as a protected area.
In regard to claims, that's basically a "what if" question. I know that we could be facing a similar situation as we are with Tombstone, but at this point we don't have a study area to look at at the Wolf Lake area or the Eagle Plains area.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I understand that, but my question to the minister is, what is going to happen to the claims if they were staked prior to the study area being set up and the land withdrawn and given interim protection? What is going to happen to those claims? Is the government going to take the approach that they have with Tombstone, that they shouldn't have been staked anyhow because we sent a signal? How are they going to deal with it? That's what I want to know. That's what Yukoners want to know. How are they going to deal with it?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We believe that the mining claims have to go through the regular process that's being laid out. Right now, even for the environmental assessments and so on, it goes through CEAA, but we also keep in the back of our minds that the development assessment process, which is being spelled out in the UFA, will be developed and in place and they would be dealing with such matters as that also.
I can't say to the member what will happen at that point. It's a big "what if" question and, at this point, we're saying that they should be following due process.
Mr. Ostashek: That's exactly the point I'm making to the minister. He's talking about DAP and he's talking about these other processes. These don't kick in until after claims are staked and somebody wants to turn them into a mine. They have a land use permit they have to apply for to do exploration and assessment work. DAP doesn't kick in at that point; that's the land use process.
This government has, once again, sent a signal of what they want to do and have not given interim protection to any lands and are leaving the door wide open to claims being staked and then ending up in a similar controversy as they are with the company now involved in Tombstone, and that does not create a climate that's conducive to investment in the Yukon. That's the message that we've been trying to give the government all along.
Protected areas are fine. There is no problem with it. The mining company doesn't have any objection, but they want to know where they can go and where they can't go. They don't want to go out there and stake a block of claims and then have the minister come along and say, "Well, we're going to turn this into a protected area." Then they have to deal with a protected area over and above the claims that they've staked. Can't the minister see the controversy that they're causing by doing that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We are trying to work as quickly as possible to identify the area of interest so that we can have the local planning teams get down to the ground work and start accessing information and doing reviews. What I can also tell the member is that, in regard to Fishing Branch, which we have been working on with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, we do have a map notation on the area of interest at this point. So, anybody at this time wanting to go out and stake claims there knows that there is a map notation, and it basically spells out that this could be a protected area.
Mr. Ostashek: I believe the issue in Fishing Branch is a little different than it is at Wolf Lake. Fishing Branch was set aside as a special management area under land claims, if I'm not mistaken, and it has to be dealt with in that aspect. So, there are boundaries.
There aren't in the Wolf Lake area. That's what I'm saying. And the government has sent a clear signal that they want to establish a park there. Now we could have somebody come along and stake a block of claims in there that the government is going to have to deal with. They would be legitimate in staking them at this point, because there has been no interim protection given to the land.
I believe that the government needs to get a tighter system in place before they make the announcement that they are putting in a territorial park in this area, and when you start to limit things, people who have an interest in there - prospectors or companies that have been doing work in the area - may want to stake some ground in there before the minister gets around to setting the boundaries of a study area.
Then we're going to have a block of claims to deal with, and we're either going to tell the mining companies that no, they can't mine them because we're going to put a territorial park here or we're going to put a protected area here. Does the minister not see that we are leaving the door wide open for a similar situation as in Tombstone?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I told the member that we are doing as much work as we possibly can to get things done in the areas of interest in these two particular ecoregions so that we can get the planning team up and going as quickly as possible.
We know that this is a process that takes time. If you want to start dealing with a lot of input from the local people, the community people, and so on, there is no way around it. It takes time to make sure that you have the boundaries in the right place for a protected area.
There's no way that we could complete protected areas in each of the 23 ecoregions by the year 2000. It's just impossible at this point, with the process we have adopted - and that is to involve the local people and also the people who are affected by this. In regard to Tombstone, there are others who need to be in the picture, and they have been talking a bit with the steering committee. They are the outfitters and the trappers in that area. They want to have a little bit of input into the design of the management plan. They see, I guess, maybe some interests that they would like to see included in a protected area. So, there is a lot of work that has to be done with the local planning team itself.
I know with Tombstone, they find this process a lot of work, and it's the type of process that could take a long time. But we also feel that there is a timeline in which we would like to see things happen. We've laid it out in our workplan for protected areas, and Tombstone was one of those where we would like to see a recommendation come forward from the local steering committee on a boundary for Tombstone. After that, they can work on the management plan.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, let's put this in a different perspective. I want the minister to stand in the House and tell me what's going to happen to third-party interests if his department comes along and overlays a protected area over them. Are the third-party interests going to be protected? What can I tell my constituents? Under land claims, third-party interests were protected. Is the same going to hold true under the protected areas strategy? That's what Yukoners want to know, and the minister should be able to stand in this House and tell us.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, if the member reads through YPAS carefully, what we have said in there is that if there's an eco-region, and we want protection in this eco-region, then there may be several places where we can have protection of this eco-region. There's one, two, three blocks and, in one of those blocks, there's a lot of interest in mining claims, and that is our primary interest, then we can make the decision to go to another block.
What we said in YPAS is that we would try to take every step possible to avoid third-party interests, and avoid the heavy staking areas, or mineral areas, if possible. Now, this is why we want to see the mineral strategy kick in place, and help out with the groundwork that we need to have done when it comes to protected areas.
Mr. Ostashek: Again, I know what the minister's saying, I read that. I know what it says there. I want to know what is going to happen if the minister puts a protected area over third-party interests. Are they protected? Or are they going to be told, "You're going to have to move, because we're going to put in a protected area."
I know the minister is going to do everything in his power for that not to happen, but the way they're going about it - sending signals out as to where they want to put a protected area, without giving interim protection to the land - they're leaving the door open for this to happen.
I want to know what's going to happen to those third-party interests, if that situation arises. And this is not hypothetical; I want to know what happens I don't care what formula he's using, I just want to know, are they protected or are they not protected?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, what I've said is that we will be working with the third-party interests, and trying avoid, wherever we can, with the third party if, should there be protected areas that covers this, then compensation is a possibility. We have to work with the third party to talk about how we can resolve it - whether they see interest in another area, or whether it's compensation they're looking at, and whatnot.
Compensation is not ruled out of the picture.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that. That's what I was looking for. I wanted to know what to tell people when they asked - that compensation has not been ruled out.
Mr. Chair, in the book we received at the technical briefing, it says policy and planning is preparing revisions to Yukon conservation strategy and revising the trapper and outfitter compensation policy. What is happening with the outfitter and trapper compensation policy?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'm going to try to find the note on it, but I know that the planning team is up and running. They haven't got anything finalized back to us. It's a very complicated issue to deal with and it's taken a long time to get any results, other than we did want to bring forward, I guess, from them some results so that we can work with the trappers and make sure that their interest is properly looked after.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, that's exactly why I'm asking the questions. The fact remains that, when the government comes out and says that they're revising the trapper and outfitter compensation policy, even though the policy that's in place right now most trappers and outfitters don't find to be very palatable, but they are still concernedbout what's going to happen.
So, I'm asking the minister: what are they looking for when they're talking about revising the trapper and compensation policy? Are you looking to make it better for the trappers and outfitters? Or do they figure it's too generous now? What are they doing when they're reviewing this policy? I want to know.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I can bring back whatever information we can find to the member opposite as to what is laid out in the agreements that have been worked on thus far.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, if the minister is going to come back with a legislative return or a letter, I want to know what the department feels is wrong with the trapper and outfitter compensation policy now and what they are looking for in a revised trapper and outfitter compensation policy. Those are the details that I want in it.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I can do that.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, let's move on to another area that has been very controversial in the last month or so, and that's the minister's department not following their own regulations when it comes to agricultural policy with regard to the squatters.
The minister knows full well that many Yukoners are upset with what the government has done in this respect, and they're not so upset about somebody being given the opportunity to have land in their area, they're upset that the minister and his department are not even following their own guidelines when it comes to agricultural policies. Many, many Yukoners have made applications for agricultural land over the years and haven't been successful in the draws, or were unfortunate and couldn't get any land.
The minister - if he was to put himself in that same position, after applying numerous times for draws under the guidelines and regulations of his own department and not being successful in the draw, not having the opportunity to get the piece of agricultural land he wanted, then to have someone who is being displaced off the waterfront being told that they can have this land without going through a draw, and then, to rub salt in the wounds on top of it, say that he doesn't even have to abide by agricultural policy, that they're not going to ask him to come up with a development policy while every other Yukoners who has participated in agricultural land has had to do that.
I asked the minister the question in Question Period a while back - if he could tell me if there had ever been in the past where the development plan had been waived for agricultural land, and he said no, he couldn't. He doesn't believe it had. Why does the minister believe that Yukoners should accept this government's desire to put somebody on a block of agricultural land, that other applicants were turned down from - even discouraged from putting in an application for it - and were told it was not available. Why does the minister believe that Yukoners should accept that - not only that the person has been given the land, but also that they have been given the land without having to abide by the strict development policies that this government has put in place for the development of agricultural land?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The member knows we're going through a review of the agriculture policy at this point and are compiling all of the information that's been brought forward. Extensive questions were asked of the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on this whole issue. The member knows that, in 1996, there was a Hot Springs Road zoning regulation put in under the Lands Act through Community and Transportation Services. This allows for more flexibility of agricultural lands in that area. Now, they go through the Community and Transportation Services department for this piece of land - not through the Department of Renewable Resources. It wasn't to be disposed of through the agricultural disposition process. It's gone through a different process. They've dealt with the community people in making this regulation change and, basically, Community and Transportation Services is fully in its right to use this land, zoned agricultural, as residential.
Mr. Ostashek: I agree; C&TS is within their rights. I don't believe they're within their rights, certainly not from the public side, to give this land without allowing other Yukoners the chance to apply for it.
Other Yukoners also don't agree that the minister's department should be waiving the development plan for these residents. The minister himself said, "It's never been waived for anybody else in the Yukon. It's never happened." That's what he told us in this House, and now they're doing it. Now, I understand it's not just one, but two; one on the Hot Springs Road and another one on the Mayo Road. Can the minister advise me if I'm right on that, that there's another one on the Mayo Road?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'm not aware of one on the Mayo Road, and this also didn't go outside the process of getting agricultural land. The member knows full ell that it didn't. The Hot Springs Road zoning regulation involved the residents of the Hot Springs Road and these terms and conditions apply to everybody there, not just the one person from the waterfront.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister just doesn't seem to understand. This has nothing to do with zoning. We know the land's zoned for agriculture.
Right beside that land, not a mile from it, there were seven agricultural plots let by this government in the fall of 1997. There were seven 20-acre plots that 100 people participated in a draw for. The seven successful ones who got them, along with a backup name being drawn for each one of those plots in case the first participant couldn't fulfil an agricultural development plan that this minister's department is responsible for - not C&TS, this minister and his department are responsible for that agricultural development plan - and these were very stringent plans. They had to have a certain amount cleared, they had to have a certain amount in improvements and they entered into a five-year deal for the title.
And now, a person who has been displaced off the waterfront has bypassed through that whole process. Can the minister not understand why Yukoners are upset over this?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I told the member already that there was a zoning regulation developed in the Hot Springs Road area - not on the seven - on the Hot Springs Road, with the residents there. There were commercial areas, and agriculture was one part of it and there were several different things under it. I don't have that list in front of me, but these are the terms and conditions that they all follow.
Mr. Ostashek: Is the minister trying to stand in this House today and tell me that there are certain blocks of land out there, regardless of who gets them, even if it's in a participating draw as in the past, and no longer have to have a development plan? Is that what he's telling me?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, that's not what I'm saying. Mr. Chair, I've already explained this. There are, mapped out on the Hot Springs Road, certain sections of land where the residents wanted to see a certain type of development and use. In the Hot Springs Road regulation were agricultural lands. The regulations and so on were more flexible for these agricultural parcels than you normally go through in a land disposition through the agricultural land disposition.
What it does is basically list what the permitted uses are for this piece of agricultural land and, on there, is residential. That's why I'm saying that C&TS is in their full right to use this land zoned agricultural for residential use.
Mr. Ostashek: Is the minister trying to tell me in the House today, after weeks of questioning of the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and the Minister of Renewable Resources, that this land was not given out for agricultural purposes? Is that what the minister's trying to tell me?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, this piece of land that was given to the waterfront resident has flexibility with regard to uses. They can use it for agricultural land and they can put a residential home on this piece of land.
Mr. Ostashek: What difference is that from the other 20-acre plots? They're all going to put homes on them. It's allowed. They can either use the house as part of the amount of money they have to put in or they can put a house on it any time they want.
I'm not following the minister. The Minister of C&TS said that they had waived the agricultural development plan - that the Whitehorse squatter said that he was going to use it for agricultural purposes, and that was good enough for the government. That's what we were told in this House. We were told by the minister responsible for agriculture that never before had a piece of agricultural land been given out without a development plan. Now we have the minister standing up in the House tonight and saying there's flexibility.
Well, this is a very large plot of land, and a portion of it has been given to this Whitehorse squatter. Is the minister trying to tell me and Yukoners in the House tonight that some other Yukoner that ends up with those adjacent pieces of property in this block of agricultural land that went through the zoning process are also not going to have to come up with an agricultural plan? Is that what the minister's telling me?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the zoning regulation - the Hot Springs Road zoning regulation - allows for more flexible use of that agricultural land. Do you need to come up with a plan for this particular piece, through C&TS? No. What it does list out is a number of uses that a member could use the land for - it could be residential, it could be fur farming, game farming, or tree farming. They can use that piece of land.
But they're more flexible. It's what the Hot Springs Road residents fought for and wanted in this zoning regulation, and it's consistent with the terms and conditions that apply to all the Hot Springs Road residents.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I can't agree with the minister, because the 20-acre plots that were put out there could cover just all of the things that the minister has listed. They didn't say they had to grow wheat. They didn't say they had to grow oats. They didn't say they had to raise cows. They didn't say they couldn't game farm. They asked for a development plan that was approved by his department. There was a lot of flexibility in what they could do on that land. It did say a certain percentage of it had to be cleared and cultivated. But the minister still hasn't answered my question. The minister is saying now that this Whitehorse squatter was given a piece of prime agricultural land, and he doesn't have to farm it. He doesn't have to do any agricultural activities. Is that what the minister is telling me?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, what I have told the member opposite is what could be used on the land. There is a lot of flexibility in this regulation for this parcel of land. They could farm it, or they could choose not to. They could have greenhouses, or they could fur farm, or they could put a residence on it and use it as it is according to the regulations that were developed through Community and Transportation Services.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I suspect that when I mail these copies of Hansard out to the Hot Springs Road residents, the minister is going to be getting a lot of calls. That isn't what we were told in this House for a month. That isn't what we were told here for a month. They said that this was an agricultural piece of land. The minister says greenhouses. That's agricultural. Fur farming, that's agricultural.
If the minister is saying now that you can buy a piece of agricultural land - or have it given to you by the government in this case, with a very small fee - you can get some sweat equity into it and you don't have to farm it. That's what he's telling me - that they can just build a residence on it and live on it. Is that the fact?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, it isn't, Mr. Chair. What I said to the member is that there were regulations developed for this particular area through Community and Transportation Services, and in there, the biggest thing that's changed versus how a normal piece of agricultural land is to be given out is the flexibility.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, then, will the minister answer my question. I think there's at least two more blocks of that land. It's quite a chunk of land - this six hectares, or whatever it is that this gentleman from the waterfront got. There are a couple more parcels in there. Is the minister telling me now that whoever is successful in getting those other parcels in that same triangle of land there - the same area where the Whitehorse squatter was put - don't have to come up with an agricultural policy to satisfy his department?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, but it goes through C&TS. It's not through us. They're not getting the land through the Department of Renewable Resources and our agriculture branch. It is through C&TS. It's through the Lands Act. I don't know how many times the Minister of Community and Transportation Services has told the members opposite about the zoning regulation, and so on.
Mr. Cable: Just let me feed back what I think I've heard the minister say: that the agricultural land out on the Hot Springs Road - you can take a chunk of it, and stick a house on it, convert it to residential zoning, in effect, and that's the end of it. Now, I don't think the minister intended to say that. I think his definition of "agriculture" is a lot wider than growing oats.
Is the minister saying that this six-hectare lot that's being given to the waterfront person can be used solely for residential purpose? Or, is he saying that he can stick a house on it, but he has to do something in the broad definition of agricultural pursuits?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: If you go through the regulations, it shows the principal uses of it, and it has accessory uses on this piece of land. It wasn't we who developed this policy. It went through C&TS, and so it's not a piece of land for agricultural lands through the Department of Renewable Resources. It's a zoning issue that took place through C&TS.
That's one of the things they laid in there, is the flexibility. This is what you could use it for and, on there, it says "single residential" or you can put a secondary single-family dwelling on it, also.
Mr. Cable: I don't think we're connecting across the floor here. You can put a house on the farm. Obviously, you have to have a place to live in to farm a farm. You can use the second dwelling policy to put a second residence on the farm, but that doesn't mean you don't have to farm. Is the minister saying that you can get a piece of agricultural property, stick your house on it and that's the end of it?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I told the member what some of the permitted uses are; that's what they can do on the land. It doesn't mean that they have to do it, according to what I have read in the regulations that were developed by C&TS. I don't have them in front of me, but I can get them and ask the member to read through them. I'm sure he can answer the questions that he's been asking me by just reading through them. It wasn't the Department of Renewable Resources that developed them; it was through C&TS.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, is the minister telling us here tonight on the floor of this Legislature that his department has an agricultural policy, a plan whereby people who buy a piece of agricultural land have to abide by a plan? It's a very stringent plan, I must say. I've looked at it. I know how stringent it is, how costly it is. Yet, what he's telling Yukoners tonight on the floor of this Legislature is that if C&TS disposes of a piece of agricultural land, his department doesn't get involved in it and it really doesn't matter what happens to that agricultural land after that. Is that what he's trying to tell Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Maybe if the member read through the proposed regulations for the Hot Springs Road, he could answer a lot of his own questions.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, this has nothing to do with the regulations; this has nothing to do with the zoning. This has to do with the department the minister's responsible for: agriculture. Everybody who gets a piece of agricultural land in the Yukon has to submit a development plan before entering into an agreement for sale.
This government chose to waive that plan in this instance. It said so. The government has said so on numerous occasions on the floor of this House. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services said that they waived it, but the person involved agreed that he was going to farm it, but there's no plan drawn up that he has to farm it in order to get title to it. In fact, the way I understand it, he can get almost immediate title to it, flip this piece of property, and the government can't do anything about it.
Where's the fairness in that to other people who are striving and working hard to try to get a piece of agricultural land in the Yukon? Where's the fairness to the rest of Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I know I have that regulation here somewhere, but I can tell the member that it was developed in 1996, and I would say the Yukon Party had good input into the development of this regulation.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, we don't have any difficulty with the regulation. We said that. We don't have any difficulty with the zoning. What we have the difficulty with is this minister standing here and telling us that it's all right for this person to have a six-hectare plot of agricultural land and he doesn't really have to farm it. It's not going to affect whether he gets title to it or not. That's what he's telling us. That's what he's telling Yukoners. He can farm it if he wants but he doesn't really have to do it.
Now, I believe that there are two or three more six-hectare plots in that block of land. Is the minister telling me that, in line with the C&TS regulations that he's talking about, whoever else is successful in getting those adjacent plots is not going to have to farm them if they don't want to, that they're going to be treated the same way as this waterfront squatter was? Is that what the minister is telling us? That whoever gets those adjacent pieces of land, if and when they come for sale, won't have to farm them unless they want to?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, there is a difference between agricultural-zoned land and actual agricultural land, and the member knows full well by reading the regulations that the terms and conditions apply to every person who owns a piece of land out on the Hot Springs Road who is within that area.
Those terms and conditions apply not to just this one person, but to everybody out there.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the minister has just said that there's a difference between agricultural-zoned land and agricultural land. Could he explain that difference to the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair. The agricultural-zoned lands have terms and conditions that you follow that are particular to those pieces of land versus the agricultural land itself, where you go through the normal, regular process of putting management plans, and so on, in place.
Mr. Ostashek: So, then, is the minister saying - I want to ask the question again, then - that on the adjacent pieces of property, next to where this waterfront squatter has been placed, those people there can build a house on that land - the ones that are successful in getting it, if and when it comes, because it's in the same zoning area and falls under the same regulations that the minister is trying to defend in the House tonight - and they don't have to farm it?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: What I've said to the member is that in this zoning the big change in there is the flexibility to the agricultural piece of land and it has permitted uses. One of those is the building of a home or whatnot on that piece of land. That's what they could do.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister must be aware that you can build a home on any agricultural land. You have to live there to farm it. You don't necessarily have to, but it's more convenient. I just want the minister to tell Yukoners tonight, can whoever gets those adjacent blocks of land just build a house on them? The minister says there is flexibility. Yes or no? Can they just build a house on them and not have to farm them?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I can't believe that the member doesn't understand that the terms and conditions apply to everybody living on that block of land. It's so simple that you can answer the question yourself.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I want the minister to go on record and answer it, then. Why won't the minister go on record? Why is he afraid to go on the public record, if that's what he believes - that a person can just build a house on that agricultural land and not farm it? Why won't he go on the public record?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I've spelled out some of the uses and accessory uses of this piece of land and in there it says you can build a house. It doesn't say that you have to game farm, fur farm, or use it for other agricultural uses. It doesn't say that you have to do that. Those are the permitted uses.
Mr. Cable: You know, the minister has got this land disposition policy underway now, and one of the problems is that land that has been sold for agricultural purposes is no longer being used for agricultural purposes. That's the reason for the second part of the agriculture policy.
The minister surely isn't trying to tell this House that you can get a piece of agricultural land and simply stick a house on it, and that's the end of it. Surely, he's not trying to tell the House that. Is that what he's saying?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. Let the member speak.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I guess it's a very simple one. Everybody wants me to state that you can only build a house on it. According to what I got out of the regulation that was put forward, that's all it says. You can put one of these units up, and you don't have to fur farm, and you don't have to do any of the other uses that are there. These are one of the permitted uses. And one of the permitted uses is to put a dwelling on it, and it doesn't say that you have to do anything else.
Chair: Do members wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee is dealing with the Department of Renewable Resources. Is there further general debate?
Mr. Cable: I was just going over in my head this somewhat tortured debate from the last half hour. I think what the minister is talking about and what we're talking about are two different things. What we're talking about is getting agricultural land. I think what the minister is talking about is sitting on agricultural land, once you've got it.
Let's be clear, though. Is the minister saying that you can get agricultural land without any covenant to do something agricultural, such as breaking the land and seeding it, or sticking some agricultural buildings up - that all you have to do to get agricultural land is to stick a house up?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, that's not what I'm saying. What I am saying is that there is flexibility in uses on the Hot Springs Road where this agricultural land comes under that regulation. It's not the normal process. I guess this is exceptional - to have a regulation like this put forward. Normally, you would follow all of the stringent rules that are laid out under the policy for getting agricultural land.
Mr. Cable: When the minister says "normally", that would be anyone applying for any land around the parcel in question. Normally, they would have to say, "Look, this is agricultural land, and I'm going to break" - I think it's three-quarters times two-thirds, which amounts to about half of the property, and you have to seed it down before you get the title. Isn't that the usual drill?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: To follow all of the process that's laid out, yes, that's the normal drill, but not with this particular piece of land that's zoned agricultural.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, during the break I took the time to review the OIC, and I want to go over it with the minister, because I think he's on a totally different wavelength than we are, and I don't see anything in here that waives the responsibility of anybody getting agricultural land from using it for agriculture purposes. And I'm going to go over this with the minister.
Before I do that, I want to refer to a letter to the editor of April 16 by a former minister of both Community and Transportation Services and Renewable Resources, and who was a minister responsible when the OIC was passed.
In this letter, he says - I'm not going through it all - on page 4870 of Hansard he stated, and I believe this is the Minister of C&TS or the Minister of Renewable Resources, Mr. Fairclough, because he refers to him later, but he says, "So that basically bumps out Renewable Resources, and anybody who's looking for a piece of land goes through C&TS." But the former minister says, "This seems to suggest that if the land branch disposes of a piece of agricultural land, the agricultural policy does not apply."
Is that, in fact, correct? Is that the interpretation the minister is using?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, the member is correct. As they go through Community and Transportation Services for this piece of land, they don't have to follow the agricultural policies that they normally do through the Department of Renewable Resources.
Mr. Ostashek: Why would people go through the Department of Renewable Resources for agricultural land? Why don't they just say, no, I'll go to the lands branch and get a piece of agricultural land, then I don't have to have a development policy? I believe the minister is wrong on that and I'm going to go through the OIC in a minute.
The former minister goes on to say, "Mr. Fairclough, I'm not aware that this has ever happened before. I believe that everyone who ever received raw government agricultural land has had to provide clearly defined improvements regardless of which branch of government they dealt with."
The former minister believes that, because the lands branch - under C&TS - disposes of the land, it does not abrogate the responsibility of the person who gets it from having an agricultural development plan.
Now, could the minister come back tomorrow with a regulation - that's written - that says if agricultural land is dispersed under C&TS lands branch, the agricultural policy does not apply.
Can the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I've been reading out the permitted uses that came straight out of the Area Development Act, which has the Hot Springs zoning in it, and there are principal uses and accessory uses, and it doesn't say in here that if you were to build a home as an accessory use, you have to do anything else on it.
I know that there are lots of problems with the agricultural policy, and of course that's why we're going through this whole review process - to try and straighten that out. And we're reaching the point of putting all the information together. I can tell the member, though, that this Area Development Act was dated the 3rd of September, 1996. Certainly, it came into being before we did. So basically what C&TS has done to try to resolve this situation on the waterfront is take this person, look at existing Yukon government lands, and put them on those lands. And that's what they did.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I have the Area Development Act here. I'm going to go through it with the minister because his interpretation and mine are totally different and I believe that if this were challenged, the minister would find out that he's wrong. I don't believe that you can get a piece of land that's zoned for one thing, go along with accessory development and satisfy the zoning regulation.
The minister said on the floor just a minute ago here that if you get agricultural land from C&TS, the agricultural policy does not apply. A lot of Yukoners are going to be wondering about that tomorrow, I can assure the minister of that.
Let's go and look at the area development plan and the OIC. First of all, it was put in and clause 1 says, "Annexed Hot Springs area development regulations are hereby made." Okay, fair enough. Then it goes to "Hot Springs area development area regulations" and it says, "Purpose. The purpose of these regulations is to regulate the development of land within the Hot Springs development area, as shown in Schedule B, pursuant to the Area Development Act." It's divided into the different zones. It's clear enough.
Then, let's go to the next clause that says, " 'Agricultural' means: the production of agricultural product; 'typical uses include, but are not limited to the following: food and forage production, livestock raising, poultry and egg production, dairy farming, beekeeping, production of plants and trees, sod farming, fur farming, greenhouse gardening, market gardening." These are all of the areas that the minister and I just debated before the break that I said were all agricultural uses. He said there was flexibility. They are still agricultural uses. That's what the Area Development Act says.
Then we go on in this, and it says under the general provisions in this, "Nothing in this regulation releases a person or corporation from the requirement to obtain any other permit, licence or authorization required by any federal or territorial act or regulation."
That tells me that the person that gets the land under Community and Transportation Services is not exempt from an agricultural plan. It says quite clearly in here in the general provisions of the OIC that that does not exempt them from anything. All that the Area Development Act is is a zoning instrument. It says that in clause 7 under general provisions on page 10.
Then we go on to Schedule A, and it says that the purpose for agricultural zoning is to "accommodate the development of agricultural land uses and to permit a broad range of complementary activities." Then, under permitted uses, it says that principal uses are "agricultural uses, horticultural uses, game farming, tree farming, sod farming, fur farming, fish farming, minor agricultural pursuits, public utilities."
The minister cannot stand in this House and say that a person can put on an accessory use when, in fact, they haven't used the land for the principal purpose that it was zoned for. The principal purpose says that it's for agricultural purposes.
The other clause I read to him - it doesn't matter which department gives it away, they still have to abide by all of the regulations and authorizations that are in place so, therefore, the minister's agricultural policy does apply. And in this case, it's not being followed by the government itself. The minister is not following their own regulations.
We have no difficulty with the accessory uses of the property, but you cannot have an accessory use as a primary use and say that that satisfies the zoning requirement.
Nobody in their right mind would interpret it that way, Mr. Chair. You couldn't say that you're going to have outdoor recreational facilities, which is an accessory use, and not farm the land, and tie up a block of agricultural land. The purpose of this Area Development Act was to take land that was suitable for agriculture and see that it was used for agriculture. Land that wasn't used for agriculture could be zoned as residential, country residential, or whatever - not force people to farm or try to make agricultural use of marginal land.
Now, there are numerous accessory uses. If I'm going to follow the rationale put forward by the minister, one of the accessory uses is a family day home program. Is the minister saying that if somebody takes this six-hectare piece of land, which they got for agricultural purposes - the principal use of the land they got it for - but didn't do any agriculture work, didn't do any tree farming, didn't do any of that stuff on the principal side, and just basically used the land for a family day home program, they would satisfy the requirements of the zoning?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Obviously, there are a lot of complications within this particular regulation. I know the member wants to defend it, since they were the ones who brought it in. Mr. Chair, what I did not read anywhere in this regulation is where they say you have to do other things other than what's there, besides the principal use. It doesn't say that in here. So, that's why I'm saying that if a person comes in and puts a house on here, they don't have to do the rest of the principal use or the accessory use. It doesn't say that in this regulation at all. Or, if the member can find it and point it out to me, I'll look at it.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I don't think I should have to point it out to the minister. It says - this is on page 19 of OIC - "Zone: agricultural - AG". Purpose:" - this is the purpose it was zoned as agricultural land - "to accommodate the development of agricultural land uses and to permit a broad range of complementary activities". The purpose, though, is the further development of agricultural land uses.
Principal uses - what does "principal" mean in the minister's mind? "House" isn't listed under principal use; it's listed under accessory use. The land was zoned for those principal uses that are listed in the left-hand column. If a person isn't doing these, then he's not complying with the zoning regulation, and that's why the minister ought not to have let anybody move onto this agricultural land without an agricultural development plan, because the previous clause in the OIC on the Area Development Act, clause 7 under general provisions says that nothing in the regulations releases a person or a corporation from the requirement of obtaining any other permit, licence or authorization required by any federal or territorial act or regulation. So, it says that you need to have an agricultural plan, as anybody else does. It doesn't say that you don't need one.
The minister can stand there and say there are all kinds of problems with this Area Development Act. I don't think there are any problems with it. I think the problem is with the loose manner in which the minister is interpreting it, to try to defend what his government has done, which I believe is indefensible. By trying to solve one problem, they have created a bigger problem.
Can the minister show me, either in this Area Development Act or in some other regulation, where it states that the person who gets lands under a C&TS disposal does not have to provide an agricultural plan? Can the minister show me any regulation that says that? It certainly isn't in the OIC.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I just told the member that I couldn't find anywhere in this regulation that says you have to do those other things.
Mr. Cable: The 1990 Yukon agricultural policy, or the one that's dated November 28, 1991, which assumedly applies to this land - and the minister can correct me if I'm wrong - says that every applicant for agricultural land must - and then there's (a), (b), (c) and (d), and (c) says, "Prepare a farm development plan which the agriculture branch considers to have good potential for viability in the Yukon context." Is this policy not applicable to that property that we've been discussing, this six-hectare property out on the Hot Springs Road?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, it does not apply. This particular area was rezoned, and it's zoned agricultural land - this particular lot - through C&TS.
Mr. Cable: I'm not talking about what C&TS was doing. What I'm talking about is Government of the Yukon's agricultural policy, which says, "Every applicant for agricultural land must prepare a farm development plan."
Now, is the minister saying that simply because the Renewable Resources department is taking hands-off on this the agricultural policy is waived for that particular piece of property?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, it's simply because it went through a rezoning, and with the people involved along the Hot Springs Road. In there, it calls for flexibility of use of agricultural land, and it lists permitted uses and what you can do on this piece of land. It was agreed to and developed by all the people involved on the Hot Springs Road to come up with this.
Mr. Cable: Is the minister saying it has, in fact, been rezoned? Is that his position? Maybe we're missing something here.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Before 1996 this particular piece of land was agricultural land. It went through a zoning process. It was rezoned agricultural land, through this act.
Mr. Ostashek: Let's take this in small-sized bites. Is the minister saying that that piece of land that was agricultural land has been rezoned to residential or country residential - a six-hectare lot was given out as country residential? Is that what the minister's saying, that it's no longer agricultural land in that block?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, I haven't said that. I said that it was rezoned with a different zoning that took place with the map in there, and it's zoned agriculture for development, and you can put residential, according to what I read through this. Now, if you can point out clearly that it doesn't, then I would have to look at it again and come up with an interpretation from the department.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'm going to urge the minister to do that, because his answers aren't making sense to me. We have a piece of land that's zoned agriculture. It went through the Area Development Act, which is basically a zoning exercise. The Area Development Act says that anybody who operates under this - it says, in clause 7, general provisions, that nothing in this regulation releases a person or corporation from the requirement to obtain any other permit, licence or authorization required by any federal or territorial act or regulations.
Now, the minister says that they don't have to abide by the agricultural policy. I want the minister to come back to this House tomorrow - I know he can't do it now - and point out to me where I'm missing that in this OIC or in any other regulation that the minister has - that because C&TS has got rid of a piece of agricultural land, the agriculture policy no longer applies. I want to know where that regulation is, and I think it's important that the minister should know where it's at. Otherwise he's breaking his own regulation by not requiring the participant - and this is totally different from the fact that the person was moved to the front of the line. That's aside from that. That's a different issue. The issue here is that the person has obtained a six-hectare piece of agricultural land. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services says that he's got an agreement from him that he's going to use it for agricultural purposes, but the person didn't have to submit a detailed agricultural plan like every other Yukoner who gets a piece of agricultural land. In my opinion, Mr. Chair, that is not fair, and unless the minister can come back in this House and show me a regulation that allows him to exempt that person from an agricultural plan, then I suggest to the minister that they're not following their own regulations.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, when the Yukon Party was in power and in government, they should have made it and wrote this out a little more clearly so the general public could understand it. Nowhere do I find in here that it says that you have to do those things. What I'm telling the member is that the terms and conditions apply to all the agricultural land holders on the Hot Springs Road.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, the policy is very, very clear - very clear. It lists there what the principal use of the land is. Let's take a piece of land in Whitehorse that's zoned for commercial use for retail space and then puts in a parking lot but doesn't put forward the retail facility. Are they abiding by the zoning regulations? The zoning regulation's quite clear. It says the primary use of the land is supposed to be agricultural.
There is another section, clause 7, that says this doesn't exempt anybody from following all of the policies and regulations that are in place. Nothing could be clearer than that. People on the Hot Springs Road think it's clear. That's why they're so upset. They are upset and the minister knows that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Well, that's good. I'm glad that that's the attitude that the Minister of C&TS has got - that there are only six upset people. Okay.
The fact is, this government is not following their own regulations. If they don't like the regulations, then let's change them for all Yukoners, but let's not break them for one Yukoner.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, all the terms and conditions apply to all the residents who took part in developing this regulation. I told the member it's not exclusively for one person, but I do agree that this is poorly written. It was written by the Yukon Party. We're making changes. We're doing a review of the agricultural policy.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, what could be more clear than "principal use of land"? What could be clearer than that? If you don't have a "principal use", how can you have an "accessory use"? The minister is not making any sense on this one at all. It says "principal use of the land". If you don't have a principal use, then you can't have an accessory use.
The minister says this applies to all people on the Hot Springs Road. Well, I'm sorry, but it doesn't. Every person out there who has agricultural land had to submit a development plan, and they had to abide by that development plan. And if they want to change it, then they have to go back to the department. I know of one instance on the seven lots that were let out, when a person wanted to change the plan that had been approved by the department, the department wasn't very cooperative with them to try to change the plan.
These lands are in great demand in the Yukon - agricultural land. The minister is now saying, but he can't back it up by bringing me the regulation - he'll look for that tomorrow - that says that if C&TS disposes of agricultural land, people don't have to abide by the agricultural policy. Well, I think he's just opened the door for a real mess in the Yukon, if that is correct.
It doesn't say that in the OIC. It doesn't say that at all - in fact, quite the contrary. It says they have to abide by all regulations.
I want the minister to come back tomorrow with this regulation that he's hanging his hat on that says that if agricultural land is disposed of by C&TS the applicant doesn't have to submit an agricultural plan. Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, this is the regulation we're using, right here. It's the one the member has in front of him. He's listed the principal use and accessory uses, but it doesn't say anywhere that you have to do one and not the other. It doesn't say that anywhere in here. It says they are "permitted uses".
Mr. Ostashek: The policy's quite clear, Mr. Chair. Let's break this down. Is the minister saying that you can get a piece of agricultural land, you can do - as I said - one of the accessory uses such as - bear with me one moment, Mr. Chair.
Is the minister saying that a person can get a piece of land that's zoned agriculture, as long as C&TS disposes of it, and not his department, and we could have - well, let's just use the one I used before, a family day home program, and that would satisfy the requirements of the piece of land that was zoned agricultural. Is that what the minister's saying? That as long as a person did that, that this policy is flexible enough that that's good enough.
He doesn't have to break any land; he doesn't have to sod farm; he doesn't need to fur farm; he doesn't need to fish farm. He doesn't have to have minor agricultural pursuits; he doesn't need any horticulture, no game farming. He doesn't have to do any of those things.
All that person has to do is use it for a family day home program, and he will meet the requirements of the zoning regulation?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, that's what the Yukon Party agreed to, and that's within this regulation, September 3, 1996. It was developed by the residents of the Hot Springs, with this regulation. That's what's built into there.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I would suggest to the minister if that was what the intent of this was, they wouldn't have had two columns. They wouldn't have had primary uses, and they wouldn't have had accessory uses. They would have had one column. They would have had one column. One column that says, "These are the uses for this land." Why would they separate it? Why would we separate it? Why would anybody separate it to primary uses and accessory uses?
I know the minister's trying to get off the hook on this one, but I think he's getting himself into more trouble by saying that an accessory use is enough to satisfy a zoning regulation for agricultural purposes.
That's not common sense. That doesn't make sense to anybody that I know, and I'm sure that his department would be right off the deep end in government in general if somebody came along with the next piece of agricultural land that comes out there, and says, "Well, I'm just going to put a riding stable on it, even though I got it for agricultural purposes, it's an accessory use, and I don't have to use the land for the principal use that it was zoned for." Doesn't the minister understand that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, I agree with the member that it doesn't sound very good. It's very poorly written, and that's why we're making changes, so that these things don't happen. "Permitted uses" - it doesn't say they are "required uses".
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the minister has dug himself a big, big hole here and he's going to be a long time getting out of this one, because it's written in pretty simple English - "principal use" and "accessory use". Without a principal use you cannot have an accessory use. It's very simple, very simple.
You cannot tell me or any other Yukoner that you can satisfy a zoning policy on agricultural-zoned land by just doing what it says is an accessory activity and that you don't have to bother with doing the principal activity that the land was zoned for.
That's clear. I'm surprised the minister can't understand it. I really am. I really am surprised that the minister can't understand it.
Even if the minister wants to hang his hat on that, which I think he's very foolish to try to do, how does he reconcile himself with clause 7, which says, "Nothing in this regulation releases a person or a corporation from the requirement to obtain any other permit, licence or authorization required by any federal or territorial act or regulation"? That would cover his agricultural policy, which pertains to agricultural land. How does the minister reconcile himself with that clause? Is that one all muddled up, too?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: You can take any one of these clauses and try to play around with the meaning and how you interpret them. There are a lot of things in here that are not good. It wasn't put together very well. It left a lot of questions for people trying to use this regulation for the Hot Springs Road.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fairclough:It's September 3, 1996. You passed this as a Yukon Party government. That's what you passed.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: And you've put them together with the people of the Hot Springs Road.
We want to avoid things like this, and that's why we go through and do a public review of the agricultural policy.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I'd like to move on. I don't want to be hung up on this forever. I want to ask the minister to cooperate with me. Since he believes that this is so muddled, would he take it upon himself to contact his Justice people tomorrow, who give them advice, as to whether his interpretation of an accessory use, without the principal use being enacted, satisfies the agricultural zoning policy on the Hot Springs Road? Will the minister do that so we can move on with this debate? Will he come back tomorrow with an interpretation from his legal people on this? If somebody comes along, they have the flexibility of just going ahead with the accessory activity and they don't have to go along with any of the principal uses. And also, while he's at it, will he come back with the clause, in this act or any other act, says that, because Community and Transportation Services disposed of the land, they don't have to abide by the agricultural policy and they don't have to submit an agricultural plan? Will he do that, and then we can move on in the debate?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the member knows that, at times, even to deal with this simple matter, going through and getting legal opinions and a legal write-up on this sometimes takes time, but I'm going to tell the member that we're doing something better than that, and that's to go through the agricultural policy review.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, that's not good enough. The minister has stood here in this House and said that accessory usage is enough to satisfy this zoning requirement. If the minister can't do it by tomorrow, I want a commitment. Will the minister give me a commitment that he will write me a letter, after he has consulted with the proper authorities as to the interpretation of this, and answer the questions that I've asked: can you satisfy the zoning requirements of a piece of agricultural land by just participating in the accessory uses and not having to have a principal use for the property?
Also, what regulation says that because a piece of agricultural land was disposed of by C&TS, even though it's agricultural land, agricultural policy does not apply and the person who gets the land doesn't have to submit an agricultural plan?
Will the minister do that? If he can't do it by tomorrow, will he write me a letter sometime in the near future? I don't want to wait forever for it.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, this Area Development Act is what we're using, and from the interpretation of what we got out of it and what has been told to me to this date is exactly what I've been saying. Now, if the member wants me to go back and look at these particular clauses that he's questioning me on, I can do that and have a letter written to him on some of the concerns that he's laid out.
Mr. Ostashek: I'll accept that, and I just want to reiterate for the record one more time: I want to know quite clearly, with no political spin on it, does an accessory use of a piece of land on the Hot Springs Road that's zoned agriculture satisfy the zoning regulation of agricultural land and that a person who uses that land for an accessory use does not have to do any of the principal uses that the land was zoned for? Also the clause that exempts agricultural land, disposed of by C&TS from having to follow the agricultural policy or the claimant, the person who got the land, from having to submit an agricultural plan. That is what the minister will get for me.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, in looking at the permitted uses, it doesn't say that this is what is required of them at all. We've gone over that. We've told the member that in regard to his questions on some of the clauses on whether or not, in fact, what I said about having just a home built on this piece of land - I'll get back to him on that.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I would hope that the minister would also get back to me on what clause exempts them from having to provide an agricultural plan.
Mr. Chair, let's see if we can just get some stuff that we're not going to get into a great debate on here - maybe some small question to ask.
Mr. Chair, tomorrow we're going to get into the catch-and-release statements the minister has made in this House. In the meantime - in the short time we have tonight, I wonder if the minister could stand on his feet and elaborate on the briefing book that was given to us at the technical briefing, where it says "The field services branch education packages respecting live-release fishing are being developed, along with revisions to the materials on bear and human conflict. Once in place, workshops will be held for the public on these topics."
When are these packages going to be developed? When are the workshops going to be held? When does the minister expect that these educational packages will be available for the general public?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We don't have the finalized date. I know that we talked originally about having it this spring, before our fishing licence synopsis goes out. I'll have to get back to the member as to where it's at right now. I'll bring that information back tomorrow.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the member for that. I'm surprised that the minister couldn't give me the answer here tonight on his feet, because I know how vocal he was and his feelings on catch-and-release that there was a lot of loss. I know there is some loss. We differ on what the level is, but I would have thought that it would have been a high priority with him to get these educational packages out and distributed to the public.
Nevertheless, I'll wait to hear from him tomorrow as to what the timelines are and what the time schedule is.
Mr. Chair, I see the next one here says, and I'm just going to read from the briefing note, "Due to the implementation of the public agency regulations of firearms legislation, the branch has developed and is delivering in-house training to staff to ensure that we are compliant with these regulations." What resources are being dedicated to that, and does this require any additional staff?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair. From what I've been told we don't require any additional staff or any additional resources to accomplish this.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Fentie: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. 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: You 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.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:26 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 19, 1999:
Yukon Human Rights Commission 1997-98 Annual Report (Speaker Bruce)
Electoral boundaries (Yukon): legal opinion re necessity for boundaries review (April 15, 1999) (McDonald)
Tourism strategy discussion paper: "The Promise and the Challenges" (March 1999) (Keenan)