Tuesday, April 20, 1999 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
National Organ Donor Week
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the government caucus I rise to pay tribute to National Organ Donor Week.
Donating organs after death is one of the most generous and altruistic acts one person can perform for another. Thanks to the advances in medical technology that have made transplantation of human organs possible, millions of people around the world have been given a second chance at life. Many Yukon people have given or received organs and many others would like the opportunity to do so.
I'm pleased to advise members that my department is working to establish a Yukon donor registry as part of our health care system. While it will cost about $20,000 to set up this registry, the value in human terms is beyond measure. I expect to announce details about this new registry in the near future.
In the spirit of National Organ Donor Week, I invite members to join me in honouring those Yukon people and their families whose selfless generosity has given the gift of life or renewed health to a family member, a loved one, or someone that they never knew.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I am pleased to take this opportunity to pay tribute to National Organ Donor Week.
Organ transplantation is now a recognized form of treatment in Canada. It is therapeutic and no longer considered experimental. Advances in surgical techniques and medical technologies have caused a dramatic increase in the rates of successful organ transplantation, enabling thousands of people with terminal organ diseases to return to productive lives.
Despite these accomplishments, more than 3,000 Canadians are on a waiting list for liver, kidney, heart and other organ replacements, of which many will pass on each year because there are not enough organs to go around.
As is currently the case in many of our provinces, residents are given the option to declare themselves as organ donors, either on their driver's licence or on their health insurance card. The major barrier to organ donation can be attributed to the inability to identifying potential organs and to seek the consent from the nearest relatives.
While these initiatives are worthwhile, people without driver's licences are missed completely and, as is often the case, it's not until a person dies that his or her family learns of the person's wish to donate his or her organs and, in many instances, refuse to follow through with organ donations, despite the deceased person's wishes.
It is felt among many that the creation of a national registry of organ donors will help alleviate some of these problems, and our party is pleased to hear of this government's initiative in this direction.
Identifying each Canadian who declares the wish to donate an organ, a national registry would enable all territories and provinces to share information about donors, would encourage more Canadians to agree to organ donation, and would persuade family members to respect the deceased person's wishes.
I believe this initiative, coupled with educational campaigns to inform Canadians about the critical shortage of organs, will go a long way in raising the importance of organ donation and its important role in saving and prolonging the lives of many Canadians.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to pay tribute to National Organ Donation Week.
Mr. Speaker, every year in Canada, thousands of lives are saved or improved through the gift of organ donation. In the Yukon, there have been very few organ donations, however, and there is no registry in the Yukon for organ donations, and our efforts to tag on to the B.C. organ registry have met with failure.
It is our hope that a Yukon registry, as just announced by the minister, can be set up in the very near future to meet the need.
In the meantime, there are cards available throughout the Yukon at a variety of locations that will signal to health professionals that a person has the intent to have their organs donated for transplantation purposes. Of course, this is not a binding document, and family has to give final consent.
The Yukon Liberal caucus thanks those Yukoners who donated their organs and gave the greatest gift of all - the gift of life.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
introduction of visitors
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's my pleasure today to introduce a group of students from F.H. Collins. These are students from the FLEX program, which stands for Far-Reaching Life Experience.
This group of students and their instructors are here with us today to observe the proceedings in the Legislature. I'd like everyone to welcome them.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There is indeed, Mr. Speaker. I have a document for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Electoral boundary reform
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Government Leader on electoral boundaries.
It's quite apparent that the Government Leader believes that the present electoral boundaries favour the NDP and he doesn't want to see any changes.
The Government Leader insisted upon obtaining a legal opinion to help this government make a decision as to whether or not to bring in legislation for an electoral boundaries commission. The legal opinion, Mr. Speaker, was quite clear that, in at least two ridings, Whitehorse West and Lake Laberge, legal challenges may in fact be successful.
So, I would like to ask the Government Leader to explain why his press release was not consistent in fact with the conclusions of the legal opinion?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the member. First of all, in response to the member's comment that the government feels that the existing electoral boundaries favour the government, I'll just point out to him that, while we do hold a lot of rural seats, we hold 50 percent of the Whitehorse area seats, and we represent those seats very well.
Mr. Speaker, the boundary legal opinion said a number of things. First of all, it said that there were no murky legal waters if we did not proceed with a boundary review. It is our contention, Mr. Speaker, based on the legal opinion and on what we know, that there is insufficient justification for expending a quarter of a million dollars for a boundary review, but we should wait for the next census and then use that more accurate up-to-date information to determine whether or not a boundary review at that time is appropriate.
Mr. Ostashek: Let me suggest to the Government Leader that he may be spending a lot more than $250,000 of taxpayers' money by not holding an electoral boundary review.
Mr. Speaker, let me quote what the legal opinion states in its conclusions on page 20, "With respect to the urban ridings, it is probable but by no means certain that a court would find Whitehorse West to be significantly under-represented. The other two have lesser degrees of risk. At least, with respect to Whitehorse West and to a lesser extent Mount Lorne, there is, in our view, a case to consider a boundaries review." That's what the legal opinion states.
How can the Government Leader and his spin doctors interpret this to say that the legal opinion indicated that there is no need to review the current boundaries before the next election?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, first of all, I'll point out to the member that the legal opinion says a number of things. It also says that every court will wait for the Legislature to act on the matter because the Legislature is the primary body. We are committing that the Legislature will act. We do not believe that there is sufficient justification for such an expenditure. And, Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the member that we are opening ourselves for higher expenditures. I disagree with that entirely. That's not the case.
Mr. Speaker, we do believe that there is insufficient justification for a boundaries review at this time. We are also dealing with 1996 census data, which of course is out of date, and we figure that it is better to wait for the next census to ensure that the information that we do use is current.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Whitehorse West has grown quite dramatically since 1996, and it was out of whack then.
Mr. Speaker, the right of one-person/one-vote is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Charter of Rights, and not even this NDP Government Leader, in his tyranny of a majority, can ignore that.
The Government Leader has stated in his news release that the voter parity formula, plus or minus 25-percent change in riding population sizes, is only a guideline and is only one factor.
Will the Government Leader explain why this formula applies everywhere else in Canada and has been upheld by the courts, but it doesn't apply in the Yukon? Is the Government Leader claiming that he and his NDP government have the right to deny Yukoners their Charter of Rights of one-person/one-vote, and voter parity? Is that what he's saying?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member's confusing so many different issues here. First of all, everyone has the right to vote in our elections. The question is, how large are the ridings, how difficult or challenging is it for a representative to represent a specific riding.
The principle that is upheld in this country is not voter parity, it is effective representation. Effective representation - which is a principle accepted right across the country - allows us to do such things as have a riding for Vuntut Gwitchin, which has a few hundred people, versus a riding such as Whitehorse West, which may have thousands of people. This is a principle that has been upheld by all parties in this Legislature in the past, so to suggest that voter parity is the only guiding principle, in fact, runs contrary to Canadian tradition.
Now, the balance in this Legislature is, in our view, very justifiable. The majority of the people in this territory live in the Whitehorse area. The majority of the seats in this Legislature come from the Whitehorse area. A minority of seats are held by rural MLAs. Anything to create even more imbalance -
Speaker: The Government Leader's time has expired.
Question re: Electoral boundary reform
Mr. Ostashek: The court in Yellowknife ruled that, while there may be reasons and rationale for overrepresentation, it also ruled that there could be no justification for underrepresentation. That's what the courts ruled.
Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Government Leader, on his public comments about there being no need for an electoral boundary review. The Government Leader has stated that demographics have not changed, that demographic changes since 1996 have not been substantial. Well, I don't know where he's been residing, because they have been substantial since 1996, and we don't need a census to tell us that.
In 1996, Vuntut Gwitchin was 83 percent out, Whitehorse West was 46 percent, Faro was 37.7 percent, Mount Lorne was 35.4 percent, Laberge was 29.8 percent. The situation today would be much worse, Mr. Speaker, in Whitehorse West.
What gives this Government Leader the God-given right to dictate Yukon's electoral map rather than an independent, non-partisan electoral boundary commission doing a review?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, first of all let me point this out to the members. From the very beginning they have been seeking to eliminate Faro, and they even put a motion forward to that effect.
What gives the member the God-given right to decide the question himself, anyway - if one were going to put it in those terms?
Mr. Speaker, the ridings in Whitehorse are not under-represented. They're well-represented. In most provincial ridings across this country, the seats that are held by provincial MLAs are four or five, six times the size of a normal Yukon seat. Yukon people are not under-represented. They're effectively represented.
Mr. Speaker, the member says that the Yukon population has dropped since 1996. He is right. Of course, the census numbers of 1996 are not correct; those census numbers we're using now are not correct. For him to draw the conclusion that now we can say the Whitehorse West situation is more severe is not something that he can justify, because we don't know where all the effects are per riding -
Speaker: Government Leader, time has expired.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, just to clarify the record. The opposition didn't ask for any constituency to be eliminated. We didn't ask to dictate to the people of the Yukon. We asked for an independent commission to be set up to review the electoral boundaries. That's what the opposition party's asked for, Mr. Speaker.
The Government Leader has stated it's his view that the balance between rural and Whitehorse ridings is fine now, in spite of the fact that there are five ridings that no longer meet voter parity.
Mr. Speaker, is the Government Leader challenging Yukoners to go to court to prove that his politically biased, partisan views on the existing electoral boundaries are wrong, are undemocratic, and go against all legal precedent to date? Is that what he's telling Yukoners - "We'll see you in court"? Is that the message he wants to leave?
Because if he is, he'll be using a lot more taxpayers' money to try to make the NDP wishes prevail.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I'm not challenging Yukoners to do anything. What I am saying, though, first of all, is that when the members opposite brought forward their motion, which clearly sought a decrease in rural seats and an increase in urban seats, that was clearly the intent of that motion.
We challenged the Yukon Party to do its homework. It did not do its homework; we did the homework. The homework and the legal opinion does not say what the member is claiming it says. It does not say that there are murky legal waters, that the government is going to be faced with a overturned election. It does not say any such thing. That's completely wrong and it's contrary to what's in this legal opinion.
This member knows full well what the intent of this motion is all about. He's made no bones about it. There has been a consistent attack on Faro since the time this member became leader of the official opposition. That has been consistent and it has been drummed into this Legislature by that member over and over again. He can't shy away from that.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, it wasn't the opposition that didn't do their homework; it was the Government Leader who didn't do his homework and that's not new in this Legislature. That's quite consistent.
In every other Canadian jurisdiction, it's the practice to have electoral boundaries reviewed after every second general election, whether the governments have four- or five-year mandates. This was also the recommendation, Mr. Speaker, that was contained in the Chief Electoral Officer's report of December 1997 and was not opposed by the NDP representatives in discussions leading up to that report.
Why has the Government Leader now changed the position of the NDP?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, we're taking a thoughtful, deliberate approach to this question. We're saying that we need reliable information with respect to the census numbers. We acknowledge that we do not have reliable information at this point - at least we don't believe we do. There is no reason to believe we do. We are saying that we should wait until after the next census to get the reliable information and then set up a process to determine whether or not we should have a boundaries review. That is what we think we should be doing. That is the reasonable approach. That is the approach that respects Yukon taxpayers and Yukon voters. It's not the approach that is taken by the member's thinly veiled attack on some rural seats, and by members in the opposition. This is the thoughtful approach that we believe will not only be legally supportable, but will also be financially supportable by the people of this territory.
Question re: Electoral boundary reform
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader on the same topic.
The issue of reviewing riding boundaries was first brought up in the House in late February and early March, and the Government Leader took the position at the time that the issue should have been raised among the leaders outside the House, rather than in what he said was a partisan way in the Legislature. Here's what he had to say during the initial debate: "I think the issue about the partisanship nature of the debate to date is not only a reflection on my defensiveness but it is a fact, and this fact is very real, and that will be taken into account when at least 11 members of this Legislature speak out on the issue."
Well, that was a curious comment. Was the Government Leader saying that, because he did not like the way the issue was raised, he would be using his 11-member caucus to discipline the opposition on the issue?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, on so many occasions I have put out my hand in friendship to the members opposite - the member himself - and I can tell him that it's been gnawed up to here for all the efforts.
This motion was put before the Legislature. I indicated to members at the time that I was seeking a legal opinion so that we could all have the benefit of a legal opinion. At the time, the members opposite said they were looking forward to the legal opinion.
Following that, right out of the blue, the motion was brought forward for debate without any legal opinion. That was a very clear signal, Mr. Speaker, that the hand of friendship put forward by the government side to the opposition was being slapped aside. Consequently, we have taken a position knowing full well that further gestures in the member's direction on this particular subject would not be received in anything other than a partisan manner.
Mr. Cable: We're talking about friendship and fairness to the voters, not to ourselves.
Now, the Government Leader has resisted riding boundary reform right from the start. First, he wanted a legal opinion. Then there was a matter of cost. Now his position seems to be that we should wait for the next census - several years away.
According to the Internet information that we have brought up, the last census was carried out on May 14, 1996, and the population numbers came out on April 15, 1997. The next census will be taken in the year 2001, I believe. And presumably the population information won't be available until the following year, 2002. Is the Government Leader telling this House, the Yukon people and the people in Whitehorse West that they'll have to wait until the year 2002 before we can get a boundary review going?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I can tell people in Whitehorse West today that they are being effectively represented by the Member for Whitehorse West. The member is out on the doorstep every single week, and the amount of energy that the members in the Whitehorse ridings put forward to represent their constituents is probably equal to the amount of energy that is put forward by rural members.
But the point of the matter is, Mr. Speaker, that people in this territory are fairly represented, and we do believe that nothing has changed. I'm still concerned about the cost. I was concerned about the cost at the beginning. I'm concerned about the cost now.
If the member is asking me whether or not we should wait until a census, I'm saying yes, indeed, we should wait until the census so that we have good, accurate information before we make a decision on a boundary review.
Mr. Cable: Well, that's what we find troubling. The Government Leader's position is that we should wait until the next census.
Now, the stats branch every month collects population figures by ages and by community. In this age of computers, is the minister saying that we can't figure out where 22,000 people over the age of 19 are living without a federal census? This isn't the Province of Alberta, with three million people. This is the Yukon Territory, with 30,000 people and 22,000 adults.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, the members clearly want the boundary review no matter what, so they want us now to go forward for the expenditure of handling our own census and undertaking our own census and to determine exactly where all the people are in the Whitehorse seats.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals too have joined with the Yukon Party in seeking this change. There is no question in anybody's mind, no question in the rural Yukon's mind, about where the members in both parties stand when it comes to representation.
This is a clear attack on their representation, Mr. Speaker, and I tell everybody - in rural Yukon and in Whitehorse - they're fairly represented by the members of this Legislature. They are effectively represented by the members of this Legislature, and any change should be done after a considered, thoughtful review with good numbers, and that's what we're committing to do.
Question re: Airline subsidies
Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the Minister of Tourism. Yesterday, we discussed a recommendation from the business summit. The recommendation said 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.
The minister said yesterday that he was going to ignore that recommendation. Now, we know that the NDP doesn't listen to the business community. That's why we have a 16.7-percent unemployment rate.
Mr. Speaker, the business community has asked for a level playing field for airlines. They want the competition to be fair. Why is the government Department of Tourism ignoring this recommendation? Why is the department playing favourites? Why is the minister playing favourites?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I answered yesterday, and I spoke about the difference between a subsidy and a cooperative marketing agreement, which we do carry with airlines. Some airlines are charter airlines, others are scheduled airlines. We'll continue to work with them to improve air access to the Yukon Territory.
When we started this initiative with Air Transat to improve the air access, it was a bit of a gamble at the time, but with the good work the department has done historically, and into the future, as we go with our new tourism strategy, I think that the truth will be unfolded, that we are very cooperative partners with the business community, that we work hand in hand with the business community. We get the ideas of the airport extension, we get the ideas of the tourism marketing fund and air access. We get that through the process, so I dispute the member's allegation. We are working very hard, and will continue to work very hard, with the business community.
I also spoke yesterday that the Minister of Economic Development, through his portfolio and our team, will be putting in answers toward the business summit, and we will continue to do that good work. So I absolutely refute the allegations, because we are working, and will continue to work, with the community.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, we're speaking about fairness. Last summer, the government spent $285,000 on a cooperative marketing agreement with Air Transat - far more than any other airline.
News reports following Air Transat's decision not to return for another year said, "The second reason for Transat leaving was their inability to amend their deal with the Yukon government."
Was Air Transat referring to the $285,000 marketing deal, or was there a second deal?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, let me say that not only do the people of the Yukon Territory believe - not only does TIA believe, and not only does the business community believe - that we're going and doing the right thing, we've included them as partners when we go and talk about air access, and improving air access.
Not only do they believe, but the Canadian Tourism Commission believes so strongly in what we're doing, as to the words that have come out of my mouth in many meetings - that this is a world-class destination, that we do have the product, we do have the geography, we have the people, we have the will, especially the political will, to improve the tourism figures in the Yukon Territory - that they put forth $285,000 of CTC money. So it is not as the member is alluding to - that it is our government's money. It was good work that we went and did through the marketing department to secure $285,000 with Air Transat.
It's kind of funny, because when I was speaking to one of the proponents of Air Transat at the ITB this year, they spoke to the fact that they were sorry that we couldn't continue the business. I expressed my regret that we could not continue -
Speaker: The minister's time has expired.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister's time expired without an answer to the question.
The business summit recommended treating all airlines equally. The NDP government is not prepared to do that. They want to pick favourites.
The business community, and the Liberal caucus, want the airlines coming to the Yukon. We agree with the minister on that point. We also want to know how much we're spending to attract these airlines.
Last year, ERA Aviation flew into Whitehorse for a time from Anchorage, and they're scheduled to come in again this summer. They also had a contract with the Yukon government.
What I've been told is that ERA said they couldn't afford not to fly into Whitehorse, given the deal that YTG had given them. What support did the Government of the Yukon provide to this airline? Will the minister table the contracts?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, let me say that there is only one agreement. The Member for Porter Creek South speaks about side deals and I shudder. I'd absolutely shudder if she ever became the leader of government because, certainly, it would be a pure fear. It would not be paranoia at that time because she speaks from paranoia at this time. She would bring those fears in, and that's how she would lead government. I know that will never happen because people are much smarter than that, but we work with Canadian Airlines, we work with Condor, we work with Canada 3000, and we'll continue to work with others to secure them.
In what? In a fair practical manner. Each airline is a little bit different. They come from different jurisdictions. They have scheduled air flights. They have chartered air flights. Each one is uniquely different and we'll continue to work with that.
As to the timing, we are just embarking on that now. When we do have the marketing agreements and whatnot, we're certainly more than happy to table them into the Legislature and, if the Legislature isn't sitting, I'd be more than happy to mail them to the member.
Question re: Yukon College funding
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Education.
Mr. Speaker, in March of this year in the House I raised the issue of a $250,000 cutback the Yukon College is facing because of lack of support from this NDP government. The Yukon College board met with the minister prior to the budget and asked for some help. Otherwise, it would have to cut some very important programs at the college.
The minister has tried to duck and dodge the issue, Mr. Speaker, telling us that she hasn't cut the Yukon College budget, but the Yukon College Board, which manages the budget, can't be wrong.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister why the minister couldn't find the $250,000 in her $8.4 million 1999-2000 supplementary budget? Why didn't the minister listen to the college board prior to tabling the main estimates so that there would be some money in that budget to help the college maintain its programs?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member may think he's done his homework, and I'm sure he drilled his fractions last night, but on this question he's got his facts all wrong. I would ask the member to open up the budget book, look at the Education budget and look at the contribution agreement to Yukon College.
The contribution agreement to Yukon College has increased this year. Last year they received $10,197,000. This year they received $10,309,000. Mr. Speaker, that's an increase. I met with the College Board; we listened to what they had to say and we put increases in the budget.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, what the minister doesn't tell you is that a couple of years ago, she cut the college budget. She hasn't reinstated the money she cut a couple of years ago that the college was using for programs.
It's a nice trick, Mr. Speaker. They've learned it from the Liberals in Ottawa. You take it away one year and then three years later, you give half of it back and you try and tell people that you've increased their budget and tell them it's a good deal.
Mr. Speaker, after the minister met with the Yukon College Board, why didn't the minister put some funds in the Yukon College Board budget to cover the shortfall that the college said it was going to need or else it was going to have to cut needed programs at the college? Why didn't the minister do that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, this member is not going to get an excellence award for his mathematical ability. I can tell him that right now.
Mr. Speaker, we increased the Yukon College operations and maintenance grant. It was $10 million in 1997-98, which was not a cut. His facts are wrong. It was $10,197,000 in 1998-99, and this year the O&M grant is $10,309,000.
In addition, Mr. Speaker, we have increased the capital contribution to Yukon College by $250,000 in this budget year.
Mr. Phillips: Well, the minister conveniently talks about the O&M side. I'm talking about the capital side, and that's the side that the college was talking about that got cut back two years ago.
And, Mr. Speaker, if the minister is worried about giving me an excellence award, I'm sure I'll never get one because she's cutting the awards out. She's cutting them out for all the students in the territory because the minister doesn't believe that doing well in school should be rewarded in any way, shape or form. And the minister is doing her best to cut those out.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like to ask the minister why recreational facilities, wildlife viewing and landscaping are all well and good, but the minister doesn't feel that education training rates as a priority of this government? And despite the pleas from Yukon College that they're going to have to cut programs - and the minister hasn't answered that question - what is she going to do about the college being concerned about having to cut programs because this government has reduced their budget?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, it's very clear that when this member is faced with the facts, he's all bluff. I don't know if his failing grade can improve, but he certainly has got his facts wrong when it comes to the funding for the Yukon College.
Now, he mentioned wildlife viewing and other projects. We've also increased training trust funds by $500,000 in this budget, and many of the training trust funds are offered through Yukon College and have training delivered by Yukon College. The fact is that we have increased the capital budget to Yukon College. We've increased the O&M budget to Yukon College. We're proud of supporting the good work that the college does in Whitehorse and in all of our communities.
Question re: Home warranty program
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation. Yesterday, the Yukon Housing Corporation put out a somewhat cryptic press release about a deal that Yukon Housing Corporation had reached with CMHC, and I'll read from that. It says: "The Yukon Housing Corporation has struck an agreement with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that will enable Yukon homeowners to get CMHC-approved mortgages in the absence of a home warranty program." Now, Mr. Speaker, I have faxed this press release to a number of Yukon contractors, and they're all somewhat mystified as to what the minister is trying to say.
Could the minister please clarify what the deal is that has been struck with CMHC?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: As the member knows, the new home warranty has gone out of CMHC. If it was not required and not used by the builders, they would have to put a 25-percent down payment before going and building a home. Now what we're saying is that by eliminating this, it reduces it to five percent, and more people will have the opportunity to enter into new construction this year. And it's consistent with the way the Yukon Housing Corporation operates now. Under a green mortgage, we don't require a new home warranty, although we are seeking and looking at a couple of different companies in Alberta to try and bring a new home warranty to the Yukon, although it is going to be a bit of time - approximately six months - before we have one brought to the Yukon.
Mrs. Edelman: It's interesting. We were talking about the Alberta home warranty program, because the press release goes on to say it is important for consumers to understand that warranty protection is not available at present, and that they must work closely with their contractor to ensure the construction of a quality home.
Now, many Yukon contractors already deal with Alberta home warranty and national home warranty. Does this new arrangement apply to all new homes, or only to ones that were formerly under the B.C. home warranty program?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: There is no new home warranty offered in the Yukon through CMHC. What we're saying is it's offered to everybody building homes here. We don't believe that our contractors are building bad homes. We believe that they're very good contractors in the Yukon and we build good quality products. Even with the new home warranty offered through CMHC in the past, we've only had one case go through the program.
I believe that people need to pay a bit closer attention to the contractors building homes, and looking at exactly what's going into their home, and making sure that their home is built to their liking.
Mrs. Edelman: I'm not clear on where the minister's coming from again. We were talking about the new home warranty program, which has now gone under and, hopefully, will be replaced at some point with another warranty program here in the Yukon.
Now, the last line of the press release says that the Yukon Housing Corporation is actively discussing with warranty providers about extending their warranty protection programs to Yukon consumers. What is the status of negotiations with other providers of home warranty programs, like the national home warranty, or the Alberta home warranty program, which the minister references in the press release?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, CMHC in the Yukon is run through both B.C. and Yukon and that's the model we have been working with. What I did say is that we have been working with these two companies. We are actively talking about how we can apply it to the Yukon. There is a lot of interest in it, although it's going to take time, approximately six months.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I'd like to identify the items standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, April 21, 1999. They are Motion No. 173, standing in the name of the Member for Porter Creek South, and Motion No. 174, standing again in the name of the Member for Porter Creek South.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Before proceeding, I'd like to advise the Committee that, from time to time this afternoon, the Member for Lake Laberge will be taking the Chair in the absence of the Chair and the Deputy Chair.
Is it the wish of the members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Deputy Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. The debate is on Renewable Resources. Is there further general debate?
Bill No. 14 - First Appropriation Act, 1999-2000 - continued
Department of Renewable Resources - continued
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, when we were in debate last night, I was trying to get an understanding from the minister as to why they hadn't followed their own agricultural policy in regard to the agricultural land on the Hot Springs Road that was given to a squatter without going through the normal process that other Yukoners have to go through to apply for land.
The minister didn't seem to have a very good grasp of what the area development plan said. In fact he was quite adamant that the terms and conditions of the Area Development Act could be met by only engaging in an accessory use, rather than the principal use that the land was zoned for - and I find that quite disturbing.
The minister made much ado that the Area Development Act wasn't very clear, but I believe it's the minister who doesn't have a good understanding of how to interpret the Area Development Act. I believe it's very, very clear in what it says about how development should take place.
Mr. Chair, I even quoted from a letter that was written by the former minister responsible for both C&TS and Renewable Resources during the time the Yukon Party was in government, and he, in his open letter, said the government was not following its own policies. We find that quite disturbing.
The minister, last night, stated that even though this Whitehorse squatter was given this piece of agricultural land without going through the lottery system that other Yukoners had to engage in for agricultural land and even though he circumvented that process, the minister said at one point last night that because he got the land from agricultural land given out through C&TS, the agricultural policy didn't apply.
Then when I asked him further questions as to what policy would apply to the neighbours of this squatter, if and when the government let that land go, he told me that the agricultural policy would apply. Well, I believe the minister was very confused on what he was trying to relate to the Yukon public last night.
He went on to say that the Hot Springs Road area, because of the Area Development Act that was put in place in 1996 - I believe he said in September of 1996 - was far more lenient than for land given out as agricultural land under his department. I found that to be somewhat startling because, when I reviewed the Area Development Act as laid out, it seems to be very clear and succinct as to what has to transpire, and I don't believe that it gives the minister, or the applicant for the land, any more flexibility than his agricultural policy does.
Mr. Chair, the act clearly lays out what "agriculture" means, and the minister and I had a great debate about that last night. He said he didn't really have to do agriculture. I suspect he was talking about growing crops. He said he could fur farm. I said to the minister that that was agriculture. He said he could put greenhouses on it. I suggested to the minister that was agriculture. Then the minister went as far as to say that, if he just used it for accessory use such as putting on a dwelling, that would meet the requirements of the Area Development Act, when in fact, quite clearly, the Area Development Act states that the principal use for the property is agriculture, and it goes on to say what agriculture is - tree farming, game farming, sod farming, fish farming and other minor agricultural pursuits. Those are the permitted principal uses.
I tried to make it very clear to the minister that I didn't understand how you could have an accessory use if you didn't have a principal use.
To me, what the minister was saying would be like buying a new car and only getting the air conditioning and a radio, and not getting the wheels. Accessory - that's in addition to the principal use of a piece of property, and that's the way I interpret the act, and the act is very, very clear in that respect. It doesn't allow the minister or his government to violate any other regulations and not ask for an agricultural development plan in an agreement of sale to make sure that the land is used for agricultural purposes.
I suggest to the minister that if we're going to follow his line of reasoning on this - this person who is moved off the waterfront on to that land without having to participate and file an agricultural development plan, can flip that property tomorrow. He's going to get the title; he can flip the property, and that was what government was trying to avoid by asking people who were interested in agriculture to submit a development plan.
The people on the Hot Springs Road wanted to see an Area Development Act so that they could clarify the uses of property. Some property that was zoned agriculture, and people were picking up as agricultural property, was clearly not agricultural property, and all the people wanted it for was for country residential. They didn't believe that was fair, that they were trying to farm marginal lands.
The Area Development Act addressed that. They also believed that people ought not to be using prime agricultural land for country residential. Prime agricultural land in the Yukon is very, very scarce. People stand in line and participate in lotteries to get agricultural land so that they could have it.
The government has insisted that people who obtain agricultural land have to use it for agricultural purposes. That's what the government has done. The minister's own department, which is responsible for agriculture in the Yukon, asks the successful recipients of that land to submit a development plan in their agreement for sale. They have to clear a certain amount of land, they have to say what the land's going to be used for - it could be game farming, it could be bee farming, it could be any type of agricultural pursuit.
I think the Area Development Act, under the OIC in 1996, clarifies this quite clearly - quite clearly. When you get to what it says in there, on the zoning of agriculture, it says the permitted uses - it lays them all out - and it says accessory uses, which is fine. I don't have any difficulty with that.
But I really have difficulty with the minister standing up in this House for two hours last night saying that a person didn't need to engage in the principal use of the land, that all they needed to engage in was the accessory use of the land, that they could put a family day home program on it then that would satisfy the zoning requirements of the Area Development Act.
I asked the minister time and time again last night to tell me which clause in the Area Development Act gave him the jurisdiction to waive an agricultural development plan, or if it wasn't in this act, to come back with whatever act it was in, because this act, the Area Development Act, states quite clearly in clause 7 that 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.
Now, I believe this area of an agricultural development plan is under territorial regulations. So, I don't know how the minister can stand in this House and say that because Community and Transportation Services disposed of a piece of agricultural land, the agricultural policy doesn't apply.
Government departments don't operate in isolation of one another. If we did, we'd have total chaos in the territory - total chaos, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, when I spoke to residents on the Hot Springs Road last night after the session in this Legislature, they couldn't believe the position that this minister took - that that was his interpretation of the Area Development Act that they worked very, very hard on to see responsible development along the Hot Springs Road - responsible and reasonable development. They just couldn't believe that that would be the minister's interpretation of this act.
Mr. Chair, the minister has to realize that the government has made a very serious mistake in my opinion and in the opinion of many, many Yukoners. First, by moving a Whitehorse squatter out on that land without allowing other Yukoners to apply for that land is unfair. Nobody has any problem with people who are being displaced from the waterfront being paid a fair amount of money for whatever buildings or other improvements they did on the land. Nobody has any problem with that. But time and time again, it's been pointed out to us and we've pointed out to this government that the government has lots of lots available - some 200 I believe are on the market right now. It's not that these people are stuck for a place to go. But the government is moving them on to prime agricultural land that's been sought by many, many Yukoners and that's angered many Yukoners. Angered them.
And now the minister, instead of admitting that they've given this person preferential treatment by not even having them submit to an agricultural plan, stands here in this House and tries to chastise the official opposition because they didn't make it clear enough in the Area Development Act as to what the property could be used for. How ridiculous.
I suggest the minister should maybe take some lessons in common sense 101, because the Area Development Act is very clear in its allowed uses for that land.
I also pointed out to the minister that adjacent to this property - well maybe not right adjacent but right in the immediate area - there were seven agricultural blocks put out in the fall of 1997 that over 100 people applied for.
There were seven properties, and I believe 14 names were drawn. There were seven preferential, and if they couldn't meet the requirements of the agricultural development plan, then the next person drawn would have a chance at putting together an agricultural development plan to enter into an agreement for sale with the government. Yet, they now watch a person who has been displaced from the waterfront area being moved to the front of the line. This person does not even have to submit an agricultural development plan, so it is little wonder that Yukoners are angry.
The Minister of Community and Transportation Services said, "Well, we got a handshake." I would suggest to the Minister of Renewable Resources, if a handshake is good enough for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and the person in question is going to use the land for agricultural purposes, then a handshake should be acceptable to the Minister of Renewable Resources when he gives out other agricultural land to other taxpaying Yukoners. That should be good enough for the Minister of Renewable Resources and he need not enter into this complicated, convoluted, long, drawn-out agricultural plan.
Now, the agricultural plan was put in place for a purpose and that was to ensure that people who applied for agricultural land used it for agricultural purposes. If they didn't, they didn't get title to the property. That's fair as long as the rules and regulations apply to all Yukoners equally. There should be no exceptions, absolutely none, Mr. Chair.
I asked the minister last night if he would do a little homework this morning and find out from the Justice department their interpretation of the zoning requirements under the Area Development Act. If some Yukoner who obtained the land through the normal process was to obtain a lot next to this person from the waterfront and if that person decided that he would just use the land for accessory uses and not for the principal use, how would the government interpret that? I asked the minister that and when he gets a chance to get on his feet, I would like him to respond to me as to whether he did in fact get a ruling and if he has that ruling in a format that he could table in this Legislature so we could all understand where he is coming from.
He says that accessory uses are satisfactory to fill the requirements under the agricultural zoning under the Area Development Act.
Mr. Phillips: I want to enter the debate for a few moments. Mr. Chair, I have had all kinds of my constituents call me - and some who aren't my constituents, who are in other areas - who are very concerned about this action by the government.
I'm one who, many years ago, had to go through the process of obtaining land in the territory, and there was a requirement at that time - and there still is a requirement today - to make improvements on the land before you can receive title.
Land in the Yukon, Mr. Chair, as the Member for Mayo-Tatchun can understand, is at a premium. The dream of an awful lot of Yukoners who move here and have lived here for many years is one day to own a piece of property in the territory. We also know that many Yukoners want to own rural property, whether it be agricultural property or rural residential-type property. We know that because, every time we hold a lottery for this type of land, there are hundreds of Yukoners who line up to try and get an opportunity to legally be selected to get their piece of Yukon property.
What I'm hearing from my constituents and others out there, Mr. Chair, is that the government could have done other things with the waterfront squatters. It could have offered them land that was already available. It could have offered them some cash and let them stand in line, or apply, as every other Yukoner has to do, so that all Yukoners are treated the same.
I have Yukoners calling my office and coming into my office who have lived here for 30 or 40 years - some of them were born here - and have tried in half a dozen different lotteries to obtain land and been unsuccessful, and they're furious that this government would take someone that it chooses to relocate, someone who hasn't, in some cases, paid taxes - and, in the case where they have, they had their taxes rebated - who has squatted on a piece of property, is moved to the front of the line, given a preference on rural land in the territory and had all the conditions that every other Yukoner has to apply for waived - Mr. Chair, that's not fair.
The minister rose and mentioned in the House yesterday, Mr. Chair, that it was the Yukon Party government that changed the policy. Mr. Chair, he knows full well from the same officials that he's talking to - the same officials that he's talking to. And if he can tell me different, I just won't believe it, Mr. Chair, because those officials, when they drafted those policies, and the government when they approved them, approved changes to agricultural disposition of land, but the primary use of land had to still be agriculture. That's why it's called agricultural land. That's why it's called agricultural land.
And it's grossly unfair - grossly unfair - to those Yukoners who have tried so hard for so many years and dream of owning a piece of the Yukon. I've heard of a lot of Yukoners who are not very political, but are infuriated with this government with respect to the way they're dealing with this land issue.
Land - the minister himself knows how important land is, coming from his First Nation background. I can tell the minister that owning land in the Yukon is just as important to non-native Yukoners as well. And they've all waited their turn in line. They've all applied. They've all gone through the legitimate process, Mr. Chair. And what's angered them is that government has ignored the legitimate Yukoners. It has far more concern and compassion for squatters than it does for legitimate Yukoners, who are applying through the normal process - far more concern.
The Minister for Community and Transportation Services hardly mentioned once the plight of the dozen or so people who were in here and the hundreds of others who have applied from time to time for land, and been refused. He kept saying we've got to treat the people on the waterfront fairly.
I don't disagree with that, but not at the expense of everybody else, Mr. Chair. That's the concern I have, and I don't think this minister gets it. I don't think this government gets it.
The minister should realize how difficult it is to obtain land in the territory. He had lots available that weren't spoken for, that people hadn't applied for, and maybe the squatters didn't want those lots, but the other option could have been to give them X amount of cash, and they apply like I do or the minister does or someone else does or the hundreds of others who have applied, but they are all treated the same. Why didn't the minister take that approach, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I think the members opposite bump their heads together and are not thinking clearly on this issue again.
They've gone over and over this Area Development Act and about how bad it is, I guess, and how we should be dealing with this in a different manner, perhaps under the agricultural policy. Well, I agree with them, and that's why we're making changes. This is their work. September 3, 1996 - it's their work, Mr. Chair.
We're doing the tough work in our department. We're doing an agricultural policy review. Much of that work is underway already, and we would like to avoid this type of thing within the department and within government.
I know that there were a lot of questions asked of the Minister of Community and Transportation Services in regard to this, and I'm being asked the same questions. We basically put the same answers back to the members opposite but they keep asking the same questions. The members know from Community and Transportation Services that there was an agreement with the waterfront resident to use his piece of land for the purpose it was designed for.
There is also within that agreement an agreement that they must live on this piece of land for 10 years before they are able to get rid of it. Members know that. And five years for them to put a building on it.
Mr. Chair, I know the member keeps referring back to page 10 under general provisions. From what I gather, this says that if you're to do any work on this piece of agricultural land, you follow and abide by the permits and licences that are out there. And, if you're putting in a septic tank, you cannot just do it on your own; you follow the proper permitting process. The same with buildings; you get a building permit to put a building up.
He always refers back also to the permitted uses and, from what I gather out of this agreement, out of this act anyway, and from looking throughout the act, it doesn't say anywhere that you have to do one or the other. These are permitted uses, not required uses. There are minor agricultural pursuits under there, and that's pretty broad in itself. Anybody who says this is what they're going to do and put a building on it is eligible to have this piece of land.
It is a bad one. The member knows that this is probably a big improvement, though, over what was in place before. Between 1994 and 1996, the department has done a lot of work with the Hot Springs Road residents to draft up this Hot Springs Road zoning regulation, and this is it. This is the result. When C&TS took on the challenge of taking a person out of their home and out of the place where they had lived for so many years and put them on this piece of land, they took land that was within the Yukon government and followed those regulations.
So, in our minds, they were acting in their full right to have this person on this piece of land for residential purposes.
The members went on about agricultural land in the Yukon. We recognized that from the very start, as we got on as government, that there were a lot of improvements that needed to be made, so we took the bold initiative to go out and do an agricultural policy review, and attach a grazing lease policy review with that. We think that this will be a great improvement, of course, over what's existing now.
So we recognize there are problems out there. We're stuck with things that were put on by the previous government, like regulations, Hot Springs Road zoning regulations, and we used it and, because we used it, the Yukon Party jumped all over us for what is written in there. They agreed to it, but now they want us to change and improve the work that they've done. Well, we're doing that throughout government and in many different departments - a very aggressive agenda in many different fields, both an economic agenda and an environmental agenda.
I know that the member just wanted to use up the time. The camera was here, and they want to get their few kicks in while they can, but the fact remains that I think what they're really embarrassed about is the fact that they agreed to this, and it wasn't right, in their minds. Now, they're jumping back and seeing how we can change the whole thing for them, and we will do that.
This is one area that is zoned agriculture, and we feel that everywhere that there is agricultural land, that the new policy should be applied, and things like this need to be fixed up. This act needs to be fixed up - the wording and the questions that it creates, and so on.
The terms and references apply to all those who are on the Hot Springs Road who are involved in this zoning area.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister is not telling us any more on this issue today than he did last night. Let me make this very clear for him. We are not condemning him for using the Area Development Act. We're asking him to use it as it was written, not by his very loose interpretation, which says he doesn't have to abide by it.
I asked the minister last night to go back to his legal people and to come back to this House with their interpretation of this act, and also with the clause that gives him the right to circumvent his own regulations when it comes to an agricultural development plan. Apparently, the minister hasn't done that. When can I expect that information?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I told the member that I would get back to him in writing on the areas that he pointed out within this act. We're taking and using this act as it is written. I know that bugs the member because it is wrong in his mind, it is wrong, and he agrees with that, but he wrote it up when he was in government.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I'm surprised that the minister can't grasp common sense. I'm really surprised; I'm really surprised.
Many people I talked to last night were disgusted with the performance put on by this minister in the Legislature last night - totally disgusted, totally disgusted - that he couldn't even read plain English; couldn't read it and couldn't interpret it.
Mr. Chair, we move forward from the fact that we know that the government did wrong by moving a person to the front of the line and giving them the land. Let's set that aside.
Why did the government feel that they had to circumvent their own regulations, and not ask for an agricultural development plan? That's the minister's department. That's the second step in the process. They haven't only done one thing wrong here; they've done two things wrong as far the general public's concerned. Let's set aside that they've given this person preferential treatment for the land. Why is he getting preferential treatment by not having to have an agricultural policy? And those are the questions that I want answered, Mr. Chair. I'm not going to beat this thing forever, because we don't have that much time left.
But I am going to tell the minister that I am on the public record asking for a legal interpretation from the government as to how the government interprets this OIC, because the minister certainly doesn't know how to interpret it, and he's proved that, last night and again this afternoon - that he can't read English. He can't understand what's written in plain English.
Mr. Chair, can the minister give me a timeline on when I'm going to receive the information?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, where we did go wrong is using existing information that the Yukon Party put together - that's where we went wrong. Mr. Chair, why didn't the official opposition get a briefing on this - if he didn't understand the act itself, why didn't he go through it? Why didn't the member go through it? He didn't understand it. He didn't understand it when they passed it, when they put it together, and he doesn't understand it now. So he tries to put the blame back on us, as to what's in it, and now what his interpretation is of it.
Mr. Chair, I told the member I would get back to him in writing, and I'll do that. I don't know what the timeline would be; it certainly wouldn't be today.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I thank the minister, and I guess what I'll have to do is put a written question on the Order Paper, and then I know I'll get a reply.
Mr. Chair, I want to move on, because we have a lot of areas to cover with this minister, and getting answers out of him is like looking for hen's teeth.
Mr. Chair, I have another question on the protected areas strategy. In the briefing book, it explains that there is a cooperative agreement with the federal government to provide office space. Could the minister give us a copy of that cooperative agreement, laying out what the costs are to each party?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, I can provide that to the member. I don't have that agreement in front of me, but it's for the secretariat in the federal government's weather building up the hill.
Mr. Ostashek:Is the federal government providing this rent-free? Are we paying for it? How long is the lease? Does the minister not have any information with him in the Legislature here today?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'll flip through the briefing notes to see if I can find that, but I know that it is rent-free. We are paying for the O&M on the building. They do have an office that will be in this building, and I think that we found a good deal for the secretariat of YPAS.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I want to move on to catch-and-release. As this minister knows, this is a very controversial area with many Yukoners who feel very strongly about catch-and-release practices. The minister came back to this House and said that the government wouldn't change the limits and wouldn't be placing limits on catch-and-release, but at the same time, we see that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board is still going ahead with a study on catch-and-release fishing.
How is the minister going to reconcile his public position now that there will be no limits placed on catch-and-release fishing if, in fact, the Management Board should come back with a recommendation to place limits on catch-and-release fishing? How is the minister going to reconcile that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, the department said that we would not make any changes. We cannot make any changes to a number of different areas, whether it's hunting or permitting or whatnot, but the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board has the perfect right to make recommendations to us. The member knows full well they are involved in public consultation on this issue. Most recently, they said they would like more time to gather more information before anything comes forward to us.
So, until such time as we have a good look at whatever they're going to present to us, whether it is a recommendation or just a note of not wanting to do anything different than what we're doing now, we don't know what is going to result out of their public consultation.
So, at this point, we cannot say that we are going to make any changes because we haven't heard anything back from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, this minister went on the public record before the Fish and Wildlife Management Board even started their study saying he was going to put limits on catch-and-release fishing. He said he believed catch-and-release fishing was killing a lot of fish. He said he had reports of dead fish floating in the lakes and that this was attributable to catch-and-release fishing. He did this before the Fish and Wildlife Management Board even did a study. Then, before the Fish and Wildlife Management Board completes their study, he stands up in this House and makes another ministerial statement that the government position is they're not going to put any limits on catch-and-release fishing.
The Fish and Wildlife Management Board is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money, and taxpayers would like to see some results for that money being spent. They're getting very disturbed about the studies that are going on with no results coming out.
I just find it mind-boggling that they're continuing with the catch-and-release study, when the minister has already made his views known a second time, even though he's changed them 180 degrees from what he first told this Legislature. The study is still going on, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers' money is still being spent.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the member's wrong on all counts. I had said to him that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board could take concerns from the general public and pursue them with a public consultation, and take them to that limit. They're not taking any direction from us; we're not asking them to go out and do this. They're taking concerns from the general public, which I think is a responsible position they're taking, and I look forward to the results of the public consultation on this matter.
Mr. Chair, I haven't changed my position on catch-and-release. All along, we have had people come forward with reports of dead fish in the water, and concerns about catch-and-release. We haven't changed our position on it.
What we did say is that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board is going out and pursuing this issue, and we wait for their recommendation on this matter.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I'll go back and look at the answer, but the minister made it very, very clear in this House that he was against catch-and-release fishing when he first spoke on it. He was very clear on that. Very, very clear - make no mistake about it. All Yukoners thought that.
Mr. Chair, when is the study that's being done by the Fish and Wildlife Management Board going to be completed?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, I know that the members opposite are going to try to pump fear again into the general public about this issue. There are no changes. They dreamed up something that they thought would make them look good in the general public, drafted up a petition, and took it around the Yukon, basically saying that the government should be doing what they're doing right now. And we said that in our response to the petition.
Members know that. We didn't change our position on it. They're saying that the government should continue to do what they're doing, and we're saying, yes, we will continue to do what we're doing. In regard to catch-and-release, we'll continue to use it as a management tool, and we haven't wavered from that one bit at all.
Now, the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, of course, can go out and consult with the public on issues that are of public concern and I believe that this is one of them they feel strongly about pursuing. Recently they have said to us that they would like a bit more time to continue compiling their information and to come up with results of their public meetings.
They feel it's an important issue. They also feel, at this point, that it's a very good management tool that is being used right now, but they are also addressing the public concern. So, you know, it's their issue and we haven't gone anywhere different from the way we do things.
As a matter of fact, I told the members opposite during the debate on catch-and-release that we continue to use it as a management tool. We named, I think, about five lakes, at that point, that were high-quality management lakes. Of course, this is very much part of the way things are going to be taking place on these lakes.
Despite what we had said in here, the members went out, drafted up their petition, worded it the way they wanted to word it and basically said, while fooling the general public by first of all pumping fear in them, that catch-and-release was going to end. We didn't say that it was. As a matter of fact, we said that we were going to continue.
So the petition was basically saying - they probably didn't know this at the time - that government should continue to do what they're doing right now. When we responded, we said exactly that, that we will continue to use catch-and-release as a management tool.
We know that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board is out there seeking public input in this matter, and we await their direction, if any at all.
Mr. Phillips: No wonder the public is losing confidence in its political leaders, Mr. Chair. The Minister of Renewable Resources has no one to blame but himself for this particular issue. It's in Hansard. Read Hansard. It was the Minister of Renewable Resources who said catch-and-release was a bad thing - it was the Minister of Renewable Resources; Mr. Chair, it's right under his name; I'm sure he said it; he was in the House; I was here - that prompted the 600-odd Yukoners to sign a petition to say stop, and that's the only thing that stopped this minister from going any further - nothing else.
In fact, Mr. Chair, what I'm worried about today is that the minister hasn't stopped. What he said in the House here a few months ago, when he said he thought catch-and-release is bad and it's killing hundreds of fish - and didn't show a shred of evidence, couldn't prove it, couldn't prove a thing, just made a statement, a totally false statement - the minister then stood up in the House, when he gave his ministerial statement about his response to the petition, and said, we support catch-and-release fishing and are not going to put limits on catch-and-release fishing. It was exactly the opposite of what he said a few months earlier.
But this petition he said was foolish and a waste of time certainly had a profound effect on the minister's thoughts - at least it did a few weeks ago. But now I hear the minister today, when he was asked questions about the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, which is still spending thousands of taxpayers' dollars to determine whether or not they think there should be limits on catch-and-release fishing, when the minister says he's not going to impose them - I mean, what a waste of time.
What a waste of time and money, Mr. Chair. The Fish and Wildlife Management Board should listen to what the minister is saying, because obviously the minister is not going to impose any kind of limits on catch-and-release fishing. He said that in the House. He announced it here. I'm starting to have doubts about that, but he did announce it here.
What the minister should be saying to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board is conveying those thoughts to them and urging them to do what everyone in that petition wanted them to do - to spend more money on the education of catch-and-release.
That's what people want to do - support the concept of catch-and-release as a management tool, but spend the thousands of dollars that you're spending on the per diems of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board to do this circle thing that isn't coming up with anything new that the minister is going to change and put in an education program.
I'd like to know from the minister, Mr. Chair - from what he said here today - if the Fish and Wildlife Management Board recommends limits on catch-and-release fishing, is the minister going to turn that down? Because that's what he said he was going to do in the House here, that he wouldn't accept limits in catch-and-release fishing.
So, if the Fish and Wildlife Management Board makes that recommendation, is the minister going to say, "That's not in the cards, because 600 people told me that that's not in the cards"? Or, is the minister going to accept the recommendation of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, blame the board and change the regulations so Yukoners who told the minister clearly that they didn't want limits on catch-and-release will have to put up with it, so the minister will get the way he wanted it in the first place when he made his announcement a few months ago?
Is that the way the minister is operating - a backdoor approach of blaming the board for what's going to happen? People are confused out there.
The minister said, first of all, to put limits on. They need limits because we're killing all kinds of fish, and we have proof, but not one shred did he show us. Then the minister came into the House after he got beat up and changed his mind completely. He flip-flopped right back the other way. And then today in the House, I hear the minister say that he might listen to what the Fish and Wildlife Management Board is going to say.
I want to know from the minister that if they recommend limits, is the minister going to implement limits for catch-and-release fishing in this House? Is that where we're heading with this one?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I can see why the general public lost confidence in that party. They don't understand process, don't respect that boards, like the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, can go out and make recommendations to governments. Maybe they don't listen to them. Maybe they haven't listened to them in the past, but we've said we would always listen to them. If there's a recommendation on hunting and so on, we take that information and we go through the department and scrutinize it and look at it carefully, and we make a decision one way or the other. That's the process we use and we continue to use.
Not only that but we can also take recommendations from renewable resource councils, if it's specific to their area, rather than go through the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. So, we get recommendations from them, too, and we listen to them.
Now, the members opposite may not want to take that approach and listen to people, listen to local people and local Yukoners, on matters that affect them the most, but we do, and we'll continue to do that.
What I told the members opposite is that we have absolutely no reason, at this point, to change these regulations, but that doesn't mean that we're just going to throw out any recommendations or any positions that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board takes. We know that would be crazy to do. The members opposite might want to run their government in that manner, and Yukoners haven't forgotten about that. That's why they've changed.
So, Mr. Chair, we'll continue to listen to people on this whole issue. We said again and again, even in our response to the petition, that we'll continue to use catch-and-release as a management tool and we feel that is necessary for the sport-fishing industry. At this point, we know that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board has other concerns that have been brought to them, and many concerns in regard to catch-and-release. They're going out and seeking public input into this.
They're wanting to take the matter to Yukoners Yukon-wide, and into every community, and get feedback on this. I think the Fish and Wildlife Management Board has been operating in a responsible manner, and I look forward to what they have to present to us and to the First Nations, and so on. Maybe it's a recommendation, or maybe they would even come up with a conclusion that they feel that this is the only way to go for management of fish, with catch-and-release - they feel that is a good tool. Maybe that is what could result from it.
I would ask the members to have confidence in Yukoners.
Mr. Ostashek: I want to assure the minister that we have confidence in the Yukon and Yukoners. It's this minister we're questioning whether we have confidence in or not, and this government. That's what we're questioning, when the minister stands up and says one thing and, two months later, stands up and says another, when there's a study still going on by the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. Just now, in replying to the Member for Riverdale North, he stood on his feet and said, "We have no intention of changing the limits on catch-and-release at this point." That's what he said. "At this point, we have no intention."
The Member for Riverdale North asked him, what's he going to do if the recommendation comes back from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board to impose limits? Is he going to ignore it, or is he going to impose limits? That's what we're trying to find out.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I told the member that we will not be making any changes in our department in how we view catch-and-release. We know what's taking place out there with the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. The member knows that, too, and, at any time, they could come forward and make recommendations to us.
Now, we're not going to just stop them from doing anything, and say, "No, this is not the way it's going to happen; don't do your public consultation." That's the wrong thing to do.
The members know that. Why not have them carry out their responsible work in seeking public consultation - public input into this matter. They feel it's an important issue. They feel that it's such an important issue that they want more time to go out to Yukoners and seek that input before they make any recommendations or any responses to the First Nation and to Yukon government.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, what's wrong with this, the way the minister's handling this, is that first of all the minister makes a statement that he's going to impose limits on catch-and-release fishing. He did that in Hansard - it's recorded.
Then he had the Fish and Wildlife Management Board go out and do a study. Before the study is complete, the minister makes a ministerial statement in this House that the government is not going to impose limits on catch-and-release fishing - and the study is continuing to go on.
Now, the minister stands in the House today, and says - pushing aside everything he said before, first of all, that he's going to place limits on, then a ministerial statement that he's not going to place limits on - in the House, "We're not going to place limits at this point." How can he expect Yukoners to have any confidence in that?
The minister says there are other things that have come to light to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board with regard to catch-and-release. Would he share them with us, please?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I don't think the members will ever understand the processes that are out there. I don't believe they used it when they were in government. I don't believe that they used the Fish and Wildlife Management Board for what it was intended to be used for and what it was set up for.
We're going to act in the responsible way, and we have in the past, and we'll continue to act in a responsible way, rather than go out and take direction from the Yukon Party to act irresponsibly.
Having the Fish and Wildlife Management Board go out and seek public input into this matter - take it to more detail - there's nothing wrong with that. Why would the member have me go to them, and say don't do this because we're not going to make a change?
Why would the member want me to do that? I know his government would have done that, stepped all over it, and not have the Fish and Wildlife Management Board operate for what they are.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the one thing I can tell the minister is that the Yukon Party didn't use boards and committees as scapegoats like this administration is doing. We didn't hide behind boards and committees like this administration is doing.
The minister himself is neutering the board. He's the one who made the statement in the House that he was going to impose limits before the board did a study. He's the one who made the statements in the House that he's not going to put any limits on catch-and-release before the board has completed the study. It's his actions, not the actions of the opposition, that are causing the confusion.
If the minister believes it's so important for the Fish and Wildlife Management Board to consult with Yukoners - and that that is a legitimate role they have to play - why didn't he wait until they finished before he made his ministerial statement?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, it was in response to a petition that was tabled in this House. I know the members opposite would not have used any of the boards; they go out and make decisions on their own. We feel it's responsible to respect things like the First Nations final agreements. They've got their renewable resource councils set up and we do take recommendations from them.
We may not always agree with them, but we'll take it and look at it in a responsible way within the department and we'll continue to do that. I don't know where the member is coming from. I know that the general public lost confidence in the Yukon Party and we still hear that today.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I think the minister should sit down after this session is over and read what he's just said in Hansard because he's sounding more disoriented all the time. He says the Yukon Party wouldn't use the board, that they wouldn't consult with Yukoners.
Here's a minister who's already made his decision, but they're going to consult after the fact. That's the normal course for the NDP anyhow: consult until we get the answer we want.
Mr. Chair, the minister, in all of his tirade in blaming the Yukon Party for everything, didn't tell me what new information has come to the board, that the board is exploring. He said new evidence had come to light; the board has new information that they're pursuing. I want to know what that evidence is.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I don't think the member understands that the board is separate from government. We're not directing them to do this. This is what they have said to us - that they would like to pursue new avenues or new information or concerns that have been raised by the general public. Do you want that? Go and ask the board. It's not that hard to do.
Mr. Chair, we will continue to act in a responsible way, and we haven't wavered from our positions at all on catch-and-release. We know that the board is out there and can make recommendations to us any time, whether it's on hunting or permitting or limiting or whatnot. At that time, we take the information through the department, and we can make a decision from there. Isn't that a responsible manner to operate in, if they were to make a recommendation to us?
Mr. Chair, the Fish and Wildlife Management Board does a lot of good work. They do a lot of public consultation, and there's no reason to be putting them down in this manner. They're going out and seeking public consultation on this, which they feel is an important matter, and they haven't given us anything to cause us to act any differently from what we're doing right now.
So, we say that we will continue to use catch-and-release as a management tool. We're not going to be limiting anything and we haven't heard anything back from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. So, where the member is coming from is wrong. He's jumping the gun and thinking a recommendation has already come forward from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. I can tell the member that it hasn't.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the problem that we have here is that the minister is incompetent in handling his department. He's making things up on his feet as he goes along and then can't back them up with any evidence.
He just stood in this Legislature and said that new information came to the board. I want to know what that information is. He is the minister whom the board reports to and makes recommendations to. If he knows that there is new evidence, he must know what that evidence is, or why did he say it in this Legislature if he doesn't have anything more?
The minister stood in this House just a few minutes ago and said that there is new evidence that the board is exploring. What is that evidence?
Chair: Order please. I would remind members to avoid making personal or insulting remarks likely to cause disorder.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't know why the members are scared of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. Why don't they ask them?
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I'm trying to find out where the minister is coming from on this, because he has changed his mind about three times.
First, he's against catch-and-release fishing and there should be limits on it. That's what he said in this House. It was killing all kinds of fish.
Second, he gave a response to a petition, and he said that there wouldn't be limits on catch-and-release fishing. Today in the House, he said that he was going to wait until he hears from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board and the recommendations they make.
Is the minister telling us that he carefully couched his words back when that petition was released so that he was really saying that there are no limits on catch-and-release fishing - at this time - until we hear from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, and then if they recommend limits, this government will support the limits?
Is that what he's saying? He's going back to his original thought? Because what I heard the minister say and what the fishing fraternity heard the minister say is that the minister backed away from his limits on catch-and-release fishing and said that there wouldn't be.
The issue out there now is that the minister is allowing the board to continue to look at that aspect of it.
The minister has said himself that he doesn't support that. He said that in the response to the petition - he doesn't support limits.
Our concern is that the board can look at other issues of catch-and-release fishing, and just forget about the limit issue, because that's not an issue any more. The minister said it's not an issue. The minister's the government. The minister's pre-empted the board in anything they might say, because he's said he's come to the conclusion that catch-and-release limits are not necessary.
We're not saying the minister should tell the board what to do or what not to do, but the minister has already done that by saying that he's not going to accept a recommendation of limits on catch-and-release fishing. That's what he said when he responded to that petition. At least, that's what everybody thought he said, and what I'm trying to determine here today is, is that really what the minister said, that he's not going to accept, at any time in his mandate, limits on catch-and-release fishing? Or is the minister just saying that that's how he felt on that given day, and that he might change his mind down the road, if the Fish and Wildlife Management Board gives him a recommendation?
I want to know where we're going with this. I want to know if the battle's over yet, or does it still have to continue, because these people thought that the minister had finally listened to them - over 600 Yukoners, and many more petitions will probably show up in the House here before this session is over with.
Yukoners are concerned, and they will be very offended if this minister has taken the words that he said in this House and twisted them around, not to mean what most them thought he meant. The average Yukoner, the local media, everyone else, said that the minister backed away from his limits on catch-and-release fishing. Everybody said that.
So the question now is, why didn't the minister convey that to the board, and urge the board to look at other aspects of catch-and-release fishing, because having limits on it was not something that the government would accept? Why didn't he do that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the people who I've talked to are saying, "You haven't said anything any different, from beginning to end", as we responded to the petition. Mr. Chair, we said that we're not planning to legislate limits on catch-and-release, but we would continue to encourage responsible catch-and-release practices. That's what we said through education and information. And that's what we said.
But we didn't say in our ministerial statement, or response anywhere, that we're just going to throw out recommendations from the wildlife Management Board on anything - whether it's hunting or whatnot. We have to take anything that comes forward from them, and work it through our department.
Mr. Chair, I think the members are off again on this. They're trying to drum up some fear in the general public on this issue, and we haven't gone away from what we said at the beginning, and we haven't wavered from what we said in the response to the petition. To this day, we continue to say that we will use catch-and-release as a management tool, and we'll continue to use it, and increase awareness through education on catch-and-release practices.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, time will tell. We'll leave that issue, we've explored it far enough for this time.
Mr. Chair, I want to move to another subject now. At noon today, on a radio station, I believe I heard an ad - a Y2Y radio ad - which, at the end of it - I didn't hear it all completely - but at the end of it they had a 1-800 government number to call for further information.
Is the Government of the Yukon promoting the Y2Y theory?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, in regard to protected areas, we clearly stated to the general public what direction we would like to take by producing the protected areas strategy. That's the tool we're going to use for protection of ecoregions.
We're not promoting Y2Y at all. We've heard their presentations and so on, and they're all interesting, but they haven't asked us to do anything as a government. We showed them our protected areas strategy and it states clearly what we're going to be doing in the Yukon and the process we're going to be following, and that's the extent of it.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I may have heard the ad wrong. I'm not going to take the minister to task for it. I just want to know if the minister can tell me if there is an ad running on a radio station advertising Y2Y with a 1-800 government number to call. That's what I want to know from the minister. Is there an ad?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, I'm not aware of any.
Mr. Ostashek: I'll leave that for now and I'll get more information from the radio station. I may have heard it wrong. I'm not saying I did, but since we're in general debate on Renewable Resources, I thought I would ask the question.
I want to turn now to the bison hunt. This hunt is over. As the minister knows, it was controversial with quite a few Yukoners as to how the permits were dispersed. What was very controversial was the $50 access fee that was charged to people who applied for a permit in Haines Junction. It was controversial for several reasons; namely, that even the people who weren't successful in drawing a permit still had to pay the $50 access fee even though they weren't accessing First Nations lands.
I, myself, have some difficulty with the government getting involved with First Nations and allowing access fees on class B lands.
We asked the Government Leader this, under his department of land claims, and he got us a legal opinion, but the legal opinion is not as clear as what I would have liked it to have been. I believe that there are some words in here that can be interpreted either way, but it's certainly not a hard and fast legal opinion that says First Nations have the legitimate right to charge an access fee on category B lands.
It goes on to say in here, "Generally speaking, access for wildlife harvesting..." and this is what the legal opinion hung its hat on and that's what's bothering me, "...provided for under 16.12(3)," and 16.12(3) only grants access for the purpose of hunting wildlife. Section 16.12(3): "Provision for the right of access for non-commercial harvesting of wildlife does not apply to the bison."
That's what is bothering me about this legal interpretation, because it's hanging its hat on the fact that bison are not a wildlife animal but are a transplanted species and therefore do not fall under the UFA definition of "wildlife", and then it goes on to state what wildlife is.
Mr. Chair, this is causing a lot of concern for Yukoners and the minister has now had one go at this with the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation over the bison hunt this last year. Yukoners enjoyed the hunt very much and enjoyed the opportunity to take a bison, but they are very concerned about the way the permits are administered. We know the department has stated that there's going to be another hunt this year. The minister himself has said quite clearly, I believe in this House and outside this House, that the agreement with Champagne-Aishihik was for one year only. I watched a television program where the person responsible for the bison in Champagne-Aishihik stated quite clearly that this was a one-year only permit.
I want to know from the minister if he can tell us what's going to happen this year. Are we going to be in the same situation where we're going to have a division of permits - a percentage given out to Champagne-Aishihik and the rest being handled by the wildlife branch here in Whitehorse - and people who apply through Champagne-Aishihik being once again faced with an access fee even though they don't access the land?
And the minister, I know, is also in the process of making the bison a wildlife animal, or he is looking at that. I want to know where he's at on that as well and what that's going to do to the whole treatment of bison in relation to the umbrella final agreement.
Can the minister elaborate on where we're at with this?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the member pointed out a couple of provisions under chapter 16, and in putting together this agreement and after the hunt had taken place, we realized, of course, that this is a bit of a grey area for us too. Even with this legal opinion, it doesn't clearly spell it out.
So, we are also starting talks now - just beginning - to try to put together another permit hunt, and I believe the department has had discussions with the Fish and Game Association and the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, which has come forward again with an interest. Now, that's just the beginning.
I think it was during Question Period that I did tell the Member for Riverdale North that we were working on basically deeming bison as wildlife, and I wrote him a note saying that what I meant to say was "big game". At this point, we are not looking at deeming them wildlife.
We're not about to change any of the First Nation final agreements. In there it still states that they are transplanted animals.
But we would like to resolve this whole issue. The $50 was unfortunate, the way it had turned out, even with us, because we did not go through an organization that could charge that amount. But the way it's being set up now, the permits, we think at this point, would be issued through the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. They would be able to handle it, and a fee could be charged at that point - all those fees, of course, are going to go into the bison study, as did the dollars that were collected by Champagne-Aishihik. That's gone to Fish and Wildlife Management Board for a bison study.
Mr. Ostashek: Is the minister saying that Champagne-Aishihik has now contributed that money to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, because, as of a month or so ago, I believe, they still hadn't.
Have they issued the money to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board? Is that what the minister's saying?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, Mr. Chair, from what information we had gathered from them, the money would be forwarded to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, and kept in a trust or in a fund, to use for a bison study.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I understand that Champagne-Aishihik said that it would be used for bison research, but I also understood they said at the time that they would be directing where the money went, so I didn't know that they had given it to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. If they did, that's fine, but it still doesn't make the system fair for all Yukoners, and that's our concern.
Can the minister explain to me the difference in his mind between big game and wildlife? What's the difference?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, if he's referring to bison right now, and if we deemed it wildlife, of course, it would be a whole different story as to what could take place on category B lands. Basically, you'd be able to hunt this animal on category B lands.
Right now, they're labeled under the agreement as a transplanted species, and we're able to put a management plan in place for that to do hunts and limit the size of the herd, and so on. Big game, as it is right now, is not deemed as big game under our regulations. If we put it under our regulations as big game, we're better able to do a bit more management by putting some conditions on the permits. Now, we could put conditions on a sundry permit, but now that it's under big game, we can have a proper permitting system. Before that, it was just under a sundry permit, which is a one-time thing that you can put conditions on, but you can't enforce them. We could put conditions on the permits now and enforce them.
One of the things that we require, of course, with this sundry permit, was to bring parts back. Now, we could enforce this if this wasn't done, now that they're deemed big game.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'm not certain I agree with the minister on that. I believe the government could impose anything they want under a sundry permit. They can have any regulations they want applied to it. I believe what the minister's doing here is playing word games with the First Nations. The department wants bison to be under the Wildlife Act but they don't want them called "wildlife" because if they do, then First Nations are entitled to a share of the harvest under the UFA. So, I think what the department is trying to do here - and it's going to make clarification more confusing, in my opinion - is by calling them "big game", they can say, "Well, we can now apply regulations to them, but we still don't have to share them with the First Nations because they're not wildlife."
I think it's just an exercise and word game and really doesn't clarify the situation at all. I'd like the minister, if he could, to explain to me how he feels this clarifies - how his department feels this clarifies - how bison will be treated, and what can they do now that they couldn't do under a sundry permit?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, we're not going to change the wording in the First Nation final agreement. We would like to be able to continue to manage this herd, whether it's with the First Nation or through our department. If the bison were deemed wildlife, it would basically give the right to First Nations to exercise their aboriginal right.
Now, it would throw things off as to what numbers of animals that could be taken out in a year, and so on, but, as they're deemed big game, before that, under the sundry permit, we could put conditions on there but we couldn't enforce them. This way, we could do things like set dates or conditions on them, have bag limits and seasons for hunting, and so on.
Mr. Ostashek: I agree with what the minister's saying, and I know I don't want to see it made a wildlife animal. They are a transplanted species. What I'm having difficult with is that I think that we're going about this from the back forward, to say it in nice language. Why could we not have just passed a regulation so that the stipulations that you put on the sundry permit you would have been able to enforce?
I think you could have changed the designation of the buffalo from a transplanted species to big game just as easily through regulations. That appears to be just a word game with me. I believe it would have been much simpler to just put in a regulation. There may be some reason you can't; I'd like to know what it is, though. That's what this debate's all about.
Why couldn't we have just put in something to say, as the minister has just said, that we can put conditions on the sundry permit but we can't enforce them. I am having difficulty following that rationale because I would think that the government has the right to do almost anything through regulations.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: This makes it a bit clearer for us as a department. Basically, the proposal to add wood bison to the definition of big game would allow us to administer and harvest under the normal permitting system, whereas it goes from year to year under a sundry permit. Even though we're following what is spelled out in the bison management plan and keeping the numbers down and so on, we find that, by making this change - and it's not a big change we feel - it does allow us to do things in a more systematic, normal permitting way.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, I'm not going to pursue this forever because I think I understand where the department's going with this, so if I could just sum this up and ask the minister if he agrees or disagrees - we're going to change the designation of bison from a transplanted species to big game for the purposes of administration under the act. Is that what we're doing?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, Mr. Chair, that's not what we're doing. They're deemed big game but they're still a transplanted species.
Mr. Ostashek: What are they deemed to be now?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, they're not included in the regulations right now. They're basically a transplanted species and the regulations don't define that, so basically it's a matter of defining them a bit more under the Wildlife Act.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, I'll go along with that for now.
So, the minister is telling us then that they're going to be identified as big game so that the regulations would apply and they can have a more orderly harvest of them - fine - and it's the minister's intention to have one uniform draw this year in which all participants will be treated equally, and that there will not be persons who are drawn on category B lands that are going to have to pay a fee that people who are drawn from the general public on Crown lands would not have to pay. Is that the direction that the minister is going?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, what I said earlier was that we are under discussion with the Fish and Game Association and the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation to try to find a better way than what had taken place last year. The problem we had, of course, was the fact that you had to go to Haines Junction to apply, and there were two separate draws. Even the way in which the Yukon government did their draw was not expedient and was very slow in checking numbers and so on, and we would like to see improvements there, so that is under discussion right now.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I just have one question on the definition of a bison. I was at a wildlife advisory board meeting, and I understand that they had a legal opinion that the branch itself sought with respect to changing the designation of bison to a big game species, and it supported, I believe, the minister's concern about us then being able to put regulations in place.
The question asked was if there are any other legal opinions, because as the minister knows, a legal opinion is just that, and if you ask another lawyer, you might get a different legal opinion. And the answer was that yes, there were other legal opinions - at the wildlife advisory board meeting.
Is the minister aware of what the other legal opinions say, and can the minister tell us what they say, and if the minister feels confident that his legal opinion is one which would stand up to the test of law if the First Nations, for example, felt that the change would not do what the minister says it's going to do?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I haven't read any other legal opinion on this. At any time, I believe if First Nations feel that they have a strong argument to be made, and wanted to go through the whole process of getting legal opinions, that they can do that.
And I don't think that it's going to be on the whole issue of deeming bison as big game. I think if anything they would look at the whole definition of bison being wildlife. I think that's where they might come from, but at this point I have no reason to believe that this would not stand up. I mean, it's just a small change, but we'd like to say it's for administrative purposes, to follow a regular permitting system.
Mr. Phillips: Well, maybe the minister could check into that. The statement was made at a wildlife advisory board meeting, where there was a second legal opinion, and of course it wasn't presented there, and nobody saw it, but it just said it was a contrary legal opinion to what the government had received. And so I'd be interested in getting a copy, if the minister could ask the wildlife advisory board for a copy of the opinion. I'm sure the wildlife branch would be interested in having it, if it's contrary to the one that they've got, and they're planning to move in a way that would change regulations. So I'd like to get a copy of it as well, if it's possible.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we can search for that legal opinion. I'd be interested to see what's in it myself.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'd like to move on to the Finlayson caribou herd. This was another controversial issue that was in front of the public about a year ago, and the minister placed limits on the amount of animals that were being hunted in there.
Can the minister give us an update on the demographics of the herd? Has the limiting of permits been successful in increasing the number of calves, the cow-calf ratio in the herd, and what are the plans for the herd this year?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I believe the department has done another count in the spring. I don't have that information with me, but I know that, in regard to permits, there were very few permits used, and very few animals taken, but once we get all that information together, I can send it over to the members opposite.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I want to put on the record that, when the minister gets that information, I would appreciate a briefing note, a letter, laying out what is happening with the Finlayson herd and what the plans are for the next year.
To go back over to the Aishihik herd, I understand that there's been a tremendous increase in the moose populations in the Aishihik area as a result of the caribou program that was in there, and the removal of wolves from the area - the wolves that the Member for Faro at first wasn't going to remove, and then decided he was going to remove before the election, and after the election. Anyway, the program was very, very successful.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: The Member for Faro says, look up "moratorium". We had a 24-hour moratorium on the Aishihik caribou recovery program, Mr. Chair, so we could satisfy the election promises of the Member for Faro.
At any rate, Mr. Chair, I understand from radio reports that the program was very, very successful, that the caribou and moose populations have increased dramatically in that area. Does the minister have information in the House with him today on that? Could he also tell me what's going to happen? Is moose hunting going to be expanded in the area? When does the minister foresee a caribou season being reopened?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I can confirm with the member opposite that there were large increases. I know it's around something like 50 percent for moose.
At this point, we're still going to be doing an independent review of the program, but we know that the increases in both caribou and moose are high and we'll work through the system. We're considering increases in the number of both moose and caribou that are taken out of the area.
Mr. Ostashek: I can understand the minister doing the independent review of the program. As to the effectiveness of it, I don't know why waiting for that review would impede the minister and his department from recommending more animals be available for harvest. I don't know what that would have to do with the review.
Also, the fact that the caribou season has been closed in this area now for some nine years - can Yukoners foresee a light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully be able to hunt caribou in the area again?
I know when I was out this fall, I saw caribou in an area that I'd never seen them before in all the years that I was in that area.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, we're not waiting for the study of the program to be completed. We know there are increases and we have been working toward looking at increases in harvests for both moose and caribou in that area, so there are, I think, bright lights at the end, and we would like to pursue that by carefully developing this thing and working toward trying to increase harvests for both moose and caribou in that area.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm glad to hear the minister saying that there's a bright light on the horizon for that, and I guess Yukoners can thank the former Minister of Renewable Resources, who had the fortitude and stamina in the face of great opposition to implement the program in the best interests of wildlife in the territory.
Mr. Chair, the minister says he will get that information for me. When he gets that information for me, I would also like a breakdown on the cow/calf ratio for both moose and caribou in the Aishihik area and in the Finlayson area, and also the bull ratio in both of those areas. If the minister would do that for me, I would appreciate getting that information.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, I'll get that information.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to begin my questions in the Renewable Resources debate with an issue near and dear to many Yukoners' hearts, the campgrounds in the territory. The minister knew full well I would be asking these questions, I'm sure.
The territorial budget this year schedules $325,000 for work on campgrounds, and the supplementary budget that was just tabled schedules an additional $50,000, bringing the total to $375,000 in campground improvements for this year. The department has provided me, in the technical briefing, with a breakdown of how $325,000 of this expenditure would be spent.
Can the minister elaborate on the balance of the $50,000 from the supplementary budget? How is it going to be spent?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I don't have that note in front of me, but I know it was for the improvements to several campgrounds in the Kluane area.
Ms. Duncan: I'm pleased that the campgrounds in the Kluane area are going to be improved. I'm sure the minister will forward that information at a later date in time.
The Yukon is enjoying, it seems, an early spring this year, and the minister is often asked this question - if the date for opening the campgrounds can be accelerated in any way, or perhaps the day use area. I know that the minister's department is quite cooperative with the Yukon Fish and Game Association opening the Fox Lake campground, for example, for use on the sport fishing day, which was April 11 this year. Is the minister examining any early opening of day use areas?
And I wonder if the minister can also, while he's on his feet, indicate if the entire $375,000 worth of campground work will be done in time for this year's camping season or if it will be completed over the summer months?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Those dollars, the $375,000, would be spent throughout the summer. As the member knows, we had additional dollars in last year's budget to do some additional work for campgrounds. I think it was $410,000, and that helped out a lot in getting things like bathrooms, fireplaces, and so on, built.
We don't have, at this time, any plans to have early openings of campgrounds. I think it's still May 15. One of the reasons for basically pushing that is that it's the normal day of opening, but we've got the new system in place, a campground system, and I was told that we're coming down to the crunch and we would have it available for May 15, but the last word that I did get was that we do have it now. There are letters going out to the people that are going to be distributing them across the Yukon to see if they would do it for us. I don't think that they would refuse. They make money on these permits, and so on.
So, May 15 is still the date for opening campgrounds, although we can look at - I know the department has done this in the past - opening some day use areas early, but I don't have any of that information with me.
Ms. Duncan: Thanks, Mr. Chair. The Member for Watson Lake is kibitzing that there are certain parts of the Yukon where the piled-higher-and-deeper method is still in place, and I would suggest there's a lot that's piled high and deep, particularly across the way.
The minister and I do agree on the effectiveness of the dollar spending on campgrounds, and agree on their value to Yukoners.
The minister, in response in part to suggestions I've made in this House, has instituted a new program - selling day use licences, selling them in conjunction with fishing licences. We're looking forward to that new program being in place.
There has - I would suggest to the minister - not been much of a reaction so far by Yukoners and not much publicity on this program, and I understand it's because it's just been put in place. There is a budget item for $25,000 for selling this new program and publicizing it, and I would like the minister to outline how that is intended to be spent. How are we best going to reach Yukoners who use the campgrounds and will use this new system?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the dollars that are going toward this new system will go through the regular advertising process - through the papers and so on - but we also will have new signage, and so on, that has to be put up in campgrounds, and that's going to be part of it, and changing it a bit, the system - the vaults and so on that we have there. And, of course, the way we administer them, through the department, which is not a very big expenditure, but we think that this is going to - even though there are some increased costs through this - bring back a lot more money than we've lost in the past through vault thefts and so on.
Also, what we will be doing during the summer, as we have this permit system in place - because you can go to the stores where they sell fishing licences and buy these - we're going to be increasing our presence in campgrounds and making sure that people have these permits in place.
One good thing about the permits - if a person arrived at a campground and doesn't have a permit, is all set up and isn't going back to town, we sell the daily permits to residents, and there's a different colour to the non-residents, and stuck on their windshield. If they have two or three of them - if they're staying three nights - they can basically hand over one, sell them the one, and they could use it. It isn't restricted to the one person. They're all numbered, and so on, so there's a little piece that you rip off and put in the vault. It comes back to us, and that's how we verify what has been sold through the stores.
Ms. Duncan: One of the suggestions that I also made to the minister was that we use a recognition of a campground permit for, perhaps, some of the volunteer COs, or perhaps some of the other programs where we want to recognize contributions that Yukoners make in a volunteer capacity to the Yukon. I wonder if the minister can advise - have they followed up on that suggestion? Have there been any, or will there be any, campground permits given out to either our volunteer COs or any other volunteers that we wish to recognize in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It was a good suggestion the member put forward to us. We did follow up. We are sending out, I believe, seven seasonal permits to the auxiliary COs in recognition.
Ms. Duncan: That's great, Mr. Chair. I'd like to publicly thank the minister for following up on that suggestion. Sometimes the process works.
I would like to forward another suggestion that's come to me with respect to the campground permits, and that's with regard to disabled or injured workers and seniors. This definition of a senior citizen, Mr. Chair, is not clear. A variety of ages are used. For example, and the Minister of Health and Social Services I am sure can advise the minister on this, there are some programs where the age used is 60; there are some where it's 55; there are some where it's 65, and all those different ages are considered senior. Now, in the Yukon, for campground permits, it's 65. At 65, Yukoners get their permits for free.
I would like to suggest to the minister that he consider using, for seniors, a lower age, say 55 or 60, for free campground permits. That way, seniors who are Yukoners can enjoy our campgrounds for a longer period of time.
I would also like to suggest that the minister consider that there are some disabled individuals who are also able to make use of our campgrounds, and we do make an effort in many of our campgrounds to provide access to those who are disabled or physically challenged in some way, and I'm wondering if the minister could consider listing those people among the free-permit holders.
I do not believe these are expensive suggestions, Mr. Chair, and I invite the minister to consider them.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: In regard to the disabled, I'd have to check into what is being offered right now. I'm not sure, but if there isn't, I can take these suggestions back to the department and have them have a good look at it and see what we can come up with. We put this new system in. We know we're making money at it.
It's not a big loss of income by lowering the age possibly down to 60. That is a possibility. I'll take it forward and see what we come up with - and I'll let the member know.
Ms. Duncan: There are a number of Yukoners who enjoy - and I use the term "enjoy" loosely - our parks, and one of the parks that has enjoyed a great deal of discussion in this House is the Tombstone park, and if the Yukon ends up with a mine in the middle of the expanded Tombstone park, it's because of a major screw-up by the NDP government.
Mr. Chair, the chronology and the clock, if you will, in terms of the development of this is that in 1996 there was a petition put forward by the then-NDP opposition with regard to the park. In fact, the Member for Faro issued a media statement lauding the petition and speaking about how significant the Tombstone park is to Yukon people. On September 30, when the NDP were elected - sworn in in October - as noted by some members in this House previously, it wasn't until April that the request was put forward to act upon the NDP's previous petition.
Now, by failing to act upon their campaign commitments in the petition they presented to this House when in opposition and failing to withdraw this land from staking for the proposed expansion of Tombstone park, the NDP has brought us to the point where we have legitimate claims and a potential mine in this area, and they have betrayed both the Dawson First Nation and environmentalists and, at the same time, introduced more uncertainty for the mining industry.
The lack of leadership on this issue is frightening.
The Yukon government recently intervened in a land use application by the mining company, Dawson-based Canadian United Minerals. That's the company that staked the claims, Mr. Chair, in the Tombstone park study area, and the government's intervention is a desperate attempt to cover up their failure to withdraw the land from staking. The intervention has compounded an earlier mistake. The government has created this mess by failing to withdraw the land in question and has made the situation worse with their "members-of-the-industry-death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach," and now there is political interference to stall the project. If the government is opposed to the claims and doesn't want them to proceed, they should say so.
After promising to respect the process, they've done the opposite. They've put forward the absurd claim that the government is respecting the land use process on the one hand, and then filed this document in the other. The NDP are interfering. It's damage control for their failure to live up to commitments made to the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, environmentalists and voters - commitments made in opposition and commitments made publicly during the campaign.
The land use plan application should proceed free of political interference, as should the work of the Tombstone park steering committee. Both processes should be free of political interference.
Now, Mr. Chair, we can't turn the clock back. The NDP has screwed up. The claims exist. That's a fact. Instead of letting them proceed under the existing rules, the NDP has chosen to interfere, and if the result is that we end up with a mine in Tombstone park, Yukoners have the NDP to blame for it.
Now, Mr. Chair, I'd like the minister responsible for the department that put forward these comments to state for the record what he believes should happen to these claims.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's indeed a pleasure to respond to the member's question.
I can tell the member that it was our government that came forward and put together a plan to create protected areas in the Yukon. It went through extensive public consultation with all the people in the Yukon and came up with a strategy. People agreed that we should be following that process.
And we're also signatories to the First Nation final agreement, which states that there should be a park in the Tombstone area - an SMA eventually to become a natural environment park. We've agreed to that.
We're not about to go out and breach the agreements. It's not what we're going to be doing.
It's unfortunate this took place - the staking took place - especially in the light of where the First Nation had come from in putting their position forward for an expanded area, for a core area. Because this particular claim was an R-block, that had protection on it. So they pulled it off, and said, "We would like an extended area for the park core area and a study area." They pulled it off.
In the meantime, staking took place, and before they even had their agreement in principle signed in May, we sent off a letter to get interim protection. Meanwhile, staking took place, and it was unfortunate for this whole thing to happen.
But we don't believe that any governments - whether it's First Nation, Yukon government, or the federal government, through DIAND - should be breaching agreements and taking away from the integrity of a future park in the Tombstone area. That was our response, and it's our response today.
We listed a number of technical issues that we felt should be addressed if DIAND is considering a land use permit in there.
We believe that these are very important issues. We responded last year to an application that this particular company put in for road access. We responded to that saying it would take away from the park and should not happen. We responded to that particular application but we feel that - the way it has been set up in the First Nation final agreement, you have a steering committee set up. We've got appointments there and they've had three meetings already. As a matter of fact, I just met with them on Sunday. I had a meeting with the steering committee. I drove up to Dawson with the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation Chief Steve Taylor, and we talked about what we would like to see in the results of a final boundary and management plan, and spoke quite frankly to the members of the steering committee. We said they should not be dealing with any political issues and to continue the work that is laid out in the agreement for them to do. That's the position we take and we're both on side with this.
Now, there are a number of different issues relating to the claim itself where it's again taken out of our hands and is dealt with by DIAND. That's why we wrote the letter in response and I think it was a very strong letter to make sure that what we at least have listed here is taken into consideration.
I don't know if the member flew or has been into the Tombstone area, but I've been in there both in the winter and summertime and there's a lot of different wildlife there. And there are trappers' issues that have to be taken into consideration in the management plan, or any activity that takes place within the core or study area, and there's an outfitter who has a lot of interest in there. I believe, at this point, both individuals strongly support the development of a park because they can continue to do their activities as it stands within this park.
Now, I flew down from where the proposed mineral claim is to the very north end of the study area, and all through the valley is where they want road access - approximately 30 kilometres or more, and this is through canyons, around river bends, and so on. I would see that it would disturb the land tremendously if this road went in.
Now, what the company is asking for is a land use permit to continue to do exploration work, and I would think that if you approve that, and if it's a proven deposit, you're basically saying that the claim should be mined, and the only way they can do that effectively is to have a road in there.
So, there are a lot of issues related to this whole process, and we felt, at this point in time, that DIAND should not be ignoring the technical issues we had put forward in regard to wildlife issues, or archaeological and heritage issues, or the potential for other increases in development in that area.
If the road goes in, why not have more of the mining claims access their claims?
This is the one claim that was staked in the core area. The others are in the study area. There is a study 1 area and then a study area. I call it the core area.
But when the First Nation had their R-block in there, there was one claim in this whole study area - one claim. They pulled their R-block off and opted to go for a bigger, expanded core area and study area, and during that time other people came in and staked.
So, it was very recent. So, really, that tells me that people knew what was taking place here. It wasn't all of a sudden that they pulled their R-block off and that was going to be it. I mean, the reasons for pulling the R-block off was that they wanted a creation of a park, and the R-block, of course, was because of this particular mining claim at that point.
So, there are a lot of issues that the First Nation has toward this right now, but there is still the drive to have a management plan put in place, a final boundary to be looked at. Anything political that's going to be related to this issue, I can deal with through our department and the First Nation can deal with it through the chief and council.
Chair: Is it the 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?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I made reference, in my earlier question, to the petition presented by the then-NDP opposition. The petition was in support of protecting the Tombstone Mountains and the Blackstone uplands. It suggested that all Yukoners take pride in the Tombstone Mountains and the Blackstone uplands area and that the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in people are committed to protecting their traditional territory.
The petition said that the Yukon Party government reduced the size of the proposed Tombstone park by two-thirds, from 100,000 hectares to 37,800 hectares, and that the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation and Yukoners who support protecting this area are not satisfied with the reduction of the size of the territorial park and that the Yukon government, in proposing the new territorial park boundary, has not followed recommendations of its own scientists and that the Yukon government's proposal for a 37,800-hectare territorial park leaves important areas unprotected, including seven of nine ecosystem types, critical wildlife habitat, rare plant communities, archeological sites and First Nation sacred places.
The undersigned asked the Yukon Legislative Assembly to ask the Government of the Yukon to restore the Tombstone territorial park to 100,000 hectares, and that another 25,000 to 50,000 hectares or more be made special habitat protection zones to preserve important wildlife habitat, and plant communities and cultural sites in the Cloudy Range, Seela Pass and Blackstone uplands."
The petition was tabled and accepted. It was numbered 96-2-8, and it was accepted on the 12th of March. The Member for Faro tabled the petition, and said that it contained 780 signatures, and one petition containing 303 signatures for a total in excess of 1,000 - 1,083 was the total, and the number of Yukoners on the petition were 1,008.
The Member for Faro said at the time the petition calls for a larger park than the Yukon Party proposes in the area, and he looked forward to hearing, in the government's response, whether the government is prepared to reconsider its position, how it will forward its endangered spaces 2000 agenda in the context of the park, and how it will reach agreement with the Dawson First Nation on this issue.
Now, Mr. Chair, the point is that that was done on March 12, 1996. This government took office six months later.
If they truly believed in this need for a larger park - a larger size of park - if they were committed to the promises that they made to Yukoners during the election campaign, why did it take seven months after they were elected before any action was taken to, indeed, afford this special Yukon place the protection that the NDP sought when they were in opposition? Why did it take seven months for the government to act?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I wonder what the position of Liberals is on this whole thing. I can tell the member that we followed through. During negotiations, once our government got in, there was an expansion of the core 1 area and the study area. That's what took place.
What the concern was out there in the general public was that this is a huge area and that it needs to go through a public process. That's why it was not part of the core area - so that we can go through a public process and involve the public in designing the final boundaries of this park.
So, that was laid out clearly and is laid out clearly in the agreements.
With that, the management team - the steering committee that's set up - is going to be just doing that. They've had open houses and are taking public concerns and direction on this and trying to come up with a final boundary, and are also looking at all of the information that is out there in regard to activities that are taking place within this study one area. That includes mining industry and, of course, the outfitters and trappers.
So, we followed up with that. We didn't have an interim protection on until April, and we had the interim protection letters go out before the First Nation had their agreement in principle initialled off. That took place, but we did move on it. Maybe it wasn't fast enough, and it was unfortunate that claims were staked during that time, but I can tell the member that we have done a lot with the Tombstone, and we're following up as the agreements are now ratified, and it spells out clearly what needs to take place in putting the final boundaries and management plan in place, and we're following through with that.
In our workplan for protected areas, the Tombstone is still, we feel, on schedule and having final boundaries recommended to us by the steering committee sometime in the fall, either November or December. Then they can continue on to work on the management plan.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister said the action by the government wasn't fast enough. The minister also said, and admitted in the House, that it took seven months for the government to live up to public commitments made on the floor of this Legislature in opposition and public commitments made during the election campaign. It took seven months from the time they took office to actually send a letter and say, look, withdraw this land.
The minister has partially, at least, admitted that the NDP screwed up. It's that simple, and the government has to take responsibility for that. The minister has said that he had a full and frank discussion with respect to the establishment of the park to talk about what should happen with the park. What did the minister think should happen to the claims?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I can tell the member that it's our government that put the protected areas strategy forward and we're committed to implementing that strategy and making it work for protected areas. We're doing a lot on that front, and we'll continue to do that.
Our commitment to the Tombstone park, before elections and after elections and to this day, is still there. We're still working on trying to make it happen and come to life. It's unfortunate things didn't take place. I would say whoever accepted the claims screwed up. It wasn't the Yukon government that did it, Mr. Chair.
Even though the federal government signed on to the agreement, they signed on to their part of it. They're part of the signatory to this agreement. They knew where the selections were going to be for the study 1 area. They knew where the boundaries were going to be taking place.
We followed up with expansion of the park and involved the public so they could have input into how they would like to see the final boundaries. We did that and we've reflected that same process in our protected areas strategy. So I would say we've done a lot in this area.
We have agreed, as did the federal government, in the land claims agreement that there is a core protection area. In the end, it's an SMA that's going to turn into a natural environment park. That's what we've all agreed to.
So, in our minds, we don't see other activities that are going to disturb that or take away from the integrity of a future park. That has been our position and we've laid out that position in the response to the federal government. It's pretty clearly laid out that they should be looking at all the technical concerns that we have as a territorial government.
Maybe the member, in her question to me, can state what her position is on this. It would be interesting to hear.
One thing I can tell you is that the general public wants to hear what the position of the MLA for Klondike is on this issue.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I still have not had answers to two fundamental questions. The point is that the NDP made a commitment. The NDP, to a larger part, did not act upon that commitment until April 1997 - seven months after taking office.
The point is that, in March 1997, claims were legally staked. However the minister chooses to slam public officials on the floor of this House, the point is that the claims were legally staked in March 1997. The NDP government screwed up. That's the bottom line. Why did it take seven months for them to act upon this commitment, and what do they think should happen to these claims now? I'd like answers to those two questions.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, our government didn't screw up. We laid out a plan for Yukoners to follow. It's pretty clear. It's a direction that came from us. It took us a year and a half to put that plan, that strategy, in place, and that's the process Yukoners want us to follow, and we will be following.
We're also not going to breach agreements. We've signed off to this agreement. We're not about to breach those agreements. We see this as a natural environment park, and we believe in process. That's why we laid out the protected areas strategy. It's a process that we will be following. There's also a process for the development of this park in the First Nation final agreement.
So, we're not wavering from the process laid out in the final agreement. They have timelines and so on, and we could speed those timelines up. I know that, in talking with the people in Dawson, they would like to see a park created. The whole mining industry basically made Dawson what it is, but they also rely strongly on tourism, and people see this park as a big boost to the community. We feel the same way, and we're going to continue to work with the steering committee and the First Nation on this issue.
In the end, I know we're going to have a park that we all can be proud of as Yukoners.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in the petition presented to this Legislature by the NDP opposition at the time, 1,008 Yukoners, in the words of the Member for Faro, supported the expansion of the park and supported a park in this area. Unfortunately, the NDP did not act upon that suggestion immediately upon taking office. They didn't act until April 1997, and claims were staked in March 1997. Why did it take seven months, and in light of the NDP's lack of action and their inability to live up immediately to their commitments and their slowness and delays - the word escapes me.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Procrastination. Thank you.
In light of the NDP's screw up, their procrastination in acting upon this suggestion, what does the minister think should happen to the mining claims staked in the area? What does the minister think should happen?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I've said to the member what we thought should take place. We responded to DIAND with our thoughts, and we're sticking to those. I don't know where the member is coming from. She knows that the First Nation was in negotiations. We're not going to interfere with negotiations. Protecting areas and developing parks throughout the Yukon will only be done in those places that have claims. We've said that, and we will continue to stick with that process.
Mr. Chair, we have immediately - and it was reflected in negotiations as a final result of the claims - an expanded area of the park, and that was something that we said we wanted to do and wanted to happen, and it took place.
It's laid out in the agreements. We're proud of that, and we're going to be involving the general public. It's taking place right now in Dawson, and there are a lot of people coming forward and wanting to have their input into what they would like to see as a final boundary and a management plan.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has talked about respect for agreements and respect for process. The mining claim has applied in a process as well. The NDP are interfering in that process. It's damage control for failing to live up to commitments made to the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and commitments made to Yukon voters, Mr. Chair. The land use plan application should proceed, free from political interference, as should the work of the Tombstone park steering committee.
Now, the minister has stood on his feet and said that we should respect the work and the process of the Tombstone park steering committee. Why not afford the land use plan application the same respect? Why has the minister chosen to interfere in this application under the mining and land use regulations? Why has the minister chosen that route, which the mining industry refers to as death by a thousand cuts? Why has the minister chosen that process?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I know the general public out there is going to be wondering where the Liberal Party is throwing their support in this whole issue. One time it's support and speed up the process of getting interim protection for the park and, now, you're saying okay, it's the claims; the claims are legitimate, let's see it go through that process.
So what is it? What are you asking us to do? What is the wish of the Liberal Party? Is it to support the claims or support the development of the park?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the wishes of the Liberal Party are for the Minister of Renewable Resources and the NDP government to admit they screwed up - they should have acted a whole lot sooner, and lived up to their commitments - and for the minister to stand on his feet and tell Yukoners what he thinks should happen to the mining claims. That's what the Liberal Party wants.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I told the member what we would like to see happen. We've listed it out in the letter that's going to DIAND. It's quite clear about looking at other things, rather than jumping the gun, and making sure that they look at the technical issues with regard to acid rock drainage, and so on, before decisions should be made.
But I can tell the member that what I've been hearing from here is more support coming from the Liberal Party for this mining claim than there is for the development of a park.
Now, I told the member opposite that we signed on to agreement as a government for development of this park as a natural environment park. That's what we signed on to, and that's what we will continue to strive for, as will the First Nation and as should the federal government.
Ms. Duncan: So what the minister is saying is that with the letter that was sent from Renewable Resources to the DIAND chief of mining, land use was the position of the government, which was that the mining claims should not be explored further. Is that the position the minister is taking?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, what it says in there is that they should be looking at the issues that we raise in their process and not to take them lightly - and there's some very serious ones in there - if they're also going to live up to their commitment of having the Tombstone as a natural environment park.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in the minister's opinion, should these mining claims be explored? Should they be mined? What is the minister's position?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Again, I'll refer the member to this letter that we wrote. We talked about process; we talked about making sure that they look at a number of different things that we felt were important before a land use permit was given out. It's quite clear about what we had asked for and I think it's only right that we lay out some issues for them to look at and for them to consider.
One thing I told the member opposite in regard to an application for road access to this particular place was that it was denied by us. We said that it should not happen if it was going to be taking away from what the original intention of what this park was all about, and DIAND agreed with us and there was no permit given for road access to this mineral claim.
Now, what we've said in this letter in regard to the number of different issues that we had raised - whether they were wildlife or archeological issues, potential for access and increased development of the area - are all big issues that they need to consider if they were going to be granting a permit to this particular company.
There are a number of different things, of course. We asked that people be involved, like the trappers and the outfitters who, I think, have a big say in what takes place within this park and how their industry and their business is going to be impacted upon by a decision that DIAND makes.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister is saying he has raised a number of concerns about the process and has filed those concerns. Is the minister saying, then, that if the concerns are met, the mining claims should be worked and should be explored further? Is the minister saying that these claims should be mined or is he saying they should not be mined?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I said they should be going through the proper process of looking at all the information.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, one of the favourite sayings in the mining industry is "the best incentive is less disincentive". We have a growing conflict between the policies of Economic Development and Renewable Resources, and it's not going unnoticed by potential investors. Some companies have chosen to invest in other jurisdictions because of the increasing uncertainty they see here.
We have Economic Development working on a mineral strategy to define the government's desire to ensure investment in the Yukon's mineral industry continues, and we have the minister talking about the blue book process and the mining land use regulations process. And we have another minister, responsible for Renewable Resources, writing letters to that same process and politically interfering in that process, stating, in effect, death by a thousand cuts - delay, delay, delay.
Now, I would like the minister to state clearly for the record: what does the minister believe should happen to these legally staked mining claims in this area? What does the minister think should happen?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, it sure sounds to me like the Liberal Party is all for these claims to go ahead in the middle of the park. We know that they don't support it. They must not support the development of a Tombstone park, or they are supporting the development of the Tombstone park with mining taking place within this park. That's the conclusion that we draw from it - and the general public.
Mr. Chair, we said that we would like to see a number of things addressed and to go through this process. We also know, and have not forgotten, the fact that we have signed off the First Nation final agreement and are signatory to this, and we'd like to see this park develop into a natural environment park.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister has just stood in his seat and said that he would like to see this area develop into a park, a natural wilderness park. Is the NDP government and this minister opposed to these legally staked claims? Yes or no.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We recognize them as legally staked claims.
Ms. Duncan: So, Mr. Chair, what is the minister going to do about them? There are legally staked claims in an area that the minister wants to see as a park. What is the minister going to do about this?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I've answered this a number of times. I told the member what our positions are and it doesn't seem to be sinking in, but it will, sooner or later. We're not going to be breaching any agreements, and we believe in the agreements that we sign on to with the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, along with the federal government. In there, it states clearly that this SMA is to develop into a park that is a natural environment park, so why would we agree to something and then not agree to it. The federal government is a full part of this.
Ms. Duncan: There's no question that this is not an easy issue. There's no question it's a dilemma for the minister. What is the question is what is the minister going to do about it? The minister has said he recognizes the legally staked claims. He's also said they want a park - an environmental wilderness park. What does the minister intend to do about the legally staked claims in the area? What does the minister intend to do about them?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Liberals, in support of the mining claims, are wanting to try to talk our government into supporting one or the other. They'd like us to take their position in supporting the mining claim in Tombstone park, but we've said we're going to do something else. We've written a letter, and we're awaiting a response from DIAND.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like the minister to define that. He said, "We will do something else". That something else is politically interfering in the process. I'd like the minister to define that. What does he mean by, "We'll do something else"? What's that "something else"?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: First of all, we'll mail out the Liberal position. I think that'll be a good one for people to read. It's no different than what the Yukon Party has been taking on this issue. You don't want parks in the Yukon and you don't want protected areas. That's incredible.
We've gone through a very extensive consultation with the general public in the development of YPAS. People suppose ecoregions being protected. They want to be involved. They want the mining industry and forest industry. They want to be part of designing these protected areas, and it's built into the strategy, and that's what we're going to be using, although this particular one is developed through a First Nation final agreement, and we're not about to breach that agreement or waiver from it.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister can make all the promises he wants about mailing out the Liberal position. The point of this exercise this afternoon is what is the NDP government's position? This isn't about the Liberal position on protected areas strategy or the Liberal position in parks. We will discuss those in plenty of time.
This is about the NDP government's position and the NDP government's screw-up. That's what it's about. It's a thorny dilemma for the minister, and I'd like him to answer the questions, Mr. Chair.
The minister has a problem. The NDP screwed up. They didn't live up to a commitment, and in the meantime legitimate mining claims have been staked, and there is a process in place for those mining claims to go through.
The minister is interfering in that process. He's refusing to say what the NDP wants to see happen with these mining claims? What does the minister think should happen to the claims?
The minister has taken an approach that is not demonstrative of political leadership. It's a back-door approach to say, "Oh, by the way, make sure you consider this, but we respect the process." I'd like the minister to state: what does the minister think should happen to the claims? Can claims in the park co-exist, in the minister's mind?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I've been answering that question over the past couple of hours, and the member knows what our position is and what our answer to that question is.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, as long as it seems to the minister, it hasn't been a couple of hours.
Canadian United Minerals have applied for a type B water licence from the Yukon Water Board. There are likely to be public hearings associated with that process.
Is the government going to participate in both the mining land use public meetings and the Water Board public meetings? Is that the minister's intention? Is that where we'll find out what the minister thinks should happen to these claims?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We will be responding at that time to the Water Board. I think it gives the general public a bit more opportunity to have their input into this process at that time, and we'll be continuing, like I said, to stick to our positions on what we think is important and should be taken into consideration when decisions are made with respect to land use permits.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could the minister advise what happens at the end of the process? There will be a decision. What action, or lack of action, does the minister intend to take at that point in time? What's going to happen at the end of the process?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I don't know the results of the outcome of those meetings and the board meetings, so I'll wait until such things come back. But I know that, with what we have laid out here, it cannot be taken lightly with the concerns we have as a government and as a future park in the Tombstone area.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, what happens at the end of the park boundary process if we end up with mineral claims inside this park? What happens at that point in time?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, the steering committee will be making the recommendations to us for the final boundary of the park. Should a number of different issues arise, we will take it at that point and consider what is involved in the study area. From there on, it's not that the steering committee would be dealing with anything politically. It would be left in the politicians' hands, both locally and territorially, and with the federal government. So, we can handle the political part.
What's going to take place after the steering committee makes recommendations on the final boundaries is that they will continue to work on the management plan throughout the winter and then come back to us with a recommendation, hopefully in the spring.
They may need more time on this. I don't know yet. It's a pretty new process for all of us to be working on - including local people in the communities - and to be able to follow the process in how it's spelled out in the First Nation final agreement.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, there is a whole series of unfortunate coincidences here and there are a series of processes here that are new to everyone.
The minister has said the steering committee process for setting the park boundaries is new. They're working within that process. The MLUR process that the mining company is going through is also new.
Now, the minister has also just stood on his feet and said that the steering committee will make recommendations and then it will be left in the hands of the politicians. The minister is one of those politicians. They will make recommendations and the minister shook his head. I heard him say that the steering committee will make recommendations to politicians on the park boundaries.
As one of those politicians, if the minister receives a recommendation for park boundaries and there are legally staked mining claims within those park boundaries, what is the minister going to do about it?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Chair, it's always "what if" questions. There is a good possibility that there could be more than one claim in this particular park, in the study area, and we'll consider options at that point. It's not that we have something clearly laid out in front of us. What we do believe in is what we've agreed to in the First Nation final agreement.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in response to an earlier question, I said that the Canadian United Minerals have applied for a type-B water licence from the Yukon Water Board and that there would likely be public hearings associated with the process, and I asked if the minister intended for the government to participate in that public process. I'd like the minister to indicate who takes the lead role should the government elect to participate in these public processes - Economic Development or Renewable Resources.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Department of Renewable Resources does respond and makes comments to all applications that go through the Water Board if they are environmental issues, and not just with this particular application but with others as well.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, we're not making any progress with the minister with respect to determining what the government intends to do in this situation.
I've asked with respect to one specific claim - there are a number of other claims in the park/study area. What is the government's plan to deal with them?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: To our knowledge, they have not asked for an additional land use permit, and at this point, those claims exist. It's not that we're going to be wiping them out. We recognize them, but they haven't asked for any land use permit to do additional work. It could be that the ground hasn't proven anything, hasn't proven to be a potential for development or what. I don't know what the reasons would be, but people go out there, stake claims and work them to see if they can potentially produce. At this point, no land use application has come forward from these other claims to this point.
The only one we have been dealing with, at this point, is Canadian United Minerals, simply because it is also part of the study 1 area, which is what we consider the core area and has interim protection. The others don't. The study area doesn't have interim protection.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to leave that subject for the moment with the minister. I'd like to leave it with the comment that, while I recognize that this particular mineral claim is the one that has filed for a land use application, presumably the other staked claims - people stake claims with the idea that they explore them and, if they prove viable, would like to work them.
The minister needs to be clear as to what signals are being sent to the mining industry, as well as to those concerned with the future of this Yukon territorial park.
The minister, in the briefing note, has stated - briefing materials supplied by the department - that there will be a study this summer focusing on the interaction of bison and caribou in the Aishihik area.
He indicated that this was in response to a number of First Nations' concerns. Can the minister outline further what those concerns are?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair. The big concern that a First Nation has - not just Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, but other First Nations - with transplanted species is how they interact with the other wildlife and land and plants and animals. One of the things that they wanted to look at is the bison and their competing interests in the area, with regard to plant life.
So the First Nation wanted to be able to go out and have a little closer look at this whole thing. I think that this is probably one of many different areas that we will look at with regard to how bison are impacting other areas of moose habitat, or whatnot.
I think that it would be very interesting to see the results of that. I don't think it's going to be a heavy, or extensive, study that's being done, but it's an initial one that can get us up and going, and have a look at what this really means to us, especially in light of the fact that now we're close to our maximum amount of animals that we want out there.
We recently did a count this winter with the bison and discovered that, with the 20 that were harvested earlier, we would have had close to 480 animals out there. This is higher than what we originally thought.
We did harvest around 40 animals, but it would mean that, if we had a harvest of bison next year, we could potentially have 80 animals to be harvested - to keep the numbers down to 500, which is what the department wants to see, and not have it go any higher.
So, I think the general public out there, along with the First Nation, realize that we have come to the allowable limit that was recommended, and we would like to start looking a little closer at what impacts these animals have on the moose population and whether or not they're competing with regard to food, and so on, or even space, with other animals.
So, that is where this small study would be going toward, and I feel that others will be coming on soon. We will use this information more for management of this animal. It calls for this in the bison management plan.
I think it's a good start.
Ms. Duncan: 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 the 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 from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. Fentie: 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 5:28 p.m.
The following Legislative Return was tabled April 20, 1999:
Implementation of the umbrella final agreement, the Yukon First Nation final agreements and the Yukon First Nation self-government agreements: bilateral agreement between Canada and Yukon and explanation of (McDonald)