Wednesday, November 3, 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?
In remembrance of Senator Paul Lucier
Mr. Cable: I rise today to pay tribute to Senator Paul Lucier. Paul died on July 23 of this year after a long battle with cancer. I had the pleasure of being both a political colleague and a friend of Paul's.
Paul was born in La Salle, Ontario, a small town near Windsor, and grew up in that area. He came to the Yukon in 1949 and started work as a hand on the SS Klondike when that boat was travelling between Whitehorse and Dawson.
Paul did many things over the course of his life in the Yukon. He was a driver for the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. He was an ambulance driver and a firefighter for the City of Whitehorse.
And he started and built up a canoe rental business. In sports, he was an amateur boxer in his youth and organized a boxing club in Whitehorse. He coached hockey, and he worked with Father Mouchet to bring cross-country skiing to the Yukon. In politics he was elected as an alderman of the City of Whitehorse in 1963 and served as an alderman and then mayor until 1975. On October 23, 1975, he became the first senator from the Yukon.
His varied background gave him a very commonsense approach to issues and an ability to deal with people. He often said he found more wisdom in the conversations in the coffee shops with ordinary working citizens than in the corridors of power in Ottawa.
Mr. Speaker, Paul, in his common sense and his wisdom, will be missed.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Yukon Party, I too would like to express our condolences to the Lucier family. We will best remember Paul by his very active involvement and work against the Liberal government's Bill C-68, the gun control legislation.
The Member for Riverdale North, who was Minister of Justice at that time, and leading the charge on behalf of Yukoners against C-68, received full cooperation from Mr. Lucier. He made his offices available to us when we were in Ottawa; he set up meetings with other MPs, and other senators, and he was one of the few Liberals who spoke out against C-68, and voted against it when it came to vote in the Senate.
So, on behalf of the Yukon Party, we too would like to express our condolences to the Lucier family.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I would like to join with my colleagues in the Liberal Party and the Yukon Party in noting the passage of Senator Paul Lucier, and pass on our formal condolences in this forum to his family.
Paul Lucier was known to many of us as a real scrapper, a person who cared deeply about the Yukon and a person who spoke out on many issues that affected the Yukon over a very long career - both while he was working in the city council, and also later on as a senator.
By the testimony of some First Nation leaders, he played a significant role in assisting First Nations in lobbying for the passage of the umbrella final agreement, and consequently they have expressed some gratitude for his services on that front, as well.
On behalf of the governing NDP caucus, I'd like to formally extend condolences to his family and recognize the accomplishments of Paul Lucier.
Speaker: Are there any introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board Annual Report for 1998 for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 83: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that Bill No. 83, entitled an Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board that Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for the introduction and first reading of Bill No. 83 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Oil and gas development
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I rise to provide members with an update on our government's progress on developing our oil and gas industry as part of our central policy to create new opportunities and jobs for Yukon people and to diversify our economy.
Since assuming responsibility for this resource from the federal government less than one year ago, we have taken significant steps to advance this important sector. The common regime we negotiated with all 14 Yukon First Nation governments led to the creation of the Yukon Oil and Gas Act, which was unanimously passed and endorsed by all political parties in this House. Together with the First Nation working group and input from industry, environmental groups, business organizations and the public, the drafting of all outstanding regulations, including exploration, drilling, production and royalties, is nearly complete. Exploration and drilling regulations have been promulgated, or legally enacted. They have been endorsed by industry as being highly competitive and because they recognize the challenges of oil and gas exploration and development in frontier areas.
Mr. Speaker, Yukon communities and businesses are preparing for oil and gas development. During our trade mission to Calgary in June, over 20 Yukon businesses and organizations, as well as First Nations and municipal representatives, learned first-hand how they could benefit from petroleum development, including the products and services industry needs, as well as the potential for joint ventures with oil and gas companies.
Yukon companies have been meeting the needs of resource sectors such as mining and forestry for over 100 years and are experienced at working in rural and remote areas. The oil and gas industry offers new opportunities for the innovative and aggressive entrepreneurs.
Our government has been working closely with industry and Yukon College to provide entry-level training. Training has been provided for residents in Old Crow, Watson Lake and Whitehorse, and more courses will be offered this fall in other communities. Because of our solid investment climate, for the first time in over 20 years, oil and gas exploration is occurring in the Yukon. Five exploration licences generating over $10 million in activity have already been approved primarily in southeast Yukon.
We are also in the latter stages of the bid process for the first land sale under the Yukon regime in the Eagle Plains basin. The deadline for bids in November 15.
The disposition process has evolved from input from affected First Nation governments and the public. It is important to note that the granting of dispositions does not provide the right to begin substantive oil and gas exploration and development. Before this may occur, the activity must be licensed. An environmental review that also involves a public process may be required under the Canada Environmental Assessment Act. This provides an opportunity to mitigate possible environmental effects.
To ensure that the Yukon remains a competitive jurisdiction for petroleum investment, our government is implementing an oil and gas strategy to guide the development of the industry over the next 10 years. This strategy identifies benchmarks for success and outlines areas that need to be addressed, such as infrastructure, including pipelines. Input received from the public consultation is now being considered, to help improve the strategy.
Our government is proud of our significant progress to develop Yukon's oil and gas industry. At the current rate of activity, we expect that within five years the territory could see exploration expenditures of about $25 million annually.
The oil and gas industry holds the potential to provide many jobs and economic opportunities for Yukon people and be a significant contributor to the Yukon economy in the near future in the long term.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: On a point of order, the third party House leader.
Mr. Phillips:Mr. Speaker, the minister has just made a statement - what he calls a progress report on new jobs and opportunities created by the oil and gas industry. The minister has not told us anything new in this statement. In fact, everything the minister has said in this House today is already public knowledge.
Mr. Speaker, it's our position that this statement does not conform to our House rules as agreed upon by all parties. In a ruling that was made by the Deputy Speaker, the Member for Kluane, back on May 5, 1998, he stated, "On ministerial statements... a minister may make a short factual statement of government policy." And he went on to rule at that time, that the only other direction to be found in the report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges of the Twenty-fourth Legislative Assembly, which was tabled on October 10, 1979. One of the recommendations of that committee, which was concurred with by motion of this House, is that ministerial statements be made only on subjects of significance and primarily for the purpose of announcing new government policies.
Mr. Speaker, what we've heard today is a reannouncement of a previous policy announcement and therefore, in our view, is not announcing any new government policies and is an abuse of the rules that are set out in our House. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, this should not be allowed under our current rules, and I ask you to make a ruling in this matter.
Speaker: The Minister of Economic Development, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: As much as I know it's painful for the Yukon Party to hear about the numerous economic activities that this government has underway, and I know, Mr. Speaker, they regret it immensely, this was a statement of government policy as it relates to the economy and as it relates to the direction that this government is taking - actual concrete initiatives that we are taking to try and develop and diversify this economy. The statements that I have made with regard to the oil and gas strategy and how it references pipelines, the direction we're taking on training, the development of the new seismic activities over five programs, $10 million in new investment in southeast Yukon, the direction we're taking with regard to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and how that will affect the land sale bids on November 15 is all new, Mr. Speaker.
The public of the Yukon is entitled to hear this, as much as it pains the opposition to hear about all the good works that this government has underway in oil and gas. We reserve the right, as a government, to speak to the people about policy initiatives and the direction that we are taking. I would submit, Mr. Speaker, that this is completely in keeping with the past practice of previous governments, including the Yukon Party government, for their four years in office, and it speaks directly to the policy and economic initiatives of this government.
Speaker: Order please. The Chair would like to thank the third party House leader for having provided notice of this point of order. The Chair will consider the matter and report back to the House at a later date.
In the meantime, the Chair recognizes that, no matter what the Chair reports back, the ministerial statement has been given. In fairness, the Chair feels that the opposition parties should have an opportunity to respond and will allow those responses at this time.
Mr. Cable: I have a couple of questions for the minister, Mr. Speaker.
In the ministerial statement, the minister projected exploration expenditures, in five years, to be $25 million a year. Has the minister and his officials looked into the crystal ball to determine when oil and gas will flow? Will that be within the five-year period, and if so, what sort of royalties are we expecting, say, in that five-year period?
Another question that I'd like to raise with the minister - I'm sure he has seen the full-page ad that has been taken out by a number of persons from Old Crow who are unhappy with the government's actions on the caribou calving grounds.
The question I have for the minister is this: has he met with these people and what is being done to deal with the concerns of those people?
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I thank you for taking the ministerial statement abuse under advisement and reporting back. While we don't agree with their using the ministerial statement for that matter, I'm thankful that you have given us a chance to reply to it.
I have a couple of questions for the minister on this. He says there are five exploration licences generating $10 million worth of activity, mostly in southeast Yukon. Many Yukoners have raised concerns with me already, Mr. Speaker, about this proposed work in southeast Yukon.
My understanding is that there's an agreement between the Government of the Yukon and the Liard First Nation, because land claims are not settled in that area. If there is such an agreement, I would like to ask the minister to table that agreement in this Legislature, because my understanding is - from reports I've received from citizens in the Yukon - that all the hiring is funneled through the Liard First Nation. I want to point out to the minister that I understand that there's been a geotechnical survey done already, and that no Yukon company got any work.
It's my further understanding that there's a proposal to do 1,300 kilometres of 3-D seismic in the southeast Yukon region this winter, and Yukon companies are very, very concerned that they will not get any of that work.
So if the minister, in his rebuttal, could address those issues - I believe it's his duty to let all Yukoners know what work Yukoners are going to get out of this, because, to date, they haven't got any.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The first point I'll make is that, under the Yukon Party government, there was absolutely never going to be any oil and gas work, because they couldn't move that agenda whatsoever. It was completely flat and dead when this government took over. That's the first point.
The second point is that some Yukoners are working on the oil and gas seismic in the southeast. I actually had a meeting with one, just a week or so ago, who's benefiting greatly from this. I know other people in the Yukon who are working on these particular seismic programs.
There is an arrangement with the Kaska. The member ought to know about it. He voted for the Yukon Oil and Gas Act. It lays out very clearly how things will work in areas that pertain to settlement and non-settlement land. He also knows about the January 1997 accord that we struck with Yukon First Nations that sets out the framework for how we will try and advance work opportunities for both native and non-native Yukoners in both settlement and non-settlement lands. So, we are mindful that everybody has to benefit from these opportunities, and we've been working very hard to ensure that happens. One thing that Yukoners can be sure of, though, is that if they still had the misfortune of having his government, there would be no work opportunities for anybody in this field.
Mr. Speaker, let me also say that I'm pleased to bring this statement forward, because somebody has to talk about the economy. When we came into this sitting, the opposition was fluffing themselves up about how they were going to raise all kinds of issues about the economy and give us all of their ideas. They've had three years now in opposition. They were going to put forward constructive suggestions, but after the first day in Question Period, they quickly changed from any questions about the economy because they didn't like the answers they were getting. And so today, when we put forward this ministerial statement about another economic initiative, they stand up and try and block it.
Well, Mr. Speaker, this government cares about the economy. This government cares about jobs, and we're going to talk about them, even if the members opposite don't want to because they have nothing constructive to say. I challenge them to come forward with some suggestions - after three years.
Mr. Speaker, I think it's also important to say to the members opposite that we believe that we have advanced this industry dramatically in the area of turnaround since we took over from the federal government. One particular exploration licence that took almost six months under a Liberal government was turned over in 24 hours by this government. The Liberal leader will know about this because the company stood up at the Chamber of Commerce meeting in Haines Junction and made that very same statement, and, of course, he was standing right behind her.
Mr. Speaker, I think that we have proven with the investments that have already come to the Yukon, the jobs that are being created, and the royalties that are going to be accruing to the territory, which will be invested in health care and education and real infrastructure, that this is a positive contributor to the territory.
The Member for Riverside asked about the calving grounds. Well, there are no plans for any exploration activity in the calving grounds. We take a firm position that we seek permanent protection of the 10-02 lands in Alaska, and the Eagle Plains basin is actually in the wintering grounds of the caribou herd.
I've been in Old Crow, I think, four times since November at community meetings, meetings with elected officials in the First Nations governments and discussed these issues very thoroughly with the people of Vuntut Gwitchin.
Mr. Speaker, I want to also point out that Anderson, because of the solid investment climate of the Yukon, recently did a $7 million upgrade to one of their two producing wells in the territory and upped production dramatically. They are now producing significantly more royalties for the territory, which we are using to invest in infrastructure, such as what we have announced along the lines of airport runway extensions, the investigation of gaining access to tidewater through port development and purchase for the resource sector and others involved in trade and export, and also, Mr. Speaker, to help supplement initiatives that pertain to telecommunications and advancement of those important areas of the future for rural Yukon, so places like Watson Lake, and places like Faro and Dawson and Pelly Crossing, have the same level of service as the capital city of Whitehorse when it comes to high-speed Internet and those important services.
Mr. Speaker, we think that it's important to diversify, not only in the resource sector in oil and gas, in forestry, mining, but also in the non-resource sector, and we see this particular initiative as being part and parcel with that.
I would also point out that we believe that it is important that the Conference Board of Canada, who duly pointed out that this industry presents significant future positive opportunity for the territory, must be -
Speaker: The minister's time has expired.
Health Summit 99
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, in keeping with this government's policy of involving people in decision making on such important issues as individual and community health, I'm pleased to rise to say a few words about the Health Summit 99, which was held in Whitehorse last week.
As members will recall, I announced the summit last spring as a way to encourage Yukon people from all walks of life to exchange their views on ways to improve the health of Yukon residents.
The summit involved some 100 delegates and was ably chaired by the territory's medical officer of health, Dr. Frank Timmermans.
As Minister of Health, I was invited to participate in the public portion of the summit only. This freed delegates to express their concerns and opinions openly and directly.
Participants in the Health Summit 99 considered three key questions. First, to what extent are individuals and families responsible for their own health? Two, what role do communities and governments have in making health happen? And, three, what changes could be made to ensure a more efficient and effective health care system in the Yukon?
From what I heard in the public sessions, and from reports I have received since, there was a high level of energy and momentum throughout the summit. I would like to congratulate the organizers, the presenters and all those who participated in taking on this important challenge.
I was pleased to note that much of the discussion looked at health in a broad and inclusive manner, as something that involves the overall wellness of individuals, families and communities, not simply the control and management of pain or illness.
That broader concept of health, which is outlined in the United Nations' definition of health, is the cornerstone of our government's approach to fostering healthy communities.
As members are aware, our government's commitment to health care has been unequivocal. At a time when other jurisdictions have cut spending in this area, our health budgets have increased. We've improved home care services and made major investments in extended care facilities. We have made significant investments in professional development opportunities for health care workers.
Because we recognize that the foundation of a healthy life is built in childhood, we introduced the healthy families initiative, with an emphasis on early intervention, and provided additional funding to the Child Development Centre to enhance rural services.
We established the kids recreation fund and provided significant support for the food for learning program. This year, we introduced the Yukon child benefit and the low income family tax credit to help families with children at the lower end of the economic scale.
Most importantly, Mr. Speaker, we recognize the importance of moving beyond the curative approach to health toward a system that emphasizes prevention and healthy lifestyle choices.
The challenge now facing Dr. Timmermans is how to incorporate the input from the summit delegates into a report to government and public. As the Minister of Health, I look forward to reading the final report when it becomes available next year.
I can assure the summit participants, who have demonstrated their commitment to making health happen in the communities, that our government shares that commitment. I would also like to advise members that the work begun at Health Summit 99 will continue, and I've asked my department to begin planning for Health Summit 2000, to continue the dialogue on this crucial subject.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Riverdale North, on a point order.
Mr. Phillips: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, I believe this ministerial statement, as well, is an abuse of our House rules.
Mr. Speaker, what the minister has done today is to have risen on his feet, and he has congratulated those people who worked so hard in the health conference, and I join him in those congratulations, but I remind the minister and remind the governing party that there are rules set out for this period of the day where we talk about new initiatives and new policies of the government. There are other times when we can congratulate people and talk about programs we've initiated in the past.
Mr. Speaker, a ruling made in this House by a Deputy Speaker on May 5, 1998, states that the only other direction to be found is in the second report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges in the Twenty-fourth Legislative Assembly, which was tabled on October 10, 1979. One of the recommendations of that committee, which was concurred with by a motion in this House, stated that ministerial statements be made only on subjects of significance and primarily for the purpose of announcing new government policies.
Mr. Speaker, this statement does neither. This statement congratulates people who were involved in the health conference, and that's well and good. It goes on - and even the minister himself admits in his statement that he'll look forward to reading the final report when it comes available.
The appropriate use of this time, Mr. Speaker, is, after that report is given, for the minister to rise in the House and announce new policies resulting from that report.
That's new. This is old, Mr. Speaker, and I believe, according to rules that have been made by Speakers in the past in this House, and Deputy Speakers, it's contrary to the rules of this House, and I ask you to rule on it.
Speaker: On the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, well, I can imagine that the member did not hear anything new because he was probably rehearsing his little statement there. But I can tell the member that I just made an announcement here. I made an announcement that we are prepared to follow our commitment on this. I made an announcement that we are willing to have broad, cross-sectoral discussions with the people who have been involved. That's a policy, Mr. Speaker. I made that statement.
Now, I know that the member is stung, and this is probably going to set the tenor of the comments, but clearly they don't want to hear that the government is willing to consult with people - because it's a revolutionary concept for those people across the other side - that we're willing to consult with people, we're willing to listen to their ideas, we're willing to use those ideas to formulate policy, and we're willing to follow up with discussion into the future. That's a revolutionary and new concept for them, but I'm afraid they just weren't paying attention.
Speaker: Order please. The Chair will also consider this ministerial statement and report back to the House again. The Chair recognizes that the statement has been given and, in fairness, will allow the opposition parties to respond.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to respond to this ministerial statement on the Yukon Health Summit 99, held this past weekend at the High Country Inn. Mr. Speaker, like the minister, I, too, attended this health summit, and although I had already passed this opinion on to the minister as well as to Dr. Frank Timmermans, I have to say it again: the speakers that were brought up for the health summit were fabulous. Not only did they keep my interest, but they also made me think about things that I had never thought of before, such as public-sector contracts for services between Yukon and specific hospitals in B.C. and in Alberta.
First Nation elders can be part of a medical team, not only in the social sense, but also in the ICU. Now, Mr. Speaker, the 100 delegates to this summit were given a lot of information to contemplate and respond to in a very short period of time. Despite the fact that the workbooks have been passed out well in advance, the group themselves had only a couple of hours to come to consensus and render opinions.
Obviously the delegates rose to the challenge and represented all of us very well, but there were a few concerns raised about that process, as well.
Mr. Speaker, the three questions that were given to the participants to answer were good questions, but some of the participants felt that their answers were being led in a certain direction. Other delegates did not feel this way at all but, either way, we have to think beyond this summit and respond to some of the many questions that were raised at the health summit.
The minister says that he is looking forward to a report in the new year. Now, it is my understanding that Dr. Timmermans' report will be mailed out to delegates in two weeks. Is the minister going to be getting a different report from what the delegates are going to be getting? The minister talks about his commitment to making health happen in the communities and, Mr. Speaker, I hope that that is so because he is, after all, the Minister of Health.
The concern that I have - and it was shared by a number of people who attended this summit - is that this is an arm's-length process. So what is the minister's commitment, therefore, to the recommendations that are sure to come from this summit? There were a number of very concrete recommendations that came out on Saturday, for example. Two groups recommended that we look at a phone line for health for the Yukon, something that is used for seniors in some jurisdictions, that has brought emergency room visits down by 64 percent. Are we going to be looking at some of these concrete recommendations?
What is the minister's commitment to implementing some of the recommendations coming from the health summit, or is it all talk? When we asked one of the presenters about what had happened to the recommendations from the health summit in Alberta, on which this health summit was based, he was very clear that the Government of Alberta hadn't followed up at all on the suggestions that had come from that health summit, and the report from the health summit sits on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that we can do better than that.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Yukon Party caucus, I rise to respond to the minister's statement regarding the Health Summit 99, although, as my colleague from Riverdale North just pointed out, we do not believe that there's anything in this ministerial statement that was new to report on.
Nonetheless, I would like to offer the Yukon Party's congratulations to Dr. Frank Timmermans, the organizers, the presenters, and all those who participated in the health summit. These individuals did a tremendous job and deserve a lot of credit for all the work that they did. I believe forums such as these are very worthwhile exercises and can only benefit our understanding of the challenges that are facing our health profession and what we can do to improve the delivery of health care services to Yukoners today.
While Yukoners enjoy a relatively good quality of life, this doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvement or that there are not any problems. What we must do is to ensure that the right programs are being delivered to those in most need, delivered on a priority basis, and that the best services possible are being delivered in the most cost-effective manner.
I look forward to receiving a copy of the final report on the health summit, when it becomes available, and reviewing its recommendations. I would then expect the government to produce an action plan shortly thereafter, as there are sure to be many excellent recommendations flowing from this health summit.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, first of all, to address the issue of the arm's-length relationship, that was a decision that was made very consciously, very early on, because we did not want to be accused of trying to guide or direct the conclusions of the summit in any way. The idea was to create an open forum where people could discuss freely their ideas and concerns and give us some things that we can work with in terms of future planning.
I'm actually quite proud of the level of health care service available to people in the Yukon. When I think back on some of the significant developments we have done in this regard, I am quite pleased. That includes everything from increased funding to Whitehorse General Hospital - and I might say that's despite the federal cutbacks in CHST. We have provided training to new nurse practitioners in the communities, reclassified nurse practitioners, designed the new Teslin health centre, now under construction, contributed additional funds for a mammography machine, opened seven beds at the Thomson Centre, funded the First Nation healing centre at Whitehorse General Hospital, established the children's drug and optical program, improved pharmacare, established the professional development fund for people in the health care sector, committed to the construction of the continuing care facility by 100 beds, provided the diabetes education centre, improved mental health care, enhanced home care services - I'll speak a little bit about that later on - increased funding to the Child Development Centre.
Those are on the acute-care side. In terms of the preventative aspect, we've established the healthy family initiative; we've established the Yukon child benefit; we've contributed to the low-income family tax credit; contributed to the food for learning program; started the kids recreation fund; supported the youth recreation leadership program; provided a tobacco school educator; established the sexual-health information line; provided two people to work exclusively with youth on addictions issues and supported the coronary health improvement program.
So what did I hear at the health summit? Well, from one delegate, I heard the need to expand home care into evenings and weekends. Mr. Speaker, we already did that. We've begun that. From another one, I heard about the need for respite for family caregivers. We have done that, to some extent, by the adult day program at the Thomson Centre, which we began. We are building that into our extended care facility, so we're going to develop that even more.
I also heard about the need for interest in using traditional and alternative and complementary medicines, and this is something that I plan on raising with the federal minister and provincial colleagues, because that has issues around the Canada Health Act that have to be discussed, and some of the limitations there.
I think one of the messages that I took away was that we need to better communicate the programs that we have and where those programs can be developed. An area of particular interest to me was the telemedicine and teleconferencing. We have already begun that on a pilot basis in several communities. We're reviewing the report to see how we can expand it and determine its success, but one of the limitations on that was the telecommunications infrastructure, and that is something we are addressing. We will be able to deliver telemedicine far more effectively now with that.
Support for families and children; the healthy families initiative; the early intervention; the additional funding to the Child Development Centre - these were all points raised by Dr. Miller in his presentation.
Dr. Miller also referred to hospital emergency, and hospital overcrowding in regard to influenza and the possibility of pneumonia. This year we introduced, or expanded, the flu vaccination program for all Yukoners over 18 from the previous program that was mainly geared at people with chronic illnesses, elders and other high-risk folks. So, we're moving ahead, we're anticipating. So, I recognize that there's a tremendous amount to do. One of the things that I'm hoping from this heath summit is that it will give us direction, it will point where people want to go with their health. I think I heard many, many useful things from people there, and I'm looking forward to that report. I'm not going to get a different report, so the member can rest assured that my report will be the same from Dr. Timmermans as that of the delegates.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Tantalus School expansion, Carmacks hotel purchase
Ms. Duncan: Thanks, Mr. Speaker. My question today is for the Minister of Education, and it concerns the Tantalus School and the Sunset Roadhouse and Saloon in Carmacks.
The Minister of Education, in the supplementary budget that was recently tabled, has set aside $330,000 to purchase the hotel before - before - negotiating the purchase price. Does the minister agree that negotiating a purchasing price before letting it be known publicly that the government has $330,000 to spend, would have been a good idea?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, I might ask the member of the opposition whether she feels it's in the public interest to be debating it in the Legislature. We did bring forward the supplementary budget, the amount that we have is below market value, and the negotiations are underway between the vendor and the department.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it's about Question Period, and it's about their handling of government policy. The government announces that they have $330,000 to purchase a hotel before - before - they've even started negotiating a price. What price does the minister think the owner of the hotel is going to ask for? Does the minister think it's going to be $330,000?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I'm not negotiating the price of the purchase on the floor of the Legislature. The negotiations are being conducted between the vendor and between the department. We have money in the budget to cover the purchase. We think it's in the best interests of the community to be able to have an expanded site for future developments.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it's in the budget. We're going to be debating it. We know that handling money is not the NDP's specialty. This is just the latest example. This is the same government that spent millions of dollars on a new payroll system. The government that was hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget on repairs to the Taylor House, and the government that spent $2 million on a trailer park that nobody lives in. Now the minister has told the owner of the Sunset Roadhouse and Saloon how much to ask for. When is the purchase going to be completed?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, as I've said to the member opposite, I'm not negotiating the purchase of the property on the floor of the Legislature. The Department of Education officials are in negotiations with the vendor. There is a supplementary budget to cover this purchase, which will serve the students and the community of Carmacks well, and when I have an announcement to make on the conclusion, then I'll be happy to provide it for the member.
Question re: Mall, proposed for Whitehorse
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Government Services on the proposed funding for the Whitehorse mall.
This government has agreed to give Argus Properties Limited $750,000 to assist in developing a new mall in Whitehorse, and I gather this money is coming out of the minister's waterfront development envelope, so I'd like some information on this project and the government's thinking on the project.
The public announcement of the project was around the beginning of October. The question I have for the minister: when did the negotiations between the territorial government and Argus Properties begin?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I'll respond to this as the minister responsible for some of the discussions and negotiations that took place. Any time this government gets some interest in $35 million in private-sector money being invested in this territory, it's worth looking into.
In this particular case, we agreed to participate to a limited fashion in off-site infrastructure development of water and sewer. Our thinking was that we believe that there's more potential developmental land down on the waterfront that goes even beyond this particular site. Our monies are going into infrastructure development, as they have on the waterfront sites into some of the downtown core. We've always been willing to participate when it's going to lead to major private-sector development and investment in infrastructure development. We think that this will benefit the waterfront developable land in the future, and we're also investing in the waterfront area closest to the downtown, to try and make that an attraction that many Yukoners and tourists can be very proud of.
Mr. Cable: Let me ask the Minister of Economic Development this question. The media has bandied around a number of rationales for this investment of public money. One of the rationales I've heard is that the government's agreement to spend territorial funds on the project is that the project would not go ahead without public involvement - without these subsidies from the government.
Was this the government's position? And what was it based on, other than the bald assertion from the developer? Were there some financial projections advanced to the government that would lead them to believe that it would reasonably not go ahead without a public handout?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I know what the member's trying to do, but I can't stress enough to him that this is not a precedent for the territorial government to invest in infrastructure development in this city. It's going to be done on the waterfront area, nearer the downtown core section. The territorial government has, in the past, put over $1 million in off-site development work in the downtown core area. There's been much investment by the territorial government in off-site infrastructure. This is not a government handout; this is infrastructure investment.
So, as much as he wants to create that impression for political purposes, that's not the case. This is a $35-million private-sector investment in a new retail complex, something that many particular jurisdictions are competing for. The discussions around this came at the request of the city. Sometime in January they started, if my memory is correct.
Mr. Cable: The minister has very carefully not answered the question. The question I was putting to him was whether the development would go ahead without the funds from the government. The amount of $750,000 takes about $75,000 a year to carry for the private developer. I want to find out, and the minister can answer this at his leisure sometime.
I have another question for him. Another of the rationales was that the expenditure would provide sufficient new shopping space that people wouldn't jump on the plane to Vancouver or Edmonton to go shopping, and that there would be a reduction in the leakage of dollars from the Yukon. What was this based on, other than a hunch? And what kind of leakage reduction are we looking at for this $750,000?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, here you have the opposition saying that the investment climate in the territory has to be improved, so there's an investment in off-site infrastructure, something that's not a precedent, that's been done many times before, and you have the Liberals opposed to the new retail complex in the capital city. Mr. Speaker, it is surprising that they take this position.
Some of the contractors that are going to get work on this particular project - I can think of some that may be in line, like Skookum Asphalt Ltd., and those people out there who are going to be providing infrastructure site development or are going to be moving trucks or working on the construction of the project - will be interested to note just how opposed the Liberal opposition is to $35 million in private-sector investment, because the Yukon is a good place to invest. And a lot of people have good confidence in the economic future of this territory, and we're proud to provide off-site infrastructure development in that area, in the downtown core, on the waterfront, and wherever else we can ensure that we can provide new opportunities, jobs for Yukoners and major private-sector investment.
Question re: Immigrant investor fund
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development, and maybe he'll give me another speech as he has given the Liberals here.
Yesterday, the minister announced in this House that he was spending $11 million out of the immigrant investor fund for what he called the largest public/private partnership in the territory's history. Now, Mr. Speaker, this $11 million is being used for high-speed Internet services to rural Yukon, and we have no quarrel with that. We believe that they should be entitled to high-speed Internet services.
My question to the minister is - the use of the immigrant investor fund, that money's going to have to be repaid by somebody, along with a return on their investment. So, $11 million plus interest is to be paid back.
Can the minister advise this House who is going to be paying that money back to the immigrant investor fund?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, we knew this would be the opposition strategy when we announced something that we think is a very important initiative for rural Yukon. We knew they would become opposed to this particular project. They don't have any vision about wiring the Yukon, about telecommunications, about a changing world out there. Mr. Speaker, we knew that they would nitpick around the edges of this.
What the immigrant investor fund has done is take money that was invested by people not from this territory who have confidence in the future of the Yukon economy, who know this is a good place to invest, and, Mr. Speaker, it's created the opportunity for one of the largest public/private partnerships this territory has seen - something that the opposition, incidentally, had been asking us to do.
Mr. Speaker, we know that the monies have to be paid back, and we will be engaging in that process. The member opposite knows the parameters of the immigrant investor fund. That's what a public/private partnership is all about - bringing the money of the private sector together with private developers, with private investments, such as the capital infrastructure investment that Northwestel is making, and investing it in what I think is going to be a very important project for rural Yukon for the future.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister likes to hear himself talk, but he doesn't listen to the questions that are being asked by the opposition. We didn't say we were against the project at all. In fact, I quite clearly stated that we were in support of it. What we want to know is, who is going to pay the money back?
The money is a loan from the immigrant investor fund to this project. It has to be repaid. Who's repaying it? Is the Government of Yukon going to be repaying the money, or is Northwestel going to be repaying the money? Who is repaying the money?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the answer to that is both. It's obvious - we're proud to be investing in rural Yukon - in what's often referred to as TROY - in high-speed Internet services. We're proud to be investing in better telephone service and in distance education and teleconferencing in rural Yukon. We make no apologies for that.
I'm surprised - actually, I'm not surprised at the Yukon Party, trying to nit-pick around the edges of something they've been asking us to do, such as this public/private partnership. Mr. Speaker, they can't have it both ways. Do they want the project? Are they in favour of the project, or are they opposed? Obviously, Mr. Speaker, they're not in favour of the project. That's okay. We're proud to invest in rural Yukon, and we'll continue to do so.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I don't know why the minister is being so defensive about this - unless he has a reason to be defensive.
I want to draw the minister's attention to last year in this House, when there was a proposal for a public/private partnership on the Campbell Highway, and his Government Leader said that he was not going to mortgage the future of Yukoners for a public/private partnership. It seems like he wasn't ready to mortgage it for the upgrade of a highway, but he's prepared to mortgage it to wire the Yukon. Where does this government stand? He said that taking a loan out for a public/private partnership - borrowing money - is obligating the future of Yukoners, and it is. So, I want to know where this government stands and how much of the money is going to be paid back by the territorial government and how much is being paid back by Northwestel.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, contrary to the member's assertion that we're mortgaging the future of the territory, we're securing the future of the territory with this investment. That's futuristic; that has some vision. For gosh sakes, Mr. Speaker, you know, the Yukon Party is so stuck in the Dark Ages - the wax museum over there - they hate computers. They hate technology.
Mr. Speaker, what we're saying is that we are proud to invest in the future of the Yukon. We're proud to engage in private/public partnerships when they actually secure the future of the territory.
Mr. Speaker, the project on the Campbell Highway the member talked about was a $80-million project with a questionable turnaround for the territory. It was also opposed by the private sector - namely Cominco - who didn't want any part of it.
So, Mr. Speaker, the member is making a comparison to something completely irrelevant. It's like comparing apples to grapefruits.
We believe this initiative is a worthwhile investment; it's manageable; it's people who invested in this territory because they know that it's a good place to invest. They see a positive economic future, and it's going to benefit people in Watson Lake, people in Dawson, people in Faro, Pelly Crossing, Carmacks - every rural community in this territory. It's going to provide better phone service and communications to the outside world.
Question re: Immigrant investor fund
Mr. Ostashek: This is my final supplementary, is it not, Mr. Speaker? New question?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: New question.
Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to the Minister of Economic Development on this, because he's avoiding answering the questions. He's avoiding answering the questions.
First of all - maybe I should direct this question to the Minister of Finance. We are going to borrow $11 million for this high-speed Internet access to service rural Yukon when we're sitting on an $82-million surplus. Is it because we're keeping the surplus to buy the next election that we're going to borrow the money from the immigrant investor fund for the Internet?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, firstly the member has made some outrageous and ridiculous statements before in this Legislature. He may have topped himself today.
Mr. Speaker, the government has made many strategic investments over many years - this government, the NDP government - that have helped the people of this territory, in every community in this territory. Last year, the Liberals were saying that the budget that we tabled must be an election budget. The supplementary budget that year was called an election budget. Everything we do is obviously quite popular and is irritating as all get-out to members opposite that things that we're doing actually count with people. We're making an investment in Yukon's future through the telecommunications project, because we want to ensure that everyone in this territory, in every corner of this territory, has a fighting chance to make a living, has a fighting chance to enter into the next millennium with the tools it needs. And we're going to invest in those tools, and we can't wait. We can't wait. The time has come.
Mr. Speaker, we do have a good fiscal record in this government. We have a very sound fiscal record, a very responsible fiscal record. We've made public our expenditure and revenue trajectories every year in a way that the Yukon Party never dreamed of doing, as they were jolted back and forth between crisis to the good times during that member's leadership.
We have done some things, Mr. Speaker, to ensure the future of this territory. We have set out expenditure patterns that we think are sustainable, and we will continue to do so.
Mr. Ostashek: I must have touched a raw nerve there, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, we've seen how popular this government's policies are with the public in the by-election we just had in Laberge, where the government -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Mr. Ostashek: No, Mr. Speaker, I don't need to rephrase it. The NDP got 18 percent of the popular vote.
That's how popular their policies are with the government, Mr. Speaker.
My supplementary is to the Minister of Economic Development. This government made an announcement of an $18-million project on October 20. Four million dollars was to be contributed by private partners. He now has said $11 million is going to be contributed by the immigrant investor fund, and we know that that side of the House has trouble adding, but that only comes to $15 million. Where's the other $3 million coming from for that project?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm very impressed by this member's approach to this question. He stepped forth boldly in his new role as third party leader and with all the confidence that the last election result could muster.
The telecommunications project involves a number of expenditures. There's an $11-million investment from the immigrant investor fund toward the project. There's a contribution by Northwestel, and there are also capital expenditures in the supplementary, and in the main estimates coming, but largely in the supplementary before us today, which will complete the total for this project so that we can invest in peoples' futures around the territory - something people have wanted us to do, something for which we know we can't wait any longer and that we must do, and we, ourselves, are going to be taking this step despite the criticism and the opposition from the members from the Yukon Party.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, we'll have six weeks to ferret these answers out, but I want to just continue on that line. On an October 20 news release announcing the project, the government stated it has signed a letter of intent with Northwestel to share upgrading costs of existing systems. My question to the minister is - whichever of the ministers wants to answer it - after the upgrading is completed, and we've spent another $18 million, who is going to own the assets?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm happy to provide another direct answer to the member's criticism of the project.
The Government of Yukon and Northwestel are establishing a joint entity that will own the assets associated with this project. We will both be investing in the assets associated with this project. These assets will be the tools that people around the territory will use, along with other things that we will help to provide and support that will allow them to make their way in the modern economy, and it will allow them to participate more effectively in distance education and allow them to participate better with the long-distance medical imaging projects that we have underway.
So, these are things we believe must be invested in. We believe that we have a good financial package, which we will put together and make happen. We believe it is consistent with our good, sound and responsible fiscal record that we've maintained from day one as government, and we intend to maintain it well into the future.
Question re: Tourism marketing fund
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Tourism. It concerns the tourism marketing fund.
Mr. Speaker, on September 21, a news release from the minister announced a number of grants from the tourism marketing fund. Would the minister confirm that the Sunset Roadhouse and Saloon in Carmacks received $10,275 from this fund to prepare a marketing plan and strategy?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Indeed, it gives me pleasure to be able to speak to a tool that's promoting tourism throughout the Yukon to all points of the world. What I'll have to do here, though, is that on case-by-case specifics, I'll have to endeavour to provide information to the member.
Ms. Duncan: Just to refresh the minister's memory, it was a Government of Yukon press release that announced that this project had been approved - $10,000 to the same motel that the Government Leader announced yesterday that he wants to buy. He says the plan is to tear the building down. Why is the Government of Yukon giving out money to business one week and announcing plans to tear it down the next week? Was the Minister of Tourism aware of the Department of Education's plans when this grant was approved?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I think the member's question proves that the leader of the third party is not the only one that can mix apples and grapefruits. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I will check into what the member says. I will provide the information on what we have done. I would like to, firstly and secondly, maybe, and thirdly, congratulate the people of the Yukon Territory for showing innovation in celebrating and doing things that we have to do to showcase the Yukon Territory. This government will continue to provide those types of tools to do those exact issues. But, yes, I will provide the information on the case to the member opposite.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister has to agree that it seems odd to be granting marketing money to a business from one department and having another department making plans - public plans - to buy that same business, tear it down and expand a school. Does the minister not agree that it would make more sense to perhaps have concluded business with this department, with this business in one area, from one department, prior to beginning a grant with this business from another department? Wouldn't it make more sense to finish the business from one department before beginning it with another?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member is making various serious allegations. She's using this House to make allegations against something that she's asking information on. You're distorting the image. Also, what you're doing here, Mr. Speaker, if I may, is that you're trying to override a board decision. That board is a citizen-led board.
The board makes wisdoms within the parameters of the terms of reference of the fund. I will provide that to the member opposite, so that she at her leisure may come to some conclusion. I commit to that.
Question re: Vanier Secondary School gymnasium floor
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Education, and it's regarding the replacement of the gymnasium floor at the Vanier Secondary School.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, a large number of students at Vanier have received knee and leg injuries because of the composition of the main floor in the gym. When I raised the issue in the Legislature last spring, the minister dismissed the problem altogether, stating there was no clear indication that the floor was unsafe, and the decision to replace the gym floor would not be made until medical evidence had been brought forward.
On July 9 of this year, I received a letter from a senior official - a deputy minister - in the Department of Education that said: "A study is underway to determine what specific problems are with the floor surface, and what would be the best solution."
Mr. Speaker, I assume from that letter that a study was underway. Now, two weeks ago, I received a letter from the minister herself, and I was told - and I quote from the minister's letter - that: "The department is now arranging for a study of the gym floor in the large gym, which we hope to have complete within the next couple of months."
I'd like to ask the minister: why were we told that the study was underway, when the minister's letter said that obviously it hasn't started yet?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, I can reassure the member opposite that the Department of Education is continuing to research the issue of safety and gym floors. There are no reports of specific injuries that are attributed to synthetic gym floors throughout the territory or, in particular, to the Vanier gym floor. Based on the data presently available, the floor is safe.
Nonetheless, we are bringing someone up to look into this further and determine whether there are any specific problems with the Vanier gym floor that are different from the construction of synthetic floors, which are in place in numerous gyms throughout the Yukon.
Mr. Phillips: Well, the only thing we've proved today, Mr. Speaker, is that the minister can read her briefing notes.
Mr. Speaker, I asked the minister a question. A deputy minister of the Department of Education sent me a letter saying that the study was underway. We finally convinced the minister - myself and the school council and others convinced the minister - that there were some concerns. So we were told in that letter it was underway, but the minister signed the letter two weeks ago that said the study is going to get underway shortly - two and a half, three months later.
I'd like to ask the minister if the study is happening at all, and who is doing it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, I guess we've proved that the member can read his question and not listen to the answer.
Our research shows that synthetic gym floors are safe. We have synthetic gym floors in place in a large number of Yukon schools. We have been conducting further research to see whether there is a particular problem with the Vanier gym floor. We haven't discovered that there is but, nonetheless, we're continuing to investigate it.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, if the minister has any studies regarding the Vanier gym floor, maybe she could table them in the House so that we can all have a look at them. Her officials said it was started last year, and she said it hasn't started yet, and now she tells us today she does have one, so I'd like to see the study.
Mr. Speaker, last spring - the minister's in denial about students being hurt, but last spring it was reported that over 100 students had been diagnosed with Osgood Schlatters Disease, chronic tendonitis of the knee, from that school, and the gym floor was thought to be to at blame for the higher number of students with the illness. It was also reported that the floor ended a possible military career for a young man who wanted to get into the military and has since had knee problems.
Mr. Speaker, the council of the school itself identified the floor as a very high priority. There are concerns about the floor. The minister says a study was, is, may be done in the future. I'd like to ask the minister, what steps is the Department of Education taking when it's examining whether there are effects on the students? What steps is it taking to protect future students from any medical problems using that floor, because my understanding is that the students are using it now? What precautions are we taking to ensure there are no more injuries to those students?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, let me try one more time - round three for the member opposite. The department is continuing to research the issue of safety and gym floors. The initial information indicates that synthetic floors can have a lower risk of injury when compared to wooden floors. We have synthetic gym floors in a number of schools throughout the Yukon, as was indeed the case when that member opposite was in charge of Education. We are also presently scheduling to continue putting synthetic gym floors in schools. The new school in Old Crow has a synthetic gym floor.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
Motions other than government motions
Clerk: Motion No. 176, standing in the name of Mr. Ostashek.
Motion No. 176
Speaker: It is moved by the leader of the third party
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the proposed Yukon Act 1999 should be amended to include provisions that would ensure the people of Yukon have the ownership of land and resources as well as the recognition of the Yukon's offshore boundary in the Beaufort Sea; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to hold a referendum on the proposed Yukon Act 1999, prior to it being presented to the Government of Canada.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, this motion, I believe, needs to be debated now, while the discussion is taking place with the public on proposed amendments to the Yukon Act 1999. Let me say from the outset that I want to thank the Government Leader for allowing us to have input into the amendments over the summer. But I also want to say, for the record, that we did not reach an agreement on the amendments prior to it going to the public for comment.
I also want to say for the record that I believe that the amendments, as proposed by the NDP government, do move Yukon ahead in constitutional development and in allowing us to be masters of our own destiny. But I do not believe, and my party does not believe, that the amendments go far enough, and that's what I want to speak to today: the two shortcomings that I see with the proposed amendments and then the third issue of referendum on the act before it goes to the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, one of the problems that I have with the information that's been given out to the public, while it does a good job of addressing the proposed amendments, it basically stays to those amendments. It doesn't expand at all on what other areas of the act there may be where some amendments are required, or what are the ramifications if we don't propose those amendments at this time. Because in my opinion there are some very serious ramifications, so I would have preferred that the government had put more information in front of the public and asked for their opinion on some of the changes that they are not proposing at this time within the amendments to the Yukon Act 1999.
I also had the opportunity to listen in on the town hall the other night, as did the Government Leader, and listen to the comments of some Yukoners there, and those also helped me in my decision as to whether I should wait until the public consultation was over before I proposed this motion, or whether I should propose this motion now. And I felt it was important that I propose this motion now so that it will encourage public debate on all of the issues surrounding the amendments to the Yukon Act.
One of the questions that was repeated the other night was on the proposed amendments - why are we doing that? Such as, why are we going to a five-year term instead of a four-year term for territorial elections? Why do we want to call our Commissioner "Lieutenant Governor"? The panel's answers to those questioners was that they believe it was the government's desire to bring our act in line with the Nunavut Act, which has just been passed by the House of Commons, and that's all well and good, but if it is our desire - the desire of the government - to be consistent with the Nunavut Act, then we need to go all the way, and that's where I believe we have not done that in the amendments that have been proposed to the public.
I have two major areas of concern, and I will speak to them. I'm not going to speak for a long time, because I would hope that all members would have the ability to speak on this today so that we can have a good, informed public debate.
I would hope that, when the Government Leader has a chance to speak, he doesn't pull the same tactics that he did with the electoral boundaries debate last spring and adjourn debate on it because he doesn't believe this is the time to be discussing it. I would hope he would not do that and would allow members of the Legislature to speak to this very important issue here today.
I'm going to address my major concerns to the two areas of that act that I believe are shortcomings, and that's the Crown and right of Yukon, and the definition of the Beaufort Sea, and I'll speak briefly to the referendum in the end and give my reasons as to why I'm asking the government to consider going to a referendum on the changes to this act.
I'm going to be referring, Mr. Speaker, to two legal opinions - one back from 1985, and another from 1993 - on the issue of Crown and right of Yukon. Both of these legal opinions say Yukon already has a Crown. I believe Yukon already has a Crown.
And I'm sure that if you asked the Government Leader, he will say that he believes that we have a Crown. Well, if we all believe we have a Crown and we haven't seen, Mr. Speaker, a legal opinion anywhere - I haven't seen one - that says we don't have a Crown. I know that that's the federal Liberal position, that we don't have a Crown. I also know it's a position that former NDP governments in this territory didn't agree with. It's a position that we have never agreed with, and there is no legal opinion that I have seen that backs up the fact that we don't have a Crown and that we can't have a Crown because we're not a province.
So I'm not going to go into detail on these legal opinions, but I think it's important that we put some things on the public record. And if we go to the legal opinion, which I believe was done by Dr. Elliott back in 1985, he makes some very good points. One of them on the front page is, "Some of the federal advisors are apparently arguing that: (a) there is no such thing today as a separate Crown in right of Yukon; and (b) that there can be no such thing as a separate Crown in right of Yukon until such time as the Government of Yukon gains full provincial status with sovereign or supreme legislative jurisdiction equivalent to that enjoyed by the Canadian provincial legislatures under the Constitutional Acts, 1867-1982. That's the federal Liberal position.
And from this they conclude that the chief executive officer of the Government of the Yukon cannot properly be styled Lieutenant Governor and cannot represent a Crown in right of Yukon. And they even go as far as to say that the executive council members cannot properly be styled as ministers. That was, in 1985, the federal Liberal position. "... and that there can be no Attorney General for Yukon distinct from the Attorney General for Canada." And they quote a case that they call the Maritime Bank case as their backup on that.
Dr. Elliott says that he doesn't believe that that case gives the federal government that message; in fact, he says quite the opposite.
And he says, "Certainly, the fact that provincial legislative powers are supreme subject to the Constitution Act, 1867 was emphasized in the Maritime Bank. However, the Judicial Committee did not treat this fact as ..." something that was that important "...of a separate Crown representation. Instead, the fact was held to raise a presumption against any statutory intent to exclude separate Crown representation."
He goes on to say, "The notion that the legislative subordination precludes a separate Crown representation is at odds with the general principles of British colonial practice and constitutional law. Today, as at the time of the Maritime Bank case, the powers of the Colonial legislatures are subordinate to those of the British Parliament. Yet the colonial governor represents the Queen, at least in the colony with a legislative council and a measure of internal self-government..." - all those that fit the Yukon.
"Finally, it should be noted that the Canadian Parliament has the plenary jurisdiction with respect to government in Yukon by virtue of the Constitution Act, 1871. Apart from the question of entry into Confederation, and the general guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there is nothing in the Constitution Acts, 1867-1982 which limits this power."
So, Dr. Elliott, back in 1985, in his legal opinion, quite clearly said that he believes the Yukon already has a Crown. We're practising as a Crown. Our laws are signed off by the Commissioner. They're upheld by the courts.
In 1993, when I was Government Leader, we had another legal opinion because of trying to transfer the Attorney General's functions to the Yukon, and that legal opinion was given to us by a gentleman who I understand is now on the Queen's Bench in Ottawa. And he says quite clearly in that, "On the basis of this reading of the gradual development of both responsible government and an independent Crown in the colonies, as well as reading of the history of the limitation of the royal prerogative by British Parliament, we would suggest that the ability of an executive government to act in the name of the Crown without further intervention by another government, not responsible to the Legislature and the electorate of the jurisdiction, is a crucial indicator of the existence of responsible government."
"Thus, to deny the existence of an independent Crown right exercisable by the Government of the Yukon is to deny the existence of responsible government in the Yukon. This flies in the face of the last thirteen years of a Letter of Instruction to the Commissioner, and would seem an incredible assertion. Further, it creates certain anomalies, such as the fact that territorial legislation, once signed by the Commissioner, has the force of law without further intervention by a representative of the Crown."
And that, in a nutshell, is what the legal opinion in 1993 said. It also goes on to say that there's no reason why - and it says, and this is on the implication for public lands - that: "Our analysis leads us to the conclusion that there is no real impediment for the transferring of public lands to the territory.
"Further, Whyte and Lederman's discussion of Canadian colonial history leads us to the conclusion that such recognition cannot change the status of the territories..." and this is important. Because they transferred land to the territory, that cannot change the status of the territory from a territory to a province. "Even if the grant to the colonial governments of control over public lands by the Imperial Parliament did recognize a 'separate' Crown and right of the colonies, it did not change the status of the colonies into fully independent Dominions. This required a series of separate Acts of the Imperial Parliament up to 1931."
So, the argument that the federal Liberals use, that we can't transfer lands because we don't have a Crown, in my opinion, doesn't hold water.
What I would like to see us do in this Yukon Act, on the issue of the Crown, is very simple. I took the opportunity, back in August, to consult Dr. Elliott, who did that legal opinion back in 1985. I asked him for some possible amendments that we could pass on to the Government Leader in our discussions over the summer, in the hope that he would include them in the amendments to the Yukon Act.
And I think that we could address the issue of a Crown and the land issue, all in one thing, just by simply putting in the act, and replacing paragraph 2 of the definition of "Yukon" in section 2 of the draft Yukon Act with the following paragraph 2: "Yukon includes the designated area of"... I'm sorry, that's on the Beaufort. I'll go to the Crown one. Change draft subsection 38(1) with the following: "Public lands mean any lands or any interest inland in the Yukon belonging to Her Majesty in right of Canada or Yukon, of which the Governments of Canada or Yukon have the power to depose." Now, you could do it that way, or you could transfer it directly to Crown in right of Yukon and leave it at that.
There's nothing to say that the federal government is going to accept that. I buy that argument. But there is nothing to say that the federal government is going to buy other clauses that we have in this draft Yukon Act, such as them consulting with us before they make any further changes to it. We don't know that they're going to accept that. We don't know that they're going to accept - in fact, I doubt very much that they will accept our request to call the Commissioner "Lieutenant Governor" if, in fact, they don't recognize that we have a Crown in the Yukon, because if we say we have a Lieutenant Governor, that in itself says that we do have a Crown in the Yukon. But yet, we are asking for our Commissioner to be called "Lieutenant Governor", but we are being silent on the fact that we believe we already have a Crown in the Yukon. I think that's wrong.
If we were to go to the federal government with that clause in there, and they threw it out, then the government of the day, whether it's this government that's in power today or a new government, would make a decision - or this Legislature would make a decision - at that time as to how big a fight they wanted to put up on the issue.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say to the members of this Legislature that if we don't ask for the things that we fundamentally believe in - what we believe Yukoners require in this act - the federal government is not going to stand up and say, "Well, you forgot to ask for this, Yukon, and here, we're going to give it to you."
Mr. Speaker, this act has not been amended since 1953 and, quite likely, when it gets in front of the House of Commons now, it'll be many, many years in the future before there's any major amendments to this act. So I think it's fundamentally important that we put in all of the requests that we want at this time and see what the federal government does with them. Then, the government can make a decision whether they want to refer it to the Court of Appeal on constitutional issues, whether they want to not put up any argument and accept the federal government rejecting them, but I cannot go along with the premise that we ought not to include them at this time.
Now, one of the arguments that the Government Leader gave me over the summer of why he didn't want to address the issue of the Crown now and he didn't want to address the issue of the Beaufort now is that it was going to delay the Yukon Act and he needed the Yukon Act for devolution. Well, I disagree. I don't believe we need a major overhaul of the Yukon Act for devolution. We transferred oil and gas with a minor amendment to the Yukon Act. I believe the same can be done for the rest of the lands and resources that are going to be transferred, and Northern Affairs programs. We could go with a minor amendment. In fact, I think the Government Leader himself said that the other night after the town hall, when some of the public were saying, "Why the rush?" He was saying, well, if the public wanted, it could be divided, that we could go with just the devolution issues and leave the rest for another day. Well, if we're not going to ask for everything that we need in this act, then I suggest to the Government Leader that we go with just the devolution issues and not go with what I believe is only half the request that's going to be important to the future of the Yukon, and not ask for it, and to go on for many, many years in the future, in my opinion, before that issue will ever be addressed.
There's no doubt that we can work around the ownership issues of land and resources through what the Government Leader believes is just as good as management of land and resources. I don't believe that management of land and resources is the same as ownership of land and resources - at all.
The Government Leader has not given me any persuasive argument as to why I should change my opinion of that. Can we work around it? Sure, we can work around anything. In fact, if we're not going to be going to the federal government for ownership of land and resources, and we're just going to be going for the management of land and resources, we can do that with an agreement with the federal government.
I think, when we change this Yukon Act, we have to make some fundamental changes that have been bothering Yukon and Yukon people for many, many, many years. And I know the Government Leader has heard, as I have over the years, of Yukoners' desire to own their land and resources, and I think it's a fundamental, important principle that needs to be addressed in this act.
Mr. Speaker, I want to move on to the Beaufort, because the Beaufort, too, is very, very important. We did propose amendments to the Government Leader back in August on how we would like to see the Beaufort addressed. One of the reasons I feel so passionate and strong about a redefinition of the Beaufort is the fact that it's not defined now, and it's not being defined because the Northwest Territories is not in agreement with what the Yukon would like to see on the definition of the line.
We have just watched the creation of Nunavut in the eastern Arctic, our newest territory, and in passing the legislation for that newest territory we see, by the maps that they have distributed, a line drawn right from the borders of the provinces, up through the Northwest Territories and on through, up to the North Pole - a clear line of division between Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
Now, if we are going to be having amendments to our Yukon Act, where the description of our northern boundary now stops at what I believe is the low-water mark of the Beaufort Sea, it doesn't carry out to the limits such as Nunavut or the Northwest Territories. We are the oldest territory, Mr. Speaker.
And if the federal government can draw this line for the newest territory, why can they not draw the line for the oldest territory? That's why I believe it's important that, in these amendments that go to Ottawa, we ask for that line to be drawn. Yes, we know it's going to be controversial, but I think this is the time that we have to stand up and forcefully make our arguments as to why we believe the line should be where we say it should be, and why we, as Yukoners, believe that we should be treated the same as other northern Canadians and have jurisdiction out to the 12-mile limit.
Mr. Speaker, last week we saw in the news media a proposal for a pipeline across our northern coast, that would be somewhere around the 12-mile limit. Right now, that pipeline could go ahead without any input from the Yukon territorial government. That is wrong. Also, there is a very great potential for oil and gas discoveries in the Beaufort. Yukoners need to be able to get in on those benefits. We need to have a clear definition of where our jurisdiction is in the Beaufort versus the Northwest Territories'. I believe we have a very strong argument, Mr. Speaker, when they have done it for the newest territory, Nunavut, that they could do it for us, too. Then the government's argument, as told to the public through the panel the other day, of them wanting the Yukon Act to be consistent with the Nunavut Act, would have some credibility.
We're going to go to Ottawa, and we're going to ask for five-year terms for our Legislature. We're going to ask for our Commissioner to be addressed as Lieutenant Governor. Yet something that's of fundamental importance to the future of the Yukon, the future of our children, we're not asking for - a redefinition of our jurisdiction in the Beaufort. That, Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, is wrong. We need to have a new definition for the Beaufort.
Mr. Speaker, in my letter to the Government Leader on August 18, we gave him a proposed amendment that could be included, which would not be taking a strong stand on either way but, basically, stating out quite clearly what we believe, and that is to replace paragraph 2 and the definition of Yukon in section 2 of the draft Yukon Act, with the following paragraph 2:
"Yukon includes the designated area of the Yukon Territory comprising all land and water in Yukon to the south of the northern limit described in schedule 2."
Very simple - we can put it in there and see what the federal government does with it. As I said earlier, we know - or the Government Leader, I'm sure - are almost certain that there are clauses in there that they're not going to accept. Well, if we put these two in that I believe are fundamental to the Yukon - the Yukon to be masters of their own destiny - and they don't accept them, then we can decide how strong a fight we're going to put up, or if it's worth the fight at the time, because there are many options that are open to us then.
But I just believe so strongly that it's fundamentally wrong, when we already believe we have a Crown, when we already believe that we aren't being treated fairly by our definition of the Beaufort, that when we're going to go to a major redraft of this Yukon Act, that we are not asking for these things.
Mr. Speaker, we have to ask for it.
Mr. Speaker, I don't want to be - 15, 20 or 25 years from now, if I should be so lucky to live so long - to be telling my children or my grandchildren that I didn't believe the ownership of land and resources or the great potential of the Beaufort were important enough to me when I was in this Legislature to ask for them. I don't want to be put in that position. If the federal government refuses, that's a different story, and we can choose how we deal with that at the time, but I believe that these issues are fundamentally important to us, and I believe that this is the time that we have to ask for them. We're not going to get this opportunity every year, or every five years, or even every 10 years.
I believe we have compelling arguments to back up our case, and we haven't seen anything except a bureaucratic interpretation of what the federal Liberal government believes we're entitled to and what we are not entitled to, and that's wrong.
So, I would hope that we will have more debate on that this afternoon and that we can all come to an agreement that these are fundamental issues that are very important to us. And if we have to split the act and deal only with devolution, then I believe that's the route that we ought to go.
I don't want to see the amendments to the Yukon Act hold up devolution either, but I believe that can be handled. We don't need all of these amendments now to proceed on devolution on the Government Leader's timetable. It can be accomplished. In fact, I believe the Government Leader said that himself the other night.
I want to speak briefly, Mr. Speaker, before I close, to the issue of referendum. This is not an issue I discussed with the Government Leader over the summer, but it has come to my attention in talking to Yukoners since the draft act has gone out, and I believe the referendum question came up at the town hall the other night from one or two callers. But I believe it's a fundamentally important issue for all Yukoners, all individual Yukoners, that, after these amendments have gone through the processes that they're going through, they return to the people of Yukon so that they can have a direct say on whether or not they agree with the fundamentals of what the government wants to do with the Yukon Act.
Now, one of my arguments for saying that we should go to referendum - I know that maybe the Government Leader or somebody else in this House may say, "Well, they're representative of the people in this Legislature." Yes, we are, Mr. Speaker, but right now there's a disagreement between at least two of the parties in this Legislature on what these amendments should be. And furthermore, I don't believe since party politics has come to the Yukon - I could be wrong on this issue - that any government in the past has enjoyed the support of 50-plus-one percent of the population. The government of the day certainly doesn't; recent governments haven't; and in all likelihood, future governments will not either.
The Yukon Act, as the Government Leader himself has said, is our Constitution.
It belonged to all of the people of the Yukon, and for that reason I believe that it's important that all Yukoners be given the final say on whether or not they're in agreement with what we are doing on their behalf in this Legislature, on these amendments to the Yukon Act.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to close there, because I want to leave time for all the members to speak on this, and I look forward to hearing the comments of other members on this vitally important issue to all Canadians - to all Yukoners especially.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the member for the comments that he's made so far this afternoon. I must say that, 25 years from now, we might both be in adjoining rooms at the new extended-care facility, debating the tactical or strategic questions of the year 2000, and whether or not they actually resulted in some progress. I'm hoping that we have as spirited a discussion then as we may well have this afternoon.
I must say, Mr. Speaker, in the first instance, that I'm profoundly ambivalent about dealing with this matter at this time in any substantive way. This summer, we - "we" meaning the three party leaders represented in the Legislature, representing our caucuses - agreed to establish a public commission to ask the citizens of this territory their views on proposed changes to the Yukon Act.
We spent a lot of time talking about the terms of reference, about who would be the members of this commission. We spent time talking about the kinds of consultative methods we might support, in terms of funding commitment to this project. I have, in the supplementary estimates, something like $250,000 to support this process, with the view that this public commission would freely ask the people of the territory their views on proposed changes to the Yukon Act, and the people of the territory, in good faith, would speak to the commission, and then come back to us with some thoughts and comments about the act itself, and about changes, irrespective of what we, as individuals, might want to see happen. This is clearly something that we wanted to allow the commission to do.
And the commission is not, of course, going to be reporting to just anybody. They're going to be reporting to this Legislature.
So my ambivalence, Mr. Speaker, is that we are now being asked to decide some fundamental questions about the act before ever listening, or hearing the advice of the commission, or listening to the advice of a public who, perhaps naively, thought that their advice was going to be taken seriously by us before we make some fundamental decisions.
Now, as much as I care deeply about all the issues that the leader of the third party raised this afternoon, I am somewhat ambivalent about wanting to respond to each one in kind, for fear that it, too, might be interpreted that I am more interested in deciding the question, or portraying my conclusions, before we've even heard from the public.
I've made it clear to anyone who will listen that what is in the draft act we will consider, or reconsider, depending on what people have to say. I did not object when the leader of the third party in early September indicated publicly in a press release, and I think in a letter, that he objected to a couple of elements of the act, that he was essentially stating his position on the public record with respect to the issue of Crown, land ownership, Beaufort Sea - a perfectly legitimate position. It's a tactical question more than a substantive question in some respects, because, in my view, there is not a substantial disagreement on the long-term ends that we want to achieve. But the leader of the third party, the leader of the official opposition at the time, stated very clearly what his views were with respect to the draft.
So, at that moment, the public was aware of those concerns, and one could expect that it would either catch on, light a fire, or start some discussion. Those issues were raised at the symposium that was hosted at the Yukon College and raised in the televised town hall meeting that the leader of the Yukon Party and I both attended.
So, clearly, Mr. Speaker, the issue is on the public agenda, is on the table. So any argument that it was simply not heard or not presented to the public is not fair. It has been presented. He presented it himself. I took the opportunity, in the letter of invitation to the commissioners - who were selected by all three parties and charged with the responsibilities of seeking public opinion - I pointed out to the commissioners that, while the Yukon Act was largely a general consensus position, that this is a good discussion document, it should be put on the public agenda that there were disagreements on two fundamental areas with respect to land ownership and the Beaufort Sea, which the leader of the Yukon Party had raised.
So, I made it clear to them, in writing, that there was this issue that they should take into account.
So clearly, Mr. Speaker, the issue is on the table, is part of the public agenda, and we have every reason to expect that, in some manner or other, this issue, along with many others - many other important issues - will be taken into account when the public commission brings forward some recommendations, both perhaps on the substance and perhaps on the process by which this should proceed.
Now, deciding the questions this afternoon in the manner the member presents, of course, would be seen or could be seen very easily by a member of the commission as being a disrespectful act and a betrayal of commitments that we had made to the commission and to the citizens whom we had asked to comment on the act. If we are going to be deciding the questions before they even respond to us, then clearly what's the point of them even having raised their thoughts on the matter? So, obviously that ambivalence is something that is of some concern, at least to me and to us.
Now, having said that, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say a couple of things about some of the issues the member raised, because I think they are important issues, and I don't mean, by passing comment, that my mind or our minds are all made up on these questions before having listened to public reaction.
I speak with something of a historical perspective as to what people have considered to be important in the past, in terms of seeking changes to the Yukon Act, and what many people will likely be saying today. Whether it is consensus opinion or not, I will not pass judgment.
But I want to point out that the Yukon Act proposals that are before us now are modest in nature. The Yukon Act proposals are meant to accomplish at least one thing, in the first instance, and that is to bring to life the devolution agreement, which has been on the public record and in public discussion for better than three and one-half years with some intensity, and for probably 20 years on the public agenda generally.
The promise to seek lands and resource management was in the platform of every party currently represented here in the Legislature. All persons said that they were going to pursue devolution of lands and resource management. All parties presented to the public during the election campaign that they were interested in achieving this particular task. I haven't gone through all of the Liberal Party pamphlets, but I've gone through the Yukon Party pamphlets since 1991, and I've found all the references to this subject. At some point, if I have time this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, and if I remember to, I might give you a very interesting evolution of the Yukon Party position on this subject. It is somewhat changed from 1991, but nevertheless, the key feature, of course, is that they are pursuing devolution of resource management responsibilities from the federal government to the Yukon government, and that's the primary purpose of the change in the Yukon Act.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Act, for anyone who has read it, will notice that, on its face, it was written 100 years ago, and it bears all the similarities of legislation written during that period, which contains some anachronisms, fails to recognize current political institutions, and certainly doesn't accommodate the primary objective of the Yukon having control over its own natural resources.
So when the decision was made to proceed with changes to the Yukon Act, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world, and not a particularly aggressive project - to not only bring forward changes that would bring devolution to life, but that would also recognize existing political institutions. It must be offensive to any democrat in this territory - and certainly to anyone who has stood for election, or who represents Yukon people in this House - that the Yukon Act itself seems to suggest that the Commissioner is in charge, and we're all providing advice. We, the elected people, are providing advice to an appointed person.
Now, the Epp letter has come forward, and the Epp letter has changed, for all time - we hope, we think - in law, in case law, changed, for all time, the relationship between ourselves and other jurisdictions in the country and the federal government. But it would seem to me that it would be desirable to see a formalization of the current situation that recognizes the paramountcy of this Legislature, and its law-making powers in certain discreet areas, in a way that we would not have to have federal oversight of decisions made here.
One problem, of course, with the Nunavut Act is that there is still federal oversight - through the Commissioner - of laws that are being passed. If the federal minister doesn't like them, I guess they don't happen.
But it seemed to me, Mr. Speaker, that if we could achieve the rather significant accomplishment of ensuring that devolution of resource management responsibilities is recognized in law - as the changes to the Yukon Act last year did for oil and gas. And if we could recognize the existing political institutions, this would be a tremendous advance for this territory, albeit a modest proposal to put before the federal government.
Now the challenge for us, Mr. Speaker, is that in proposing these advances, the question is, how far do we push the federal government before they back off or shut the project down, or cause indefinite delays, or it ends up in some nightmare of a bureaucracy that seems to plague so much federal decision making. And the concern has been - the tactical question has been the extent to which we pursue the full range of responsibilities - all province-like in every respect, province-like powers, province-like institutions - in a bill, and how far we push those and pursue those, without causing the federal government to see or interpret this action as provincehood by the back door and shut it down and put an end to it, or at least delay it indefinitely.
My concern, Mr. Speaker, is that it is important - as I said to the public meeting the other night - that we see devolution happen. Now, the leader of the third party today said that it might be quite a natural compromise to see the changes to the Yukon Act that accomplish only devolution and leave some of the other changes, symbolic changes and other changes, to a later time. And that may well be what the citizen committee recommends.
That's not what the current leader of the third party said in the newspaper - or at least was quoted as saying in the newspaper. If it delays devolution, his comment was, "So what?" Well, Mr. Speaker, that "So what?" is a pretty important statement. The leader of the official opposition seems to have softened his position, and I hope he has.
Because every day, every week, every month, that there is a delay in devolution means that we must continue to condemn every person who works in a forest mill, every person who is applying for a water licence, every person who is seeking a mine permit, to the same bureaucratic attitude as exists today. And if we haven't learned anything in the last few years, surely if we've learned anything at all, surely we have come to the conclusion that oversight by this Legislature, public servants who respond to the scrutiny of this Legislature, cannot help but make for a more efficient delivery of programs and services to people of this territory, whether they be resource development minded or conservation minded.
It cannot but help that the transfer of these responsibilities to the Yukon will make lives better for the people of this territory, and I say, Mr. Speaker, that this project should not hold up the need to see the devolution of resource management responsibilities. It is an important project. It is probably a very ambitious project, but we've already got agreement from the federal government to the devolution of resource management responsibilities in principle. I'd love to go into the endless frustrations that we have had in trying to negotiate and do 90 percent of the work behind this project, but they have agreed in principle to pursue the devolution of resource management responsibilities, and I take the position that it is good for the people of this territory that we seize the opportunity now.
If it appears that, in seizing this opportunity, there is an opportunity, as the public may see it, to make some other changes that are irritants to the Yukon public, then I'm more than happy to try to accomplish that task, too.
If people suggest that they would like to separate the two projects, and want to put one off into the middle distance, and try to go for the gold, and maybe seek provincehood, which appears to be some of the rationale behind the Yukon Party thinking on this subject, then that can happen in the fullness of time. But, Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that the proposals that have been put forward so far are modest, long overdue, and should not be rejected in the main by the federal government. The federal government may reject any number of things for any number of reasons. I can't even begin to think of the rationale why some Justice lawyer may decide that "Lieutenant Governor" is the wrong title for that particular position, or whatever it happens to be. There may be any number of reasons why some of the positions might be rejected.
But I can say, Mr. Speaker, that, should we pursue now, in my opinion, something that is akin to provincehood, this project will be delayed. This will be seen by the federal government as provincehood by the back door, and they will not agree with the project. They will not agree with the redefined scope of the devolution agreement that they had put on the table in 1996. So, there are important tactical questions to put on the table.
Now, some people have suggested that transfer of resource management responsibilities is but a poor substitute, and probably not a sufficient substitute for full ownership of resources. Mr. Speaker, I have said before on the public record that I believe we are a Crown already, as the leader of the third party has indicated. I have also said that we should be pursuing full ownership of responsibilities. In fact, I don't see why not, other than that my own personal view in the long term is that I don't see any reason why the Yukon cannot be a jurisdiction. Defined under the Constitution, it is recognized as a self-governing jurisdiction.
We don't necessarily have to get involved in the amending formula; we don't have to necessarily upset the balance of responsibilities throughout the country, but I don't see any reason why we can't be. But I am not, at the same time, naïve as to believe that that is on the agenda for the federal government, and they have taken a number of opportunities to slow down, delay, not respond to, propositions that we've put forward with respect to the devolution project on a number of occasions in the past, and I don't want to give them another tool to slow things down if I can help it, because the people of this territory want to see, in my view, the devolution of resource management responsibilities to this Legislature, and all the parties, presumably - given that it was in their election propaganda - agreed. And we all, at least those of us who are here, won our seats on the basis of those platforms. So for us to second-guess that proposition at this point is -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, it would be irresponsible.
We know, as I say, that while the issues may be tough to address, in terms of resource management responsibilities and policies et cetera, in the fullness of time - 10 years, 12 years, 15 years, whenever they might be addressed or amended in some way - that it is better that we, who are responsible to people on the street and in the coffee shops, in homes around this territory, decide those difficult questions, and sometimes painful questions, than it is for some person, not because they may be insensitive as a person, but because they are distant, unaware of the issues here, but nevertheless insensitive to the fundamental issues at stake.
So, no matter what, elected people in this territory resolving these questions is better than appointed people 3,000 miles away, who don't know anything about circumstances here.
I believe, Mr. Speaker, that, no matter what we do in the coming year, we should at least accomplish that task.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the leader of the third party raises the issue of the Beaufort boundaries. I can tell him, and I'm sure he knows, that I have a long history of dealing with the Northwest Territories and the federal government on oil and gas discussions. I spent a great deal of quality time with Nellie Cournoyea dealing with the Northwest Territories proposition that the definition of the Northwest Territories under law included all Yukon's offshore as well, and that the Yukon had no rights to Yukon offshore - it was the Northwest Territories government that did.
As offensive as that proposition seems today, it was at one time certainly the contention of our sister territory that that was the case.
Now, those are old battles, hard fought, and if it was simply the case today that it was a reasonable interpretation that the Northwest Territories owned Yukon's offshore, then I would certainly be a lot more aggressive in pursuing a resolution to the matter, whether through this mechanism or through some other mechanism. But what we must remember is that a number of things have happened since those old battles. First is that the federal government passed the Oceans Act, which states that the offshore is a federal domain.
Secondly, the federal and Yukon governments signed a Northern Accord with a commitment to negotiate the degree to which the territory's legislative interests will be recognized offshore. In fact, we have already signalled to the federal government last year, under that accord, our interest in negotiating the shared offshore administrative and legislative responsibilities and revenue sharing for oil and gas management. Now, the accord itself stated that, once the oil and gas transfers took place, this would be the procedure for resolving those offshore differences. And we are following through, dutifully, to ensure that our interests are taken into account.
It also, Mr. Speaker, ignores the fact - if we think that there's no change since the old battles were enjoined - that we have a memorandum of agreement between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, which states that we will negotiate a sharing arrangement with Ottawa on our respective sides of the offshore boundary. So we've gone past the notion that, as a basic proposition, the Northwest Territories somehow simply has some interest in our offshore. They have now recognized that they do not. We have to define where the boundary is between us. So progress has been made on this question. Progress needs to continue, and our statement of interests should always be reinforced, and we should always continue to pursue the negotiations that we've agreed to undertake to ensure that our interests are protected.
Mr. Speaker, it is not fair to say that the situation has not changed since the early 1980s. It certainly has. But, once again, given that this issue and the issues of Crown and land ownership were put on the table for the public to consider, we will certainly consider our position based on what the commission has to say about them, because we want to ensure that people understand that we will consider very carefully the thoughts and interests of the general public who have participated.
Mr. Speaker, the member has put on the table the issue of referendum - a fairly recent notion and something that we should put some thought to. Certainly, having a referendum is no small commitment. That would probably be an expenditure in the neighbourhood of a few hundred thousand dollars. But more importantly, we have to decide whether or not a referendum will accomplish the task that we would like to see it accomplish.
Now, the referendum has been put forward by a few people. I can think of three or four people who have made the suggestion public. If there is a large concern, one must ask, I guess: why not more? It may be that the devolution of resource management responsibilities has been on the public agenda for a long time. As I say, it has been debated in election campaigns. It may be that the Yukon Act amendments only seek to formalize a political system that is already in place.
So, that is maybe one reason why there's not overwhelming support for a referendum at this point. But if there is a considered, thoughtful proposal put forward as to why a referendum should take place, and the timing for this referendum, the circumstances around the referendum make it clear that this is a federal law, that we're not in a position to be able to easily get a referendum that will decide finally what the Yukon Act will look like, because that's a matter for Parliament to consider. Then we'll have to consider it. And we'll have to decide in time whether or not we should be pursuing that particular route.
So I realize that the member has put on the table - and I understand in good faith - a proposal for some further expression of public interest beyond the commission that we've already established, and if cogent arguments can be made on how this might be done and whether it should be done, then we'll have to consider that later, after the commission comments.
So, Mr. Speaker, in summary, I would point out to the member in the first instance that it is important, when we set up processes for gauging public opinion, that we actually listen to their comments before we finally decide a question. Unfortunately, the way the member puts this motion is that he is interested in finally deciding a couple of key features of the Yukon Act itself, and that's something that I'm certainly unable to do, because I do believe that the commission should respond first.
Having said that, I have commented on a number of the features that the member has raised, because they certainly have been long-discussed in this legislature over the last 15 to 20 years and even, certainly, long before I came to the legislature as well, and they are interesting and important questions for the Yukon to consider.
Our primary objective is to see devolution happen. My government is responding to a federal proposal to see the devolution of resource management and responsibilities transferred to the Yukon, as oil and gas management responsibilities were transferred to the Yukon. That is our primary objective. We are close to achieving that objective, and we need to ensure that the mechanisms are in place to reach that objective. Everywhere I go in this territory, people say, "This is a worthwhile project for this territory; we need to see the change. We are tired of having to deal with good people but distant people, people who don't understand our circumstances, and who don't respond to the urgency of our issues in the way that we would like." They wanted to see the responsibility rest in this Legislature as soon as possible, and we must achieve that task.
There are many other issues that many of us have been engaged in, whether in public life or private life, that are raised in the context of the Yukon Act. If the public believes some of these issues should be pursued, we will respond and we will pursue them. If the public believes that there should be more time taken on some of the issues, we will have to respond to that recommendation.
But, Mr. Speaker, we will not and we cannot, based on what we have already determined through elections, through commitments that we've made publicly over and over again, delay the devolution of resource management and responsibilities to this territory any further.
So, I take the member's comments in, I believe, the spirit that he presented them, and I think that, Mr. Speaker, there will be a number of people who will want to speak this afternoon to this issue. They should be encouraged to speak to this issue, but we will be presenting an amendment before the vote that suggests that we do the appropriate thing, and that is to wait for the public commission to report before we decide the question, in due respect to the people that we've asked to do the job and in respect for the people who have in good faith given their comments and passed on their suggestions to the commission to transmit to us.
So, I thank the member for the opportunity to clarify our position on a number of issues and look forward to other members' contributions.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to express my thanks to the leader of the third party for bringing the motion forward and giving us an opportunity to discuss it, and for the comments and tone with which the Government Leader has put forward his comments as well this afternoon.
This is an important topic for discussion for all Yukoners. Discussing the Yukon Act gives everyone a sense of our history and, at the same time, a sense of the future. It's important that we speak to this piece of legislation as Yukoners and in our role as legislators.
We're discussing the Yukon Act for a number of reasons, as the previous speakers have outlined, and one of the critical reasons or one of the reasons put forward in the Government Leader's correspondence as a motivating factor for the Yukon Act is Schedule 3: Devolution, and I'd like to make a couple of points regarding devolution. April 1, 2000 is an ambitious timetable, and it has to be on April 1 because of the fiscal year timing. That's something we forget to mention when we're discussing this date. It's a very complicated agreement and discussion and it's very, very detailed.
There are three parties at the table, and there are issues of the future. There are issues around environmental liability, as the Government Leader has mentioned several times in response to me, and there are issues of the past and future. Forest fire suppression is a good one.
There are a number of key points, and a good many Yukoners aren't certain of the details of the devolution agreement. During one of my door-to-door visits in the fall, I asked one of my constituents, "Well, what's your opinion on devolution?" The response to me was, "Well, explain to me what it is, and I'll tell you whether or not I support it." It's a subject that, I believe, most Yukoners are supportive of. We have a tendency to explain it - that what the devolution agreement does is give Yukoners control over their future. Most Yukoners I've spoken to, as the Government Leader mentioned, are supportive. In very, very simple terms, they would far rather express their frustration at the politicians in this building than to a politician in what feels like millions of miles away sometimes - that faraway place known as Ottawa.
Saying most Yukoners are supportive of this initiative is my assessment and the assessment of the Government Leader. I believe it's representative of most Yukoners. However, it hasn't been a question that's been put to Yukoners on a strict yes-or-no basis. It's been a part of election campaign materials, as the Government Leader has noted. I have stated in this House, as leader of the Liberal Party, that I personally, and our party, support devolution. That's not to say that we've finished discussing it.
It was stated yesterday in this House that there is a great deal that remains to be done. The agreement in principle has not yet been signed. Devolution is a fundamental part of the Yukon Act.
It's one of the motivating factors for changes to the Yukon Act, as I mentioned. I also said that there are a number of outstanding questions relating to devolution. One of the points that has been raised and that is worthy of consideration is: should devolution be de-linked from the Yukon Act or treated separately from the Yukon Act? This may be an option worth pursuing. It may be a recommendation that comes from the commission that we have struck as party leaders to review this. For now, however, devolution's part of the Yukon Act, and the motion before us relates specifically to a number of the provisions in the Yukon Act.
I'd like to address, in the brief time I have, the points that the leader of the third party has raised in his motion, specifically with respect to ownership of land and resources and the recognition of Yukon's offshore boundary in the Beaufort Sea - two points that have been raised by the Member for Porter Creek North. The papers and opinions and discussions by well-known Yukoners and constitutional experts on this subject of ownership of land and resources are lengthy. And in the many years that Yukoners have been discussing this issue, and indeed fighting election campaigns over this issue, after awhile they start to blend together. And we have a tendency as individuals to want to distill the issue into something simpler.
I'd like to take a moment to share with you some notes I have from a well-known Yukoner on this subject. Mr. Jim Almstrom is a lawyer and a legislative draftsman. He's been well-respected for his ability to put simply what legislators want into law. Some of Yukon's best legislation that has stood the test of time has been this individual's work. And, while the Member for Porter Creek North has quoted a number of opinions - and I'm not suggesting that this opinion differs from them. I am suggesting that it puts it in simpler terms and is worthy of consideration.
His points respecting ownership were these.
The problem with this is that everyone - and I mean everyone - insists upon applying to this issue the concept of ownership, which we experience as individuals. The government is not an individual, and is not a corporation, like a municipality. The first thing you have to do is back up a little bit and ask yourself what it means to own something, especially a piece of land.
The concept describes a range of things you can do - use it, live on it, mine it, drill for oil or gas, preserve it. The transfer of ownership is visible in the transfer of the rights of use, the incidence of ownership.
These are the roles of an individual with respect to the ownership of land. What's the role of government in relationship to land? There's legislative jurisdiction, and there's the right to exercise what I previously referred to as the incidence of ownership and, from the government point of view - and this is a fairly technical issue that goes back to medieval law, to the fact that lands are held immediately in right of Crown - the Crown discussion that was held earlier. For us as private folks, to own land means we have some rights. For a government, the meaning is not the same.
The ownership of land has a very emotional attachment. The point is, to go for the maximum, in terms of legislative and executive power over the lands - that's the point.
I believe we should stick to the practicalities. We don't want devolution in name alone. We want it in fact and in reality. Mr. Almstrom has also given me kind words of advice to say, "Don't worry if you don't get all of this." There have been a number of seminars and so on that have been held with lawyers, constitutional experts and so on, and there have been many, many discussions on it.
The Yukon Act as drafted now, as is my understanding and reading of it, goes for the maximum in terms of legislative and executive powers over the land.
The second part of the Member for Porter Creek North's motion deals with the subject of offshore ownership. The Northwest Territories Act originally was established with the idea of a three-mile offshore limit, which was maritime law at the time, which is based upon even older precedents with respect to cannonballs and how far they could be fired offshore, et cetera. The original act didn't really address the offshore part of Canada north of 60. With no disrespect to the legislators at the time, offshore rights and responsibilities were not generally a concern at the time - certain islands in Quebec, for example - and the original Yukon Act was, likewise, not specific. No one felt there was any immediate reason to deal with this. It wasn't a current issue. Then the Nunavut Act came along and the Inuit argued that they have an interest in the offshore.
There was also, in the interim, offshore expansion of international law and jurisdiction in this area.
In Canada, with respect to the offshore, the federal government has retained the view that the offshore was its jurisdiction. However, it has been obliging to provinces. For example, if you look at the case of Newfoundland and Hibernia, labour laws of Newfoundland apply. The accommodation is still not a statement that the offshore is provincial jurisdiction; it's a shared responsibility in those areas.
In the case of the Inuit, they have negotiated a land claim agreement where there's resource management regimes in place, and they include the offshore - for example, with respect to polar bears, seals, a number of offshore islands. Islands that are part of the territory of Nunavut form part of the extension of Nunavut in the geological sense. Canada in that case agreed that where management regime was in existence with the Inuit, it was prepared to accept that territorial laws apply offshore.
However, my understanding of the Nunavut Act is that it is neutral on the issue of ownership of the offshore. It does allow that the territory can pass acts with respect to resource management and aboriginal interests in offshore activities. It doesn't let them own the offshore.
There is a great deal of discussion at the forums and at the round table - a number of very good points have been made. There were some cases where they have, in my understanding, found general consensus or majority support.
And I think it's important that, without prejudging the report from the commission, we keep some of these points in mind. The issues that generated the most debate are some of the issues that have generated debate in this Legislature today - the northern boundaries and the offshore rights, land ownership versus control and administration of land, the understanding of devolution and its role in the Yukon Act, and whether to proceed with both at the same time, or to delink them - as a common phrase - is an issue that I'm interested in hearing the commission's advice on.
The symbolism of titles and language has certainly caused some debate as well. I found that somewhat surprising in some respects, and not in others.
There is support, as I understand it, from the Yukoners who have commented to date, that this reflects more - and they are using the words "constitutional plumbing", rather than "constitutional restructuring", and that may govern their advice to us as well, when it is tabled in the House.
And, running through the comments that I've heard as well, there is that concern that has been expressed today - that Yukoners want control and want the respect for their Legislature, for the actions of their Legislature, and for the control that devolution will bring.
The other overriding theme that has come through - and it has come through in many of our discussions as a caucus, and as an extended caucus with our party - has been the concern with the timetable and the need for greater time to have Yukoners discuss this made-in-Yukon act.
Yukoners must be involved in this process - some are, but we need to hear from many Yukoners. Mr. Coates and Mr. Funston stated in their discussions, "The Yukon Act will only be of significance if a large number of Yukoners are involved. The real important issue is not necessarily what appears in the act but how we arrived at the points in the act."
I believe it's very important, and the importance of that point, which we hear from Yukoners, can't be understated and that we have the advice of the commission and the commissioners that we have asked to do this. The action part of the motion before us is the referendum. We've asked and duly appointed as three leaders in discussions over the summer - The Government Leader sent a letter to the commissioners and has not provided, from my understanding, either the leader of the third party or me with a copy of that letter, and I'd appreciate it if we could receive it.
We've asked the commissioners to examine the Yukon Act; We've asked them to hear from Yukoners; We've asked them to participate with those who are very interested in this subject and are indeed experts on this subject. We've asked them to employ the technological innovations used by the Unity Commission. Out of that, I have heard that a number of people are of the opinion we don't have enough time to discuss this and that they need more time.
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
If that is a formal recommendation from the commission, I would urge us all to accept that because this is so important. That being said, we do support the concept of a referendum. I understand the government side is planning to bring forward an amendment to the motion that recognizes the importance of referendums and the importance of the commission as well, and we're anxious to review that amendment, recognizing that we look forward to the work of the commission and we support the need and desire of many Yukoners to be involved in this process.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Harding: It is a pleasure today to have the opportunity to speak to this motion. However, I must say that I am somewhat disappointed by the leader of the third party for bringing it forward at this point in time.
Some of the issues raised in the motion are issues that should not be dismissed and should be the subject of some discussion among this House and the people of Yukon. However, it is clearly premature at this time, and the reason for that is, very simply, that we have engaged the public on this important matter for Yukoners. We have asked them to participate and, in some cases, to lead the discussion surrounding the question of the Yukon Act and devolution of resource management to this territory. I think we would be fundamentally remiss, as a Legislature, if we, at this time, prejudged the Yukon public, when they have not even reported to us yet.
I am forced to question some of the motives of the leader of the third party, given the premature nature of this motion. Mr. Speaker, one wonders why - when he has participated in these forums and been an architect of the forums, in consultation with the Government Leader - he would now snub the Yukon public with this particular initiative in the form of this motion, because what he is doing is casting away and already determining that the views of the public should not be respected. For the life of me, I don't understand what's wrong with waiting until the commission has had its say.
I'm not entirely sure what I can say about those motives, other than the Yukon Party is desperately searching for an issue, trying to find something they can strike a chord with in people, however unsuccessful it may be. I think that's unfortunate because it's to the detriment of public participation. I think it's also to the detriment - which I'll elaborate on further - of the Yukon public and the practical effect of devolution on the lives of Yukon people.
Mr. Speaker, why are they in such a rush to judgment? Why, when they participated in establishing a public process, do they now take a position in advance of any report from the public to this Legislature and to the government?
Mr. Speaker, we are not going to delve into too much detail on the ins and outs today, simply because our primary focus right now is on the public and their views, but what I will say, though, is that for the member opposite to conclude without the ownership of land and resources devolution means nothing I think is fundamentally flawed. I, for one, am continuously hounded by the opposition for areas of responsibility that I don't even have control of as the Minister of Economic Development, whether it be mining, forestry, lands issues, and I get, ironically, challenged by even the Liberal Party, who knows full well that their friends in Ottawa, the Liberal government, have control of the resource.
Mr. Speaker, they can get away with that to some extent, because we're the closest thing to the people of the Yukon. They can't get at the federal minister on a daily basis. They can't get at the bureaucracy - that huge massive bureaucracy at DIAND - on a daily basis.
So, it falls upon the shoulders of the elected territorial government many times. I, for one, believe that there's a fundamental flaw in the logic of the Yukon Party leader in saying that actually bringing the management and control of those resources to this territory is not a productive venture. I don't understand, then, how he can rationalize - like he did the other day in Question Period when he said, questioning the investment climate of the territory, that the regulatory process was a very large detriment to investor confidence and a detriment to the investor climate of the territory.
Well, Mr. Speaker, who controls the regulatory environment? It's the federal government. And how would you change that control? Well, it's through devolution of resource management responsibilities to this territory. Therefore, he could legitimately ask the people in this room, on this side of the House, about the regulatory process in a much more meaningful way.
Now, we are trying in a whole host of areas, Mr. Speaker, to try and nudge and gently work with, and force, in some cases, the federal government to deal with efficiencies and effectiveness of their regulatory processes. And in the area of oil and gas, we've managed to accomplish the devolution of responsibility, and look what's happening in terms of activity in this territory as a result of that. It's proof positive.
But, Mr. Speaker, the final catalyst to Yukoners actually moving their economy forward in a way that I think people would be more comfortable with is the devolution of those powers to this territory. And I hear that from so many Yukoners, particularly in the resource sector. They know that. I met with the Yukon Mining Advisory Committee last week. Representatives from Cominco, Viceroy, Columbia Gold, First Nations leaders, Minto all want devolution - Atna Resources. All are asking for devolution, saying it's critical. They believe that the accountability question of this local government to the people of the territory will make for much better decision making, and Mr. Speaker, they are under no illusions that it's going to be a panacea or utopia. Nothing ever is.
But having local control of those resources is the next step. Mr. Speaker, I can't underscore how important that is, and I'm saying that whether or not we are fortunate enough to gain the favour of the electorate in the next election and still continue to sit on this side or not.
I believe that regardless of the party in power in this territory, the control of these resources is critical, and I think that it is the paramount step the territory must take to advance.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I say to the leader of the third party - who, when asked about slowing down devolution by his tactic, said, "So what?" in the Whitehorse Star - I say to him, on behalf of the people out there working in the mills in Watson Lake and in Haines Junction and in Teslin, who are trying to deal with access to fibre questions and commercial permit holders and timber harvest agreement holders, who are trying to deal with the federal government, which is so far away from them - I say to him that it is irresponsible for him to cast them off and say, "So what?" He doesn't care about those people. When the mills are operating not knowing whether two weeks from now they're going to have sufficient fibre to keep their people working, and turn a reasonable profit, he says to them, "So what?" - with his argument.
Then, Mr. Speaker, he has the audacity to stand up in this Legislature and ask this government what it's doing about the economy, particularly in areas of mining and forestry, that are still under federal control, and responding with a dismissive "so what" to those workers.
I ask him why he would say, "So what?" to those mining companies that have been in the permitting process for four years with DIAND - one of them in my office just the other day looking to start a mine in the area of Mayo. He says to them, "So what?". He doesn't care. That's the position of the third party - all in advance of public consultation and the public commission reporting on the issue.
Mr. Speaker, I don't know how he can reconcile that in his own mind, other than it's a base, partisan attempt politically to try and find some sort of an issue, which frankly isn't catching hold with anybody, because what people care about is the real practical difference in their lives that local control makes. I'm talking about the ability to do oil and gas land explorations right sales, to do seismic work. Contractors from Watson Lake and contractors from Ross River I know are out there in the bush working on projects in oil and gas right now. That's because of local control. They care about mines that they could be working at when prices return, that need to get through the permitting process. They care about ensuring that there is responsible access to fibre that's environmentally sensitive but also allows investment in the forestry sector and thus jobs to flow and benefits to communities, and to them, the former Government Leader says, "So what?" You know, Mr. Speaker, it sounds a lot like the position he took with forestry when he was the Government Leader for a brief period of time.
Mr. Speaker, I know Yukoners want this. They care about it. You know, I'm not saying that the member's issue about, at some point in the future, trying to get all of the powers that be in this entire country lined up to give ownership of land and resources would not be a good ultimate objective, but I don't have the lust for provincehood of the Yukon Party. I get the sense that right now, here and now, they want to damn every other good works in terms of taking over responsible resource management through devolution and head for provincehood, and I do not have the lust for provincehood at this point that the Yukon Party does.
I believe that we can do good things on behalf of Yukoners through what I see as the fact of ownership of the resource in the first place. And we've had constitutional experts come to the Yukon who are familiar with this territory and tell us the same exact thing over and over and over and over again.
Now, this devolution project has been, by no means, an easy task. It has taken the Government Leader hundreds of hours, endless meetings, briefings, meetings with First Nation governments, agreements, meetings with officials - we have virtually done all of the work to try and accomplish this task and prepare the path for the federal government.
It is not a priority of the Prime Minister of this country to see this happen. And if he is given too many impediments to this - problems raised by constitutional experts and people in provinces like Quebec, who could possibly see this as a threat to them - it will be snuffed out in a heartbeat, and thus Yukoners won't be able to make a practical difference on the ground to their lives. That's a shame, Mr. Speaker, because real people are out there working, or trying to work, and trying to do things as Yukoners. To be told, "So what?" by the Yukon Party, in the face of what I think will be a very strong, monumental advancement for the Yukon, I don't think is a popular thing. I don't think it's the right thing for my family, the children I hope to have in the future, the next generation of Yukoners. I think it is a mistake. If at some point we want to take that path, then I say, "Let's take that path." But let's ensure that we first get the job done that really matters to Yukoners.
It's too easy to find fault with the federal government with a proposal that brings the endless complications and legal arguments and wrangling of the question of ownership. The leader of the Liberal Party talked about, in her view, the differences between government and a Crown versus an individual and the concept of ownership. In her view, it made no practical difference. We don't share that specific view. In our view, we already have a Crown in the territory. But what we are concerned about as a government is what's going to make the difference to people who want to see the regulatory processes Yukon-ized - who want to see wood flow to mills in an environmentally responsible manner that's going to keep people working and allow people to make investments in that field that so desperately needs, and has been crying out for, leadership for so long in this territory.
How many times have we seen the commercial timber permit holders surround the federal building, raising concerns about the processes involved? They can't get at the federal minister. The federal minister is an extremely important person in this country, very busy, and has huge responsibilities, and while I wish and I believe they should spend more time on the economy of the Yukon, the harsh and brutal reality is that they don't - as much as I believe that some of them might like to - because of the pressures that are borne on them. And I criticize them for that, Mr. Speaker, but I also do have empathy for the reality that we face, and that's why we are so focused on taking care of business and doing it in the manner of devolution, because I see that as the ultimate answer in this respect.
I also say that in terms of the member opposite's motion about - the part of the motion about the Beaufort, there's a process that has been outlined that the Government Leader ran through in extensive terms about the questions about the Beaufort Sea. There has been acknowledgement that the Yukon has an interest. It has been advanced to that point. There's a process established for determining a settlement to that interest. There are issues laid out in the Northern Accord, which was signed by the leader of the Yukon Party, that establishes processes for determining those issues, the outcomes of them. We don't have to prejudge that here on the floor of this Legislature, and say, "So what" to the important task of devolving responsibility to the territory and control to the local Yukon government, regardless - I say, and I can't stress it enough. Even, Mr. Speaker, if I were on the other side of the House, facing a government that I was not a member of, I would say that this has to be done.
Having seen what I've seen, having felt what I've felt in this position, the frustration of having to go through, I mean, a situation whereby, in my three years as Economic Development minister, I've never been afforded a face-to-face meeting with the minister responsible for DIAND.
I've asked in the past but, Mr. Speaker, the answer is usually that there's just no time.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: I hear something from the wax museum up in the back there. He says that should tell me something. Yes, that tells me that it's time for devolution because the federal ministers are not as interested in the Yukon as they should be.
So, Mr. Speaker, I want to also say that, given that experience and given the criticisms I've heard from the opposition about mine permitting and forestry and what's happening in those industries, what's happening with issues pertaining to land, the next Economic Development minister of the territory needs to have those tools at their disposal, and they need to be properly held accountable for the actual areas that they control. When it comes to oil and gas development in this territory, that has been one of the most exciting and fruitful prospects I've been involved with, because we actually have the ability to do things on our own. We don't have to go through the federal government at all times.
And we take criticism. We are held accountable, but we actually do things, and I think that's the best way for this Legislature to operate. I think the Legislature of the Yukon has matured to the point where we can handle these responsibilities. In every other aspect in the past of devolution -
Speaker: The minister has two minutes.
Hon. Mr. Harding: In every other aspect of devolution to this territory in the past, the Legislature has proved the ability - the Yukon Legislature, the Government of Yukon - to at least, although we may disagree about direction, handle and manage the resources.
On the question of the referendum proposed in this, the Government Leader has taken the position that again, we're not opposed to that concept, but it's got to be pointed out that every political party in this House supported the concept of devolution, and that when the Yukon Party was proposing the devolution of forestry, they did not propose a referendum, nor did they propose the ultimate ownership question. And then they gave up on it.
So, Mr. Speaker, they're not consistent. So we'll wait to see what the public has to say, and then we'll determine the outcome of these questions after we've listened to people. I think that's the responsible course of action to take. I think it's the course of action that will provide the biggest difference in the lives of Yukoners in their day-to-day working lives. And I think it's the course of action that's respectful of all those who are showing up at these meetings, thinking that the people in this room are actually listening to what they're saying, after they were the architects of the process.
So, Mr. Speaker, the motion is premature. We can't support it at this time.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest today to the previous speakers in the House, and I noted that for the most part every speaker, with the exception of the last speaker, rose and spoke to this in what I would call a constructive and suggestive way. They made suggestions and gave ideas of how this particular issue could be resolved.
Even the Government Leader spoke well about the issues that were raised by the leader of the third party, and didn't seem to resort to the nasty sort of mudslinging approach that sometimes happens in this House.
I was a bit disappointed to hear the last speaker, who can't seem to get himself out of that mode, that he can't come in here and deal with a motion and listen to what other members say. In fact I don't think he listens to what any member has said; obviously he didn't listen to what the member who proposed the motion said, because he didn't comment much on that. He was more interested in politicizing the issue again and ranting and raving, as he normally does on the issue.
Mr. Speaker, I don't think the intent of this motion at all is to do an end-run around the public consultations. I think that our concern has been, now and in the past, that the paper that went out to the general public wasn't complete. There are several issues here that were lacking, and we brought them forward in this motion, with respect to the ownership of land and resources, as well as the recognition of our offshore.
And, as well, Mr. Speaker, both the leader of the third party and I have been knocking on doors in our riding and have been talking to Yukoners and heard from Yukoners in the by-election, and those people have told us that they would like to see a referendum on this issue. It's a very important issue to them, and Yukoners would like to have a full airing and an opportunity to vote on it. I don't think that's asking an awful lot. I mean, after all, it is the Yukon's constitution, and it is probably the most significant thing we're doing. I mean, the Member for Faro said, well, we didn't suggest a referendum on the forestry devolution, but that's a lot different than what we're talking about here. This is the devolution of all the powers, or most of the powers, the federal government has with respect to governing the Yukon.
I am one who would agree with the members who have spoken previously who have suggested that this shouldn't be delayed, because decisions that are made in the Yukon by Yukoners are at least more accountable than decisions that have been made in the past by Ottawa. But that shouldn't be the reason to sort of damn the torpedoes and not try and get as much as we can get. You know, Mr. Speaker, my mother and father raised me to be a person who, if you really want something, you should at least ask for it - work toward it and ask for it - and I think that the government should be asking for these things. If one wants a raise in their job, one of the best ways to get a raise is to approach your boss and ask for a raise if you want one and not be afeared that, if you ask for a raise, you'll be fired. I mean, the Yukon government should take a little stronger stand.
My concern here is that we're in the last year of a four-year mandate of this government and the Government Leader wants to put a feather in his cap and go down as the individual who brought devolution to the territory.
I don't have a problem with that. I don't have a problem with that, but you know, there are lots of other things that could have been settled years ago - for instance, Mr. Speaker, land claims could have been settled years ago if people at the table just wanted them settled when they were there and gave in on all sides to just get a settlement. But what people did is they sat down at that table and negotiated, and they have negotiated for a long time, a lot longer than a lot of us ever wanted. And we're getting a better settlement out of it. If we had settled back 25 or 30 years ago, Mr. Speaker, your riding of Vuntut Gwitchin, I'll bet you, wouldn't have received the settlement that they're getting today.
People stuck to it; people stuck to their guns. The Vuntut Gwitchin said, "This is important to us, this is what we need, this is what we want," and they didn't just give in so that the chief of the day could say, "I settled the land claim." They fought hard for what they wanted, and they received a good settlement in the end because they stood by what they thought was important for their people.
I think that's why the Government of Yukon shouldn't be afraid to stand up for Yukoners' rights and demand what other areas have gotten in the past. You know, the Member for Faro said that this was about the Yukon Party wanting provincehood. He's got it all wrong. He doesn't understand the situation.
Mr. Speaker, the Nunavut got some of their offshore rights, far more than we're getting, and they don't have provincehood. They probably asked for it, though, and that's maybe why they got it. But I guess if you're paranoid and totally afraid that the federal government will walk away from the table and it won't happen in your mandate and you won't be able to stand up when it's election time and say, "Look what else we did," or "Look what we did," then maybe you back away, and that's what I'm afraid is happening here.
Why aren't we asking? You know, all they can say is no. We've waited this long for it to be devolved; we knew we needed to get it as soon as possible, but we don't want to see short-term gain and some long-term pain down the road when we wish we would have had our offshore or we wish we would have had full rights. Why are we compromising? It seems to me to be driven more by a political agenda than being driven by an agenda that cares about what Yukoners should get and want in the future.
Provincehood will come, Mr. Speaker, when Yukoners are ready for it, and not before, and that, too, should be by referendum.
It's a significant move in the future of the Yukon Territory. But we shouldn't back away from things that others get - things that others, in some cases, have sometimes gotten and not had to push very far for. I'll bet you that Nunavut didn't have to kick, holler and scream to get some of the offshore and other rights they received. But, Mr. Speaker, they got them, and we're Canadians as much as they're Canadians. We have as much right to what they got, so we should ask for it. I don't think that's too much to put on the table.
It'll be interesting to see what the words of the amendment will be that are coming from the side opposite and see whether or not we can support them. It's hard to determine that at this stage, because we haven't heard anybody speak on amendments. We've heard rumblings that they're coming shortly, so we'll have to wait and see on that one. I know that the leader of the government mentioned a letter he had sent to the commission, talking about differences in opinion. It would be nice if the Government Leader would make that letter available to the opposition parties so that we could at least see what he wrote in his letter to the commission. It might have even been a possibility that if we saw the letter before this motion came forward, the motion may not have had to be worded in this fashion. However, all we received from the Government Leader to our suggestions and ideas was an outright rejection. So, we aren't left with too many other options to bring forward our points to the general public.
I think the general public has a right to understand all sides of this issue. The paper that went out to the general public, Mr. Speaker, didn't ask about the Crown or about redefining the Beaufort. It's been said by other members in this House before that this is an extremely complicated issue.
I've been in this Legislature 15 years, and I don't profess to understand it all, or even the majority of it. It's a very complicated issue, and that is evident by some of the discussions that have taken place in some of the forums the government has had with the commission. Yukoners are not quite clear on what we are doing, and that's why I think that all the options should have been on the table, all the options should have been out there for Yukoners to look at - what do others get, what do others have, what is the difference between having the Crown and not; what is the difference between the powers we have over the Beaufort now and other jurisdictions would have over the Beaufort in the future?
I think the leader of the third party mentioned the proposed pipeline that's going into northern Yukon. I mean, at the present time, it's proposed to go under the water, and I don't suppose it'll go on the far side of Herschel Island. It'll probably go between Herschel Island and the mainland, and that means it's going to be within three miles, at least, of the Yukon's north coast, because of the very - you know the narrows up there, Mr. Speaker; you've probably been up there to look at that, as I have, and that pipeline will be very close to the shore, and Yukoners won't have much of a say with respect to what will go on up there.
I would think that it could create real problems for us in the future, if we didn't have an opportunity to say anything. I mean, there's a lot of wildlife up north there that travels and migrates in and out of that area year after year after year. You know, Mr. Speaker, when I was up in the Beaufort Sea, one of the discussions I had with the parks people up there, and others, was that that's very shallow water in the northern Yukon, all around the north Yukon there, other than in Pauline Cove, and that the ice scars the bottom in many cases year after year, as the ice moves and shifts in that area.
So, the technology that they would have to use there would have to be pretty advanced to avoid any rupture of a pipeline or anything up there that might cause all kinds of damage to the wildlife on the north shore. And the Yukon won't have much of a say when it comes to what's going to go on up there, because it sounds like we're not really interested. We're happy with the old agreements, and we don't really care that Nunavut got more control of its offshore than we'll ever get. We're just afraid to ask, because the whole deal might come crumbling down, and it might not happen during our mandate. That's the impression I got from the Government Leader.
And I think it's bigger than that. It's much bigger than that. We should be doing what's best for Yukoners, as was done in land claims under land claims agreements. And if takes a little more time, it takes a little more time. I would like to see it settled tomorrow, but we shouldn't sell the farm just to get an agreement - just to have a nice signing ceremony, where we pass each other these gold pens, and shake each other's hands, and get a few headlines in the paper.
That's the concern I have - that we'll get some control, but we won't get what we should be getting. We should work hard and work together to convince the federal Liberal government that Yukoners deserve a better deal. If the federal government says "No", we can always fall back on positions that we've taken in the past. If we can't get everything, it's about negotiations. You at least get the best you can. But if you never ask, you'll never even have the item on the table. You'll never even know they were going to give it to you or were prepared to give it to you. That's the problem I have with where we're going now with this particular issue.
So, Mr. Speaker, I don't have a lot more to say. I may speak again to the amendment to the motion. I'll have to see what it actually says first of all, and if it completely changes the intent of the motion, or if we are serious about including everybody's ideas in this, and maybe not afraid to ask for what we should be receiving, then I will judge at that time whether or not I can support the amendment. But I do support the motion as put forward by the Member for Porter Creek North.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, it's always an interesting situation to get up and speak after the Member for Riverdale North. Although his leader commenced this debate on the motion this afternoon in the manner that he stated this was to be non-confrontational, it's very difficult not to be confrontational after listening to some of the rhetoric from the member opposite.
First, let me say I don't think this side of the House disputes the merit or the thoughts behind ownership in this territory. I think what we question is the timing and the motives of such a motion being tabled here today. Given the long three-and-a-half-year process that has just been gone through in terms of negotiating a devolution agreement, which would give Yukoners control and management of resources and lands in this territory, one would wonder what kind of process would we have to go through to achieve this next level.
Secondly, there has been a commission established, Mr. Speaker, a public forum, a commission, and though the Yukon Party went on and on and on about the need for the public to be involved, whether it be through a referendum and so on and so forth, that's the commission's work, and we are not here to preclude that work. We await the findings of the commission and its advice to government, and to this Legislature for that matter.
So, though the motion that the former government leader, a former leader of the official opposition and now a leader of the third party, and I think there's a pattern developing here - it's former - though his motion certainly would have merit, the motives are definitely in question.
The Yukon Party can't have this both ways. This is the same party that, when in power, when in government, tried, or at least made a failed attempt, to achieve control of forestry, which, when they got into difficulties with the negotiations, just bailed out - threw up their hands and gave it up. Again, one would wonder how they would approach such a long, hard process of negotiating provincehood in this territory. So they can't have it both ways, Mr. Speaker.
The facts are that devolution will certainly ensure our ability to maximize benefits in this territory, to focus locally, to get beyond the difficulties that we've faced for many years now. The opposition parties are very quick to condemn this government because of our economic situation. However, we've done much in terms of addressing that situation. No government, no matter how astute or how much potential you may have, is going to immediately solve, overnight, the closure of Faro and the loss of those jobs. That's simply something that cannot happen overnight.
What we have done, Mr. Speaker, is focus on our economy in many areas, including mining, but focus on improving other areas, move away from the boom-and-bust cycles, so when things like Faro happen, we do not have such a dramatic, negative impact in this territory. So we have done much in that regard, and obviously one of the main components of what we've done is the negotiation of the devolution agreement. And these things are all leading to our economy, which is now turning around, which is now becoming more and more diversified, and one of the most important elements of that is access to resource.
The devolution agreement today gives the Yukon Territory that ability to make those decisions here, to remove one layer of bureaucracy that has created many barriers here in terms of us being able to diversify and develop a strong, vibrant economy in this territory.
Now, in the leader of the third party's haste to make political hay with the devolution issue, he has stated that the devolution agreement negotiated to date simply is not good enough. He's dissatisfied with the changes to the Yukon Act, and he goes on to say - and this is a quote in a local newspaper, even though he admits that moving down the road he promotes that his motion could delay a great deal the transfer of responsibilities to this territory, even though he admits it, he goes on to say in the article: "Ostashek said one of McDonald's reasons for not asking for full ownership of land is that it could delay the devolution of natural resource control, which is slated to happen in April 2000." Ostashek said he believes that this will hold up the devolution process, "and I say, 'So what.' "
What he's saying to many, many Yukoners, who depend on access to resources, what he's saying to Yukon communities, who to a great degree are dependent on access to resources, he's saying to them: "So what, you'll just have to wait. Don't worry about going broke. Don't worry about having to possibly move from the Yukon because you cannot create a livelihood for yourself. What we need to do is have this political argument and, in our need to play partisan politics, we'll just ignore you. We'll forget all about you, and we'll go after the government in the Legislature with this motion."
I think that's a sad statement and I think the Yukon Party should be ashamed of this approach. Nothing we do today in devolution is going to preclude us from taking next steps, whether it be addressing full ownership, whether it be the question of a Crown in the Yukon, and there are many, many legal arguments around that which I'm not about to get into.
The leader of the third party brought up the point that offshore, the Beaufort Sea and those interests, suddenly has become a big issue for him. The facts are, Mr. Speaker, that when he signed the oil and gas accord with Canada, the Canada-Yukon Oil and Gas Accord, he signed us into a process that is dealing with those issues. How readily he forgets.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party is delivering mixed messages on these issues. They claim, through this motion, that suddenly they are standing up for Yukoners' rights, protecting Yukoners' rights. Where were they when they were in government? Where were they when they were needed to stand up for Yukoners' rights and protect Yukoners' interests? What did they say to the Yukon public when it came to such issues as forestry? Nothing we can do, it's a federal problem.
Today, with a simple motion, though it has some merit in terms of the idea, this motion is nothing more than partisan politics and gamesmanship by the third party.
Now, the Liberals have supported devolution. I don't think they see any reason not to, but the Liberal leader hasn't taken any position on this motion. The leader of the official opposition has skirted around the edges and quoted from many, many documents and legal arguments and experts' opinions. It's all wonderful, but what was the Liberals', the leader of the official opposition's, position on this motion?
Did the Liberals, or the official opposition, support or reject this motion? Those are questions you now have to start answering. Those are some of the things that you must start presenting to the Yukon public. You are now the official opposition.
Mr. Speaker, I think it's fair to say that whether or not devolution happens, the Government of the Yukon Territory must work very hard to ensure that we do have sustainable development, that we do have a diversified economy, that we do protect our land base, and that we do create a bright future for the Yukon and future generations of this territory. But what we've done in the past three and one-half years is work hard in negotiating an agreement that would certainly take a huge and very positive step toward a much better future for this territory. Again, I would emphasize that it doesn't preclude us from following through with even further potential, such as ownership.
Seeing as the opposition benches have quoted from expert opinions, I would just like to provide one myself from an expert on devolution and land ownership. This particular expert states, "Asking the federal government for full ownership of territory and land would probably be a pointless exercise by the Yukon government." That is the belief of this expert, who is also an expert on our Constitution and history. He believes that, at this time, the approach that the Yukon Party presents through this motion would be pointless. It would be a fruitless attempt at this time, which leads me to believe that the route that the NDP government has taken is possibly, at this point in time, the best possible route for us to take in this territory to achieve what we desire and to improve what we can do here.
And if we use examples today, the oil and gas accord, and the devolution of that particular resource, there's no question that we have been much better able to produce in that area once we have taken on the control.
I believe we should stick to the process, Mr. Speaker. Let's wait for the commission's findings; let them then report to the government and to this Legislature. Let us follow that process and not pre-empt it.
Mr. Fentie: At this time, with regard to that very concept, I would like to propose an amendment to the motion. I move
THAT Motion No. 176 be amended by deleting the words after the expression "opinion of this House" and substituting for them the following:
"that suggestions to change the proposed Yukon Act be considered by this House after receipt of the report of the Special Commission on the Yukon Act."
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Watson Lake
THAT Motion No. 176 be amended by deleting the words after the expression "opinion of this House" and substituting for them the following:
"that suggestions to change the proposed Yukon Act be considered by this House after receipt of the report of the Special Commission on the Yukon Act."
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I believe this amendment is consistent with what the last three and a half years have produced in this territory in terms of the Yukon obtaining management and controls of its land and resources. I think and believe firmly that we should not jeopardize the improvement that we have realized in terms of turning our economy around and diversifying our economy. Devolution, the actual agreement today, as it's structured, will help that greatly, as I've pointed out before.
There is a need here to ensure that we don't jeopardize the investment of millions of dollars in such areas as forestry and oil and gas, that we don't jeopardize the creation of those jobs and the benefits that Yukoners will receive. To head down a road of uncertainty, of the possibility of getting into long, hard negotiations on provincehood at this time does not seem to be a wise step to take.
So, Mr. Speaker, I believe that this amendment keeps us to a process that was begun many years ago, including the Yukon Party's reign in office. They tried. It certainly wasn't provincehood that they tried. They tried to get control, management of forest resources. They certainly didn't try for ownership or provincehood. I believe that this amendment keeps us to the process, and with this amendment, I can support, then, such a motion.
Mr. Cable: Speaking to the amendment, Mr. Speaker, there is the faint whiff of consensus building in the House today, despite our best efforts to the contrary. The Government Leader did indicate that perhaps the breakup of the bill is worth considering and perhaps a referendum is worth considering at some juncture.
I've tried to appreciate the arguments of the Member for Porter Creek, and this is germane to the amendment because we're essentially proposing to gut the first part of the motion. As I understand his reservations, they relate, in part anyway, to the ownership of land, and he has expressed this publicly on various occasions, so his arguments today are no surprise. As I understand his argument, he takes the position that the federal government, Mr. Speaker, in effect should confirm the existence of a territorial Crown and then transfer the title to the lands of the Yukon from the federal Crown to this territorial Crown, and that will provide us with greater certainty on lands.
Lands that are now turned over to the Yukon government to deal with are turned over by federal order-in-council and the verbiage is similar to that of section 39(2) of the proposed Yukon Act, where administration and control of the relevant public lands is turned over. This has been done, for example, in relation to those lands in and around Whitehorse. The Yukon government administers the lands, it takes in the lands applications, and it issues titles to the applicants. It is difficult to conceive what more is required and how some notional transfer between the federal and territorial Crowns would enhance our - that's our Yukoners' - positions.
While I don't doubt the bona fides of the Member for Porter Creek North, I'm having some trouble understanding his argument. It seems to be based on some sense that, if there is a notional transfer of the title of the lands between the Crowns, there is greater security for Yukoners. While I'm trying to be supportive of the member's argument, I can't fully appreciate the member's concerns.
The Yukon Act is not part of the federal Constitution. The federal government can give and take away by changes to the Yukon Act and some notional transfer of title won't make any difference. There might be a tremendous political fallout by reneging on some deal that's struck, but it certainly wouldn't hinge on the fact of some notional transfer of title.
We, in the Liberal caucus, are not here to put sand in the gears of the member's argument simply because he raised it but, by the same token, I don't see putting sand in the gears of the negotiations on an issue that may not really be an issue. We move the act forward, and I would like to see the progress made to date put into legislation and the issues of provincehood dealt with in the future.
I think the philosophy of throwing out a grab bag of all ideas at this time, after we have walked so far down the devolution road, is an invitation to stop the devolution process. The process is not just primarily a philosophical exercise or an academic exercise, or perhaps even partly a philosophical exercise or an academic exercise - it's a negotiation, and I think we need to appreciate how to get to yes, not to no.
There is no sense in asking for something we know we are not going to get, and if I can garner from the Government Leader's comments, he has reached the conclusion after these negotiations that he knows what the opposite party's position is. And we're not showing weakness by acknowledging that position, we're simply reaching the conclusion that it takes two to make an agreement.
I think we need also to appreciate that ownership of the process, and the product of the process, is needed. We've agreed to setting up of a commission to get ideas, and we in the Liberal Party would like to hear what they have to say before dashing off in all directions, and for that reason we will be supporting the amendment.
I think we should also telegraph where we're coming from on the referendum idea. We would also like to see a referendum to increase the ownership of whatever is put forward by the commission, after we in the House have dealt with it. That's after the commission reports. So for those reasons, while we can fully appreciate the bona fides of the member from Porter Creek, we think the motion is premature and we will be supporting the amendment.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, previous colleagues have made reference to expert opinions but I would like to open with quoting from Boswell's book called, A Life of Johnson, where a man named Oliver Edwards says to Johnson, who he knows is a philosopher, "I have tried, too, in my time, to be a philosopher but I don't know how. Cheerfulness was always breaking in."
Taking Edward's words to heart, I, too, try to be a philosopher about politics in the Yukon, particularly as reflected in the motion today, but cheerfulness keeps breaking in.
We are making progress. It is difficult to be optimistic about our future when we're faced with a cynical political proposition, such as the motion put forward in the House. The Yukon Party's motion is premature and is disrespectful of the work of the Special Commission on the Yukon Act.
This summer, all political parties agreed to the approach of establishing a special commission and providing the Yukon public with an opportunity to review and comment on the Yukon Act proposals. As all parties supported the setting up of the commission, it is difficult not to be cynical about the sudden shift by the leader of the third party.
We have taken the position that this exercise - the proposed revision of the Yukon Act - is one that goes to the heart of what is really our constitution for the Yukon. It ought to be characterized by cooperation and careful advancement of our interests as a jurisdiction.
We have engaged citizens in dialogue, led by a panel of other citizens, to debate the matters that Yukon people care about in the overarching law that governs them. We have requested the federal government to engage in an exercise outside of the immediate need to modernize and regularize the Yukon Act, to enable it to accommodate devolution, to deal with issues relating to outright ownership of land and the Beaufort Sea, as these are complicated and could possibly delay or threaten the devolution exercise itself.
We believe we can negotiate shared offshore management with the federal government. We can look to the accomplishments of my colleague, the Minister of Economic Development, on oil and gas, to demonstrate that.
As for the referendum, what question would be asked? Would it be: should we move forward in keeping with our evolution as a mature political, social and economic jurisdiction, or not? One almost feels as if the members opposite are not ready to move on to face the next century.
Why would we pre-empt the work of the commission? Yukon people have attended meetings, participated in an electronic town hall, have received information and have been requested to provide input. The commission will have the benefit of this public discussion as they consider their recommendations.
To inject a referendum at this point carries grave risks, and it is difficult to believe that these are not apparent to the Yukon Party - that two processes, each independent of the other, may potentially undo the work of each other. This country has had plenty of experience with referendums, or the threat of them, and the reality is that in the case of a question to put to the electorate, it must be clean. The issues must be sharply defined and capable of an unequivocal response. The legal niceties and the constitutional theory and history do not lend themselves to this sort of an endeavour.
It seems surprising that this resolution from the leader of the third party would steer sharply around an open and democratic process on the slender promise of a vague exercise to be heard at some point in the future. Why not participate, as they been invited to do, Mr. Speaker, in the process presently ongoing? Why try to hijack it for partisan reasons? Why not listen to what people are saying now and engage with them on this important subject?
I attended the symposium at Yukon College in September and was impressed by the informed discussions that took place. The commission is doing its job well. Many Yukon people have spoken in support of this work. Was the leader of the third party present? Did he participate in the electronic proceedings? All parties supported the setting up of the commission. Why does he now want to ignore their deliberations and propose this motion?
We've spoken this afternoon, and the question has been raised whether there is a Crown in right of Yukon. Of course there is. In our constitutional monarchy system of government, the Crown is perceived as the theoretical source of power or authority. At one time the Crown or sovereign was the authority and could exercise absolute power.
Constitutional law development has reduced the power of the Queen - or Crown - to the point where it can only be exercised as the end product of the democratic process. Nonetheless, the Crown represents state authority.
For example, prosecutions under criminal law are conducted by, and in the name of, the Crown. The case for territorial offences is conducted in precisely the same way. There is a territorial Attorney General function no different than that exercised by the federal Minister of Justice - a Crown function.
Our Commissioner is a representative of the Crown in the identical way that a Lieutenant Governor is in the provinces. To deny the existence of an independent Crown right, exercisable by the Government of the Yukon, is to deny the existence of responsible government in the Yukon. This flies in the face of the last 19 years of letters of instruction to the Commissioner, and would seem an incredible assertion.
Territorial legislation, once signed by the Commissioner, has the force of law without further intervention by a representative of the Crown. How could this be, if no right of Crown in Yukon exists?
We have a legal analysis, which provides that there is no real impediment to transferring public lands to the territory. Public lands management ought to be vested in the Yukon government, which is responsible to the electorate of this jurisdiction, where the lands are contained.
The federal government may wish to jealously protect their vision of how far the Crown right extends, even to the point of jeopardizing the present devolution exercise. A separate Crown right for Yukon already exists, though, as it is a required and necessary element for responsible government. Many legal opinions have been written over the years on this subject and have been provided to members opposite. They've quoted from them in debate today.
That debate will continue. Where the dividing line exists between territorial government responsibility and federal government responsibility is a debate that needs to take place, but not at the cost of delaying the transfer of the Northern Affairs program. The devolution exercise is one of the most important steps, Mr. Speaker, to the evolution of Yukon and its political, social and economic identity. We need to have the means by which we have control over the resources our territory has to offer so that we will be able to ensure that careful, measured and sustainable economic development takes place, so that our children and their families have the option to remain in the Yukon.
We need to accomplish the task of enshrining our constitutional development in a new Yukon Act. We need the ability to manage Yukon lands and resources here in the territory, not from Ottawa. As some expressed passionately at the Yukon Act symposium and at the town hall, the Yukon Legislature should have the authority to manage its own affairs. It is time to move forward into the future and end our colonial status.
That was how our government proceeded, Mr. Speaker, to transcend mere party conflicts. Our constitution, the Yukon Act, is one of those important goals that deserves to go beyond partisan politics, and that was how our government proceeded. The process needs to be as we agreed from the beginning it would be: open, transparent and fundamentally democratic.
Having said that, Mr. Speaker, cheerfulness keeps breaking in. We are very optimistic about the process so far. We're getting things done. We have engaged the Yukon public, and we have debated issues close to all our hearts, for we love the place we live in. That feeling has become more apparent as this process has unfolded. We are confident that the commission and the attendant public debate will get us to the point where we can make a compelling case to the federal government for meaningful, indeed for essential change to the present Yukon Act so that devolution can occur as planned on April 20, 2000.
Mr. Speaker, I support the amendment brought forward by my colleague that the suggestions to change the proposed Yukon Act be considered by this House after receipt of the report of the Special Commission on the Yukon Act. I support the work of the commission. I'm proud of the Yukon public who have expressed their views, and look forward to seeing the report of the commission and reflecting that back to us.
Mr. Jenkins:Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Act is the constitution of Yukon. It is the one most important document that we have that guides the direction of our vast area, guides it in virtually every area that we are responsible for - and some that we are not responsible for the federal government still holds a great deal in its hands.
The two major issues that our party wants to see included is that there is a Crown and right of Yukon, and to identify the offshore boundaries of Yukon. Those, Mr. Speaker, we believe to be very important and they're not even on the agenda.
We heard the members state that there is a Crown in right, - in fact, the Justice minister just did - and it's an issue I have been personally pursuing and did so this past summer, both the issue of the Crown in right and the offshore boundaries.
I had occasion to speak extensively with the hon. Stéphane Dion, the president of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. He was in the Yukon late in June. He ended up by asking me to write to him and he would surely give me a response. I did take the time to write a letter to the hon. Stéphane Dion, and he responded very quickly. He thanked me for my letter of July 6, 1999, "in which you raised concerns regarding the federal-Yukon devolution proposals and, more specifically, the need to address the issues relating to a Crown in right of Yukon and the offshore boundary."
Mr. Dion went on to state that, on the first issue, "The federal government continues to be of the opinion that there is no Crown in right of the Yukon."
Now that, Mr. Speaker, is coming from the federal Liberal government, the president of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. That is the position that he has stated in his letter to me of August 26.
He went on to state in his letter, "As for the offshore boundary issue, the federal government is of the view that the Yukon offshore boundary ends at low-water mark." Very interesting - again, a federal Liberal position, Mr. Speaker, on both of these issues, both of these very important issues for Yukon.
We can say what we want about working together, about partisan politics. But it's going to be a hard one to address on these two very important areas. The current federal Liberal government will not bend or change.
I discussed both these issues at great length with Mr. Dion, and he remained adamant throughout our whole conversation, and I must tell you that he was well-versed on these two areas, so I'm sure these issues have come before his government and have been dealt with at great length by the current Government of Canada.
Now, Mr. Speaker, if we contrast that with the new territory of Nunavut and what the federal government has deemed to be the offshore boundaries for that new territory, it's very, very interesting. It extends in a straight line right up to the North Pole, Mr. Speaker. The offshore boundary is a dividing line between Greenland, upper Ellesmere Island and Baffin Island. They have extensive control of their offshore waters, surrounding the new territory of Nunavut, and that was ceded to them by the Government of Canada. This is the newest territory. The offshore boundaries that the Yukon currently has, as defined by the current federal Liberal Government of Canada, are still what was defined for the Northwest Territories when that area was carved out of Canada back in the 1800s.
And the N.W.T. is probably very much of the opinion that they still have care and control over the waters in our northern boundary. In fact, it's still a bone of contention as to the boundary line between Alaska and Yukon in the offshore waters. The Government of the United States does not agree with the position of the federal government of Canada but where is the Yukon in all this scenario? Our boundary, according to the federal Liberal government, ends at the low-water mark.
And, one does not raise too much of a concern about it when you just think about it in the context that it's way up there, we probably won't see it, or there's very few of us that have been up there, we don't realize what benefits can accrue to Yukon as a consequence of owning that area. And then, all of a sudden, information comes forward that a natural gas pipeline is being proposed down the Mackenzie Valley, with a spur line buried offshore on the ocean floor over to Deadhorse, or Prudhoe Bay in the Alaska oil and gas fields. Very interesting, Mr. Speaker. And where would the offshore royalties for this flow? We might think that they flow to the Yukon, but they'll probably end up in the federal government's coffers.
We can discuss this at great length, Mr. Speaker, but the issue before us is one of fairness and reasonableness for all Yukoners. And the Yukon constitution, the Yukon Act, is the first and leading document to provide this fairness and reasonableness. On that issue, when we carry it forward, after all of these bodies have reported and everyone has had an opportunity to have a say and input into the proposed Yukon Act, it's only fair and fitting that a referendum be held on this extremely important issue. Referendums aren't new. When the NWT decided to divide, a referendum was held. People had their chance to say how they wished to proceed, and that led to the division of the then Northwest Territories into two sections, two distinct political entities.
Well, isn't it only fair and fitting, Mr. Speaker, that we be allowed the same opportunity to hold a referendum on this very important issue, the Yukon Act, the Yukon constitution?
Mr. Speaker, some of the other areas covered in this Yukon Act, whether it be a five-year term for the sitting of this Legislature instead of a four-year term, a Lieutenant Governor instead of a commissioner, that really is not what bothers our party.
We can accept it either way. We'd prefer it to be one way or the other, but we can accept it either way. But the issue of the Crown in right of the Yukon is of paramount importance to Yukon, and I'm hoping that the Minister of Justice will go back and reread the position papers that she has before her with respect to that issue, because if it's an issue that the federal government is not prepared to give in on, not prepared to bend, and not, at this juncture, prepared to alter their position on - and it has been their position for quite a number of years, Mr. Speaker. It's not about to change, and it doesn't appear that Mr. Chrétien and his party are going to go away very quickly so that change can take place.
Mr. Speaker, as this amendment stands, we can't support the amendment. We don't believe it's in the best interest of Yukoners. So, Mr. Speaker, our party will not be supporting the amendment as proposed by the MLA for Watson Lake.
Mr. McRobb: I'll be brief. We're almost out of time.
In looking over this issue, it seems to me there are a few important points that I want to be clear about. First, the need for people to be heard - I'm a supporter of public consultation, and I certainly do not support government dictating to the people of the territory, despite what they have to say. The previous speaker mentioned this as an issue: "one of fairness and reasonableness to all Yukoners". I asked, Mr. Speaker, how we can possibly be fair and reasonable if we don't listen to Yukoners and make decisions regardless of what they have to say.
Another major point, Mr. Speaker, is that taking the move to provincial status would basically usurp the devolution process. This would cause a lot of grief in certain areas, like Haines Junction and Watson Lake, where they need resource extraction. This is certainly contrary to what those communities would have to say.
On the issue of the referendum, I suggest we would be predetermining the process until we've heard from the commission. Let's wait until we see the report coming out of the commission before we decide what type of further process is required.
Also, on the motion itself, I think there will be plenty of time to debate this motion when the acts are cleared through this Legislature, and we will talk about them more at that time.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I don't expect the members opposite will find it surprising that I don't support their amendment. They're back to their old tricks of changing the whole intent of the motion.
It is not our desire to usurp the political process that's going on, but I do want to get on the public record, in the few minutes I have, Mr. Speaker, that the Government Leader did not relate to me and, from what I heard from the leader of the official opposition in her reply to the debate, he did not relate to her that he drew to the commission's attention that we were having difficulties with the definition of the Beaufort or that we were having difficulties with land ownership. In fact, he wrote to me on September 9 and thanked me for my letters, thanked me for our cooperation in setting up the special commission, and said, "The two issues you raised in your letter - the northern offshore boundary of the Yukon and, secondly, the issue of Crown and ownership - certainly deserve thorough consideration. I would like to explore those issues further, also, with the benefit of the report of the special commission." He did not say to me that he had referred that matter to the special commission. Now, had he given me the courtesy of a copy of the letter he wrote to the commission outlining those points, I may not have brought the motion forward in the context that I did today.
I brought the motion forward for a very specific reason - to encourage public debate on the issue, not to curtail public debate. We value the input from the special commission and the input from Yukoners, but in going door to door in my riding, when I say to Yukoners, "What do you think about the amendments to the Yukon Act?", their eyes glaze over, because they haven't been given enough information. They haven't been asked what the ramifications are to them if we don't define the Beaufort. They haven't been asked or told what the ramifications are if we don't believe we have a Crown in the Yukon.
I found it very interesting, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of Justice just stood up in this House and supported my arguments on a Crown - supported them wholeheartedly - but this government doesn't have the political strength, or the political will, to put that in the Yukon Act. They believe - we heard the Government Leader say he believes we have a Crown, yet they're going to ignore in the amendments to the Yukon Act they sent to Ottawa. They're going to ignore the fact that they believe we have a Crown. I think that's wrong.
We simply asked, on the ownership issue of land, if it would be transferred to the Crown in right of Yukon. We heard many comments from the Government Leader about getting rid of the archaic language in this act. Well, that's archaic. As the Member for Riverside stated, he didn't know what the argument was. Well, I can understand that, because they're basically defending the position of the Liberals in Ottawa, who don't -
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m., the Speaker will now leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Debate on Motion No. 176 and proposed amendment accordingly adjourned.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Bill No. 85: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 85, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that Bill No. 85, An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that Bill No. 85, An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, this bill authorizes a deduction of $100 for the indemnity of a member for each day the member is named and suspended from the Legislative Assembly. At an informal meeting of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges on September 8, 1999, committee members agreed that when a member of the Assembly is named and suspended, this is considered a serious breach of decorum and shows disrespect for the Legislative Assembly. All committee members believed that such behaviour should be further penalized and agreed that a $100 fine be levied for each day a member is named and suspended from the House.
They further agreed that the necessary amendments to the Legislative Assembly Act, to bring this penalty into effect, be made in this sitting.
I'll leave it to my colleagues or members of the SCREP to elaborate on the purpose of the amendment.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I'm looking at this act, and apparently we're supportive of this because we were part of the decision-making process on this bill. One of the other issues that came up out of that SCREP meeting was the one thing that we all agreed on as well, and that was the fact that there would be no laptop computers allowed in the House. I wonder if the Government Leader could give us a little bit more of an update on that.
Also, there were other issues that we talked about at SCREP that probably need to be talked about as well. There were smaller issues, of course. There were issues around the changing of motions, and we have never received a response to the letter that was sent, and I'm wondering at what point are we going to be dealing with these issues. Are we going to be having a SCREP meeting in the near future to talk about those other issues that are important to all of us in the way we behave in this House?
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, we support the amendment to the act before us here today. The only concern we have - and we expressed this in the meeting that this maybe doesn't go far enough - is that we should have maybe had something in this act that eliminates members mouthing obscenities to other members in the House. We have a rule in this House, Mr. Speaker, where members are on their honour to speak the truth and the facts, and that may not work at all times, and maybe we should have a $100 penalty for something like that as well, so that everybody's treated fairly and equally in the House.
Hon. Mr. Harding: On that note, Mr. Speaker, I don't think the member opposite makes enough money to bring that rule in for himself.
Mr. Speaker, the reason for this bill - and I think it's a good bill, and the all-party committee supported it, all members of this House - is really as a direct result of actions from the member who spoke previously. I think that this House demands a lot of honour, respect, dignity in this House, and when the ultimate penalty that the Speaker can issue, of being named and removed from this House is treated as a laughing matter by a member, as that member did in this House, making jokes to the gallery, I think it's very inappropriate and brings the repute of the House to a new low, and this bill, at least in some small way, says that we won't tolerate that lack of decorum on behalf of the Member for Riverdale North or anyone else in this House. The sanction that the Speaker brings forward when the person is named is one that in British parliamentary history is one that should be taken as something that should be very deeply considered by the individual who is so named.
Because it is really the only ultimate sanction that the Speaker has to control debate in this House. It is not a laughing matter. It is appropriate that when that person who is supposed to be doing a job in here is removed from this House, they should not be paid for doing the job they were supposed to be doing in this Legislature on behalf of their constituents. But because of their lack of decorum, their lack of respect for this Legislature, the public, and the people in it, they were so named and removed from the House.
So I will be supporting this bill, and I would hope that the Member for Riverdale North would take heed from this and not conduct himself in the same manner in the future.
Speaker: If the member now speaks he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, of course, for members who wish to pursue matters, I believe the proper procedure would be for the members to get together and refer a motion to the committee, and they can follow up on other matters that are of interest to them.
I'm not thoroughly familiar with the issue about laptops. Perhaps the Member for Riverdale South can explore it further when we get into Committee.
Mr. Speaker, I think all members would agree that civil behaviour should be exercised by everyone. The public expects no less, and this bill may help to reach that end. Of course, it will take something on the part of people themselves to ensure that proper behaviour is exhibited.
So, I'm looking forward to passage of the bill.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 85 agreed to
Bill No. 77: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 77, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 77, An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that Bill No. 77, entitled An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, as members are aware, I'm sure, the Yukon government shares its oil and gas and mining revenues with First Nations - mining revenues after devolution. For instance, if our oil and gas revenues in a particular year are $1 million, a portion of this is shared with First Nations. These monies are received by the Yukon as a revenue and that part to be shared with the First Nations is an expenditure that is covered by an appropriation.
If the revenues received by us during the year exceed those we project in our estimates, we will owe a greater sum to the First Nations. However, since our appropriation authority was based on our original and lower estimate, we do not have authority to pay First Nations a sum that exceeds our original estimate of what we owed to them.
This bill simply establishes a standing appropriation for these excess sums owing First Nations, so that they can be paid immediately and not have to wait until we pass a supplementary to receive the money. I think this is a reasonable measure that all members, I'm sure, will agree with. First Nations are faced, on occasion, with cashflow problems, and anything that we can do to facilitate their money management will be welcomed by them.
Mr. Cable: I don't anticipate there'll be any problems with our supporting the act. There are some questions I want to ask when we get into Committee, and I'm sure I'll get some answers on them.
I would like to take up an issue with the Government Leader, though, relating to the lead-up to tonight. An attempt was made to set up a briefing on this bill. Now, it's not a big bill, but a couple of minutes' briefing probably would have been sufficient, so that we would have the briefing prior to tonight. Now, it appears that the House leaders' meetings have degenerated into some kind of power trip, and we're told that the briefings have to be on Tuesday or Thursday nights. That's the schedule, take it or leave it, despite the fact the bill is coming up for second reading tonight and, presumably, Committee.
Now, we don't exactly have an overwhelming Order Paper, and some accommodation could easily have been made. The Government Leader spoke a few minutes ago about civil behaviour in the House. I'd like to see that civil behaviour extended to the House leaders' meetings. When one of the House leaders says that he's the boss, that's not conducive to good relationships between the parties. I was wondering if the minister, when we get to Committee, could indicate whether he could speak to his House leader and maybe have a little change of attitude so that we can get along with one another.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 77 agreed to
Bill No. 84: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 84, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Keenan.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I move that Bill No. 84, entitled An Act to Amend the Municipal Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Community and Transportation Services that Bill No. 84, entitled An Act to Amend the Municipal Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to introduce proposed amendments to the Municipal Act. It was during the fall sitting of this House last year that the new Municipal Act was debated. Most of the amendments coming forward in this session arose from that debate, with a couple of additional amendments arising since then from the Association of Yukon Communities during consultation on the proposed amendments.
Members of this Assembly may be interested to hear that the new Municipal Act passed by this government early this year has been recognized across the country as a progressive, innovative and meaningful body of work.
I think that the fact that we're bringing forward so few amendments, and amendments that are fairly minor in nature, is a testament to the quality of our new legislation. I do want to acknowledge the contribution made by the Association of Yukon Communities, and the staff of the Association of Yukon Communities, to the amendments. Through good discussion and give and take, we were able to agree with them in nine out of 11 proposals. And, in fairness, I want to identify the two matters that we were unable to entirely satisfy.
AYC asked that section 27(1) be amended to add the words "choose to," so that this section, dealing with formation of administrative or planning partnerships between governments would now read that "Municipalities may choose to establish such partnerships." This section was not in the former act; it is entirely new and is meant to empower municipalities to do something that they previously did not have authority to do. It is a permissive section; hence, the word "may" is used to confirm that it is their choice. AYC was concerned that it could be taken to mean that they may be made to do something, that it could be used to force a partnership. And, of course, this is absolutely not the government's intention nor the wording of the section. The word "may" is used almost 400 times in the Municipal Act and thousands of times throughout legislation. Its meaning is understood to be very clear. Adding modifying words to it in one or several places would introduce confusion about whether the word "may" on its own means something different from when it is accompanied by words such as "choose to" or "agree to". The discussion brought to light that section 27(2) did, in fact, have such incorrect language. In the spirit of correcting the error rather than compounding it, we have determined that section 27(2) is the one that needs to be brought into line.
The second matter that we were not able to fully satisfy concerned the joint and several liability provisions of the Contributory Negligence Act. AYC was of the view that municipalities are experiencing increasing risk and higher costs as a result of decisions arising from lawsuits for negligence. Over the course of several months and numerous meetings, the departments of Justice and Community and Transportation Services met jointly with the AYC to research, to review and to discuss this matter. We were not able to identify specific cases or general trends in Canada that displayed that there is a significant problem. We jointly met with the AYC liability insurance broker, who confirmed that this issue has not been significant in influencing Yukon insurance rates and that a change in our legislation would have little, if any, effect on premiums for Yukon municipalities.
Joint and several liability is a legal principle that is common through much of the world. Its intent is to give priority to the interests of a victim injured through the negligence of more than one party. The parties found negligent by a court are required to pay an amount corresponding to the degree of fault determined by the court. If one or more parties can't cover their full obligation, the other negligent parties must step in to cover the shortfall. This way, the victim is best enabled to receive full recovery of the claim. Those sharing blame for the negligence can sort out their differences after the needs of the victim are addressed.
The AYC felt that municipalities, as a class of defendant, are being targeted, and, as stated, the evidence we jointly gathered did not support this perspective. We were sympathetic to the burden borne by many defendants when one or more co-defendants are insolvent or short of adequate resources to meet fully their obligations, and for this reason, we have committed to review provisions for minimum liability coverage for drivers and to work with municipalities to examine ways to ensure businesses and participants in recreation programs have sufficient liability insurance.
As to the amendments we have tabled, for the most part these are straightforward wording refinements intended to provide the clarification to improve consistency of wording in plain language or to better state the intent of the section.
Other than that, substantive changes relate mostly to the imposition of time limits for such things as: (1) the length of time that a trustee can administer a municipality before an election process might begin; (2) the length of time within which a decision must be made regarding the formation, the dissolution or boundary alteration of municipalities; (3) the length of time allowed for discontinued use of existing land; and (4) a time frame within which a review of this legislation must be conducted.
We made a commitment to be responsive to the concerns of municipalities by supporting amendments that improve the effectiveness of the Municipal Act and, Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased that we have also been responsive to the concerns expressed during debate of the act last year.
As a result, I am anticipating support for the proposed amendments, and look forward to the debate.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I wanted to start out my remarks by saying that I appreciate the briefing that I did receive from the Association of Yukon Communities. It's unfortunate that I couldn't receive one from the department until after this bill goes through the House.
I also appreciate the fact that the minister heard what we said during the discussions in the House last fall. The minister heard what the Member for Klondike had to say. I see there are a number of positions that he brought forward reflected in the changes in the amendments. I see also that he listened to me and the members of the Association of Yukon Communities. And in that spirit of cooperation, I hope that we can continue to have a sensible discussion on this bill, and I will be looking forward to a more detailed discussion in Committee of the Whole later on tonight.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this bill. I appreciate the minister's commitment last year to review a number of these areas, which he has undertaken and done. This is enabling legislation, as the minister pointed out, quite correctly, and it has been well-received by the Association of Yukon Communities and its membership of Yukon communities.
One of the areas that we brought to the minister's attention was the timelines associated with the various areas, and I'm very pleased to see that timelines are now being included in a number of sections of this bill.
I still have grave concerns with the two areas that have not been included. There were three areas raised by the Association of Yukon Communities. One was on the way that the council remunerations were treated. The way the minister had previously expressed it in the act, it meant that a good portion of the remuneration for councils that was previously tax free was subject to taxes. I'm very pleased to see that this section has been changed back to what it originally was.
Similar to the Province of Alberta, which went through this same exercise and had the wrath of Revenue Canada descend upon many, many councillors and elected officials, they chose to take the high road and change their act as well. So I'm very pleased that the minister has changed it at this point in time. I still can't understand why he did change it in the last act review, but so be it. We're going back to our starting point.
The second area that the minister touched on that was brought forward by the Association of Yukon Communities that has not been addressed in this act was the concept of regional government and how communities bought into the process, or chose to not get involved. And there's still a degree of uncertainty surrounding that area that will ultimately have to be addressed by further changes to this Municipal Act, Mr. Speaker. At this juncture, the minister has chosen to ignore the requests of AYC in that regard. That will probably come back to haunt him.
And the third area is the joint and several liability. Now the minister's absolutely correct when he stated that there are not too many incidents of this incurring a lot of costs to municipalities in Canada, but liability trends that start in the U.S. usually end up here, and it's going to eventually end up on our doorstep. I would urge the minister to reconsider this section.
Joint and several liability is an issue that if you request an overview from any lawyer, they support it, because it basically means that they get paid, and whoever has the deepest pockets will pay. And in most cases, if we want to take a simple occurrence, like someone in a motor vehicle going through a stop sign, and the resulting court case determines that the stop sign was partially covered by snow, the city was found to be - or the municipal government was found to be - five or 10 percent responsible for the total cost of the accident, but then it was subsequently learned that the driver's liability insurance policy had lapsed because he didn't pay it, or forgot to pay it, or whatever reason.
The total onus of responsibility is vested in the municipal government for that entire court case and the resulting costs and the legal costs. Now, the minister is absolutely correct when he stands up and says, "This has not proven to be a big burden at this juncture." But let's just look down the pike at what is happening in other jurisdictions in North America. Virtually all of the states in the U.S. have changed their legislation so that this cannot occur. And, yes, the U.S. is somewhat defined as being sue-happy or sue-crazy, and the legal community takes on the cases on a contingency basis. So, they shotgun the suit and aim at everyone - the federal government, the state or provincial government, and the municipal government.
This is another area where the minister could have closed a loophole that, at the present time, is not causing us an additional cost, but it could come back to cause us considerable costs and great concern. The Yukon being a very, very small community, it's only going to take one case of this nature, where the city or municipal government is held responsible for an incident, and because it's joint and several, they'll end up footing the bill for everything. Because of the size of Yukon, and the pool insurance arrangement through the Association of Yukon Communities, everyone will pay.
Now, I'm not proposing we deny paying a claim, but there have to be other ways of looking at this area, and one of the areas that is going to come to light is under the Motor Vehicles Act, where you're only required to go in and produce your insurance certificate when you renew your plates.
If your insurance lapses or is exceptionally cancelled for any reason, unless you're a motor vehicle carrier and have operating authority, there are no requirements of the insurance carrier to notify the Motor Transport Board or the licensing agency. Now, that should be a condition applied to all licence plates issued in the Yukon - that they are issued conditionally on there being insurance in place, in force and maintained while those plates are still valid, and there should be a requirement in the legislation that, in the event that an insurance is cancelled, the insurance carrier has to notify the government of that cancellation. And this will probably clear up a lot of problems.
Now, it's done in one instance, it's not done in another.
Mr. Speaker, these three areas were the three areas that AYC fought for and was looking for the support of this minister on. It was forthcoming in one case because it was rather self-evident that the error had been made by the government in changing their legislation, but with respect to section 27 on regional government and its formation, and another section dealing with joint and several liability, I would urge the minister to reconsider those two sections and bring them back.
Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, our party will be supporting these amendments to the Municipal Act, and look forward to debating it in line-by-line.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm rising in support of the amendments that are brought forward by my colleague, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
I'd like to respond to some of the comments that have just been made by the member of the third party in relation to the concept of joint and several liability and the decision of the government in not bringing forward an amendment on that subject.
The member opposite seems to be very suspicious that people might come in and renew a vehicle with insurance, and then fail to maintain their insurance.
Mr. Speaker, I could have sworn that that party and those members opposite supported amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, where we brought forward increased penalties for people who fail to carry insurance. I don't believe that most people are fraudulent in that regard.
Now, the concept of joint and several liability means that more than one defendant might be liable jointly and be sued together, where they're both responsible for the actions of each other. And this principle doesn't apply only to government. I want to make sure the member is aware that, during the process of coming forward with these amendments, the government had representatives from the community services branch, from the Department of Justice, from the Association of Yukon Communities, and from the insurance industry, who met several times over the past year and conducted research into insurance practices, into the legal ramifications, and into the actions of other government jurisdictions.
We believe we've done the right thing, Mr. Speaker, in bringing forward the amendments that we have.
The Yukon government decided not to amend the Contributory Negligence Act, and there were many reasons for that. The research showed that law reform commissions across Canada have recommended against these changes.
Canadian court decisions have not created problems for municipalities to date. Municipal insurance coverage would mitigate any negative impact of adverse settlements, and municipalities do carry insurance. Any legislative amendments that would give municipalities an exemption from this liability would be unfair to other defendants, including other governments, and potentially unfair to a plaintiff. This issue is one that has been reviewed numerous times by our drafting committee, involving AYC and the insurance industry. It has also been reviewed by other provincial governments, all of whom have concluded that the negative impact on the victim far outweighed any advantage to municipalities in cost savings.
And they've not changed their legislation; neither are we. Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to support the amendments before us. Thank you.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 84 agreed to
Mr. Fentie: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
committee of the whole
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Committee will be dealing with Bill No. 85, An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act.
Bill No. 85 - An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act
Chair: Is there general debate?
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 85, entitled An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: Committee will now proceed to Bill No. 77, An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act.
Bill No. 77 - An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, as I mentioned in my remarks at second reading, the purpose of the bill is to permit us to pay First Nations their share of resource revenues that exceed the sum we've voted for them to that date. Such a situation arises when our resource revenues exceed the revenues and hence the expenditures share due First Nations projected in our estimates. When this occurs at present, we must await the passage of the supplementary before we can pay First Nations the full amount that we owe them.
It just seemed a reasonable case to support a standing appropriation, which is, of course, the purpose of this bill. I'm certain First Nations will be pleased with the passage of this measure since, as I mentioned in second reading, their cashflows, their cashflow difficulties, would be improved with quicker payment of these sums.
Mr. Cable: I wonder if I could deal with the issue that I raised during second reading on the briefing, or the lack of briefing, on this act. I notice the minister talking to his House leader. Is it the Government Leader's position that if the opposition wants a briefing on a piece of legislation that they should be entitled to it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, it certainly depends on the situation. First of all, in this case, this is a fairly simple bill. Any time any member wants to pick up the phone and speak to the Deputy Minister of Finance, who is sitting beside me now, they have done that, and I would encourage them to continue doing that. And if they want to know about something that is happening in the department, whether it is a bill or anything else, I encourage them to call and find out.
I don't know the circumstances associated with the debates or the discussions of House leaders. I do know, Mr. Chair, that complaints have come from the opposition before about the government House leader. We've changed the government House leader; the complaints continue to flow from the opposition House leaders.
I suggest that maybe the opposition House leaders have a role to play here, as well, in terms of ensuring that there is civil play and, as the member pointed out in his opening remarks, no power-tripping, no games-playing. So, in terms of the general ambience in the House leaders' meetings, I don't participate, but I would expect that people will try to get along.
In terms of the briefing, I don't know that this requires a briefing, frankly. It's a very simple proposition. It may require a phone call if there's something the members might want to discover. It's not a complex bill at all. But if the member is asking me whether or not there should be a formal briefing before any provision is brought before the House, I think the member would do well to refer back to the agreement between leaders, which suggested that for budget bills there should be a briefing before estimates are debated in the main estimates. For others, we'll do it on an ad hoc basis, depending on the nature of the bill. I would think that, based on this bill, the member who has spoken will be able to grasp the purpose and intent of this bill by just reading it. I have no doubt that the leader of the third party would grasp the notions behind this bill instantly.
So if the member's asking whether there should be a briefing for this bill, I would be surprised if they needed one. But, as I say, if they have, at any time, a question of the Department of Finance - the Deputy Minister of Finance - please give him a call. If they can't get through to him - and he's usually pretty accessible - they can give me a call.
Mr. Cable: I don't think the issue is whether I, or anybody else, should comprehend the statute, it's whether the member puts forward the proposition that they want a briefing. I mean, I don't see any member in this House who would ask for a briefing superfluously. It may very well be that the comprehension level of those people who have worked in the financial area - such as the Government Leader and the leader of the third party - is such that they don't need a briefing. But if there were a reasonable request, I would think that the briefing would be offered without a lot of strings attached, and without a lot of power-tripping.
I don't want to belabour this point, because I think the Government Leader and I are on the same wavelength. But perhaps the Government House Leader, having heard the debate, will soften his posture and not issue the statement that "he's the boss" because I've got news for him - he's not the boss.
I have some questions on the act, and I spoke briefly to the deputy while he was standing outside. I gather the point of this is that, at the present methodology, we have an appropriation act that has a line item in it, and that if we run over the line item in the appropriation act, then we have to come back and do a supplemental. I think the minister explained that fairly well.
What's the downside to raising the appropriation to the point where it could cover all reasonable eventualities, as opposed to taking this approach?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, firstly, to the point, just so that we understand each other, Mr. Chair, with respect to House leaders' conduct, having been a House leader before, both in opposition and in government at various times in my career, I know that there is the potential for the government's House leader to be perceived to be power-tripping, in the sense that they're telling the opposition what the government's business is. There's also the potential for the opposition members to be perceived to be games-playing, and that the requests being made are perceived to be demands, and they're simply there to frustrate government business.
So it's a two-way street. I can tell the member it's a two-way street, and I would hope that all House leaders try to get along. That's what I hope they would try to do. No complicated instructions - just try to get along.
With respect to the size of the appropriation, we generally try not to fluff up estimates, but to give as accurate an impression of what those estimates are, to the best of the technician's ability, when the estimates are constructed. We do an assessment of what the revenue is likely to be. The "best guess" - not by me, but by some technician in Finance - is put into the budget, and if, as the member knows, the revenues are higher than we estimated, we simply want the ability to be able to pay - between the times we come into the House - the difference to the First Nation.
The member suggests that perhaps there may be - or maybe he's not suggesting anything. Maybe he's just asking a question: what if we were to simply have a higher estimate - just sort of take the best guess and tack on a half million dollars? I'm hesitant to want to do that, because I wouldn't want to be sending signals to people that are inaccurate - not just to the members of the Legislature, but the people who may be receiving the revenue and, instead, would like to have as accurate an impression as possible of the available funds. If we're a little lower than the actual amount owing, we simply, at that point, make up the difference and come back to the House and notify members that there was a difference.
Mr. Cable: Now, if the payment is authorized by another act - I assume in the Financial Administration Act, we're talking about the enabling legislation, such as the oil and gas legislation. With this amendment, will it be necessary to put the sum in the appropriation act, or will the money automatically flow?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the money will automatically flow, but we will come back with a change at the next opportunity, in the next appropriation act, but when we know that there is more revenue, at that point this change allows us to pay the difference to the First Nations. We know we're making more, we know we're receiving more, we know we have an obligation to pay First Nations their share, so we would automatically pay the difference to the First Nations. But with this amendment, we're still obligated to come back and show the difference in the next appropriation act.
Mr. Cable: So in effect, then, this is an interim payment authority. Is that what we're talking about?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Indeed it is.
Chair: Is there further debate?
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 77, entitled An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: Committee will now proceed to Bill No. 84.
Bill No. 84 - An Act to Amend the Municipal Act
Chair: Is there general debate?
Mrs. Edelman: Generally, the issue of joint and several liability that the Member for Klondike brought up - are the discussions on this particular issue completely dead? I know that there are no jurisdictions in Canada that have this particular clause, but will we be examining that at some point in the future, to keep up to date, if nothing else, with other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, there are no other jurisdictions in Canada that go with the liability question. Certainly we've done that research, as the Minister of Justice said earlier. I can say, though, that as we go along to work with the Association of Yukon Communities - because certainly they're very much a focal point in our governments in the Yukon Territory - we'll continue in the manner that we are now working with them.
So, I'm not saying that in two years we'll open it up, or three years or four years, but when something substantial does come along, and it is there, then certainly this government will look at those types of issues.
So, is it completely dead at this point in time? Yes, it is.
Mrs. Edelman: So, Mr. Chair, it sounds like the issue is completely dead right now, but it may rise from the ashes at some point in the future - like the phoenix.
The other issue that I heard is that when we get to that clause, I may bring it up again.
When we were at the general meeting of the Association of Yukon Communities - and, of course, the minister was there as well - out in Haines Junction in the spring, there was a vote by the Association of Yukon Communities that there should be a regular review of this legislation. And the Association of Yukon Communities said that perhaps it should be every five years. That was what the vote was. And the fear was that if every 10 years they waited to have a review, there wouldn't be any possibility to bring in amendments sooner, that the Association of Yukon Communities and all municipalities in the Yukon therefore would have to wait for 10 years to make any changes to this act.
What I'm trying to get from the minister is a general position on whether he's open to amendments now or over the next 10 years, or whether he's going to be waiting until the end of the 10-year period to look at other amendments, including the issue of joint and several liability.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Chair, this is a very involving process. We took the time to meet with all the people, and to look for ways to try to solve the problems, not to look for ways to say, "No, we're not going to do it, because of", but, "How can we do these types of issues?" We actually went in with that attitude.
It was a refreshing attitude from the AYC - both the staff and the president - because they felt to be very much included.
So, at this point in time, as I said, it's not an issue. Well, it's not going to be included in this act at this point in time, and certainly I will reiterate that we will work with them to try to find ways that municipalities can address their concerns. If it's requirements for a higher level of public funding or anything like as such, we'll look at those issues on an ongoing basis with the municipalities. Now, of course, that's something that the municipalities would trigger on their own.
But I will say, as the Minister of C&TS, that my department will be with them through that exercise, when they choose to do those types of issues. We'll be there with them.
As far as the five-year review or the 10-year review, I simply will go back to what I had said earlier. When there is something substantive - and we do have annual forums - my office is an open-door office. There isn't a mayor in the country - well, in the territory - that doesn't know my private-line number. I'm very accessible. I'm very open, as the government is, and we will continue to be that way just to be able to work and to evolve. It's been said that this is the best piece of legislation in Canada concerning municipalities, and I very much appreciate the fact that I could be the minister who would bring this to the House, but I'm not the minister who brought, solely, my product to the House. I'm the minister who brought, more or less, a consensus document to the House, and I will again say that, when substantive issues come up through many of the processes that we have established, I will definitely look at those issues.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I'll take from those comments from the minister that he is open to looking at amendments between this date and 10 years from now, when there is going to be another review of this act, and the minister's indicating, by nodding his head, that that's exactly what he means.
Mr. Chair, the other issue that I'm moderately concerned about with this is the relationship between the department and the Association of Yukon Communities. Right now, things are going very, very well. I've heard, and I did hear from all the presidents of AYC throughout this process, which was started even before this minister, that they were pleased with the process and that they did feel that they were being heard, and sometimes they gave a little and sometimes the department gave a little and things worked out quite well in general. This is a huge piece of legislation, and it affects every Yukoner in this territory at the most basic level, at least as to what goes in and out of their house.
So, I suppose what I'm concerned about is that we continue with that sense of "we're willing to listen to you", and what I'm wondering about is what sort of commitment do we have from the department, because, as we all know, things change in here quite frequently.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I certainly take that as a compliment, and I know that the department, within their mandate to serve the public and to work in partnership with the Association of Yukon Communities, will continue to do that. I do know that one sure way to continue to instill the attitude - although I think the attitude is inherent in the department - is to continue to have me as the minister, so I certainly will look forward to being here in the next term.
Chair: Is there further debate?
On Clause 1
Mrs. Edelman:Mr. Speaker, I'm going to have to take extra time because I didn't have a briefing from the department on this bill, so I'm going to have to take a little bit of extra time going through that. The joy of briefings is they do tend to bring down the time that is used in the House, and I didn't get one. I got no briefing, so I'm going to have to go through this in some detail with each clause.
Now, is it my understanding that with this particular clause that, before there was no limit whatsoever on orders of the Commissioner in Executive Council, and now there is one? And this length of time, was this agreed to by AYC?
Chair: Excuse me, does clause 1 carry?
Clause 1 agreed to
Chair: I believe the member's comments were in relation to clause 2.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, certainly, Mr. Chair, section 22 makes the Cabinet responsible for making the final decisions on formations, dissolutions, alterations to boundaries of municipalities, and the proposed amendment imposes a one-year time limit from the time that the Yukon Municipal Board report is received.
Mrs. Edelman: So am I to understand, then, from the minister's comments that that was a one-year limit, and that it was agreed to by Association of Yukon Communities, that two years never came up, or six months, that this was something was agreed to by both parties?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, that's absolutely correct. It was the position to which the Association of Yukon Communities agrees and the government position agrees.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, this is one of the things that we lobbied for very strongly - to have timelines included in a lot of these sections - and I'm very pleased to see timelines have now been added, and I thank the minister for including them.
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Mrs. Edelman: Again, Mr. Chair, now it's my understanding that, with this particular amendment, on 27, which is under regional structures - establishing competent administrative or planning structures - the position that was put forward by AYC is that 27(2), which says that municipalities "may agree to delegate" administrative responsibilities that are within their governing powers to accommodate administrative and planning structures established under subsection (1), was wording that they were fine with, and that rather than getting rid of the "may agree", they would have preferred that they changed 27(1) to "municipalities may agree to establish other municipalities", instead of just having what we have now, which is "may", and changing, in subclause (2), back to "may".
And the reason they said that is that they felt that that was more in terms of plain language, and that was the whole point of this bill, that this is a bill written for lay people. It's not written for lawyers. It's written so that anybody can pick it up and understand what it means, and they felt that, in some ways, "may agree" actually made things clearer, and to have taken that away and to lose that clarification when it really doesn't make one bit of difference, actually, one way or the other. What was the reasoning with the department? Of course, I wouldn't know because I didn't have a briefing, but could the minister please give me a little bit more detail on that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, certainly, I'm not a lawyer. I've been involved with them over the years, and I've come to trust them, and especially the form that we've put it together here, as the AYC had legal counsel, we had legal counsel, and we went through the definitions on this. Strictly permissive is what it is. We are not going to be shoving anything down anybody's throat, and the language in here, in legal sense, and in somewhat a layman's sense, also is very much permissive.
Mrs. Edelman: Originally during the discussions on this act, the Association of Yukon Communities felt that if there was going to be inclusion of regional governments in the act, they had to be very clear that municipalities would only have the option, or would only just choose to join regional governments.
That was why the line about municipalities may agree or - "may choose" was actually the original clause they wanted. They felt that that better reflected the option of joining regional governments or not. At this point, we're getting rid of that option to choose. We're also getting rid of "may agree". We're down to "may", and that's making it less clear, if anything, and probably less plain. This was a real sticking area with the Association of Yukon Communities and, of course, I don't know what all the discussion was on that. I'm wondering if this is something that's been ongoing with the Association of Yukon Communities, and is there some reason why you couldn't have just changed 27(2) to "agree to", as opposed to making it less clear in 27(2) by getting rid of "agree"?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Again, Mr. Chair, I say that the language is very much permissive language. Neither the Member for Riverdale South nor I is a lawyer. Certainly, we've been around enough that we know what these positions are. This whole act, as the Member for Klondike has said, is enabling legislation. The wording is "permissive". The wording is consistent, as I said in the opening speech, and is reflected throughout the government. Certainly, the government will continue to stand behind the words as they see it. It's "permissive". This is not big-brother government trying to force anybody. The whole act was to enable municipalities to try to make these types of decisions.
So, that's how the language is. That's how lawyers would interpret it, and I'm hoping that that's how we'll all interpret it and support it.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I'm not getting anywhere, so I'm willing to leave this one.
Clause 3 agreed to
On Clause 4
Mrs. Edelman: This clause 4 is on subsection 44, which refers to local advisory council operations. It's my understanding that this particular line is merely cleaning up the language. It's making it more clear and uses plainer language. Is that the perception from the department?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, certainly, the spring debate, or during the debate while we were doing this, it was requested by the Member for Riverdale South. The AYC agreed with it and the government position was that we also agree with it, and the proposed amendment is simply a clarification of the voting. Exactly. Correct.
Clause 4 agreed to
On Clause 5
Clause 5 agreed to
On Clause 6
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, you'll have to forgive me. This is a huge act, as we've mentioned a few times before.
Under clause 6, 173(a), under remuneration and expenses, the AYC asked for this and, of course, the Member for Klondike has already referred to this, is it because of what had happened in Alberta? And I need to know if this is what the reasoning of the government was on this particular one. In Alberta, they brought in a new municipal act just shortly before we did, and what it neglected to do was to point out that city councillors members' salaries were one-third tax free. Of course, that's still the practice here in the Yukon as well. What happened in the old act is that we referred to that one-third of the salary being tax free but we didn't refer to it in the new act that was brought in in the fall of last year as being tax free. So, the concern was that, in Alberta, what they did to the councillors was that Revenue Canada came down and made the councillors pay back all the money that they should have paid in taxes, because it wasn't specified that it was tax free. So, that made for some very unhappy people who were serving their communities in Alberta.
Now, it's my understanding that this will clear up that position.
I'm concerned about Revenue Canada still being able to swoop in, and I have a healthy respect for Revenue Canada, a very healthy respect for Revenue Canada, that they will be able to swoop in and make councillors pay back for this year where it wasn't specified.
Is that a possibility?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, it was requested by the Association of Yukon Communities, and the member has said that they would prefer us to state exactly one-third rather than up to one-third. But, again, legal counsel advises that fixing that one-third may, in fact, create added problems with Revenue Canada, and that's the discussion they had had. They say that it would not be defensible, and municipalities must be responsible for setting their rate and accountable to justify it.
So, certainly, it's in their hands to do that, and again, this is the permissive language that allows them to do that, and it has been agreed. We agree with it. The AYC prefers it differently, but again, it's one of those legalistic issues and again, when they get the authority, or have the authority, they can set it and protect it.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I guess I'm still not clear. For the year where we didn't say that one-third of the salary was tax-free, can Revenue Canada come back on the councillors and say, "We want some back taxes from you, for that amount of your salary that you didn't pay taxes on"?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: "As compensation for attending meetings and attending to other municipal duties, of which a specified portion may be an allowance" for that. Now, if you look over it, it says it's up to the municipality to do it, and it could be up to one-third. Now, the question was, in absence of that, up to this year, I believe. Is that correct?
If the rate is set, then it's certainly okay. The rest of it clarifies it in the process, which they must go through.
Mrs. Edelman: So, Mr. Chair, am I to understand then that city councillors and town councillors across the Yukon don't have to worry about paying back to Revenue Canada for that one-third portion that wasn't covered in the new act over the last year? That they have no worries on this issue with Revenue Canada?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It will be up to the individual municipality, and if they did set their rate, then they'd be protected. If they didn't, then it would be open.
Clause 6 agreed to
On Clause 7
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this refers to section 191. This is a discussion that we had last year around attendance at committee meetings. We all know that Canadians love committees.
The issue was around whether the council could regulate attendance at meetings - so, for example, if somebody wasn't coming to planning board meetings, you know, six times in a row, there would be some sort of remedy for the council, because you can't operate a council without operating committee meetings - in many municipalities.
Let me make it a little bit clearer. The planning board and the City of Whitehorse, at one time, let's say, theoretically, had a member that wouldn't show up, and it was a council member and, unfortunately, because that member wouldn't show up, they couldn't get quorum and they couldn't get planning board resolutions through the committee, so it couldn't go up to the city council, so they couldn't go through. A lot of developments got backed up, waiting for things to come out of planning board. The problem was that the municipality didn't have the ability to get rid of that council member on that board, who was holding everything up.
Now, this is going to help, to a certain extent, trying to deal with that issue about attendance in particular, or at least allow municipalities to deal with that in their own way. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Absolutely.
Clause 7 agreed to
On Clause 8
Clause 8 agreed to
On Clause 9
Mrs. Edelman: This is an interesting one, actually. Not that they're not all interesting, but this one is particularly interesting, Mr. Chair. With this one, there was an assertion, at some point, and it only applies to this section - it doesn't apply to any other part of the act - but with 334, in the old one, it said that if a council of a municipality, or any other member, does not act under direction of the minister to the minister's satisfaction, the minister may dismiss the council or any member of it. I believe that - what was the term that we heard last year? "Draconian" - it was a somewhat draconian measure.
Now we've changed it slightly, so that, number one, it only applies to this section, and it has to go to Cabinet, and Cabinet has to agree to sack the entire council because they don't agree with whatever direction is coming from the minister. Is that my understanding? Is my understanding correct? Before it could just be the minister who could get rid of the council; now we have to go to the Cabinet to get rid of the council.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I'll just read it to the member. Previously, as this section read, it allowed for the dismissal of a councillor, or any member of it, if the minister's direction had not been acted on to the minister's satisfaction. The Member for Klondike saw that as not being applicable, and now the proposed amendment seeks to mitigate the powers of the minister to dismiss the council or council members by placing that authority with the Commissioner in Executive Council - so, yes.
Mrs. Edelman: We're looking at clause 336 here. Clause 336 is the appointment of a trustee. So, for example, if a town or a city in the Yukon doesn't have a sitting council, a trustee will come in and run the town, municipality or hamlet, or whatever it is. Under the previous new act, passed in the fall of 1998, it is my understanding that the trustee could come in, and if they were a "rogue trustee", for some reason, they could run the municipality endlessly. What this amendment does is put some sort of time limit on it. It gives, like, a one-year opportunity for that trustee to get things in order, to hold an election, and to get that activity underway. Now, is my understanding of that amendment correct?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Absolutely.
Clause 9 agreed to
On Clause 10
Clause 10 agreed to
On Clause 11
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have a couple of questions with respect to clause 11. This has become practice within Canada, and I note that it was something that the previous NDP government did with regard to the Education Act, the section being "within 10 years after this act comes into force, the minister shall establish a process for review of the act." There are a couple of questions. First of all, with respect to the drafting, does the act refer this act or the Municipal Act? That's my first question.
My second question is, is there a process established, as well? This has been the cause of some degree of discussion with respect to the Education Act - exactly how the review process should take place. So, when the ministerial officials drafted this section, was a plan put in place for the review of the Municipal Act?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It's the Municipal Act that would have to be done in its entirety. That's an answer to the first question. Which act? It would be this act.
On the 10 years - I just go back to my earlier comments. It's stated here it will be triggered certainly by the Association of Yukon Communities, and certainly government would consider it in their yearly processes to look at this legislation. But again, I reiterate that if there's something substantial that does come up, and it comes through the process of AYC and the talking process and by coming together, certainly we'll be there to look at those issues, because we don't want something that's going to simply be outdated. But it's a benchmark; it's certainly something that we'll continue to work with people on to ensure that it's a living, flexible document that works for people and municipalities.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, perhaps it's clear that the minister has stated on the record that the reference to the review after this act comes into force, but it's not clear in the way it's drafted, and it should have said within 10 years after the Municipal Act and these amendments come into force -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: I thank the Minister of Education for her comments from the back benches. The drafting is a question, and it certainly should be asked.
The second question with respect to the establishing of process for the review - has that been documented at all with AYC, or is that a matter that is simply understood and left unsaid and unwritten somewhere?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, no, Mr. Chair, the act is, as it says - and this is the act that we'll be going through, and it says certainly that within 10 years after this act comes into force the minister shall establish a process for the review of this act. Certainly, that is the intention, and I see it as being a very clear intention. It's documented that this act, after it comes into force, will be reviewed through a process established by the minister within 10 years. I have made, on the floor of this Legislature, a commitment that it can happen previous to that if we all agree, and that's a process of just coming together through the annual meetings on an ongoing basis. I have mayors stop in and talk to me. I go to the mayors and talk to them, so there's much contact that comes between the department and the municipalities and the political figures who support and work with and are in charge of the department. So, certainly, it's crystal clear to me that in 10 years - well, it's crystal clear.
Mr. Jenkins: I don't know if the minister pointed this out, but the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has recognized this Yukon Municipal Act as one of the most enabling legislations and one of the best pieces of legislation in Canada, and a lot of credit goes to the elected officials throughout the Yukon Territory from the various municipalities, and I'd point out to the member -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. Order please. Let the member speak.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd point out to the Member for Faro that this was long underway before his government took power. Let's give credit where credit is due, Mr. Chair, and a lot of credit for the review goes to the elected officials from the Yukon municipalities, the Association of Yukon Communities, the minister and his staff. So, that's what I wish to say and it deserves being said.
That being said, there are a couple of sections, Mr. Chair, that I would urge the minister to go back to Hansard on tomorrow and review what I said with respect to liability, because that is going to be the area that is going to rise in the next four or five years, given what has transpired in the U.S. and given what is coming into place. And it's probably going to be associated with the motor vehicle accidents, as it is predominantly in the U.S., and it's going to come back to haunt us.
So, I would urge the minister to reconsider his position with respect to joint and several liability.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, both the Minister of Justice and I have spoken on the issue of joint and several liability. We're going to stick to our guns, if I can say it in that manner here. Certainly, as we evolve through the implementation of this, we'll be able to look at things as they are. I've said earlier on, as the Minister of Justice has said earlier on, that it's not applicable at this point of time in here. As a matter of fact, it's not even in this act, as I do believe, but certainly the research shows that law reform commissions in Canada have recommended against these changes, that Canadian court decisions have not created problems. Municipal insurance coverage would mitigate that. We're going to try and find processes where we can work with the AYC to mitigate some of those issues, and we're going to do it with them.
It hasn't been taking place anywhere in Canada, and this government is not going to do it within this document. Again, those seem to be rather hard words, but I would soften them by saying we will listen to people, we do listen to people, and we'll continue to work with people throughout this process.
So I thank the member for the comments. I understand where the member is coming from, and certainly we will always be there to work with the municipalities on these issues.
Clause 11 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 84, entitled An Act to Amend the Municipal Act, out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Fentie: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 85, An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, Bill No. 77, An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, and Bill No. 84, An Act to Amend the Municipal Act, and directed me to report them without amendment.
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: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:04 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled November 3, 1999:
Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board 1998 Annual Report (Harding)