Thursday, November 4, 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?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, it's my pleasure to introduce the Grade 3-4 class from Selkirk Elementary School. This is Ms. Innes-Taylor, who is the teacher, and these are the children.
Mrs. Edelman: Also in this class, Mr. Speaker, is Ariana Edelman, the Member for Riverside's granddaughter, and my daughter.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have for tabling the comprehensive year 2000 progress report for Yukon government.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 91: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 91, entitled Fireweed Fund Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that Bill No. 91, entitled Fireweed Fund Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 91 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motions?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Alcohol and drug program
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services. It's been over a year now since government took over the Crossroads program for alcohol and drug rehabilitation in Whitehorse. Is there a plan in place to assess the new program and validate the government's claim that this program is better than the old Crossroads program?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, and as a matter of fact, we are doing ongoing review and ongoing progress on the program. We're looking for areas where we can improve it. Some of those areas that have been identified have to do with, for example, youth. And we've targeted more resources toward putting two positions into both prevention and treatment. One of those positions divides its time among the young offenders, Youth Achievement Centre and F.H. Collins.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I hear about changes in the program, but I don't hear about a particular assessment program. In January of this year, a group of Yukon business people met to discuss how the government could help build a healthy economy. One of the recommendations that came out of the business summit was under 6.6, improving government services: "There should be measurable and publicly reported objectives and performance indicators established for governments and individual departments. These objectives and indicators should be analysed annually by government, with industry conducting a parallel review and evaluation."
Mr. Speaker, has the Department of Health and Social Services developed any measures of success or developed any sort of assessment system to measure how well Yukon taxpayers' dollars are being spent on delivering alcohol and drug services in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, indeed, we have been working primarily in dealing with numbers of people who go through the program, retention and general measurement of success. We've done some follow-ups with individuals who've gone through the program to measure their level of satisfaction.
I've always said that this is an ongoing program, and we'll be doing ongoing assessment. I indicated to the member that, in going through the changes in this program, we have identified some areas where we want to do some improvement, and that's what we're proceeding to do.
Mrs. Edelman: The minister talks about how he has followed up with people who've been through the program, that the department has followed up with those people, and that they've asked people how they felt when they went through the program. What he hasn't said is whether there's been any sort of independent evaluation of this program. It's one thing for the government to say to people, "We've offered you a service -how do you think that we met your needs?" It's another thing for an independent person to come in and say, "This was a service that was offered to you. How do you think your needs were being met?" And I think that, at this point, we need to look at an independent evaluation of these programs and other Health and Social Services programs.
Is the minister willing to look at independent evaluations of these programs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'll certainly take that under advisement with the department and have some discussions with them. I think up to now one of the things that we have been doing is looking at areas where we can improve. We've also met with individuals who have gone through the program, assessed what their areas of concern were and have tried to address them. Some have related to issues of staffing; some have related to programming; and we've tried to address those as we go on. I think it's important that this program be a living, organic kind of program that we can look at at various points as we proceed and find areas where we can improve and areas where we can be more successful.
Question re: Yukon Family Services Association
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I hope that when we're evaluating programs, we do it with an independent eye.
I also have questions again for the Minister of Health and Social Services, and it concerns the Yukon Family Services organization.
Mr. Speaker, the minister's department contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this non-governmental organization. There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding this group in recent months. There have also been a large number of resignations and a huge reduction in services. Is the minister satisfied that this organization is living up to the terms of its contract?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We've been aware and have been working with Yukon Family Services on an ongoing basis for the past number of months. They have gone through a number of structural changes, a number of administrative changes. They have lost staff due to illnesses and some staff have left on their own. We do have concerns about the level of service that is being offered presently but, I think, with having a new director in place, they are certainly moving to do their recruitments as soon as they can. We feel that they'll be up and functioning.
I think the letter in the paper the other day from the new director stressed the commitment that they are going to try and restore services as soon as they can.
We have been working with them and we have been trying to meet their needs.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the minister is trying to work with the organization, but there are a number of people out there who need help now.
This is an organization in serious trouble. Services to Haines Junction were discontinued in June of this year, to Carmacks in September, and to Teslin in October. They've also recently announced that they were no longer seeing any new clients.
Mr. Speaker, our rural communities in particular are suffering greatly as a result.
Does the government plan to let this continue indefinitely, or are there contingency plans in place to deal with this situation?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well of course, Mr. Speaker, we don't plan to let this continue ad infinitum, but I can stress that we have been working with this group, and we have had assurances that they are working as fast as they can to restore services. They do have a recruitment issue, and, as all groups that deal with individuals in social and helping professions, we're all faced with those issues around recruitment.
I believe that they're making a concerted effort and an honest effort, as quickly as they can, to restore services and fulfill the obligations of their contract. I would not be too swift to write this group off. I think that they can rise and meet their needs.
Mrs. Edelman: I appreciate that, but there are people who need help now. It's always important to find out how one gets into trouble, mainly so it doesn't happen again. Does the minister have any plans to review what has happened at Yukon Family Services to avoid this kind of problem in the future?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we're particularly aware of the issue at Yukon Family Services, and that has been largely some changes. I think the letter in the paper alluded to a different structural kind of mode, in terms of the relationship between the board and the staff itself, so I think that is one of the things that they're addressing. They certainly have gone through some changes in how they're structured. Some of those changes caused some concern and dissent among the staff.
There have also been issues of individuals leaving for personal reasons, health reasons, going on leave, and so on. We're aware. Our mental health services has been working very closely with Yukon Family Services. We've been trying to support them in every way we can, and we're confident that they will be able to rise to the challenge, once they're able to make the necessary recruitments, and move on.
Question re: Workers' Compensation building renovations
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. Back in 1996, when this government was in office, the Workers' Compensation Board spent $126,000 on office renovations to improve the interior colour scheme of their offices in the Ikea building. It was believed that the stark yellows and other harsh colours excited people as they walked into the building, and consequently, the board wanted to tone down the level of anger by creating a more calm, relaxed atmosphere through the use of more friendly colours.
Well, Mr. Speaker, it appears the board is still painting. Can the minister explain the $12,910 contract issued last July to renovate the offices of the WCB president and a further contract for $5,790 issued at the same time for other office renovations? That's $18,700 on top of the previous $120,000 for office renovations for an overpriced administration service that isn't helping injured workers who are still seeing red when they walk in the door over there, Mr. Speaker. How does the minister justify these expenditures?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the critic need not be too critical of the office space and the new couch and the renovations that were done a little while ago - a few years ago, Mr. Speaker - because they were done as a result of the Yukon Party administration and the Gladish Report that they commissioned. And they were pushing for the implementation of those recommendations, so they were the architects of that action.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the office space, I'll have to look into this. These decisions are made by the citizen board of labour and workers, who control the day-to-day operations of the board. I would imagine that, if it is the case, that they approved this as a submission that went to the administration. So I'll investigate. I'll pass on the member's concerns to the board, and they can respond to the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess the question is, why does the minister in charge of that department not know of a major expenditure, Mr. Speaker?
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, which now services approximately 13,000 workers because of the Yukon's declining labour force, costs $4.6 million to administer, and it appears that these administration costs are rising with the creation of new, additional positions, such as the two vice-presidents.
Can the minister advise the House if some of these exorbitant renovations costs are not just due to changing office colours, but are also, in fact, due to more positions being created within the WCB?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I have to correct the member. The labour force of the Yukon this month, I think, is the third highest ever. That's the number of workers in the labour force - the third highest ever. Just check the stats branch. You'll see that the number of workers is actually growing, and not decreasing, in the territory.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: More chuckling from the wax museum over there, Mr. Speaker, but I'll produce the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Mr. Harding: - for the members opposite.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. I would ask the member to withdraw the words "wax museum".
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Harding: Absolutely, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I'll also say that the Workers' Compensation Board is not a department. It is actually run by business and labour, who sit on a citizens' board. And the minister's role is governed by legislation. The legislation says this board is in control of day-to-day operations, and budgeting, and those issues that pertain to issues that the member's raising.
It also says further that the minister must stay out of adjudication of claims, which I have respected. What I do have purview over is legislative action, and yesterday I tabled a very important bill to advance the cause of workers and employers in this territory, to make fundamental changes and improvements to the workers' compensation system.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister might want to check the amendments to the labour standards to see how many people the change in that act added to the labour force - workers that previously were classified as contract workers now have to be covered as employees.
He might want to look at those statistics and take them out of the equation to see what the work pool here in the Yukon is doing.
Mr. Speaker, we will soon be debating the proposed amendments to the Workers' Compensation Act, and in my reading of what is being proposed, administration costs will be escalating even more, to such an extent that another floor might even have to be added to the WCB offices.
Will the minister confirm the fact that administration costs will be rising because of these new amendments?
Hon. Mr. Harding: No, I won't, but I will check with the board, which is responsible for these types of issues. I'll raise the concerns on behalf of the member opposite. What I will do, Mr. Speaker, as well, is table new changes to the workers' compensation legislation, which is the responsibility of the minister. I believe that administration costs will be addressed in the new legislation by questions around the operational audit that will be commissioned under this new legislation, so that all airing about administration costs will be done by an independent body once again, and I'll also read out the numbers for the labour force in this territory.
Mr. Speaker, this year, the average labour-force size is 15,700. The largest ever was 1997. That was with the Faro mine going. That was 15,867, a difference of only 167. The member is wrong about the size of the labour force in this territory.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, workers' advocate
Mr. Jenkins: Again to the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board. Mr. Speaker, the minister himself is wrong. A lot of the additions in the labour force came about as a consequence of the change in the labour-standard rules and what an employee was classified as. I ask the minister to go back and do his homework, not just spout off words.
The minister was, in the news media today, citing additional costs to run the Workers' Compensation Board of another $150,000. That falls far short of the estimate in the overview that was provided.
My question today for the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board is that he is taking credit for the creation of the position of the workers' advocate, and the workers' advocate position - I'm very shocked to see in the proposed WCB amendments that it's being left to the discretion of the Minister of Justice. Section 2.1(1) of that bill states that the Minister of Justice "may" appoint a workers' advocate. It doesn't say "shall" appoint. I'd like to know why, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Harding: First of all, Mr. Speaker, the member, on the labour-force statistics, I must point out, is wrong about the Employment Standards Act and its impact on these numbers. First of all, the numbers have been higher for most every other year, from 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999, irrespective of any changes to the Employment Standards Act that this government made. Second of all, the population of the Yukon is turning around.
So, Mr. Speaker, the member is quite wrong about that, because the economy is also turning around. I'll also say to the member opposite that our actions on the workers' advocate speak louder than his words. They also speak louder than the words of the previous minister under the Yukon Party who, for years, I dogged in this Legislature to appoint a workers' advocate, and they refused to do so. We're proud of what we did for injured workers in creating the workers' advocate. We've even put more money into workers' advocacy. There are now two or three people working in that office, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of injured workers, and we've entrenched it in the legislation so that it stands, until at least, perhaps, some time in the future, when some Conservative element in this territory might again try to hack it down.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister is wrong with respect to the labour force, and I would ask him to go back and look. Yes, the statistic for the population of the Yukon is turning around - it's still continuing to go downward, and it will continue to go downward this fall.
But when we look at the question that I just asked the minister - I asked him why, in the proposed legislation, the Minister of Justice may appoint a workers' advocate - why doesn't it read "shall appoint"? Why can't we enshrine it in legislation with some certainty? What is the minister afraid of?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I don't know what point the member's trying to make. This government's not afraid of anything; that's why we made the changes to the Workers' Compensation Act; that's why we brought in the workers' advocate; that's why we're entrenching it in the legislation.
The reason that it is in Justice is because workers asked us to put it outside of the Workers' Compensation Board. That's why it's there, and it's now going to be entrenched in legislation. We can have a full debate about this. I stand on the record. There's going to be a workers' advocate, Mr. Speaker. Absolutely. We're committed to it. It's unfortunate the Yukon Party is only now engaging in revisiting history of the fact that, for four years, because one of the chambers of commerce didn't want a workers' advocate, the members opposite refused to bring it in.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the labour force numbers, I provided the facts. The member opposite is fumbling around, trying to respond to what is not the case. The case is that the labour force is among the largest ever in this territory, and the population is getting higher.
Mr. Jenkins:Well, the minister sounds like he's the birth mother of the workers' advocate's position, but what we're looking for is for the minister to agree to enshrine that position in law by changing the words "may appoint" to "shall appoint". Will the minister undertake to do that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, that's the whole point of the legislation. We have committed to the workers' advocate. We intend to ensure, as we did through our acts by creating the workers' advocate, that the legislation says that there will be a workers' advocate. So, Mr. Speaker, this government's record is absolutely crystal clear on the workers' advocate.
I look forward to the debate with the member opposite. We'll explore it in much detail around the Workers' Compensation Act, and I can tell the member opposite that we're very, very proud of a lot of the changes we've made in this legislation to advance the causes of workers that go far beyond the workers' advocate - to the payment of interest to workers who are held up in the system, to the creation of an independent adjudication board, and to the work that we're going to do around ensuring that medical consultation is improved so that workers feel more comfortable with the system. All of these things, and many more, will increase the accountability of this citizen board and the people who run it, and labour employers to their constituencies, and business and labour.
Question re: Code of Regulatory Conduct
Mr. Cable:I have some questions for the minister responsible for Government Services on his Code of Regulatory Conduct. The minister launched his red-tape reduction initiative a year ago, and he introduced his Code of Regulatory Conduct. One part of that code called for the government, before implementing regulatory measures, to identify the potential costs and benefits from the proposed regulations.
Now, there have been many regulations passed since the code was announced a year ago. Where do we sit on this exercise? Are we actually doing cost-benefit analysis before implementing new regulations?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, Mr. Speaker, we are, and not only that, as regulations come forward in Cabinet, they are reviewed prior to coming forward to see if they add an administrative burden and, in some cases, they have been turned back to the respective departments for revision.
Mr. Cable: The minister, in his press release of September 30, 1998, was quoted as saying, "This code requires the government to seek input from the people directly affected before enacting new legislation or regulations," and that was the gist of A Better Way, the election platform of the NDP. Could the minister clarify, does the Code of Regulatory Conduct - the cost-benefit portion of that code - apply to legislation as well as regulations?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I would assume that when legislation comes forward, it is reviewed in the same light. I can tell the member that we have been not only reviewing legislation coming forward, but we've also been going through an exercise where we've been consulting with some of those industries that will be affected, or can be affected, looking at the present level of, I suppose, regulatory burden. We went through an exercise with the Chamber of Commerce with a series of surveys. Subsequent to that, we've begun some sectoral tables, and I have just received a draft report of the first sectoral table. I can tell the member that some interesting issues have arisen there. The fact that, while regulatory issues have been identified with regard to the territorial government, in this particular sector there were a large number identified for the municipal sector as well. And I think that's going to suggest to us that we need to do some referencing with our friends in the city and also our federal friends to inform them of what we're getting back, because certainly, in this one particular sector, we found that the preponderance of regulatory burden tended to be at the municipal level. So we'll have to work with our municipal counterparts.
Mr. Cable: There are amendments to the Workers' Compensation Act before the House, and I understand that the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board has done a cost-benefit analysis. Has this government done an independent cost-benefit analysis of the amendments?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the answer to that question is yes, we engaged KPMG, I can't remember the full analogy, Peat Marwick Thorne, to do an independent cost analysis of the amendments, and I'll be more than happy to provide that to the members opposite in the full debate that we'll have about what I think are some extremely important changes to benefit workers and employers in this territory in the form of the new Workers' Compensation Act. I look forward to the debate with the members opposite because they've called for these changes to come in, and challenge us to bring them forward, and we've been up to that challenge, and we've stood with some courage to bring them forward to this Legislature.
Question re: Vanier Catholic Secondary School gymnasium floor
Mr. Phillips: My question is to the Minister of Education, and it's regarding the replacement of the Vanier gym floor.
Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, I asked a question of the minister regarding a letter I received from a Deputy Minister of Education that said, on July 9, that a study was underway to determine whether the floor was causing injury to students.
Mr. Speaker, on, I believe, September 18, I received a letter from the minister advising me that they were contemplating doing a study this fall.
The question I asked the minister yesterday, and she tried to avoid, is, why was I told that the study was underway early in July when it hasn't even started as yet?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The answer for the member, as I indicated to him yesterday, is that the reason he got a letter in July indicating that there was a study underway is because there was a study underway.
We have looked and are looking into the Vanier gym floor and the use of synthetic gym floors, which is a feature of many of the schools throughout the territory.
Mr. Phillips: Why did the minister's study indicate that they were just contemplating the scope of the study, and the study would be getting underway shortly, in the minister's letter, if it had already been underway months before? Was the minister not aware that the department had actually started the study?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I seem to recall the member raising this question in the last session of the Legislature and being told at that time that we were conducting a study. We are, in fact, doing that work.
You know, it's interesting that the floor has been in use for a number of years - as Riverdale Junior High School and as Jeckell Junior High School - without specific complaints of injuries attributable to the floor being brought forward. When we did hear the concern, then we began to investigate it.
We are having someone come up later this month to look at it and, to date, we have received no evidence that the synthetic floor material is defective.
Mr. Phillips: I don't know what this government needs for evidence, Mr. Speaker, other than a whole bunch of kids laid up with injuries - knee injuries. They had a petition of 100 children who signed it and said there was a problem with the floor. We're talking about a difference here between junior high students and high school students. These students are much larger, and it's creating problems for them. They've been crying out for some help to get the gym floor fixed, and this government has a half-a-billion-dollar budget and can't find enough money to fix the floor to save some of these kids injury.
I'd like to ask the minister if she would put some money into the supplementary budget so we can get the floor fixed and help those kids who are now receiving injuries on the floor over at the school.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member opposite knows that we care about the safety of our kids in the schools. The member opposite knows that we're concerned that the health and safety -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We certainly are, Mr. Speaker.
There are occasionally injuries when students take part in sports activities on gym floors. The research that we have indicates that synthetic floors have a lower rate of injury when compared to wooden floors. Nonetheless, we're continuing to look into this and see whether there might be a problem with the synthetic flooring material, and, if so, we can deal with that.
Question re: Land claims and devolution
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Government Leader, and it concerns land claims and devolution.
Mr. Speaker, the acting Grand Chief for the Council of Yukon First Nations noted this morning that settling land claims, not devolution, is the top priority of First Nations. The extremely slow pace of land claims negotiations gives cause for concern that they will indeed be completed by April 1, 2000.
Does the announcement by First Nation leaders change the devolution timetable that has been set out by the Government Leader?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, first of all I would point out to the member that the position of First Nations with respect to wanting to finish land claims is not a new position. It's been a position that they have held from the very beginning.
What the government and First Nations have agreed to do together is work on many priorities, including land claims negotiations, devolution, community development - many different priorities that are of importance to the First Nation people of this territory, and including the implementation of existing land claims, for which we're having a great deal of trouble in our relationship with the federal Liberals.
Mr. Speaker, we, in this government, care deeply about finishing the land claims process for all First Nations that have not yet completed their claims. I know that when I speak to the federal minister - the federal Liberal minister - I can count on being able to say that I have the Liberal leader's support in this Legislature for doing that, because most of the outstanding issues that separate First Nation governments and government, in terms of settling the outstanding land claims, are in fact federal issues.
So I know I'll have her support.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader has been quietly trying to distance himself from the faltering land claims process. When the NDP government was first elected, settling land claims was the top priority. Indeed, the infamous - or famous - A Better Way document says, "Piers McDonald and the New Democrats believe that settling land claims must come first, and not be jeopardized by an unrealistic...timetable on devolution."
Mr. Speaker, why did the government flip-flop on these two priorities? When did devolution overtake land claims on the NDP agenda?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, devolution did not overtake our top priority: negotiating of land claims. If the member is saying that in order to settle land claims, I should step in with the Yukon government's budget and with Yukon taxpayers' money to pick up federal responsibilities, she should say so directly. But this government has been trying to settle land claims, and as I've indicated on a couple of occasions, the outstanding issues are federal Liberal issues to deal with, not Yukon NDP issues to deal with. We care deeply about settling the remaining land claims. We think there's a need to settle the outstanding land claims.
We also have other things going on, Mr. Speaker. We believe in community development, and we're working very hard around the territory to ensure that people have jobs, have a vibrant economic and social life in every community in this territory. We're doing that too. We also believe that there's an opportunity to see devolution of resource management responsibilities come from the federal government to the Yukon, and we are working on that too. We believe we can accomplish many of these priorities, but what I cannot do is I cannot step into the fiduciary responsibility that the federal government holds for First Nation people and put Yukon taxpayers' money to work to settle a federal responsibility.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader and I will agree that there are three parties at the table. Because of their inability to settle land claims quickly and to be one of the third parties that reaches this agreement, they've now changed their focus to devolution. This is a position they also took with DAP - "It's not our fault. It's never our fault. No, it's somebody else's fault. We tried to get it done and could not, and now let's blame somebody else."
Mr. Speaker, if the land claims agreements are not settled by the end of March - and there is grave concern that they will not be - is the minister going to go ahead and sign devolution anyway? Is that the plan?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I would be forever grateful if the Liberals in this Legislature, and the Liberal leader, took a position on absolutely anything at all. She made a virtue in the newspapers last night that she doesn't want to take a position on anything until the election. It's all going to be a giant mystery.
Mr. Speaker, we have the courage of our convictions. We're going to continue trying to negotiate land claims, continue trying to work with the federal government, who is responsible for implementing the land claims, to do that, too. We believe there's an opportunity to see the devolution of resource management responsibilities to the Yukon. We can do that, too. We can see that there's an opportunity to improve the community life for people around this territory. We can do that, too, and we can protect health care, and we can protect education, and we can do many other things. This government has got lots of talent and lots of ability and, working with the people of this territory, we can accomplish a great deal, as we are.
But, Mr. Speaker, what we cannot do is fill in for the federal Liberals for failing to live up to their commitments to settle land claims.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We'll proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: Government motions?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: On a point of order.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, it's not a point of order. I am the MLA for Riverdale South. These are the students from Vanier Catholic Secondary School, and I'd like to introduce them to the members of the Legislature. The Vanier Catholic Secondary School is within the Riverdale South riding.
Motion No. 177
Clerk: Motion No. 177, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Harding.
Speaker: It is moved by the Minister of Economic Development
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) it is important to expand our traditional resource sector but equally important to stimulate other areas to strengthen and diversify our economy to reduce the boom-and-bust cycles;
(2) the success of these efforts requires partnerships with First Nation governments, business and labour; and
THAT this House urges the government to continue to implement initiatives that meet these objectives such as developing our oil and gas, forest and cultural industries, creating trade and investment opportunities for local products and services and expanding our tourism promotion to new markets such as Asia.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, this is quite an action for the government to take, to bring forward this motion, because we feel, as a government, that the economy of the Yukon is serious business. It's something that demands the attention of members of this Legislature, and so far in this legislative sitting we've heard very few questions, very few comments, very few suggestions from the opposition about the economy.
And, Mr. Speaker, they are dictating by their actions today their lack of concern for the economy, and we know Yukoners will not tolerate that. They've shown a propensity to complain more about their own stead in the Yukon, to complain about administrivia in this House, than to talk about the economic situation of this territory.
Today, we're going to debate ideas, and we're going to debate concrete suggestions, and I ask the public, when we do this, to listen carefully. Listen for ideas and listen for suggestions from the opposition, because, Mr. Speaker, you will hear very little. Time and time again, the government of this territory has taken concrete-action steps to create jobs and opportunities, and we'll go through them. And it won't be talk. We'll just hit the high points. But we will demonstrate through our actions that in a clash of ideas about the economic future and vision of this territory, we are far above the Liberals and Tories who demonstrate, as I said, once again by their actions today, their lack of interest in the economy.
Mr. Speaker, so much criticism has been directed by the opposition at this government on the economy, but there has been a serious void of alternatives proposed. Three years have gone by, and now is the time to start talking about where this territory is going, and we want to hear ideas, but yesterday was the last straw for us.
When we saw the Liberal leader in the Whitehorse Star tell the people of the Yukon, when commenting on the supplementary budget of the government, when pushed by the local beat reporter for the Whitehorse Star who asked what the Liberals would spend the money on, now that the Liberals are the official opposition - and she said, "There are a number of areas where we would spend it differently. That's what election platforms (are for)." When pressed to give examples, she replied, "I think the point is of this discussion is our look at the supplementary budget."
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals campaigned in the last territorial election on being the alternative to the politics of confrontation. Now we hear from the new leader of the official opposition that they are only about confrontation. It's not about ideas to them. It's about kicking the government and trying to get elected, and we believe that Yukoners deserve more. They deserve rational debate, thoughtful discussion about the issues. They need to hear their legislators talk about action steps that are going to be taken on the economy.
Mr. Speaker, listen carefully today to the opposition, if they even participate in this debate, as they haven't in the past. The fact whether they are here or not is irrelevant, because whether they're here or not, they don't offer suggestions or alternatives.
Mr. Speaker, what you'll hear from the official opposition, if you hear anything at all, is that they'll talk about - when talking about "the economy's dead" - mine permitting, the development assessment process and the settling of land claims - all issues that are in the purview of the Liberal government in Ottawa now. The development assessment process is federal legislation. The land claims - we've resolved in so many land claims all of the territorial issues, that we're now waiting for the Liberal government to make some moves in Ottawa and live up their implementation commitments in the land claims that have already been negotiated and live up to the spirit of the UFA in terms of settling the other claims.
When you talk about mine permitting, that is a regulatory function in the whole mining industry of the federal Liberal government in Ottawa. So, we try as we might to improve that situation, but, Mr. Speaker, we don't have ultimate control. They refuse to say what they would do as a government, or what they'd do differently, and now have announced that they won't until the next election.
Mr. Speaker, they'll talk a little bit about economic diversification and the Yukon protected areas strategy; they'll nibble around the edges and, like so many other issues, they'll come down on both sides of it.
Listen carefully to any specific initiative that they would take. They might talk about striking committees and issuing investigations, and getting independent reports done, and entrenching the community development fund, something they've opposed in legislation, but they'll fail to mention any new, specific initiative that's going to really matter, that's really going to be an action step to make a difference to this economy.
Mr. Speaker, then there's the back-to-the-future Yukon Party, who believes that the only answer, the only saviour of this economy, and their only vision, is mining. They refuse to acknowledge any action - the dramatic action - that this government has taken to support the mining industry, even though the federal government has responsibility for the resource.
They somehow - supposed free marketeers - believe that the dramatic decrease in world metal prices, and the complete demolishing of the investment situation around junior mining companies, with investors in Bre-X losing $8 billion, has nothing to do with the Yukon, that somehow we're just an island in a sea of evidence that, across this country, the mining industry has seen dramatic downturns.
Mr. Speaker, they'll cringe at our economic diversification initiatives that are going to build on using the resource sector in mining and in forestry, and in oil and gas, and they're going to cringe at all the other initiatives we have in trade and investment.
Mr. Speaker, listen to what they say. If they say anything at all, they'll talk about more balance between the economy and the environment. Well, that's code for "kill all protected areas", a commitment that they signed on to as a government, as did every government across this country, but never had the courage to act upon when they were in government.
Mr. Speaker, that code resonates very well with some people who believe, when they are looking for a fall guy for the mining industry and the problems they are having nationally and internationally, in targeting that strategy.
So, Mr. Speaker, more balance means the death of that strategy.
Mr. Speaker, you'll also hear from the Yukon Party about infrastructure and grand vision. They'll talk about taxes and tax relief, but their terrible record as a government on both fronts will destroy any credibility they have on that front. In the first case, they brought in the biggest tax increases in Yukon history. They built no infrastructure, and now, at least, as differentiating from the Liberals, they are now talking about connecting the entire Yukon, all at once, to an interlocking power grid.
At least they're putting forward something. Mind you, it's an idea that's going to jack up everybody's electrical bills in this territory, and mind you, we have fewer customers on the grid and we have surplus power so there'll be a massive mortgage for everyone to pay, but, Mr. Speaker, at least they have the courage - albeit wrongly directed - to announce at least one initiative that they would undertake.
Mr. Speaker, at this time, I'd like to mention some of the key economic action that our government has taken, because this is not a criticism session. This is pointing out what we've done and pointing out the obvious flaws in the opposition's attack on the economy and their lack of constructive debate and substance on this issue.
Mr. Speaker, we have worked very hard on economic diversification, on expanding the access to markets for Yukon people in this territory. This government brought in the largest mineral exploration tax credit per capita in this country. Coupled with existing initiatives that we have on taxation with the mining incentives program and our royalty structure, the Yukon has the second-best mineral regime in Canada, based on work done by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
We feel extremely confident about where we stand on that front.
Mr. Speaker, another significant action - if you want to think of it as a top-ten list, Mr. Speaker - is negotiating the control of oil and gas from the federal government.
We went to work, Mr. Speaker, as another action initiative, and signed all 14 governments - First Nation governments - on with us to the development of a common regime. We developed a Yukon Oil and Gas Act, which Akita Drilling recently came up to the Yukon and said to the Chamber of Commerce was the best in the country.
Mr. Speaker, this action has lead to the issuing of five seismic oil and gas exploration permits in southeast Yukon, and they, Mr. Speaker, are the first in 20 years in this territory - $10 million in investment in this territory has come as a result of that. And Mr. Speaker, on November 15 the bids come in for Eagle Plains, which is the first land sale in some 20 years in this territory, for exploration rights in that particular area. Mr. Speaker, that is a concrete-action initiative that this government has undertaken, and lots more are underway.
Yesterday we heard from the Yukon Party opposition, and they were saying that they had concerns that First Nations had gotten work on these jobs. I say to the member opposite that it's important that non-native and native Yukoners receive work on these jobs in oil and gas. But I should also point out to him that members of the Liard First Nation are Yukoners as well, and he should not cast them aside, as he casts a wide net over his views on how work should take place on oil and gas - particularly when his government, when we took over, had left the oil and gas industry in a state of absolute disarray. There was nothing happening, and they had no direction and no vision.
Mr. Speaker, we've negotiated an agreement with First Nation governments and the federal government on the devolution of the Northern Affairs program. That's going to include mining and forestry, bringing it over to territorial control to ensure that we have local decision-making over resource management - something that I think is the most important thing for the long-term future of this territory, as evidenced by what's happened under action initiatives in oil and gas.
This has been no small task. This has taken thousands of hours of work by officials, political work by the Government Leader, by the federal minister, by the First Nation leaders; and Mr. Speaker, it is something that is going to make a real difference to people's lives.
Another action initiative, something never before seen in this territory, is taking options on port access for the long term, in both Skagway and Haines, Alaska, so that the Yukon, as we try and diversify the economy and make it a real trading force in this country and in the world, will have access to ports. So, for the long term - 50 years from now - people who want to do work in this territory in the resource sector, in mining, or who want to export products they have, will know they have a route, because the territory is landlocked, and we cannot allow our access to tidewater to be eroded.
So, Mr. Speaker, this is an exercise of action and vision. But do we hear questions? Do we hear suggestions? Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker, from the opposition. Do we hear picayune criticism? Absolutely. And sometimes do we hear outright opposition, because it's a good idea? Absolutely. But where are their ideas? Where is their vision?
When you look at the case of the Haines port, that is a functioning port at present and, with some work, could provide some incredible opportunities for trade for western Yukon. In my speaking to the people of Haines, from the mayors of the borough and the city, and some people from the Chamber of Commerce, they're very excited about it, because it's a win-win for our territory and for Haines.
In Skagway, the option we've taken there is a longer-term option. Fifty years from now, I don't want to be around saying that the government of today should have had the courage to do what this government is doing, and that it just watched an opportunity evaporate. We seized it. We're seizing it today. We're taking action.
Mr. Speaker, another concrete step that this government is taking - and is continuing to take with the airport expansion and the construction that's being considered there - is the expansion of the runway. What has that yielded in terms of results? Well now, under the direction of the Minister of Tourism, the government has three direct flights from Europe going to be coming next summer - from Switzerland and from Germany.
And, Mr. Speaker, when we were on Team Canada, and we met with Asian tour companies, with the Mayor of Whitehorse, with representatives from TIA, we have found an excellent reception for the territory. We've already had Japanese tour companies come back to the territory. They're coming back at Christmas. They want to make a winter tourism destination out of the territory, and much further into the summer season.
Mr. Speaker, Yellowknife gets 8,000 Japanese visitors every winter, spending oodles of money, investing in that territory, buying gifts, spending money on hotels. Our vision includes expanding into that region. When we've gone to China, we know that under business incentive tours, that under English as a second language, we have great potential for increasing visitation from that massive market and nation to this territory. When we've been to other jurisdictions in Asia - in Taiwan, for example - we have Yukon ambassadors that are very well-known there that are opening up markets. The Watson Lake community, for example, is bringing 200 Taiwanese visitors there every winter, to Watson Lake. I commend that initiative that they've taken, and we're going to work with them to expand into Asia and to continue to focus on Europe and America and large markets and, Mr. Speaker, really make this the tourist destination that we know it can be.
Mr. Speaker, another concrete initiative that we've taken, that we continue to take, is investing in alternative energy infrastructure. We've provided contributions from the Yukon government to the Yukon Energy Corporation, the Yukon Development Corporation, to construct a one-megawatt wind-turbine generator, to invest in that green power source, which is going to, when it's up and running, power over 150 homes in the capital city and show our commitment to green power.
The Yukon taxpayers and the government have invested $3 million in green power initiatives to ensure that we as a territory don't lay back from the rest of the country and that we're continuing to invest in green power alternatives. Mr. Speaker, that's vision.
We are also doing something that I think is probably, along with devolution, as important as anything else, and this work has just been announced and is starting. The advent of this government's decision to connect all of rural Yukon to new telecommunications infrastructure through a public/private partnership with Northwestel, which already owns the existing lines, will take this territory into the next millennium with the tools they need to have a fighting chance to earn a living, to be connected to the outside world.
If this government did not take that action, I would argue that we don't have the vision, Mr. Speaker, we should not have the confidence of the electorate. But seeing that the people in Old Crow, the people in Faro, the people in Watson Lake and every other rural Yukon community should have the ability to have high-speed Internet services, should have access to better phone service and should have the ability to do video conferencing on medicine and on education, I think is a worthwhile investment, and I think it's long overdue in this territory. I'm extremely proud of the officials who've worked on that particular initiative, and this government, who is going to have a major challenge working in this public/private partnership in implementing this task. But we're prepared to put our money where our mouth is, and make that happen, and make it happen because we believe in rural Yukon, and we believe they should have the services that Whitehorse has.
Mr. Speaker, we have worked - in terms of facilitating, through the investment and offsite infrastructure in this city, as we have done in other cases in the past - in levering a $35-million private-sector investment in a new retail complex in the capital city, which is going to bring jobs and retail opportunities to this territory, and private sector investment.
The reason these people are putting that much money into the territory of the Yukon and into the economy is simply because they believe in the economic future. They believe, Mr. Speaker, that the economy is turning around, it is a prudent time to invest and the climate here is a good place to invest.
Mr. Speaker, the opposition parties, the Yukon Liberals, have had three years to figure out what they would do about the economy and to lay out specific plans and ideas and suggestions in this House, and today we find out they're not even prepared to do that. Yesterday, in the Whitehorse Star, they told the Yukon they snubbed their nose at the public and said, "We're not gonna do that." How can they do that in the face of our desire, as a government, to debate the economy and to show and to talk about the initiatives that we have underway and the initiatives that perhaps we should be engaging in in the future to continue to ensure that the economy is diversified?
Another action step this government took that was bold, and never before done, was to develop the immigrant investor fund, something that the Yukon Party government did not have the courage to do, even though all jurisdictions in the country were benefiting from this program, when it was switched and the rules were made by the federal government that only governments could sponsor them. Mr. Speaker, we put forward $26 million - or we attracted $26 million - in this investment from people who feel confident in the future of the Yukon, in the economy of the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, we're already putting that money to work for Yukoners. It's going to be invested in the telecommunications infrastructure initiative that's going to wire this territory. That is vision, and we've done it against the nitter-natter and criticism of the members opposite. They want to know this little detail; they want to know that little detail. We never know quite what they support or what they don't support. They always want to pick, pick, pick, but never take a position.
I say the time has come for them to start taking positions. We, as a government, took a lesson from the Lake Laberge by-election. We learned from the people that the economy was the issue and, Mr. Speaker, we have responded with action, and we're going to continue. We have been taking action. We want to talk about the economy. We want to talk about the future and, Mr. Speaker, it's obvious the opposition is not prepared and not willing to do so, by their comments yesterday in the paper, and by their actions today.
Let's get the debate on. What about the alternative to the politics of confrontation? Where are those ideas?
Something that we, as a government, knew we had to do when we came into office was start to take fundamental take action to diversify the economy. We've been talking and talking about that for years in this territory, but finally you're seeing results. We have over 70 businesses that are expanding their markets into new fields, and I'm not just talking about Taiwan or anywhere far off. They're expanding their markets into Alaska. They're expanding their markets into B.C., into Alberta, into the Northwest Territories. They're doing that, Mr. Speaker, because out government, working with them, has opened up new opportunities and alternatives for them to finally start growing their market.
Because 32,000 people, Mr. Speaker - it's not a big enough market to really encourage internal diversification.
So, Mr. Speaker, I got a note today that Matthew Lien in the cultural industry's field is living la vida loca in Taiwan. He's number six and number 20 on the charts, ahead of Ricky Martin and some other notables like the Backstreet Boys in Taiwan, on the heels of his recent concert, his albums.
Mr. Speaker, when I see companies like Chilkoot Brewing Company exporting into Ontario, when I see companies like Duncan's Limited shipping sheet-metal fabricated garbage cans off to Alaska for contracts over $1 million, when I see companies exporting insulation products out of the territory, when I see companies developing log homes and exporting them to Alaska, when I see Yukon tourism operators over in Japan starting to bring Japanese tourists here, I recognize that this strategy is working and, Mr. Speaker, I'll go through the results later and concretely prove and establish that we are working through statistics and factual information and testimonials from these companies.
Mr. Speaker, another significant initiative that this government has taken is the small business investment tax credit and other tax credit initiatives that we said were important for this local economy. These had never before been undertaken by a Yukon government. The only thing that the Conservative administration, Yukon Party, did to taxes was raise them. This government came in and initiated tax reform and tax incentive policies.
Mr. Speaker, you see across this city and in this territory, capital construction, businesses under expansion, office space going up. If you look at the value of building permits, the trends are much better than last year and are increasing, and I believe that's because there's confidence in the future of the Yukon economy and things are turning around, and things are stabilizing, and things are diversifying.
Mr. Speaker, I also want to say that the rate stabilization fund that this government brought in was another extremely important initiative, an action statement that this government brought forward, taking $10 million of taxpayers' money, investing in the utility when the territory lost the Faro mine from the grid to ensure that businesses and commercial consumers and residential customers who pay their power bills weren't hit right between the eyes with massive power rate increases, because that would have been the eventuality, because there are large debts to pay, large mortgages to pay on the assets of the utility that the public owns. And if there are less customers, and the Faro mine isn't helping pay for those assets, then the burden is shared among lesser customers and, thus, rates go up. We buffered Yukoners from that serious concern - both municipal, residential and commercial.
Mr. Speaker, we all know that this territory has been hit hard by the lowest mineral prices in some 20 years. We just recently had a bump in gold prices from very, very low levels, but we've already seen it go back below $300 an ounce U.S.
The Asian financial crisis, the effect of Bre-X on junior mining companies and their ability to attract speculative investors, Mr. Speaker, has made it very difficult for mining companies to raise development capital. If you look at the statistics in Canada over the last few years, there has been a tremendous drop in mine development and exploration expenditures, and we can't ignore that in the territory.
Now I know the leader of the Yukon Party thinks the fact that there was a high exploration year in 1996 was all his doing. The exploration year in the entire country was at record highs in 1996. The reason for that was that you could raise $20 million in speculative investment capital to finance a junior mining play in a moose pasture before Bre-X. Mr. Speaker, that's no longer the case. If you look at the statistics that I have here in front of me, the level of investment in 1996 in debt and equity raised from mining exploration and development was, by 1996, a total of $9 billion in the country. Since we have felt the effects of the Asian crisis and Bre-X, it has dropped in the country to under $3 billion, a drop of over $6.2 billion.
That's how the chart looks, Mr. Speaker, and that is a fact. It's a harsh reality but it's one that we have to face as a territory.
Of course, we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, Mr. Speaker. The mining industry has been and will be, into the future, a major component of the economy of this territory, but I want to say that it is important that we recognize the realities we face. We've seen gold, copper and zinc experience small increases in the last few months, and we have reached the bottom of the cycle. I think we can expect mineral activity to slowly start to increase in the coming years, but it's critical that we use this opportunity to prepare for renewed growth by ensuring that the Yukon remains a competitive jurisdiction for attracting mineral investment when there is some out there to actually be had.
It's also equally as important that we don't rely and become complacent on a single industry, but continue to strengthen our efforts to diversify and grow. We need the mineral resources sector, and we need more. We need more mining, we need more oil and gas, we need more tourism, we need more forestry, and we need more trade and investment and exports.
Mr. Speaker, when we were elected into government in 1996, the Faro mine ceased operations before this government had their phones hooked up. That resulted in a loss of some 1,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, and a drop of about 20 percent in our gross domestic product.
It was so clear to us, crystal clear, that we had to stimulate other sectors if we were to attain the goal in the absence of the big hit, the big megaproject that Faro represents, to diversify this economy. Mr. Speaker, I believe that initiatives that we have taken to reduce boom-and-bust cycles are actually showing results, and, Mr. Speaker, for those innovative and aggressive entrepreneurs, the opportunities are there, and they're taking advantage of them.
Mr. Speaker, we are talking about action that this government is taking. We are talking about actual results, and we are sorely disappointed that in a debate where there's a clash about these ideas, the Liberals - the new official opposition - who obviously have completely betrayed the voters when they said they'd be the alternative to the politics of confrontation, have now yesterday in the Whitehorse Star taken the position that their lips are zippered until the next election about how they'd spend the money and what their ideas would be economically.
Empty vessels, hollow criticism - that is all we hear time and time again. It's time for the Liberal leader, Mr. Speaker, who has now got the important position of leader of the official opposition, to either get with the program, step into the shoes that the electorate has bestowed upon her or get out of the game. Because, Mr. Speaker, it's an important job that she has, and she has to be an alternative and present ideas, not just criticize and kick the government; talk about the economy being bad, but say nothing about what she'd do and what her ideas are. Mr. Speaker, we're all ears. We want to hear those ideas.
The Yukon Party, talking about interlocking power grids yesterday in the paper - I give them credit. I give them credit for actually having the courage to pick an issue and say that's what they'd do. And, as I stated before, it would have a very serious effect on everyone's power bill if they did it as they envision it, but, nonetheless, at least they've got some courage to put something forward.
Mr. Speaker, let's talk about the results of our strategy. Let's talk about the oil and gas investment in southeast Yukon, the first in 20 years. Let's see what happens with the bids come in November 15 at Eagle Plains. I think there's some potential for some good investment in that area.
Let's talk about the $7 million in well upgrades and capital infrastructure that was invested by Anderson Resources in the wells that they have in southeast Yukon, because they believe in the future of this industry in the territory. Let's talk about the $14 million in investment in new mills in this territory, in Haines Junction, mills in Teslin, mills in Watson Lake, that are employing over 100 people, and perhaps even pushing 200, if you count direct and indirect jobs in this territory. All of that investment, with the exception of Teslin, which was up and running, has come while this government has been in office, and we have worked to ensure that wood is flowing to these mills through the federal government, as frustrating as it can sometimes be. We have tried to support them when they're making the right initiatives and making the right moves.
Let's talk about the investment climate, Mr. Speaker, about the $26 million that was raised through the immigrant investor fund, because investors see this place as a good place to invest. Let's talk about the investment climate, and $35 million of private-sector money in a new retail complex in the capital city. Let's talk about the millions that are being invested, as we speak, in what's traditionally a very slow period for building construction, because of the seasonal elements, in office space and new businesses. Just drive down Second Avenue and have a look at the expansion at Home Centre Plus, new office space just down the road from that, a new business going up by the ReMax building.
Mr. Speaker, this is happening because somebody believes there's an economic future here. Somebody believes it's a good investment climate. Let's talk about the investment that Northwestel is making in telecommunications in rural Yukon. I think it's $5 million that they're adding into infrastructure development - $3 million to $5 million - to improve the infrastructure that exists in rural Yukon.
Let's talk about the climate of investment as it pertains to PricewaterhouseCoopers, and their declaration that our tax environment is the second best in the country.
That is living proof. That's not talk. That's not hyperbole. That's not verbiage. That, Mr. Speaker, is results.
Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a little bit more about the mining industry and the reality that we face. I think that things are rebounding, but, Mr. Speaker, I'll be darned if we in the territory can afford to rest on the laurels of the mining industry. Because if you look at the previous 10, 20, 30 years in this country, the industry has consistently been cyclical, and as the price flows in both mine development and junior sectors, the investment level ebbs and flows.
As new initiatives are announced, like flow-through shares, they have dramatic impacts on the mineral exploration budgets of companies and the investment in that area. As events occur, like Bre-X, they have dramatic impacts, and invariably we will get another boom in the mining industry, and we should take full advantage of that as a territory, and make no apologies for it. And we will.
But Mr. Speaker, we cannot rest just on the laurels of that. That's what happened under the Yukon Party. They told us everything was great. They told us the economy was in good shape.
Mr. Speaker, as soon as we lost Faro - as we came into government - it was true that that's not the case, that when you have one big player representing 20 percent of the economy, you are in a precarious position. They told us that the mineral exploration situation was good. Well, Mr. Speaker, it was good everywhere in the country, but that soon got slammed very hard to the ground. And what does that leave us with? That leaves us with the need to diversify and take the action that we've been taking.
But, Mr. Speaker, fundamental to the improvement of the ability to attract investment in the mining sector, when things improve - and now - is the devolution of the resource. That has got to happen with DIAND. We've got to get control of that resource, just like we have in oil and gas, to make things happen. That's something this government is doing, and hasn't done.
Mr. Speaker, to also prove that we support the mining industry, we're developing a mineral strategy with the industry and public input. It's all designed to create a comprehensive plan for this important sector, so that we are ready when there's investment out there to attract in the mining sector.
Mr. Speaker, there are other initiatives we've undertaken. When we came into government, the Yukon Party told us that the development assessment process was all done; it was ready to go; just let Ottawa put it through the House. We had meetings with industry representatives and they begged us to try and stop this process from taking place. We listened, and we responded by forming a development assessment process commission and said that we had to give Yukoners an opportunity to funnel in their input, that this should not be just a discussion between levels of government. That's what the commission did, and we took a lot of heat for that, because we didn't just shy away from the issue, like the Yukon Party. We took it on head-on.
And, Mr. Speaker, as a result of that, we became the lightning rod for the issue. We knew full-well that was going to happen but we stood strong, with some courage, to engage the public on the issue. We said this is so important to Yukoners that the Yukon government must be counted on this issue, and we must try and find a way to influence the Liberal government in Ottawa, and we've done that. There's a lot more work to be done on the development assessment process, and the federal legislation must be held up until we get it right, until there's a good level of consensus. Some people are never going to support it, but the reality is, it's in the umbrella final agreement, it's constitutionally entrenched and it must happen. And we must be a catalyst, as a Yukon government, to make it happen. We can't sit back and just blame the Liberal government in Ottawa; we've got to be a participant.
But we can't take all of the criticism from the opposition and have no suggestions coming back from them on how they would handle it. We saw what the Yukon Party did. They let Ottawa take it to the point where they were going to introduce it in the federal Parliament with virtually no public input from Yukoners. That would have had a disastrous effect. We didn't do that, and I don't believe that would have been an appropriate approach. And that's what the people of the Yukon told us.
Mr. Speaker, another action that we've taken is actively involving the mining industry in the development of the Yukon protected areas strategy. Let me say that issues around this strategy are very tough politics, very tough issues, with all kinds of competing interests, always from the conservation community, First Nation government interests, the views of elders in the First Nation communities, the issues around trapping, the views of miners, oil and gas, forestry. All of these issues have to be brought to bear - very difficult - and it's easy to say you support protected areas, which we kind of get from the Liberals every now and then. But what would they really do when faced with the tough politics, when the development community is beating down their door saying they're abandoning the resource sector, when somebody's looking for a fall guy for the price of world metals, what would the Liberals do, Mr. Speaker?
I submit that they would completely collapse on the agenda, absolutely collapse. So, it's one thing for the Liberal leader to waltz in here with a Tombstone pin on, but I can tell you right now that if she had anything to do with it, that park would not be advanced to the state that it is now, where we're going to have something very large, very comprehensive, and something very well-done to be proud of. And, Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, the conservation community, the resource sector and the government of this territory for having the courage to work through these difficult issues, and there's more to be done. It's not over yet, but we're up to the task.
I said before that in terms of support for the mining industry specifically, we've come forward with the largest per capita mineral exploration tax credit in the country.
Mr. Speaker, we offer an excellent mining incentive program. These initiatives are conscious decisions by this government. Why? Because, even though we don't control the resource - Ottawa does and the Liberal government - we believe in the industry and its long-term future.
In other areas to support the mining industry, where we've put our money where our mouth is and taken action - where other jurisdictions have cut geoscience funding and resource assessments and geoscience work we have increased the budget in these areas.
Mr. Speaker, this is no small potatoes. This is real money. There's always a huge debate in Cabinet. There's always a huge debate in the public. Should the money go into health care? Should the money go into education? Should it go into senior citizens' housing? Should it go into programs for economic development? Should it go into any number of probably a thousand areas in this territory? We've decided that it's important to continue to fund and increase funding to geoscience, and we've done so. It doesn't happen by accident.
We hear the Liberals, ironically, talk of the investment climate as it pertains to mining, and their woes and care and concern for the mining industry. Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government controls the mining industry, yet they continue to throw barbs at this government on the regulatory environment, if you can believe it, which their cousins in Ottawa still control, and they continue to throw barbs about DAP, of which their cousins in Ottawa are the legislators.
Even though we don't have control, as an action step, as the result of an appeal by the industry to the federal minister, I went up to the Mt. McIntyre centre for a meeting with the Chamber of Mines and a number of companies. They begged the federal minister to initiate a process to review the current permitting system for mining in the Yukon. They begged the Liberal minister, Jane Stewart at that time, to do this. Nothing happened for a year. It was called the "blue-book project" that they proposed. Nothing happened, and I mean nothing. I'm not exaggerating.
It wasn't until our government agreed to pay for the review of the federal government's permitting system that we started getting action on the blue book. We shuffled papers for a year on that exercise. We didn't get the job done. We must get the job done. Now, Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to report that there seems to be some willingness to work together between the federal and territorial governments on this issue. We've engaged a former, very high level official, Joe Lazarovich, to lead the review, who's familiar with what the issues, and all the issues from all different sides, to lead this process.
Mr. Speaker, that will help us while we get DAP right, because, in the interim, we've got to ensure that there's a process that works. On that, you know, when I heard the Yukon Party leader say he doesn't care if he slows down devolution and he said "So what" - those were his exact words - I think of the miners that have had their projects in the permitting process for four years, or longer, in this territory. And I think of the potential jobs. Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I also think of the negatives that we have surrounding the mining industry. The Faro liability, the BYG liability at Mount Nansen. I think of the liability that we're hearing about at Canamax, and I say we need to have an effective process. We need to have an efficient process. We need an environmentally responsible process.
Mr. Speaker, I think that we have to tell the people of the Yukon more than "So what" about devolution. We have to tell them more than "So what" about the blue-book process. These are action steps that this government has taken. Another action step on the mining front: Yukon Mining Advisory Board. We met last week. We had excellent meetings, discussions about the future, about vision, about infrastructure, about ports - all of those issues. And Mr. Speaker, I'm happy to say that I think that we're off to a pretty good start in terms of actually getting some high-level discussion and policy work done, and I think I have an excellent group of people who are prepared to put forward policy recommendations from the industry that will be in a position to come forward, that will stand the scrutiny of public debate in this territory. I'm pleased with that.
Mr. Speaker, when the Klondike Placer Miners Association came to us, when the price of gold was under $250 an ounce - and they've been having tough times for the last three years in that industry - we didn't turn them away. They asked us at that time to backstop the price of world gold. Of course, we couldn't do that, any more than we could backstop the price of world zinc, but we didn't laugh them out of the office, and we didn't run around saying that they were out of their gourds for asking us that. Mr. Speaker, we recognized their desperation.
So, Mr. Speaker, we engaged them to look at the concept of a territorial marketing board for placer gold, so that perhaps collectively they could engage in selling forward their positions like some of the major companies do. Now, there may be problems with that, and I'm sure there are, but the point is that we are trying to make up suggestions to find ways to do things. That is more than we've heard from the opposition. We're trying to help people in the midst of tough market conditions in a free market.
Mr. Speaker, this government has also enhanced our mineral promotion activities, trying to ensure that we are getting out there to forums like the prospectors/developers, to forums like the Cordilleran, on natural resources trade missions with other companies to Japan. We're meeting with companies like Sumitomo, Mitsubishi, Marubeni, other big players who have invested in Canada and the Yukon before, establishing relationships, ensuring that these companies have connections with the property owners in this territory so that, hopefully, they can make some deals and make something happen when the time is right.
Mr. Speaker, we've been providing money and investment into the Chamber of Mines to promote mineral investment videos and promotional videos about what the mineral industry does positively for the territory. We're providing promotional materials for the Chamber of Mines so that they can get out and market what they do and tell the story of the Yukon. We've been providing training funding. I think we provided $300,000 to the Chamber of Mines to develop a training trust fund so that they could be participants in making sure workers are ready to take advantage of jobs in the mining industry, wherever and whenever they occur.
Mr. Speaker, we have worked and we are working with the Elsa property creditors right now to try and help them deal with a difficult situation. We've kept the Faro mine assets together as much as possible so that that property can, sometime, once again operate in the future.
And Mr. Speaker, I find it fundamentally offensive that the opposition would not offer suggestions on these particular issues today - that they're so void of ideas - and have announced they don't have a responsibility to do this.
What are their ideas for the mining sector, and for the economy overall? You won't hear them - other than, "Kill the protected area strategy."
Mr. Speaker, we've also given a strong commitment to the placer committee, and continued funding that, because that is a very important initiative for the placer authorization and the fundamental future of that organization.
So there's a list of some of the top initiatives we've undertaken to prove that we have support for the mining industry.
Mr. Speaker, in the sector of oil and gas, think about the progress over the last year: Chevron explores data, and Anderson Exploration - who already own the wells in the Kotaneelee - are for the first time in over 20 years doing seismic work in the territory. Land disposition rights in Eagle Plains - bids are expected in the middle of November. We'll see how they go, Mr. Speaker. I think that we're going to attract some interest.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I think that a large part of the success of this is the action that this government took to reach an agreement with all 14 First Nation governments. Because the common regime we've established provides some certainty on the regulatory environment on both settlement and non-settlement land, it has a distinct advantage over other jurisdictions, because court decisions from B.C. to Nova Scotia have now placed tremendous questions about the use of resources and how it relates to native and non-native citizens of this country.
Mr. Speaker, what we've done is ground breaking; because we deal - in terms of the issues - upfront in our Yukon Oil and Gas Act in the common regime.
It also, in terms of the action this government's taken, means that we developed a regulatory regime that meets the challenges of exploration in the north - the associated extra costs. We've built the competitive nature of that and recognized it upfront in the legislation so that the investment climate is good.
We've provided training as another action initiative, and I want to reiterate that I'm only talking about some of the top issues of action we've taken. I mean, there's a whole multitude, hundreds of other initiatives, that we don't even have time in the entire debate time, until 5:30 today, to go over. And I'm hopeful that the opposition is prepared to engage on their ideas, and we'll be listening. We always listen, Mr. Speaker, to good ideas, no matter who they come from.
In terms of action initiatives, as well, we've done over 29 trade missions and, in oil and gas, we took one just recently to Calgary. Over 20 businesses and representatives of municipal governments came to work with us, to try and ensure that industry out there is prepared to take advantage of business opportunities as they arise. We can't lie supine. This is a fast-moving industry. And we can't expect government to point to every opportunity. People have to be ready. People have to be thinking about the future. That's why we did a workshop in Watson Lake where some 240 participants attended from industry and from the Yukon to work on getting ready for this industry.
Another initiative we've launched is the development of an oil and gas strategy for public participation, to shape the future and the vision for the long term for developing oil and gas in this territory. It's going to guide the territory over the coming years on where we're going to go on major issues such as pipeline infrastructure concerns and issues, such as regulatory issues, such as the level of activity and the pace of the activity. All of these things are part of it.
Mr. Speaker, in the sector of trade and investment, we've got a very small population, so it's important that we expand the markets. It's our firm belief that business outside means more business and benefits and jobs at home, and every other jurisdiction has companies and workers and businesses that work both in their home province and, when opportunities arise, outside. This is not something new, but it is something important and it's something that we'd better recognize as Yukoners. It is not the responsibility of the government to provide every job opportunity for every Yukoner here in the Yukon, as much as we'd like to. What we have to do, as a government, is provide as much as we can by economic diversification, but also ensure that Yukon companies, who sell goods and services, have the know-how, the knowledge, the infrastructure and the access to expanding their market to ensure that, when things go up and down, like metal prices, they can continue to function and hire people and do work.
Mr. Speaker, export efforts take time, but I must say that I'm pleased with the incredible progress we've made on this front over the last few years - just the last two to three years, I think. We started the strategy about two-and-a-half years ago, and I've already listed an impressive array of companies that are exporting, and there are many, many more. But if you look at the graph and the statistical information - if you factor out the Faro mine and look at the bar graph - you can see that the last bar, for only half a year, is higher than all of last year's. And, since 1996, we've tripled the value of exports, factoring out the Faro mine in this territory.
That says something about the agenda. It says that it's working. It says that markets are expanding. It says that we are diversifying. Some of that product is obviously lumber, for example. Some of it's bottled water. Some of it's log homes.
Mr. Speaker, this is a good thing, and it must continue. It has to continue, and we haven't focused just on the faraway lands of South America, or Russia, or Asia. We focused right next door on Alaska. We focused on Canada. We've taken a look at American markets and utilized them. We've got people working in different areas of different markets, so that we can have strategic investments in those areas and can have an ability to find opportunities in each of the various markets and focus within each market. It's not easy. It takes resources; it takes motivation; and I'm really pleased with the trade investment branch and the work they've done in the area to bring Yukon businesses into the rest of the world.
Mr. Speaker, in the area of forestry and diversification, take a look at what's happening. I firmly believe that if we are successful in devolution of forestry to this territory, we can create a long-term, sustainable, thriving resource. My view is that the mill in Watson Lake has made a significant investment. They have broad-based community ownership and support. They need to have access to fibre. There are mills in Haines Junction that need access to fibre, and I think we can do it if we just have the courage to ensure that we not only respect the environment, but are prepared to support economic development in these areas, and we as a government have spent an inordinate amount of time.
The Member for Watson Lake, the forestry commissioner, has put in hundreds of hours in meetings with federal officials, the government, meetings in his own community, meetings in Haines Junction, meetings in Teslin, meetings in Watson Lake, on these issues.
He has tried to work with the federal regulator and, Mr. Speaker, he doesn't take out his jack boots on a daily basis to go to work. He tries to work with Yukoners and with the federal government to make things happen. Ultimately, we want to see devolution occur, which I think would be the pinnacle of advancement for this territory.
Mr. Speaker, another accomplishment that was made was the development of the Yukon forest strategy, which guides us for the devolution of the resource. That took a lot of effort. And underway right now is a royalty regime and a regulatory regime analysis, a taxation regime on the forestry sector, so that, when we take over responsibility for this resource, we will be ready to be competitive.
And, Mr. Speaker, that takes resources. That takes effort at the tax round table. That is another action initiative of this government.
Mr. Speaker, on the whole subject of tourism, I want to talk about what's happening in the European market. Direct flights - direct flights from Switzerland, from Germany - more visitation, expansion of the handling facilities is being considered at the airport. We've already expanded the runway.
We've only scratched the surface of our tourism potential. Mr. Speaker, when businesses see that the numbers for visitation are growing, and when they see a good vision, they will know that it's okay for them to invest capital in upgrading facilities and expanding facilities. When they see winter tourists coming into the territory, they know they can expand, they'll have cashflow throughout the winter months, which is a long-standing problem. They can invest in upgrades in rural Yukon and in Whitehorse in their facilities.
Mr. Speaker, we're welcoming Air Transat back after a one-year absence from this territory. Why? Because they see what's happening here. They see what the Minister of Tourism is doing. They see that he's got some vision. They see that it goes beyond the traditional ways in which we've sold the Yukon, to wilderness tourism, to a continued working with the theme of the gold rush - for those that appeals to - to trying to get more visitors who are only stopping in Alaska to come here, Mr. Speaker, through to moving to winter tourism events. All these are action initiatives and not just the talk we hear from the opposition parties. They're specific initiatives.
Look at what we did with the tourism marketing fund, opposed by the Liberals. Mr. Speaker, the testimonials of the benefits of that fund are almost virtually unanimous. Mr. Speaker, we're helping local operators with this fund actually do their own thing in terms of marketing and taking the next step in getting out there in the world.
We've invested in a downtown train-trolley so that the waterfront has a heightened level of activity, so that there's action down there, so that the waterfront is connected, so that we're taking the next step - cosmopolitanizing, for lack of a better word, the waterfront. We think that benefit - along with the landscaping we're investing in - is another action step that will hold the territory in good stead and can be built on long, long, long into the future.
Mr. Speaker, I'm disheartened by the opposition, who said that, yesterday in the paper, they have no responsibility to talk about the economy, no responsibility to tell people how they would spend government money, or taxpayers' money, because it's not an election year.
That is outrageous. It is the height of arrogance.
Mr. Speaker, part of their job is criticizing us, but part of their job is also telling us and the Yukon public what they're about.
Mr. Speaker, our government thoroughly recognizes how important the economy is and we are pleased that things are turning around. When you hear from the opposition, you always hear that everybody's leaving the Yukon and you hear from them that the economy is bad. That's all they say. No ideas. But if you look at the labour-force statistics - and I have them here right in front of me - in August of this year, 1999, we had 16,500 in the labour force. This was the third-largest labour force ever recorded in the territory, and it's been pretty consistent since we've been in government. We have seen large labour forces and we have seen things now turning around in the economy. If you look at the building permits and construction up until August compared to last year, 1998, in 1999, the months of April, June and August are substantially increased. If you look at the retail sales from 1998 to 1999, they are substantially increased. Those numbers are further borne out in retail sales if you look at the overall comparisons for month-to-month changes in total sales between 1998 and 1999. Mr. Speaker, this is significant.
Now, we heard in the by-election - here's a big article in the Yukon News. The headline in the Friday, October 22, Yukon News says, "It's the economy, stupid, says Yukon Party." But when we want to talk about the economy in Question Period and in this House, we get nothing from the opposition. They're not even prepared to stay and do their jobs. They don't want to hear about what the government's doing. They'd rather go out and talk to people and snuggle up to them and criticize the government and cozy up to the local media and criticize the government and give us a kick, but where are they telling people what they would do?
I think it's important that we point out when the Yukon Party is talking about, "'It's the economy, stupid'", that their eight-point plan, which is the only thing they've said about the economy, basically consists of talk about tax, which, of course, they raised and they have poor record on, to killing protected areas in the guise of "more balance."
That's the only economic plan they have. They talk about making DAP better. Well, I said before, when we came into government - and I've got quotes from the former leader of the official opposition, now the third party - that DAP was done. It was already done. He didn't need to do anything else. Now, of course, he's going to grab the bull by the horns and fix it.
The so-called eight-point plan has nothing specific. It talks about making things better - nice, cozy, little angel-food-cake words. Where is the specific action?
The only thing on a specific course of action that they said they'd do was interlock the Yukon in a power grid. Well, that, Mr. Speaker, would be infrastructure, but it would also be extremely expensive to bite off, and it would mean a lot of borrowed money and a huge mortgage for the ratepayers to go along with the mortgages we already have, and it would mean that rates would skyrocket in this territory.
Now, if they want to talk about expanding the grid in portions that people can handle, like the board of the Energy Corporation is doing with the Mayo-Dawson extension, with stretching it out over a period of time and subsidizing the cost of the capital construction with Yukon Development Corporation funds that come from what's left over after the return of the utility, then they wouldn't have such a costly dream scheme for the electrical ratepayers of the territory to have to bear. But, at least, I have to say once more, they have the courage, unlike the official opposition, who has a responsibility in this House to tell the people what they'd do, as cockamamie as it is.
I have talked about the issues. We have talked at great length about some of the highlights of the issues that we brought forward. There are lots of other minor, or at least comparatively minor, things we've done - hundreds of them, really - that I haven't, and don't want to, take the time, to go over - like the abattoir the Minister of Renewable Resources brought forward to give support to the agricultural sector, like the Technology Innovation Centre that we created to try and pool innovations in technology and access federal research and development monies, like the Shakwak funding that we went to work and secured to build roads in the north highway.
Mr. Speaker, on and on we could go about the number of action initiatives, and we have only begun to scratch the surface. We need more ideas. We need to hear from Yukoners at economic forums. We need to hear from people outside. That's what we're doing. We need to hear from the opposition. We need to hear their ideas, their directions, in concrete terms.
Small business has been the engine of economic growth in this territory, and because of that, we committed to them that we would not raise their tax rates in our term of government, and we did not do that, and we will not do that. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we went further for small business and created an investment tax credit for that sector.
We continue to invest heavily in capital construction projects. That is the only thing that the Yukon Party ever says about budgeting out of direct government spending. Well, like the Liberals, they hate the community development fund. They're opposed to it, but they also say that there should be more money spent by government, and I point out that we invest a larger proportion of our overall budget on capital than any other government in this country. Right now, as we speak, in Ross River, in Teslin, in Pelly Crossing, in Watson Lake, in Dawson City, in Beaver Creek, there are significant major capital construction initiatives that this government put forward, and I think we're still finishing up the development of the school being recently completed up at Old Crow.
How can the opposition put forward a credible suggestion that we're not investing in capital in rural Yukon in this territory? It doesn't make sense; it doesn't add up.
But at least he's got the guts - as the leader of the third party - to take a position. He doesn't have it today, but he's had it in the past. That's better than the leader of the official opposition Liberal Party.
Mr. Speaker, I want to wrap up today by saying that it is terribly disappointing that after the opposition told the government, and told the media, and told the public, that they were going to go after the government in this legislative session - gangbusters. As one reporter put it on Tuesday morning after the first day, the opposition slammed the government on the economy. Well, Mr. Speaker, I felt it was like getting gummed to death. We responded with all the initiatives that we had undertaken, and after the first day they said, "Uncle. We give up. That's enough. We hit and run."
And now the preposterous notion, Mr. Speaker, that somehow they don't have an obligation to put forward their ideas. That is an outrage. Mr. Speaker, it is something that even I am surprised about - the tactics of the members opposite.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say, in conclusion, that we believe the future of the economy demands ideas. We believe that people have to come forward with those ideas; and when they do, we will listen. Our recent budgets were called "election budgets" by the opposition. Every year our budget's called an "election budget". It's a great compliment, because it must be good if you're going to go to the polls with a budget, and it's going to be called an "election budget".
So, Mr. Speaker, we listened to people in the Chamber of Commerce. We listened to people all over this territory who talk about the economy, who give us suggestions. Many of them have showed up in the actual budgetary initiatives that we've undertaken. You heard those comments.
Those ideas weren't necessarily ours. For small-business tax credits, for example, they came from the people themselves.
So, for the opposition to claim that we don't listen would be folly.
Mr. Speaker, take a look at a recent publication, the Trade Team Times, that the Yukon government put together with a whole list of partners from the business community, from labour, from First Nations. I think there are 16 pages of success stories, of testimonials by businesses about building a new economy and diversification - actual, real Yukoners, pictures in here, comments from people, noteworthy business people such as Rick Nielsen from Whitehorse Motors, such as people responsible for developing the new mill in Haines Junction. There are testimonials from people interested in Japanese tourism development, people like Yoshie Kumagae - local Yukoners. There's a great story in here about the Peters Drury Trio, who are now selling records left, right and centre down in Vancouver, I'm told by the mother of one of the players.
Mr. Speaker, this is good stuff. The testimonials in this paper and the stories show that Yukoners have good entrepreneurial ability. It shows that they have the ability to make do. It shows they have the ability to do better. It shows that they have the ability, the wherewithal, the vision to partner with government, to work together to make a better quality of life in this territory. It shows that when we're innovative and when we're entrepreneurial, we can make things happen in new sectors. It shows that when we're small it doesn't mean we're limited. It means there are opportunities in niche fields. It means that our government is prepared to stand strong, to put forward ideas, to take risks, like the one we're taking right now on the port, like the one we're taking with the telecommunications infrastructure - that have never before even been considered by any other government - and to move ahead because we know we must diversify.
So, Mr. Speaker, we're prepared to say what we're doing. We're prepared to act. We're prepared to put forward suggestions. We're prepared to be criticized. We're prepared to hear criticism. But we want the public to hear other ideas from other political parties and from the opposition. That's why, when they weren't talking about the economy, we had to talk about it, and frankly it's an outrage that they're not prepared to put any ideas on the table.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I'm indeed pleased today to stand and speak to this motion. Obviously, the economy in this territory is on everybody's mind. It is the issue. The opposition has claimed, over and over and over again, that jobs and the economy are the issue. However, when the opposition in this Legislature gets an opportunity, as we as government have provided them today, to bring forward their ideas, to present their thoughts, to tell Yukoners what it is they would do in addressing our economy and the job-creation issues that we have facing this territory today, what do they do? They first spend their time incessantly complaining to the news media about House leaders' meetings, and we're only on day 4 of this sitting. And then, in unison, as if we didn't know that they were already one and the same, walk out of this Legislature, showing complete contempt -
Speaker: Order please. I would ask the member to refrain from telling other people they're absent from the House.
Mr. Fentie: . . . showing contempt, I -
Speaker: Order please.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I retract that statement.
They are showing contempt for the Yukon public. I think that's a disgrace, Mr. Speaker. Where are the opposition's ideas? Where are the opposition when it comes to jobs and the economy in this territory? I believe that they're void of any options, void of any vision, empty of ideas. They have no direction. The opposition in this territory is floundering. The Yukon Party is devastated over the recent by-election. They have absolutely been devastated by the results. They've gone from being government to official opposition to now third party status in this territory. That's a very clear statement by the Yukon public.
Secondly, the Liberals, who have now attained official opposition status in this territory, don't seem to understand or know what it is they should be doing.
We think, Mr. Speaker, that, on this side of the House, we have vision, we have ideas, we have presented and provided options, and we have undertaken to do the hard work to address the economic issues in this territory and improve and help diversify the economy in this territory and, thus, play a large role in turning the corner, and move away from our boom-bust cycles and our economic fortunes of the past. Improving the economic fortunes of this territory is what we are all about.
We have shown that on many, many fronts. And it's true - the mining industry is down, world metal prices have really, really caused a problem for mining in this country, not just the Yukon. In fact, at a recent conference of the mining ministers of this country, and industry representatives and agencies, the message was clear: the common denominator, mining, is an industry in crisis in this country. Canada is losing market share of investment dollars in the mining industry across the board. It's not just a Yukon problem, but it will come back, and we have done things in the area of mining that we believe will help, to some degree. We've done what we can, but we also led the charge. Though a small jurisdiction we may be, we led the charge on the federal government providing some incentives for investment dollars in the mining industry.
It was the Yukon Territory that submitted the idea that the federal government should consider again bringing in flow-through share incentives to help spark investment and exploration here in the north in the Yukon, in fact in Canada as a whole. Our mineral tax credit, small business tax credits, working with the federal government to try and alleviate regulatory processes, such as the blue book, all the things that we possibly can do within our means, we are doing to improve the situation for mining in this territory.
But beyond that, Mr. Speaker, on all fronts, we are working hard to create an economy here, a vibrant, resilient, sustainable economy. One of the areas that government has chosen - this government has chosen - in the short term to focus job creation and expenditures - is things like the community development fund. The opposition continually votes against those expenditures, targeted expenditures in the communities that help create jobs in the short term, that benefit communities a great deal. The opposition are against those initiatives.
The rural roads program - another creation by this government to create jobs through government expenditure, especially out in the communities and rural Yukon, where our economic fortunes are at their worst. It is very clear, Mr. Speaker, that with the opposition constantly opposing those initiatives, they have forgotten rural Yukon and its needs.
The fire smart program another initiative by this government that has helped create jobs in the Yukon for the short term and, at the same time, lower the risk of wildfire for Yukon communities. And the list goes on and on and on.
Mr. Speaker, in forestry, under this government's watch, we have gone from moratoriums, the shutdown of an industry, the loss of jobs - in times when the Yukon Party was in government - to millions of dollars in investment, in value-added facilities in this territory, and the creation of hundreds of jobs; all under this government's watch.
We have played a large role in those initiatives taking place - through the development of a Yukon forest commission, the Yukon forest strategy, in working with the federal government, the First Nations, and, in fact, the Yukon public. We have improved, a great deal, the forest management in this territory, and those results are clear, in terms of those investment dollars - in value added, and the creation of local jobs from local resources.
Mr. Speaker, I can go on and on and on and on and on. But the point here is, we - the NDP government - are here today prepared to conduct the public's business; prepared to debate with the opposition of this territory the economy in this territory. Unfortunately, the opposition was not so prepared, and has chosen to not speak out on the economy; to not provide Yukoners with any vision or options for our economy; but has chosen to run and hide. I find that unfortunate.
But, Mr. Speaker, I have other colleagues who would like to talk to this motion today. I can only say that I commend the Minister of Economic Development for his hard work. The fact that this government is improving and diversifying our economy can be seen across this territory in many, many sectors, and I for one will continue to work - as this government will - to continue that improvement, and our economic fortunes here in this territory.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much indeed, Mr. Speaker. It gives me great pleasure to stand here today and be able to speak to this motion. I, too, would like to commend the Minister of Economic Development for bringing this to the floor of the Legislature to allow all MLAs of the House the opportunity to be able to speak to what we say is the most important show in town, and that's the economy.
I'll try not to reiterate too much of what my government has done in the past three years, but certainly I'll find it difficult because it's certainly been a tremendous achievement, a very tremendous achievement in very difficult times. We've hunkered down and we've come through.
Now, do others believe that? Absolutely not. Certainly the opposition parties - the third party, the official opposition party - do not share that vision, and I guess that's why we are in charge and on the watch at this point in time.
We've been a government that has listened. We have listened to people, we've gone out and consulted with people. In difficult times in the economy, in the past couple of years, we didn't say we knew all the answers. We said we want to hear the answers. These are the problems. We can know what the problems are. We share the problems, and at the same time we share the solutions to the problems. And that is the stage that we're at today. That is why you can see where the economy is turning around.
Now, when I say that the economy is turning around, am I saying that simply from no knowledge, or just simply because I wish it to be true? Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker, absolutely not. I have travelled many places in this world promoting the Yukon Territory and talking about the Yukon Territory and the land that 30,000 people in this territory love and enjoy and love to speak about. The more I share it and talk about the magnificence that we have with the mountains, the people, the quality water, the ability to go and hide behind a spruce tree and just listen to yourself - as I've travelled the world, bumped shoulders with ordinary people in everyday streets, in different parts of the world, you can see that this is why we live here and this is what we have to share.
And we have to share it in a very meaningful way so we, as a government, look at what it would take to entice people here and we started to allocate very important dollars, to spend those dollars very, very thriftily and wisely to watch where you're going and to watch what you're doing.
We started off on the airport runway. Different members in this House have tried everything from falsehoods to non-factual statements, everything to distort that, to distort the image that we have. We've gone ahead. We've improved our airline. We've designed our airport. We designed it for a 767 aircraft, which would enable many people to come to the territory. Has it been successful? Absolutely, it's been successful.
The Minister of Economic Development spoke of Air Transat. Air Transat came into the Yukon Territory, and then they left the Yukon Territory. And, do you know what, Mr. Speaker? After one year's absence, they're back. And, have we done anything different as a government for them, as we have done for other airlines? Absolutely not. We provide the same market initiatives, the same ad shape that we'd give any other airline. But, because we've been out promoting it, because we've been developing the infrastructure of the Yukon Territory, they're starting to see the reality of it and, of their own volition, are coming back to the territory. Why? To make money.
So, to me, that's a very, very healthy sign, that a big company like Air Transat would reexamine its initiatives, maybe realize that they'd made a mistake in pulling out a little early and came back. That makes me very proud.
I've travelled to Switzerland. I've talked to the Swiss, looked at the Swiss, had different meetings with them in different forums, and I'm very proud to say that Ballair is coming to the Yukon Territory of their own volition. Again, we give the same incentives to them as we would to others.
Condor Air? They're here, Mr. Speaker. They're here because they're coming to the Yukon Territory because we have been promoting it as a world-class destination. We've been protecting the rights of Yukoners as we move through this. We've been involving Yukoners and asking them what they would like to see, and they've been giving us some very good, concrete ideas. We're developing a tourism strategy that involves and reaches out to the people for their ideas. One of the most important questions that we've been asking during those consultations is, "How can you benefit from the wealth of the Yukon Territory?", because so often people look for a job in another area. But if we look at ourselves and find that uniqueness, 30,000 people here and the colourful five percent is very marketable. There are billions of people around the world who want to see us, to experience the land that we have. No matter whether you live at Frances Lake or in Deep Creek, or wherever you live in the Yukon Territory, you have the opportunity to participate in the economy and to showcase yourself in the economy, because we are truly unique, and people wish to see us and we wish to be who we are.
So, we're out there talking to people. We're talking to people and developing a new tourism strategy that will take us into the millennium and beyond, Mr. Speaker. And beyond. For what we are doing now is very, very critical to the path of the future of the Yukon Territory and tourism. We take that absolutely seriously. Very seriously. That is why we're out there talking to people.
Have we stopped there? No, sir, Mr. Speaker, we haven't stopped there. Through our consultations, talking with people and small businesses, and asking them what we could do as a government, other than to go out and continue being a voice, which we have done, so they came to us with program-type ideas. Hence, the tourism marketing fund.
The tourism marketing fund has been one of the most successful programs that this government has ever put together.
Am I saying it's because I'm such a proud father of the Minister of Tourism? I'm not the proud father of the Minister of Tourism; I am the Minister of Tourism, but I feel so proud of the department and the initiatives that we're taking, and that's my personal opinion, but let me tell you what other people have said about the tourism marketing fund.
They said that it turned a non-profitable business into a profitable business because of advertising on a web site. They said it's been very significant in helping them have a good year. They said it will hopefully increase tourism employment in Dawson City in the Yukon. They said it provided them with the tools necessary to do the job. It allowed them to be able to advertise future growth by increased sales.
Mr. Speaker, these are just a very minor portion of some of the comments that have come back to us.
Have we abandoned our existing markets? Absolutely not. We recognize that the North American market, the U.S. market, is one of the most vital, if not the most vital, markets that the territory has. We've gone out, we've worked, we've created different programs. We're working with many, many people around the country. We're going to implement the destination cooperative marketing program in the U.S., and we're going to target it at the gateway cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, Seattle. We have people out there working for them: the gateway cities projects.
So, are we abandoning anything? No, we're enhancing, we're absolutely enhancing what we have there. We're looking to the people of the Yukon to develop the people of the Yukon. We're still moving forward with regional tourism plans. I'm very pleased to say that CREP, a new organization from the Campbell region, including Faro and Ross River, has emerged. Why? Because they see the opportunity. People that write the books, the Milepost, have gone there, and they said it's the best-kept secret in the Yukon Territory. People are capitalizing on those initiatives. We're taking not just for granted what we see every day, but we're finding ways to utilize it and enhance the quality of life in the Yukon Territory.
We as a government are helping to facilitate that - not do it for people, but to facilitate it by listening and working with people.
Mr. Speaker, other things that we are doing - for so long the tourism season in the Yukon Territory was when the kids got out of school, and when the kids went back to school. That wasn't even two months, Mr. Speaker, and now we are expanding that season. We're encroaching; we're into the shoulder season. We're expanding into the shoulder season, so the season's gone from two months, to three months, to four months, to five months. Are we stopping there? Absolutely not. Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker.
We're looking at winter marketing programs, and in conjunction with wholesalers, and Canadian Airlines, we'll implement the cooperative marketing campaign in different places in Canada, positioning the Yukon as a winter destination - high linking.
These are initiatives that this government is doing and encouraging that are putting wealth back into the Yukon Territory. Will we stop there? No, Mr. Speaker, it's incumbent upon government to continue to facilitate and to develop long-range visioning plans. That's what this government is doing, and not only are we developing visioning plans - we're implementing visioning plans. We're asking people what they want to see, how they'd like to do things, what is it that they most want to do, and encouraging local people to be able to do those initiatives.
I'd like to speak about incentive tourists a bit. Incentive tourists, such as Fulda, which has been here twice, and very likely will be back again - we're going to continue the dialogue to bring them back again. It dropped $3 million to $4 million into the economy at a pop, Mr. Speaker. And they come here in the shoulder season, when the season's slower. This is added wealth for the Yukon Territory, Mr. Speaker.
And we have not stopped there, Mr. Speaker, with incentive tours. We have operators in England, in the United Kingdom, who are aggressively searching the United Kingdom for incentive operators.
I just had a meeting with a member of the Westmark Hotel yesterday, with another young lady who had talked to me about things that maybe we, as a government, could do to enable them, as a small company, to go out and promote the Yukon Territory, and they have approached a very well-known company from Toronto that works to bring incentive tours to different places in the country.
We are looking to find ways and mechanisms to work with those people and those initiatives to encourage the companies in Toronto and other places in Canada to bring these companies here.
Mr. Speaker, it doesn't matter if it's 400 or 500 people or 50 people. It drops wealth into the Yukon Territory. Not only if you have - what's the word - large tours, macro tours, micro tours, we can accommodate them in the Yukon Territory. Rural communities must benefit from tourism and the economy and this government feels very strongly in that. We are looking at ways to promote and to facilitate rural development through tourism development.
People in the communities are feeling it as a chinook, a breath of fresh air. Like we greet the south wind in the springtime, people in rural communities are greeting this government with enthusiasm because they know that, when they speak to or are spoken to or want to speak, they will be listened to and we will implement what they have to say.
Again, we're going to continue to work in those existing markets.
Are we going to stop there, Mr. Speaker? Absolutely not. Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker. As my colleague, the Minister of Economic Development, my colleague the forestry commissioner, have said, we're going to look for new markets. The Asian market, Taiwan, and what we're doing in Taiwan: we've just appointed Mr. Matthew Lien, a magnificent Yukoner, a wonderful Yukoner, to be our representative, our cultural ambassador, to Taiwan.
He has such a following in Asia. And I say Asia purposely, because it's not just limited to Taiwan. It's expanding, and they see the essence of this individual to be the essence of the Yukon Territory, and they're swarming around him, and they're swarming around the Yukon Territory.
We've had a tourism trade team mission going over there as recently as just this fall, talking to those folks and finding what we can do and how we can work with them. It's suffered some magnificent disaster in the last - not magnificent, pardon me, tremendous disaster - in the last couple of months, Mr. Speaker, yet still we were there to be with them in times of sorrow, as cultural ambassadors would, and to help to pick them up and to bring their spirits together, and they recognize that as a very human experience, and they see that human experience that can be translated into a trip to the Yukon Territory.
We're invited by the Government of China to bring a delegation to Hunan. Now, I know the opposition does not like that, because they have a very limited mindset. They feel we should not be looking at other markets, that you should just be looking at the existing market because they feel safe and secure. Well, Mr. Speaker, if you're going to have a long-range vision, and your long-range vision means that you're going to implement something, there have to be risks. There have to be calculated risks, and that's what this government is doing.
We're going to turn those risks into wealth for the Yukon Territory. That's exactly what we're going to do. Since we've been to China, we've opened many doors. We're looking at English-as-a-second-language training here in the Yukon Territory. We're looking at incentive travel, all very important incentive travel from that country. The opposition's going to say, if they ever rise to their feet to say, "Well, they can't come here because they don't have business visas." But our Government Leader has raised that issue with the Prime Minister.
Are we looking after it? Absolutely. We're going to try and find ways to accommodate. Is it possible? Absolutely it's possible. Have both countries done it? Yes. Australia's done it. And Mr. Speaker, not only did we do those types of initiatives, but we looked at the BST technology transfer over there, because we feel that we can help; we can supply our technology. And as we supply our technology, will it benefit companies in the Yukon? Yes, Mr. Speaker, absolutely, because the companies in the Yukon Territory are pros and are recognized as professionals in the world. They've gone to many parts of the world - our construction companies - whether it's moving dirt, BST - and provided that technology for other areas. Doggone, it makes me proud to be a Yukoner.
Yet, both opposition parties continue to say that it's a nonstarter. Yes, Mr. Speaker, Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories, sees 8,000 Asian visitors per year, and when do they see them? In the wintertime - in the wintertime, when we need the people here. So this government has a vision; we're listening to people to develop that vision, and we're going to implement that vision with the people of the Yukon Territory. There's such incredible potential for doing business in China, in the trade and industries and tourism markets that we have to -
Speaker: The minister has two minutes.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I wish that I could carry on and talk about it. I guess I get just a little bit too impassioned here, but what have we done? Have we stopped there? No, sir, we haven't stopped there. I've talked about the summits, because we're going to bring people together. We're going to bring people from Europe, from different markets that we're going into, and they're going to be able to share the wealth of what they want to see and how we can uniquely develop it. Those are the issues.
Shakwak. Did we go out and stop when there was nothing here? We went out as a government, brought home $100 million to the Yukon Territory to be spent over five years. We've created relationships -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Keenan: U.S. money, thank you. We created relationships with the State of Alaska. They are going to change into tourism opportunities, construction opportunities. We've done the same thing with British Columbia. We've provided provisions through the licensing and empowerment of moving logs and gravel. These are initiatives that the opposition, in their day, had opportunity to do. Did they do it? No.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, we've been very, very busy for the last three years, and we'll continue to be busy, Mr. Speaker, because we believe in people. We're going to continue to work with people from wherever they are, to bring benefit and goodness to the Yukon.
We're going to do it through vehicles such as the fam tour. We're doing the Yukon protected area strategy also, because we believe in the Yukon the way it is, but we also see the potential for tourism opportunity through that.
Do we believe in the youth? Yes. We developed youth entrepreneurship programs. We developed youth loan programs so that youth, the leaders of the future, would be able to have the skills and the opportunity for wealth. Is it working? Read the paper, Mr. Speaker. Just in the last week there have been issues surrounding youth and what they've done.
Speaker: The minister's time has expired.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is my pleasure to rise and join with my colleagues and debate the state of the Yukon economy today, where we as a community are going - both government and private sector; labour, community governments, First Nation governments, where we're going in terms of improving our economic fortunes, ensuring that people have jobs today, and jobs tomorrow.
Mr. Speaker, in the territory, in every community, we have reached out to work with community governments, with First Nation governments, with the business community, with workers, with people of every walk of life, to try to diversify and strengthen the economic fortunes of this territory.
We have made tremendous progress in developing partnerships that will be instrumental in improving our economic opportunities and making things happen.
Mr. Speaker, only a few years ago, the economic philosophy in this territory was that we should wait to see things happen, take advantage of them when they come, and try to ensure that the economic opportunities that do arise are done accordingly in an effort to meet our needs, to ensure that we were in a position where we could take full advantage of decisions that others made, whether it be in terms of public works for the federal government or whether it might be a decision that a mining company might make to set up a mine.
The point would be that we would always be looking to see what we could do to take advantage of those opportunities.
In the last few years, this territory has made great strides in working to create opportunities for this territory. Now, the depression in the mining industry, the drop in mineral prices, the downturn in mining activity has clearly made it difficult and awkward for this territory to make a living by traditional means. So, more than ever before, we've had to look out to diversify our economy, to make new opportunities happen for this territory.
We have now come to the conclusion - whether we be the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Federation of Labour, the Yukon College, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Industry Association, Council of Yukon First Nations, the Association of Yukon Communities, Yukon government - all these partners in our trade strategy, we've all come to recognize that if we want anything to happen, we have to make it happen. We have to make opportunities for ourselves. We have to create. We have to innovate. We have to build. We have to do things for ourselves. We can't depend on others to make things happen for us.
John Kim Bell, only a month ago, said it very succinctly when he said that the harder he works, the luckier he gets.
We know that with hard work, with some innovation, with some creativity, we can make a more diversified economy. We know that we can make opportunities for ourselves that are sustainable, that meet our needs, sustain our quality of life and maintain our standard of living, but it doesn't come from waiting around to hope that things happen. It comes from hard work.
Now, Mr. Speaker, when we started working with our partners throughout the territory in every community and among many different organizations, we knew that building these relationships, building these partnerships, were going to produce the kind of lasting results that are important for this territory. We knew that if we worked to explore new opportunities in tourism, in light manufacturing, in the forest industry, now in oil and gas, we could rise above our economic misfortune that has resulted from the temporary downturn in mining activity. That did not dissuade us, of course, Mr. Speaker, from trying to improve the economic fortunes of the mining industry, but we knew we needed to diversify, diversify in many different ways, so that we could make a living and maintain our quality of life well into the next century.
We were told by the opposition through the media in the last couple of months that the economy was of the greatest interest to them. Well, it's of the greatest interest to us and, in fact, the many activities that we're undertaking with our partners throughout this territory are testimony to our belief that the economy is the single most important issue facing this territory. There are many other important issues. We're doing good work in education; we're doing good work in the environment; we're doing good work in social services and in justice, on many different fronts.
We've been working especially hard to diversify our economy in many new, creative ways.
The opposition told us that they believed this was going to be the most significant issue facing this Legislature this fall, and we agreed with them. We were looking forward to an opportunity to talk about the many good works that citizens around this territory are undertaking to create jobs and create new ways of making a living for themselves: to celebrate the fact that a little brewing company here in the Yukon, which was just struggling to get started a few years ago, is now exporting into Ontario; to celebrate the fact that a few years ago, we had no log home building activities that exported into Alaska, but now we're actually selling homes into that market; to celebrate the fact that, three years ago, there were no mills operating in this territory, no forest mills operating - we now have three mills; and even celebrating the accomplishments of individuals who, against all odds, are looking to find new opportunities, such as the fellow in Faro who is creating plant food for sale, plant food that is now being sold in some hardware stores around the country. These are tremendous accomplishments that we should be celebrating in this Legislature.
Now, the opposition's reaction to this is to ignore and boycott this discussion. They told the people of this territory they were going to come in, representing their interests, and speak to the economy. They told the media, with all their bluster and flurry, that they were going to come into this Legislature and raise issues about jobs for Yukoners. And, Mr. Speaker, the people of this territory have been let down by the opposition.
They have been let down by the Liberals, they have been let down by the Yukon Party, because, after the first day, the first Question Period, they dropped the subject of the economy, they had nothing more to say about the economy, and all the work that people were doing to put together telecommunications initiatives, new high-speed Internet data transmission services to people throughout the territory, the work people were doing to develop new tax incentives to promote activity throughout the territory, the work that people were doing to bring forward new initiatives to bring more tourism from Europe, and now from Asia to the territory. All these initiatives, as far as the opposition will be concerned, were to be left undiscussed, ignored.
Mr. Speaker, it is essential, of all the opportunities to debate something today, it is essential that we speak about the state of the economy and what we can do together, as elected representatives, to suggest ideas and to promote our economic fortunes. It is the duty of every single MLA in this Legislature - every person who put their name forward to the electorate, every person who pretended to want to represent the interests of thousands of Yukoners - it is their duty to be in this Legislature this afternoon, debating the economy and our economic future. It is an abomination; it is an insult to people in this territory not to have their representatives speak out on the economy, make suggestions, give constructive criticism, and at least undertake the people's work.
If there was ever a time that we should be talking about where we stand with respect to the economic initiatives that this government is undertaking now, the time is now.
Now the opposition wants to engage in games-playing. But when the most fundamental interests of their constituents are at stake, they refuse to participate. They refuse to stay and to be counted. They refuse to raise their issues - their constituents' issues. Mr. Speaker, one opposition member just an hour or so ago said in front of the media, "What good would it do for us; what could we possibly say that would have any impact on the economy?" Well, coming from the Liberal member, she may have a point. Maybe there is nothing the Liberals can say that would have any impact on the economy one way or another. And maybe that's the truest of admissions spoken by the opposition in a long time.
But, you know, Mr. Speaker, people stand in this Legislature every day raising issues on behalf of their constituents, encouraging action in one arena or another, suggesting change in one way or another. I've been doing it for almost 18 years, and I'm still not tired of speaking out on behalf of my constituents. And I would never play games when something as serious as this debate is being undertaken at this time.
Well, Mr. Speaker, you know the Liberal record, unfortunately, up until now has been one where they've essentially been invisible when it comes to making any statement about any particular subject. They'll nit-ick around the edges of an issue, try their best not to take a position on an issue, hide from the more complex issues, cower in the face of the tough, difficult issues, but they always had one thing in common: they were invisible.
The Yukon Party has been visible. The NDP and the Yukon Party can disagree on things from time to time, but we know where we stand. I'm disappointed in the Yukon Party that they play games today and don't participate in a fundamental debate about the state of our economy and what people are doing about it. I'm disappointed that the games-playing nature of that initiative, that their actions - the games-playing that they're undertaking - have so clouded their perception that they can't speak up for their constituents today.
But let me tell you one thing, Mr. Speaker. The Liberals are now the official opposition in this territory. The Liberals have a duty to be front and centre on where they stand and what alternatives they will provide the citizens. That is the nature of parliamentary democracy. It's not all about criticism. It's not all about destructive picking away at initiatives that the government and citizens undertake from time to time. It's about suggesting and putting on the table alternatives, speaking out on behalf of their constituents.
Surely their constituents are telling them that they should be doing certain things, rather than simply criticizing what the government is doing. They have an obligation to try to influence how things are going, through debate in this Legislature, to stand and be counted, make a statement.
Well, Mr. Speaker, even in the position of official opposition, the Liberals refuse to say anything about the economy. Oh, they'll criticize the community development fund; they'll criticize the Argus project; they'll criticize the telecommunications project. They'll not put on the record what they stand for, what they would do. They refused. They refused to take their responsibilities as legislators and speak up for their constituents.
Well, Mr. Speaker, that shows, in my opinion, disrespect, not only for this Legislature and its traditions, but it's disrespect for the Yukon public. If I ever thought that I, as a citizen, had voted for an MLA, voted for a candidate, voted for a Liberal, figuring they would come in and show some courage and speak up on my behalf, I'd be sorely disappointed today to see this performance. When everyone wants to talk about the economy and what people are doing to improve it, the Liberals are on strike. They won't participate. They're not there.
Well, Mr. Speaker, whether the Liberals participate or not, whether the Yukon Party participates or not, there is public business to undertake. There is work to be undertaken with people throughout this territory to improve our economic fortunes, to create jobs for people in this territory, not just now but in the long term, to develop a more diversified economy that has more strength, more staying power, even when there are downturns in commodity prices or when there is a particular difficulty in a particular arena that we have to overcome.
Mr. Speaker, the government, in the last three years, has worked on many different fronts to improve our economic fortune.
Speaker: The Government Leader has two minutes.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There are many projects that the Minister of Economic Development and other members have identified, of which we're very, very proud.
But I can tell you this, Mr. Speaker, we in this government, we in this party, could not have done it without the partnership and the hard work of citizens throughout this territory. This is, in every respect, a partnership. It's obviously a partnership that can happen without the Liberals and the Yukon Party, but it must be a partnership between the government and its citizens, in order to see progress made, and we will continue to speak out as courageously as we can on behalf of citizens in this territory. We will not shirk our responsibilities. We will not cower in the face of debate. We will ensure that we stand for people's interest in this territory, for jobs for this territory, for economic improvement.
Mr. Speaker, I'm hoping that, in the coming weeks and months, the government's agenda - the people's agenda - can be furthered. The Liberals can, as they have today, give us their typical contribution, the Yukon Party will be critical, of course, of many things we're doing, but we will continue to provide good service to this territory and work hard with its citizens.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm pleased to rise in support of the motion before us and to enter into the debate on the Yukon economy and how important it is to continue to strengthen and diversify our economy. The Yukon is not unique in experiencing a downturn in the resource-sector economy. Mineral prices are down, gold reserves are being sold off, and the Asian financial crisis are all factors in that, but there are also structural economic changes taking place worldwide. Locally, nationally and internationally, people are referring to a knowledge-based economy.
We are in a period of transition, a period of transition that's as significant as the industrial revolution, and our government is providing leadership to respond to the present economic challenges. The Minister of Economic Development outlined a number of the efforts to strengthen and diversify our economy. We have enhanced government support for the mining sector. We are developing other resource sectors, working on oil and gas, on forestry.
The single most important resource that we are developing and putting our efforts into is our human resources, our people. We are sponsoring the Yukon economic forums as a Yukon partnership with the public.
The very first event of this government's Yukon economic forums was to bring the Internet whiz kids to the Yukon and to enthuse youth and adults alike about the potential of the knowledge economy. Michael Furdyk and Albert Lai developed and then sold a Web site for over $1 million.
E-commerce is expanding exponentially and will continue to do so. Just the other night, I was at the annual general meeting for the Yukon Entrepreneurship Centre Society, and they were recruiting volunteers to support their mentorship program, and they were establishing a new information technology committee to work to support this in the Yukon. A dozen people, just in the course of that one evening, signed up to participate. Information technology is removing geographical barriers. Yukon young people are very active in taking advantage of this information technology. We saw an incredible turnout of support for the public events for the Internet whiz kids and for other Yukon economic forum events.
Our government is also investing in the future, in our people, by the Yukon-connect project. This $18-million expenditure represents a partnership that will establish the necessary infrastructure to make distance education programs available to all rural schools and all rural communities in the Yukon.
The new infrastructure program will improve connectivity to the door of the schools and to the college campuses in rural Yukon. Internet and data capabilities will improve and rural Yukoners will be able to finally hook up to regular phone service. This is significant economic development.
Once the new infrastructure program is installed, we will be able to offer curriculum courses and programs outside regular classroom settings. These communication developments will allow teachers and students to transmit and receive lessons, assignments and inquiries. Inservicing for teachers will be developed in collaboration with the Yukon Teachers Association, so that teachers have appropriate training to teach the courses. This can also lead to alternative delivery format for conducting meetings, for professional development and for consultant services to schools through the use of video conferencing.
This is very exciting work. It will serve our population and our economy well.
Yukon College is involved in international work to establish a virtual university of the Arctic. A growth in educational services has been predicted as the most significant economic development tool for the near future. The circumpolar university of the Arctic can support faculty exchanges and student mobility. Our government is supporting this project, as is the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Finland, Greenland, Russia and other circumpolar countries.
We are also investing, Mr. Speaker, in physical infrastructure and community economic development. When the Old Crow school burned down, we quickly arranged to build a road to allow for not just the construction of a new school but for the community and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to bring in materials for other construction purposes.
We had an economic development agreement with the VGFN so that First Nation citizens could be trained. We have undertaken similar training for the Ross River School construction project, which is now underway, and for the Mayo school construction project, which is being planned.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I'm very disappointed that the leader of the official opposition is not participating in the debate about the budget this afternoon. They're being remarkably silent. In a media report from yesterday, the official opposition was mentioning the investment that this government has put into training trust funds, and is upset about the money going into these government funds. The increases are to funds that lack accountability, she said. Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm so disappointed that she's not here to participate in the debate and to demonstrate some accountability, because I want to give some accountability on the training trust funds. I am so thrilled about the work that we're doing on these training trust funds and how much they are generating for economic development here in the Yukon.
They support training initiatives after which the trainees directly find employment, and I want to give a few examples of those. Nine of 12 students in Teslin who completed the construction skills for industry course sponsored by advanced education have gained full-time employment. The Yukon River Timber Mill has hired six of them, and we're following up with the Teslin-Tlingit Council on a carpenter pre-trades qualifier course as a precursor to the anticipated heritage centre construction project. Trainees from Kwanlin Dun who were trained on the college road expansion project were offered employment by the private-sector employer, and they all continued to work through on the airport expansion. The Canada-Yukon youth internship program offered training and lifeskills to 20 youth at risk in six communities.
A number of these youth went on to gain employment, where previously they had no attachment to the labour force. In Teslin, three trainees gained employment after completion of training. In Dawson City, work was found, and in Whitehorse.
The internship program will continue to be expanded to more communities and will be open to up to 40 youth at risk. We have sponsored oil and gas training in Watson Lake, and a number of those trainees have found employment recently with southern oil companies.
Six of eight graduates in the Ross River carpentry level 1 course have found work in Ross River over the summer, and two have since found other employment. Two are working for Ketza Construction, and two are working for the Ross River Dena Council.
We've established a training trust fund with the South Yukon Forest Corporation to support its sawmill operation. Over 40 residents of the Watson Lake area have received training to date.
In partnership with Economic Development, Yukon College, Liard First Nation, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and the communities of Ross River, Watson Lake and Dawson City, entry level in drilling training has been offered to take advantage of the potential growth in the oil and gas sector.
In partnership with Yukon College, advanced education is sponsoring a course in Carcross this fall, for effective communication. The community believes that the training will help the Carcross-Tagish First Nation with its communication requirements, and benefit the community overall.
In Pelly Crossing and Ross River, advanced education - and again, together with Yukon College - has sponsored, or will sponsor, business through arts training, which will allow local artists to develop business and arts skills, to help increase the diversity of the community's economic base.
Recently, we've established a training trust fund in the cultural industries for $200,000.
We're working on a Klondike region training trust fund agreement and a Yukon family care providers training trust fund. All of these respond directly to sector or community training needs and place the decisions about training directly in the hands of the sector or the community.
There are a number of these training trust funds that have sponsored other activities throughout the Yukon. The members opposite want the accountability. Perhaps what they can do is read the Blues to learn some of the things that we're doing here to provide accountability on our trust funds and trust funds projects.
It would be nice to hear their ideas, as well.
The Association of Yukon Communities has a training trust fund to enable Yukon communities to train employees and council members. In the 1998-99 year, they provided a local government leadership program in Mayo, a Kwanlin Dun student support workers training, negotiation skills training in Teslin, planning for community cultural stewardship in Dawson, a mediation conference for Kwanlin Dun, administrative officer training for the Village of Carmacks, and staff training for the Kluane First Nation.
We established a community-based training trust fund for Carmacks. They have finalized their training plans to include hospitality, forestry, agriculture, furnace maintenance and repair, mediation, anger management and conflict resolution, wilderness first aid, and other requests. They have also been successful in finding other funding sources to increase the value of the training trust fund, so that they can make more of an investment in their community and in the skills of the members of their community.
The Faro training trust fund helps unemployed workers to upgrade their skills and take new training. In the last six months, they've funded training, which has included nursing, standard first aid, occupational first aid, chainsaw operations, forestry and metal cutting.
The Faro Community Campus Committee is administering this fund, and approximately three-quarters of this training was done through the local college campus. The Northern Carpenters and Allied Workers trust fund has done recent training and apprenticeship with the Yukon Broomball Association on new rinks and, as well, in computer and small business training. The Plumbers and Sheetmetal Workers trust fund have approval from the Yukon government to access capital to provide increased training funding.
The Minister of Tourism has just spoken about some of the work that they're doing to show growth in the tourism sector. The new Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act recognizes the links between protecting our environment and developing a wilderness tourism industry responsibly. In Tourism, we also see the Whitehorse Airport expansion and development and are working on a new tourism strategy.
A number of millennium celebrations will provide economic opportunities and cultural activities throughout the Yukon.
The Yukon tourism industry is also administering their association's training trust fund. They pay up to 50 percent of an individual's training costs and have supported such projects as the Yukon Tourism Education Council's "Welcome Yukon", tourism standards, the wilderness sector, the service sector, and events and attractions. This organization continues to fund training projects regularly.
The leader of the opposition might also be interested in work that's being done in Watson Lake to provide training and economic development in that community. Their training trust fund board has approved support for projects in prospecting and geology, in ice rescue training, in early childhood development, SAGE training, the fine arts, and counselling certification. Eighty-four people have been trained and, again, that board has negotiated an additional $130,000 with partner contributions.
We've set up the Yukon Agriculture Association trust fund to support the development of an agricultural training trust fund. They've established their funding guidelines and are now ready to begin training projects. The Yukon Forest Training Board trust fund has established a training plan. They have connected the Canadian Forest Service with the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Canadian Forestry Association, the University of Northern B.C., the University of Alaska, the Yukon Conservation Society and Nacho Nyak Dun. They've undertaken and are projecting a value-added forest sector training, forestry modules, logging for wildlife workshops, a boreal forest research workshop, a teacher's manual on forest issues and education, ecosystem management workshop with the University of Alaska.
A Yukon Mining and Exploration Board training trust fund has also been active. They have representatives from industry, labour, First Nations, rural communities, and these were selected through community consultations. The board has developed a three-year training action plan, which will be reviewed periodically in consultation with the industry. They have developed a database of career futures and required skills as a resource for the public and the mining industry. They've had 23 staff at Drury Creek mine trained in team plan development, communications and teamwork skills. They've produced mineral testing lab standards through NAL Limited. They've done mining engineering and geology and support for students.
The Southeast Yukon Forest Association training project has also provided training for more than 40 local Watson Lake residents on automated milling process on Workers' Compensation Board safety and WHMIS, the mobile equipment training, saw-filing and knife-grinding, industrial first aid and lumber grading.
We signed a training trust fund with the Champagne-Aishihik in the Haines Junction area, and for a first time had a partnership with the municipal government, the Yukon government and the First Nation government. Their interim board have completed their training plans and policies and hope to start later this fall with some training projects. The cultural industries training trust agreement has an interim board in place. They have representatives from the Yukon Arts Centre, Yukon First Nations and Yukon communities representing a cross-section of different cultural disciplines.
There is a lot of opportunity for economic growth in the cultural industry. There's a lot of opportunity to market the work of our artists on the Internet. There are connections between these training trust funds in different economic sectors and the work we're doing to develop the infrastructure -
Speaker: The minister has two minutes.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I wanted to have more time to talk about the fire-smart communities, the rural road upgrading, the protection of our environment and a number of expanded job opportunities for youth.
Mr. Speaker, we hope to hear at some point during this session the ideas from members opposite on how we can do more to invest in the public and to increase and develop economic growth in the Yukon. Nonetheless, Mr. Speaker, we are ambitious and aggressive in promoting economic development. We are diversifying our economy. We're proud of investing in our young people and in the future economy in knowledge-based activities.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Before I begin, may I just compliment the Speaker on, perhaps in my time here, one of the best sessions for decorum. I think today's decorum has been exceptional, and I would just like to say it's been remarkably free of, perhaps, some of those jibes that are traded across the floor. I particularly note that the lack of response from our friends across the floor has impressed me with their level of interest in what we are saying today.
You know, Mr. Speaker, one of the most astonishing things that I've read in a long time appeared in yesterday's paper, and this had to do with some things being said by the leader of the official opposition on the budget that's being brought forward. But, the most astonishing thing was that when the leader of the opposition was pressed to identify areas, pressed to identify priorities of the Liberal Party for spending, for directing public funds, she refused to give any indication. She said, "Oh, that's what an election campaign is for."
Well, Mr. Speaker, I was struck by that because I recall, back in 1996, being invited in May 1996 to a TIA forum in Haines, Alaska. And, while we were there - there was myself, the Member for Riverdale North, who was the Tourism minister at that time, and the now-leader of the Liberal Party. We were asked to bring forward our views and our ideas on tourism and where we saw our priorities. And, throughout that session, we heard the phrase, "New team; new vision. New team; new vision. New team; new vision."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, where's the team? Where's the vision? And, whenever an issue came up, what we were treated to was yet another recitation of that platitude, "New team; new vision."
At the end of the session, someone came up and told me - because I didn't do it, but someone came up and said - "I counted 'new team; new vision' 24 times, but I didn't hear what the Liberals were going to do for tourism."
Things haven't changed. Things haven't changed. What we've got here is the cream-puff party. I mean, it's puffy, it's sweet, it's full of air but nutritionally it's just not there. So, here we've got this kind of cream-puff philosophy: "If we're real sweet, we don't say anything, we just mouth more platitudes, then people will like us; they'll really, really like us."
But there's no substance, not one iota of substance. Every time we have proposed things in this Chamber, what we've heard is, "More, more." It's like Oliver Twist - more. But do we get any suggestions about what we can be doing, where we can be directing our energies? No, we get this ongoing chorus, "Please sir, I want some more." There's nothing there.
This is a party that is, at best - and I'm being charitable here - vacuous. It's completely vacuous. I mean, what we've got here is just more of the same old platitudes, more of the same empty rhetoric, and not one concrete suggestion. This is the party that voted in favour - despite trying to deny it - of labour curtailment, wage rollbacks. Of course, they've tried to distance themselves from that. This is the party that voted consistently for Yukon Party budgets that froze services for individuals.
Yet, when we have brought forward concrete suggestions, concrete ways to improve people's lives in this territory, they run and they hide and they vote against it. They voted against extended care, Mr. Speaker. Now, they'll deny it, but they voted against extended care and, in their denunciation of this supplemental budget, they're voting against extra services for seniors, they're voting against services for children, they're voting against services that will help this territory grow.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No ideas whatsoever.
So, you know, if things are so negative, and things are so bad, I'm wondering where these people are, because they may be talking to a few of their own cohorts, but I sure haven't seen them get around and maybe walk around downtown Whitehorse. I don't think they've been to Ross River lately.
I don't think they've been to Watson Lake. I don't think they've been to Teslin lately. Things are happening. Things are turning around. And we're making it happen in a very tangible and local way.
The Old Crow school that my colleague mentioned just a little while ago, in September, was an excellent example. Most of the labour in that school was not only Yukon residents, but also Old Crow residents. That had a real, substantial impact in concrete, material ways on the lives of people in that community. And this impact doesn't leave environmental disasters in its wake.
The same thing is happening in Ross River. Local Ross River residents are being hired for these projects. I mean, this is not rocket science. These are people who are working on projects; they are contributing to their communities; and they are making money.
In Teslin, a health centre is being built. We need the health centre there to replace an aging structure, and guess what, Mr. Speaker - a Teslin contractor has the job. Teslin residents are on the job.
Now, what's that, if it's not economic development? But we haven't heard too much from the cream-puff party on that.
You can't walk more than two blocks in Whitehorse now without seeing a project : Black and Second, an office building underway; at the end of Second Avenue, another business going up; over at Third and Black, a building that is approaching completion that will house Social Services.
Until very recently, the construction was also visible on the waterfront, as we renovated the train station and fire hall. Now, I know that the folks in the cream-puff party and the wax museum over there don't believe in heritage -
Speaker: Order please. I ask the member to withdraw the words "wax museum".
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I concede, Mr. Speaker. I was merely struck by the phenomenal resemblance of our friends across there to some exhibits I've seen at Madame Tussaud's.
We believe in preserving our heritage, and we're doing that. And in doing that, we're turning the economy around. The Taylor House, which we were asked about the other day - well, that is an example of a preservation of heritage resources. This building has made a tremendous recovery. It's being used, Mr. Speaker. It's being used by the Arctic Winter Games, which incidentally are another injection of funds and economic development into this community. I know they don't like it, but that's what is happening. We're contributing toward it and we are making it happen.
Just speaking on some things with the Arctic Winter Games, we have consistently supported that group. We have consistently supported that organization. We've assisted groups like the Polarettes in developing their facility.
The continuing care facility, which our friends across the floor voted against - well, next year, Mr. Speaker, people are going to be working on that project. People are going to be working on that facility, and in doing it they're going to generate income, they're going to generate wealth for their own families, but they're also building a legacy - a legacy, Mr. Speaker - for Yukon people.
And I haven't even touched on the biggest initiative of all, and I'm going to spend some time on it because, while we've got this group over here stuck in the land of buggy whips - I mean, I'm expecting them to yell across the floor, "Get a horse" - these guys are stuck in the 19th century. Well, Mr. Speaker, guess what? In very, very little - as a matter of fact in a matter of weeks now - we're going to be moving into a millennium. We're going to be moving into an information age. We can't step back.
This is one of the most challenging times for people in this territory. Over the last number of weeks, we have heard speakers, whether that speaker is Dian Cohen, whether that speaker is Paul Hoffert, sending out one consistent message: if we are not in the technical forefront, we are a technical backwater. If you're not part of the information revolution, you're left behind, your children are left behind, you have no future.
This government here made a concerted, reasoned decision to invest major amounts of capital - major amounts of public money - in the largest public/private partnership. You know, across the floor, we heard, "Public/private partnerships, private/public partnerships" - the big mantra. Well, when we do a public/private partnership, we're denounced for doing it. Well, what is this terrible thing that we're talking about? What we're talking about, quite bluntly, is moving the Yukon into a new millennium. We're moving it into the future via high-speed Internet, and we're going to assist people in this territory, people in rural Yukon, people in small communities, to be part of that economic chain, that paradigm shift, which, unless we are part of it, we will just be in the backwater. We will be ghettoized - literally ghettoized in - the electronic age. And that's what we're doing, Mr. Speaker.
We're going to move people ahead in this territory. What will be the outcome? Well, there'll be access to high-speed Internet for 17 Yukon communities - seventeen. There will be improved telephone services to all Yukon communities.
Mr. Speaker, part of what we're doing here is to try to bring 800 Yukon lots, people live there, we're trying to give them some decent phone access. Phones are no longer a tool of merely social interaction. Phones are also a tool of doing business, and that's what we're doing, because when we have set the standards for what we're doing with phones, it's going to be 56K modem. It's going to be enough to sustain a small business. A person will now be able to live in rural Yukon, to have a lifestyle, to be able to participate in e-commerce, all of those issues for which you do need high-speed Internet access and data transmission.
Just a little while ago, my colleague, the Minister of Education, showed me a document that came out of the 1996 election, and then there were glowing terms about how the Liberal Party was going to provide tools for Yukon students to be part of the information age. My colleague, the Minister of Education, just announced a major investment in that and, in concert with the high-speed Internet, we are going to make our kids competitive; we are going to make sure that our kids in this territory are not going to be left behind.
That is an investment in people. That is an investment in our economic future.
We are going to double the telecom capacity for voice telephone in every community. We're going to increase data transmission by 25-fold.
We believe that we have been held back, quite frankly, in this territory in a number of things we could be revolutionary on, by lack of capacity, whether it's telemedicine or whatever medicine, delivering education through distance education - or now the term is "distributed learning". We've been held back because we simply don't have the capacity. Well, sooner or later, someone has to make a bold effort. Someone has to step out and say, "Let's do something." We haven't heard anything from that side.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yeah, they consider that their role is to argue the arcane points within the House. They sit together and work themselves into a froth of how the House leader treats them.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Three years, and what have we got? More, more, more. "Well, we wouldn't do it like that," or, my favourite, my favourite, Mr. Speaker, from a party that was absolutely stunning in its ability to do nothing, absolutely stunning in that ability - now, all of a sudden, their argument is, "Yeah, but we thought of it. We were gonna do that. We thought it was a real neat idea. Well, we mighta done that." Well, "mighta" doesn't cut it any more! You either do something or get off the track.
The guys from the buggy-whip mentality there don't see any virtue in high-speed Internet. They don't see any virtue in telecom. They don't see any virtue in giving our kids the tools with which to go ahead.
There are different roads. There are roads for the past and there are roads for the future. And anyone who has heard some of the speakers who have come up in the last few weeks have heard that message loud and clear, Mr. Speaker. There is a road for the future, and that road is telecommunications, just as, in the last century, the Government of Canada invested in railroads to open the west and to open the frontier, just as, in the post-war period, the Government of Canada invested in infrastructure in terms of aircraft, airports and roads, we are building a road into the future and that road is telecom.
We're not afraid to do that. We're not afraid to take that step. You're not going to see us standing saying, "We're not going to tell you our ideas. They're secret. We're going to keep them hidden. We're going to wrap them away, tuck 'em away."
This party hasn't done that. This party has not done that. This party has taken those steps and they have moved the agenda ahead. We've moved the agenda ahead. And that agenda is directly going to benefit everyone in the territory, whether you're a small-business operator out in Carmacks or whether you're a person living in Tagish or Marsh Lake without a phone, what we are doing, what we're investing in - telecom here - is going to benefit this community. And it's going to do one other thing, Mr. Speaker. We have in this community technically trained people, well-educated people - your neighbours, my neighbours, certainly, people with technical skills - and we are going to provide an opportunity for them to stay in this community, to develop their skills, to contribute to this community, this Yukon community. These aren't abstract ideas, these are real people with real families; they're the person down the street.
Speaker: The minister has two minutes.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
These are people that we're going to keep here. These are people we're going to support here. We're going to support our small-business people. We're going to support our kids in the future.
It's a hackneyed phrase, Mr. Speaker, but sometimes we have to say that there is vision. I believe it's from Isaiah where it says without vision, the people perish. We have a vision; we know where we're going; and that vision is into the new millennium; and that vision is for a prosperous, healthy Yukon.
Our friends across the floor - empty platitudes - or, in the case of the Yukon Party, platitudes from the last century. We're going to move ahead.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It is my pleasure to speak to this motion. The economy of the Yukon is of utmost importance to this government, to the NDP government. Since the closure of the Faro mine, Yukoners have seen the impacts of jobs disappearing out of the Yukon, not just from Faro, but other communities - Whitehorse was hit hard by people leaving and jobs disappearing. And this government had to do something. We've been told to go ahead and think of something new, try new things. And we've brainstormed. We've talked with people, we've talked with businesses, we've talked with the communities, we've talked with First Nations about how, collectively, we can try to turn this economy around and bring hope to Yukoners and have a brighter future.
And we've done a number of things. The opposition has said that the economy is important, and that they were going to be asking questions of the government on the economy steady through this sitting and, after the first day, not many questions at all on the economy. I think that my colleague, the Minister of Economic Development, has done an excellent job in responding to these questions about the things that we are doing.
It's taken the wind out of their sails. We've talked about the small things, the big things, and the innovative things that we've done. And it's because of the hard work that has been done by this government and by the Department of Economic Development, in thinking of new things; going out there and getting dollars from people who don't live in the Yukon - the immigrant investor fund - and finding a project to use the dollars with.
The one, of course, that we came up with was one that would benefit the communities tremendously: the telecommunication infrastructure, in partnership with Northwestel. This is something that is big for the Yukon, and now that everybody's into computers and information is moving very fast, we need to have good telephone lines and access to information.
What happens to the communities? When I go to a place like Pelly Crossing now, which has terrible telephone lines, this is a huge improvement, but now they can have addition to that, they can get on the telephones, get on the Internet with their computers. This is incredible.
People in Whitehorse might take that as a normal thing, but the community people are really going to be benefiting from this. Once we have this project done - for example, going into the community of Carmacks, or Old Crow, or Teslin, and telling students that soon they will be able to sit in their classrooms in the schools, and take a class that's being taught, say, in Toronto, or a class that's being taught in another community in Whitehorse, that they could never have taken because of, maybe, the small classes that we do have in the communities. This is a huge improvement, and it's rural communities that are benefiting from this.
Mr. Speaker, when we first talked about how this government has to diversify, do new things other than mining - we can't rely on the mining - and Yukoners really felt when Faro mine closed that we needed to do new things, that we can't rely on mining so let's do other things, we started doing trade missions. And we've done a number of them over the past couple of years.
When we started talking about the possibility of exporting houses, who would have thought that in the Yukon we do have the technology, and that we do have the people here who have been building houses here for many, many years, who have learned the skills of R2000 and have been building homes like that for many years, and can take that technology down to warmer countries like Chile and actually build houses and make money there? Well, that opportunity is out there, and many people are looking at that. Who would have thought that we could export log homes? And, Mr. Speaker, we're doing that. Computer programs that have been developed in the Yukon are being sold outside of the Yukon. It's incredible the amount of movement since we started looking at new things, trade and export, that are out there.
Walking down the streets of Carmacks one day, somebody stops me and talks about the possibility of houses being traded outside the Yukon. Well, that is new. This had never been done in the Yukon other than some log homes - the Yukon-Alaska log homes going over to Alaska. This has never been done, never been thought of. It's new. It's promising. It's a possibility of putting people to work.
Now, this government has been working with the private sector to try and make things happen, and it's looking good.
We went and did the bold thing that the Yukon Party couldn't do: negotiated oil and gas, and brought it down to the Yukon level, started getting royalties on oil and gas coming to the Yukon.
This agreement was with First Nations so that they could get royalties, and what do they do with the royalties that they get from oil and gas? Well, some of them are putting it to work, putting it into projects, such as skating rinks and so on, and it's working. It's putting people back to work. It's bringing control to Yukon. And now, all of a sudden, with a lot of hard work, we've got people interested in exploration and doing additional work in oil and gas in southeast Yukon and the northern part of the Yukon.
This was not looked at in any serious way in the past. Now we've got real opportunities out there to start seeing people doing exploration work, and once that takes place, Mr. Speaker, there's going to be a lot of activity in the Yukon. You'll see pipes coming up on the highway, going out, and drilling taking place.
We have all kinds of things to offer from the Yukon. Tourism, our wilderness, the beauty that we have here, our climate, snow, right down to the northern lights. And people want to see it, and they want to come here, and they want to spend money. Our Tourism department is growing; more people are coming; and we're starting to attract new areas of the world, new markets in Asia. People want to come to the Yukon.
We needed to make sure that the industry out there is safe for people to come. We brought in the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act to make sure that people are certified with first aid when they are taking people out there on guides, and so on. And this has been really a boost to the industry and a boost to our tourism in the Yukon.
First Nation people know that tourism, if they were to get involved in tourism, has a lower impact than, say, even doing mining or oil and gas.
They're right into this. We have worked with them as partners on many different things: diversification and trade and export. We've got many different partners in business, and the Chamber of Mines and the First Nations trying to do things together. I think the realization now is that governments have to work together. We need to do things together to move this and make this country a little bit better. We need to work with businesses and we need to form partners together as a government, federal government, territorial government and First Nation governments. We need to start putting our minds together and developing new ideas and new initiatives so that the economy can grow. And we've been doing that, and we've listed off a number of different things.
We've shown and put a lot of effort into support of the forest industry. Even though we don't have control of forests, the forest commissioner has spent a lot of time with the federal government trying to make things work. We've developed and worked with the private sector in forming additional three operating sawmills in the Yukon. This is not a new thing to the Yukon; we've had it here before. We've had sawmills in Old Crow, Pelly Crossing, Ross River, different places, small communities. So there's obviously been a lot of interest in logging in the Yukon in the past. What we do now have in the Yukon is the ability to take these raw logs, process them through the mills that we do have and put them out in the market in the Yukon Territory, rather than exporting them out - buy our own materials right here. And we're getting good material, even out of fire-kill that we have in the Yukon. The fire-kill that's around Minto, that burned in 1995, being processed through the plant in Haines Junction, is producing good lumber, grade A lumber, a surprise to a lot of people. But the lumber that we do have in the Yukon has always been rated high.
Mr. Speaker, we could not take the approach that the Yukon Party did, when the mining went down. We could not sit back and wait for mining to come back to the Yukon. The prices of metals have been so low for so long - it's been an unusual low for a long period of time.
But that didn't stop us from working with the mining industry. We found an opportunity to work better with them, to try to enhance the mining community, bringing in things like the tax initiative. This is not a small thing; it's huge. Although we're still being directed by the price of metals, we have four permanent mines waiting to go ahead once the price of metals goes up.
We have all kinds of opportunities. We have investors coming into the Yukon, starting to look at other mines. I know there's a lot of activity around Mayo and other places. Once the prices go up, you'll see that activity here.
We have activity in oil and gas exploration work that's being done. We couldn't just sit back and wait for mining. In order to attract people to the Yukon, we need to have the infrastructure here to be able to say, "This is a good place to be."
We worked on telecommunications to bring in high-speed Internet access to communities. We looked at building healthy communities.
Our community development fund is well-received out there in the communities, and it's doing things such as putting up youth centres and recreation centres across the Yukon. It's gone to many different projects in Whitehorse.
On top of that, as a government we're looking at how we can work with municipalities and First Nations in trying to build even more so that the communities are self-sufficient and they can attract people, along with tourism and building infrastructure and so on.
There a lot of things that we have done and, in the meantime, of course, we've tried to create jobs with things like the CDF, which has so many different types of projects out there, to fire smart, which again was not even in our jurisdiction, but putting people to work in the winter months, and building some type of safety around communities is a big thing. A lot of people are taken up on this and are putting fire breaks around their communities and trying to phase this whole project in over a number of years, and it's working very well. We look forward to having forestry devolved down to the territory.
We've worked hard on devolution, trying to get control of the resources that we have in the Yukon. It's not an unusual thing. All the land claims agreements that have been negotiated talked about programs and services being devolved down to First Nations. We're talking about something huge, something big, something different for the Yukon, hope for the future and, Mr. Speaker, things are looking fairly well, and I really wish and hope that things work out on the devolution table.
I know that time is of an essence here and others might want to speak on this. Mr. Speaker, we've done all kinds of new things, including green power, green mortgage through Yukon Housing. I just want to bring up one quick thing. I know it was in the news yesterday about the number of permits going down over the past year. That has happened in residential permits. The commercial permits, though, have gone up and the value of buildings last year was $32 million, and it's gone up to approximately $38 million, $6 million more than last year.
Mr. Speaker, I of course support this initiative that the Yukon has put forward.
Mr. McRobb: This motion charts a course for the Yukon government to continue with efforts to stimulate and diversify our economy, and I am strongly in support of it. Today we've heard from MLAs who are concerned and interested in building our territory's economy. On the motion, I strongly encourage and support continued efforts for this stimulation and diversification. Our territory as a whole is benefiting from several initiatives and, in particular, the Kluane region is benefiting from several as well.
We've heard a lot from all our MLAs today, and we'll look forward to further economic discussion in the future.
Motion No. 177 agreed to
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. next Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:10 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled November 4, 1999:
Year 2000: Yukon government response to the Public Accounts Committee's recommendations on Y2K readiness (Sloan)