Monday, November 8, 1999 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
By-election Return to Writ
Speaker: I wish to inform the Assembly that I have received a letter from the Chief Electoral Officer respecting the by-election held in the Electoral District of Lake Laberge on October 25, 1999. The letter, dated November 8, 1999, reads as follows:
"The resignation on August 30, 1999, of Doug Livingston, the member for the Electoral District of Lake Laberge, caused a vacancy in the Yukon Legislature Assembly.
"A writ of election to fill this vacancy was issued on September 24, 1999, with polling day being October 25, 1999.
"I hereby advise that the returning officer for the Electoral District of Lake Laberge has certified in the Return to the Writ that Pam Buckway has been elected as the member to represent that electoral district in the Legislative Assembly.
"Chief Electoral Officer."
New Member Takes Seat
Speaker: I have the honour to present Ms. Pam Buckway, representing the Electoral District of Lake Laberge, who has taken the required oath and now claims the right to take her seat.
The member may now take her seat.
Ms. Duncan escorts Ms. Buckway to her seat
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Speaker: Are there any tributes?
In remembrance of Harry Murphy
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, a long-time, respected member of the Yukon public service, Harry Murphy, was born on July 4, 1924 in Richmond, Quebec. In 1952, he started working for the Yukon government, and in 1955 he met Sheila McKernan, and the next year they were married.
They had five children: son Kevin and four daughters, Donna, Lori, Sharon and Kerry. Mr. Speaker, Harry's dedication as a public servant was paramount in his 18-year career as director of social welfare. Some of his great accomplishments, members will be pleased to know, were the seniors home - Macaulay Lodge - Yukon Family Services Association and several children's group homes. In 1974 he became the Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs until 1981, when he was asked to start up Yukon's Federal Relations Office in Ottawa. His tenure in the Ottawa office earned him the respect of friends and colleagues across the country.
While in Ottawa, Mr. Speaker, he was instrumental in encouraging other governments across the country to recognize the Yukon as a full and equal partner at ministerial-level conferences across the country. He retired in 1988 after 36 years of service with the Yukon government. He will be remembered by his many friends and family, and respected by many who valued his effort and his work.
Ms. Duncan: We would like to join with the Government Leader in paying tribute to the late Harry Murphy. Mr. Murphy was one of those individuals, and the number grows smaller with time, who could "remember when" in the Yukon's public service.
We would like to offer our condolences to Sheila Murphy and to their children, Kevin and Donna, who have joined us in the gallery today. I'm sure all members extend their sincere sympathies to your family and our thanks for your father's extraordinary service.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Yukon Party I rise to pay tribute to Charles Bertrand Harry Murphy, who passed away peacefully on October 9. For many of us, Harry will be long remembered for his long years of outstanding service and dedication to the Government of the Yukon in his capacity as director of social welfare and later as the first Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
During his 36-year career with Yukon government, Harry earned the respect of friends, colleagues throughout the territory and across Canada. As the Government Leader has stated, he had many accomplishments over the years with the senior's home - Macaulay Lodge - Yukon Family Services, children group homes, and the opening of the first federal relations office in Ottawa.
Although Harry and his wife later left the territory to retire in Victoria, Harry continued to hold a special place in his heart for the Yukon and for its well-being. A good person with a love of the Yukon, a heart of gold, Harry will be remembered fondly by Yukoners, to whom he gave so much over the years, and will be sadly missed by friends and family.
Our heartfelt wishes and sincere condolences go out to Harry's wife, Sheila, and his children and his grandchildren.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: Under tabling returns and documents, I have for tabling the letter from the Chief Electoral Officer respecting the by-election held in the Electoral District of Lake Laberge that the House was informed of earlier today.
Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Hon. Mr. Harding: It gives me pleasure to give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) All elected members owe it to their constituents to forward and identify constructive solutions to strengthen our economy;
(2) The Yukon government supports strategic infrastructure investments, like ports, runway extensions, information technology upgrades and alternative energy sources to plan for and diversify our economy; and
THAT this House supports the Yukon government's efforts to diversify the economy and create jobs by enhancing the resource sector in oil and gas, forestry and mining, as well as stimulating other sectors, like tourism, cultural industries, and trade and investment.
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the core calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd are critical habitats and are permanently protected from development in the Yukon. This level of protection does not exist in the core calving grounds of the 10-02 lands of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, otherwise known as ANWR;
THAT this House, while recognizing that responsible development in the winter range of the Porcupine caribou herd can occur with proper environmental safeguards, strongly opposes oil and gas exploration and production in the core calving grounds;
THAT this House recognizes the continued support of the Yukon government for international efforts to secure permanent protection of the 10-02 lands of ANWR; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to continue to assist with the lobbying efforts of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board to ensure permanent protection of the 10-02 lands of ANWR.
Speaker's ruling re: ministerial statements
Speaker: Before calling for ministerial statements today, the Chair will provide the House with a ruling on the point of order raised by the third party House leader on November 3, 1999.
The third party House leader raised the points of order in reference to the ministerial statements given by the Minister of Economic Development on oil and gas development and the Minister of Health and Social Services on Health Summit 99. He stated that he felt that these ministerial statements were contrary to the rules of the House and asked the Speaker to make a ruling.
The rule covering ministerial statements is to be found in Standing Order 11(3) which, in part, states: "On Ministerial Statements . . . a Minister may make a short factual statement of government policy."
The only other direction to be found is in the Second Report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges of the Twenty-fourth Legislative Assembly, which was tabled on October 10, 1979. One of the recommendations of that Committee, which was concurred in by motion of the House, stated: "That Ministerial Statements be made only on subjects of significance and primarily for the purpose of announcing new government policies."
Do the ministerial statements of November 3, 1999 conform to the requirements of Standing Order 11(3) and the direction provided by the House when it adopted the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges? First, a review of those ministerial statements reveals that they do contain statements of government policy. Secondly, although it can be dangerous for a Speaker to make judgments on what is significant and what is not significant, the Chair believes that the members of this House would consider the subjects covered in these ministerial statements to be subjects of significance. On the final point, however, these statements fail because they do not fulfill the requirement of being made primarily for the purpose of announcing new government policies.
The Minister of Economic Development, in speaking to the point of order on his statement, said, "I would submit, Mr. Speaker, that this is completely in keeping with the past practice of previous governments, including the Yukon Party government, for their four years in office, and it speaks directly to the policy and economic initiatives of this government."
It may be that an argument can be made that the practices of the use of ministerial statements by governments, past and present, have not conformed to the direction of the House as to the proper content of those statements. It must be recognized that two decades have passed since the House adopted the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. The House and the strategies employed in it have changed since then. It is clear that the influence of new factors such as television in the House and of the handling of private members' day has contributed to a different approach being taken to the quantity, content and timing of ministerial statements. Perhaps, as a result of evolving practice and these new factors, there is a case to be made for ministerial statements to be legitimately used to provide the House with what the Minister of Economic Development called an "update" or to offer a report on a conference as did the Minister of Health and Social Services.
The difficulty with such a proposition is that the House has not changed the rules governing ministerial statements nor has it rescinded its adoption of the recommendation of the 1979 Standing Committee that ministerial statements should be made primarily for the purpose of announcing new government policies. If new rules and directions should be adopted for ministerial statements, the House should say so.
It must be noted that this is not a new observation. Speaker Sam Johnston, in a ruling on April 6, 1988, said, "The Chair would point out that the House has not reviewed the subject of Ministerial Statements for almost nine years and that there are some matters on which the Chair has little or no guidance. . . . If the House feels that it is worthwhile to address such questions or to conduct a general review of the rules for Ministerial Statements, the Chair would suggest that the matter be referred to the appropriate committee for review and recommendation." Nothing was done and, over 10 years later, on May 5, 1998, Deputy Speaker McRobb, in yet another ruling on the content of ministerial statements, said "The Chair would suggest to members that, if the content of ministerial statements has become a matter of major concern, it may be time to refer the matter to the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges for consideration and recommendation. The Chair would further suggest that, if such a reference were made, it should direct the Committee to develop a more definite and helpful description of the purpose of ministerial statements and, also, to indicate the desired method for dealing with points of order raised about these statements."
This last issue, identified by Deputy Speaker McRobb on May 5, 1998, repeated a point made by Speaker Johnston in 1988. That is, if the Chair were to rule a ministerial statement out of order after it has been given, it would not be possible to let proceedings continue and opposition members would be denied a chance to respond.
(1) The ministerial statements given on November 3, 1999 did not conform with the direction of the House as to the content of ministerial statements because they were not made primarily for the purpose of announcing new government policies.
(2) It is possible to take the position that the practices concerning the content of ministerial statements has not conformed with that direction for some period of time.
(3) The Chair is placed in a very difficult position in ruling on a ministerial statement because, by the time a ruling can be provided, the ministerial statement has already been given and, if it is out of order, the harm cannot be rectified.
(4) Speakers have asked the House for assistance in this matter for over a decade and the House has chosen not to take any action.
In conclusion, this statement has outlined the situation regarding ministerial statements from the viewpoint of the Chair. Hopefully, it has made clear the difficulties the Chair faces when considering points of order on ministerial statements and has assisted members in gaining an understanding of the basis of any future rulings on the same subject.
The Chair thanks members for their attention.
Are there any ministerial statements to be given at this time?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Mayo Road zoning committee
Ms. Buckway: I have a few questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. I'd like to know what's happening with the Mayo Road zoning committee. This is the three-person committee that was formed in the spring of 1994 to develop zoning bylaws for the area. What is the current status of this committee?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It gives me pleasure to answer this. Mr. Speaker, the department, in conjunction with the community, is going to continue to work with the community to identify the problems that will be coming through the process. We'll go into the next step of the process to continue to work with the people there.
Ms. Buckway: It's my understanding that the Mayo Road zoning committee was dissolved in May of 1997, some two and a half years ago, after completing the work it had set out to do, which was to develop zoning bylaws for the Mayo Road area. Those bylaws have been in the hands of the government for 29 months. When does the minister plan to approve the zoning bylaws for the Mayo Road area?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: If the member is speaking of the issues from Deep Creek, around the Mayo area - is that the place that you're speaking of?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, certainly, Mr. Speaker, they are in the process, and they will be forwarded to Cabinet shortly.
Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, an important part of the bylaw that this minister has been sitting on for 29 months is the formation of a zoning committee. In the last two and half years, the dissolved committee has been asked to act on a number of rezoning requests. This is an uncomfortable situation for the committee members and for area people with an interest in the rezoning requests. Can the minister assure this House that the bylaws will be approved before the members of the dissolved committee are asked to deal with any more rezoning requests?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, certainly, Mr. Speaker, this government will continue to work with all communities, whether they're municipalities or unincorporated, for the goodness of the Yukon Territory. Mr. Speaker, good things take some time. I certainly respect the work that the planning committee has done, and we'll continue to work with the planning committee to ensure that it makes it through the process. Cabinet will be looking at it shortly, and certainly, from that point on, we'll be notifying the people at the committee level.
Question re: Unemployment rate
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Economic Development, and it concerns the startling jump in the unemployment rate that was announced on Friday. Under this NDP government, we now have the second highest unemployment rate in Canada, at 10.9 percent. It's also the highest unemployment rate recorded for the month of September since the NDP came to office. Mr. Speaker, we are worse off now than we were at this time last year. This is further proof that the NDP economic agenda is not working. The much-talked-about diversification plan has resulted in fewer, not more, jobs for Yukoners. Why has this government's economic strategy failed so miserably at creating one job at a time?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, more constructive economic suggestions from the official opposition. The reality is that we have seen some seasonal fluctuations on the employment rate, as we always see this time of year in the territory. The labour force today - the number of workers - is actually 200 more than it was in October of last year, which dispels the notion that people are leaving. Actually, more people are coming to the territory. We have a larger workforce and 200 more workers. The labour force in October of 1998 was 15,400 and this month, in October of 1999, it's 15,600.
So, Mr. Speaker, we believe that diversification plans are starting to work. The labour force today is the same size at it was in October 1995 when the Faro mine was going, and we have that significant difference to deal with. That's why we're encouraged by the mills that have opened in Haines Junction and Watson Lake. That's why we're encouraged by the new flights that have been announced - direct flights because of the runway extension that this government has put in - and the work we've been doing in tourism. We're encouraged by the oil and gas activity that's taking place. There are a lot of signs - in the export numbers and the retail sales, in the building permits as compared to last year - that things are turning around, so there are some statistics that are pointing to the very positive.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I know that this member in particular has a habit of reading statistics and revising history, but there are a number of things that this government has done that have come from the Liberal Party. Labour-sponsored venture capital funds, public/private partnerships and investment tax credits were all put forward in this Legislature by the Yukon Liberal Party - Three concrete ideas that were adopted by the government and, Mr. Speaker, we have more. A Better Way stated that the unemployment was simply "too high." When this government came to office, the unemployment rate was 7.9 percent - in their words, too high, and now it's almost 11 percent.
Mr. Speaker, we're worse off than we were a year ago. Everyone knows that the NDP are not good at managing the economy. Will the minister finally admit what everybody already knows, that his overall economic strategy, when it comes to creating jobs, isn't working?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's ironic that investment tax credits, public/private partnerships and the labour-sponsored venture capital funds - all of which had nothing to do with the opposition, were done by this government. And, as a matter of fact, the budgets that we put forward that contained those initiatives were voted against by the official opposition. So, for them to somehow claim that they came up with these concepts really makes me feel good because it's obvious they're tagging on to a good thing: the initiatives that this government has brought forward.
Mr. Speaker, we're confident there are some positive signs. In 1996, the Faro mine was operating; it's not now. There was no hint of any Asian financial collapse; there has been one and the fallout is still severe. On the mining front, nobody had ever heard of Bre-X. At that time, people were still putting money into it; nobody thought that investors in the junior mining sector would lose $8 billion on that particular problem. Nobody thought there'd be a three-year downturn in the price of world metals.
We are having to very thoughtfully and deliberately come to grasp with the new economic environment that we're operating within, and we're having to diversify the economy; hence the need to upgrade our infrastructure so that we can compete in the 21st century, Mr. Speaker, so that the entire territory has the tools to earn a living; hence the need to invest in infrastructures such as the ports option we've taken, such as the extension of the runway; hence the need to invest in new forestry initiatives, to engage in devolution, to develop oil and gas for the first time in 20 years.
So, Mr. Speaker, in a whole range of areas, we're very actively engaging Yukoners and working with them to turn around economic fortunes, and we think it's starting to work. There are no huge big hits out there, but slowly and carefully we're getting there.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, what we just heard was a lot of excuses. Now, I know the minister is a big hockey fan. One of the Montreal Canadiens was talking this weekend about how his team wasn't winning any games. He said his team had to work harder, and excuses were for losers. I think the minister should take that advice to heart.
The mismanagement of the economy by the NDP is bad enough, but it gets worse. Now the taxpayer is paying for it. The NDP's trade and diversification strategy has stumbled along for three years, producing photo opportunities for the minister but not a lot of jobs. A couple of weeks ago, they resorted to one of the oldest tricks in the book: if you're getting bad press, you can always buy advertising to make it look like you're doing well. A couple of weeks ago, we were treated to a 16-page piece of propaganda called Trade Team News. How much did this piece of propaganda cost Yukon taxpayers?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is talking about a partnership that, on the cover, included the logos of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mines, the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Federation of Labour, Council of Yukon First Nations. She's now calling these people "propagandists", and "losers", even.
What we were doing was trying to illustrate with our partners some of the successes out there in every avenue of the economy, from cultural industries to oil and gas, to mining, to forestry. Mr. Speaker, we're proud of those things, and I know it doesn't fit with the agenda of members opposite to have us talk about what's really happening in the economy. As a matter of fact, they just get up and run out of the Legislature.
But, Mr. Speaker, we're going to continue to talk about the work we have to do. We're going to continue to work, and we're going to continue to work in the areas that we think are returning results. They're not excuses, Mr. Speaker. One has only to look at the Conference Board of Canada report - not exactly a leftist-leaning organization - to read about the reality, not the excuses, of the changing global market, and to read about the need to invest in infrastructure, and telecommunications, and modernizing this territory.
Mr. Speaker, we're doing all of that. We don't just talk about it, like the former Yukon Party government did with their big talk, big visions. We're actually investing in port options. We're actually investing in infrastructure and telecommunications, and the airport, and all those things, Mr. Speaker.
I think you're going to see in the long term that this territory will be able to take advantage of the -
Speaker: Minister, time has expired.
Question re: Economy
Mr. Ostashek: My question, too, is for the Minister of Economic Development. Let's talk about the real reality of the economic situation in the Yukon.
Last Thursday, it was revealed that the value of building permits decreased by nearly 34 percent from August. Overall, the value of building permits decreased from 15.6 percent from the second quarter of this year to the third quarter, compared with an increase of 2.4 percent over the same period nationally. We're going down, and the building permits are going up on a national basis.
How can the minister stand there and say that this is support for his economic policies in the Yukon, and everything is good, that nothing needs to be fixed, that the NDP's doing everything it can. How does the minister support the optimistic forecast when he's faced with this type of statistic?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, first of all, Mr. Speaker, I'm not saying everything is good. I'm saying we have a lot of work to do as Yukoners to diversify this economy, and we've got to do it. It's been far too long that we've relied on the good fortunes of the London Metal Exchange to carry us through good times and bad in this territory, and that has got to change.
So I'm not saying there's not lots more work to do. What I'm saying is that there are positive numbers out there. If you look at the building permit situation the member mentioned, for example, it's better now than it was last year. And if you look around the capital city, just look down Second Avenue, Mr. Speaker. I understand that there will be some activity on the major new retail complex starting this week, so I think there is some good building action out there.
I'm glad the member opposite didn't do what the leader of the official opposition did and attack the partners who've been trying to work with government to make things happen. I mean, she even went so far as to call them "losers".
Mr. Speaker, we're going to continue to work with people in the Yukon in the different organizations that have a stake in the economy, from labour to business and First Nations governments, in a whole host of areas, and some statistics are better than others but we think, slowly, gradually, the economy is turning around. There's no big, quick hit out there like the Faro mine right now, unfortunately, which would change all of these numbers in a heartbeat, so we have to work harder, and we have to work in new areas, and that's what we're doing.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, let me get it straight from this minister. Unemployment's going up, building permits are going down, and the economy's turned around and getting better. That's what he's asking Yukoners to believe. This minister is living in a dream world. The unemployment rate, going into this winter, is almost two percentage points higher than it was last winter. This leads me to believe that we're going to go into the toughest winter we've had, not things are now going to get better. In fact, they could quite easily get worse.
Mr. Speaker, I want to ask this minister if he would wake up, face the reality, and re-jig his economic plans and do something to put Yukoners to work. Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: "Do something. Will the government do something?" When we talk about what we are doing with Yukoners, they get up and leave the Legislature, because they have no substance to offer in this debate.
First of all, there are optimistic signs. The population's going up, the labour force is 200 more this month than it was the same time last year. There are investments going up all over this territory, from $35 million in private money into a new retail complex, from two mills and $14 million in capital expenditures there, to a $7 million well upgrade at the Kotaneelee wells, because the Yukon's a good place to invest, to the immigrant investor fund, where investors put their faith in the future of the territory. We're now investing that money in a telecommunications infrastructure for an upgrade.
The member says we should do something; we're doing so much, Mr. Speaker, and we'd like to hear some positive debate and some constructive suggestions from the opposition but, unfortunately, all we get is hollow, empty rhetoric and criticism.
Mr. Ostashek: This minister's good at revising history. The population is going up. Up from what? This NDP government has decimated the economy to where we've lost almost 4,000 people in the Yukon in the last three years, and this Economic Development minister tries to tell Yukoners the population is going up. Mr. Speaker, things are not good out there. Talk to my constituents; talk to the heavy equipment operators. Talk to the carpenters. Talk to the people who haven't been able to get a job for the last 12 to 18 months, and then come back to this Legislature and tell me that things are getting better. Mr. Speaker, I want to know from this minister is this: what is this government going to do to help the down-and-out Yukoners who are faced with some really severe problems going into this winter, with no work? And we've got this government sitting on an $80-million surplus.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, one day 2,000 have left, the next day it's 3,000, the next day it's 4,000. This henny-penny kind of stuff just doesn't help anything. Mr. Speaker, what we're doing is investing in a whole range of areas. The member opposite talks about our surplus. I'll tell him that right now in Watson Lake, in Pelly Crossing, in Dawson City, in Beaver Creek, in Teslin, in Ross River, and just finished up in Old Crow, there were major capital construction projects funded by this government. The value of building permits in the territory has gone up $6 million from last year. Mr. Speaker, in a whole host of areas, this government - not just with his vision, which is direct government expenditure - is taking action on the economy. And when we put together a newsletter with our partners, where there are 16 pages of success stories from people who are having success in diversification, they're called "losers" by the leader of the official opposition. Mr. Speaker, they're called "propagandists". I don't think that's fair; I don't think that's responsible; I don't think that's constructive. What will be more constructive is if they wanted to engage in the debate about diversifying the economy, and how we can work together as Yukoners in areas that are new to us and areas that we're not as familiar with, like oil and gas and forestry, like new tourism markets. Mr. Speaker, we hear precious little of that from the members opposite, and we hope that, at some point, they'll wake up and realize that we have to work together to diversify this economy for the long term.
Question re: Export statistics, newspaper insert
Mr. Ostashek: My question again to the Minister of Economic Development, and let's talk a little bit about that 16-page insert that they put in the local papers. On page 4 of this 16-page insert, there's a graph showing the value of all Yukon goods exported internationally, excluding lead and zinc. The graph shows that the value of these exports increased from $1.8 million to $6.8 million in 1998, and is expected to go even higher in 1999.
This is the propaganda graph that the minister put out. It is a graph designed by this minister to make himself feel good.
Mr. Speaker, would the minister confirm the fact that if the value of motor vehicles and recreation vehicles was excluded from that graph, as are lead and zinc, then the increase would have disappeared almost entirely?
Hon. Mr. Harding: What does he think is going out the end of the mills in Watson Lake and Haines Junction? Nerf sticks? Mr. Speaker, that's lumber. That's new to this economy.
We're proud of the fact that exports, if you factor out the Faro mine, are on a steadily increasing trajectory under this government, because our trade and investment policies are starting to work and it's diversifying the economy, and we think that can only be helped by initiatives like the telecommunications initiative.
Mr. Speaker, we, with the partners who put out that publication, formed it through an editorial committee, and did it because we believe that it's important to talk about not just the problems we're having with areas that are being affected by world markets, but we're also having successes, and I don't know why the member opposite would say it's not a good thing for Chilkoot Breweries to be now exporting to Ontario, or for our cultural industries and singers to be over in Taiwan and Asia and marketing around the world, conducting good works there, why it's a bad thing for goods and services providers to be out selling log homes to Alaska and expanding the size of the marketplace here. That's the true way to ensure that we get diversification in this territory, and there's a whole host of businesses that have now done that, from high technology applications to Web site applications that are being sold by Yukon businesses in Alaska, to the little guy in Faro who's selling plant food and is going to be on Venture this month.
Mr. Speaker, there's a lot of good news out there, and I'm sorry it's painful to the member's ears opposite.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, it wouldn't be painful if, in fact, what the minister was saying had any relevance of truth to it, but it hasn't.
Mr. Speaker, the minister wants to look at the retail sales figures that are put out by the stats branch. The retail sales of recreational and motor vehicles from the second quarter of 1998 to the second quarter of 1999 increased from $16.5 million to $22.2 million.
Will the minister confirm that this increase is due to the sale of recreational and motor vehicles to the State of Alaska as a consequence of the free trade agreement - the free trade agreement that I say the NDP was against, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll also point out that this government has participated in 29 trade missions over the last couple of years, three or four of which, I think, have been major delegations to Alaska. So obviously, Mr. Speaker, we're very supportive of trade with Alaska, and we're really pleased about the level of activity that's taken place. On a trade mission that I attended, we went with some 20 Yukon businesses, and I think seven of them have now increased their markets substantially in Alaska - from furniture manufacturing to Web site applications to log home construction. These are all tangible and real employing symbols of what we can do as Yukoners if we look to expand our markets.
Mr. Speaker, retail sales have increased from last year. We've got significant indications on the value of building permits compared to last year, on the size of the labour force, showing that we took a large hit when we lost the Faro mine, but things are starting to turn around through diversifying in the resource sector into oil and gas and forestry, through investing in telecommunications and upgrading our infrastructure so that we have the tools to compete in the new millennium, and, thirdly, through increasing our export trade and investment activities. Time and time again in this House, I've talked about the symbols and the proof of that. However, the members opposite don't like to hear it, and they run.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, we on this side would like to congratulate these businesses that have taken initiative to go out and find sales in Alaska when they can't find them in the Yukon, because of this minister's decimation of the economy.
But the fact remains that these are not manufactured in the Yukon. They're vehicles and RVs that are brought from other jurisdictions in Canada and sold through the Yukon to the United States. And, while we congratulate those businesses on being able to get those sales, they do very little to put Yukoners to work. They do very little to create any new jobs, and if you exclude those from the retail sales, the minister will find out that our trade and export is flat compared to what it was. This minister is using that figure as evidence that he is doing a good job on diversifying the Yukon economy. The fact remains that it simply is not so. Will the minister confirm this?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The trade team partners who worked with this have gone from propagandists and losers to being congratulated all in the same Question Period by the opposition. If the member opposite is telling me that Treeline Woodworks Limited, that Hyperborean Productions Inc., that Duncan's Inc. - which, I understand, is having some problems but did secure at one point a $1.25-million manufacturing contract for fabrication - that the log homes that Yukon Alaska Logworks are building and exporting aren't real jobs, then I'm afraid he won't get any agreement from me, because I believe that we have worked with those organizations, those companies, and they are employing real Yukoners, and they are exporting real goods and services, and they're creating employment in a much more diversified economy, so I think the member is way out of line.
We believe in a much more diversified economy. We believe that we have to be in a position to take advantage of the mining sector when we do get a rebound in prices. We're doing that work, but we've got to do much more, and we have to work harder. We have to roll up our sleeves and work together as Yukoners to ensure that we don't just coast when we do see a return - thanks to the good graces of the London Metal Exchange - that we actually make some inroads into diversifying this economy, making us better prepared to take on the future. And, Mr. Speaker, I'll pass on the member's comments to the contractor whom I talked to and who is working in Southeast Yukon on the oil and gas industry, largely as a result of the work of this government - that he doesn't think he's got a real job.
Question re: Wood-pellet production, Autumn Industries Limited
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Economic Development on the Autumn Industries Limited contract.
Last March, the government entered into a contract with Autumn Industries Limited - a B.C. company - to look at some district heating projects, and to look at the wood-pellet industry in the Yukon.
Now, under the contract, Autumn Industries was to prepare a feasibility report on continuing with these projects, and also on the creation of a new wood-pellet industry in the Yukon. The minister wrote to me in August, saying he expected to review a draft report by mid-September, and that the final report should be completed by the end of the month - that's the end of September.
Is the minister prepared to table these reports from the B.C. company, Autumn Industries Limited, in this House?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, we will be providing that information to the public and to this Legislature. We think that there have been some interesting findings as a result of that work that I think will yield some benefits for Yukoners. We're examining it now, and conducting some meetings on this particular issue.
Frankly, I don't think it's a bad thing that companies from outside of Yukon are looking at putting some investment here in the territory. Frankly, I don't see why that's a problem.
Mr. Cable: When the minister first announced this contract, he answered some questions in the House, and he said that no commitments had been made to Autumn Industries on the construction and operation of the projects.
He said that Autumn Industries would have an opportunity to bid, and so would others. Yet in a letter to the editor in one of the local newspapers in August, he said that Autumn would have first option to build and operate these projects.
So what is it? Are the other suppliers going to have the right to bid on the supply of machinery, and on the operation of the projects? Or is Autumn first to the plate?
Hon. Mr. Harding: This is one of those public/private partnerships that the members opposite claim that they promoted to us. Obviously, they're not as in favour of them as they had indicated earlier that they were.
What this does is give some level of involvement as a result of the investment that this firm has made, but we control the agenda, in terms of whether we want to proceed or not. Other Yukon companies that want to participate will have to meet certain terms of reference for experience. Meetings are underway right now with Autumn and other Yukon companies - some from Teslin, I believe, Mr. Speaker, as we speak, over the last couple of weeks. There's going to have to be a pretty substantial level of involvement of Yukon companies for something concrete to actually come out of this, so we intend to see that through.
Mr. Cable: I wonder if the minister would turn off the spin machine just for a minute. Who is going to have first option to supply the machinery and to construct the projects? Is it Autumn Industries Limited, or are other people going to be up to the plate with them on an equal basis?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member has to be clearer, then, I guess, in his question, because there's a whole host of activities that would be envisioned here, right from the production of fuel sources to the actual operation and the building of facilities. So, Mr. Speaker, what we intend to do is ensure that, obviously, if Autumn can meet the criteria, and other Yukon companies can meet the criteria, which will serve the public benefit for Yukoners, then we'd be prepared to consider the offers and the proposals.
So that kind of work is underway right now. That's not a spin, Mr. Speaker; that's just the way we've approached this since day one.
Question re: Teslin Community Correctional Centre
Mr. Phillips: My question is to the Minister of Justice regarding the Teslin jail.
The Teslin jail, Mr. Speaker, was a product of a previous visionary NDP government. The Teslin Community Correctional Centre is a minimal security facility with a 25-bed capacity to accommodate sentenced offenders serving sentences fewer than two years. Unfortunately, the professional staff at the Teslin jail, which numbers about 20 people, hasn't been given much to do lately, because there currently are only three inmates at the institution.
My understanding, Mr. Speaker, is that for most of the summer there was only one.
It is my understanding that changes that have happened in recent crime rates for those serving sentences under two years have increased. In fact, the Whitehorse RCMP reported the other day that the overall crime rate in Whitehorse is up by nearly 1,000 over last year, and to date more than 6,000 crimes have occurred in the city.
Can the minister tell this House why the Teslin jail isn't being utilized the way it was intended to be?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: First of all, it's very important to point out that this member's facts that he puts forward on the floor of the Legislature are often wrong, so I will not take them as a given. In fact, the violent crime rate has been decreasing steadily.
Now, the member has asked about the incarceration rates, and I also need to tell him that incarceration rates are down. The Teslin Community Correctional Centre was opened to provide a minimum security facility, and the minimum security offenders are not being sentenced to jail time. They're being sentenced to community service. So, there has been a reduction in the number of offenders at TCCC. There has also been a reduction in the number of offenders at Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, it has become very demoralizing for the professional staff at the Teslin institute, who have nothing to do all day, because it's my understanding, as I said earlier, that there was only one inmate for most of the summer, and currently there are only three - two of whom go out to the workshop each day and the third is attending a Yukon College course. I think that leaves four or five employees at the institution all day long with no inmates.
Obviously, this situation can't continue, and I'd like to ask the minister what she plans to do with the Teslin jail.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, if anybody wanted a lesson in how to demoralize the public service, they'd talk to that member opposite about taking away collective bargaining rights, as one example, and implementing legislated wage rollbacks. Mr. Speaker, we restored collective bargaining rights with the public service.
We're aware of the challenges of having fewer numbers of inmates being sentenced to minimum security and going to Teslin Community Correctional Centre. We have been meeting with the staff in Teslin and with the First Nation to discuss alternatives such as opening up the memorandum of understanding and working with the community on how to resolve the concerns there.
Mr. Phillips: My final supplementary to the minister: why is it taking so long? I mean, it's been six to seven months now, and even longer than that, that there have been very few people in that institution. I don't think the institution has ever been full, and the employees are very demoralized at the present time, wondering what they're doing, what their future is, what's going to happen to the institution, what role the government has for it in the future.
I'd like to ask the minister again: has she set a timeline for coming up with some kind of concrete solutions or answers to utilize this facility, which I believe is costing us over $1 million a year to operate, and is presently not serving the public as it should - a very expensive way to incarcerate anybody?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I would make note of the fact that when that member stood in this chair and was the minister responsible, there were also low levels and low numbers of people who were incarcerated at the Teslin Community Correctional Centre.
Mr. Speaker, we believe it's important to work with the staff. We're very concerned about the staff, and we're involving them in decisions about what the future may hold for Teslin. We're looking at different possibilities, and we're going to take some time to do it right.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 83: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Harding.
Hon. Mr. Harding: For fear of losing the opposition again, I will rise to speak to the second reading of the An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act.
While I'm on my feet, I move that Bill No. 83 be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board that Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I'm very pleased to rise today to introduce these amendments that I believe are going to help to place more confidence in the system of workers' compensation for the benefit of workers and employers, by increasing board accountability, improving the appeal process and clarifying the relationship between the board and affected ministers. Shortly after being elected to office, our government made a commitment to review this legislation in response to concerns from business and labour organizations. This was not something we electorally committed to in our platform but felt that, based on the representations we were getting, we would have to move toward prior to the next election and, hopefully, our next term.
This led to an initial meeting in December of 1997, where general consensus was reached that board accountability, the appeal process, and the relationship between the board and affected ministers, should be the key areas for improvements, and that an act review should be conducted within two years.
In February of 1999, the task force review of the Workers' Compensation Act was struck, and the chair was appointed. Based on the initial meeting of December of 1997, the phase 1 paper was developed, which suggested the review's parameters be limited to three areas identified by stakeholders. This led to the creation of the phase 2 paper released in June, which suggested options for the issues within the review's scope. It was followed by a phase 3 report in August, the proposed recommendations for the drafting of amendments. Meetings with the public were held shortly after the release of each paper and were attended by representatives of business and labour organizations.
After the release of the phase 3 report, a drafting committee of workers and employers - that is very important, Mr. Speaker, because the key feature of this legislation is business and labour, although they didn't always agree and they didn't even agree within their own factions - were involved with this bill from beginning to end, right through its drafting. That drafting committee was struck to develop the amendments with the task force chair for stakeholder review, and that was reviewed at a final public meeting.
The costing of all the changes to the bill was checked out and investigated by an independent accounting firm, the world-respected KPMG, and was made available at that time.
I would also note that the administration and the board of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board were provided with regular updates from the task force review, and were involved with the drafting of the legislative amendments with their legal counsel. As well, I personally met with the board on a couple of occasions - with the chair and the board members. There was also continuous opportunity for administration input into this process. I should not try to convince people, though, that it is an easy process to engage in legislative review such as this. There are so many different views on the matter: from business and labour; from the administration of the board, which sees the world in one way; from the citizen board, which sees the world in another way; to the people outside of the citizen board - which represents the stakeholders - who are often concerned, or raise criticisms, or have suggestions on how to operate the board in a better way, for themselves and for the people they serve.
So Mr. Speaker, there has been a high degree of involvement from the get-go, on this particular initiative, with all aspects of the stakeholder community, as it pertains to Workers' Compensation Board.
Mr. Speaker, it's my belief, in terms of increasing accountability, that this bill will go significantly toward that particular objective, in significant ways. It's going to require that special examinations into the board's operations be conducted regularly - administration, resolution of compensation claims and assessments - to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the system.
Now, that had already been initiated by the citizen board at the time of this act review. It has not made a big splash of it but, to its credit, it has been listening to the stakeholders and was conducting some of this work at the time the review was initiated formally.
And I think, Mr. Speaker, what we are doing with this bill is entrenching this requirement in legislation because the board is so far removed from the arm's length of government that it is important that people have some comfort that the store is being minded and that there's a high degree of scrutiny of this particular, very important, board.
Now, the scope of all these examinations is going to be determined by the minister in consultation with the board, with the appeal tribunal and with the stakeholders so, again, the revisions to the act are based on the principle of consultation.
Board accountability will also be enhanced to require appearances by the board and the president before the Legislative Assembly on an annual basis, and public release of an annual report by the minister, 30 days after it has been received, which must then be followed by a public meeting with stakeholders within three months. A report of these proceedings will then be completed and made available within 30 days.
Another significant action of this legislation that has long been the bane of some people at least who follow the workers' compensation system very closely is that the board is now going to be required to maintain a public register at all times that includes board policy, procedures and appeal tribunal decisions, and all board policy must be publicly vetted for a period of at least 30 days to allow for stakeholder input before being enacted. That is a significant advancement, because one of the complaints that I hear most often, whether it is a perception - in many cases it is, it's not necessarily the reality - is that the policies are made without a broad enough cross-section being involved in the process. This particular initiative, I think, goes a long way toward at least involving people and ensuring that they have a good sense of a say.
The position of the workers' advocate, which our government created shortly after being elected to office, will be entrenched in the legislation to ensure that workers have assistance with processing their claim. The amendments recognize the limited scope of this act review and commit the future government to a legislative review of all other issues, which must be started no later than January 1, 2003.
In terms of improving the appeal process, the amendments also take significant steps to improving the fairness of this particular process. Some would argue that it's already fair now, but there exists at least a perception out there and, in some cases, a reality that there needs to be some improvements made, and the dual functions of the current board for the adjudication of claims and the administration of the compensation fund will now be separated through the creation of this independent appeal tribunal.
The appeal tribunal will be bound by the policy but operate independently of the board. Its chair will be a board member to ensure that there is regular contact and communication between these two bodies. That's to ensure that things don't continuously go round and round the loop, and also to ensure that there is a sense of ownership and knowledge of the independent appeal board so that there's some continuity and a level of understanding of decisions taken by the citizen board and, perhaps, the administration of the Workers' Compensation Board.
The decisions by the appeal tribunal must be implemented within 30 days, and it will have the ability to request an independent medical examination that has the examiner selected in consultation with the worker and the worker's medical doctor.
Another significant benefit for workers is that the board will now have the ability to pay interest on a claim, and alternative healing methods will now be permitted. These are changes that workers asked for, which, on the employer drafting committee, we had success in establishing, and we feel quite good about them, in terms of a long-standing issue that has been raised with me over and over again about claims and the fact that sometimes they take so long, that the board has been found to be in the wrong or, perhaps, to have judged erroneously, and yet the worker has not had the benefit of interest on benefits to which they were entitled. So we're pleased that that will be considered in the future, and I think that's quite a step forward.
As well, in terms of the ministerial responsibilities and how they pertain to the board, the legislative amendments clarify that ministers should be involved in establishing the parameters of special examinations in the budget of the workers' advocate but cannot be involved in claim adjudication. I think this is a fundamentally important consideration and a serious one for all legislators.
It's fine to boot the government over things that are happening at Workers' Compensation, but I think the principle of having adjudication of claims and the day-to-day operations run by a citizen board of business and labour is an important one, and it's one I support.
The downside of not having that citizen board, I think, could end up being a tremendous amount of political manipulation by, let's face it, politicians who want to seek favour with particular individuals and interfere in the adjudication of claims. I think that would take our system back dramatically.
I also think that, if you're going to ask the citizen board to develop policies, then they also have to be really in charge of that board, and there's a high level of responsibility on that board, because people count on them. The lives of working people, the money that employers put into this system, all depend on the commitment of the citizen board to this particular endeavour they undertake by sitting on this board. It is very, very serious business, but I think, if you look at the two contrasting systems of having Workers' Compensation run, essentially, as another government department versus this type of system, even with all its accountability questions to this Legislature and to the minister responsible, I still think it is a better system. It's a better model. That doesn't mean it can't be fixed and improved. I think this legislation deals with some of the questions of the stakeholders about accountability. Many times they come to me. They want to usurp the processes that have been established. In many cases, I've had workers or employers who have nominated members to the board, labour and employers, to be key decision makers and have then come to me to basically usurp their authority and make direction to the board.
I have refused to do that, Mr. Speaker, because I've said that the people that you nominate to this board are the people in the act who are making the decisions, and you should work through them, because you're their constituents. And I've refused to a whole host of workers - some of whom you see periodically protesting in this Legislature - to interfere in the adjudication of claims, but what I have done is try to fix the process, and that's by doing this act review, by trying to ensure there's good consultation about the selection of candidates to this board, by bringing forward a workers' advocate, which I think has given fair access to this system to workers, and I think trying to address the question of board accountability, and this act goes a long way toward that. I think that's the proper way.
Mr. Speaker, there's a small handful - and I must illustrate a very small handful - of folks out there who will not be satisfied until the minister cuts them a cheque for benefits they feel entitled to, and it's very difficult sometimes to say no to people, because you do empathize, you do care, you do want to improve the system, but that's not the way to improve the system. Some of these people go through very frustrating, lengthy claims, and they become very upset and frustrated and angry at the system, and they look to someone to snap their fingers and fix it. The world doesn't work that way. You have to work to fix the system, and I think this act delivers some tools to enable us to make the system better. It's never going to be a panacea; it's never going to be a utopia; these are difficult issues that the board addresses.
I think, in defence, in speaking to the board themselves in administration, the vast number of people that they deal with are very well-treated and are happy with the services that are provided, and feel, I think, frankly good about the service that is given. I know there are a lot of very dedicated and good people, both on the citizen board and in the administration of the workers' compensation system, and that should not be forgotten. You don't want to - because it's sometimes a political issue that swirls around the media - overstep and miss the mark, in terms of what you're trying to achieve, and what we are trying to achieve - even though it does create conflict sometimes with the citizen board, does create sometimes conflict with the stakeholders and with the administration - is a fair level of accountability, a reasonable level of consensus about the issues that will advance and improve the system for the longer term.
Mr. Speaker, all of the amendments will come into force in this bill as of January 1, 2000, with the exception of the appeal tribunal and the provisions relating to its responsibilities. That tribunal will come into effect on April 1. This allows the government to do some consultation on this board and the members that it will be appointing. It's very important.
I also must point out that it's very difficult to get consensus around board appointments - extremely difficult. It took, in the case of the former chair, Mr. Wright - who I think did a very good job on the board - six months of consultation to get agreement between business and labour and, even then, it wasn't all business and labour. So eventually - you can't stymie the board's activities to the point where you don't appoint anybody, but you've got to make a decision based on what you've heard is the best possible person you could think of for the job.
So it's going to take some time to fill this particular board and ensure that it's up and running effectively with credible people involved.
I want to say, in closing, that I think it's very important to thank all of those who participated, and I know it's been stressful. The chair of the tribunal, Laurie Henderson, I think did a terrific job in terms of trying to bring forward a lot of people with a lot of different things to say, and sussed out of that were the essential ingredients to try and take a leap forward here. The people on the drafting committee, I think, should be thanked, the people I met with in the liquor store boardroom in December, 1997, when we talked about doing this, the people who attended the public meetings, the Injured Workers' Alliance, the Yukon Federation of Labour, the chamber, business organizations that participated, my drafting team from government and organizing team, was, I think, excellent. I want to thank them for putting their work into this particular initiative, and I think Rick Smith and Liz McKee and Linda Steinbach did a great job.
I also think that, while we haven't achieved total consensus and agreement - some people at the board level felt sort of infringed upon with the hand of this legislation at times; Injured Workers' Alliance, in some cases, felt it didn't go far enough.
In some cases, we had labourers asking for this and, in some cases, employers asking for that. We try to work through all that and we try to achieve the best possible arrangement we can to move legislation forward that will really make a difference to people. And, I think, given a chance, this legislation will do just that.
It's not the be-all, end-all. I look forward to more comprehensive review as it's written in the act, and I must point out that, no matter who is the minister responsible for this initiative and the government that will be conducting it, this will be an extremely difficult task, because these issues of accountability of the ministerial role with the board and with the appeal process are just the beginning of some very, very difficult issues, such as chronic pain and a whole host of other ones that really rock the foundation of the whole workers' compensation system.
That review will take a significant amount of time and a significant amount of work, and the debate will be extremely tough on many different sides of the issue. I think it is necessary. I think it's needed. But I don't envy the person who has to take over that particular initiative. I think it would be an excellent challenge, but certainly, it will be a difficult one, and if I'm fortunate enough to be asked to do it, I would welcome the opportunity, but it would be a tough one.
I think we will see, as a result of this, some important and positive reaction. I thank the opposition members for their positive comments embracing the recommendations of the review task force some couple of months ago. They said it would be a positive step forward and that the government should adopt the changes, and I'm pleased to say that we have adopted those changes and we have gone forward.
Mr. Cable: The report, indeed, is a positive step forward, and I thank the minister for bringing the bill forward. I would like to thank the consultant, Laurie Henderson, for carrying out a very difficult exercise in attempting to balance the various interests involved.
She has recognized an important underlying fact in attempting to strike those balances. That is, that the consequences to the worker of the mishandling of his or her file is much greater than the consequences to the other stakeholders: the employer, the board and the general community. While erroneous decisions of the system in favour of the worker can affect the assessment system and the premiums paid by the employer, the risk is spread around, but an erroneous decision against the injured worker is borne solely by that worker and can seriously affect the worker's quality of life. So balancing has to recognize the respective risks in the system.
I'm particularly pleased to see the insertion by the consultant in the amendments of the new section 19(6), which gives the benefit of the doubt to the worker. The balance of probabilities should favour the worker because of the respective risks that have to be borne. Ms Henderson has struck a reasonable balance between the interests of the stakeholders, and we in the Liberal caucus will be voting for the bill at second reading. We support the bill in principle. However, both the Liberal caucus and the Yukon Party will be proposing some amendments that we think will improve the bill, as presented.
With respect to the specific contents of the bill, I'll comment on a few of the main features that have been dealt with. Section 2, which causes the administration to ensure that workers, dependants of deceased workers and employers, are treated with compassion, respect and fairness, enshrines a statement in the act, a statement of principle.
Many injured workers have complained to me over the years about what they perceive, anyway, to be a brusqueness in their treatment, and I'm particularly pleased to see that section inserted in the act as the guiding principle.
With respect to the workers' advocate, before the introduction of this position into the public service - that's outside of the act previously - members of the opposition had a steady stream of injured workers into their offices who had been demoralized by the system. It was one against a huge monolithic structure administering the system. That was their perception. And there was a feeling that society had hung them out to dry, and the elected members could only help in a very peripheral sort of way, generally.
With the introduction of the advocate a couple years ago, a new balance has been struck and the perceptions of fairness improved. And, I'm very pleased to see the position put in the act so that it can't be removed at the whim of somebody who may not be pleased with the decisions. I would have preferred that the appointment be a legislative appointment, similar to the ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission, but we're prepared to live with the appointment as set out in the bill.
I'm also very pleased to see the appeal tribunal created. The present system has, as the final step in the appeal process, a panel made of members of board directors, and the directors have two hats: there's a quasi-judicial board hearing, hearing claim appeals with one hat on, and a board with another hat on that makes them ostensibly, if not legally, the employer of the members of the organization, some of whom would have processed the claim at an earlier stage.
At the very least, perceptions of fairness are not the best, and the appeal tribunal will go a long way to improve the perceptions of fairness. It will, in addition, act as a check and balance on board activities.
So we, in the Liberal caucus, do in fact support the appeal tribunal concept.
We also support the small measure that's introduced for court review. A window has been opened, a crack anyway, to permit the courts to review the activities of both the board or of the appeal panel. Earlier in this century, a Canadian started moving away from courts, taking some administrative decisions, or what were quasi judicial decisions, out of the courts and into boards and, as the years went on, more and more draconian attempts were made to remove the possibility of court review, and we sacrificed justice on the altar of administrative efficiency. I'm pleased to see that we have reversed that trend, to some extent. There needs to be a signal to all administrative boards that there is no legal blank cheque on their activities.
I'm also pleased to see that the suggestions were taken up that came out of the injured workers that interest be paid on claims. This brings injured workers' claims in line with claims made in the courts. There is no profit in playing the delaying game and sandbagging a claim because, at some juncture down the road, interest is going to have to be paid.
I'm also pleased to see the provisions on special examinations. Members of the opposition, both in my party and in the Yukon Party, have asked for operational audits for several years.
I will be proposing an amendment, however, to the new section 104(1), changing the 10-year period. I don't think an organization with 50-some odd employees and a few million dollars' worth of assessments requires 10 years to have its activities reviewed. I think a much shorter timeline would be useful, both from the board standpoint and from the injured worker's standpoint and from the community standpoint, so that we can put some stamp of approval on the board's activities, or we can give them guidance as to where they should be going.
I would say, in closing, that I would have hoped that we could have heard from the Workers' Compensation Board prior to the debate in Committee, and I hope that the board will, in fact, be called before the House while this debate is fresh in our memories.
I do, in particular, want to go over what people are saying will be the cost of these amendments, because I think those assertions made in that report need a lot of scrutiny.
So, in closing, we are very much in favour of the work that has been done. We will be supporting the bill in principle. We will be making what I hope are some constructive suggestions for change - an amendment.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm pleased to rise in support of the amendments to the Workers' Compensation Act that have been introduced by my colleague, and I'm also pleased to hear that the official opposition caucus is largely supportive of it. There are benefits to both workers and to employers in increasing the board accountability and improving the appeal process. We also need to see the clarification of the relationship between the board and the affected ministers, and that's a good feature of the bill.
Mr. Speaker, our government made a commitment to respond to community concerns about the workers' compensation regime, and, shortly after being elected to office, we established the position of the workers' advocate, and also established a task force for a review of the Workers' Compensation Act.
There have been representatives of both business and labour, as well as the board itself and its administrative staff, throughout this process. They have been involved with the drafting of the legislative amendments, and I'm pleased that they're here now today before us.
The board accountability has existed for some time, and they have appeared before the Legislature annually. We're now providing that the annual report, which is tabled by the minister, will be followed by a public meeting within three months, so that the public has an opportunity to comment on that annual report. The board will also now be maintaining a public register of their policies and procedures for the information of those members of the public who would like to look at those.
The workers' advocate position will now be entrenched in the legislation so that that position will continue to exist in the law. Workers will have someone who can help them with their claims and function as an advocate for them.
With regard to the appeal process, there will now be an independent appeal tribunal that will be bound by policy and chaired by a board member to ensure that there is regular contact and communications between the board and the new appeal tribunal. There's also the ability now to request an independent medical exam, and that medical examiner can be selected in consultation with the worker and the worker's medical doctor. I think permitting alternative healing methods is something that will see a broad level of support. We hope that we're able to complete a legislative review process that will be more complete that, as my colleague, the minister responsible, stated, will be beginning sometime in the next two years, before January of 2003.
I would like to thank the team who have been on the task force in drafting the legislation, as well as those members of the public representing both workers and employers, for the work they've done to support this as we now bring these amendments forward.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House welcome the recent task force review of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Act, and we'd like to pay recognition to Laurie Henderson and her coworkers, who did a very efficient and effective job in addressing the areas that were selected by the minister for them to review.
We can support most of the recommendations brought forward here today, Mr. Speaker. But this review is far from a full and comprehensive review of the act that the minister himself, when he was in opposition, was calling for back in 1993.
At that time, the Member for Faro cast severe criticism of the previous government for doing what he called a "cheap, quick and dirty review of the Workers' Compensation Act", when, in fact, he stated that a full, comprehensive review was required.
What do we have here today? The minister has cherry-picked a number of the areas, and had a review conducted on them. But I guess his decision and his opinion was then, and this is now.
What we're looking at, also, is not having a full review of the Workers' Compensation Act until 2003. This is a full 10 years, Mr. Speaker, after this Member for Faro stood in the Legislature and stated that a full, comprehensive review must be done. Once again, I'd like to congratulate the Member for Faro for yet another very ably done flip-flop.
The scope of the act review was narrowly defined, and any of the initiatives brought forward by people who attended the various meetings held with the review group - they wouldn't even pay heed or listen to other areas that certainly need addressing in this act.
There are a whole number of issues that were brought up by the injured workers and, to a lesser extent, a number of issues brought up by employers that were left right out of the picture.
The other concern that I have, Mr. Speaker was, the Gladish report of 1996 raised and addresses many issues concerning the workers' compensation process. This report still remains on the shelf, and the only comment that I can recall coming out of my meetings was that, "Oh, yes, it's full of spelling mistakes." What we have to really look at is the substance contained in that report, because many, many of these areas covered in the Gladish report are still applicable and must be dealt with when a full and comprehensive review of the Workers' Compensation Act is undertaken.
Mr. Speaker, the other concern I have is the involvement of the WCB board and staff, and this review appeared to have isolated the WCB staff and board from the process. While this may have been reasonable in order to develop an unbiased set of recommendations, it is very much illogical to amend the act without a full consultation of the WCB board and staff. The minister alluded to some process going back and forth, but the comments of WCB staff and board were not really present anywhere that I could find.
Effectively, the amendments to the WCB act before the Legislature today are simply a few sections that the minister has very much cherry-picked from the act, leaving a lot of the problems and a lot of the areas that have to be addressed down the road. This piecemeal approach to amend the act is a disservice to both the injured workers and businesses that are paying an ever-increasing price for a service that doesn't appear to be totally meeting the needs of injured workers.
Mr. Speaker, we're very pleased to see the workers' advocate position enshrined in this legislation. We're going to suggest a friendly amendment that the Minister of Justice not just be given the option and may appoint the workers' advocate, but shall appoint the workers' advocate. I believe this would close a little bit of a loophole in that area.
Mr. Speaker, our party also welcomes the appeal tribunal and its role in the new act. The court review of the appeal panel is also a very worthwhile area that is being addressed. The postponement of dealing with a claim will now be addressed with interest being paid on claims that are allowed, and this will certainly help injured workers.
We do have some concerns with the timelines on the operational audit. We believe that this function should be done in a faster fashion than what is being advocated in the amendments before us today, Mr. Speaker. The operational audit is something that our party and the Liberal Party have been advocating that this government take and do on the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board for quite some time. It's been to no avail. The minister has hidden behind all sorts of reviews conducted in other areas and other manners, but it comes right down to the fact that an operational audit must be done in order to ensure that we are getting value for our money and that this board is serving the purpose that it was intended to serve.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I hear all sorts of rhetoric from the Member for Faro, once again. I guess one of the areas that will probably be addressed in due course is compensation for people who are under a tremendous amount of stress, and probably just listening to the Member for Faro will put us under that occupational hazard, especially given the amount of time he just rattles on needlessly.
All we would ask, Mr. Speaker, is that the minister address his responsibility in a responsible manner with respect to this act and deal with the friendly amendments that we will be advocating. I'm sure that, with those friendly amendments, our party, and the Liberal Party, will be advocating for a number of sections here today in this act, and we can give speedy passage to this bill.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to stand in this Legislature and speak in support of this act, and I also want to commend the opposition for participating in debate today.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: It is very refreshing, and I hope their long weekend was a restful one. Welcome back.
Mr. Speaker, it's always interesting to listen to the Liberals rebut and speak to such legislation as this, as they try to find a way to wend their way down the fence without really taking any position. So they are being supportive of the act; however, they're still trying to figure out where the public sits on this, and what position should we really take?
So they qualify their support always with -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: Yes, it's in principle, and we do have some issues, and so on and so forth.
But they don't even do that when it come to the economy, Mr. Speaker. They just haven't got any position.
Now, the Member for Klondike, in his normal approach to things, chopping away at everything, has made mention that this review and the amendments proposed in this legislation are a far cry from what's really needed here, but I'd like to point out that these issues - issues like increasing the board's accountability, and improving an appeal process, and clarifying what the minister's role will be - have been issues that were around during the tenure of the Yukon Party government, who did absolutely nothing in this regard and left it until somebody else had to deal with the problems.
Mr. Speaker, there's no question that there are many, many issues with the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and, of course, with injured workers. We're dealing with situations where injury can affect not only the worker's life and his family's lives but change their futures altogether. These are very difficult situations, and, of course, there are going to be issues. But these amendments will go a long way toward restoring confidence in the Workers' Compensation Board. That is a very important fact and, unlike the Yukon Party's approach to things, we believe that the work done to this point will be very beneficial in that regard.
Mr. Speaker, this is another example. The amendments and changes to the workers' compensation legislation in this territory are another example of good governance by this side of the House. It's another commitment made, another commitment followed through on, with delivery.
Mr. Speaker, all through the public meetings and the different initiatives that were struck in dealing with changes to the legislation, the public played a major role, the stakeholders played a major role. Their input is here, in these changes. When we look at the issue of increasing board accountability, I found many examples, just as the MLA for Watson Lake, where workers seem to believe or think, perceive, that the board is not accountable to them. The changes we've made here today in this legislation, are going to improve that accountability, and I'm hopeful that injured workers and their families will be able to realize a more accountable board in the future, and I think the changes in the legislation will go a long way toward that end.
Obviously, once an injury has happened and an injured worker is then being dealt with in the system and the process through the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, one of the areas that seems to be a major problem - contrary to the Member for Klondike's point of cherry picking - we're dealing with very serious parts of the legislation, and one of the areas is improving the appeal process. Once an injured worker is in the process, an appeal is very important to them. The improvements to that process, we believe, will go a long way, Mr. Speaker, into again restoring and building more confidence in our workers' compensation system in this territory.
Again, one of the issues that is not cherry-picking, but is a very serious one and very important to the legislation, is clarifying the minister's role. Too often those waters are muddied, and clarifying what the minister is to do is very key in people understanding how the compensation system in this territory should operate.
One of the areas that this government delivered on immediately, once we were in office, and something that the Yukon Party was asked to do over and over for four years, was to create a workers' advocate. And, again, this is not cherry-picking. This is a very, very important component of this legislation, and we are entrenching the workers' advocate in our compensation system.
So, all in all, I look forward to constructive debate with the opposition and listening to what they believe should be done. I think that the opposition in this House has much to answer for in other areas also, but I'm hopeful that they will be constructive, and we'll get into a good debate, at least on this area of legislation. And, I want to commend the minister, who has worked hard, the staff, who have worked very hard in getting us to this point, and we'll be supporting this legislation and the amendments to it.
Ms. Duncan: My colleague, the Member for Riverside, has spoken of the Liberal caucus support for this bill and also addressed specific issues within the bill. I would like to focus my remarks on the compliment to the government on the delivery of the particular piece of legislation before us. The minister, in embarking on his remarks today and raising this issue, talked about how the performance of the Workers' Compensation Board was, while touched upon in election platforms, certainly an issue that was talked about at the doors, and it was certainly one that I'd dealt with a great deal. I also sense that the current minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board in his remarks today noted a certain degree of sympathy for the former minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board.
The minister outlined that this was not an easy process. I would specifically like to compliment Ms. Henderson and the staff for the work that they have done and we especially appreciate their efforts in bringing diverse interests and competing interests to agreement and to a position.
I'd also like to pay particular thanks at this time to those who have also volunteered their time. As members know, I have worked quite closely with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and often called upon directors and past presidents to fulfill these roles in terms of working on advisory boards or appointed boards for the government, and asked directors if they would give of their time. It can be a particularly onerous task for people to spend a great deal of time bringing themselves up to speed on issues and researching the public's positions, their fellow employers' positions as well as their own workers' and other workers' positions, and I would like to compliment the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce volunteers and the Injured Workers' Alliance volunteers and the unions and others who participated and gave of their time and their experience to this process and for their willingness to work with the process and to accept compromise and to ensure that they felt this was indeed good legislation, worthy of the consideration of the House.
I hope that members in the debate that follows will give full and fair consideration to the amendments that are being proposed, and that, if possible, there will be an opportunity for those who participated in the review to express their support or their views on the amendments.
Members will recall that during the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act we had the benefit of having some of the members involved in that legislation in the House at the time the amendment was proposed by the opposition parties, and that we were able to - with their consent, and the minister also consented - reach an agreement on that particular clause. I think it was a very useful experience for everyone, and I would hope that - I note Ms. Henderson's presence, and perhaps she would be able to provide the minister with advice on the amendments that come forward. Indeed, I am hopeful that there will be, as the Member for Watson Lake has pointed out, full, fair and constructive debate on each clause of this bill, and I'm looking forward to the clause-by-clause debate, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I'm just going to speak very briefly on this. I think this review and act is long overdue. I think it's something that, as other members have spoken to here, goes to the issue of fairness and tried to provide as fair a review process as possible to injured workers and their families.
When an injury occurs, it's often not only an injury to the person; it also impacts in very major ways on a person's family. It can have impact on the person's self-esteem. Very often, in today's society, our own personal self-esteem is tied up in the kinds of jobs we do, and when a person loses their livelihood because of injury or accident, it has, I believe, a serious psychological effect, and that effect manifests itself in terms of relationships, in terms of relationships with partners and children. So I think this is an attempt to move toward essential fairness, and I commend the minister on that. I also, at this point, would like to sort of echo what has been said about the role of the workers' advocate. I think this was something that has done a lot to restore workers' confidence in the system, and I am pleased to see that it is continuing.
Just as a bit of a sidebar to this issue, in the review of regulatory processes and red tape, when we did our first cut of the responses that we got back from businesses on regulatory impediments, at least 12 of those related to WCB issues, and those have been passed on. Most of them are largely procedural; they have to do with rates and internal procedures, which I think the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board can take a look at and review, but I do think that it does speak to the fact that not only are issues around WCB of interest to workers, but they're also of interest to business people.
We have made the findings available to Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and they can do as they wish with them.
But I do think that this is a good step. It's a step that I think will go a long way toward promoting confidence, promoting fairness in the system, and I'd like to commend the minister for bringing this forward at this time. I'm pleased to see that we seem to be in synchronicity here, at least with the opposition, in looking at these as worthwhile, and I'm gratified by the measure of support that I've heard today.
Mr. Hardy: I also rise in support of the amendments brought forward for the Workers' Compensation Act. It's also very encouraging, as we have witnessed on occasion within this House, when all parties recognize the changes being proposed are for the benefit of the society as a whole, and are willing to support the changes. I'm very curious, and look forward to the amendments being talked about from both the official opposition and the Yukon Party. I look forward to hearing what those amendments are but, like I say, I'm very pleased to hear they support the work that's been done by the task force review and the recommendations that are being brought forward for this House to consider and approve.
It would be remiss not to thank the task force - Laurie Henderson as the chair, as well as the support team of Rick Smith, Liz McKee and Linda Steinbach. I believe they've done an excellent job in an area that has been fraught with minor controversy, I guess, and to be able to bring this forward is an accomplishment in itself.
The thanks I'd also like to extend is to the unions, the work that they've contributed over the many years, with the workers' compensation suggestions they've brought forward and the work that they've done on behalf of injured workers. The Injured Workers' Alliance, which I'm very familiar with, as I remember when they started, came into my office on many occasions, and my union leant a lot of support for their initial beginnings. The work that they've done has been instrumental in some of these changes, and they should be applauded, along with the unions and the workers' advocate position.
I know that, together, those two groups were a very, very strong voice, and a lot of credit has to be given to them for that position. The employers - the employers' willingness to work with various other groups, the government and the board to ensure that these changes come about should also be recognized. And, although it has been said earlier by the Member for Faro that they didn't always agree upon all the issues, they did find some common areas that needed to be improved and did advance forward. And, again, thanks to the task force for being able to articulate that and bring people together.
Good legislation almost always comes out of the public's involvement, and the public was involved in this process, as can be attested to, as well as the - I'm uncomfortable with the word, "stakeholders", but it's the one being used so I'll use it as well - stakeholders' involvement in the drafting of this.
My history with workers' compensation is just about from every angle that you could think of. I was an employer and dealt with Workers' Compensation years ago and had my troubles then. I was a representative of workers and had a tremendous amount of troubles with Workers' Compensation years ago. I was an injured worker and I had a fabulous experience as an injured worker, tremendous support, no hesitation about the treatment I received when I had run a Skil saw through my hand and needed about three months of physio, as well as the support I received financially that kept my family afloat during that period when I wasn't able to work. And the Member for Whitehorse West alluded to that - about an injury that goes beyond just the worker himself but the family and people surrounding him.
The only problem I can say about that is that I wasn't injured in the Yukon.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The Member for Klondike, on a point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, on the point of order, I don't believe we have a quorum present.
Speaker: Order please. According to Standing Order 3(2), if at any time during the sitting of the Assembly the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to be rung.
Speaker: I have shut off the bell and I will do a count.
We have 13 members present. A quorum is present. We will now continue debate.
Mr. Hardy: Before I continue, I want to share something with you. Have you ever been speaking and there are very few people in the room and then, as you're speaking, it starts to fill up and you think people are actually interested in what you're saying, and they come pouring in and applaud you? Well, I have that feeling at this moment, right now, that people are showing up and filling the stands and want to hear what I have to say. So I'm really inspired by that.
But going back - anyway, I was an injured worker myself quite a few years ago. It was in another province, and I was treated very well.
But my experiences quite a few years ago as a representative of working people dealing with workers' compensation was not a pleasant experience in the Yukon. I can say that this government, since we've been in office, has made many steps to ensure that that's been changed.
I would also like to point out, or even thank the Member for Riverside. In his opening remarks, he made a few comments about the consequences to a working person, and how we have to keep that in mind, as that is the most affected party in all this. I agree wholeheartedly with him, and it's very refreshing to hear that, because often when we have boards, and we have organizations such as the Workers' Compensation, we sometimes forget that there's an individual out there who's been injured. As they go through all the processes, the difficulties, the appeal process, being appealed again, the struggles, they're the ones who are suffering. They're the ones who are the injured party, and we have to remember that. We have to remember to keep them foremost. We have to deal with that person as an individual, that person as the family, and put aside the structures that often are put up and built in place and that become a detriment, and very difficult.
I also remember the very heady days of the Yukon Party rule and the WCB issues. And I can assure you it was not a pleasant period. Comments made now by the Member for Klondike about how pleased he is to see the workers' advocate, and how he wants wording changed from "may" to "shall", and the strength with which he speaks about support for the workers' advocate are quite interesting. Maybe it's his new presence within the Yukon Party that has changed their past performance with regard to working people, especially in regard to injured people.
Because I can assure you that I, as a person who represented workers, never had a pleasant experience, once, in trying to get anything changed that would benefit working people, and I can assure you that there were many difficulties with the Workers' Compensation Board when the Yukon Party was in office, in government.
The process used, I believe, has been fair in dealing with the amendments as proposed - board accountability, improved appeal process, and in clarifying the relationship between the board and affected members. All are very good, all necessary, and will go a long way. They're very key issues, and they will go a long way to helping injured workers and other stakeholders in dealing with the Workers' Compensation.
Now, the Workers' Compensation Board was a hot issue three years ago when we ran, and it was such a hot issue that, in our promises made to the people of this territory during the election, we were very clear about what we would do, and the other parties - well, mostly the Yukon Party - tried to avoid the issue, but we came out front and centre and said what we would do. I don't think the Liberals had a position at that time. Possibly they do now.
But I would like to remind people of our position three years ago and where we are now. In A Better Way, as the opposition party likes to bring up many times - they like to read our document, and we're very proud about talking about our document. They like to read it, because I think it's going to help them to come around. It says, "Restoring Confidence in Workers' Compensation" - now, that's the title. That's how bad it was at that time, three years ago. There was no confidence in workers' compensation. "The Yukon New Democratic Party has a long history of support for the rights of workers. It is the only party that has taken a strong stand for injured workers. Piers McDonald and the New Democrats are committed to restoring confidence in the Yukon Workers Compensation, Health and Safety Board and will emphasize the right of workers to get the best compensation system possible."
Now we have a list. "An NDP government led by Piers McDonald will immediately establish the independent position of a workers' advocate." We've done it. "Establish a working group of people from labour and business to report to the board and government on how to restore confidence in WCB, including improving service and morale." We've done it. It's an advisory committee. "Ensure the board has the support of both business and labour, and has a neutral chair." It's been done. "Improve access to information including the quick release of reports by the board." It's done. And this also is working toward that even further. "Improve accountability of the board to injured workers and the general public." And that's been done as well. The balance of doubt principle for workers - it has all been done. An injury to one is an injury to all. We believe in that, and we're taking steps to ensure that this Workers' Compensation Board is the best in this country. It's a model that other provinces and territories can look at, and it's one that the injured workers of this territory will have trust and faith in. People in the workforce will know that if they are injured on the job site, there is protection for them, and the employers will also have that assurance, that when their workers are injured, there is a Workers' Compensation Board in place that will care for them, help rehabilitate them and get them back into the workforce as fast as possible so all can benefit from this.
Speaker: If the member now speaks he will close debate. Does another member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Harding: A few comments in wrap-up. I thank my colleagues and the members opposite for their comments. I thank the Member for Whitehorse Centre for going over our election commitments because, when presented as they were to the electorate, they're much different from when they were presented by the Member for Klondike. Imagine that, Mr. Speaker.
I think that what we said we would do, we have done, and if it hasn't been done, we're doing it with this bill. We haven't done everything to fix the system and I doubt that will ever occur, but I think we've gone a long way to making it better. We've done it a better way and, Mr. Speaker, I want to say that we're very proud of this. We didn't have to do it.
Unlike the Yukon Party, they could have relied on the wording in the act that the review didn't have to take place until, I think, 2001 or 2002. We decided we'd take the bull by the horns, even though we didn't commit in the election campaign to doing it, to do a review of very important provisions of the act, and we found that, after the workers' advocate was brought in, dynamics changed substantially because, up until then, there was a lot of pent-up frustration. I think even any rational opposition member, perhaps the Member for Riverside who, at times, I accuse of being rational, in a friendly way - rational, I said, not irrational - he's looking at me, trying to figure me out - would have to agree that it really has taken away some of the bottleneck because it has provided, including the added resources they've had, a real opportunity for the politicians to get out of the adjudication of claims and get the appropriate people involved in that important work. We didn't take the approach of the Yukon Party, which was to do nothing, Mr. Speaker.
Now, the reference that they brought in in the Gladish report was a short, quick and dirty, what-we-heard report. It was a report that came out with one person leading it up, that talked virtually only to one-on-one groups of people who aired their concerns. That wasn't totally ineffective, but it didn't deal, as a government, with the issues that had to be brought forward on accountability. It didn't deal with acting on the principles that were espoused in it, like the workers' advocate.
Mr. Speaker, talk is cheap, and that's what the Yukon Party did. In their desire to do nothing in terms of what is tough stuff, which is bring in a legislative bill, they hired a person to go around and ask people what they'd heard. Then they put together a report that they ignored.
Mr. Speaker, when we reviewed the Gladish report and the undertakings within it that the board came forward with their submissions on, there were glaring pieces missing from it, in board accountability, in the whole question of the workers' advocate, and we brought them forward. This bill proposes to go substantively further and has dealt with the tough issues of putting together legislation. So, I grow weary of hearing the empty rhetoric that so many workers who, when they look at the records, comparatively speaking, between the two governments - anybody with any rational thought will come to the conclusion that we've advanced the agenda dramatically. And they may, in their day-to-day lives, not think that, because they have a particular problem, some of them, but if you look at the fact that, when it comes to workers, we've created the advocate, we've now come down with the benefit-of-the-doubt principle that, if there is some balance of probability that's relatively equal on a question that's being decided, the benefit of the doubt must go to the worker.
We've come up with a principle of interest, something new for the worker. So, I take the Member for Riverside's point, in his speech, that it is very dramatically impacting to a worker when they are delayed within the process. I've seen where, at perhaps the initial stages, they get a claim denied. Then they've gone through internal reviews and finally gone to the appeal board and been successful, but in that time, a year could take place, a year and a half, in some cases two, where they may have been without benefit. That is wrong and that is one of the things that we hope to help address with this review. The fact that they didn't receive any income and received no interest is wrong, and we are trying to help address that.
The board is easy to kick, the administration of the board, and the citizen board and I think we should resist doing that in this House. I think that they've come a long way, they've put a lot of effort into strategic planning and in trying to ensure that they are addressing needs, and I think that the vast majority of workers do receive good service in this territory, and I know there's a heck of a lot of dedicated people there.
That doesn't mean that fundamental, structural questions of the board, like its accountability to those people they represent, should not be addressed, and that's what we tried to do in this legislation. I think if you fix the foundation, then the structure will be strong, and that's what we're trying to do with the board through this vehicle.
In terms of the Yukon Party comments about the board not being involved and the administration somehow being aloof from this process, nothing could be further from the case. They were invited to comment at all periods. There were political discussions with the political leadership in the debate. There were questions the task force, and answer sessions and meetings. The lawyer for the Workers' Compensation Board was involved in the process and commented extensively throughout.
Mr. Speaker, it's fair to say that the board, at the citizen and the administration level, isn't entirely thrilled about the legislation. I wouldn't expect anything different, because they're an autonomous group. They don't like it when someone comes in and brings in legislation that affects the way they do things, for the most part. And it's not an easy, personal dynamic to come in and say, "We respect the work you've done. We think you're doing a good job. We appreciate it, but here, we want to make all these changes, and we're going to debate it in this House." Personal dynamics say that that's a difficult process.
I'm pleased to say that I don't think that the concern is all that entrenched, and I think we will work through these things, these issues, and the principles we've tried to espouse have actually tried to eliminate that disconnect from the board by ensuring that the independent appeal tribunal has a connection to the board at the citizen board level, so that they're gaining an understanding of why the board does certain things.
I mean, just think about the policy provision we put in this, in terms of upping the accountability quotient for this board. I think a lot of problems now will be addressed up front, instead of later, when they could really jump up and bite people.
So, Mr. Speaker, I'm very comfortable about this. The members opposite have talked about amendments. I'm very leery of amendments, simply because the opposition had an opportunity to comment through the process. There was opportunity to a task force for the opposition to provide issues and to put things forward. We have had legislative drafters, the stakeholders, the citizens involved from the get-go, and I don't like making up legislation on the floor of this House as we go along. I don't think that's appropriate, particularly when there were avenues to deal with it.
But I look forward to hearing them, if they're substantive.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: The members opposite say, "What are we here for?" We're here to debate the bill that's been put forward by the people of the territory, through a consultative process.
Mr. Speaker, the members opposite say, "What are we here for?" What were they here for last Thursday, when they took off when we debated the economy? That wasn't even about legislative amendments, and they ran out of the House.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Where were they, Mr. Speaker? That's a good question. What are they here for, Mr. Speaker? We're still trying to figure that one out.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I know one thing's for sure, whenever we start talking about all the things we're going to do, we either get a lot of heckling from the three amigos - well, excuse me, Mr. Speaker, I'll retract that before I'm ruled unparliamentary - but from the back benches opposite, or we get called down on a point of order.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Riverdale North is regressing in his political career; every time I look over there he's going farther - pretty soon he'll be sitting in the plant rack.
I will say I do admire his bravado in the face of skyrocketing forward to third party status in this territory - something he should be very proud of, Mr. Speaker - something he should be very proud of.
And perhaps he's appropriately there, Mr. Speaker, given the level of the critique from the official opposition. But Mr. Speaker, I think above all else -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Did I say official opposition, Mr. Speaker. I'm harkening back to latter days; I mean the third party.
Mr. Speaker, I think what's now important is to just see. You know, we heard quite a bit of hollow talk from the Member for Klondike, so we'll just see now how the members opposite vote on this bill. They've expressed support. There's a lot of talk about in-principle, and this and that, and should have done this, and should have done that but, at the end of the day, what really counts is whether they agree or disagree, because there are always things you could nit-pick at, Mr. Speaker. They're absolute experts at it - when they stay in the House.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think we need to ensure that everyone stands and is counted on this bill, so that we know that, despite all the sort of veiled attempts to find the soft underbelly, the members opposite, when they were called upon to express their opinion, were actually in support of the good work of this government, and the many changes to benefit workers and employers that we brought forward.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, would you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Ms. Buckway: Agree.
Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 16 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 83 agreed to
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is it the members' wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee is dealing with Bill No. 83.
Bill No. 83 - An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Harding: So, we've had the good, the bad and the ugly of rhetoric of second reading, and now we are moving into Committee for some actual evaluation of this bill. I will say that there's been a significant amount of work done on this bill, and I think it is relatively, if not completely, free of omissions in terms of accounting for the different types of comments, different things people wanted in the bill.
I have had some further discussion around the issue of the workers' advocate with the drafters of the bill, and there was one particular error that was pointed out around the issue of the workers' advocate, so I will be introducing an amendment to ensure that the "may" and "shall" under subsection 11(1) will be changed so that it is clear. It was always our intention to bring forward a bill that was very, very clear about our commitment toward this position, which we've already created.
The reason for putting it in the act was to entrench it, so we will be doing that. Other aspects of the bill I feel are very reflective of both the public comment, the business and labour comment. The drafters of the bill from business and labour were taking a comprehensive approach to encapsulating the comments and the gist of what they heard from everybody, including the board and the administration.
It shouldn't be as a surprise that there are still many good ideas out there, many things that could have been done, would have been done, Mr. Chair, but I must say that that is the nature of this process. I have to respect at this point the people of the territory who put their submissions forward, that were vetted through the drafting committee, and if there are ultimately very, very significant initiatives brought forward that are very important, that I should overturn the work of these Yukon citizens or make dramatic changes, then I'd be prepared to consider them. However, if they're not entirely substantive, and they're just suggestions that could be considered thoughtful and probably are, then we would have to go with the Yukon citizens who've put a lot of time, probably hundreds of hours, into thinking of the bill thus far, and we will have to address it in a further review.
So, I look forward to the debate and the discussion. I hope it's a long one. There are a lot of issues we have to cover, and I welcome the debate, and I welcome explaining in a little more detail some of the issues that we raised in second reading.
Chair: Is there further debate?
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
On Clause 4
Clause 4 agreed to
On Clause 5
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I move
THAT Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be amended in clause 5 at page 2 by deleting, where it appears in subsection 11.1(1), the expression, "The Minister of Justice may appoint a workers' advocate" and substituting for it the expression "The Minister of Justice shall appoint a workers' advocate".
Chair: It has been moved by the hon. Trevor Harding, minister responsible for Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board,
THAT Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be amended in clause 5 at page 2 by deleting, where it appears in subsection 11.1(1), the expression "The Minister of Justice may appoint a workers' advocate" and substituting for it the expression "The Minister of Justice shall appoint a workers' advocate".
Is there any debate?
Hon. Mr. Harding:This particular issue arose from the drafters. It was never really an issue, because the action of the government was glaringly obvious, in terms of the intent of this particular bill. However, just to remove any uncertainty - you could have an argument about the precedents of legislation, and what is sometimes established in terms of legislative wording, that gives certain intents.
In this case, though, we didn't want to do that, given the fact it was basically just an omission or an oversight. Thus, because of the importance of the workers' advocate and our commitment to it, we wanted to be ironclad in respect to this initiative. So, we have agreed to put this forward on behalf of the technical committee.
Mr. Jenkins: Our party recognized this area, Mr. Chair, and had the minister not had an amendment to go on this act, we had one forthcoming, so we support the amendment as proposed.
Amendment agreed to
Clause 5 agreed to as amended
On Clause 6
Clause 6 agreed to
On Clause 7
Clause 7 agreed to
On Clause 8
Clause 8 agreed to
On Clause 9
Clause 9 agreed to
On Clause 10
Clause 10 agreed to
On Clause 11
Mr. Cable: I wonder if the minister would go over the thinking behind having the chair of the appeal panel sit as a non-voting member of the board.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Okay, the rationale for that was that whereas we wanted to establish some independence as opposed to the day-to-day operating administrative controlling function of the citizen board and adjudication at present, we wanted to give some separation to that. The policy-making function of the citizen board, as it sits right now, and the adjudication arm, as we've discussed in the past, can potentially have some conflict, perhaps in reality and absolutely in perception, so, therefore, we've created the independent appeal tribunal to try and deal with that reality and perception.
The reason for the adjudication chair having a non-voting seat on the board is to try and establish some continuity so that there's at least someone on the independent adjudication panel who can explain the rationale of perhaps what a board did with a policy, or how a board made a decision - the citizen board made the decision - when they're doing the adjudication of claims.
I think it was an excellent move, or a compromise, by the task force in consultation with the stakeholders, because one of my great fears is that if these two boards get too de-linked and too entrenched in their own view of things, it can possibly lead to hostilities over time, lack of communication. And while I think there has to be respect for the independence of the adjudication arm of this independent board, they also have to be piped into the important work of the policy wonks, if you will, on the citizen board whom the folks in administration are dealing with. They have to know that, because that's the functioning reality of the board. And we were also very clear that the board would be bound by the policies of the board.
We found evidence in other jurisdictions where, when that criteria did not exist, it was a never-ending loop. And you had the independent adjudicators becoming the policy makers, basically writing out the role of the administration, overseeing the policy-making of the citizen board of the WCB. So the whole point of this is, while maintaining the independence, to try and, at a minimum level, legislate some cross-referencing of ideas and information between the two.
Clause 11 agreed to
On Clause 12
Clause 12 agreed to
On Clause 13
Clause 13 agreed to
On Clause 14
Clause 14 agreed to
On Clause 15
Clause 15 agreed to
On Clause 16
Clause 16 agreed to
On Clause 17
Clause 17 agreed to
On Clause 18
Clause 18 agreed to
On Clause 19
Clause 19 agreed to
On Clause 20
Mr. Cable: The minister's suggesting that the board could be increased to six. I know the monumental difficulties we've had getting consensus on who should sit on those chairs. What's the reasoning behind the increase to six? Could we just get that for the record?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, it's kind of balancing the monumental difficulty we have of building some consensus around the selections, along with the fact that the board members - the existing board - felt that there's a workload issue, and that if you have more resources to pull from, then you have a better chance of scheduling appeals on time, and actually getting the work done properly.
Mr. Cable: I don't know if the minister's had a chance to go through that cost analysis from KPMG, but is the possibility of an increased board size - has that been factored into the costs that were going to be attributed to these amendments?
Hon. Mr. Harding: He had the information from the act, but the KPMG determined it wasn't going to have a significant incremental cost, so the information was factored in, yes.
Clause 20 agreed to
On Clause 21
Clause 21 agreed to
On Clause 22
Clause 22 agreed to
On Clause 23
Mr. Cable: Just out of curiosity, when are we going to see these people?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, we will see them in this legislative session. I haven't really discussed the ultimate timing of that with them. We just discussed it generically a few weeks ago, so I don't know quite how to answer that for the member. I will engage them now to determine the exact timing of when they may be able to appear.
Mr. Cable: Is the minister prepared to hold off third reading until we have a chance to talk with them?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I don't think that's necessary. I think we have to de-link the legislative process from the normal bringing-forward of these people before the Legislature, which we've made a practice, which we're now putting forward in legislation. It's not a practice to bring forward the boards on legislation any more than - in many cases, we bring forward legislation that affects lawyers - bringing the bar association here to the Legislature.
We have incorporated their views in the legislation. I've indicated that they have at times, in terms of costing issues and others, expressed concerns. Those have all been factored in by the people who put forward the recommendations, their stakeholders, for lack of a better word - and they've been reviewed extensively by the drafting committee and others. So, I don't really want to hold up this bill. I think I want to get it through the House.
Mr. Cable: I think both opposition parties have indicated agreement in principle, subject to some amendments that we'll present, and there's no intention to proclaim until the end of the year. And I think we've established earlier that the minister - or the process - took input from the Workers' Compensation Board, and I'm particularly interested on this section relating to 10-year operational audits, and I would like to find out what their thinking is, why they just can't possibly jump a little higher.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the issue is, frankly, as I saw it in dealing with the board in my discussions with the former chair and the alternate chair now on the board, that what we were doing with this legislation is accepting the principle, for the first time, that this should be somehow mandated in law. In practice, as opposed to this land of Oz in here, they were actually doing some operational audits at the board, and the board did raise with me - and I'll just tell the member - concerns about costing, and they, as a board, want to have some autonomy on these issues.
So, we're doing a saw-off here in terms of respecting the public desire, at this point, in our society in this territory to see some crystallizing of audit functions occurring within this board, and that's being reflected in the wording in this bill.
To entrench it further, I think, once we've established the principle, would be unnecessary and, I think, perhaps overly intrusive upon the board. I think they have accepted the principle, and they're moving to do it, and I'd like to work with them and have the next minister responsible for WCB be able to work with them, knowing that this is something that the public - at least at this point in time in Yukon's evolution - felt was an important principle to capture.
Mr. Jenkins: I, too, am concerned that an operational audit be conducted on the affairs of WCB, and have said so previously in this Legislature.
Has the minister considered capping the amount of the assessment premiums that can be spent on administration of the WCB? Right now, we're on a collision course, given the additional financial burden we're going to place on O&M costs on the WCB. Total assessments amount to about $8 million in the last fiscal period. We're spending about $4.6 million on administration. This could add anywhere from another $300,000 to I've heard as high as three-quarters of a million dollars of additional O&M expense.
So, I believe it's quite imperative that this insurance program - and that's exactly what it is - gets a handle on its administration side. We cannot have never-ending administration costs incurring.
And I would suggest to the minister that he consider an amendment to the act that caps administration costs of 50 percent of the prior year's assessment, so that if last year's assessment was $8 million, the total O&M costs for the operation of WCB cannot exceed $4 million this next fiscal period. I don't think it would really be a hard exercise. What we're going to be getting into is the nitty-gritty in an operational audit, and starting to basically count pens and software programs, and things of that nature, and the cost of implementing same.
This will allow the board the flexibility to deal internally, Mr. Chair, with its own prioritizing, and its own expenditures, and they could streamline where they saw fit to deal with the administration costs.
Currently, Mr. Chair, we're spending a great deal on administration, and while some of the expenses have decreased salaries from the last annual report to this current annual report, some of the other areas have increased alarmingly - consulting fees and lawyers, and the like. There seems to be no ability to get a handle on a lot of these costs, and yet we're insuring less and less of a workforce here in Yukon.
Those who are being insured are in lower-risk categories than has been the case in the past. The amount of people involved in the mining industry and the construction trades and the trucking industry - where the highest rate of accidents have been occurring previously - their numbers are down significantly.
But the numbers of dollars that the government is paying out in premium for its primarily office staff has increased from $1.5 million to $1.7 million in the last reporting period.
So, I would ask the minister if he has considered that kind of an approach and allow the board the flexibility to deal internally with how they spend their money.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, we considered it. However, it's what I would diplomatically call the simple-minded approach to the issue. It's a good whipping post, I guess. It's good for the CFIB. Ms. Sanatani flies up here a couple of times a year and hears a couple of complaints and puts out an article and puts her picture in the paper, talking about WCB, and it's good press release fodder for opposition parties, but we have to have a responsibility of looking a little bit deeper into the issue as a government. It's complicated, but we are not doing nothing about it.
First of all, the board did engage Coles Hewitt to do a rational analysis and a comparison between this board and others in the country and made, I think, some interesting conclusions that we were not out of whack, it was not Armageddon. There are economies of scale that we lack, which causes some of the issues around administration costs in this territory.
The second thing is that in this legislation we're proposing an operational audit again, which is really going to be another one, and perhaps in some more detail, of administrative costs. The irony of this undertaking today and the support we've received from the opposition is that this bill, according to KPMG, is going to increase administration costs, and yet we all think it's a good idea. The board has said that they think it'll increase administration costs more than the KPMG.
So, I think that it's kind of ironic that we're all sitting here arguing that this is an excellent move, knowing full well that the so-called bane of at least the Member for Klondike, by his action, is having an effect on the administration costs of the board. And I say, they're important.
The other thing too that I would point out is that, through all the rhetoric, this board has the lowest rates in the country, it has the best benefits and it is the best funded, and that does not happen by accident. So, whereas we tend to focus on the problems, we are in the best shape of any board in the country, and I would argue that the evidence is borne out by what employers are charged, by what benefits are paid to workers, and by the backing of the funding that we have for the board. So, someone's got to be doing something right, and I think it is the board, and I think it is the stakeholders in business and labour, and I think that we have a good legislation.
Having said that, the board is engaging in a process right now to look at re-jigging the rates. There has been a lot of concern in the past that some higher-end users of the system are paying too little, and people in the tourism industry, for example, are paying too much on a relative scale. I share that concern: where you have a hotelier who may have hired a chamber person who has a fairly low chance of injury, as opposed to someone working on a major construction job in building or machine operating, and the spread between the rates and who is carrying the burden, based on risk. Those are interesting debates and they're very tough, and there's some action underway on that front right now. So this is not a hell and a handcart situation, given the evidence, given the fact we're going to investigate it further.
The third thing I would say is that administration costs, while they're a nice whipping post, also factor in a lot of services to workers, and I'm afraid sometimes that we have to be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, if I could use a too-often used expression, because if we engage in that practice, we run the risk of reducing services to injured workers.
There are complaints now about the time allotment for appeals, how long it takes to get through the system, rehabilitation help, those kinds of issues. Those are all part of administrative costs and we have to be very careful about a sort of simple-minded approach that you could somehow just set this cap, and that's going to be the answer to all of those issues.
You know, it's interesting, Mr. Chair, I hear the administration costs concern from the injured workers as well, and I worry sometimes that they may be a little too caught up in the debate and we have to think very thoughtfully and deliberately about this. I think the operational audit we're going to conduct will give us some of that detail, and then, should it be clear that there's some consensus between business and labour that there should be a cap - or we should cap certain things or tie the hands of the citizen board - then that should be considered, absolutely. But, let's take care of the first steps first.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given the minister's overview of the administration costs, and given how it has constantly been increasing over the last number of years, Mr. Chair, and premiums have probably peaked, and this next fiscal reporting year will show a decrease in assessments, at what point is the minister going to become alarmed with the ever-increasing cost of administration?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I think you see the evidence of at least some tacit concern, considering I'm standing here with a bill before the House. As for posing some more serious investigation into this question, we've looked at the Coles Hewitt report results; they tell me that the sky is not falling - at a minimum they tell me that - and I think other important information was presented in that report.
Of the premiums and assessments, the last increase we had to employers was announced before we ever came into government by the previous chair of the board, Mr. Tuton. That was January, 1996.
I think subsequent to that, that was pulled back, and I'm not sure - I can't remember at this time whether that board decision was implemented, but I think some minor aspect of it was.
I will say that it is a concern. I don't want to oversell it, because I don't want to hack and slash things, and take some knee-jerk approach. The board was often very concerned. When I met with them, they used to get quite upset about the stuff that was said in this House, because the citizen board felt that it was addressing these issues, and they didn't want to do it through a sort of political-bashing process, they wanted to do it thoughtfully and deliberately.
So we are going to see, as a result of the action we take today, an increase in the administrative costs. That, incidentally, has been one of their arguments when they don't want to support particular provisions of this legislative review. So, believe you me, your words are having an impact. However, I think it was necessary to bring this bill forward, to take the action we did, and we're going to have to find other ways to deal with the concerns that stakeholders - business and labour - have made about administrative costs. The operational audit is one.
Out of that, we should get some excellent recommendations that I, as a minister, will ask the board to undertake, and I'm sure the members opposite here will ask me to ask the board to undertake them. And I would hope that if it's credibly done, they won't even have to be asked, that they'll just do it.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd point out for the minister's benefit that during his time as minister responsible for WCB, there has been a considerable increase in, not assessment rates, but costs to employers with the cancellation of the merit rebate program. That ultimately translated into a direct cost to employers - an increase in their cost for coverage under WCB, Mr. Chair.
Continuing on the topic of the operational audit, the operational audit will target specific areas, but the minister has previously stated that he wants the board to act at arm's length and autonomously. Now, I concur with the minister in that regard. Why not allow them to operate at arm's length and autonomously with respect to financial operations, insofar as administration costs are recognized, and just peg the total cost - let's use, arbitrarily, 50 percent of the total assessment paid or received by WCB the year previous to be the total amount that can be spent on administration costs by WCB in the next fiscal period.
That would lend itself to a lot of internal movement by the board itself, and it's not a draconian method. Industry standards are in place for a lot of different areas, Mr. Chair. If you want to look at the food business, labour cost is recognized as being a certain percentage of the total sales. When they increase beyond that level we've got a problem. You have a problem in your operation somewhere. The insurance industry, their premiums - a certain percentage of that goes toward administration, and when you look at the insurance industry overall, their cost of administration is very, very low compared to what we're seeing here. The only thing that's keeping this fund alive and viable, Mr. Chair, is the fact that it has got tremendous reserves, they appear to be well-invested, and we're realizing a greater return on these investments that are continually being drawn upon to fund the ongoing operation of WCB.
I again ask the minister: at what point in time is he going to become alarmed with the ever-increasing cost of administering WCB? Is it going to be when we take in $8 million in premiums and spend $8 million administering the board? Is it going to be when we reach $6 million? At what juncture is the minister going to be concerned? By that time, it will probably be too late.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, frankly, I don't know what the member is advocating here. He's saying I should consider it, but he's saying he doesn't know whether it should be 50 percent or 40 percent. I guess that's the problem, the fact that the member just wants to promote the simple-minded approach. What we're doing is thoughtfully, deliberately making some changes. The board is analyzing it. They're going to have an operational audit. It will be independent. There'll be lots of material there to analyze for business and for labour, and then we'll put that information out to business and labour and the advisor groups and ask if they think there should be a cap on assessments and premiums or administration costs. I mean, I don't know what the member means by "alarmed". Am I supposed to just, all of a sudden one day, run around the streets of Whitehorse yelling, "Administration costs are high. Administration costs are high." I don't understand what that does.
What I'm trying to do is change the situation so that there's a response to what people have said that's not just some knee-jerk response that is, I would argue, pretty ideologically driven. Because, if we did that and it impacts injured workers and they can't get services and it actually slows down their ability to get through the system, then I don't want to have anything to do with it.
So, let's think it through, and that's what we're doing.
Mr. Jenkins: I might remind the minister that, according to the Injured Workers' Alliance, there's still a backlog of 70 individuals who have yet to be dealt with, and the administration costs -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: We're not suggesting we cut off services, Mr. Chair.
I'm suggesting that what is being suggested is that the board be allowed the liberty to look internally as to where they can trim their operating costs, because they are increasing year after year after year at an alarming rate, very disproportionately to the assessments that are taken in are. And, we are on a collision course with a very serious problem within Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. That's the issue, Mr. Chair. No one's suggesting we cut off service to injured workers or employers or anyone. We're suggesting that the board be allowed the flexibility internally to adjust their expenditures to meet a target, and I've arbitrarily suggested 50 percent of the total assessments of the previous year. What's wrong with that?
Hon. Mr. Harding:Well, Mr. Chair, the board has a lot of autonomy, and when the Yukon Party-appointed chair introduced increases to rates and cancelled the merit rebate program, that was their decision. That was a decision of the chair appointed by the member opposite's party when they were in government. That was an autonomous decision that they acted upon and carried out.
In terms of their looking at administrative efficiencies within their own operation, they have the autonomy to do just that. And, I would argue that there's a lot of grist for the mill in terms of an operational audit, independently done that could provide some efficiencies.
I don't expect, frankly, the results to be that earth shattering, given the whole Coles Hewitt report, but nonetheless, we shall see.
Clause 23 agreed to
On Clause 24
Clause 24 agreed to
On Clause 25
Clause 25 agreed to
On Clause 26
Clause 26 agreed to
On Clause 27
Clause 27 agreed to
On Clause 28
Clause 28 agreed to
On Clause 29
Clause 29 agreed to
On Clause 30
Mr. Cable: I think the minister just indicated that the Coles Hewitt report had shown that the previews were fairly favourable to our jurisdiction, and that - empirically, anyway, using a comparison - our own Workers' Compensation Board wasn't faring that badly.
But I think he had previously indicated that labour and employers and injured workers, over time, had complained about administrative costs, and I think he himself has heard those complaints.
He has also indicated that he thinks and supports the operational audit concept, which has been designated as a special examination in the drafting of the legislation.
What I can't understand, though, is why - for a small organization with 50 employees, $7 or $8 million worth of revenue, in the form of assessments, and some further money in the way of investment revenue, and claims in the amount of a few million dollars - it takes 10 years to do an operational audit. I just can't believe that.
Who actually suggested the 10 years to the consultant? Was that WCB itself?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Just to be clear, the operational audit per se, that we're talking about, with regard to operations administration, is a six-month proviso now, in 104(3). Okay, so that's getting underway.
Well, that's time sensitive.
With respect to the 10-year issue, the board did ask for that in terms of implementing these particular initiatives. My approach was that I wanted to get the concept of this type of accountability mechanism in the legislation, but I did not think it was necessary - given, I think, once they accept it, they'll find it a useful tool - to impose it further upon them. I think they will do this, and they were doing this as a matter of course. So, I opened it up to the option of the following review dealing with this question again in two or three years' time. We're going to have an operational audit start in six months. A comprehensive review has to be initiated by January 1, 2003. This issue can be raised again if it is held in as high a public import as some people felt it was in the review process that we engaged in. So, it was the board; it's not a magic formula. However, the door is open to review it once again in a couple of years, and the immediacy, which is the concern that people have on their lips right now, will be addressed within the next six months.
Mr. Cable: Well, au contraire.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: I knew you'd like that. It says, "A special examination of the operations and administration of the board shall begin no later than six months..." It doesn't say they shall end.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: That's the beginning of the operational audit.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: It could go on for 10 years. Why hasn't the minister - well, let me ask this question. A plan has to be presented to the minister within 90 days. What kind of a timeline is he going to put on them to complete this operational audit of the operations and administration, subsection 2(a), I guess it is?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, I didn't say it was going to be completed within six months but the reality right now is that there's some work being done on an operational audit, and there has been for some time. If you look at subsection (7), the minister has some authority under that provision and I think that may answer the member's question.
Mr. Cable: Well, perhaps if the minister answers the questions to our satisfaction, we won't have to gyrate around that with an amendment. What is the minister's intention? When is he going to ask that this operational audit be concluded? He has to have a plan presented to him within 90 days, and he just told us a moment ago that the operational audit's already underway. So, it doesn't sound like a monumental chore. When is this chore going to be finished? When is the minister going to direct that the chore be finished?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I haven't passed the bill yet so I don't have subsection (7) behind me, but I have indicated to the board that I would like to see this take place as soon as possible.
The member over there throws his hands up, but I'm sure I'll be held accountable on this. I've signalled that I'd like to see it happen. It's been singled out for special recognition in the legislation so, once this legislation is passed, it's easier for the minister to put in some provisos in terms of the audit, when you want to see it reported, what's the expansiveness of it, and those kinds of issues.
I look forward to doing that and I expect to see the board report on this issue before very long, because there are a lot of questions out there in the public on this issue. Thankfully, they'd started some work on it in advance under the previous chair, and I'll be able to bring it back for the public and for the members opposite.
Mr. Cable: Well, the minister hasn't expressed his thinking on a timeline. Surely, he doesn't expect that this act is not going to pass and surely he doesn't expect it's not going to be proclaimed, in the most part, on December 31. So, he knows what his tools are.
And I think he just indicated that there has been a lot of criticism out there, and I think both from the standpoint of the board and from the injured workers' standpoint, and from the employers' standpoint, this issue of operational cost should be clear, publicly, in the community. It may be that they're running the best operation we can imagine. It's the best operation in the country. It may be, but it certainly has drawn a lot of fire, and I don't believe that leaving a blank cheque lying around, like 10 years, is in the interest of any of the stakeholders, so I propose an amendment.
Mr. Cable: I move
THAT Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be amended in clause 30 at page 24 by deleting, where it appears in subsection 104(1), the expression "over the next ten years", and substituting for it the expression, "over the next two years".
Chair: It has been moved by Jack Cable, Member for Riverside
THAT Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be amended in clause 30 at page 24 by deleting, where it appears in subsection 104(1), the expression "over the next ten years", and substituting for it the expression, "over the next two years".
Is there any debate?
Mr. Cable:I sometimes get the impression that there's an attribution to this organization, that it is probably the most complicated organization in the world to run with it's 55 employees and a few million bucks worth of assessments and investment income, and I don't accept that.
I think that this issue should be cleared publicly and should be got off the table so that the board's employees can have the confidence of knowing that some independent group has looked at their operations, has looked at their organizational structure and has looked at how the process claims, how they handle the money, how they invest money and has given them a clean bill of health. Then the attacks on the organization, if there are any attacks, can be focused on individual claims rather than some amorphous shot continually that they're hiring too many people, there's too much furniture in the president's office, there's too many vice-presidents. There's blah blah blah, blah blah blah and blah blah blah. And the only way to do that is not by getting some actuarial organization that is under contract on a continual basis with the WCB to give them a clean bill of health but to get in independent consultants, and I don't see that exercise taking 10 years, that just stretches my credulity.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I take the member's point, but I think he's trying to oversell this as if we're going to get some stone tablets dropped on the floor of this legislature, that we'll all somehow start hailing the benefits - especially on the opposition benches - of what's happening at the Workers' Compensation Board. I do, however, take his point, and that's why the legislation speaks to this issue in subsection 3 and subsection 7, and I respect his intention to complete it before two years, and I hope to have it done long before that, frankly, and see it done long before that.
As well, I am a little bit nervous on focusing in on the one issue, there are many important issues with regard to this legislation that have to be dealt with. This is not the only issue of importance here, and we are going to move on it. I take the member's point. He's got my commitment on that, and I expect to be held to it. I have some powers under this legislation. We're introducing the concept for the first time. We're asking that six months, it shall begin, no later that six months. The whole idea of that clause is to express the importance of this particular initiative.
I expect to move on it very quickly.
Mr. Jenkins: We support this amendment. It's taken the minister virtually over two years to get to this point to accept a management audit. I think the guidelines for it, while they're being introduced virtually immediately - there's no conclusion or completion guidelines in this act. Ten years is a very, very long time. Yes, we can start it immediately; yes, we can see something occur short term, but there's no requirement under this legislation for the board to bring back a report, other than what is stipulated in this legislation. These are the guidelines that the board conforms to and operates under.
What's the minister's hang-up with changing it to provide for a two-year review? What's the minister's problem? Just the fact that it wasn't suggested in the draft regulation, and he doesn't accept a friendly amendment, or is he just looking for an excuse to get out of it when he doesn't do his job or when the board doesn't do its job? What excuse has the minister got to offer?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I mean, there's so much - I won't spend a lot of time berating the bunk in that statement. I just will say that the Coles Hewitt report was the first step on the whole issue of administrative costs. It hasn't been ignored. I'll point out the Yukon Party didn't do any management audit in four years in government of any kind. So I don't know how he could possibly berate this government, with all we've done on this particular file.
I just told the member opposite that there has been some consideration at the board level for a long time on this issue, and they have some work underway on the file already. I intend to have it done and ask them to have it done. I would expect that it's going to be a lot sooner than what the members opposite are even proposing. However, I think that, you know, it is important that we respect the will of what we put forward by the people who participated in this exercise. They were reasonably satisfied with this particular language, with the subsection (7). It gives some scoping powers to the minister and sets a very strong signal, in terms of the need to get some closure, at least for the short term, on the issue of administration costs through the use of an independent audit.
So, while I respect the point - and I know what the members are trying to do, and it's fair ball, and I think that this audit has to take place - I will do what I can to ensure that it happens very quickly.
Chair: Does the amendment carry?
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Chair: Division has been called.
Chair: Order please. The question before the Committee is the amendment proposed by Mr. Cable. Would those in favour please rise?
Chair: Thank you.
Would those opposed please rise?
Chair: Thank you.
The nays have it, and I declare the amendment defeated.
Amendment to Bill No. 83 negatived
Chair: Is there further debate on clause 30?
Clause 30 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, out of Committee with amendment.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 83, An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, and directed me to report it with amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Bill No. 77: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 77, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 77, entitled An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 77, An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 77 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 77 has passed this House.
Bill No. 85: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 85, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 85, An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 85, An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 85 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 85 has passed this House.
Bill No. 78: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 78, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Sloan.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I move that Bill No. 78, An Act to Amend the Public Health and Safety Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Health and Social Services that Bill No. 78, An Act to Amend the Public Health and Safety Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 78 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 78 has passed this House.
Bill No. 80: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 80, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 80, An Act to Amend the Chiropractors Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 80, An Act to Amend the Chiropractors Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 80 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 80 has passed this House.
Bill No. 81: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 81, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 81, entitled An Act to Amend the Management Accountants Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 81, entitled An Act to Amend the Management Accountants Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 81 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 81 has passed this House.
Would members wish the Chair to see the clock as being at 5:30 p.m.?
All Hon. Member: Agreed.
Speaker: Unanimous consent has been granted for the time to be seen as 5:30 p.m. The House will reconvene at 7:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Bill No. 20: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 20, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 20, entitled Fifth Appropriation Act, 1998-99, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that Bill No. 20, entitled Fifth Appropriation Act, 1998-99, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This supplementary is to regularize overexpenditures from voted sums in the 1998-99 fiscal year, which occurred in two departments.
The Department of Finance was over vote by $23,000 due to making a provision for uncollectible property taxes.
The Department of Justice requires an additional $172,000 for the year as a result of the final billing for the RCMP services for the year being higher than anticipated.
Both of the above occurred in operation and maintenance expenditures. Despite these two overexpenditures, total O&M for the year was underspent by some $5.5 million, and capital was more than $17 million under its voted appropriation.
Naturally, there'll be some revotes of these lapsed funds but, despite this, our financial position is improved from the last supplementary for 1998-99 that was presented to the House.
As noted on page 2 of the supplementary and in the public accounts, our unconsolidated accumulated surplus at year-end was in excess of $80 million after deducting approximately $2 million from the public accounts figures for unavailable special operating agency income.
This is a comfortable figure, but not one to be overconfident about. The current year, as embodied in the 1999-2000 Supplementary No. 2, previously tabled, is projecting a current-year deficit of more than $39 million, including revotes of lapsed 1998-99 spending. This deficit will draw our unconsolidated accumulated surplus down to $41 million - still comfortable, but not large enough to sustain constant shortfalls between revenues and expenditures, such as we'll have in this current year.
These additional expenditures are, of course, crucial to the territory's economy during this period of depressed world metal prices and mining activity.
It is our aim to continue the initiatives we have begun to encourage the mining and tourism industries and further diversify our economy so that the territory is not so dependent on government funding.
I'm certain the members will share these views, and I look forward to their support.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, this appropriation act is, at this point, reasonably routine for all of us, and my discussion and questions for the Government Leader, I will reserve for Committee debate.
Speaker: Are the members prepared for the question?
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 20 agreed to
Mr. Fentie: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair, and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
committee of the whole
Bill No. 20 - Fifth Appropriation Act, 1998-99
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Committee is now dealing with Bill No. 20, Fifth Appropriation Act, 1998-99. Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, as I just finished saying, in 1998-99, we had two departments overspend their votes, although in one case, the overexpenditure is actually a provision for uncollectible accounts receivable. This supplementary legitimizes those sums by which the individual department appropriations were exceeded. The Department of Justice needs $172,000 to cover RCMP costs, which exceeded previous estimates, while the Department of Finance is short $23,000 as a result of the provision for bad debts for the year being greater than expected.
As mentioned in my second reading remarks, despite these two overvote sums, the government as a whole was underspent by almost $23 million last year. Naturally, a portion of this underexpenditure is being revoted in the current year in the other supplementary, which is before the House.
Despite this, our overall accumulated surplus position is significantly improved as a result of the 1998-99 fiscal year operations.
If the members have some questions about this general matter of lines, I'll be happy to answer.
Ms. Duncan: Could the leader indicate if there are any more significant changes anticipated, other than what has been outlined here?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, Mr. Chair, we don't anticipate anything new. The public accounts have been published for the last year. The auditor has audited the accounts, and there are no changes anticipated.
Ms. Duncan: In going through the Schedule B, the grants, I noticed that there are a significant number of subsidies or grants that have not been taken up, if you will, by the general public. Now, it would seem to me that, over a period of time, historically, this would indicate a policy change. For example, I note that there's $200,000 that was not expended in the post-secondary student grants. If this had occurred significantly over, say, five years, then the government could consider a policy change, such as an increase to the grant.
Would the minister ask the department - or perhaps he could provide me, at this time, a historical sense of if this has occurred significantly in the past five years on all of these grants, or if this is the first time in several years that these grants have not been taken up? Is there any historical information he can provide on that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, if the member wants to track the grants over the last five years to determine what take-up there has been in each voted allotment, then I'm certain we can provide that information.
With respect to the rationale for some grants being underspent, I'm certain it would be a matter where there would be some rationale that would apply to each individual grant. There certainly have not been any overall policy changes at the Management Board level that would cause any underexpenditure of grants by itself.
Ms. Duncan: If it's not too onerous a task, I would request, at some point, if I could have that historical information from the department. I would appreciate it.
In his opening remarks, the Government Leader mentioned that the money for the Department of Finance is uncollectible accounts receivable, and made a reference to bad debts. Is this strictly property taxes, or are there a number of bad debts included in that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, in this particular case, the property tax receivables are the primary reason, but the line item itself applies to all accounts receivable and all bad debts. At the beginning of the year, a formula calculation is made as to what they expect might happen, and experience in that year can change the actual allocation. There is always the temptation to have a larger estimate in the main estimates in order to account for situations like this, just to cover off contingencies, because the allowance for bad debts is not something that we can control specifically. However, we historically have put forward a calculation, as I say, that is developed on a formula basis, and in the event that it's exceeded and the department vote is exceeded as well, then we have to return for a supplementary.
Ms. Duncan: The additional funds required for the RCMP contract - is there an unanticipated expenditure in that $172,000? Was it an increase in the contract negotiations? Could the Government Leader or the Minister of Justice elaborate on that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the primary reason is the RCMP contract wage settlement. That was the reason for that, and it's also, the member will know, the reason for an increased expenditure in the main estimates - or an increase in the supplementary for the current year as well.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the lapsed capital funds - I can't recall, off the top of my head, last year's appropriation act and the figure in there. Is this a fairly routine sum in the Government Leader's estimation, or is this high, based on previous years? And I'm curious if there is any significant contracting policy or significant occurrence that caused the lapse.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, it's not a remarkable amount. It's about average for lapsed capital. On the operations side, it's probably about average, too. It has been down as low as $2 million to $3 million. This year it's about $5 million. It has been substantially higher than that. In capital, it's about average, and there are any number of reasons for that being the case. For example, for the current year, the Whitehorse multiplex not going forward probably resulted in some lapsed funding. So, there are any number of reasons why the capital is not spent.
In many cases, a project is underway. If the amount of money they're actually charged against a project in the last fiscal year is a little less than what the planners of the project anticipated, while the project still continues and has to be financed, the expenditures are actually technically made in this fiscal year. So, consequently, a lapse takes place. But I haven't detected anything particularly remarkable about this particular year.
Department of Finance
Chair: We will now proceed to Finance. Is there general debate?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $23,000 agreed to
Department of Finance agreed to
Department of Justice
Chair: Is there general debate?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Justice in the amount of $172,000 agreed to
Department of Justice agreed to
On Schedule A
Schedule A agreed to
On Schedule B
Schedule B agreed to
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 20, entitled Fifth Appropriation Act, 1998-99 out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb:Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 20, Fifth Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and directed me to report progress without amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Bill No. 91: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 91, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that Bill No. 91, entitled Fireweed Fund Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that Bill No. 91, entitled Fireweed Fund Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'm very pleased to be able to sponsor this important piece of legislation this evening. For as long as I can remember of my time in the Yukon, there's been one consistent complaint expressed by all who wished to establish themselves in business. That complaint was expressed in many forms over the years, but it boils down to the availability, or lack thereof, of capital, especially patient capital, for new ventures.
I think each and every one of us in this Chamber has personal knowledge of someone who had a good business idea but who was unable to proceed with it because of the type of investor they required, who was simply not available in the Yukon. Our government has, of course, taken numerous steps to encourage investment. We have already introduced the Yukon mineral exploration tax credit and the Yukon small business tax credit, to name but two.
The measure we are proposing in this bill is a further step to encourage investment in Yukon businesses to put Yukon people to work, either as employees of Yukon firms or as the entrepreneur establishing the firm. We've made a commitment to consult with Yukon people about the tax system, and we've made good on that commitment by establishing the tax round table.
This body recommended to us that we establish a vehicle to permit the formation of a labour-sponsored venture capital corporation and, in my last budget speech, I promised to do so. This legislation is the embodiment of that promise.
The Fireweed Fund Act will establish the framework for such a corporation in the Yukon. A labour-sponsored venture capital corporation is a special entity designed to provide venture capital to, and promote investment, in small- and medium-sized businesses.
When an individual buys shares in such a corporation, he or she is creating jobs and providing much-needed capital to businesses.
The fundamental assumption behind the creation of the labour-sponsored venture capital corporation is that there is a shortage of private-venture capital, and vehicles to funnel that money to appropriate businesses.
This problem is seen as particularly acute in areas remote from the major financial centres of the country and for very small firms everywhere. In Canada today, more than one-third of all institutional venture capital in the country is provided by these corporations.
Nine of the 13 provinces and territories provide incentives for labour-sponsored venture capital corporations to operate in their jurisdiction. With the passage of this bill we will join those ranks.
The labour movement in the Yukon has been actively involved in this project. The act was developed by the Yukon Federation of Labour. The Yukon Federation of Labour is a sponsoring organization of the fireweed fund and, as such, will control the appointment of the majority of the board of directors.
Once established, the fund will function very much like mutual funds that invest in stocks or bonds. The big difference, however, is a requirement to hold the shares for an extended period of time - eight years - although there are provisions for re-purchase prior to that, in cases of hardship.
There is, of course, a tax advantage to the purchase of shares in the fund. Canada provides a 15-percent non-refundable tax credit on a maximum investment of $5,000. Yukon will also provide a tax credit, but its magnitude has not yet been determined.
In addition to the tax credits, which will flow to an investor, investments in the fund will be able to be held within registered retirement savings plans. This should serve to repatriate some amount of the registered retirement savings plan investments in businesses outside the Yukon currently held by Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, this legislation is a product of our promise to help develop and diversify our economy. It is a product of our promise to act only after consulting with Yukoners to obtain their views on the direction they wish to see their economy take.
Mr. Speaker, this is a significant piece of legislation, and I'm certain it will receive the support of all members of the House, and I look forward to that support.
Mr. Cable: Mr. Speaker, I move that debate on Bill No. 91 be now adjourned.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Member for Riverside that debate be now adjourned.
Motion to adjourn debate on Bill No. 91 agreed to
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 7:54 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled November 8, 1999:
Election of Pam Buckway as Member for Lake Laberge, letter dated November 8, 1999 from Chief Electoral Officer to Speaker (Speaker Bruce)