Tuesday, February 22, 2000 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have a letter to the federal minister, John Manley, on the issue of gasoline pricing. As well, I have the short-term Yukon economic outlook for 2000, which calls for an increase in economic activity, an increase in population and in growth in virtually every sector of the Yukon economy.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Petition No. 12
Mrs. Edelman: I have the honour to present a petition with 429 Yukoners' signatures attached. This petition was prepared by local business people, and it reads as follows: "We have recently received a notice from the Yukon Liquor Corporation Board of Directors indicating revised policy guidelines that will take effect April 1, 2000 for all recreational facilities. These policies are blanket in form and take away any discretionary decisions that they are obligated to have. They will be restricting us to consuming alcohol in a contained area. They will be restricting our hours of liquor sales to no later than 11:00 p.m. They will be restricting access to contained area to members and guests only. They are stating that members and guests must participate in recreation activity. We are attempting to persuade the Yukon Liquor Corporation Board of Directors to revoke these new policy guidelines, as they leave no room to deal with each application for a liquor licence on a case-by-case basis. As well, they will have a severe impact on the ability of recreational facilities to conduct business in general."
Speaker: Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Yukon Economic Outlook 2000
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to advise the House on how our government's policies will continue to build on the economic growth the Yukon experienced in 1999, which is confirmed, and the Yukon Economic Outlook 2000 that I tabled a few moments ago.
Overall growth of our gross domestic product last year was estimated at 1.5 percent. This is up from the .5 percent growth rate experienced in 1998 as we began our recovery from the Faro mine closure. The estimates for this year predict a projected increase in the population of the territory, and they also show that a positive pattern will continue this year with overall growth of two percent forecasted.
Looking at this growth sector by sector, we can easily see the positive influence of policy decisions and strategic investments made by our government. For example, tourism witnessed a third record year in a row in 1999. That growth is also reflected in the continued expansion of the Yukon's retail sector, in which numbers continue to rise. The economic outlook predicts more growth in tourism this year. Key factors in that growth include our investment in extending the runway at the Whitehorse International Airport and our aggressive promotion of the Yukon in established and new markets.
These decisions also made it possible to negotiate agreements with three separate international airlines for direct charter flights from Europe this summer. We intend to build on success by stepping up marketing activities in promising new areas, such as the Asia-Pacific region.
Last year saw exports of Yukon forest products hit a remarkable $6.9 million in total. With three operating sawmills and a growing log-home industry, it is expected that output will expand this year. Our government's support for this sector takes many forms, including training funds, forestry trade missions and a made-in-the-Yukon forest strategy developed with industry in the community.
We have also taken steps to secure long-term access to tidewater to facilitate the export of Yukon resource and other products. This support will continue as we prepare for the transfer of responsibility for resources to Yukon hands.
Solid growth is also predicted in the oil and gas sector. Our common regime with Yukon First Nations and Yukon control of this resource make the territory a competitive environment for oil and gas activity. The economic outlook forecasts exploration worth at least $10 million in the year 2000, and our government intends to issue a second round of dispositions later this year.
We have also signalled our support for the Alaska Highway route for a natural gas pipeline from Alaska, which would create an enormous number of jobs and economic benefits for Yukon people.
The economic outlook also foresees another strong year in the construction sector, which registered a 20-percent increase in 1999. Permitted building construction for 2000 is estimated at $55 million. Major building projects across the territory this year include a new continuing care facility, schools in Ross River and Mayo, the Whitehorse multiplex, new recreational facilities in Dawson City and Carmacks, and a major retail development in Whitehorse.
Recent improvements in base metal and gold prices and signs of recovery in the Asian economies contribute to a more optimistic outlook for the mining industry, which is an important part of our economy, and that as well is highlighted in the outlook.
The economic outlook predicts an increase of $10 million in the value of mineral production in the territory this year, and our continued support for this industry includes such measures as our exploration tax credit, the geoscience program funding, funds for resource assessments, and our work with the industry and the federal government to improve the federal government's mine permitting process.
The steady improvement in our economic climate will also lead to lower unemployment. At the same time it is important to note that the yearly average of our labour force has not decreased substantially, despite the Faro mine closure. In fact, we continue to have the highest labour-force participation rate in all of Canada.
The short-term economic outlook shows clear signs of recovery in almost every sector, including new growth areas in technology and cultural industries. We realize there are still challenges ahead, particularly in the energy sector, in the short term.
While the Yukon government has done its part in keeping electricity costs under control through contributing to the rate stabilization fund, we share the concern that Yukon people have with rising fuel costs. This morning, I urged the federal minister to convene a meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts to identify ways to deal with this crisis.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to many opportunities in this sitting to advise members of positive directions in our economy and where it is headed, as well as our government's policies and how they are contributing to a stronger and more diversified Yukon economy.
Mr. Cable: The soft language of this ministerial statement reminds me of a story that a person told me once upon a time about this corporate president who is going to interview people for the succession. He was getting set to retire and he was going to interview a lawyer and an engineer and an accountant. He brings them into his office and says firstly, to the accountant, asking him about his background, "Well, Mr. Accountant, what is two plus two?" So the accountant goes tickety-tick, tickety-tick and he comes out with four. Loosen your collar. Then he says, "Mr. Engineer, what's two plus two?" And the engineer says, "Well, you know, it's four, more or less, plus or minus." Then he calls in the lawyer and he says, "Lawyer, what's two plus two?" The lawyer goes over to the drapes, pulls the drapes shut and turns down the dimmer switch, and then he locks the door and says, "What would you like it to be?"
There is a certain air of that to this ministerial statement - the soft language.
Now, the Minister of Economic Development should be a congenital optimist, as I'm sure he is. But what is the minister really saying? Does he really want us to believe that we have reached the bottom of the population trough? Is that what he is saying? Is that what he's going to tell us during the next election? Is he really saying, had we seen the bottom of the unemployment trough? Is that what he seriously wants us to believe? And what is he telling us about Viceroy Resources and all the rumours that we have heard going around about the possible closure of that mine? Does he want us to believe this feel-good ministerial statement? Is that what he is seriously telling us?
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Yukon Party caucus to respond to this ministerial statement. I want to say from the outset that if the situation in the Yukon wasn't so serious, it would be almost comical watching this Economic Development minister twist and turn and try to pick the best things out of a bad situation to put a positive spin on something that they have devastated - the Yukon economy.
Mr. Speaker, in speaking to Yukoners over the last few years, quite clearly the biggest issue that continues to be on the minds of Yukoners is jobs and the economy and what the future holds. And while other jurisdictions in Canada are enjoying unprecedented growth, our economy has been steadily shrinking. It has only taken this NDP government three and a half years to devastate a healthy economy.
Mr. Speaker, you know when you buy stocks in the stock market - and lots of us have - and you buy -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Bre-X. It's is a good analogy to what this minister has just delivered today. You buy stocks, and you get the odd stock that goes down and it hits rock bottom. Nobody thinks it's ever coming back. And then all of a sudden it jumps up a little bit. Mr. Speaker, they call that a "dead-cat bounce".
And what that minister has delivered today is a dead-cat bounce on the Yukon economy. He only goes back to last year, which he says is the bottom of the barrel, in his mind. Not in the minds of many Yukoners it isn't, Mr. Speaker. But that's what he is hanging his hat on, is this dead-cat bounce. We would expect more from a Minister of Economic Development.
What he hasn't said in this statement - what he hasn't told Yukoners - is in his second paragraph. "Overall growth of our gross domestic product last year is estimated at 1.5 percent." But he doesn't tell Yukoners that it was his very own department that made that estimate. Stats Canada figures aren't even out yet. How much accuracy is in them? I'll leave that up to Yukoners to decide.
And, Mr. Speaker, if we factor in inflation, the Yukon is going backwards, not forwards. He goes on to say, "Last year saw exports of Yukon forest products hit a remarkable $6.9 million total." But yet, a document put out by the Bureau of Statistics in October says in fact that logging and forestry industries are contributing less in 1999 to the Yukon's GDP than they were in 1987. It's bogus. Now he is calling this document bogus. It's his own document, and he's calling it bogus.
Mr. Speaker, he goes on to brag about $10-million worth of exploration in oil and gas. Across the line, in Northwest Territories, they've got $200 million this year - over this winter - and it is forecast for $400 million next winter.
This minister is hanging his hat on $10-million worth of exploration, Mr. Speaker. In fact, I understand that today Northern Cross is pulling out of Eagle Plains and mothballing their equipment. That's how much faith they have in this government. That's confidence in this government.
Mr. Speaker, again, it is a government that likes to blame everyone else for their problems. He goes on in this thing to say, "While the Yukon government has done its part in keeping electrical costs under control through the rate stabilization fund, we share the concern that Yukon people have about rising fuel costs." Again, "It's not our fault that the power rates are going up." Yet, in A Better Way, they said, "Stabilize electricity rates to keep them affordable for residents and small businesses, and improve the rate subsidy program so Yukon people can have a greater share of the profits of the Yukon Energy Corporation." They didn't say, "Well, it won't be our fault if diesel prices go up and you have to pay more for power. We are going to do our part." No, they even took a petition around and told everyone that they were the ones who could fix the power rates in the Yukon. Well, they sure did.
I've never heard people complaining as much as they have this winter about increased power rates. I would suggest to the minister that he get out of his dream world, talk to his colleagues and bring some policies in place that will restore some investor confidence in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker. You know, when we lost the Faro mine - Annually, I table these outlooks, and the numbers were going down - the members opposite - the opposition Liberals and Tories, who are all the same; there's no difference - were clinging to those documents. They stand up and trumpet what the outlooks said. Today, we table an outlook that shows increases in population, shows increases in growth and shows increases in virtually every sector - new sectors of the economy that, under the Yukon Party government, were never even heard of. The oil and gas industry didn't even exist under a Yukon Party government. They couldn't get anything going.
Mr. Speaker, today, they attacked the economists of the department, who put forward these forecasts, and they do so based on statistics and the best information that they can acquire. So, Mr. Speaker, they shoot the messenger, and we lived by the results when they were negative and today, we're bringing forward the results in the same manner when they're more positive, and that's bad politics for the opposition Liberals and Tories, because they want doom and gloom for their own selfish, political reasons.
But, Mr. Speaker, we think that the evidence of new jobs and new growth that are outlined in this economic forecast are positive for Yukoners, and they're positive for jobs and for this economy.
Do you know, Mr. Speaker, in this budget we tabled yesterday, there were across-the-board tax cuts. There was more funding for health care and education, more funding for training. This government brought in eight new tax credit initiatives, from low-income family tax credits to mineral exploration tax credits, to small-business investment tax credits, to immigrant investor funds that are wiring the entire Yukon economy.
What did the Liberal opposition say, Mr. Speaker? I went to a chamber luncheon some time ago where the Liberal leader said that she wouldn't make any commitments on tax cuts, nothing on tax cuts. She couldn't do it. Yet, today on the radio, she's telling everyone there should have been more. So I ask the basic question: how, when she was unprepared to make any commitments on tax cuts, she could have the audacity to get on the radio and say today that what this government should have done is cut them more? Isn't there a small smidgen of a credibility problem there for the Liberal Party?
Again, Mr. Speaker, you saw the hollow void of ideas. Did anybody who is listening in the public hear one concrete suggestion on the economy from the Liberals or the Tories? Were they talking about the investments in the port that this government has made? Were they trying to complement our ideas to wire the entire Yukon for improved telephone and Internet access, so that rural communities have high-speed Internet service? Were they telling us how we could make the eight investment tax credit initiatives, spanning a whole range of the poorest of the poor in the society to small-business investment, how we could do more in that respect?
Were they saying, Mr. Speaker, how we could do more to stabilize rates electrically in putting any concrete ideas forward to also supplement the $10 million we invested in that field? Mr. Speaker, were they talking about we could do more to entice more films here to complement the efforts in the budget, such as the unique purchase of the grips and electrical package, like the work we're doing with the film incentive fund to bring them here?
Mr. Speaker, the bottom of the barrel economically for this territory was under the Yukon Party in 1993, when we lost the Faro mine and 22 percent of the gross domestic product. At that time, the way they responded - that administration - was to bring in massive tax increases for Yukoners. And they brought in two economic programs in four years: a venture loan guarantee and an energy-infrastructure loans development program. And when we came into government, still no Yukoner had taken advantage of one of those programs. Mr. Speaker, that was their response.
If you look at this budget, from the research and development tax credit, from the Fireweed Fund that we've created to try to encourage local investment in the economy, to the use for the first time of the immigrant investor fund, which we've gone out and marketed, because the Yukon is a good place to invest.
Mr. Speaker, we have seen the ability of this territory to become wired for Internet service. In Eagle Plains, we had one land sale - the first ever in 20 years, when the Yukon Party couldn't get anything off the ground. There was $20 million in investment because the Yukon is a good place to invest.
The Government Leader had meetings with Minto Explorations at the Cordilleran Roundup. They're very much hoping that their copper mine opens this year. Viceroy is buoyed by the fact that gold prices have come off 15-year lows to now hanging around $300 an ounce, which bodes new optimism for them.
Mr. Speaker, we've put in microloan programs. We've trained people all over this territory. We've got over $120 million in capital construction in this budget that's going to create jobs in virtually every sector, from the construction industry to the highway industry across this territory.
Mr. Speaker, it's expected that the -
Speaker:The minister's time has expired.
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Liquor licences for recreational facilities
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation.
Today, I presented a petition with 429 signatures from people who have a problem with the Yukon Liquor Corporation trying to shut down small businesses like golf courses and bowling alleys. The people who have signed the petition want the minister to revoke the new, revised policy guidelines that apply to these places.
Doesn't the minister know that businesses have made long-term spending commitments based on the rules that were already in place? Out of the blue - out of the blue - come some new guidelines that are completely arbitrary. There is no explanation for them and they will have a dramatic, negative economic impact on these businesses.
Doesn't the minister care about small business? Will the minister revoke these revised policy guidelines?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, our government cares about small businesses. We reflect that in our budget from year to year and we have had good feedback from small businesses as to what this government is doing.
I said to the member opposite yesterday that the board of directors - and it is the general public who make up the board - have put out some policies for discussion. They have had reaction to them and have set up meetings to deal with this with the licensees, and I believe that meeting is scheduled for March 17.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, the feedback that the minister is getting today is that there are 429 people out there who disagree. Four hundred and twenty-nine people.
Now, Mr. Speaker, these guidelines were dumped on the business community with a letter written on January 10 of this year. Businesses, many of whom are only open in the summer, were given two weeks to respond. Many of the people I have spoken to didn't even receive the letter.
As one of the holders of a recreational licence said in a letter to the board, "We are totally appalled that a letter of this magnitude could be mailed in such a trivial manner to those so severely affected by its content." And this is the level of understanding that the NDP has of the business world.
Mr. Speaker, the NDP has made a big deal out of its Code of Regulatory Conduct. New rules would not be brought in without a cost-benefit analysis or a study of the economic impacts on those most affected.
Can the minister table that cost-benefit analysis?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I think the member is getting things a little confused. The member knows that there is a board of directors that makes day-to-day decisions for the Liquor Corporation, and we don't handle these administrative decisions; they do. And they can look and do research of interests that are out there with licensees, with the licences, and they do enforce the Liquor Act, and this is one suggestion they brought forward and got feedback on from the general public. So, they didn't walk away from it. What they did do was try to deal with it and set up meetings with the licensee. I told the member opposite that they have set one up and it is scheduled for March 17.
Mrs. Edelman: It sounds like the red-tape reduction and the Code of Regulatory Conduct doesn't seem to apply to boards. Boards are agencies of this government, so are we saying that the Code of Regulatory Conduct does not apply to anything coming from the Yukon Liquor Board, Workers' Compensation Board or the Yukon Housing Board? Because that is certainly the message I'm getting from the minister now. Those boards - those agencies - are responsible to the government and they said, according to the minister's press release, that they were under the Code of Regulatory Conduct.
Now, the Yukon Liquor Corporation has sent out revised policy guidelines to holders of recreational liquor licences - places like the golf course. I'd like to quote from a letter that the Yukon Liquor Corporation Board sent to one of the businesses that will be negatively affected by these policies. It says, "We are unable to give specific reasons on behalf of the board for developing these policies."
This is an open and accountable NDP government. The minister couldn't answer the question yesterday. Does he have an answer today? Why are these policy guidelines being revised? Where did they come from?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: What I said to the member opposite is that the board of directors have been dealing with this issue; it's not something that came out of the blue. They were looking at the recreation licences that are being given out to a more expanded recreation facility, and that is what we responded to. And, they made a suggestion and got feedback and are asking the licensees to sit down and talk with them on this. What is wrong with that? Maybe that's not the Liberal way, but at least the board of directors is taking it out to the licensees and getting feedback.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, appointment of permanent chair
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. The chair of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board resigned seven months ago, and the minister installed one of the board members as an interim chair. Now, there is business to be conducted by the board. There are budgets being struck, and preferably this would be done with a permanent chair in place. What's the holdup on the appointment of a new, permanent chair? When are we going to see the appointment?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, let me say that I do agree with the member opposite that it is important to have a chair in place for the Workers' Compensation Board. Having said that, I also think that the alternate chair was a very competent person and doing a fine job in the interim. The holdup has been in the context of the new Workers' Compensation Act that we've created and having to create - and essentially staff through appointments made by labour and employers - a new appeal tribunal. We have been trying to work through the consultative process with labour and employers. The act requires that I, as minister, consult with business and labour on the appointments of the alternate chair and the chair. I also now have to do it with regard to the alternate chair and chair of the appeal tribunal. So, it has been somewhat complex trying to deal with all the different labour and business organizations, trying to build consensus around a wide array of appointments. I am hoping that in the very near future I can fill that vacancy, which, as I said - and I agree with the member - has to be filled as soon as possible.
Mr. Cable: There hasn't been any direct consultation between the minister and the opposition parties on whether or not he is obliged to do that under the act. There has been no consultation so far on the appointment of the chair - not on the labour reps or the business reps, but on the chair.
In order to avoid any rancour on the appointment, will the minister commit to the opposition to consult with the opposition and, hopefully, get some consensus on the choice of the new chairperson?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The requirement is very clearly laid out in the act. I never even had the member raise this particular issue when we were just debating the change all last session - major structural changes to the Workers' Compensation Act. I would say, though, that I caution him with regard to his approach, because the system is not owned by the members of this Legislature and political parties through a partisan appointment process. It is owned by business and labour, and that is why the act requires and puts forward provisions for consultation with workers and with business to make the appointments. I think that's an appropriate forum, rather than through a partisan appointment process that the member now seems to be advocating.
Mr. Cable: I'm certainly not advocating a partisan process. What I'm advocating is some sort of contact with the opposition. We all have an interest in making sure that there's a neutral chair, and the input from the opposition just might be useful.
Now, the appeal tribunal that the minister is about to set up, under the amendments that we passed last fall, is going to be composed of a number of representatives from business and from labour and, assumedly, they will need some training. Is the minister going to provide that training through the Department of Justice, or is the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board going to provide that training, or is there going to be any training at all?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'm having a bit of trouble with the member's logic. He says that he's not advocating a partisan process, but he wants his party to be involved in the process. Mr. Speaker, I would argue that that is advocating a partisan process.
What I'm saying is the system is owned by labour and by business. They are putting forward nominees for the representatives they want on the board. I think it's in the best interest of the citizens to leave it that way.
With regard to his second point - training surrounding the appeal board - yes, the new appeal board members will receive training, and I think that's a very important question that the member raises. It's something that we need to ensure so that the people involved can properly handle the important appellant function that they're now going to be handling on behalf of business and labour in this territory.
So, we will be ensuring that there is training.
With regard to the details as to whether it'll be the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board sort of administratively organizing the training, or the appeal board itself, I think more than likely it should be the appeal board that's directing how they want to be trained, so it maintains some arm's length from the workers' compensation organization.
Question re: Connect Yukon, rural telephone service
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Minister of Government Services.
On October 20, 1999, just five days before the by-election in Lake Laberge, the minister, with considerable fanfare, announced the $18-million project to plug Yukoners into the world. The minister promised a public/private partnership to bring high-speed Internet access and better telephone service to all Yukoners.
I emphasize the word "all", because, by December, after the by-election, the minister sent a letter to rural property owners with the political rhetoric toned down considerably. "All Yukoners" became a majority of Yukoners without service today. They were going to have an opportunity to obtain service within two years. Now, there is hardly a mention of this initiative, currently, in the budget tabled yesterday. It appears that the minister has probably pulled the plug.
I would like the minister to explain what is happening with this initiative. Has he concluded an agreement with Northwestel? What will be the cost of this initiative?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, somebody should hang up on that member right now. As I can tell the member, I don't know where he was yesterday when the Government Leader read the budget speech, because there was reference to Connect Yukon.
There has been some change in the nature of Connect Yukon - largely driven by the CRTC decision. That has changed, to some degree, the time frame. It has also changed, to some degree, the onus on Northwestel, in this case, to deliver service to all unserved areas.
When I talk about the time frame, the CRTC decision has clearly put the onus on serving certain areas first, done by population. It has also reinforced the idea that, what we had originally put out - $1,000 being the lot owner's contribution - was an acceptable figure. So, the program is still on. It has undergone some modifications because of the CRTC decision.
A letter is going out to individuals very shortly, informing them of the impact of the CRTC decision, and what the impact of that will be on them.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister knew full well that CRTC was the regulatory agency for these types of initiatives, and I'm sure the minister and his department officials knew full well that this type of initiative required the concurrence of CRTC before it could proceed. Why was that concurrence not obtained and CRTC's opinion established before the minister went ahead with this grandiose initiative?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think, as I pointed out to the Legislature some time ago, we've had a number of false starts in the CRTC, a number of expectations of particular dates. We had put off our project on this several times. We made a decision. We have made representation to the CRTC. The CRTC decision seems very compatible with what our aims are. We've had discussions with Northwestel on this, and we're prepared to go ahead.
I think one of the things that has been a positive impact out of the CRTC decision is that this will largely remove the requirement for a vote in a particular serving area, because the clear direction to the CRTC is that all individuals who want the phone service will receive the phone service. That was a concern that was raised with us - about people who might not want a telephone in their area and were concerned that they might have to take the phone service if there was a vote that required that.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what we have, in effect, is a premature announcement by this minister and his department just for election purposes. That's all.
Mr. Speaker, in the last conversation I had with the president of Northwestel, he indicated clearly to me that Northwestel was looking for $68-million worth of capital to provide the service that the north required. Just what is the figure that we're looking at? The budget mentioned a small amount of money. The minister has mentioned $18 million. Just what kind of money are we looking at here in the Yukon, and how is it going to go into the asset base of Northwestel?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The only thing premature, I think, is that member's comments. The figure still remains the same; the $68 million that I believe the president of Northwestel is making reference to is what is expected out of the high-cost serving area, which also includes a rate subsidy, to bring down long-distance tariff rates.
So I think the member is putting up a smokescreen. We have no intention of putting up $68 million. Our budget commitment is still the same. We are going together with Northwestel not only on the phone component but on the high-speed Internet and data transmission, which apparently - despite his protests - he doesn't believe it's necessary, although I understand that he was the person who nattered on for quite awhile about analog versus digital and the pitiful service up the north highway. We're actually taking some steps to do something about it, and now he has changed his mind.
Question re: Teslin Community Correctional Centre closure
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Justice, and it's a question about the closing of another failed NDP project, the Teslin jail.
Mr. Speaker, I understand the Deputy Minister of Justice was recently in Teslin to advise the staff that the facility would be closed at the end of March. Can the minister confirm this information, and advise the House as to what is going to become of the staff whose livelihood will be dramatically affected by the closure?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, first of all let me say to the member opposite that he's completely wrong. The temporary closure of the Teslin Community Correctional Centre is not a failed NDP project. The temporary closure of the Teslin Community Correctional Centre is necessary only because there are not enough inmates to fill the facility.
The crime rates are down. The minimum security offenders are not being sentenced to jail time. Minimum security offenders are being sentenced to community service, and there are alternative measures in dealing with offenders that are successful.
I can confirm for the member that I was in Teslin on Friday to speak to the staff about our plans for the future.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, the person who is wrong in this case is the Minister of Justice. The Teslin facility was never full, probably never even half full. And for the last two or three years, it has only had three or four inmates in it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Yes, the Member for Faro said that I was the minister. That is correct. We were trying to make the best of a very bad project that never ever had anyone in it, Mr. Speaker, and at the pleading of the Teslin chief of the time and others in Teslin who asked us to keep the facility open. The minister from Teslin now is one of the people who asked us to keep the facility open: "Please, try and find something else for it. Try and do something about it." We said that this is a terrible NDP project, and we're stuck with it. We're tying to solve the problem. And now, four years later, the government has finally decided to mothball a bad idea.
Mr. Speaker, previously the minister indicated that discussions about the future of the Teslin jail were being held by the Teslin First Nation. Can the minister provide us a status report on where we're at with the Teslin First Nation? Are they going to take over the facility? What are we going to do with the facility once it's closed?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, the Yukon Party critic has just stood there on his feet and confirmed that they have no commitment to the community of Teslin. The Yukon Party critic just stood there and confirmed that they have no commitment to the principle of community corrections and to managing offenders within the community.
Mr. Speaker, we have been working with Teslin. We have a working group which includes representatives from the Teslin Tlingit Council, the corrections staff, the Village of Teslin and affected government departments. We are keeping the facility open until March 31. We hope to be able to avoid any layoffs. We're working with the staff in developing a human resources plan, and we're working with the community in developing plans for the future, as I indicated to that member when he had questions on this subject in previous sessions.
Mr. Phillips: The only thing the minister has proven here today is that she can read her briefing notes.
Mr. Speaker, in the last budget tabled yesterday, $1 million was set aside to plan for a Whitehorse correctional replacement. A previous NDP minister, who built the Teslin facility, said, "I will not build a jail. I will have some kind of secure facility without bars, cells and electric fences." This type of thinking led, Mr. Speaker, to the construction of the Teslin jail and led to the problems that we're facing here today.
I'd like to ask the minister what the intentions of this minister and this government are to replace the Whitehorse jail. Are we looking at building a replacement for the Whitehorse jail, or are we looking at going down the road we went down before in building a series of facilities like the Teslin facility that just has never worked?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, again the critic opposite is making it clear that he doesn't support any alternatives, and I think he's going to discover that the public does not accept his point of view.
Mr. Speaker, if that member wants to know what our commitment is to replacing the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, he should open his ears and listen when we present our budgets in this Legislature. We have, in the current-year budget estimates before the House, $1 million in capital expenditures for design work for replacement of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. That facility is more than 30 years old, and it needs to be replaced.
We are interested in supporting alternatives that offer better programs for inmates so that they have literacy skills, so that they have vocational skills, so that they can come out of a period of incarceration and be productive members of society.
We have put in our budget a multi-year commitment for replacing Whitehorse Correctional Centre, and that is a firm commitment of this government. We need to do it, and we will do it.
Question re: Liquor Act review
Mrs. Edelman: Yesterday in this House, the minister said, "We have made no commitment to review the Liquor Act in this mandate." This is the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation.
Now let's go back to December 11, 1996 - day four of this NDP government in the Legislature. This is what the minister said, "We have had talks with the president of the Yukon Liquor Corporation and had direction from the people to do some type of review of this act. We would like to have a look at it internally before we do a bigger, public review of it."
And on May 13, 1997, it was restated again. He said, "The act now requires comprehensive review to ensure that it remains current in response to changing trends and public concerns." That was then; this is now.
That was a commitment to a public review of the Liquor Act. Why is the minister now denying this very public commitment to a review of the Liquor Act, and is instead making only arbitrary changes to the regulations and guidelines?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Throughout government, we have acts in every department and, if we are not making and doing major reviews to them, it doesn't mean that we stop working with the public with those acts.
We've directed the Liquor Corporation to go out and listen to the views of Yukoners, meet directly with them - the board of directors, which they've never done before, go into the communities and listen to what they have to say. And maybe some changes don't have to be in the act, that the communities want. And I know for a fact that the Liquor Corporation has worked with some communities to see how they can improve situations in the communities without going through the act, but just by making some simple suggestions.
We're not going to be doing a major review of this act. I've said that we will look at it internally, and we've given the board of directors that direction, to go out and listen to the views of people from all corners of the Yukon. And they've been up to Old Crow, down to Watson Lake, and they still have a couple of communities to go.
Mrs. Edelman: The reality, Mr. Speaker, is that minister stood in this House twice and said that he would do a comprehensive review of the act, and instead what he has done is monkey around with parts of the guidelines and the regulations.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to quote from a letter that the Yukon Liquor Corporation Board has received about one of those arbitrary changes to policy guidelines for recreational licensees. "We are in fact a million-dollar operation, do a lot of local purchasing and supply a great many local jobs. We would appreciate an opportunity to sit down and discuss any and all matters with the board."
This should have been done from the start. Instead, only after a great deal of public criticism and a mountain of negative letters, the NDP agrees to consult with the people. This is the way the NDP treats the business community - businesses hanging on in a very poor economy - and it is another fine example of NDP consultation.
Can the minister tell the public why the NDP only agreed to consult after a public outcry?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, first of all, Mr. Speaker, the member knows that that letter is to the board of directors, and they are handling this issue. They got feedback from the licensees and so on, and set up and scheduled a meeting with them on March 17. That's what we said. I mean, how simple can it get?
We have gone to the communities and done extensive consultation on many different things within our government. The Liberal Party knows that. The public, actually, is bombarded with a lot of departments coming into the communities and asking for their input. So, we are following the policies that we laid out as an NDP government. We are taking it to the people. The board of directors are doing it. I have confidence in the board of directors in carrying out that consultation with the licensees.
The people that make up the board are from the general public. It is a very good board. I have full confidence that they will make the right decision and go and talk to the licensees.
Mrs. Edelman: Say one thing; do another. Let's do a review of the act. I didn't really say that. Well, he did.
Mr. Speaker, what's next? Can Yukon businesses continue to look forward to being consulted after the decisions are already made? Can Yukon businesses look forward to ad hoc new policies coming out every few months that drastically change the way they do business?
Mr. Speaker, the Code of Regulatory Conduct was supposed to reduce red tape and help Yukon businesses. Can the minister stand in this House today and reassure local businesses that at least the Yukon Liquor Corporation will consult with businesses before they start creating new guidelines and that they will at least consider the impact that these changes will have on these local businesses?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, thank goodness for written out questions, because the member has not listened to the answers. I said that the board of directors has set up and scheduled a meeting with the licensees.
Mr. Speaker, I was just handed a letter from the Chamber of Commerce, who congratulates this government on its efforts to cut red tape. Businesses are looking at us and recognizing the fact that we are out there cutting red tape. The board of directors has told me that they have set up a meeting with the licensees, and I think it is the right thing to do.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I'd like to identify the items standing in the name of the official opposition to be called on Wednesday, February 23, 2000. They are Motion No. 202, standing in the name of the leader of the official opposition, and Motion No. 205, standing in the name of the Member for Riverdale South.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: Government bills.
Bill No. 99: Second Reading - adjourned debate
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 99, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. McDonald; adjourned debate, Ms. Duncan.
Ms. Duncan: It's my privilege to stand before Yukoners today as leader of the official opposition and respond to the last budget in the closing months of this NDP government.
There will be plenty of time in the coming days of this session to discuss the specific initiatives in this budget, and the Liberal caucus is prepared to applaud some of the expenditures and to question, in great detail, the wisdom of some of the other expenditures.
This questioning will bring into sharp and clear focus a picture of how your money has been spent and will be spent under an NDP government.
The Budget Address yesterday is the big picture, the sum of many expenditures and revenues, and it presents an overall financial snapshot of the government.
How have the NDP chosen to present our financial picture? We can accuse them of using bright, Harrison-like bold colours, and they can accuse the official opposition - as they no doubt will - of using dull browns and greys. The fact is, since 1996 when this government took office, there has been a lot of red ink in the NDP budgets. There have been four budgets all with deficits, Mr. Speaker - deficits of $10 million, $8 million, $21 million and, this year, a $27-million deficit.
And just for old times' sake, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to remind voters of how the NDP government deals with budgets. Let's go back to 1995, when the NDP was in opposition.
It was producing a newsletter called the State of Affairs. In the December 1995 edition, Mr. Speaker, it said, "Here's the plan.
"Balanced budget legislation proposed by New Democrat opposition leader Piers McDonald would require the government of the day to do the following things: present balanced budgets to the elected representatives of the Legislative Assembly."
How times change. Fast forward to 2000; we now even have a motion on the Order Paper from the now Government Leader - the Member for McIntyre-Takhini - saying that, now that the NDP is in office, here's a new policy - now it's okay to run deficit budgets year after year after year.
Yukon households, when they can - and unfortunately there has been precious little opportunity to do so - save some money. It's a little bit everyone tries to set aside after the bills and the mortgage is paid, and a little bit's in the RRSP. People like to have a rainy-day fund. Money is saved, set aside for that major project, a special purchase.
Painted in the big picture of government, the NDP since taking office - especially in the last year - have spent most of that, and that concerns us; most of that savings account, and it's a concern.
As of March 31, 1999, the accumulated surplus: $80 million. As of March 31, 2001, the accumulated surplus is estimated to be $13.6 million.
The Government of Yukon has recently achieved a long-awaited wage settlement with Yukon government employees. The additional expenditures not reflected in the figures are $3.9 million this year.
Another expenditure not reflected is the anticipated settlement with Yukon's professional educators.
There are two sides to any financial picture, no matter how you choose to colour it: revenue and expense, assets and liabilities.
The NDP government has reduced the surplus, there are more expenditures than noted and the revenue side has been reduced. The much-discussed tax cut is one basis point this year, about two percent. The reduction in revenue is $750,000. What does it mean to the average Yukoner earning about $45,000? A tank of gas. To a single mom or dad, depending on where you shop, which Yukon community you live in, it is one or two packages of disposable diapers. For a Yukon Quest musher lucky enough to earn $45,000 in the non-mushing season, it would buy a little dog food. Not much, Mr. Speaker, but it's a start. The real benefit of the tax cut will be felt by Yukoners after the election.
Another reduction in our revenues is a direct result of NDP economic mismanagement. Our transfer payment from Ottawa has been reduced in this budget by $5 million. Why has that gone down? Because 3,000 people have left the Yukon for Alberta and points south, looking for work. Now, Mr. Speaker, the NDP government, with this budget, is basically paying the gas for people to leave our territory and look for work. Our future revenues will reflect it. Why did they leave? It's the economy, Mr. Speaker. We've been saying that over and over in this House. It's the economy and it's uncertainty.
Mr. Speaker, there are four issues of uncertainty in the Yukon. There are four main issues that create a great deal of economic uncertainty, and all are issues the Yukon government could change for the better if there was some political will exerted to do so. They are: the completion of land claims, DAP, fixing the protected areas strategy and a change in attitude.
Let's start with land claims. In the first budget speech of this NDP government, in 1997, there was a great deal of space devoted to the settlement of land claims. This was, after all, the NDP's number one priority. Page seven, page 10 - whole pages on settling land claims. Yesterday, on the second last page of the budget speech, page 38, there is finally a mention of the land claims process - finally.
Unfortunately for all Yukoners, it doesn't appear that the settlement of claims is still the number one priority of this government. If it were, all issues between the First Nations and the Yukon government would be settled.
Yesterday, in Question Period, I asked the Government Leader about the lack of progress that this government had made on land claims. This is another issue where the NDP made a lot of promises and has not delivered. They have said one thing and done another. The Minister of Economic Development has rather an infamous letter in the local papers complaining about some bad press he had received from the Fraser Institute. He said that "... all land claims issues pertaining to the Yukon government have been resolved..." A few weeks later, another letter appeared in the paper. This one was from the Chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation. The chief had this to say, and again, Mr. Speaker, it is a direct quote: "The Carcross-Tagish First Nation strongly disagrees with Mr. Harding's assertion that all matter relating to the territorial government have been resolved." The chief went on to say, "This statement is misleading and inaccurate, since many matters under the jurisdiction of the Yukon government are outstanding at the Carcross-Tagish First Nation negotiation table. For instance, The bulk of outstanding land matters are discussions between the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and the Yukon government."
Now, everyone knows - and the Government Leader restated it yesterday - that there are outstanding issues between the federal government and the First Nations. The Member for Faro would like Yukoners to believe that there are no issues left for the Yukon to resolve. As the chief from Carcross pointed out, that is not the case.
We have consistently urged the government to keep land claims at the top of the list. Surely, in almost four years, issues around land selection and other land matters could be dealt with. Unfortunately, with the NDP refusing to keep it as a top priority, these issues remain unresolved.
There are four issues of uncertainty in the Yukon. The land claims process - one of them - receives short shrift in this budget. It does, however, fair better than the development assessment process, or DAP, which is not mentioned at all.
Back in 1997, DAP was featured quite prominently in the budget. The DAP commission was created, and $250,000 later, there's no DAP legislation. In this new budget speech, there's not even a mention of the issue that, again, was such a priority that it warranted a commission of its own. The strategy here seems to be that if we ignore it, maybe no one will notice that we failed to complete this task. Promises made, promises broken.
It's another issue where the NDP made a lot of promises and has not delivered; they said one thing and have done another. As land claims and devolution and DAP creep along, Yukoners live with uncertainty - uncertainty over the ownership of land, uncertainty over what rules will be in place, and uncertainty over what our environmental regulations will be by the time a mine gets into production. And it's this uncertainty that drains our economy.
A third item - one that's mentioned in this budget speech - is the protected areas strategy. Yukoners support protecting special places, as does our caucus. The problem so far is that the NDP government has been unwilling to follow the process that was agreed upon. NDP Cabinet ministers and the Government Leader have all said this publicly.
We asked the NDP government to recall the public committee that put the strategy together. Unfortunately, like other items, it was a non-answer that we received in this Legislature to that request.
The public committee, we believe, would be asked to do two things. First, examine the guidelines for mineral and economic assessments that have to be performed before land is set aside, not budgeted for after the fact, so that we all know what's being protected. And secondly, it must outline what the legislation for protected areas will look like. Now, the public has no recourse when the government breaks a policy. There are penalties when the law is broken.
Instead of this decisive action, what do we get? In the budget speech yesterday, there was a vague promise that the government was reviewing the processes in the protected areas strategy to make sure they address the needs of all affected interests. Better late than never, Mr. Speaker.
I know most Yukoners would have thought that that was going to happen when the first protected area was established. It did not. Again, promises made, promises broken. The NDP said one thing and they did another.
As part of the first protected area, the NDP promised complete mineral assessments. This did not occur. The Chamber of Mines has officially pulled its support for the protected areas process. They have lost confidence in the government's ability to keep its word. A process that was agreed to by all Yukoners was set up for establishing protected areas and, at the earliest opportunity, the NDP government reneged on its promise.
In the budget before us, there is one step in the right direction with regard to a protected areas strategy. There is $260,000 for resource assessments. There is also $260,000 for park system planning. We can only hope, and certainly we will be asking questions in the coming days, that the government does a better job in round 2.
It's interesting to note that, while the protected areas strategy merits an entire page in the Government Leader's budget address, the Yukon mineral strategy receives one line and no money.
We need balance in planning for the future of our territory, for the good of the environment and for the benefit of the mining community.
I think the fact that, for two years in a row, the NDP continues to fund the protected areas strategy and not a dime for the Yukon mineral strategy shows that this government doesn't know where that balance is. We need fairly developed rules, and we need a government that is willing to follow the rules that are agreed upon. Living by agreed-upon rules, certainty is one part of the solution of improving the Yukon economy. It is certainly one that I heard over and over and over again at the Cordilleran. We also need a commitment that the mineral strategy is as important as the protected areas strategy. So far, that is not happening, and, under the NDP, it is clear it is not going to happen.
The fourth item that I would like to cover - again one that is not covered in the budget - is the attitude of this government toward the business community. It is easy to sum up, and we witnessed it again in Question Period today. They just don't get it. When you have the Minister of Renewable Resources saying to the mining companies, "You can explore, but if you find anything we won't let you proceed to mining because we have a problem in the Yukon." The government has done nothing to improve confidence in the three months since that comment was made, and there is nothing in the budget that does that either.
All these items could be influenced by the Yukon government. The government has failed miserably at all four tasks and is now at the end of the line, reaching out to find other parties and other people and other governments to blame.
The price to pay for not improving the economy is in the numbers - not just the revised number of Yukoners able to vote in the coming election, but in the revenue side of the Yukon financial picture. We've seen it already in reduced transfer payments. The picture is becoming crystal clear.
A clearer part of the picture is how the NDP governed its spending of the resources. The Government Leader spoke yesterday about people. An increase in social assistance is about people.
We applaud the government, which has seen fit to raise social assistance rates for the first time in almost 10 years. Why did it take until the fourth year of their mandate to do this? If it was the right thing to do, which we believe it was, why did it take so long?
Our caucus has repeatedly raised the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome in this Legislature. We supported the mandatory reporting introduced by the NDP. We want to examine in detail the funding resources allocated to support the mandatory reporting program and the follow-up.
Our caucus was pleased the NDP heard when the medical community requested a CAT scanner for the hospital. We are pleased that the NDP finally heard the need for a new gym floor at Vanier school. It's unfortunate that it seems to take a great deal of public criticism before this government does what's right. Until the NDP actually hears and reads it in the local papers, it just doesn't seem important.
We're pleased that they heard the need to at least begin planning to safely accommodate those incarcerated at the Whitehorse correctional institute. Our caucus actively supports the reading recovery and food for learning programs. We support healthy communities and note a number of government expenditures with regard to the most basic of human needs - dealing with sewage treatment throughout the Yukon.
There are a number of Yukon communities where this remains an issue, and long-term planning, working with Yukon communities on this particular subject, is not reflected fully in the budget. For example, there is funding to improve the airport at Old Crow, in your riding, Mr. Speaker, which is necessary. There is also money for a bus. What about the eduction truck and the water delivery system? That's just Old Crow. What about the sewage and water systems in Ross River, Carmacks and the growing community of Marsh Lake?
We need a long-range, clear financial plan for dealing with our waste and sewage in these communities. During their four years in office, the NDP has not developed this plan. They have instead spent money on doing an analysis on butterfly populations on Keno Hill. So much for priorities, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I described this final set of expenditures yesterday as a desperation budget. It's the NDP trying to buy people's support with their own tax dollars. It's the NDP playing catch-up for four years of poor fiscal management with this final, desperate budget.
We see that in pet projects for interest groups and the funding for projects in all the communities, whether they ask for it or not. Spread the wealth around in the final year; hope that no one will notice that for the first three years that wasn't the case. There is a little bit of vote buying in every riding in this budget save one, Mr. Speaker, and that's Watson Lake. All members of this Legislature will remember in 1997-98 when the NDP tried to over estimate the amount of money that was going to Watson Lake by including all the highway projects that were nowhere near that town. A little NDP math, Mr. Speaker.
Of course, the people in Watson were not fooled and they did something about it. Led by the mayor and council, they managed to get some money from this government for capital projects such as the new rec centre and the town office.
This year there is $179,000 in capital for Watson Lake, and half of it is for a bridge on the Nahanni Range road. I can only imagine the reasoning for this, as I'm sure others can.
There are specific initiatives that we like in this budget, and as I said, Mr. Speaker, certainly we'll be discussing each of these budget expenditures in great detail.
The response today is about the big picture - the overall financial picture. The NDP government has spent a great deal of money - it has been a lot of red ink. They have spent it without dealing with the key element of our economy - the foundation: certainty. They have failed to inspire confidence in their ability to manage the Yukon economy.
They have failed to encourage support from this side of the House.
There are a couple of odds and ends that I would like to make sure I mention before I conclude, Mr. Speaker. Despite the government's continual crowing about their support for heritage, the heritage O&M budget continues to be reduced. It was slashed by about 10 percent this year, the capital by about 16 percent. The numbers don't match the rhetoric.
I should also point out, Mr. Speaker, that this is the largest budget ever tabled by a Yukon government. Under the NDP, the size of government continues to grow. It is the largest operation and maintenance ever.
Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader made a number of references to the balanced agenda of the NDP. Two examples that prove that the agenda is unbalanced and the priorities questionable: $500,000 for protected areas, and zero for the mineral strategy; $750,000 dollars for a multi-million dollar company to develop a mall in downtown Whitehorse, and $125,000 to help single mothers deal with custody and maintenance issues through the legal aid office. Those are the priorities reflected in the budget of the NDP government.
I'm concerned with the direction the NDP government is taking with the Yukon government's finances. They have taken an $80-million surplus and spent it down to $13 million. The budget doesn't deal with a number of issues relating to uncertainty over economic development, including land claims and DAP. Again, there are a number of specific initiatives that we like, and I've addressed some of those today. I've also noted that we will be discussing those in more detail.
Budgets are about more than just numbers and lines on a sheet of paper. They are a measure of confidence in the government's ability to manage the public's affairs. Talking to Yukoners and listening to Yukoners at swimming lessons, at the grocery store and at the car wash, there is no confidence out there in the NDP government's ability to manage our tax dollars.
We share this view. We have no confidence in the government's ability to manage the economy based on the last four years. Why would we? Yukoners are happy that this is the last budget of the NDP's mandate. Yukoners are not inspired by this budget, this desperation budget, and most of all it has failed to inspire confidence in the Liberal caucus.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to respond to this budget that our government has put forward. It's clear from the speech that I just listened to that the Liberals, who have a track record in this Legislature of voting with the Yukon Party conservatives when they were the government, will again be allying themselves with the conservative element of the territory, the Yukon Party, on voting against this budget.
Mr. Speaker, I want to take a few minutes to rebut some of the information that is completely inaccurate put forward by the member opposite. First of all, the member says that this government has been swimming in red ink. Well, that is completely not the case. The only government swimming in red ink is the Liberal government in Ottawa who has just lost $1 billion, and she has us confused with them. This government has quite a different track record. We said to the public of the Yukon that we would pay as we go, and, Mr. Speaker, we have. We've consistently maintained a bank account and a savings account for Yukoners so that the Yukon isn't in the trouble of the Northwest Territories or the trouble that the mismanagers of the public purse, their Liberal cousins in Ottawa, are in.
Mr. Speaker, we have consistently invested in Yukon projects and people, and we have drawn down surpluses because we have lost the Faro mine and put that money into capital projects to create jobs and into health care and into education and into training for Yukoners.
Look at the spending demands that we get from the Liberals every day in this House. Look at their campaign promises. There has not even been an election called and already they are promising to build Grey Mountain Primary School, and to put all kinds of money into just about everything under the sun. We have maintained a long-term projection outlook in our spending patterns, and if you look at what we said we were going to do, we have done it.
The member opposite says that there are more expenditures that have been announced than are covered in this budget. That is absolutely not the case. Has she not noticed the contingency fund in the budget that is built into that to deal with such things such as the negotiations with the Yukon Teachers Association? She marginalizes the tax reductions that we have brought forward. I want to tell her that by January 2001, there will be an eight-percent reduction in personal income tax for every Yukoner. That is reflected in the budget for each fiscal year - that has been built in.
You know, Mr. Speaker, it is really amusing listening to the Liberal leader, who stood up in a Chamber of Commerce forum not too long ago and said she wouldn't make any commitments - wouldn't say anything about what she would do on taxes - because she wanted to check out the books, yet she can confidently stand up this morning, in this House, and say that we should have cut taxes more. What a flip-flop. Mr. Speaker, it is Jane Stewart economics. She has been watching the hon. Jane Stewart dealing with the HRDC funds, and she is taking her watch from that.
Then, Mr. Speaker, we have the tax guru sitting beside her, her colleague on the right there - the leader of the Yukon Party - and of course he is now revising history. He is the big tax cutter. Well, the born-again tax cutter has a real problem with credibility on the tax issue and that is because his legacy is that he brought in the largest tax increases in Yukon history.
And, you know, Mr. Speaker, in the 1993 election campaign - in 1992 - he told people that it was obscene if the NDP would have raised taxes prior to that in their government. That was then. In 1993-94, he brought in tax increases right across the board for small business, took money out of everyone's pocket. And now, he says, "Ah, the NDP, 12 percent, that's not good enough." He would have done more. Mr. Speaker, nobody believes him. Nobody believes the Liberal member who tells the Chamber of Commerce that she can't commit to tax reduction and then says that we should have reduced more.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Oh, the conservative party leader, the third party leader, is thumping his chest over there saying, "Drop the writ." The superhuman leader of the third party, who used to be in the official opposition, who used to be in the government, who's regressing, is challenging us to drop the writ.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding:Yes, he's an expert in how chairs change.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader talked about the population of the territory. Let me say to her that the population of the territory has not dropped 3,000, as she claims. And, according to the short-term economic outlook, which we table every year, it is showing for this year - as opposed to the other years when the Faro mine went down, the last three years - a projected increase in the population. It's also showing that there will be an increase in the workforce. The truth doesn't bear out the political rhetoric of the members opposite.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader talked about the situation regarding land claims. Well, I can say to the member opposite that the issues that will break the back of this land claim are not in the territorial domain. They rest with her cousins, the Liberals in Ottawa, and they revolve around two specific and fundamental issues that have been identified by the First Nation, and they are the loan repayment and the tax provisions in the UFA.
Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that, as it was announced with regard to the LFN claim, and with many of the claims, the substantive major issues that affect this territory have been resolved, but we can't get a deal without the federal Liberal government striking a deal on the other issues. Mr. Speaker, that will bring certainty. So I urge her not to lecture us, but to lecture her colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the development assessment process - again, federal legislation which she tries to blame us for - when we came into government, the Liberal government had DAP legislation ready, and the Yukon Party leader agreed - he said it was all done and should be implemented. We prevented big brother Liberals in Ottawa from foisting DAP upon this territory, and we've taken the position that it shouldn't come forward until it's done properly. So Mr. Speaker, again, don't blame this government for the Liberal government in Ottawa.
Mr. Speaker, the protected areas strategy - very tough, very tough issues. Land use issues are always tough. The Liberals say, "Well, let's play nice - and neat-o Guido, if we were in government, we'd just be nice to everybody and have an arbitrator come in and resolve all these issues for us."
Mr. Speaker, that's not how the real world works. What we're trying to do is work through a very complex, aggressive environmental agenda, in an environment where the mining industry right across this country and the world has faced terrible factors affecting its ability worldwide to attract investment.
High-risk capital is not flowing into junior mining companies; it's flowing into technology stocks, like QUALCOMM and Research in Motion, and all kinds of high fliers that are attracting venture capital - not into the problems that Bre-X brought.
And the member opposite, who can't face up to that - I mean, if you talk to 300, 400, 500 junior mining companies, it doesn't matter how many, they'll tell you that has crippled their industry.
The Vancouver Stock Exchange lost 50 percent of its value, based on Bre-X alone. Why? Because capital ran away - $7 billion was lost by investors.
Mr. Speaker, we're working with YPAS to iron out some of the issues that have been identified in the process, and we intend to work with the stakeholders to see that through.
With regard to the attitude of this government, we have received kudos from business and labour for the consultative nature of our budgets. Every budget we put forward is called an election budget by the opposition. It's quite a compliment, because it means it must be good and it must mean that we are trying to impress the voters. Well, Mr. Speaker, the voters are our constituents, and of course we are trying to impress them.
Mr. Speaker, we put forward in this budget a complex spending pattern. It is a very difficult balance. It is one that decreases taxes, increases health care funding, increases funding for education and training, and increases social assistance rates for the most unfortunate and poorest of our society. Mr. Speaker, that is tough to do. We didn't do what Ontario or Alberta did, where they hacked and slashed health care and education. We have actually increased the funding. A new report came out that ranks the Yukon as having the highest per pupil expenditures in the entire country. This was in an independent report on education funding. It was done all across North America. Mr. Speaker, we are very proud of that.
The Liberal leader, in her speech, took a shot at the government over the rising cost in O&M in Tourism. Mr. Speaker, that's an increase in tourism marketing dollars. So obviously, Mr. Speaker, she is going to vote against the increase in tourism marketing dollars, once again.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the mineral strategy in mining, does she not recognize that the exploration tax credit that we brought forward - 22 percent with a two-year commitment - is a part of that strategy? She said that we need to get better rules for mining, again, like DAP and like land claims. Is mining not a federal Liberal government responsibility? Do they not have jurisdiction for the regulatory function? Do they not have jurisdiction for the mine permitting? Absolutely.
Mr. Speaker, it has been this Yukon NDP government that has led the charge on trying to implement the blue-book process, which is designed to try and improve the mine permitting process. We actually had to pay for the contractors to get the federal government kick-started to do it.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader said we took too long to raise social assistance rates. Not once did we ever hear them, in this House, come forward asking us to raise social assistance rates. All of a sudden, it's their big agenda item. How interesting it is that a budget brings out so many new positions from the Liberals.
It's interesting - the Liberal leader is heckling that the blame game hasn't changed. Well, Mr. Speaker, I just can't take responsibility and our government can't take responsibility for the federal government, which controls mining; for the federal government, which is a major player on the two most substantive issues at the land claims table; for the federal government, which controls development assessment legislation, and which will bring it forward in the Parliament.
What we have tried to do, Mr. Speaker, is be constructive players, to bring forward bills, legislation and policies through the federal government, in the areas that they control, to influence. But, ultimately, it's their responsibility, and frankly we haven't been able to influence the Liberals as much as we would have liked, because they don't seem concerned about the Yukon economy as much as I'd like to see.
Mr. Speaker, they were very concerned about the National Hockey League and the plight of the NHL owners and the poor players, and they were prepared to delve into bailing them out, but I surely wish we could get that attention for the Yukon economy from the federal government, which still controls so many levers here.
Mr. Speaker, that's the case in so many areas with the Liberals. They say one thing and do another, whether it's the GST, the national childcare program, protecting the CBC or opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement. There are so many aspects of their broken legacy of promises.
Mr. Speaker, it's the same in the Yukon with mining and forestry.
Mr. Speaker, when we first came out talking about this budget, the Liberals said that the Yukon government was going to buy votes with a massive capital program. We said we were going to stay within our spending commitments that we put forward in our long-term plans. Well, that's exactly what we did. So they had to come up with a new line, something about gas tanks in Alberta, even though the outlook shows that the population's going to increase here, there's going to be more jobs, more economic activity, and, Mr. Speaker, they would not commit to reducing taxes at all.
Now, they're supporting bigger tax increases, debt tax decreases.
Mr. Speaker, this budget is loaded with new initiatives. We brought in eight new tax credit initiatives, from small business to mineral exploration, to research and development, to support for low-income families through a tax credit. We have created a Fireweed Fund for labour-sponsored venture capital. We have created an immigrant investor fund that's helping to run the Connect Yukon project to wire the entire territory. We have brought forward expenditure proposals for the Alaska Highway natural gas transportation system to try and ensure that we're out actively promoting and working with the technical issues that are identified through that route.
Mr. Speaker, we put forward spending proposals that dramatically increase tourism marketing in new regions - the Campbell region around Ross and Faro, and the Asia-Pacific region will be a focus of this government. The numbers continue to increase dramatically.
We have put forward $120 million in capital expenditure plans in highway and building construction. It's going to be a very busy year for the territory. The economic outlook that we tabled by our economists shows slow, steady growth in a wide range of industries, some that didn't even exist under the Yukon Party government, like oil and gas, and support for cultural industries.
Mr. Speaker, we have expanded the airport. We're investing in port facilities so that the Yukon is not land-locked well into the future. We have taken bold new action in trying to support municipalities, increasing their ability to be economic players in this territory.
We're investing heavily in roadwork. And what do we get from the opposition? Consistently, nothing but criticism. Very little in the way of ideas come forward. We've even had the Liberal leader tell the public that she didn't have to lay out any of her thoughts or plans until the next election.
Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a little bit about my riding. We have gone through some very tough times with the loss of the Faro mine. It has been difficult for people in that community, and the last few weeks have been no exception with the loss of a couple of citizens in the community. And I want to say that I am proud of the way that people there are responding to the hardship that they have faced, and I'm also proud of the way that people there stick together as a community to try and move through this tough time.
Mr. Speaker, against the opposition of Liberals and the Yukon Party, we have ensured that there is an appropriate process for electoral reform. We didn't rush in, like the Yukon Party and the Liberals wanted to, to ensure that the Faro riding was eliminated, so that the people there would have a much more reduced and watered-down voice in territorial politics. We didn't count the Faro mine out, like they did. The Yukon New Democrats have stuck with Faro through thick and thin, good times and bad, and I'm proud of that record. And in this budget, we've put forward one that I think will gain some respect for my constituents, both with the reduction in personal income taxes - they're going to see an eight-percent reduction by January 1, 2000. They've seen increases in health care funding. We've maintained services and increased the services of doctors and nurses in the community and in the region. We've worked to ensure that the school continues to have good resources to teach the students.
Education is so important to this government that we're now ranked number one in the country in terms of expenditures on pupils, because we believe so strongly in education. We've expanded that into training by increasing funding for the college, which hopefully will help the college deal with the rural communities as well, in the rural campuses. We've invested in training trust funds that I know the colleges out in the satellite campuses use in the communities to try and conduct training programs.
Mr. Speaker, in this budget, too, we have moved to try to help the least fortunate in society, the people on social assistance, with the first increase since 1991. It's modest, and we'd like to do more, but we're trying to balance out all of the needs of the Yukon community. We're proud of the fact that we put that forward for the people who need it most. That complements very well what we did last year with the low-income family tax credit and the child benefit, and I know a lot of Yukon citizens who are on the lower end of the payscale - some 1,200 to 1,300 families who earn less than $16,000 to $17,000 a year - are benefiting from those measures that this Yukon New Democrat government took to try and ensure that people at the lower end of the payscale were getting some support from the government and from the collective society of the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, every initiative that we have put forward has been voted down by the Liberals and Yukon Party. Together, as one, they have voted us down. Whether it was the ball field in Faro, which the Liberal leader took on so vehemently in the legislative session last year, stating that she felt that there was a political manipulation of all things and a favouritism shown toward Faro by this MLA, attacking that ball field, Mr. Speaker. We put forward -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member opposite is saying "revisionist history." Well, it's all in Hansard. I just reviewed it, and it's excellent reading for my constituents. And believe you me, I am ensuring that they have the tools they need.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the work we've done with the community, improvements to the recreation centre - that was voted down by the Liberals and Tories - we put $175,000 into constructing an arboretum for economic diversification in the community. That was voted down by the Liberals and Tories. Mr. Speaker, we have contributed to improvements to the Fish Eye Lake area. That was voted down by Liberals and Tories. Mr. Speaker, we have wanted to keep block funding for the municipal government so that they can run services in the community, water and sewer to the houses. That was voted down Liberals and Tories - municipal block funding, of all things.
Some in the Yukon Party have even advocated that they should be cut off of this.
Mr. Speaker, when we invest in the community of Faro, we treat the community of Faro as a community of this territory like any other. You know, there are over 100 individual homeowners in that community now, and, through the acts of this government, we expanded the ability of Faro people and other Yukoners to buy homes in Faro so that they could purchase their own homes and live there as a community.
Mr. Speaker, it has come a long way from the days of the Yukon Party when the Government Leader of the day was on the front page of the Yukon News saying that he didn't want to do anything in Faro because it might encourage people to stay there.
Mr. Speaker, we take a fundamentally different approach. At the last meeting we had in the community, I remember, with the Government Leader on this particular issue, we took the position that we respected this community as a community and that this government would not abandon the people of that community, as others in this territory might want people to do. And, Mr. Speaker, I saw tears in the eyes of people in the community as they heard that, because it was a show of respect for that community. It meant a lot to the people.
And when we do things in that community to try and improve services and put improvements like we've done on the Blind Creek Road, and improvements between Faro and Ross River, and new chipsealing between Carmacks and Ross River, we do it because it benefits the people who live in that region, in Carmacks and Faro and Ross River. And we do it because we see a vision for that territory, that area, that region, that has good tourism potential, has excellent mining potential, and will continue to be an economic driver for this territory.
We're proud of what we have done, Mr. Speaker, in ensuring that the mine assets, as much as we can as a territory, are held together, that the claims and the mill are held together, so that that mine can once again come into production if we see prices around the 60-cent area for zinc.
Mr. Speaker, we feel that it's important that people in the area have opportunities like other Yukoners for recreational lots, so we've moved to try and ensure that the lots were opened up around Little Salmon Lake and that the people of Faro and Ross River and Carmacks and other Yukoners had a shot at recreational opportunities in that area.
Again, this was voted against by the Liberals and the Yukon Party in this Legislature. Every move we make, every step we take for this community, we have to fight against the views of members on the other side of this House who don't believe in Faro as a community. The people of the community, for the most part, recognize this quite evidently, and we're continuing to work with the community of Faro. A new tourism organization, the Campbell Region Association for Tourism, has started up. There have been some labour market development work undertaken. There's a new CAO hired in town, and we have identified, in this particular budget, $50,000 - for the first time, I believe - money that's specifically targeted for the Campbell region, which was recently called "a hidden jewel" by the Milepost magazine for tourism marketing in that important region of the territory.
Too often, tourism marketing has been emphasized only in Dawson and Whitehorse, and we want to ensure that other regions that are important, like Watson Lake, Haines Junction, the Campbell region, and the north highway - they're all important. We have to ensure that we don't forget about them as we move the tourism industry ahead and as we see improvements in numbers happening every year, in terms of the dollars coming into the economy in that sector.
As well, Mr. Speaker, we have done fire smart work in that community, putting people to work doing the clearing of areas that are high potential for fires. We employed a lot of people through that. Again, that was voted against by the Liberals and Yukon Party in this Legislature.
Mr. Speaker, we have worked to try and encourage mining in this downturn by keeping things together in Faro, but also working through the Yukon Mining Advisory Board to ensure that, as a territory - even though we don't have responsibility for the resource; it still rests, from a regulatory and permitting perspective, in the hands of the Liberal government in Ottawa - we do what we can to encourage mining activity.
And we're encouraged by what has happened with Minto this year, with the rising price of copper and the efforts that they're making to open that mine near Pelly Crossing. I think that, if copper continues to sit where it's at, we have a reasonably good prospect of that opening this year.
Mr. Speaker, we're working hard to ensure that the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline, and that oil and gas, are permanent fixtures in this territory.
When we came into government, there was absolutely no oil and gas activity. The Yukon Party government failed miserably in the devolution of that resource, as well as getting activity underway.
Since we came into government - only 14 months ago, we took over control of that resource from the federal government. We have had the first land sale in 20 years; we had some $10 million in exploration activity in the southeast. There was $7 million in capital expenditures in the Kotaneelee area. Some of my constituents worked down there; some of the constituents of the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes worked on that particular job.
We expect this year that Anderson Exploration is going to spend several million dollars on Eagle Plains, starting in November. This season, they didn't get the work underway due to the mild weather, and the timing of the land sale didn't allow them to activate early enough, and they knew that the snow conditions were such that they couldn't engage in the program. But we look forward to bigger and better things in that respect.
We look forward, now that we have control of the resource, to further land sales in oil and gas, and Mr. Speaker, we have had very good meetings with Cominco, which is still very much interested in the territory through Sa Dena Hes, Faro and Kudz Ze Kayah, and we feel that, if prices continue to slowly rebound with the Asian situation starting to clear up, and demand improving, stability improving, we'll get more benefits from the mining sector, which so many of my constituents and so many Yukoners have traditionally earned a living from.
Mr. Speaker, we've tried to invest as well in the community in new areas, as I've said earlier, in economic diversification. So whether it was the CDF putting some several thousand dollars into tourism workshops, or trying to restore some of the old mining equipment up at the minesite and bringing it down into the community so that it can be used as tourism attractions, or whether it's investing in trying to initiate trail work between Faro and Ross River - two communities working together - whether it's upgrading local campground facilities or Fish Eye Lake, or supporting the Campbell Region Association for Tourism with simple requests, like trying to get the Faro Interpretive Centre included in the passport program of Tourism, we have been there and we have tried to make it happen.
We think there is also good potential in places like Faro for beyond the obvious tourism opportunities and the rebirth of the mining sector with its higher prices, and beyond oil and gas that I've mentioned, and beyond the opportunities that some Faroites are seeing in forestry, where we have an unprecedented level of activity in that area, where private sector mills are now operating in new areas like Haines Junction, where in Watson Lake we have a mill where the people out in the bush are employing over 100 people. We think that new areas of opportunity are going to open up in that respect. They were confirmed by the economists who are predicting the same things with regard to the economic forecast that they have put forward.
Mr. Speaker, I don't know why it continues to be the pattern of the Liberal and Yukon Party elements of this Legislature that they want to vote against the projects that we've done for Faro. They want to try and reduce the political voice of the people from Faro by eliminating that constituency, that riding. I don't know why they vote against chipsealing the Campbell Highway between Faro and Carmacks, or why they vote against the Blind Creek Road, or why they fail to respect the commitment that the Yukon government has made through Connect Yukon to bringing high-speed Internet access to communities like Faro and Ross River over the next couple of years to ensure that they have the ability to reach out and to compete and to do new things in this changing world and this changing economy, which we have to diversify, which we have to make stronger and broader. It is why we're investing in so many areas like oil and gas and forestry, like film production development, like bringing film crews and movies and activities in the cultural sector to life in this territory, like improving the ability of people to have more high-tech capability.
Mr. Speaker, I've talked to a number of small businesses that have hired a whole bunch of new people. Whether I am talking to people like Hyperborean Productions Inc. or talking to Chilkoot Brewing Co. or a number of other small companies like Yukon Alaska Logworks, they're hiring people.
Real Yukoners going to real work and real jobs. You know, part and parcel of that is our ability to continue to find new export markets to make this market bigger, so that companies here can grow. That's what our efforts have been about, and the Internet is very key to that. So why do Liberals and Yukon Party vote against Connect Yukon and wiring this territory? It boggles my mind. It's just pure partisan politics, trying to attack and discredit so many initiatives of this government.
Mr. Speaker, I've got one constituent who started a small business. I worked extensively with him to try and get it off the ground. It was recently featured on CBC Venture, and last night I got a call from him. Forbes Magazine is going to run a story on him - Midnight Sun Plant Food. It's kind of amazing to watch how this person, who is essentially an equipment operator at the mine, is trying to make his own way, trying to find a way to employ people, and trying to make a way to earn a living. The Internet is critical for that for him, because he does a lot of business out of Faro on the Internet, and it's important that we recognize that in a changing world.
It's absolutely critical for this former equipment operator now to have Internet access - he couldn't run a business without it - whereas just a few short years ago, the advent of the fax machine was a new and exciting tool for business, one which now people can't do without either.
We recognize that aspect of rural Yukon, and that's why we're improving that service.
Mr. Speaker, I think that, as well, in the territory, English as a second language has big potential in rural Yukon when people talk about tourism development. There's an ability to run small programs in small communities throughout rural Yukon, perhaps with Yukon College, and combine those learning experiences with adventure tourism and sightseeing and people spending dollars in this territory and eventually, perhaps, investing in the territory and perhaps buying, as in the case of the community I represent, some of the housing that is available and can be purchased at a reasonable price.
One of my constituents recently had a couple from Europe knock on the door and offer them a sizable chunk of money because they liked the area so much and they liked the lifestyle.
So, there is the ability to attract new people to the territory who want to live here year-round, make a living and invest in their lives in this territory.
Mr. Speaker, when I go back to my constituency and I talk to people about the legislative session or the budget, invariably this question comes up: "What would happen if you guys weren't in government? What would happen if the Yukon New Democrats weren't in government?" I often say, "Well, you know, with the record of the Liberals voting with the Yukon Party for their budgets, and with the record of the Liberals and the Yukon Party voting against all of the projects I have mentioned, it is pretty clear what their agenda would be with regard to this community. They obviously don't have any respect for us as Yukoners, and we have to recognize that."
Mr. Speaker, I have worked and tried to change that, to try and explain to the members, to try and educate them. We have tried to bring them to the community and let them see the people there, how they feel, what they do and who they are. There doesn't seem to be much take-up on that, or much interest. It's a little bit scary for my constituents to know that their basic services, such as RCMP, a doctor, nurses, just basic things like trying to get a bit of roadwork done for them, or trying to ensure that the water and sewer flows, that there is money for the town to run those services for the houses that they purchased - or just to ensure that they can actually buy a house and have entitlement at least to some degree to mortgages, through the Yukon Housing Corporation, like other communities have had - has always been so negatively received by my opponents on the other side of the House, and voted against.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say that I am very proud of the sensitivity that our caucus and our government have shown to the community. We even had the entire caucus and staff go to Faro last year and spend a couple of days in the community, just talking to people. We played a ball game and had a number of meetings over a couple of days, where we did our planning, and in the evenings, we participated in a community barbecue, and just talked to people, learning what makes them tick.
And that certainly, I think, was an excellent step. It was a good way for the people I represent to meet the people I work with, and to get a better understanding of each other, and I certainly appreciate the hospitality that my constituents showed, and the respect that my colleagues showed for the community as a community.
Mr. Speaker, a lot of Yukoners have taken advantage of funds like the tourism marketing fund and the trade investment fund that this government has created, not to mention the community development fund, and, without a doubt, invariably, those initiatives are cast aside by the members opposite. It doesn't matter whether it's a small business operator in Haines Junction who has benefited in creating a new business and is doing some new marketing, or whether it's Herbie Croteau of Midnight Sun Plant Food, who has benefited from the trade investment fund - they're opposed to it.
I want to explain to them that it's very difficult for the rural communities and small businesses to find venture capital. That's why we have created a labour-sponsored venture capital fund. That's why we went out and initiated and marketed and sold the immigrant investor fund, and are now wiring the Yukon through Connect Yukon with it. That's why we have invested, through the trade investment fund and the tourism marketing fund, in small businesses throughout this territory that want to do something for themselves, whether it's the operator at Birchwood in Watson Lake, who is developing Taiwanese tours for the first time in that area, or whether it's small business people in Old Crow or Beaver Creek who want to become involved to a greater degree in the economy. It's trying to work with people who are showing their economic initiative, their desire to help this economy grow. They're not just sitting back, waiting for the federal government, or the territorial government, or the municipal government to hand them a paycheque. They're trying to do something for themselves.
Mr. Speaker, when we look at other access-to-capital issues and other funds that we have created that are going to stimulate investment, like the research and development tax credit, or the small-business investment tax credit, or the new microloan program we just announced in the budget, they're designed to help people who don't have access to resources.
For example, the microloan program is going to be targeted at women, people on social assistance, people who have traditionally had problems accessing capital in our society so they can get a bit of a jump-start on the road ahead, so that they can help participate in the economy.
Mr. Speaker, when you look at the projects that are going on around this territory, when you look at the economic outlook and you see metal prices are improving, you see what's going on in the forestry sector-
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Hon. Mr. Harding: - with hundreds of jobs being created; when you look at the highway construction budget and see the tens of millions of dollars in highway construction that's going to employ people this year; when you look at another banner year for tourism; when you look at marketing dollars being put into new regions and new areas of endeavour being worked on, like the Asia-Pacific region; when you look at the small businesses that are starting to expand their markets and look in the new areas; when you look at the oil and gas potential; when you look at all the factors that are starting to come together; you're seeing a much more diversified economy. You're seeing one that is into new areas of technology and cultural industries, that's recognizing the world out there is becoming more global. This is a changing world - a changing economy - and we have to ensure that we give the people the tools through telecommunications infrastructure, through good educations, and through good investments in communities, to help work with government to make a living for themselves and ensure that we're not always dependent on the toing and froing at the London Metal Exchange for our livings, and to put food on the table for our families. So, Mr. Speaker, I'm proud of this budget and I'm more than happy to recommend acceptance of it to this Legislature and to the people whom I represent in the community of Faro.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, it's always a great pleasure to follow the Member for Faro in debates in this Legislature and listen to his revision of history and how he would like to see things, or how he thinks he sees things, and how he believes Yukoners see them.
I don't know if the Minister of Economic Development lives in the same Yukon that I live in. I don't know if he talks to the same Yukoners I've been talking to, because what he is trying to relate to this Legislature, Mr. Speaker, is certainly not what I'm hearing on the streets in any Yukon community.
The minister and his colleagues grasp at any little thing that they can to put the best positive spin on a very bad situation. And I would have thought that, after three budgets, after listening to Yukoners - if they are really listening to Yukoners as they say they are - they would have got the message. They would have got the message. They would have got it loud and clear. But I don't believe they are listening to Yukoners. They are just pretending to listen to Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start out in my budget reply by just addressing a few of the comments that the Liberal leader opened with. I must say, I was somewhat surprised by the weakness of her response to the budget, and I'm not going to take the approach that she did and criticize the NDP government for bringing in deficit budgets. I'm not going to do that at all, because I believe surpluses are there to be spent in the interests of Yukoners. The difficulties I have are with the manner in which they're being spent, and that's where my criticism will go. But the Liberal leader portrayed in this Legislature today that it was wrong to spend surpluses, and that has been a Liberal position for many, many years in the Yukon. That was their complaint against the balanced-budget legislation that was brought in by the Yukon Party, that it wasn't illegal to spend surpluses.
Well, if the government is not allowed to spend surpluses, what do they want to do with those surpluses? Is it to let them continue to build and continue to build until they attract the attention of the federal government and the federal government slashes transfer payments?
Is that what they want to do?
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader spoke of a rainy-day fund. Well, I guess we could write it off to naiveté - that she doesn't understand the budgeting process because she has never been in government - but I would have thought that a person who is portraying herself to the Yukon public as a government leader-in-waiting would have taken the time to learn the budgetary process and understand what annual deficits and accumulated surpluses really are.
Mr. Speaker, having said that, I wanted to refer to the budget in front of us today, because that's the important document and, once again, this government has failed to address the serious underlying problem in the Yukon, and that's the lack of a private sector economy.
I will agree with the Liberal leader on one point, that this government has failed - miserably failed - in their ability to create a climate of investor confidence in the Yukon where private sector companies are prepared to invest their dollars. And they continue to spin economic forecasts. They continue to spin everything that comes out and try to pick that little bit of good out of it, because things are now turning around. We hit rock bottom in 1998, according to their analysis of the economic situation in the Yukon, and all of a sudden we've got a bounce. Things are picking up. We've got this problem whipped.
They put out all kinds of documents to try to prove to Yukoners that they're doing a great job of diversifying the economy; that they're really getting their act together, and their initiatives are paying off. Mr. Speaker, I'm here to tell you and Yukoners that nothing could be further from the truth.
Let's just take a look at some of the things that they're trying to spin to the Yukon public, and I say to the members opposite that they ought to have more respect for the intelligence of Yukoners than what they're trying to sell them - this bill of goods that they're trying to sell Yukoners - because they're not buying it. It's insulting their intelligence.
I received a letter from the Minister of Economic Development the other day, and he relayed to me a copy of a document that he forwarded to the Liberal Party back in November on the value of international goods exports.
Now, if you talk about a revisionist document, this is it. This is it. Things are getting better, Mr. Speaker, if you exclude lead and zinc exports. If you exclude lead and zinc exports, things are getting better - really going up.
Mr. Speaker, that would be like me telling you or telling this Legislature that, if all of a sudden I didn't have to pay income tax, my net pay would go up. Things would be getting better.
Mr. Speaker, if we look at the true economic picture under this administration, the total value of all international goods exported in 1996 was $184.9 million. In 1999, it's $7.1 million. That's what it is. That's the fact. Well, things are really turned around, because in 1998 it was $6.8 million.
This year it's $7.1 million. We've increased it by $300,000. We only spent probably close to a million dollars travelling all over the world to do it. We're really diversifying the economy. Give me a break. Do they think Yukoners are going to buy that?
We heard them talk, in the ministerial statement here today I believe it was, about forest products hitting $6.9 million in total last year. Good. But is it really better than what it's been in the past? Just listen. Listen to the Member for Watson Lake. Yet, if you look in the document put out by the stats branch in October of 1999, and you go to page 7 of the summary and you look at the pie graph there, Mr. Speaker, of what made up the GDP in 1987 and what made up the GDP in 1999, you'll find that, in 1987, logging and forest industries contributed 0.4 percent to GDP. In 1999, logging and forest industries contribute 0.3 percent. Point three percent. "Oh, it's the Faro mine. The logging industry is now part of the Faro mine." That's the Member for Kluane's two cents' worth for this, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, regardless of what they're trying to spin, the facts are not borne out by their own documents. But what this document does prove is that government is growing. What this budget document proves is that government is growing.
Only look at the back of the budget book, at the historical estimates, the comparisons, where in 1995-96, when this government came to power in 1996, the budget was $343 million. That's the operational and maintenance budget of the government - $343,735. In 2000-01, the operation and maintenance budget is $392,801. That's an increase of about 13 percent. At the same time, our population has dropped by about 10 percent; 3,000 people have left the Yukon for greener pastures elsewhere. There is something wrong with that picture, Mr. Speaker. Why is government growing at such an alarming rate when the population is shrinking? I guess there is a lot of truth in the fact that NDP governments mean big governments.
Now, it's a good thing that we have the government spending that we can rely on under this administration because there is nothing else. There is nothing else, Mr. Speaker. There is absolutely nothing else.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Faro is kibitzing about what jobs we would cut. Well, the Member for Kluane needs to remember that under the Yukon Party government, they didn't have to cut jobs. There were lots of jobs. Lots of private sector jobs. Lots of government jobs. It's not rocket science; it's just clear policies and no conflicting statements and enabling the investment community to trust government. This government has a credibility problem, and that's why there's no investment coming to the Yukon - the lack of credibility and faith in this government - and it's because they send mixed messages.
They try to tell people what they think people want to hear, and it doesn't matter if the next person they talk to, they tell something totally different, because it doesn't matter to them.
I want to go through this budget book and point out some of the things that I have real difficulty with, and how this government continually tries to spin things in their best interests. If there were some facts behind it, it might be okay. If they were consistent in what they were doing, it might be okay, but they certainly aren't consistent in it. And I believe a good example is the motions that were tabled yesterday in this Legislature by the Member for Watson Lake.
Mr. Speaker, the Member for Watson Lake tabled a motion in the Legislature yesterday, "(3) the investigation of a rail link to B.C. and Alaska, a resource road to southeast Yukon..." Great stuff. I want to remind the Member for Watson Lake that when the Yukon Party introduced that motion for a resource road in southeast Yukon in the fall sitting of the Legislature, the Member for Watson Lake kibitzed in the background, "You're three years late; we've already done it." That's what he said then. It has already been done. Then, a few weeks later he had a change of heart and he said that we don't need it; we've already got roads in southeast Yukon. Then he went home and got beaten up by the chamber of commerce, and was told to clean up his act, because they wanted a road into southeast Yukon. So he comes back and proposes a motion now. That's what this government does.
They couldn't say it was a good idea then, because it was the opposition that proposed it. They always say the opposition doesn't give them any ideas. No, they just won't accept them. The child tax benefit - a motion brought in by the Yukon Party, voted against by the NDP. A year later they bring in the child tax credit. "Look how wonderful we are, look how great we are. We did it. We did it."
The investigation of the rail link to B.C. and Alaska - we put a motion on the Order Paper. We've been prompting them to get involved in it, to start lobbying the Canadian government to get involved in it. What did they do? They wrote a few letters. Now, all of a sudden there's an election coming up - "We're going to get behind this project, because it's the best thing that's ever happened to the Yukon." We told them that two years ago.
Now, they're spending $100,000 on a technical analysis of the Alaska Highway pipeline. That's something that governments in the Yukon have supported wholeheartedly since the 1970s. What are they trying to sell to the public? That all of a sudden there's a change of heart in the Yukon? We're going to spend a whole $100,000 on the technical analysis. We'll have more questions about that during the debate on this budget. That sounds, Mr. Speaker, like the $100,000 that was set aside in a budget a couple of years ago to investigate connecting to the B.C. Hydro grid. Seems like the same sort of expenditure laid out, and it will probably end up in the same place going back at the end of the year. But it sounds good to them, and it makes them look like they're really doing something on the economic front, Mr. Speaker.
So Mr. Speaker, they ought to practise what they preach.
Mr. Speaker, this budget goes on - and again, I'm just going to point out the way this government spins everything they put out. They cannot be clear with the people.
The tax cuts are a perfect example in this budget. What does it say in this budget about tax cuts?
It says, "Within the 2000-01 fiscal year, the territory's personal income tax rate will go down from 50 percent to 46 percent of the basic federal income tax payable. On January 1, 2002, this rate will drop to 44 percent. This means that all Yukon taxpayers will be paying 12 percent less in territorial income tax in year 2002."
Well, Mr. Speaker, they got their headline. That's what they wanted. That's the political rhetoric. They got their headline last night, "12 percent tax cut". You can say it's all well and good, but wait till they get their pay cheques and they find out it's about 50 cents on a pay cheque that they're going to get in this first year. They may not be too happy then. It looks good. Twelve percent is great stuff. Yet this is the government that, in opposition, said tax increases weren't required in 1993 - absolutely not required. They sat for four years, drew the benefits of those tax increases and now they're giving them back to the public in dribbles. An insult. A total insult.
In the meantime, because of tax cuts in other jurisdictions, they've been benefiting to the tune of $30-40 million a year in free money from Ottawa. Now they're going to give them back, this year, I think it's $750,000 for each point, so the most Yukoners can hope to get is $150,000 in this year. In 2001, another two percent kicks in, but you don't get the effects of that until 2002, and in 2002, the last two percent kicks in but you don't get the effects of that until 2003.
But they spun it, "Yukoners are getting a 12 percent tax cut." The obscene increases they keep referring to, Mr. Speaker, they have so diligently continued to spend and refused to give back to Yukoners. They could have started giving them back in 1996; they were left with a $50-million surplus, not a $64-million deficit.
Those are the facts of the matter, Mr. Speaker.
Let's go on in this fantasy document they call the budget.
They have done a good job of spreading a little bit of money all over, trying to satisfy every interest group in the Yukon, and hope that relates to votes in the next election.
Let's look at oil and gas, because I want to speak to that. The minister of economic devastation, as he has been called by not only me but many Yukoners, is going to have the dubious record of his government presiding over the worst period of economic activity in the Yukon in history. That's what will go down in the record books - what legacy this government left to future generations of Yukoners. He says we didn't do anything in oil and gas. Again, it's his revision of history.
The fact remains, Mr. Speaker, that when a Yukon Party government came to power in 1992, there was an oil and gas accord lying there that had been negotiated by an NDP government, but they didn't even have the political courage to sign, and it probably wouldn't have been signed to this day had the Yukon Party not been elected and signed it and started the ball rolling to get control of oil and gas. But oh no, now we're going to take home a benefit. We're going to be the good guys. You guys didn't do anything to help us. They criticized us when we signed it. They said land claims should come first, and devolution should come second. What are they doing? Land claims are at a standstill, and they're proceeding with devolution.
Let's speak about oil and gas exploration, and all the great things that are happening under this administration. It says $10 million dollars maybe this year, and maybe $5 million in development.
Well, I just heard on the radio here a few weeks ago that there was another major discovery on the Northwest Territories side of the Yukon border - $200 million being spent this winter on oil and gas exploration on the Northwest Territories side of the border in southeast Yukon.
The projection is for $400 million next year. What are we doing here? Nothing. Land claims are not settled. There is no accord with the First Nations to be able to let oil leases go in that area, so we are losing out. We may lose out forever if the exploration starts to move up the Mackenzie River and up the valley. It may be a long time before they come back to the Yukon, and that's because this government has failed to live up to their commitments to finalize the land claims. They were moving far too slowly in the A Better Way document, which they put out. What did they say here? "Most Yukoners view land claims negotiations as having dragged on far too long. They want land claims concluded as quickly as possible in a manner that is fair to all." That is the better way offered by Piers McDonald. Well, well, well. Three and one-half years later, there are still seven claims outstanding, the same as when they came to power. So, they have failed Yukoners on the settlement of land claims.
Mr. Speaker, we are losing out because of this government's inability to live up to their commitments to get the Yukon economy goings. The settlement of land claims - and the members opposite know this as well as I do - is one of the major stumbling blocks to private sector investment in the Yukon. We need certainty.
The development assessment process, which now, according to the Minister of Economic Development - whatever that is, under his watch - says that it's all the federal Liberals' fault. Well, it is federal legislation, but this Yukon NDP government took ownership of DAP when they were elected in 1996. They were going to make it better. They were going to go out to the public and consult with everyone. They were going to make it better.
What happened? They approved a document to go out to the public. This is what they thought would work, that was just turfed out by mining interests and the Yukon people in general, saying it was an unworkable document. So then they just washed their hands of it. "Not our fault, it's the federal government." They failed the Yukon people on the DAP legislation. They didn't bring in a document that was a one-window approach, that created certainty and that people could get permitting in a timely fashion.
Let's look at the protected areas strategy, Mr. Speaker. Again, they failed the Yukon people. Mr. Speaker, they went on to say that we could have protected areas as long as everybody was consulted, everybody was involved in the process. They could set aside protected areas. It's in A Better Way here somewhere - I don't have time to go through this clause by clause; I've done that before in this Legislature, and nothing much has improved since I did it the last time.
But the fact remains that they have created more uncertainty with the protected areas strategy. They haven't created certainty with it at all, and it's because of their mismanagement of it. Now, again, we see in this budget in front of us today some money in here for resource assessments, under Renewable Resources - $260,000 I believe it is, Mr. Speaker. I don't have the number right in front of me, but I believe that's what it was, is $260,000 for mineral resource assessments, because they were severely criticized that none were done in Fishing Branch.
But even if they had been done, would this government have listened to them? I don't think so. And that's where they've created the uncertainty. Because, Mr. Speaker, I want to draw to your attention that, in April of 1994, there was a mineral assessment that was done on Tombstone before the boundaries were finalized. Quite clearly the conclusion in this Tombstone mineral assessment said that there needed to be a lot more work done and that Tombstone had some of the highest mineral potential in the Yukon.
The Yukon Party avoided incorporating those areas into a territorial park. What happens? Along comes 1996, along comes an election, out come the Yukon NDP. They scoot up to Dawson and say to First Nations to get them elected and they'll expand those boundaries - total disregard for the hundreds of thousand of dollars that were spent on the preliminary mineral potential review. There was total disregard for it - didn't pay any attention to it. They took and incorporated all of those very rich areas into a territorial park. How do they expect investors to have any confidence in this government?
So, we can set $260,000 aside - $2 million aside for mineral assessments - in the budget. That's all well and good. But this government has to prove to investors that they are going to honour what those mineral assessments say. They haven't done it so far. In Tombstone, there was a study done. It was ignored by an NDP government after the boundaries were already set. They didn't have to take responsibility for it. The Yukon Party did it. Oh no, we're going to run out there and try and win the Dawson riding - which they didn't do, anyhow - and we're going to promise the Dawson First Nation that, if we're elected, we'll expand the boundaries, and we'll take in all of those rich mineral areas. They didn't tell mining companies that, though. They didn't tell them until after the election. How can they have any credibility, Mr. Speaker?
When you look back at this document that they put out in October on the makeup of the GDP, what you see is that government service industries have grown dramatically under NDP governments in the Yukon. What you see is that mining, construction industries, transportation and storage industries and logging industries have dropped from 1987 to 1999. Those are the facts. That's what they said. In the ministerial statement this afternoon, they were saying that's wrong, that's wrong, that's wrong. It's their own document.
And it's wrong, they said. That's wrong. Well, when you're on the ground, flat on your back, and you can lift an arm, well, I guess you're getting better. That's where they have come from, from 1998 to 1999, they have started back up that long trek.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I said, once again, with this budget, this government -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, as I said when I was replying to the ministerial statement, it might even be comical if it wasn't so serious. One of the things - and I'll be questioning the minister about this when we get into Question Period at some point - in that document that he sent to the Member for Riverside, where he has taken his editorial abilities and removed lead and zinc from the GDP. I don't believe he's included placer mining in there either, because they might have made his figures look worse. When you look at the placer mining gold production in the Yukon, 1999 was the poorest year for dollar value of placer gold production since 1979. It was the poorest production, so he excluded it because it would have made his figures look bad, so we'll just ignore that.
We'll just ignore that. But, Mr. Speaker, I'm really sorry that I don't have the addresses of those 3,000 Yukoners who left and gave up on this government, so I could mail them a copy of that economic forecast that the minister gave in the House today, because it might not be of relevance to them but they could have a good laugh at it anyhow - use it for fire starter, as my colleague on the back bench says.
So, Mr. Speaker, this government can spin it any way they want.
Let's look at power rates, because that's a very critical issue, and I go around talking to Yukoners about power rates. They're concerned about their power rates. They're concerned about their power rates, and this government said in A Better Way that stabilized electricity rates to keep them affordable for residents and small businesses, and improve the rate subsidy programs so Yukoners can have a greater share in the profits of the Energy Corporation. He didn't say he was going to have a graduating scale so that, when you reached 1,500 kilowatts, you got cut off and wouldn't get any rate subsidy. They didn't tell that to Yukoners before they got elected. They haven't done anything to reduce the cost of power. In fact, they gave an economic statement today that says, "We've done our part." What does it say here? I thought this was a great line: "While the Yukon government has done its part to keep electricity costs under control through rate stabilization, we share the concern of rising fuel costs with other Yukoners."
Mr. Speaker, once again, "It's not our fault." The government is saying, "It's not our fault, we've done our part," but they didn't tell Yukoners in 1996 that they were only going to do their part and rates might still go up. Oh, no, they were going to be the people who could fix it all. They were going to have affordable, stable power rates.
Well, they stabilized them, at a level that was almost 20 percent higher than what they were paying in the past, and they froze them until the next mandate of the next government to deal with, so that they didn't have to deal with the issue.
They're looking at alternative generation - $2 million for a wind turbine, and I can't even get a letter back from the Energy Corporation telling me how much per kilowatt it costs to produce wind power. They won't answer the question I asked in the Legislature last fall, because the price is so ridiculous. This government is investing taxpayers' dollars in returning to an energy source that may be more environmentally friendly, but it certainly isn't going to replace the hydro generation in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker.
This is just a ridiculous approach that this government has taken, but I'm not surprised I haven't received an answer, because there are other areas that I have asked questions of ministers over there that I haven't gotten replies to yet from the fall session, and one of them is about my constituents at Mile 2 on the Mayo Road in the subdivision there - a whole host of questions I asked the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, that he promised me faithfully I'd have answers to.
My constituents have had to appear in front of city council at second and third reading, and had the bill delayed then, and they still haven't gotten the information that the minister promised me. That's how this government deals with Yukon people's problems. And I put the minister on notice - I want that information; I want to get it to my constituents before they have to go back to city council and deal with the subdivision that has been imposed on them and they don't know by whom - whether it's the territorial government that has imposed it on them or whether it's the city that has imposed it on them. They have a right to know.
When they get a subdivision foisted upon them, which is built on land that they have been told for years they couldn't apply for because it was in the 100-year flood plain of the Takhini River, I think they have a legitimate right to know who changed the rules, so that they could create the lots in the subdivision on that 100-year flood plain, that they were told they couldn't apply for.
All they wanted was a simple lot expansion to come up to the residential standards of anywhere else in the Yukon, and they get a subdivision foisted on them and possibly a day-use area as well. So, I'm going to be looking for answers from the minister for that, Mr. Speaker.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, we hear the kibitzing from the Member for Faro again about all he has done for the economy. It is unfortunate that, once again this year, I believe that the projection is for $6.5 million in mineral exploration. This is the third year in a row it has been under $10 million. But, it's not this minister's fault - let's remember that. It's Bre-X. It's world metal prices. It certainly isn't this minister, because he's doing everything he can.
Let's look at the list he sent to the Member for Riverside. It is really good. He lists here, Mr. Speaker, the top 25 internationally exported goods from the Yukon. This is great stuff. The number two export in 1999, from January to August, was mechanical shovels and excavators with 360-degree revolving superstructures. Well, Mr. Speaker, I've only been in the Yukon for 28 years. I may have missed where that factory is that builds these things. Maybe the Minister of Economic Development can tell us. This is an export. I suggest to the minister that this was a liquidation sale. The stuff has gone to an area in which there is a better government environment. This government is blatant enough to list that as a Yukon export. Does he expect Yukoners to believe that?
Mr. Speaker, motor vehicles -
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Give me a break, Mr. Speaker.
Bodies from motor vehicles other than automobiles - that's another export from the Yukon - boring or sinking machinery, not self-propelled, including offshore oil and gas platforms. Great stuff the Yukon is exporting. That's how desperate this government is to try to put a positive spin on a situation that it has imposed upon itself, by sending mixed messages to the public, by driving out private sector investment, and investment that won't come back to the Yukon, until this government has the political courage to call an election and be turfed out by the voters.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, it is with pride today that I rise to speak in support of the budget before us. It is, again, another example of our commitment to the Yukon public, upon taking office, of budgeting in a pay-as-you-go manner, of budgets that take the sustainable, stable spending approach and do not contribute to the boom-and-bust cycles that this territory has faced for so long.
And we do it, Mr. Speaker, with absolutely no tax increases. In fact, we are doing it with tax decreases and absolutely no cuts to health care and education - things that are very important to the Yukon public.
I also must say that, after listening to the two opposition leaders, it comes to mind that it is a good thing that we are over here on this side of the House as government and they are over there in opposition.
Our approach to the budget process is to listen to Yukon people balance the budget between our social and economic needs in this territory, and ensure that we maintain a savings account. Again, consistent and entirely attached to our commitment to the Yukon public.
On the other hand, the Yukon Party would have us back in the Dark Ages, focused on one sector of our economy - mining - and spending all the capital dollars in road building, when there are so many other facets of our economy that are contributing to the turnaround that we are experiencing today. It's called diversification. In the Liberal hands, we would have budgets that take the carpet-bombing approach, and if you drop enough money, sooner or later you will hit some worthy projects. Unfortunately, in this small jurisdiction, with its limited resources, we'd probably run out before that would ever happen.
This is a responsible budget, and it's keeping within our commitment to manage the public purse in such a way as to stimulate growth, create jobs and do it with a very sharp social conscience. We are continuing to invest in Yukon people and Yukon communities, and I believe that is a good thing.
We have in this budget a great deal of focus on those who are in need. There's no question that the social agenda here is very much part of this budget. We ensure that those in need can have a decent and dignified lifestyle in this territory, and we do so because we believe in Yukon people. We listen and address their needs and desires. Some of the examples of that are, for those in need, for the first time in nine years, we are increasing social assistance rates.
And there is no question that that is a need out there.
Mr. Speaker, we are also putting money toward tuition support for social assistance beneficiaries so that they can take part in training, in programs at Yukon College and improve their lifestyle, improve their abilities to participate in this Yukon living and lifestyle that we so cherish. They have that right, too, and we must do everything we can to ensure that they have the best chance to do so.
We're also, for those who are challenged, increasing funding for reading recovery and helping people learn. That's another important expenditure. And let's not forget that these are expenditures that we have continued on from the very first budget, and yet the opposition parties in this Legislature have continually voted against those expenditures. In other words, the opposition party seems to not care about those in need and those that are less fortunate, and those that are challenged.
Mr. Speaker, we've also taken steps to ensure that this territory has the best possible access to medical care that we can give it. The people in this territory deserve it. We've committed not to decrease health care, and we are making every effort to improve it. Investing in the CAT scan machine for the Whitehorse Hospital is an example of that.
Mr. Speaker, it is very important that we look to and address the needs of our seniors. The population in this territory in that age group - in that category - has done their work. They've contributed over their lives and it is now time for us to ensure that they are taken care of.
We are, Mr. Speaker, very proud of our expenditure in the construction of a new, 96-bed continuing care facility.
Mr. Speaker, we also are maintaining stable funding to NGOs, groups and societies and people who put forward the effort in each and every community in this territory to assist and help those who require assistance and help. For example, in my own community, Watson Lake, the Help and Hope For Families Society plays a very important role in addressing one of the cancers our society faces today - domestic violence. We've ensured that their funding continues, and it continues in a stable manner.
Mr. Speaker, we've also continued our commitment to the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake who, for many, many years, have worked very hard to ensure that the senior population in that community is given the best possible chance to live in a manner that they so deserve.
We are very proud of those expenditures.
Just for a moment here, I'd like to explore some of the comments made by the opposition leaders in this House today in response to the budget in second reading.
It's evident, from the outset, that the opposition is simply not prepared to respond to this budget. It seems they are just not interested at all, and the proof lies in their responses for all to see.
Now, the Liberal leader, the leader of the official opposition, who knows full well that this budget contains many, many, many initiatives and expenditures to address the economy in this territory and to continue to help improve that economy, has totally missed the mark.
Mr. Speaker, some of the comments from the Liberal leader deserve rebuttal and some attention. She states that land claims are not a priority for this government. Nothing could be further from the truth - nothing. It is a priority and, to that end, we have, in good faith, negotiated land claims in this territory with every possible effort we could bring to the table. The Yukon government's work in this matter is, for the most part, done in many of the land claims. Yes, there are issues that remain outstanding, but they are not issues that cannot be managed, addressed and dealt with. The problem here lies in two fundamental deal-breakers, and that rests in the hands of the federal Liberals.
Loan repayment and the taxation issues, as they relate to the settlement of land claims in the Yukon, are the most important issues that must be addressed. It is the federal Liberals who, through their inconsistencies, have not managed to solve those two problems. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, we are facing the situation we have today in land claims. Let me point out that there is absolutely no question in my mind that the Liberals in this territory will take their lead from their federal counterparts. There is absolutely no question about that.
The Liberal leader, time and time again in this Legislature, has stood on her feet and protected the federal Liberal government. Let us not forget our environmental cleanup bills in the north - hundreds of millions of dollars. What happens? The federal Liberals trade it all away for used weapons from the U.S. military.
And the Liberal leader protected - stood on the floor and protected that most ridiculous move by the Liberal government in Ottawa.
She says that there's no balance between our environment and our economy. I would point out, Mr. Speaker, that if the Liberal leader, the leader of the official opposition, would have taken the time to truly focus and respond to this budget, she'd have no choice but to realize that there is a great balance in the budget between our environment and our economy. And we do that, Mr. Speaker, because the two are married. Without a sustainable environment, it's virtually impossible to develop sustainable, viable economies, and that's why we budget in the manner we do.
I would point out again and emphasize that if the Liberal leader had any interest at all in representing Yukoners in these matters, her response today would have reflected that - but not the one that she presented on the floor of this Legislature.
She says that our attitude toward the business community is a problem and that it's a bad attitude, especially around small business, that we don't care about small business. Let's look at some of the initiatives that target small business in this territory, because we on this side of the House realize that one of our main economic engines in this territory that will help the continued diversification of our economy is small business.
The Fireweed Fund: that is targeted for small business, and it is meant to help investment in this territory in that area.
Research and development tax credits - many small businesses and entrepreneurs can benefit from these types of things. Trade and investment. There is a long list of small businesses who are participating in the trade and investment initiative. That has been ongoing for a number of years, and the Liberals, who claim that we don't support small business, have voted against each and every budget we have brought forward that ensures that small business is addressed and taken care of in this territory. Microloans, film incentives, small-business investment tax credit, the Yukon mineral exploration tax credit - that is directed to small business, to Yukon people and companies, juniors who want to explore and try and develop our mining industry in this territory. It's meant to ensure that they are given a chance to do so.
Connect Yukon, a multi-million dollar investment that will provide small business in this territory, and all Yukoners, the ability to access, beyond our borders, markets, technology and information, and do so at their fingertips. And we don't care about small business? What a ridiculous statement.
It proves again that the Liberal leader has absolutely no conception of what our economy is made up of. I didn't hear, in the Liberal leader's response to this budget, one single, concrete suggestion. There was no indication that the Liberals have any vision of our economy - absolutely no ideas. It was just a harangue of complaining and negativity that results in absolutely nothing, and proves once again, Mr. Speaker, that the Liberals, instead of rolling up their sleeves and going to work on problems and issues, would simply sit back and talk about them.
Here's another rich one that the Liberal leader came up with, and it has to do with my community in particular. Her statement was that, on the one hand, the mayor and council in Watson Lake led the charge to ensure that we spend $5 million in that community on capital projects. Yet the Liberal leader voted against that expenditure. It doesn't matter who led the charge. She - her party and the Yukon Party - voted against that expenditure. That expenditure, by the way, and the lead on that expenditure - and that initiative, and that project - was certainly not the mayor and council. It was a community-led initiative and, quite frankly, when it came down to the crux and this government stepped forward and said, "Yes, we'll help this community. It is their desire to build this project.", the mayor voted against that expenditure. So it goes to show that the Liberals aren't in touch with the community itself and have no idea what is going on.
Mr. Speaker, we could stand here for hours pointing out the inconsistencies and the discrepancies that the Liberal leader has brought forward, but if I were to search long and hard, and there were only one thing that I could find from the Liberals that they would do, that is capital spending. That's how they would approach our economy. And that's why I pointed out earlier that their approach is the carpet-bombing approach.
Let's look at forestry and where we're at today with the Liberals. The Liberals have recently called for a new policy in forestry - a new policy, Mr. Speaker. Well, to begin with, that's a direct slap in the face of hundreds of Yukoners, First Nations, industry, environmentalists, the public at large, who put forth the effort to develop the Yukon forest strategy. That is the policy, for the member's benefit.
And let me point out that that strategy - that policy - has been labelled by experts in the field as a fresh, innovative approach to forest management, and its basis is in grassroots, in the public input itself - truly made-in-Yukon policy. The Liberals are calling for a new policy. Don't they realize what has taken place? Under our tutelage and under our watch in forestry, we have decreased the harvest ceiling in this territory by close to 100,000 cubic metres, yet we have increased investment in manufacturing. We have decreased our total dependence on raw log export and shipping jobs and benefits out of this territory. We have increased jobs that benefit Yukoners. That is what forest policy is all about. We have done that. The Liberals call for a new one.
The Yukon Party, on the other hand - and I will give credit where credit is due. At least they take positions. When they were faced with forestry under their government and under their watch, and when Yukoners came to them with the very same problem - this is not a problem that just started yesterday. This issue just didn't become an issue yesterday. It has been with us for years. The Yukon Party government's approach was that there was nothing they could do and it was a federal problem - absolutely nothing. Under their watch, there was a moratorium, a loss of jobs and a complete closure of the industry. Then, during the election, like drunken sailors, they are throwing a million dollars of stumpage subsidies out and searching the United States for experts to help them develop a policy. Mr. Speaker, when it comes to forestry and forest policy in this territory, I rest my case.
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader didn't mention the economy and what our economy consists of, didn't mention what they would do in oil and gas, didn't mention what they would do for small business, didn't mention what they would do in tourism, didn't mention what they would do in any sector of our economy, and I'll tell you why. For the record, I want Yukoners to know that the Liberals don't know what to do. The Liberal ship is floundering in the sea of indecision, about to sink, all hands on deck, with that big red and white Liberal emblem tattooed to their backsides, playing politics on the backs of Yukoners. They're reduced to playing politics. That is a shameful display by someone who desires power as the Liberals do.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party's approach to everything is that there's no mining. Well, I don't know where they've been for the last 20 years - maybe slumbering like Rip Van Winkle, and they suddenly awoke to the fact that there is no mining in this territory. But mining has been changing and decreasing in this territory for a long time, and that's a fact. There is absolutely no question that that is taking place. For years, mines have been closing. Under their watch, mines were closing. They maintain, though, that it was going great guns, everything was happening. Well, one simple reason is that Faro was still operating. We, on the other hand, had to face the fact that Faro closed, and we had to take on the hard task of diversifying this economy.
And to date, I'd say we've done a pretty good job in that regard, and the proof is out there around us.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party leader goes on to say that there's no investor confidence in the Yukon. Now, I don't know where he's coming from, but I have to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. We, today in Whitehorse, for example, witness a Boston Pizza being built in this city. I can tell you Boston Pizza is one of the most sought-after, hardest-to-get franchises in the country. It does not put a franchise in an area with a dying economy. They simply don't do that. They make sure that their franchises produce the best return to their investors. They're here because they believe in the Yukon, and they believe that we are going to have now, and long into the future, a vibrant, resilient economy, one that they can flourish in along with other Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, oil and gas - no investor confidence. Now, for the first time in decades, we actually have investment in oil and gas. Now, that goes against what the Yukon Party accomplished in this area. There was no investment in oil and gas. In fact, they couldn't even get the devolution of oil and gas accomplished in this territory. We, on the other hand, have managed that. We, on the other hand, have developed a common regime of First Nations, and to date, we have taken the first steps toward developing that industry for this territory. And it does have a bright future.
In tourism, Mr. Speaker, there has been a great deal of investment, investment dollars flowing into a number of areas, and the proof is in the pudding. Tourism is one of our main economic engines, contributing greatly to diversifying this economy and is showing growth year by year under this government's watch. That is why, in this budget, we have chosen again to put large amounts of money toward this sector, as we have in other budgets. Yet the opposition continues to vote against those expenditures, even in the face of a sector of our economy experiencing growth and contributing to this territory's well-being.
No investment, the Yukon Party leader says. Well, let's look at forestry. Right today, under this government's watch, investor confidence is strong in forestry. There are millions in investment. First Nations are investing in forestry. The investments are helping to create jobs and benefits for Yukoners. There is no doubt that the forest sector, which extracts value from the resource in a sustainable manner, will, long into our future, be a major economic engine for this territory. The Yukon Party leader, waving around the statistics like a mad hatter reciting numbers, has failed to point out this fact. There has been a great deal of increase in our export of lumber - 400 percent at this time. You take mills like the South Yukon Mill in Watson Lake. Today, there are 40 to 50 loads of logs being trucked into that sawmill, creating jobs and benefit for a community which, under the Yukon Party, was starving to death and, under a federal Liberal regime, was ignored.
In this area, the federal Liberals are accountable and hold responsibility for that very problem. It was under their watch that moratoriums and the problems that we faced back in 1996 were created. It is under this government, working with the Liberals, pointing out areas that can be dealt with and suggesting solutions, that we are now seeing a dramatic improvement in a sector of our economy that bodes well for the people of this territory.
Mr. Speaker, we not only have lumber in the forest sector. We also have furniture manufacturing and a flourishing log-home industry, which is shipping homes out of this territory with a great increase, beyond our borders, and products manufactured in this territory from the forest sector are now reaching places like Alaska and other jurisdictions. No investment? This government is committed to making sure that we give furniture manufacturers in this territory every opportunity to flourish by committing to purchase, through government expenditure, their product. Yet, the Yukon Party leader states that there is no investment.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party leader also goes on to talk about roads to resources in the southeast Yukon, and how they tabled a motion in the fall sitting dealing with this particular issue. Well, Mr. Speaker, in 1996 when we first came to office, I, as the MLA for the community of Watson Lake and the southeast Yukon, brought forward that very issue to ensure that it was part of the land claims process.
Second to that, we realize that hundreds of millions of dollars of expenditures - or whatever it may take to build that road into the southeast Yukon - is an expenditure that must be thought out and planned carefully. We realize that the very first step must be associated with what's happening now in our forest sector. And I believe - this government believes - we are on the right track.
The opposition and the Yukon Party would have us believe that we will not benefit from resources in the southeast unless we build that road. And let's look at something here. Let's explore that very point. The oil and gas industry in the southeast - the Yukon Party is implying that the oil and gas industry will not operate in the southeast unless we build that road.
Now, let's look at some facts. The oil and gas industry in this territory, when it comes to exploration, will mostly consist of triple-derrick drilling rigs. These rigs can consist of up to 90 truckloads that have to be moved on to a drill site, commence drilling, finish that drilling program, and they are paid by the foot. The last thing that they are going to do when there is access at Mile 317 on the Alaska Highway to get into the oil and gas resource in the southeast Yukon, is drive another 310 miles to Watson Lake, and then another 200 miles back south into the oil and gas fields. That's not how it's done.
So, realizing that, and developing our legislation, we ensured that the oil and gas industry develop impact benefit agreements for Yukoners so that we truly can participate and benefit from the industry and, in time, that connection will be there. Today though, we have the ability to participate and derive a benefit.
And that, Mr. Speaker, bodes well for the Yukon.
Now, the leader of the Yukon Party, the former leader of the official opposition and former leader of the government, makes much about budgeting, and let's look at one of the Yukon Party budgets, 1993-94, and one of the Yukon Party's approaches to raising revenues in this territory for the purpose of expenditure through budgeting. That had the most obscene tax increases ever witnessed in this territory: increase in income tax, Mr. Speaker, increase in general corporate rate, increase in small-business corporate rate, increase in fuel oil tax, tobacco - increase across the board - on and on and on.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party's approach to budgeting was to take money out of Yukoners' pockets and spend that. We, on the other hand, are putting money back into Yukoners' pockets through our budgeting, and Yukon people realize that. They know that. Yet the other day, in response to the budget we have just tabled, both opposition leaders, even in the face of what the Yukon Party did in increasing taxes, are saying it's not enough, that our decrease in taxes is not enough. The important point is that we are putting money back into Yukoners' pockets to help them in tough times.
Mr. Speaker, through capital expenditures in budget after budget, we have ensured that expenditures are targeted and that we can maximize the benefits for Yukoners.
We don't do road building in one area. We are doing it in many areas and ensuring that the communities share in government expenditure. We are ensuring that those communities are taken care of, along with the major centre of Whitehorse.
The Yukon Party makes much of the fact that there are not enough monies for road building. Now, there is $25 million this summer for road construction in this budget. That is a huge expenditure. That will put Yukon contractors and Yukon operators to work. Believe me, that goes a long way to assist that particular area.
Mr. Speaker, under the Yukon Party, we make much about road building. It was us that negotiated the Shakwak funding - the NDP - that they got to spend. When that funding ran out, the Yukon Party did not go back to Alaska to try to negotiate more funding. It was this government and this Minister of Community and Transportation Services that went to negotiate the refunding of the Shakwak to finish it off. Again, more examples of the good works of this government.
Mr. Speaker, they make much of the problems in YPAS and how it relates to our resource development sector, but I want to point out again that our position is that the two are married. We are making a great deal of expenditures to ensure that what we do on one side of the ledger also addresses the other side. Money set aside and spent on resource information, such as geoscience, and money set aside to do inventories on resources, are all very important when we look to how we can balance the agenda that Yukon people desire.
Yukon people want to maintain this environment for future generations, and, at the same time, Yukon people want to ensure that they have the ability to make a living, feed their families, and live a lifestyle that we all cherish and desire.
Mr. Speaker, looking at infrastructure, expenditures that investigate further the Alaskan proposal of a rail link, expenditures in doing more work on the Alaska Highway corridor for a pipeline, these are monies that are intended for infrastructure and future benefit for this territory.
Let's look at the forest sector again and the next phase that we are coming to when it comes to infrastructure. And, believe me, cogeneration is certainly an important option that must be explored. That particular facet of our forest industry will go a long way when it comes to infrastructure and energy issues in this territory.
Mr. Speaker, I want to close by stating categorically that I support this budget with pride. I support this budget because of what it does now, but also because of what it does in terms of ensuring that we continue to address our socioeconomic needs in this territory, that we continue to make every effort using the means that government can apply toward our economy and creating jobs and benefits for Yukoners. And I support this budget, Mr. Speaker, because it's a budget that consists of a partnership with and input from Yukon people, and it ensures a brighter future and a stable future for all Yukoners.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, we've seen the Prozac budget. That was the first NDP budget. And then we saw the pointless budget. That was in the second year, more or less. And now we have the desperation budget. Yes, with almost their four years finished - the "reign of boredom", I call it - some bright light upstairs has realized that hey, there are a few things we forgot. Land claims are still unresolved, despite many promises during the NDP 1996 election, and DAP doesn't exist.
There's a great deal of uncertainly around land tenure, perhaps because this government doesn't follow its own rules under the protected areas strategy, and perhaps because DAP doesn't exist. And, in case no one has noticed, mining has left the Yukon, and it won't come back as long as there's an NDP government in this territory. The mining industry, like our caucus, has no confidence in this government to manage the economy.
And, of course, the current NDP government is oblivious to what's going on all around them. We heard all sorts of great things from the Minister of Economic Development today about the economic forecast. It is an interesting spin on things, and I think what I'm going to do is go down and buy him a set of rose-coloured glasses, and I think I'll buy them at San Francisco, because we like to buy local.
The budget this year is a last ditch attempt to buy Yukoners' votes with their own money. There's a little bit for everyone, not really enough to make a difference, but enough to fill out the campaign literature. There are the microloans for business, $300,000 for drug addictions for the entire Yukon, and the reannouncements of the capital projects from last year, and the reannouncements and the reannouncements and the reannouncements of the Mayo school, the Ross River school and the continuing care facility. Oh, and by the way, I really like the picture of the continuing care facility in the budget - you know, the one from CJP Architects in Victoria, B.C.
Then there's the increase for civil servants, the $63 per family in tax cuts, the sewage system for Dawson, but nothing for a sewage system in Carmacks, because I guess they don't do that in Carmacks - flush, I mean. And I guess there are a few goodies in the budget for every community - every community, that is, except for Watson Lake. I wonder why?
There is some money for the food for learning program and the reading recovery program - nothing permanent, just a year's worth of program funding. There is nothing in the budget to address the shortage of teachers and nurses in the Yukon, and nothing new for recruitment and retention. And there's some money in the budget for land development again. Let's hope there's no arsenic in the water when they get this development going. Let's hope they can sell the lots. But, deep down, this budget has the same problem that all the other NDP budgets had: they don't tell us who the NDP are and where they're going.
With Romanow in Saskatchewan, we all knew that he wasn't your typical bleeding heart. He actually didn't believe in the money tree, like some NDP do. He was pro-business, and thank goodness he was, because he brought the Saskatchewan economy back from the brink. Klein and Harris - they've done wonders as well, albeit somewhat painfully. Now, Bob Rae, he was a real NDP. He nearly ruined Ontario, but he knew who he was, and people knew that they had an NDP premier in charge.
This government isn't really anything. Sure, they believe in the money tree. They have some members who are far left of reality, but the budget doesn't reflect that thinking. What's missing from this budget - carefully prepared - is a complete lack of leadership or an indication of who the NDP in the Yukon really is. This NDP government will spend $750,000 to support an outside firm to develop on a swamp in Whitehorse, and they increase social assistance by one percent. This NDP government travels throughout the world on expensive trade missions, spending thousands of Yukon taxpayer dollars, but they've got nothing to show for it. And, in the meantime, Yukon kids with drug and alcohol problems go without.
They are out of luck. So, who are the NDP? Who knows. But we get more and more disaffected NDP at our meetings. They don't know who the NDP government is either. And they will not be supporting this government in the next election, for that very reason.
So, who are the NDP? Who knows. But the answer to that question is surely not reflected in this budget - the desperation budget.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Sorry, Mr. Speaker, I was just warming up and relaxing into this.
Mr. Speaker, this is an interesting critique that we've had from our friends across the floor. For the last number of years that we have been in here, every budget has been characterized as an election budget. Last year, it was an election budget when we announced funding for expanding the continuing care. When we opened up the beds at the Thomson Centre, it was an election budget. The year before, when we announced assistance for children with optical and drug needs, and the food for learning program, which the members characterized as being a one-time only effort - we are now in our third year - that was an election budget.
The Member for Riverdale South has characterized this as desperation. The only desperation I see is the absolute floundering of the opposition here as they try to find something to poke holes in this budget about.
Now, Mr. Speaker, there was a comment made - I'm not sure by which of the opposition parties - about trust in government. I have, over the last year, tried to make at least two trips throughout the territory, usually in the spring and the fall or winter. I have just come back from up the north Klondike Highway. When I go out, I meet with communities, I meet with First Nations, I meet with the folks at the nursing stations, I meet with people in the social services field, I meet with, for example, the Northern Tutchone Council and other groups.
And I don't sense that distress in communities. I met with some members of the council in Dawson and some community activists there, and I don't sense that idea of distrust. What I do sense is a bit of amazement sometimes, on the part of people, that we have responded to their needs, and I think that's an interesting sort of phenomenon. For example, let's just take a look at the municipal grants, which we raised by one percent last year and two percent this year, as well as some of the other things such as increases to AYC and so on. Those didn't come about in a vacuum. They came about because the Government Leader had gone out, he consulted with community groups, he consulted with communities, and this budget is a reflection of what the communities and what the people in this territory see as being needs, what they see as being their priorities.
A government has priorities, to be sure, but people, who are the ultimate authority in a democratic society, have priorities, too. They have a very clear sense of where they want to go, where they want to see their funds expended, and this budget is a reflection of that. We can be cute and coy and come up with all the snappy little phrases, but the fact is that what we have done in our budgets is try to meet community needs and try to meet community desires and so on.
So, for example, when we talk about such things as the kids recreation fund, which we've made a permanent program - as a matter of fact, we've doubled it from what it was last year - that action didn't come about because we suddenly thought it was a snappy idea. That program came about because of some consultations with anti-poverty groups who told me that people who live in poverty, who were talking about the culture of poverty, the inability to provide some of those extras for their children. We brought about that program as a way to ameliorate that situation.
And when we did it we were amazed - I suppose we shouldn't have been but we were quite surprised - by the uptake, by the number of positive letters that I received on it, and because of that, in consultation with some of our partners in the communities, we've decided to make that a permanent feature.
When we decided to go into developing the extended care facility, that wasn't because we wanted to build something. That was because we recognized the needs of a population that was shifting; a population where the demographics are going to dictate greater demand for extended care facilities in this territory. That's why we did it. That's why we expanded the number of beds at the Thomson Centre, because of need, because of community desire.
You know, Mr. Speaker, this budget - when we talk about the things that people have asked for, the question of taxes comes up. I live in a riding that is quite varied. It varies from people who are on the lesser end of the scale to people who are middle-class in terms of income, and wherever I've gone I've heard differing demands, but one of the things, I have heard about is the need for people to have more money in their pockets. It's getting tougher and tougher to raise a family, it's getting tougher and tougher to pay the mortgage, it's getting tougher and tougher to do a lot of things.
And the decision to reduce personal income tax levels was a reflection of that need of a large group of Yukoners to have more money available for their own purposes. Now, I don't see that as being coy or manipulative, I see that as merely responding to the needs of communities. The Chamber of Commerce, for example, told the Government Leader in some of the round-table discussions on taxation, that personal income tax reductions would be desirable.
We have reduced income tax levels for small business. We have given mineral tax credits. Those are all reflections of the need that we have heard from different aspects of the community to help stimulate the economy, and that's what we're doing.
The fact is that this is a budget that I believe has balance. Now, the members opposite say that what we're trying to do is put dribs and drabs out there. That's not the case at all. This is a budget that has reflected where we go, where our personal values are. The member has asked who the NDP are. Well, I'll tell you who the NDP are. The NDP is made up of the people who have begun a social reinvestment program in this territory, everything from reinvesting in the hospital and basic health care, to a proactive approach on medical technology, to a proactive approach on issues surrounding seniors and extended care, to a proactive approach for children, with such things as the Yukon child benefit, such things as the programs that we brought in to support children, to a proactive approach on such things as the healthy family initiative. She asks where our values are. Our values are here. Our values are about people.
You know, I thought - well, maybe I'll go back and see what the Liberals had suggested during their campaign. Mr. Speaker, when I was raising my two children, one of the things we would feed them would be a rather bland cereal called "Pablum". Well, when I look back at the Liberal program in 1996, it's the political pablum. This thing - you could drive a truck through it. There is nothing concrete in here. What we have is touchy-feely, nice, soft language, but not a single, concrete example of what people can do. We hear all these platitudes about, well, only $200,000 for social assistance. Mr. Speaker, in the last three and a half years, we have not heard a word about the need for SA. We have not heard a word from these guys over there about the needs of people living in desperate conditions.
We have begun the process of reinvesting in people. We have begun the process of trying to turn this society toward a more caring, a more inclusive society, and I believe this budget goes a long way to do that. And it's building on some previous budgets, which I think are very sound as well.
I think this budget is a balanced approach. It emphasizes the economy, the environment, and it protects health care and education. We have built schools in this territory. We're in the process of building another one. Those are investments in our children. Those are investments in people. This budget meets the needs of achieving that balance between community needs, by spending responsibly to stimulate economic growth. I believe many of the things that are happening on the economic side here will stimulate economic growth. Certainly the tax issues will. And it also reinforces the social and environmental priorities of Yukon people. And it reconfirms the process of long-term planning, which seems to be astonishingly devoid from our friends opposite.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I will get to health care in the fullness of time, Mr. Speaker.
You know what? I heard a really interesting comment from the Member for Riverdale South. She commented on the need for the recruitment of teachers. Well, I just pulled out some stats here, and apparently we had 403 applications from teachers for positions last year. Now, based on that, I would say that we're not exactly the pariahs. Apparently there were 79 local applications, and there were 50 of those local folks hired. So, I would say that we are working hard to ensure that this is an attractive place to be.
The member has talked about shortages of nurses. We work very actively on recruitment of nurses. We're up to almost full strength now. There are a couple of recruitments still outstanding that we are hoping to hear on very soon.
We've just managed to recruit a physician to serve the Mayo and Pelly area. We are looking at recruiting yet another doctor for another rural community. So, we are working actively on that.
This budget provides economic opportunities and jobs through capital projects, like the continuing care facility. There's $7.9 million this year. I guess that's nothing in the current-year budget. And the Mayo school - I guess that's nothing. People have waited there for 22 years for a new school. The school is coming. The school is going to start. That's nothing, I guess.
This budget is filled with capital projects that benefit Yukon communities. I know that the Liberals don't really like to think that the world extends too far out of Whitehorse, but I can assure the members opposite that there are communities like Pelly Crossing, which appreciate the arena. There is the recreation centre in Carmacks. I'm sure that the folks up there appreciate it. Old Crow will be receiving some improvements to their airport and some other things. There is a solid-waste management pilot project in Haines Junction. This is a budget, which, I believe, addresses a number of economic issues and matters.
I would just like to refer back to my own riding. This is an interesting riding, because it is one that encompasses both rural and urban neighbourhoods in one riding. In fact, it encompasses, almost within the breadth of one road, a rural and an urban neighbourhood. We have rural residents living on the Alaska Highway on Squatter's Row and out in the MacRae area. There are people living out on the highway. We have mobile home dwellers in Lobird. We have new subdivisions in Arkell, Logan and Copper Ridge. A surprising number of those folks - because I do go out and bang on doors every Sunday, and it's a habit I've gotten into. A lot of those people up there are young families and people just starting out. But, increasingly, it's becoming an interesting mixed area. There are a lot of older people moving up into that area as well.
There are seniors in established neighbourhoods such as Hillcrest. There are, as I've said, young families. There are a lot of very young children up there. I went to four houses on Sunday where, in a row, there were toddlers in the home. There are First Nations people. There are francophones. There are new immigrants, and there are people who have been living in that area since World War II, and I believe, quite frankly, that this budget reflects some of the needs of people up there.
One of the things that I've heard about over the last while has been the need for improvements, particularly on certain intersections, most notably Fraser Road and the Alaska Highway at MacRae. I've heard from residents and other people who travel through there that the existing intersection doesn't allow for traffic leaving or entering Fraser - there isn't any way to merge or exit at a safe speed - so one of the things that this budget will do is that there is $300,000 in this budget that will allow merge lanes to be built. There is also money in here to allow for the improvement of the cycle route across the railway tracks near McRae.
One of the things that I've heard about recently is of Mount Sima, a recreation facility which is increasing in use, and with the acquisition of snow-making equipment from the community development fund next year, I expect that that facility will be used even more. One of things that was brought to my attention was the need for some kind of improvement to the access route there - the Mount Sima road. What we have been doing is working with the city to bring about a realignment of that road that will intersect with the present Mount Sima road, and the construction on this is targeted for 2001. And this will be done along with the city's area development scheme.
Those were a couple of safety issues, but that's not the only safety issue. One of the major issues that we're facing with the increase in development in the Hamilton Boulevard area, has been just the need to improve that facility. We're going to be starting out initially - there's money in this budget here, in 2001, to improve the Hamilton Boulevard up to Sumanik Drive because, quite frankly, that road is very narrow. The traffic narrows down, particularly on going up Hamilton Boulevard from the city. It becomes very narrow and rather dangerous and, as well, the grade, if one is coming down Hamilton Boulevard during the winter when there is ice on there, can be quite treacherous. So, this government has included $1.4 million in this year's budget for this phase, and an additional $2.4 million for further developments on Hamilton Boulevard.
One of the projects that is in this budget, which I guess our friends across the floor have indicated that they don't want to support, is the idea of $1.5 million for a project with the city to eliminate some of the demands on the Hillcrest water supply. Now, this came to light in a very dramatic way during the Trans North hangar fire. The demand on the water supply in that area emptied out the water for Hillcrest. By permitting a project to run an airport waterline along the Range Road extension, this will eliminate that problem, and it's expected that the design contract will be awarded later this spring.
As I made reference to earlier, there has been a lot of activity up in the riding of Whitehorse West. There was the provision of funds for a booster station. On Sunday, I was up in one of the areas that was affected, talking to people there about this particular need.
So, that's one of the things. As I mentioned, Mount Sima received funding, and this was very welcome. I had the chance to go with the Member for Mount Lorne and the Minister of Economic Development to help present a cheque on that project. There was the unveiling of the Whitehorse International Airport development plan last September.
As we made reference to, the continuing care facility is going up in Copper Ridge off the Diamond Way area, and we've held several open houses up there - at l'École Émilie Tremblay - to familiarize residents with the project. I've actually gone around. I've toured the areas of those streets to talk to residents and to get their input, for example, to change the realignment of one of our access roads. So we've had a lot of opportunities, I think, to see the kinds of needs that even a relatively new, developing riding like Whitehorse West does need, and we've tried to respond.
I feel that this budget not only meets those local needs, but also meets the needs in terms of the territory. It meets some of the needs of all of our diverse communities. I believe that, notwithstanding the Member for Riverdale South's scorn of the community alcohol treatment fund, this fund is above and beyond, Mr. Speaker, the funds that we're currently spending on alcohol and drugs. This fund was designed - and I know that this is a hard concept for some of our friends across the floor to grasp - to allow local communities to develop their own solutions to issues of addictions within their community.
So when we, out of that fund, give money - give support - to the Tatlmain Lake Healing Centre or the Northern Tutchone Council, those people probably really don't know what they're doing with that. The great Liberal response is this kind of noblesse oblige. We know better. We would do things better. We would handle things better. So I suppose the Liberals would treat with contempt, for example, the desire of people in Kwanlin Dun to use that fund to train after-care workers. That really doesn't matter. You know, we would know better. They probably really don't think that the good folks in Carcross, who have accessed those funds for their program -really, that's no use to them. I'm sure that's how they see it.
You see, this is the interesting thing that we see here. We see this kind of namby-pamby, "We'll do better. Somehow we'll do better. We're nicer." But when it comes down to the hard decisions, when it comes down to the hard statements of what will you do, how will you work with people, we don't see anything. We don't see anything from the Liberals. We don't see anything from the Yukon Party.
You know, Mr. Speaker, part of this budget has been an attempt to restore people's confidence in government in this territory, in the ability of government to respond to their needs. We have committed for such things as stable funding for NGOs, and we did it. We have committed to improving the funding levels of the Whitehorse hospital, and we have done it. We provided extra support to the Yukon Hospital Corporation, in the form of the computerized tomography. We have provided more capital dollars. We have provided an additional $400,000 to operate the CAT scanner. Mr. Speaker, that came out of discussions with the hospital corporation. I asked the Hospital Corporation to come in last fall and talk about their priorities. We had a good, frank discussion. They identified the CAT scanner as a major issue to them.
They presented, I think very cogently, the Chair of the Hospital Board, the CEO, and Dr. Bousquet, who is the head of the medical staff, presented some very good evidence about the need for a CAT scanner and the benefits that it could have. We asked questions about delivery of information, the interpretation of information and, based on that, we chose to make this a major investment.
Now, I have to say that we have improved and increased - and I can point to where the Health and Social Services budget has gone over the last number of years, and it's here in black and white. I mean, it's not hugely complex. You can take a look at the expenditures that have gone on there. We have done this in the face of federal government cuts. We have done this in the face of the decimation of the Canada health and social transfer. We have done this in the face of supposed consultation between a federal government that comes up here with the minister, makes nice noises to our local community, to our local people involved in poverty, then toddles off to Ottawa and comes out with a $783-million announcement on homelessness that fails to recognize issues of aboriginal housing, fails to recognize the needs of people in the north - not a penny. This is a social union framework?
We have a federal government that announces $12 million in fetal alcohol money. How much is going to come to the Yukon? Not a penny, Mr. Speaker.
We have battled to continue funding and to raise funding in the face of complete neglect - no, not even neglect. Neglect has a sense of benign-ness - incompetence by a federal government.
This is a government that can - the federal government makes these announcements. They commit to a social union framework agreement, then promptly forget about it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm not blaming anything on anyone else. What I'm saying is that we have increased our funding for health care, we've increased our funding for basic health and social services, something that the Yukon Party did not do. We have increased our funding in the face of federal government neglect.
I'd just like to go back to some of the things we have done in this government. This budget confirms our support of a school nutrition program. I don't know if the Member for Klondike has managed to make it over to the Robert Service School to see what that program has been like. I was over there for breakfast. I was over there to take a look at a program that has begun there. I'm surprised the Member for Klondike hasn't made his way over there to actually see what some of his constituents are doing on behalf of children, on behalf of children who, apparently, maybe because they don't vote, maybe aren't in his realm of interest.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That's true. There are a lot of parents there. The children's optical and drug program is a program that provides pharmaceuticals and opticals to low-income children.
This is a government that has done such things as a new health care centre for Teslin. We brought in a health investment fund of $157,000, diabetes education at the Whitehorse hospital for the first time, expanded home care services into the weekends, into the evenings, expanded dental and optical benefits for seniors. This is a government that brought about higher expenditures on health than all but one national jurisdiction, that being the N.W.T.
We brought in a PD fund for people involved in Health and Social Services. We brought in a nursing bursary. We increased funding to the Child Development Centre. My colleague, the Minister of Education, budgeted $150,000 additional for reading recovery. And we have begun the initial replacement funds for the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, something that has been long overdue.
We brought in a microloan program for people who don't qualify for conventional credit. You know, Mr. Speaker, this may not seem like a big issue to my friends across the floor, but I can tell you that I was talking with a young couple who were having trouble getting capital to begin a business - because of their age, because of the fact that they were relatively unestablished. I have people in my riding who are engaged in home businesses, who are engaged in artistic ventures, who welcome this kind of a microloan, because it allows them to develop their businesses in a way that doesn't tie them to huge, long-term debt.
Increased support for legal aid. Increased support for an advocate at the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. The kids recreation fund that I mentioned again; they wouldn't be quite so dismissive of this fund if they saw the number of letters that I got from parents who said that this allows their child to participate in a sport or take summer camp, or take dance or art or music. One of the things we heard was the need for Handibus services. We've approached the city and we're probably the only jurisdiction in Canada, I'm sure we are, where a provincial - or, in this case, territorial jurisdiction - provides the bulk of the money for that. We provide $181,000 on that. We are prepared to put in an additional $30,000. We are prepared because, when we approached the city on that, they told us that a figure of $210,000 would allow for a level of service that was commensurate with regular services.
We've continued our low-income family tax benefit, the Yukon child benefit, which we brought in last year, the healthy family initiative and, as I said, the community addictions treatment fund. This is a fund that people do access.
Mr. Speaker, we could go on and on with a number of these things. But the fact is that what we have attempted to do in this budget is address some of the community needs and some of the community desires.
I told the members when I began this that what I hear from communities and community people suggests that people are becoming aware that their needs are being addressed - that their needs are being listened to.
I was struck today by the fact that I had a number of people stop me on the street who did mention things in this budget. They did mention that they were pleased that their desires and interests were addressed in this budget. I've spoken with people who have said that they were pleasantly surprised that the government was so open to suggestions from the various groups.
This is something that I believe is a hallmark of a responsible government; that when we engage citizens in a process of dialogue, we do it with sincerity. When we talk with the Association of Yukon Communities, and they talk about their needs in terms of block funding, or they talk about their needs for greater liberty in distributing their funds, we listen and we respond.
This is a hallmark of government: that when we go and talk with anti-poverty groups and they talk to us about the need to begin the process of reinvesting in individuals through the SA process; that we need to provide support for people who want to attend college to get off SA; that we respond; that programs that they have seen in the past that have been popular and welcome are continued and, in fact, increased; that when we talk with the health care community and they tell us what they need to provide a level of health care service that Yukoners require in this changing age, that we respond to those needs. I haven't heard anyone come up and say, "Well, gee whiz, you know, you shouldn't do these things." What I have heard is that people have begun that process of trust and have begun that process of belief again, I think, in government.
The Yukon Party, I think, gutted that feeling that people have - that bond that people have with their government - in their tenure. They did not consult. They instead rolled over this territory like a steamroller. They did not respond.
We hear the great tax slashers now. These were the guys that increased taxes, and now, because they've seen the prophet from the south, Saint Ralph, come up and say "flat tax, flat tax", they have now suddenly jumped on - oh, we've got to cut tax and we would cut more, and oh yes, we'd cut more. But our tax-reduction initiative was not done as a knee-jerk. It was considered; it was measured; it was done in concert with tax-reduction measures that we had begun earlier last year, tax measures that were directed toward business, tax measures that were directed toward people on the lower end of the economic spectrum.
And we continued the process this year, and we continued the process out of a dialogue with people in the chambers of commerce, with business people, with communities. So, I think those initiatives and those steps do indicate to people, do indicate to Canadians, do indicate to Yukoners that government listens, that government responds. I believe that this government has, as its focus, a balanced agenda. It tries to address the fact that this is a diverse society, that this is a society where people have many needs that exist in many manners in this territory, and I think that what we have tried to do is reflect that in our budget and reflect that in our governmental priorities.
We do not take the obligation of administering or governing lightly. We have tried to respond. Now, some may characterize that as trying to please people. Well, I don't see that as trying to please people as much as trying to help people. That's what we're about.
The Member for Riverside says, who are the NDP? We are here. We are here in this. We are here in our core values. We are here in the nature of what we believe as social democrats, that people ultimately have a right to participate, have a right to be engaged in society, and have a right - everyone has a right - to participate in the benefits of society.
That's not a responsibility to be taken lightly. We believe in it. We are committed to it. This is a process that we will continue and we will move forward with. I support this budget. I support this budget in all aspects. I see this as a building project. I see this as something that we are moving on, and I believe that, in the future, this budget will be looked upon very, very favourably.
If I find that people have raised concerns about this budget, I would be the first to say it, but I have not found that. I have not found that. What I have heard is that people believe in this budget, as we do, and are committed to it.
Yesterday, I had an odd little experience. I was talking with a local business person, after the budget, and they were commenting on what they saw as some benefits, particularly for the tourism community, which this individual was associated with, and my friend from Riverdale South chimed in with, "There's nothing for small business." Well, this person looked at me and said, "Did tourism stop being small business?"
So I can tell the members that the business people who I have spoken to -
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: - as a budget for small business. I have heard that people see this as a budget for social progress. I do see this as -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, the Member for Klondike has said that it's backwards. So what is backwards? Is taking care of children backwards? Is providing opportunities for children backwards? Is providing for our seniors backwards? Is providing for health care backwards? Is providing for a CAT scan backwards?
He says that's backwards. Increasing legal aid funding, increasing education funding, that's backwards.
Well, Mr. Speaker, if that is backwards, if that is backwards - if assisting people is backwards, we plead guilty. But I don't believe it's going backwards. I believe it's going forward. I believe it's moving toward a more equitable, more just, more fair society. And I don't apologize for that. I don't apologize for that, and neither does anyone here on this side. We believe in people, we will continue to believe in people, and we will continue to invest in people.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, in light of the time, I move that debate be now adjourned.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Klondike that the debate be now adjourned. Are you agreed?
Motion to adjourn debate on second reading of Bill No. 99 agreed to
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:27 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled February 22, 2000:
Fuel prices: letter (dated February 22, 2000) to Hon. John Manley, Minister of Industry (Canada) from Hon. Trevor Harding, Minister of Economic Development (Yukon), re price increases (Harding)
Yukon Economic Outlook 2000 (dated February 2000) (Harding)