Wednesday, November 12, 1997 - 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. Sloan: I have for tabling a copy of the chlamydia prevention kit.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have the 1997 annual report of the Yukon Utilities Board for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I have for tabling the Yukon Driver Control Board report to the minister.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Introduction of bills.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 40: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As acting minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, I move that Bill No. 40, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board that Bill No. 40, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 40 agreed to
Bill No. 7: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 7, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 1996-97, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 7, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 1996-97, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 7 agreed to
Bill No. 8: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 8, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98, be now introduced and read for first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 8, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 8 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Chlamydia awareness campaign
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform my colleagues of an important new initiative being undertaken by the Department of Health and Social Services through its health promotion unit. It reflects our government's policy of emphasizing a preventive approach to health.
This past April, the Yukon government became responsible for providing public health and public health education. Previously such programs were delivered by Health Canada or non-governmental organizations. This month, the department will introduce a new awareness campaign on a particular sexually transmitted disease.
The campaign revolves around chlamydia, which is now the most common sexually transmitted disease among young people in the Yukon.
In 1995, our rates of chlamydia were four times the national average. In 1996 alone, 40 new cases were diagnosed among youth between the ages of 15 and 19 years.
Mr. Speaker, chlamydia poses a serious threat to the reproductive health of infected women. Left untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility, ectopic pregnancy and even death.
Chlamydia is particularly insidious for women, as most infected females will have the disease for years without noticing any symptoms. Males, on the other hand, experience symptoms shortly after contracting the disease and are able to seek treatment. The objective of our campaign is two-fold. First, it is to educate youth about chlamydia and what it can mean to them, and secondly, it aims to reduce the rates within the Yukon.
The campaign, "Doing the Right Thing", is aimed at a specific target audience and is written in the language of teens. It will not be introduced initially through schools, but through community locations where youth will feel free to seek out information. We believe it is very important that everyone be aware of the program and its goals.
Those of us who are parents know it is often uncomfortable to discuss sexually transmitted diseases with our teens. It is even more difficult to admit to ourselves that they may be sexually active long before we would like them to be. Some teens are sexually active, however, and they need information to protect themselves.
Mr. Speaker, teens today are becoming sexually active at a much earlier age, and the consequences they face are much more serious than those faced even two decades ago. The challenge is to give them knowledge and tools with which to protect themselves and then help them translate that knowledge into healthy behaviours.
The campaign tools, of which I tabled a copy, also include a brochure in the form of a CD case, a poster, a copy of which I have here, and advertisements on buses and radio. The campaign also includes condoms and an explanation of their use.
The campaign does not promote one lifestyle over another. It simply strives to provide youth with information. It will be supported in the high schools with a short educational program that complements the campaign.
Mr. Speaker, we are firm in our belief that we share responsibility for providing this information to the territory's young people. We share the responsibility with parents, with health professionals, and with the teens themselves, and we take our responsibilities very seriously.
Our ultimate goal is to reduce the rate of chlamydia in the Yukon by 50 percent by the year 2001.
In the short term, we expect and actually hope that the rate of reported chlamydia increases. This is one way that we will know that people are hearing what we are saying and getting tested to protect themselves. By continued educational efforts, as well as effective diagnosis and treatment, we can significantly reduce the rate of this disease in the territory. Thank you.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus, I offer our congratulations on this campaign to raise awareness of chlamydia, specifically amongst our teens.
I do have some reservations about the methodology of program implementation and ask the minister if, in his rebuttal, he would offer an explanation.
I refer specifically to the statement that the program will not be introduced initially through schools but through community locations where youth will feel free to seek out information.
With the lack of support for the YES program, and the closing of that facility, this is just one avenue that the minister has curtailed, and the whole exercise of this campaign is to get the information out to our youth and get it out there in a timely fashion. The best opportunity to deliver such a program is through our educational system, but that comes after, so while our party supports the program, in general terms, it would appear that this government is ignoring the best delivery mechanism, through our schools, and one of the most well-received youth centres, funded by YES, will no longer be available to them. The overall strategy of reducing chlamydia in Yukon by 50 percent would still keep it well above the national average, and I would hope that we could target our sights considerably lower than this reduction.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Just, perhaps, for a point of clarification, there was considerable discussion around how this should be addressed because of the nature of the sensitivities.
We have been in contact with school councils to advise them of this and we have indicated that we would be making a public education through there. We did not feel that, particularly at this point, we wanted to become involved in bringing it into schools without some discussion with school councils, and so on.
Where we are actually targeting, I suppose, is some of the areas of older young people, specifically of drinking age, and we are seeking cooperation with some of the licensed establishments in town to disseminate this information through them.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, the member does say that it is 19 and up, but this is where we're going to begin our initial targeting, and we will be attempting this through other sources that young people have.
Cabinet Commission on Yukon Hire: progress report
Mr. Hardy: In keeping with our government's policy of involving people in decisions that affect them, I rise to inform the House that the Yukon hire commission has completed its final round of consultation.
We are now proceeding to draft recommendations for Cabinet on measures to ensure that Yukon government spending creates as many good jobs and economic opportunities as possible for Yukon people.
I would like to thank all the people who gave up time on evenings and weekends to participate in our eight workshops in October. Thank you also to all the individuals, businesses and organizations who gave us their thoughts and views and to all the people who called us with their ideas and concerns.
In our initial consultation, we went to every community in the Yukon and listened to everyone who wanted to speak to us. The Yukon people told us what their concerns and problems were and suggested numerous potential solutions. We made sure that all suggested solutions were included in our consultation paper.
Our final round of consultation focused on trying to achieve consensus on the solutions. We held four workshops in rural communities: Dawson City, Carmacks, Watson Lake and Haines Junction. We also held four in Whitehorse for different industry groups: construction, government purchasing and manufacturing, consulting and professional services, and cultural industries.
I was encouraged by the large number of participants and their willingness to share ideas and experiences. I believe that everyone who participated in these workshops felt it was a worthwhile exercise. I certainly learned a lot and I believe so did all the participants involved in the exercise.
I was pleased, Mr. Speaker, by the free and open exchange of views. We received many suggestions: some that are controversial, others that contradict each other. We even reached broad consensus on a number of issues such as better government planning, the need for better enforcement of the fair-wage schedule, and the opposition to a percentage preference policy which can be seen in the NWT. Choices will have to be made in areas where there was no consensus, but I believe people will understand why we make these choices.
We have a big job ahead of us putting together everything we heard, but we expect to be finished by the end of December, "on time and on budget", as we say in construction.
I would also like to thank the opposition for their ongoing comments about local hire. Judging by their stance, they completely agree with what the local hire commission is doing. I look forward to their continued support.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to assure the hundreds of Yukoners who participated in this process that their voice has been heard clearly and that the recommendations the Yukon hire commission comes up with will carefully consider everything they have said to us.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: On behalf of the Liberal Party caucus, I'd like to respond to the commissioner's statement regarding the Yukon hire. I have attended, on behalf of our party caucus, two of the local hire consultation sessions, as the commissioner is fully aware, and the Liberal Party caucus is fully aware of how far along the local hire commission is in their consultations. We've followed their progress with interest. I'd like to thank the commissioner for his report today, for bringing the House up to speed on the progress.
I would like, however, to take issue with two of the comments, and perhaps the minister would care to elaborate on the one and listen to the other. The first point is that the commissioner has indicated that the local hire effort is on time and on budget.
We found this reference of particular interest, because we have never seen a complete, clear reporting of the direct costs associated with this specific commission. I would like to ask to have that information tabled.
The other point that I would just clarify for the commissioner is that the Yukon Liberal Party caucus is not in complete agreement with the Yukon hire commission. There are two major issues with some of the solutions that the commissioner has presented in his consultation round. There is the issue of the solution proposed by the commissioner of unionization of government and Crown corporation jobs and the issue of the transfer of municipal funds with local hire provisions attached.
As we have discussed at great length with other pieces of legislation, other items and items for discussion presented by this government, there is the issue of enforcement or, in this case, implementation. I would trust that when the local hire commissioner presents the solutions and recommendations to this House - to the government - there will be an implementation schedule attached and an implementation work program, which would indicate clearly how the government intends to have the affected parties buy into the program.
Mr. Hardy: It is interesting that the member opposite says that she attended two workshops. The first workshop, she didn't attend. She attended the introduction and the briefings, but she didn't participate in the workshops and stick around for when the real work happened and when the hard work happened. I don't know where she was.
For the second workshop, she attended the supper, but she didn't participate in any of the workshops again. She sat in a room with a friend and spent two and one-half hours socializing and never participated in the workshops. Her comments have to be taken in the context of her own background and how much she placed value on this. You can't go to a workshop, sit outside the door, and say you participated. I think it's very misleading to the public to do that.
Concerning another one of the points that was raised regarding the union-hire option, there were 14 options raised. One of them was union. Why do they only focus on union? I'll tell you why they only focus on unions - because they are fundamentally opposed to the formation of unions. Fundamentally.
It is very clear.
There's a comment from the paper - the member opposite, from Porter Creek South, says, "Unions have a place - but the place isn't in the Yukon." I'm adding the last part now, but I'm assuming the place is the Yukon. She says that unions have a place, followed by another comment, "More work, not more union hire."
What does that say to us? We present what the people say. Many of the people suggested unions as a way to increase local employment. Should we ignore that statement? Should we just say to them, "That word's bad. Unions are bad because the Liberals across do not like them" Should we take that position? Should we hide?
It's a suggestion that was given to us. I wish the member opposite would have participated in the workshop. She would have heard the other 14 options, and then she might be able to give an informed response to this.
Speaker: Does this then bring us to the Question Period?
Education, mathematics grades
Mr. Phillips: My question is to Minister of Education and again it's regarding the recent math marks of Yukon high school students. Judging by the number of phone calls that I had received this morning since the media picked up on the questions that I asked last Monday, there's a very strong concern by parents out there about what's happening in our school system. Many parents are asking me why they didn't know that there was a problem. Many of the parents thought that it might have been just their own child who didn't do so well in the last set of marks and were surprised to hear that it is rather widespread.
I was surprised on Monday to hear that the Minister of Education didn't know that there was a problem. I would like to ask the Minister of Education this: is she is now aware that there is a crisis and does she plan to take any action to improve the math programs in our junior grades?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I think it's clear that the member opposite is still doing everything he can to raise fears and to take an alarmist approach. There have been some results of some term tests, and term marks are not necessarily an indication of the student's overall achievement for the year. The results in English and math are compiled and presented in Assessment Highlights - Yukon Territorial Examinations, on an annual basis. What those marks show for the 1996-97 years is indeed not a crisis.
Mr. Phillips: I'm sure that the math teachers in our high schools, the parents and the students out there are going to be quite concerned about the remarks made by the minister, that she doesn't think there's a problem at all. These are questions and tests and marks that are graded on the fundamentals, the basis knowledge of math. It is a signal, a clear signal, when 110 students out of 170-odd students fail to meet the grade. That's serious.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Minister of Education if she would be prepared to publish now, and in the future, the results of these math marks so that parents, in general, and students will know that there is a trend and that action can be taken when they know that there is a trend.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Again, Mr. Speaker, I do not accept the member's assertion that there is a crisis. The first term tests are teacher-based exams that are used by the teacher to determine what information has to be reviewed before introducing new materials.
I should also inform the member that he is speaking about first-term test results on a semester-based system and some schools teach math courses for the entire year. Yes, we will continue to produce assessment highlights on an annual basis and distribute the results of those assessment highlights on the results of the yearly territorial examinations in English and in math.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I'm not going to let the Minister of Education get away with dismissing this. The NDP may like mediocrity in our education system, but we don't. We want to see excellence in our education system.
What I'd like to ask the minister, if the minister feels that she is right and I am wrong, would the minister then ask an independent party, an independent individual who is knowledgeable in the education system, not anyone from the Department of Education, but an independent individual to come in and do an assessment in our math system in our schools to see how we're actually stocking up and then would the minister table that independent assessment in the House?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member's comments are way off the mark. Our purpose is to meet the goals and objectives of the approved ciriculum in math, as in other subjects. Individual schools go a long way to help students to do well. There are tutors available in secondary schools to support students who require extra instruction in math. We have classroom teachers who provide tutorials outside of classroom hours. The member opposite just doesn't seem to be listening to the answers.
Question re: Block Parent program
Mr. Jenkins: My question today is for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
The news today reported that the Block Parent program in Whitehorse is in danger of closing down and being formally disbanded on November 29 because of the lack of interest, which is very unfortunate. The president of the Yukon Block Parents Association has stated that it's time to close the doors, at least in Whitehorse, and focus on other programs, like Neighbourhood Watch. The Block Parent programs in Watson Lake, Ross River and Haines Junction would have to be transferred to the B.C. Block Parent program.
Has the minister been in consultation with the association and has he offered the association any assistance, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, we have not been contacted by the Block Parents. Generally, this, I believe, is delivered through the RCMP or, at least, in association with the RCMP. As I understood it from the reports today, the issue surrounding Block Parents is the lack of volunteers available in the community, and I think that's the area where the association needs to be working, to recruit more block parents.
But, no, in short we have not been approached and, as I've said, I believe it is done through the RCMP.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the president of the Yukon Block Parents Association has raised the concern that the program is not being properly administered, that there are many Block Parent signs out there where the parents have not been properly screened or haven't been screened at all. This could create a potentially dangerous situation and I'd like to know if the minister has had discussions with the association or with the RCMP concerning this area.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have to, once again, say that this really falls into the realm of Justice, but it is distressing that so many signs are out there that cannot be accounted for and I believe the association was suggesting that they would be looking at ways to encourage the retrieval of these signs and then examining the other options as to whether they would close down the existing program and reconfigure.
So, it is an issue but I believe it's working within their present configuration right now and I assume that they'll be bringing forward some ideas in that regard.
Mr. Jenkins: Can the minister advise the House what role his government is prepared to play in attempting to salvage this program, dealing with outstanding issues falling out of this program having been implemented. Or is he just prepared to see the program shut down, or is he going to hide behind some other board or committee. Is the minister going to do anything, Mr. Speaker, in this regard?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, this is a serious concern for the government and we want to ensure we're not doing anything that will place children at risk. I can tell the member that the Deputy Minister of Justice will be meeting with the president of the Yukon Block Parents Association to review the situation about the safety of children and secondly to look at ways that it might be possible to revise the program in Whitehorse.
Question re: First Nations cultural funding in schools
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Education.
Mr. Speaker, a review of First Nations education programs in the Yukon was completed early this summer, and one of the areas reviewed by the consultants was First Nations curriculum and cultural support. With specific reference to the cultural support funds granted to each school each year, the report says that most schools receive between $400 and $700 per year. The report says, "All stakeholders agreed that there is a need to provide such financial assistance as a means of stimulating and supporting these initiatives by schools."
Will the minister explain in the context of the Better Way and this government's commitment to partnerships why, when all the stakeholders agreed that there's a need for this financial support, the budget for cultural support has been slashed to $150 per school per year?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, First Nations curriculum and cultural support is an important initiative within the department and in the schools in the Yukon. I have to tell the member that the report that was prepared jointly for First Nations and for the Yukon government has not been implemented and that there will be ongoing work between First Nations and the government.
As far as the work on curriculum development for First Nations programming, that's ongoing work not only with individual schools but within the curriculum branch of the department.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the money that I was discussing was the money for cultural support, and according to the report, the amount of money generally restricts the activity to only one event per school per year. The monies used for cultural activities limits what can be done. A few respondents maintain that the budget permits them only to stage a "bannock and beads day".
As she stated this particular funding is important to the department, will the minister commit to restoring funding to this program?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I'm unable to indicate what will be contained in the next year's budget. When the budget is prepared, it will be brought before the House, and I'm sure we'll have full debate on all of the elements of the Education budget as with other departments at that time.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister has indicated she is committed to partnerships except when she doesn't agree or can't afford them.
Will the minister explain, if funding is not restored, how she intends to fulfill the requirements under the Education Act, specifically section 55 that "Every school shall include in the school program activities relevant to the cultural heritage traditions and practices of the Yukon First Nations served by that school"?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, we're going to be continuing doing good work with individual school councils and individual schools on what occurs in their schools. We're also going to continue with curriculum development work by the department to increase and improve First Nations cultural activities and curriculum support.
Question re: Whitehorse Correctional Centre, maintenance
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the same minister, with her Minister of Justice hat on, about the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. I understand that, at the request of the minister's department, Mr. Roberts of Correction Service Canada has prepared a report on the condition of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. I understand also that this report - let's call it the Roberts report - confirms the findings of previous reports that there's little point in making patchwork repairs to the jail. Is my information correct?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, there has been a report that the member referred to as the Roberts report prepared.
Mr. Cable: The minister is a master at the non-answer. She was quoted on March 27 of this year, on a CBC special report, as saying - and this is in the context of the discussion on the jail - "While I think it is important to continue with the ongoing maintenance and with fixing any health and safety risks, and in fact the overall safety and security is maintained in a manner that is comparable to national correctional standards, that has to be done in the meantime until a decision is made to replace the facility."
Would the minister assure this House and the public and the staff at the jail and the inmates that the Whitehorse Correctional Centre at the present time meets national correctional standards?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We're ensuring that the work that needs to be done to keep Whitehorse Correctional Centre up to standards is being done on an ongoing basis. There's been considerable discussion in this House about the various improvements that have been made. I can certainly bring a list of those back for the member or reiterate them for him, so I guess the answer would be yes.
Mr. Cable: I understand that this report - the Roberts report, if we can call it that - says that to bring the jail up to national correctional standards would cost more than to replace the jail. This would seem to differ somewhat from the inference from the minister's answer.
Would the minister commit to making the Roberts report public, so that we can all have a look at it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: With previous reports that have been made available to the opposition, they've first been reviewed as to what elements of the report are available under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. There may be some reasons why the report could not be released in its entirety. I will take the member's request and get an answer back to him.
Question re: Centennial anniversaries program
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Tourism regarding a tourism project.
I spoke to the Minister of Economic Development the other day about the CAP proposal. I would like to ask the Minister of Tourism a question about the Whitehorse CAP proposal. I would like to ask the minister if the technical committee rejected the Whitehorse CAP proposal because it didn't meet the Tourism criteria.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As the acting Minister of Economic Development, I will take the question as notice. I will point out to the members opposite that the reason why the centennial anniversaries program is being administered by the Department of Economic Development is a secret, I guess, that only the members opposite can tell us, because, of course, this program, even though there seems to be a lot of interest between the Tourism critic and Tourism minister on this program, the Yukon Party government established the program under the Department of Economic Development, presumably for good reasons, and expected the Minister of Economic Development, as has been the case in the past, to answer questions about it.
Now, the Minister of Economic Development has been trying to provide this member with the government's position on the CAP project, and if there are any further technical details the member might wish to explore, the minister or I, if I can get the information sooner, will provide the information to the House.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, it's interesting. I asked a Tourism question the other day, and the Minister of Economic Development answered. I asked one today. He's not here and the Government Leader answers. It must mean that the Minister of Tourism doesn't have the background or knowledge of the tourism side of these initiatives. That's unfortunate. I guess he's been floating around in his boat on Teslin Lake all summer and isn't aware of what's going on.
The Minister of Economic Development said yesterday that he has asked the local group with the Whitehorse CAP proposal to provide more of a tourism component. Can the minister table the letter or correspondence that it sent to the Whitehorse group outlining where the particular proposal fell short, and could he table it in the House tomorrow so that we can all see what the problem is?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, far from sitting on his hands, the Minister of Tourism, as everyone will know, was busy signing our Transat deals with airlines, which will ultimately bring more people to the territory, directly from Germany. I would say that that's a fairly laudable project, and not only that, but I think the tourism industry agrees with me. Obviously, the member opposite does not.
The Minister of Tourism is not responsible for the program; the Minister of Economic Development is, thanks to a decision made by the Yukon Party. Now perhaps the Yukon Party wants us to amalgamate the two departments, but we have no plans to do that. Perhaps that's what they're angling for us to do. That's another issue too.
I will take the question as notice about the tabling of information that will help the member understand the issue in its entirety, and if I can table it tomorrow, I will.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, I should get it on the record that I approved of the Air Transat deal and in fact I congratulated the Minister of Tourism, but I think the Minister of Tourism and I both know who did the work. The minister signed the document. It was the marketing people who did all the work. The minister just went over as a figurehead and signed the document; he didn't do anything other than that. He knows that and I know that.
It was unfortunate that, when we were in government and we worked out the initiatives with the same marketing branch worked out initiatives with Canadian Airlines that brought far more people to the territory, the side opposite criticized the initiatives of the marketing branch and of the Minister of Tourism of the day.
I would like the minister to bring back any correspondence whatsoever he has had with the continual extension of the deadlines for the Whitehorse group, and if he could tell us if the technical committee - the bureaucratic committee - turned down this proposal. My information is that they turned it down.
So, the decision to go ahead any further is purely a political decision, and I'd like the minister to confirm that it is a political decision to go to the next stage.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will table what information I can, but in the first instance I will make it clear that when the government speaks, they speak as one voice. Secondly, I will certainly ensure that there is full information on the table.
I want to point out that when I mentioned the Air Transat deal, the member - off the record - said "We were aware of that one." That's common parlance for, "You will regret having taken credit for that particular program because, presumably, it's doomed to fail." Well, I don't agree with him at all.
And I would point out, Mr. Speaker, that, in all these arrangements, clearly there is good work going on in terms of negotiating Air Transat deals or any other tourism marketing venture or anything else in the government. A lot of good people in the various departments do a heck of a lot of work for this government, and I must point out that, when the member was the Minister of Tourism, we had no idea that there was a department. It seemed to us that he was doing it all on his own.
Question re: First Nations cultural funding in schools
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Education.
I'd like to ask the minister further questions about the review of the First Nations education program.
The report is dated July of this year and I understand from the media reports that the minister was to meet with the Council of Yukon First Nations leadership to discuss the recommendations. Would the minister indicate if a time line was established for instituting the recommendations in this report?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We had a preliminary meeting with the Council of Yukon First Nations and do not have a firm time line for the next steps, although we will be meeting again.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps the minister could elaborate on that. However, I'd like to ask her specifically about recommendation number 4 in the report. It states that the Yukon government should give consideration to CYFN, Council of Yukon First Nations, demands to assume a greater role in the YNTEP governance. In these preliminary discussions with CYFN, did the minister reach an agreement or an undertaking with the Council of Yukon First Nations to turn the YNTEP program over to them?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As I'm sure the member is aware, the Council of Yukon First Nations speaks for 10 First Nations in the territory and there are other First Nations who are not part of that umbrella organization. Although we have had, as I indicated to the member in the previous response, some first discussions with the Council of Yukon First Nations and with leaders from most First Nations in the territory, the specific matter of the YNTEP programming has not been discussed or resolved.
Ms. Duncan: One of the notable facts outlined in the report is the decreasing intake or participation by First Nations in the YNTEP program. As the minister indicated, there has been no agreement reached to turn over the program to CYFN. What specific steps does the minister intend to take to increase participation in this program?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the member should be aware that the Yukon native teacher education program is a degree program offering a bachelor of education to First Nations students. The credentials are offered through the University of Regina. The program is governed by an agreement with a coordinating committee that includes the University of Regina, the Yukon College, the Department of Education, and First Nations. I think it's important that the member understands how the program operates and who is on the program committee that oversees its operation.
The question of improving the enrollment is one that concerns the government and one that concerns First Nations themselves. Measures have been taken to improve enrollment.
Question re: Teachers' wage settlement
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Government Leader on collective bargaining. Yukon teachers are feeling betrayed by this NDP government in their recent wage settlement. Because of the fact that the Government Leader wasn't upfront about the $48 million surplus left to him by the previous government - in fact, his negotiators at the table were telling teachers that there was only about $21 million, and it was all used up - I'd like to ask the Government Leader why in opposition they were so vocal in saying that "the two percent wage rollback wasn't needed, wasn't required, and we're dead against it," yet in government, with a $48 million surplus, they did not offer to give it back to the teachers. What's the reason for this flip-flop?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, there is no flip-flop at all.
First of all, in response to the member's preamble, the information on the government's finances was made known to the Yukon and to all public sector employees, in the first instance, in the submission that was at the bargaining table; secondly, in the submission to the arbitrator; and, finally, by me through a pre-budget consultation when most public and private sector union people were sitting at the table. So the information that was known to me and the information that has been made available to the House was made known to unions as well, so I don't know why there would be any feeling of betrayal, frankly.
Secondly, if we want to recall back to the concerns of 1993-94, I recall the government running a $20-million surplus in that they lapsed $20 million that year that they failed to tell people about, and that suggested that there was an operating surplus and that there was considerable funding available.
What we're projecting in the supplementary estimates that have been tabled today, for March 31, 1998, an accumulated $23-million surplus minus whatever is available to be spent on public sector wages for the balance of the employees other than teachers.
So the financial situation is considerably different.
Mr. Ostashek: What the Government Leader has just said right there is that with the $23 million projected in lapses, he will again have a $40 million surplus. That's what he's told us today.
Mr. Speaker, in negotiations with the teachers, one of the government negotiators - whom, I understand, is the sister of the Government Leader - was quoted as saying, "It doesn't matter what political stripe the party is, we, the Public Service Commission, run the government".
Can the Government Leader tell us if he agrees with that statement, and can he really tell Yukoners who is actually running this government?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There are low blows, and there are low blows and, Mr. Speaker, the member has just hit the bottom of the barrel.
In the first instance, I want to make the technical point, because it's probably most important, that the accumulated surplus that we're projecting for this fiscal year end is $23 million minus whatever's available for the settlement, in terms of the public sector wages. We're not running a $23 million annual surplus. We have an accumulated bank account, a savings account, total of $23 million minus that which is necessary for the public sector wages.
With respect to who runs the government, the Cabinet of this territorial government runs the government. The executive runs the government, in consultation with literally thousands of Yukoners every day in every walk of life. I'm not going to comment on what someone is reported to have said. I can't believe that that's what was said, in any case, but whether or not the person who said it is my sister, or a relative of mine, is completely irrelevant.
Mr. Ostashek: When it comes to low blows, the members opposite really know what low blows are. They practised lots of them when they were in opposition - very serious low blows, too, Mr. Speaker.
I didn't make the statement. It's in this newsletter, and I'm going to table it here. I'm just reporting what was said in the newsletter, Mr. Speaker.
Further to that, the Minister of the Public Service Commission is now on the public record in an article in the Yukon News, on November 7th, as saying that restoring the wage rollback never was in the cards, despite the fact that, in opposition, the NDP stated that the two percent wasn't needed. It wasn't needed then; tax increases weren't needed, yet they're not prepared to give any of it back to the Yukon public. It was just good politics for them at the time, Mr. Speaker.
So I'd like to know from the Government Leader, did he instruct the Yukon negotiators that two percent was not in the cards, or did the negotiators tell him that that's what they were going to offer, in view of their opinion that they're running the government, and not the Government Leader?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I think that, in terms of low blows, the lowest blow of all time had to be the Hughes Inquiry. It was not only a blow to the individuals involved when the government misused its power to attack not only members of the Legislature, but also citizens who were ultimately and completely exonerated - and spent $80,000 doing so - in order to try to bolster their unsuccessful attempts at re-election.
The issues that were raised around that time - and even before that time - with respect to the Government Leader of the time's own conflict of interest have never been addressed by the member opposite. They have never been answered by the member opposite. We're still waiting for the member to come clean.
With respect to the two percent, Mr. Speaker, as the public accounts will suggest and tell us, both a couple of years ago and this last year this money has been spent. There are not the available funds to go back in time and resurrect that or turn the clock back in time.
I might add that the NDP - and the Liberals for that matter - never promised to do any such thing in the election campaign - to return the funding. What the NDP did do was promise to return to the collective bargaining table, which they did do. On top of that, they put some money on the table to ensure that there were opportunities - willingly given by the government. They didn't have to be extracted by an arbitrator. They were willingly offered by the government to bolster employees' wage packages right across this territory.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Clerk: Motion No. 68, standing in the name of Mr. Ostashek.
Motion No. 68
Speaker: It is moved by the leader of the official opposition
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the federal Liberal Government proposal to restructure the old age benefits has flaws and raises serious issues of fairness in that the proposed Seniors Benefit would penalize middle to higher income Canadians who are saving for retirement while at the same time reduce their future retirement benefits; and
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal Government to hold public hearings in the Yukon prior to any changes being introduced to Canada's Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, the age credit and the pension income credit.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure and an honour to be able to introduce this motion into this Legislature because this is a very important motion to get on the public record how we, as legislators, feel about this new initiative of the federal Liberal government in Ottawa. I hope, political partisanship aside, that all members in this House will support this motion, because it is in the interests of not only the seniors that we have today but in our own interests and in the interests of our children and in the interests of our grandchildren.
The motion is not a controversial motion in my estimation. All we're asking for is for the federal government to do further consultation - in fact, Mr. Speaker, I could put it in a different light: that they do some consultation. We do not believe they have done any consultation so far on the seniors benefits package - and that the Liberal government hold public hearings in the Yukon. And we say "in the Yukon," Mr. Speaker, because this Legislature is only concerned with the Yukon. That doesn't mean that we don't think the federal Liberal government should hold consultations across Canada, but our concern in this Legislature is for our citizens in the Yukon.
One of the things that Canadians have prided themselves on for many, many years, and one of the things that we like to tell the rest of the world, is that we're a kinder and gentler society because of the universality of our social programs. And, Mr. Speaker, today more than ever, that universality is in great jeopardy. This is only another attack on universality where we can look at what's been happening in health and, as far as the seniors benefits package goes, let's not put all of the blame on this present Liberal government, although they must bear the biggest portion of it.
The universality of old age pensions started to get clawed back in 1989 with a decision by the Conservative government. That, in itself, was bad enough without moving to the next stage of where the federal government now wants to claw it back to where middle-income and higher income Canadians will receive absolutely no benefit. Now, if we remove middle-income Canadians, which is the majority of our population and, while the program admittedly will give a small measure of assistance to low-income Canadians, the fact is, going back to my opening statement, we are losing the universality of this program.
Those are the things that Canadians have paid into for years and years and years and look forward to, and the things that they thought they could count on in their retirement.
I can go back a few years to when the Liberal government came to power - this federal Liberal government came to power in Ottawa - faced with a huge deficit and a huge debt, which they haven't really addressed yet, but promise us they are going to.
They were looking at every avenue they could to raise money. They brought in, in their first budget, a two cent a litre increase in fuel taxes for Canadians, plus many, many others. I think 29 is the count going into the last election - 29 different tax increases in the first mandate of their government, which was only three and a half years. So, they have contributed dearly to the tax load that Canadians are carrying.
So, they are not without blame; they're not without fault. This, I see, is the biggest tax grab of all: the claw-back on this new seniors benefit package that is to come into effect in the year 2001.
This proposed seniors benefit, in simple terms, will mean a lower standard of living for seniors in Canada; in simple terms, that's what it will mean. It will be especially hard and it will impose a severe burden on those who have saved for their own retirement through RRSPs. Now, that's according to a study put out by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
There is no doubt that when the federal Liberal seniors benefits proposal was first announced in the federal budget in March 1996, at first glance, the plan looked pretty darned good. It was pretty straightforward back then. I believe it would be safe to say that it was accepted then by most Canadians as a progressive step forward, but since then Canadians have had time to review the proposal and what we have been able to make out so far is that it is a steep reduction in benefits and a net reduction in our savings.
One only needs to review the budget booklet, and you quickly realize that things are not near as rosy as the federal Liberals would like us to believe, and because of the fact that the average Canadian's not a financial planner, or an investor, for the greatest part, the task of trying to decipher what is in the plan actually becomes completely overwhelming.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons says that this thing is so confusing that even experts can't agree on how it'll affect seniors' lives. That is not something that we want to see progress unchallenged. For this reason, I believe it's our responsibility, as members of this Legislature, to raise the awareness of this program so that Yukoners are fully aware of what's coming at them in the future.
In a poll released by the Royal Trust Corporation of Canada, 51 percent of Canadians said they intended to make RRSP contributions this year. Mr. Speaker, my understanding is that's an estimated $6.5 billion this year alone. This suggests to me that Canadians feel that private savings are crucial for anyone who wishes to have a comfortable retirement.
One problem, however, it would appear, is that the federal government is doing everything in its power to discourage private savings. I can remember, Mr. Speaker, attending a Finance ministers meeting, going into the second budget that the federal Liberals were bringing in. It was a budget briefing for Finance ministers across this country. One of the options that was put forward to us at that time was taxing RRSP contributions. That was one of the things that the federal people wanted to do. Needless to say, there wasn't any support for it around the table, regardless of the philosophical belief of the provincial or territorial government.
They are now going to bring in new caps on contributions, thus reducing the amount Canadians can set aside for their retirement and, at the same time, having more of their income that they can tax.
That's the other side of the coin, and it's interesting, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I understand that the income tax was brought in during World War I to help to pay for that war and was supposed to disappear after the war. How greedy governments have gotten over the years.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: And we hear the kibitzing from the back benches asking why did we raise the taxes? Well, we did, because it was the sorry shape the NDP government had left the territory in in 1992. That's why we raised taxes, and now we give them a surplus of money and they don't know what to do with it except to spend it on themselves instead of putting Yukoners to work.
Mr. Speaker, back to the debate, which is more important than kibitzing. The new CPP premiums that the federal Liberals are going to pass in the House - and in fact they limited second reading debate; the Liberal government that says all Canadians should have a say; a Liberal government that doesn't believe in ramming anything down the throats of Canadians closed debate on it. They brought in closure many times in their three and a half years in power. Nevertheless, the new CPP premiums will require workers to pay almost 70 percent more in contributions, which again will reduce the amount one can save for retirement. And at the same time that we're paying out that increased 70 percent in contributions, there's going to be less benefits coming out of the Canada Pension Plan in the future.
Now, Mr. Speaker, as the Government Leader I was involved in the meetings leading up to the legislation for in the increase in Canada pension benefits and I, like my colleagues across this country, agreed with the nine-percent increase. We felt it was required. But the other side of the coin was that we urged the federal Finance minister to lower UIC premiums to offset the increased Canada pension premiums so they wouldn't have a negative effect on payroll taxes in this country. They didn't do that. They marginally reduced UIC, not nearly enough to make up what the cost is going to be to businesses and workers on increased CPP premiums.
The new proposed seniors benefits program that will replace the existing old age benefit and guaranteed income supplement programs in the year 2001 is most distressing of all of the changes that are being proposed to the retirement package for Canadians and the universality of that program in Canada.
If approved, it will present the most fundamental changes to Canada's retirement income system since the CPP was introduced in 1966.
While I, for one, believe that reforms are needed - I would be the last one to say they're not - this proposal before Canadians today is not the way to go.
The seniors benefit is a means to keep Canada's pension system from collapsing under the weight of future seniors, namely the baby-boomers, who are now turning 50. It is estimated that there are close to nine million baby-boomers, and it is expected that the number of retired people over 65 will more than double, starting in the year 2011.
The old age security and guaranteed income supplement that Canadian seniors receive today constitute about one-fifth of all the federal program spending, or roughly $22 billion this year, as is my understanding. There's no doubt that with the number of retired people expected to climb over the next years, this dollar figure has nowhere to go but up.
To ensure that Canada's pension system continues, the Liberals in Ottawa have come up with this new benefit package, but no one seems to be in agreement as to how it will work. There are many, many publications, some of which I will quote from today and I will give you some figures from other publications. There is a wide variety of opinions.
How will it work? The benefit would pay a maximum benefit of $11,420 per individual, or $18,440 per couple. It is my understanding that it would be tax free for seniors with no other income. A little over $18,000 per couple or a little over $11,000 for a single person is not much to expect a senior Canadian who has contributed to the economy of our country and to our well-being for many, many years to live on in a respectable retirement.
They need to have some other sources of income, and that's where this gets real difficult and very hard to accept. As I said, while there's no doubt the poorest recipients would be paid an amount equal to that available under the existing system and about an extra $120 a year, and they claim that in the year 2001 75 percent of all seniors would be the same or better off, I question that, personally, but that's what they're trying to tell us.
And maybe they will, but that's before the federal government gets their claws in there and starts clawing it back, because that's when things fall apart quite quickly.
Under the proposed benefit, a 20-percent claw-back on top of personal income taxes would apply to each dollar of household income over $25,921, which, Mr. Speaker, would increase the overall tax rate from 45 percent to more than 75 percent.
Now, is this the way we're going to treat our seniors?
Let me give you an example, Mr. Speaker: a single senior from Ontario with an income from savings and pensions of $28,000 a year. While that income would put them in the 27-percent tax bracket, an additional $1,000 in income would be taxed back at 47 percent, including the claw-back. That's plus the taxes and the claw-back on the senior benefits. Mr. Speaker, there were a few examples in one of the publications that we looked at - Canadian Business Magazine, the recent edition - which gives that very example: a senior with an annual retirement income of $28,000. The net portion again of that extra $1,000 that they receive, the net portion, would be $530. That's all the senior would get out of that $1,000, a
nd if the single senior was making $40,000 a year, he or she would only get $382 out of that extra $1,000, and a senior couple earning $74,000 would only benefit $273 from that extra $1,000.
Now, Mr. Speaker, there may be people, maybe even some of my colleagues in this Legislature, that would say a couple who are earning $74,000 don't need seniors benefits.
Mr. Speaker, I say to you and I say to this Legislature, if we're going down that road, then we're going down a road to end universality of all social programs in Canada. Those people paid into that pension plan, just like every other Canadian in this country did, and they are entitled to the same benefits as each and every other Canadian is.
It is totally unacceptable to my party and myself to have one paying almost 50 cents back on every extra dollar saved. That, Mr. Speaker, is no initiative to save for retirement.
Contrary to the government's opinion that Canadians would be better off with a new program, millions of middle-income Canadians will eventually be worse off. With tax rates as high as 70 percent, individuals stand to lose the full amount of that benefit when their annual income exceeds $52,000 - $52,000 and you're not going to get any benefit of that seniors benefit package.
Ottawa is not only making it harder for Canadians to prepare for their retirement, it is also now proposing that the retirement income will be taxed to the point of no return. Mr. Speaker, if this legislation passes, it will cause massive changes to the way people structure their lives. If this seniors benefit is introduced as proposed, Canadians will have no incentive to save for retirement, and should the majority of people cease to save, there would be a major negative impact on investment and growth in this country.
Mr. Speaker, it was a Liberal government that started us down the road to saving to supplement our retirements. They said we ought not to depend fully on the old age pension that they were handing out to people. They started us down the road. Now they see that huge pool of capital there that they can't get their hands on and they're trying everything within their power to find a way of taxing that huge pool of capital in their never-ending quest for monies.
The seniors benefit also discriminates against married people, and this from a government that doesn't believe in discrimination. Two seniors living together unmarried could collect 20 percent more in government income than a couple. So much for marriage in this country, if we're going to reward people who don't enter into the sanctity of marriage.
A couple will receive no help once their annual income exceeds $78,000. By contrast, Mr. Speaker, I spoke earlier of the 15-percent claw-back that's in effect now. That claw-back only begins to kick in when individual income exceeds $53,215. That's when that 15 percent kicks in.
Moreover, with the seniors benefits, even the portion that is clawed back is subject to income taxes. So, we're being hit on both sides with that one.
So, what we're saying here is that, under the federal government one, they're going to take the biggest portion of what you make when your and your wife's income exceeds $78,000. Yet, they're saying that two couples living together can make a lot more money and not be taxed. I don't believe that's fair, Mr. Speaker. I don't believe it's fair at all.
Ironically, French Canadians won't be affected by this change at all because their incomes will be too high to qualify for seniors benefits anyhow. It's going to be the middle-income Canadians who are going to feel the hit. They're the ones that are going to pay the tax bill.
Compared with the current system, the seniors benefit will provide a modest increase for seniors with below-average incomes, but only a very modest increase. Those with middle average incomes will stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in income.
There was an article in the Globe and Mail on September 8, 1997, on this whole seniors benefit package.
What this article says is that under the current system a single senior with an annual income of $10,000 would receive an additional $5,840 in after-tax benefits from the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. That's under the system we have now.
Under the new system, the senior would receive $6,420 - some $600 more. A more well-off senior, with an income of $52,000, would receive $2,664 in post-tax benefits under the old system. Under the new system, the senior would get nothing.
So, under the old system, where he got $2,660, under the new system, he gets absolutely nothing. So much for universality.
A couple with an income of $8,000 would receive $14,320 in after-tax benefits under the current system and just slightly more under the new system. They receive $14,440 - $120 more. But a couple with an income of $70,000, who would have received $4,830 in after-tax benefits under the old system, will receive only $1,510 in seniors benefits. So, we can see that there is no fairness in this system at all. It's going to hit - again - the people who are always hit the hardest by taxes: middle-income Canadians.
As I said, it won't have any impact on rich Canadians, because they won't qualify for the program, and poorer Canadians will only get a meagre increase in benefits.
As the article said - and we believe, which I said already, but I will reinforce it again - the bottom line is that the proposed seniors benefit program is nothing but a tax grab by federal Liberals in Ottawa. It will affect all of us and all of our families. Make no mistake about it.
The wisdom of saving for a rainy day to offset expenses for special care or needs in our advanced years or to protect a spouse, who would receive a reduced pension on the death of their spouse, simply will not make much sense if this new seniors benefit package goes through. It will not encourage people to save. In fact, I believe that it will discourage them from saving.
Maybe that's what the federal government wants. Discourage them from putting it into RRSPs and there's more money for them to tax. Maybe that's what they want. Maybe that's the method in their madness.
Without doubt, the proposed seniors benefit is one of the least well-understood programs in Canada. It would appear that the Finance minister is lacking in an understanding of the program as well and the magnitude of what he is doing or what he is about to bring in. For this very reason, we must make every effort to let Yukoners know what we expect from this program, and that's every reason for the motion that's here today - for those bureaucrats and those politicians to get out of Ottawa and come up here and explain to the average Yukoner what, in fact, they're trying to do with the pensions in the future.
It has been said that for people who are a year or two from drawing pension this is not going to have any effect on them. It has been said that the younger generation thinks it's great that the federal government is getting a handle on it now, lightening up the debt load and ensuring that they have a pension when they get to the age of 65, but, Mr. Speaker, what about that vast multitude of Canadians who are between the ages of 50 and 60 who don't have time to prepare, don't have time to adjust, to make the changes, so that they can retire and live a respectable retirement without being a burden on society? What happens to them, Mr. Speaker? What consideration has been given to them?
To date, there have been no formal consultations held with the public at large. However, Mr. Martin has had a series of private meetings with influential seniors groups over the summer. Focus group sessions in four Canadian cities have also been held to see how Canadians react to the changes. But, Mr. Speaker, there hasn't been a whole lot of consultation on it.
I have an article here in the Yukon seniors magazine that I believe was done by Doug Bell who is one of our seniors, and he says, "Benefits such as a positive title, they have planned seniors benefits, strategies without input from the likes of seniors, without input from economists, RRSP managers, financial analysts, and so forth. The only input they've had is from themselves, the federal Liberals in Ottawa and the bureaucrats who, after all, know what's best for all Canadians."
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Bell goes on to say in his article here that the financial wizard, Gordon Pape, is the latest to join the chorus, and apparently he talked about it on his CBC program and promises more in the future. According to him, if your income after retirement is between $29,000 and $56,000, you will be taxed at a 56.8 percent tax rate going up to a maximum tax rate of 76 percent. Well, if that isn't a tax grab, I don't know what is, and this is on joint household income, not just individuals as it is today.
Mr. Bell goes on to get very irate with the federal Liberals about their proposals, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.
Polling done by the Liberals has also taken place, and what was derived from this, as I said earlier, was that those who are turning 65 aren't too concerned, and those who are under 50 are generally pleased with the reforms, but those from 50 to 60 are very, very concerned with what's going to happen.
So, Mr. Speaker, I believe that all Canadians have much to fear with the changes, much more to fear than what they should be happy about, and I also believe that it's incumbent upon the federal government to make them fully aware of the program, what it is offering and what it is not offering, to have this fully debated. I don't see any panic to have it pushed through by the end of the year, except to grab more taxes and, rather than selling the program as long-term pension reform, this initiative seems to be more of a deficit-reduction exercise, and I urge all members to support this motion.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'd like to follow up on some of the comments that the leader of the official opposition has made with regard to the proposed seniors benefit.
I should say that initially I started off calling it the "seniors don't benefit," but I thought that might be a bit cheeky. Far be it for me to do anything of that nature.
In the federal Liberal government's infamous red book, they talk about, "a framework of fundamental fairness and decency in social policy." They speak of their legacy of programs, including the guaranteed income supplement and Canada Pension Plan. Now, I think it's a bit of an irony that they now plan to gut these plans at the expense of the middle class.
I guess, how times have changed from the time of the red book to now. The Liberal government has done almost a complete about face and has headed toward trampling some of our more sacred universal programs.
By the way, son of red book appeared in, interestingly enough, the business section of the Globe and Mail. Taking a look at son of red book, it's considerably thinner than the original one, you'll notice, Mr. Speaker. It is red, yes, we can agree that it is red and it's got a snappy picture of the Prime Minister. However, you know, in reading through, surprisingly the Canada Pension Plan is exempt. They talk about some other things. Oh, good heavens, did you notice that the child care spaces are also exempt from this one?
Anyhow, one can shell out a few bucks for the Liberal Party here because they've occupied a very nice spot here where you can check off 30, 50 and then "other". I guess that's for people like Conrad Black and Matthew Barrett, when they're cruising through the business section of the Globe and Mail, but I digress.
I suppose health care used to be a universal program. I can attest to the fact now that with the downloading of the federal Liberal government to the provinces and territories - incidentally, that is not my interpretation alone; I've had a number of conversations with my colleagues across the country who share that view - and with the acceptance of payments to private specialists clinics, this program is losing its universal quality. So, I can basically take the tack that those who have money can get services and those who don't, can't. Well, I think the changes to the seniors benefits are just another example of how this Liberal government is driving away from the whole idea of universality.
What's important about universality? Well, first of all, I think it's a safety net for everyone. It's to protect us in times of trouble, all of us from every economic class, from every race and culture. It's part of what makes this country the best place in the world to live.
Programs are targeted at the poor, who seem to be the most vulnerable to cuts and I think we only have to look as far as Ontario, for example, where social assistance appears to be the primary source of funds these days and it's not going to those in need.
Yesterday was interesting, because on Remembrance Day I watched as elderly mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters of veterans of the First and Second World Wars spoke of how we have to care for our seniors in a compassionate manner. Those individuals made sacrifices, of course, and we have to respect and care for them.
We, as the Member for Riverdale South is so fond of reminding us, are aging. We are becoming a population of seniors. So I think we all have to prepare for our own retirement. This is even clearer with the federal Liberal proposal for the seniors benefit.
The plan is basically to abolish the old age security pension and the guaranteed income supplement and replace them with a new program. Currently, all of us at age 65 are entitled to the old age security, minus the claw-back from the previous Mulroney Conservatives for those with higher incomes. Seniors with incomes below the poverty line also get the guaranteed income supplement.
The maximum old age security is now about $4,760 per year. The amount of the seniors benefit will replace both the OAS and GIS. It will, quote, "be determined on the basis of the combined income of spouses, based on the previous year's income tax returns." This is another way of means testing. It is a means testing the care we give our elders and is both demeaning and discriminatory. In particular, it hurts women who have had, on average, smaller incomes than their partners and, therefore, it would be an issue to more the OAS and GIS income if the income were not combined income of spouses.
The whole question of aging women and poverty is already a problem in Canada that will be, quite frankly, exacerbated by this Procrustean move. So much for universality and the sacred trust, Mr. Speaker.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Procrustean? I'm sorry, I should elaborate on this perhaps, Mr. Speaker. Procrustes was a famous robber who lived on the road to Attica. He had a peculiar habit. When travellers would go by, he would strap them to an iron bed. Those who didn't fit the iron bed, he would chop off their feet to make them fit. Those who were too short, he would stretch to make them fit. When we talk about Procrustean measures, we are referring to radical and drastic measures designed to induce conformity.
Sorry for that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, thank you.
So much for the concept of universality and sacred trust, Mr. Speaker. The Liberal government, in this case, wants to fit every one of us, even our most vulnerable, into the same size bed. The federal Liberal government has clawed back pensions for single persons starting at $53,215. Under the new Draconian system of seniors benefits, Mr. Speaker - are people familiar with Draconian? Good - the claw-back will begin at $25,921 for all seniors, and the claw-back rate, which was 15 cents on each dollar, will be increased to 20 percent.
Singles with an income of $51,721 will not get the seniors benefits, and couples with an income over $77,000 will also be excluded, so say good-bye to universality, Mr. Speaker. Just one more example of the Liberal government abandoning its promises and so-called principles. It's an attack, essentially, on middle-class Canadians, Mr. Speaker, an act by the Liberals in Ottawa to, I think, divide a nation at a time we most need it. Even more disgracefully, trying to divide us along the lines of class.
All seniors, beginning in the year 2001, will lose two income tax credits, which currently help reduce their taxable income - the Old Age credit, valued at $3,482, and a pension credit of $1,000. Those two credits can now reduce a senior's income tax by $991 a year. So, in a sense, seniors will face a very substantial increase in taxation. In fact, seniors will pay a higher tax rate in retirement than while working. So, haven't they done enough already? Is there no sacrifice too great for the Liberal government in Ottawa to demand of them? That was a rhetorical question. I tell you.
This is another attempt by the federal Liberal government in Ottawa to gut the pension plan we've all paid into for most of our working lives, and upon which many Canadians depend. The federal Liberal government is dismantling our most cherished and respected universal programs. I suspect this isn't the end of the cuts. No, Mr. Speaker, if we all subscribe to Jean's psychic hot line here, we'll get a little clairvoyance here, because I can see the cuts by the Liberal government going on and on and on, until the concept of universal programs is merely just a faint glow, something that some of us older folk remember.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The member will be on his porch, and he'll be telling his great, great grandchildren about how he remembers when there were universal programs in this country before the Liberal government.
We are concerned, Mr. Speaker, that this is the thin edge of the wedge. What's next? Medicare, unemployment insurance - and I will not dignify the recent changes by calling it "employment insurance" - and the Canada Pension Plan?
Now, Mr. Speaker, I never thought I would find myself quoting Dalton Camp, but as he appears to be the only Conservative left in the country that can actually put the word "progressive" in front of the word "conservative," I think I'll take a stab at it. On April 15, 1997, Mr. Camp was welcoming his friend Allan Fotheringham to retirement age by saying, "Having reached 65 he would now be, as a senior citizen, the prey of the Minister of Finance, the dreaded Paul Martin and his many minions who are working overtime to screw every Canadian 65 and over, except the obscenely rich, and hasten them to an early demise." I couldn't agree more, and I'm astonished that I'm saying that I could agree that much with Dalton Camp, but this is the exact intent of the federal government: to basically starve our elders out.
There seem to be some short memories in Ottawa, Mr. Speaker. They've forgotten the elders who made their way en masse to Ottawa when Mulroney tried his pension trick before. The country was up in arms, and I truly suspect that it will be again. I think it reminds me that with the Tory-Liberal government in Ottawa, we get the same treatment - basically the same disrespect and disregard.
I'd just like to talk a little bit more about the whole question of pension plans and the CPP. It seems to me that after working for years for a living and contributing to a pension plan, Canadians should be able to enjoy retirement. They should not have to go into their senior years burdened with financial cares. We've been promised a strong pension plan, and I think it's essential that we have one.
Now, RRSPs and private pension plans are available for many Canadians, but they only serve a smaller percentage of the population, and those individuals who, during their working career, have had advantages of having good jobs, good incomes and, in some cases, good opportunities to invest. As these jobs and incomes and opportunities become more and more scarce, there is a need for secure public pension increases. Those who are unable to find well-paying, full-time jobs will bear the brunt of the changes to the CPP, and those changes will impact mostly women and young people.
Poverty hits at certain groups in society particularly hard. Elders and seniors, particularly older women, are vulnerable. It's our responsibility as a society to provide for our elders, and public pensions begin to do that. Twenty percent of all Canadian seniors live below the poverty line, as do half of those who live alone, most of whom, Mr. Speaker, regrettably are women.
The CPP worked together with the old age security and guaranteed income supplement, the tax system and RRSPs to provide us with a level of comfort and dignity in our older years, our senior years.
I'm proud to say that this party, the New Democratic Party, has played a role in the establishment of public pensions in this country. It was people like J. S. Woodsworth and other members of the CCF who sparked the formation of the universal pension plan for all Canadians. Now it appears that the Liberal government wants to establish the universal old age security and replace it with an income-tested program.
Companies and individuals prepared their pension plans with an understanding that the OAS would be there, and now the Liberals are unfairly removing it, and that punishes those who made their financial plans in good faith.
Reducing OAS benefits will create more poverty amongst seniors, particularly women, and make it more difficult for middle-income Canadians to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Using a couple's joint income to determine eligibility means that many women will never be able to receive their pension because their husband's income is simply too high. This is basically a step back for women's equality and economy.
The pension plan proposals are a gift of guess who, Mr. Speaker? I don't think it'll come as a surprise that the proposals will not benefit the elders of the community, not men and women in their senior years, not even younger people who are preparing for their retirement. No, the Conservative proposals that are being proposed here would benefit big business. They would put private sector managers in charge of the CPP. They would propose to remove the limits on foreign investments and RRSPs, resulting in the disinvestment of millions of dollars in the Canadian economy.
The Reform Party wants to destroy Canada's commitment to the seniors. They propose to eliminate the CPP entirely and replace it with RRSPs only. Well, Mr. Speaker, they would only give additional tax breaks to the wealthy. And isn't that an irony? Reform would give further tax breaks to those who already have little to worry about in retirement.
Reform would leave other folks to fend for themselves. The Reform idea would mean that Canadians would have to cover the benefits for today's seniors and pay into individual RRSPs to prepare their own retirement. Pay more and get less, that's the headline on the CPP these days. The Liberal government wants to cut CPP by 10 percent. They'll do that by tightening eligibility requirements on disabled people. They'll do that by allowing the basic yearly exemption to remain at $3,500, instead of indexing that amount for inflation. The result is a person who makes $35,000 will pay as much CPP as someone who makes $100,000. This is adding a huge burden to our middle class in Canada.
Pension monies will be invested in a diversified portfolio of securities, and I have some concerns with this. While I agree that there needs to be greater diversification, I think that we have to have some security in there, because we have seen very recently how global markets can impact tremendously on and individual's investments and an individual's savings.
The Liberal plan is to create a board run by bankers, bond dealers and private pension fund managers. Mr. Speaker, I wonder if they're the kind that would fill in the "other" part here under "Contributions". I guess they would be.
So, the same folks that would peruse this in the back of the Globe and Mail would probably be the kind of people that would be sitting on this board. They will reap huge profits without being responsible for any losses.
In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, average working Canadians will pay higher premiums - more than 70-percent higher over the next six years. This will result in a huge surplus in the pension fund and place an unnecessary tax burden on working middle-class Canadians.
We need to fight for a fair, long-term plan for a stronger CPP. We need to continue to fight for humane disability and survivor benefits. We need to fight the higher premium increases imposed on the poorest workers of this country, many of whom live below the poverty line. We have to urge the federal government to invest CPP to improve returns and promote economic development in Canada, but ultimately, Mr. Speaker, we have to ensure that these kinds of motions, these kinds of actions by the federal Liberal government, will not diminish and destroy a pension plan that all of us have worked for during our working lives, and on which so many Canadians depend.
This is one of those cherished and respected universal programs that defines us as a people. It defines us as to who we are. There are times when this country seems seriously adrift, but the commonalities - the common concerns of one Canadian for another Canadian - are the kinds of things that are the substantive marrow of this country. For the Liberals to attack these universal programs is, I think, a crime. I would just like to urge all members of this House to oppose such moves.
Mrs. Edelman: Five years from now, in the year 2001, Canada will bring in a new program called the seniors benefit. This benefit is a combination of old age security, or, OAS and guaranteed income supplement, or GIS. This pension reform is ostensibly to cut the costs of government pension systems and thus ensure the viability of a government pension system for all Canadians once the baby-boomers start to retire. It is important to understand the system the way it stands now in order to realize the full impact of these changes and the effect that they will have on our future.
At present, all Canadian seniors, no matter what their income, receive old age security or OAS. OAS today amounts to $483.55 a month. In addition to this, Canadians receive an additional income-tested benefit called GIS. Today's rate for a single senior making below $11,000 is approximately $400 a month. A married senior who is making below $15,000 per year will bring home $314 per month. In addition to this, there is a seniors supplement for Yukoners that is anywhere from $10 to $100 per month, depending on a senior's income.
Many Canadian seniors also receive Canada Pension Plan benefits and receive income from investments or private pension plans. There are also two seniors income tax benefits. Under the new tax-free seniors benefit, which will come into effect in 2001, old age security and guaranteed income supplement will be combined into one income-tested benefit. In other words, there will no longer be a universal component of the government's senior pension. The two income tax benefits will disappear.
Anyone over 60 by December 31, 1995, and their spouses get a lifetime guarantee. They will have the choice of keeping their old age security or GIS payments, as currently structured, or receive the new pension benefit. The new seniors benefit will be indexed to inflation and will be completely tax free.
The cheque will come monthly and separate cheques, each of the same amount, will be delivered to each spouse in a marriage. The size of the benefit will vary according to family income. Benefits will be chipped away for many seniors with incomes of more than $40,000 per year. Single seniors with incomes of more than $52,000 and couples with incomes above $78,000 will get no benefit at all.
This is a much harsher claw-back than the existing system, in which a single senior with an income of $52,000 or less is entitled to a full old age security benefit, and a married couple with an income of $100,000 per year can also get full benefits.
Poor seniors will receive $120 more a year in benefits than they get now under the new program and that's probably a good thing, but about 25 percent of seniors will receive lower benefits. By the year 2030, the system will cost $69.1 billion compared to $77.3 billion, if the current system remains in place.
From a purely socialist point of view, the changes will benefit the poor and take from the rich. So, that's probably good from that point of view, but for those of us who are baby-boomers, the cost-cutting measures of eliminating the two bureaucracies around GIS and OAS and combining them into one is probably good, for this will help to ensure that there is some sort of government pension available for low-income seniors when we, the baby-boomers, start to retire.
What we all must remember is that, although the federal government has virtually eliminated the deficit, our country carries a significant debt load and that is the mortgage on our children's future, their quality of life, our retirement and theirs.
Where there seems to be a great deal of uncertainty around this pension reform is how the changes to government pensions affect women. The federal government claims that 75 percent of singles and couples will receive the same or higher benefits, and that nine out of 10 single women will be better off. Other groups claim that women in particular will be losers under the seniors benefit.
The government now claims to be promoting women's independence by providing all seniors, male and female, with their own pension cheques, but when the old age security and guaranteed income supplement are replaced by the seniors benefit, which is geared to total spousal income, many women who now qualify for separate cheques will have their pension payments clawed back because of the size of their spouse's income. This will have a maximum effect on women who are middle or high income.
Probably the greatest equalizer of all this proposed pension reform will be the loss of the pension income and age tax credit. The federal government is saying that the change to the seniors benefit will benefit the majority of seniors, and this is because 75 percent of seniors today have a lower to low-middle income and 25 percent of seniors today, therefore, would be high or middle income.
What the change in the seniors benefit does is transfer wealth from the rich to the poor. The 75/25 split is only indicative of seniors demographics today. It is extremely unlikely that when we, the boomers, start to retire that split will be dramatically different. At the very least, there will be a much higher number of truly middle-class seniors, partly due to the fact that women have earned more dollars in their lives than the women of 40 years ago who rarely even entered the workforce.
Now, with the loss of the age credit and the pension income credit, middle-class seniors today will lose whatever financial benefit they may have garnered from the changeover from OAS and GIS to the universal seniors benefit.
While most Canadians agree that the notion of saving money where you can and making sure that those of us who need help the most are targeted, it is extremely unlikely that most Canadians would be pleased with this type of financial wizardry where the government gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
A dose of reality here is that most of us who are baby-boomers have been told for years by the government and by the investment community that we cannot depend upon the government to support us in our old age. Even the Canada Pension Plan is not secure, we have been told, despite the fact that we have paid into it for many years. We do not pay into old age security. For that very reason, most of us with decent incomes have been squirreling away retirement savings at pretty regular intervals.
Unfortunately, that very forethought could work against us when the new seniors benefit comes into force in the year 2001 and those savings are counted as our potential government pension. People five to 10 years away from 65 will now have to plan their retirement income strategy differently.
Does it now make sense to contribute to an RRSP, for example, if you will, in effect, be taxed at the rate of 60 percent when you draw the money back out? There are a lot of difficult issues to consider when planning retirement now, and I don't think we have enough information to make informed, logical and sustainable choices about this next life change.
Here in the Yukon we also have to examine what this change means to us. How will the new seniors benefit affect the Yukon supplement? Should or could the Yukon supplement for seniors be increased? Should the Yukon supplement be discontinued? What about other Yukon senior benefits? Yukoners now enjoy probably some of the best seniors benefits in Canada. Can we sustain those benefits, and should we?
In speaking with the current president of the Yukon Council on Aging, Joyce Young, she informs me that the Yukon Council on Aging has not yet had an opportunity to formulate a position on the new seniors benefit. In addition to that, we in the territory have not yet pursued the point of view of the various women's groups on the latest pension reform. There also hasn't been any significant discussion with the private sector, unions, First Nations, or the general public, and we need to talk.
Federal legislation has to be understood by all of the Canadians it affects. In this case, pension reform affects all Canadians. We can all remember the tremendously successful implementation of the GST. I dare you to have found one group of Canadians that supported that legislation outside of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons. Hopefully we can do better than that.
This member of the House certainly supports the motion and sees the necessity of public hearings on old age security and guaranteed income supplement changes, as well as the elimination of the age credit and the pension income credit. Pension reform affects us all. It behoves the federal government to hold hearings. I will be one of the strongest voices lobbying the federal government to hold at least one of those public hearings on pension reform here in the Yukon.
But I suppose that the motion that we're discussing today has certain limitations. It talks about changes to people who are going to be retiring and who have a middle or a higher income, and there are a lot of misconceptions out there, not only from people in that particular income group but also from those who are in the lower income groups, for example, some of the misconceptions we've heard today. Now, Mr. Ostashek and Mr. Sloan think that we pay into OAS, and in fact we pay into Canadian Pension Plan. Now, the Conservatives made old age security taxable in 1989, and that directly affected a lot of low-income Canadians. The poor have been paying tax on the guaranteed income supplement for the last 50 years to the tune of 50 percent.
The new seniors benefit is tax free, and that's actually a much better point of view for the people on low income.
Mrs. Edelman: Therefore, I'd like to make an amendment to the motion, and that motion is:
THAT Motion No. 68 be amended by deleting the words
"middle to higher income".
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Riverdale South
THAT Motion No. 68 be amended by deleting the words "middle to higher income".
Mrs. Edelman: I can't see that there will be a problem with this particular amendment in the House. If there's no other change, at least low-income seniors will have almost no incentive to earn extra income, as the claw-back will reduce each dollar earned by 50 percent. Under the previous motion, we only discussed how pension reform will affect those with higher or middle income, and I think that it makes sense for us to talk about that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, at the risk of perhaps exhausting the patience of my friends across the floor, who I know wait with great anticipation for some of my brief missives here, remembering that brevity is the soul of wit, I won't speak too much to this, because I think that while it does address some of the issues of middle and higher income I think there's a more fundamental problem, and that is how this is being handled, not only in the federal Parliament by the sort of truncated debate that has gone on, but as well the whole question of the universality I don't think has been adequately addressed by the removal of these comments "middle to higher income".
I think what I would do would be just to point out that this still doesn't address the attempt by the federal government to deal with some of their budgetary goals on the backs of those people who have the least resources in this country. So, I would say that, with all due respect, I find this doesn't substantively change the motion. Thank you.
Mr. Ostashek: On the amendment, while the amendment may seem like a friendly amendment, I have a little bit of concern with it. Maybe the member, in her wrap-up, can tell me again why she feels it's necessary.
The reason that we put the clause in there - middle to higher income Canadians - is because those are the people who spend their money on RRSPs. Low-income Canadians don't have as much money in RRSPs, if they can even afford to buy RRSPs. The penalty to middle and higher class income earners in Canada is going to be enormous under this bill. That's what we were trying to point out - the inequities in the bill. If you're not making money, you're not going to be taxed on it. If you're only living off the pension - the seniors benefit package that the federal government is giving you - you are in fact going to be a little better off than what you were under the old one. You're in fact going to be some $120, I think it is, if you're just on the line - I don't have my notes in front of me right now - but marginally better off than you are under the present system.
We were trying to point out very clearly to the federal government the tax impact this was going to have on middle-income Canadians especially, who pay the brunt of all taxes in this country as it is. We don't believe that this bill, implemented even as stated by the Liberal government, will have a negative impact on low-income Canadians, because when we look, the poorest recipients will be paid an amount equal to that available under the existing system and an extra $120 a year. That's if they just qualified for the seniors benefit package, didn't have any RRSPs to draw down and didn't have any other pension to draw down. They would, in fact, benefit under this, very meagrely, I say, but they certainly wouldn't be penalized. I have some difficulty with that. I'm not going to speak forever on the amendment, but I just want to know from the Member for Riverdale South, in her proposal for that amendment, why she feels it's necessary.
Mr. Cable: I'm sure the Member for Riverdale South will speak to the questions that were raised but my own thoughts are that the mover of the motion, I think, wants a public discussion. That's the main thrust of his motion, and we agree with that. We think this is a very serious program. It involves many, many, many Canadians and it has not been totally thought through and not been totally debated.
That's the main thrust of the motion and we're going to support it in that form, but we'd like to point out that there are those who say the system is not revenue neutral and, if it were revenue neutral, even the poor would stand to benefit to a greater extent, so we want a discussion on how it affects all Canadians, not just middle-class Canadians and not just higher income Canadians, and that's the reason that we have introduced the amendment.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, on the amendment, if that is the reason for tabling the amendment, I'm not sure whether it will accomplish what the Liberal member wants it to do, because the discussion we're talking about will only take place under the motion if the federal Liberal government decides to come here and have a discussion.
The concern I have is that, if the intent of the Liberal member is to make sure there's a discussion locally, maybe we should look at a further amendment to this motion, whereby we could not only agree with the changes that the member has made but, Mr. Speaker, we could possibly amend this motion so that the Yukon government would conduct an information campaign to let people know what's going on - or some consultations to let people know what's going on. Because I'm afraid that the federal Liberal government is going to pull its head in like a turtle on this one and proceed without consultation of anybody else, or possibly just hold hearings in Ottawa, and then this motion will be all for nought, other than sending it to them in Ottawa and saying, "We're not very happy with what you're doing.
What I would like to do is possibly bring in a further amendment to this amendment. I have no problem agreeing with this, but we'll quickly draft another amendment to this amendment, which will possibly see the Yukon government conduct information sessions or hearings on this particular issue so that all Yukoners are aware of what this is going to do and how it's going to affect them.
I think this is an extremely important issue for a lot of people out there. There is so much misinformation about it out there right now. When you talk to people about it, they say, "Oh no, it's not going to affect me. I kind of have a good idea of what's going to happen."
Well, I took the time to call the people who I have some money invested with and said, "How's it going to affect me?" and they don't know yet how it's going to affect me. They have concerns and, in fact, I'm trying to put together something now with my partner where we're going to look at where we stand financially when it comes to retirement and whether or not it's a good idea for us to buy any more RRSPs -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Or, as the member says, get married.
That was a low blow, but I can tell the House, for their information, that I have proposed already prior to the tabling or before I had any idea of this legislation. It had nothing to do with the legislation; it had everything to do with my partner.
This is a very confusing piece of legislation to Canadians out there. It's one of those things that, when you turn 65 you're going to wake up and find that something happened back in 1997 that had a profound effect on your retirement.
So, my advice to a lot of people out there would be to find out what this is going to do. I think one of the ways we can do that, I suppose, is we can possibly not wait for the federal government to come here. Maybe we can put something in this motion that would - I'm not talking about a really expensive campaign, but certainly some kind of a campaign that the average Yukoner could understand - lay out what the plan is for this bill and how it would affect people by way of radio advertisements, by way of newspaper advertisements. It may even involve some public meetings in some communities to let people know what's going on.
I am really concerned that there's a real lack of knowledge on how this is going to affect us overall. I'm prepared as one, I suppose, to go out and spend a few dollars with a financial advisor and find out whether it's a good idea for me to buy any more RRSPs with this legislation or not.
Some people maybe can't do that. Some people are probably not even going to be aware that this is happening in Ottawa and they're just going to find out that their overall, long-range plans for retirement are going to be drastically affected by this piece of legislation. So I'll go to work now in putting together some kind of amendment to this, and hopefully when I stand up and speak to the main motion in a few minutes, we'll have an amendment that will urge the Government of Yukon, failing the federal government's plans to come here - the Yukon government will conduct some kind of an information campaign to at least let us know or inform us as Yukoners what effect this will have on retirement.
I know the Minister of Health and Social Services spoke just the other day to the doctors. I heard something the other day about many more Yukoners planning to retire here, and that's a change from years ago when people used to reach the age of 55 or 60 and then go to Kelowna or Parksville or the Okanagan or somewhere else and retire. Many of those people now are choosing the Yukon as a home and staying here and building on strengths of the family with grandparents and that kind of thing, and I think people want to see that happening, so it would be useful for the Government of Yukon, if the federal government fails to come up here - and they're not likely to, unfortunately; I hate to say that, but my fear is that there will be a list of the capital cities they may go to in Canada if they are going to, and the Yukon will be conveniently left off the capital city list of places they're going to come.
I can support the amendment the way it's written, but when I go back to what the Member for Riverside said about the purpose of this being to make Yukoners more aware of what this is going to do, I'm not sure this amendment does all that. I think that just the confusion in the House here between what the Member for Porter Creek North said about the motion - higher and middle income - and what the Member for Riverdale South said about the lower income points to the fact there is confusion about what this particular bill does, and who it affects, and who it affects more.
And so, I think it would be a useful exercise to come back with an amendment. I hope, as I'm speaking, there are people rushing around in the office drafting such an amendment, but I hope I can come back with an amendment before the debate is over to deal with the issue of what we do if the federal government doesn't decide to come to the north, so that we can inform the people of the Yukon how this might affect them and, if nothing else, they can write letters to their MP and other MPs to try and change the federal government's mind on this issue. Thank you.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This is a timely motion for us. The issue, as raised by the leader of the official opposition, is an important one for all of us to consider and I'd like to begin by thanking the member for putting the issue on the floor of the House. Certainly, he was probably first in a line of people who wanted to do such a thing, but no time like the present.
Mr. Speaker, I'm hoping we can clear up the confusion today because my remarks right now are more procedural in nature and less substantive, even though I do agree with the intent of the motion, and I don't necessarily think that the proposed amendment is a problem either. But we do feel that there is more to say in this motion and it does require further amendment, so consequently one member on the government's side will be making a proposal in a minute or two to improve the wording even further.
If there is a desire at some point to involve the Yukon government in an information campaign, I can say for the members that we would be happy to take that suggestion and that direction and provide information and help mobilize a public discussion around these important issues, along with the investment community that makes a living ensuring that people are well-prepared for their retirement years.
I don't have a lot to say to some of the other comments made by the Member for Riverdale North other than that he is much more experienced at getting married than I am, so I will defer to his wisdom. Whether he's a good, long-term risk, I think we might want to take testimonials from a number of people on that subject, but in financial terms he has made a good contribution so far to the debate and raises some issues that ought to be considered.
The problem that we generally have with the motion, Mr. Speaker, is not that it doesn't raise a good point, but that it is incomplete and doesn't send a complete enough message. We do believe that there ought to be continuing discussions, even though it is obvious that the federal government has already held information sessions around the country, including Whitehorse, on the subject of the Canada Pension Plan and any other issue that people feel is important when it comes to retirement income, and certainly a broad range of issues was raised in those hearings. It wasn't obviously restricted only to the Canada Pension Plan, but people did raise a lot of concern about the future viability of the pension plan and retirement income for a growing population of older people, a group of people, Mr. Speaker, that you and I and a number of other notables in this Legislature will soon be joining.
There is a need, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that the motion is clear and complete and sends a complete message to the federal government, in the first instance, so we will be suggesting another amendment. We're drafting the amendment as I speak, Mr. Speaker, with a view to trying to accommodate the Member for Riverdale South's amendment, about which we have no serious concern.
So I'm looking forward to whatever comes out of this debate. I would really like to encourage the debate to be completed today, because it wouldn't be a good example of good efficient debating, when we're all agreed, to not be able to issue at least one statement today that can clearly enunciate how we feel about the subject.
Amendment agreed to
Speaker: Is there any further debate on the motion as amended?
Mr. Hardy: There's been a lot of bouncing back and forth at the moment with a very small amendment that was proposed by the Liberal Party and has been agreed to in this House. We on this side believe that it doesn't go far enough, and we'll be looking at a further amendment.
I'd like to talk about a few points about the retirement of seniors and how we treat them in this country and what has been happening to the social programs that we see.
There has been talk about the higher income Canadians, and really, they're not in the running here. They are higher income. They have a lot of money. They generally have savings. They're not going to be so much affected by these changes, but it's the lower-middle class and the lower income people who are going to be unfairly targeted by the changes to the OAS.
For the first time, people will be facing higher tax rates after retirement than when they were working, and it's fundamentally wrong that when you do retire, when you finally get an opportunity to retire and maybe pursue some of the dreams that you've had but haven't been able to fulfill because of your commitment to work, to your contributions to this country, that now you're going to be taxed higher than when you were working. There are very few people who are going to be able to deal with this.
The majority of people - let's not fool ourselves - in Canada are not high income, even though last week they said there has been a three-fold growth in Canada in millionaires - 268,000 people having over a million dollars. That's pretty substantial, but let's not forget that we're 30 million people and most people are low income. Most people are middle to low. I think the figure is 3 million to 4 million now live below the poverty line. These people do not have retirement savings. They do not have RRSPs. This is universality, and this is the main question here, and it has got to be available to all people over 65.
What it is being replaced by is an income-testing measure, one that claws back benefits from seniors with other income sources, even modest ones. I view that as a way to fundamentally change universality in Canada. We start with pensions, we start with EI, as they call it now - it's really UI; people are still unemployed; it's not employment income, for sure. Slowly they isolate people and they play people against each other and that's a very serious concern.
But the question of universality is what we have to keep in mind, and often what you do is you - and what I've seen the Liberals do - separate the groups, get one group against another, get them fighting against each other. Then it's a divide-and-conquer method and they've used it very successfully over the last six or seven years that they've been in office. We're seeing them use it here against the seniors and people who will be soon retiring.
I noticed over on the other side of the House there are many people who are going to be very close to retirement and this is going to affect them pretty soon. So, I'm speaking on behalf of them as well because I really, really care for them and I want them to be able to enjoy their years with dignity and respect and opportunity to fulfill some of their dreams.
What people have said about this, and I will quote a couple of people here, is that they consider this as more of a welfare program and people don't like to go on welfare in Canada. That's a fact.
This is something that they've paid into and it's something they've earned, similar to the same argument with the UI program. It's being changed and the changes, the way that they're going, makes it sound like a welfare program. It takes away some dignity.
There is a critique of the program. Walter Kelm did a critique. He carried out a study on behalf of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. He says, "In place of our current system, government will substitute what is basically a minimum welfare system for poor seniors." How will that affect others? The combined claw-back and tax rate for a couple in the $29,000 to $59,000 range is 59.8 percent or, to put it another way, for every dollar retirement income received, Ottawa gets 60 cents back.
Now, in the Yukon $29,000 might not be considered middle class, but this is across the board and doesn't take into consideration the regions and different costs to live in different regions. It's just directly across the board.
I don't consider them wealthy and I don't think it should be carried on the backs of those people, and the Liberal government keeps telling us how more seniors will benefit from the new system, even though they themselves have to admit that a seniors benefit will reduce pension expenditures by $2 billion by the year 2011.
Let's get this picture right. If you're going to reduce expenditures by 2011 but you're going to have more seniors - simple math. I think we know what they're saying. I suspect they hope that we don't use our math that we were taught in our public schools that are also under attack.
Another area of concern, of course, is women. Women are going to be the most hard hit by these changes. Their independence is going to be questioned. Their ability to have their own funds is in question when it's based on the size of the combined spousal income. It puts them in a very difficult situation. What happens if they're in a bad relationship and they have to get out? What happens to them? Has that been considered?
The leader of the official opposition mentioned that these were very confusing changes that were happening and experts have looked at this and they really aren't sure where it's going to go or what's going to happen. I have to agree. Most people know about the changes to the OAS and GIS and the CPP, which I think has to be included in this because the attack - and it is an attack - is coming from all sides and it's attacking every program.
I remember the Liberal government did this years ago and it was a broad-sweeping attack, and people couldn't fight back. They didn't have the resources that the government had. What eventually happened was, many of the programs they wanted got through; some they backed off on, and considered that was a tremendous success because they did get what they wanted in the end because they exhausted people.
What about debate? That's the big question. What happened to debate down in the House of Commons? I think people should be very, very aware that they used procedural moves to choke off debate after seven hours. Only seven hours in the second reading debate were allowed for these changes, were allowed for the CPP changes - seven hours - changes that are going to affect millions of people, often people that don't have a voice. They allowed seven hours.
Why did they cut debate? That's what we have to ask ourselves: why? Because they don't want to go to the people. They know the changes are wrong, they know they're going to hurt the people, and they know the people will object to them. So what do they do? They cut debate.
The federal NDPs had devoted a full day of opposition work to this. Everything they had was focused on debating this, and the Liberals shut it down so the NDP walked out. They had to walk out. The only protest they had left was to walk out, because they didn't have a voice any more, because our democratic government did not want to debate the changes to our seniors programs, to our social programs in this country.
I would like to submit an amendment, Mr. Speaker, to Motion No. 68. I believe it goes a little bit farther. It says a little bit more and, hopefully, it will be considered a friendly amendment. I hope people here will see the intent of what it's meant to do, which is to support the public debate that the Yukon Party has brought forward, but to broaden it a little bit farther to ensure that people know that this government up here, along with the opposition parties, are very concerned and care for the changes that are happening to our social program. With that in mind, I'd like to move an amendment to Motion No. 68.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: I'll read it out, okay.
Mr. Hardy: I move
THAT Motion No. 68 be amended by
(a) removing all words following the phrase "future retirement benefits" and replacing them with the following:
(1) as well as represents an attack on universality of Canada's social programs by replacing a public pension system with a minimal welfare system for the very poorest of seniors; and
(2) imposes severe claw-backs on low and middle-income Canadians, robbing them of an ability to live their retirement in self-reliance and dignity;
(b) adding a new paragraph as follows:
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal government to uphold the sacred trust of our country's obligations to its senior citizens by holding public hearings and cancelling proposed changes and cuts and restoring a comprehensive universal public pension.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Whitehorse Centre
THAT Motion No. 68 be amended by
(a) removing all the words following the phrase "future retirement benefits" and replacing them with the following:
(1) as well as represents an attack on universality of Canada's social programs by replacing a public pension system with a minimal welfare system for the very poorest of seniors; and
(2) imposes severe claw-backs on low and middle-income Canadians, robbing them of an ability to live their retirement in self-reliance and dignity
(b) adding a new paragraph as follows:
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal government to uphold the sacred trust of our country's obligations to its senior citizens by holding public hearings and cancelling proposed changes and cuts and restoring a comprehensive, universal public pension.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, Mr. Speaker, with this amendment, my intention is to broaden our discussion beyond the somewhat narrow focus that was proposed before. We've had a chance to address some of the problems and the impacts of the proposed senior benefits, and while asserting that it's important to do so, it has to be recognized that the Liberal government's assault on the pension program goes much farther.
Bill C-2 is aimed at a major increase in premiums to the Canadian Pension Plan coupled with a reduction in benefits. Premiums are going to be increased by a whopping 73 percent over the next six years, which ought to be setting off alarm bells for everyone. There are a great many changes to be introduced with complex and far-reaching impacts.
I don't have time to discuss all of them in detail but I'm going to touch on a few of them.
One is the increase of 73 percent. That's an increase to employers and employees, as they both contribute to the pension plan. How is that really going to impact on Canadians? Well, for businesses, a 73-percent jump is just another additional cost to do business. To the employees, a 73-percent jump is just more money out of their paycheques to spend into the economy, which does support business, but also to take home and to care for their families or themselves. For a self-employed person, it's not employee/employer for a self-employed person. It's the whole shebang, the whole works, and I think it works out that a self-employed person would have to pay in $3,300 a year. By the year 2003 - I'm basing this on the year 2003 right at the moment - the cost is $1,635 that would have to be paid by the employer, and $1,635 would have to be paid by the employee. The self-employed would pay the combined amount.
So, just in that regard, right there, we're looking at a huge, huge increase in costs.
And what about the support to have this turn into a private pension plan? The supporters behind that are the Fraser Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute and, of course, the Reform Party are very strong in having the CPP, for instance, abolished and replaced with a super RRSP. The result of that would be to widen the gap between the rich and the poor because most working class and poor Canadians cannot contribute to an RRSP.
And who would end up benefiting? Well, it's very simple to see. If you turn it over to the private sector, of course the investors are going to benefit tremendously. Banks and financial institutions will all have access to that money and they would make the profits on it, and that money would not be brought back into the plan. That money would be kept out in the private sector. So, any profits made on the plan would stay in the private sector and not be rolled back into the plan to improve it.
What happens when we depend on private plans and investment? In short, when we are forced to fend for ourselves, as many would have us do, and risk everything on uncertainties of a volatile and changeable investment money market, we know what happens there.
We have an example in the United States. It happened seven or eight years ago. It was called an S&L program, a savings and loans investment. Much of the savings and loans were based upon preying upon seniors' savings. That was partly due to the deregulation under the Reagan government, a very right-wing movement. They felt it was going to be of benefit. It would create tremendous wealth and growth if that money was allowed to be used in very open investments with no guarantees.
But what actually happened with the savings and loans? I believe the figures ranged close to $7 trillion that were lost, and that was seniors' money in most cases. It was seniors' money. About $7 trillion went missing, disappeared because of bad investments, bogus developments. That's because it was turned over and it was said that "They can do it better; they'll get you more money. We're not going to have any regulations or checks and balances to ensure that the money you invest in the savings and loans will be protected." There was no protection. So, $7 trillion went somewhere, but the majority of it came from the seniors.
Is this where we're going in this country? This is what I'm afraid of. I'm afraid that whenever we allow the investment to be taken away from the control mechanisms, when we allow it to go into the private sector, public money saved under a public plan, a social program, be changed to be handled privately, greed will enter into it, manipulation will enter into it. Accountability will fall to the wayside and we could end up with a huge scandal and many hurt seniors in this country.
Women, as I said earlier, are the hardest hit, but not only the women. Disability pensions will become more difficult to obtain. People who rely upon disability pensions are going to be affected. After changes to the plan, people who now qualify for CPP, disability will no longer qualify. There is really no answer to what they would qualify for.
The $3,500 a year that, right at the moment, is being indexed, will no longer be. We see again a regressive CPP under the Liberals. How much it deviates from the original intent of the CPP, which established a plan that was progressive and affordable to low-income and middle-income people, and they keep squeezing it harder and harder.
What's the justification for this? Well, it goes back to the - I'm going to close down soon here - it goes back to -
Speaker: You have two minutes.
Mr. Hardy: It goes back to the CPP, the scare mongering that's been quite common from the federal government over the years to get what they want. They say the CPP was broke. For 40 years the CPP has run exactly the way it is. It has never gone broke. All of a sudden, in one year, it's broke; it's going broke, there's no money there. Forty years it has been running like this. So how come it's all of a sudden like that? Maybe we should take the government to task on this. What do they do? They just get elected and say it's broke.
The other thing we should be aware of is that there were public hearings. A lot of people aren't aware of that, but there were public hearings up here. They did tour the country, and they had many suggestions given to them. I attended those public hearings and spoke on behalf of seniors, and there were many suggestions brought forward from associations, individuals, businesses, and I can see from the changes that are being recommended that they didn't listen to any of these.
The original motion is a good one, in that it asks for public hearings again. There were already public hearings on the CPP, and that's what they're using to say they've already heard and consulted, because they did roll the OAS and the GIS into it, but we have to broaden the whole thing and tell them to come back and listen to what people say and respond to what the people say, because they were here before - a year and a half ago - and they got told very clearly, don't mess with this, don't start fooling around with this, and they went back and they did it, and they shut down debate when people tried to object.
So I hope people will support this and recognize that it's done in an attempt to assist seniors, and in no way it's meant to take away from the previous motion or the amendment to the previous motion.
Mr. Ostashek: In speaking to the amendment, for the most part, we could support the amendment except for the last clause. The last clause changes the intent of our motion. Our motion is to bring this committee to the Yukon.
I think the amendment as proposed by the Member for Whitehorse Centre lets the federal government off the hook by holding public hearings across the country and not necessarily coming to the Yukon. So we need to strengthen that for us to support that amendment, because the whole intent of our amendment was to bring this committee to the Yukon so Yukoners could speak to them.
I said, in fact, in my debate on the main motion that while I felt they should hold hearings across the country, I wasn't worried about what they did in other jurisdictions, I was concerned about what they did in the Yukon for our people in the Yukon. That's this Legislature's responsibility - it's to the people of the Yukon. Without the word "Yukon" in there, I think we defeat the purpose of the motion.
So we now have the motion on the floor. We have to deal with it. We will support the motion, but we will bringing in a further amendment to it. That is what we will be doing, to make it very, very clear that this motion is intended to bring those bureaucrats and those politicians from Ottawa to the Yukon to hear what Yukoners have to say.
I'm sure that other legislatures across the country will deal with this issue in an appropriate manner, and generally Vancouver doesn't get left out of hearings, but Whitehorse always gets left out, and just for the information of the members opposite, the only way we got the CPP hearings here was because I raised it as an issue at a Finance ministers meeting in Ottawa and asked Mr. Martin for a commitment that, before the changes were made, Yukoners would have a chance to speak to it as well, and that's when he sent his parliamentary secretary up here with the committee so Yukoners could speak.
Not so much on that amendment, but I have to take issue with some of the comments that the Member for Whitehorse Centre made in speaking to the amendment and that's regarding the CPP. I don't know where he came up with the 17-percent figure. My understanding is that CPP increase premiums would be limited to nine-point-some percent, under 10 percent, not 17 percent. That's one issue.
The other issue is that I'm not certain if the member is aware that before the federal government could move ahead with any changes to CPP premiums, they had to reach a consensus across Canada among the government leaders or Finance ministers - I think it was the leaders, though, of the territorial and provincial governments. They reached that consensus on the nine-point-some percent increase, so we can condemn them for having the increase and maybe feel that a lot of people don't feel it's necessary. We had concerns about it, but the fact is that they wanted to increase it a lot more than what they finally settled for.
They do claim that they're going to be short of money by the year 2030. I'm not certain that they will, if they invest it properly, and one of the points that the Member for Whitehorse Centre made about how they invest it was raised and there is a different format now for investing the Canada Pension premiums, so we hope that that won't happen.
Another point that the member said was that most Canadians don't contribute to RRSPs. Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Speaker, but of all the surveys I've seen, 51 percent of Canadians will be contributing to RRSPs, so that is better than half of all Canadians that will be contributing to RRSPs. That's the latest survey results I have seen that have come out. So, a substantial number of Canadians are going to be affected in a very negative manner in their retirement incomes with that many Canadians who have basically picked up what the federal government told them to do, saying, "We can't afford to keep you in the style you're accustomed to; you're going to have to help us." So they contributed to RRSPs and now the federal government wants to claw them back.
Mr. Speaker, I'm not going to speak forever on this. We do want to get to vote on this entire motion today. We will support the amendment but we will be bringing in a further amendment to the amended motion.
Mr. Fentie: I'd like to thank my colleague and Member for Whitehorse Centre for bringing forward this amendment to the motion, which I think cuts right to the heart of this issue, and if the Member for Porter Creek North wants to add the word "Yukon" in that final paragraph, I'll support that too.
I want to voice some very serious concerns on behalf of all seniors in the Yukon - serious concerns about how the federal Liberal government is trying to dismantle the old age security, guaranteed income supplement, and the Canada Pension Plan.
In the 1960s, when the CPP, medicare and guaranteed income supplement were introduced, 40 percent of elderly Canadians lived in poverty. Today, that's been cut in half to 20 percent, still a shamefully high percentage in my view, but can you imagine what that figure will be when you and I reach senior citizen ranks in the next 10 to 20 years? Improvements in the old age security system have dramatically reduced poverty rates among elderly women from 70 percent in 1980 to 45 percent in 1993. Still shamefully high but again you can imagine what it would be like for women in the near future with these changes the federal Liberals want to implement.
Now, the federal Liberals have been quite successful, Mr. Speaker, in convincing Canadians that the CPP is going broke, that Canadians should be more responsible and save for retirement, and that today's seniors have it too good.
Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, that is completely false. I'm fortunate enough to know many seniors in this territory and throughout the west, and I can tell you, I know how hard they've worked over the years, I know how hard they have tried to save for retirement, and I think the whole focus of the federal Liberal government is unfair. Their solution is to buy individual RRSPs.
Well, I submit to this House the reason they focus that way is it's managed by their banker friends, and there's a cost involved here, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3 billion a year.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday was Remembrance Day and I, like millions of other Canadians, watched the ceremonies in Ottawa and other cities across the country. I listened to the stories about men and women who sacrificed much, many of them with their very lives, to ensure future generations could live in peace and prosperity. Many of these men and women who fought in World War II are the senior citizens who, today, are being penalized by the very government who yesterday stood beside them at the various war memorials and heaped them with praise and basked them in the glories of their heroic deeds during the war.
That's very fine and good. Our veterans and seniors deserve this praise, but that's not enough. Mr. Speaker, our federal Liberal government had better start putting their money where their mouth is. Senior citizens can't eat, pay rent, utilities and medical bills on praise. Our senior citizens shouldn't have to worry about how they live out their retirement years. They've paid their dues, paid a very dear price, many of them.
Mr. Speaker, our country will be judged on how it treats the most vulnerable of its citizens. Prime Minister Chrétien constantly glows in the fact that Canada's been chosen by the UN as the most desired country to live in, and we are, quite frankly. Let's not allow our country's reputation to be tarnished because of our treatment of our elderly.
Our track record has been pretty good in the past - not perfect, but a lot better off than many other countries. Mr. Speaker, we shouldn't sell our pension plan, old age security and guaranteed income supplement to the highest bidder.
The federal Liberals have already cut the heart out of our universal medicare system by downloading on to the provincial and territorial governments the cost of providing medical care. The federal Liberals have decimated the unemployment insurance program to a point where many who would have in the past relied on UI during downturns in the job market now have to turn to social assistance in order to meet their basic needs. While the new employment insurance program brags a surplus of over $10 billion, provincial and territorial governments are having to deal with burgeoning social assistance budgets.
Now, it seems to me that the federal Liberal government is not satisfied with hitting the sick and the unemployed; they are now turning their big guns toward the next group of vulnerable people in our society, the elderly.
Today, public pensions provide about 58 percent of the retirement income for seniors, compared with 34 percent from employer plans and eight percent from RRSPs. If the federal government succeeds in convincing Canadians to accept their doomsayer reports, our RRSPs will replace the public pension plan now in place.
Who do you think will benefit most if that happens? Not the elderly, not the middle-class working person, not the youth. No, the financial institutions that have already made billions of dollars in profits every year.
Right now I can't name a person I know who can contribute the full amount allowable to their annual RRSP. I certainly can't and I'm sure the majority of Yukoners can't. How will we pay for our retirement? How will our young people, many of them who have trouble meeting their everyday expenses, be able to save for retirement? Only a very small portion of wealthy people will benefit from this change.
At the present time, 10 percent of Canadians make almost half of all the RRSP contributions. A lot of my constituents are forced to cash in a little bit of RRSPs they've been able to put away just to pay for basic needs now.
I feel very strongly that senior citizens in this country, and specifically in the Yukon, have already paid their dues. Our seniors have made the big sacrifices. It is our moral and ethical duty to ensure that they can live out their retirement years with dignity, that they can enjoy these years knowing they have a secure income.
I urge my colleagues here today in this House to not buy into the false propaganda that we can't afford a universal old age security plan, or a universal guaranteed income plan, or a universal Canada Pension Plan.
We must not allow greed to influence our decisions when it comes to supporting the senior citizens in this country. We will pay a very high price if we do because one day you and I will be the beneficiaries of whatever program is left in place.
Canada has created a cost-effective public pension system that provides a secure retirement for millions of working people. We should be proud of the systems we have in place for our elderly now. These systems have made tremendous gains in overcoming poverty among our seniors. Our public pension plan, our old age security and our guaranteed income plans have enabled middle and lower income Canadians to maintain a decent standard of living upon retirement and we have to ensure that that safety net is not destroyed. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: I rise in support of the motion as amended, or the amendment, and would like to speak to it.
Mr. Speaker, the proposed restructured old age benefit package will, in simple terms, mean considerably lower living standards for future retirees and will also penalize those who have saved for their retirement through RRSPs. It would appear that the federal government is doing everything in its power to discourage private saving. There are new caps on RRSP contributions and higher CPP premiums being required from both employees and employers. The seniors benefit that will replace the existing old age benefit and guaranteed income supplement program in 2001 is the least understood of these changes and it will totally devastate our retirement package as Canadians have come to understand it.
The benefits certainly will penalize married couples, so why even consider remaining together? It's not a benefit when you look at two single people cohabiting versus a married couple. There's a considerable reduction in the amount of retirement benefits a married couple can receive.
The claw-backs are paramount to treason upon the programs presently in place and will punish anyone who has listened to any of the previous advice given to people: plan for the rainy day and plan for their retirement and save money. RRSPs are one of the best methods of saving money and yet, after you've gone that route, invested heavily in RRSPs - or moderately, whatever the case - you end up, upon retirement, having most of that money clawed back at a very, very high, effective tax rate. The opinion of the current Liberal government that Canadians will be better off under the new program is extremely misleading, Mr. Speaker.
Look at what is happening and what is occurring in Canada. I cite a recent article regarding seniors dodging south of the border and the benefits of residing in a country such as Mexico, Mr. Speaker. When one is comparing Mexico with Canada, there's really no comparison when it comes to the taxation area. In Mexico, retirees don't even have to file income tax returns with the Mexico government unless they have investments in Mexico.
In that case, the tax grab would be 1.7 percent of gross income. As far as Revenue Canada is concerned, Canadian retirees in Mexico are non-residents if they remain outside of Canada for over half a year, and because they are foreign residents, they do not have to pay any Canadian tax on investment income in Canada, except the 15 percent withholding tax.
What this means, Mr. Speaker, is that a Canadian over the age of 55 with a modest income can become a Mexican resident who supposedly remains a non-resident, thus ducking fully taxable status in both countries. As in other places, such as the Cayman Islands, non-residents of Canada can compound their monies tax-free.
It is reported that 80 percent of Canadians 55 and over who relocate to another country choose Mexico. Not only is the weather attractive, so are the prices for homes, and we have just heard will certainly not leave you bankrupt. You'll end up with more money in your pocket than if you choose to remain in Canada.
But what we are talking about here today does not have much to do with Mexico. What we are talking about is our future and our ability to preserve what we have here in Canada. What the article does point out is that more and more Canadians are looking to leave the country upon retirement for a more attractive place to live, where they have more disposable income than they would have by remaining in this country.
The seniors benefit is complex and difficult to understand. It raises a number of issues regarding fairness, particularly to those Canadians who have planned and saved over the past 30 or 40 years. Now, virtually overnight, Canadians are having to conform to a system without many opportunities to adjust to those changes.
For many of us, our working lives have placed considerable emphasis on saving for retirement, that being investing in RRSPs. By doing this, a person can shift the tax burden from the present, where income taxes are high, to the future, when income tax would historically have been low. The idea was to hold registered retirement savings plans as long as possible, allowing them to compound on a tax-deferred basis until time of withdrawal. If the seniors benefit as proposed is adopted, really, there is no incentive to save for retirement.
All those changes are welcome news for those who cannot save for their own retirement and who may have feared that their pensions would be slashed to nothing. It does come at a price to those families who are saving for their retirement.
As other members in this House have pointed out this afternoon, working couples with retirement incomes of more than $40,000 including old age benefit would be considerably worse off under this new system.
What was once accepted, Mr. Speaker, as a universal social program for all Canadians will no longer be. Similar to A Better Way, it seems as though this is just another broken promise from a red book.
Mr. Livingston: I rise to support the amendment that my colleague from Whitehorse Centre has proposed and, indeed, I support the general thrust of the motion as it was presented. I think what the amendment does is to strengthen and really provide a more inclusive, or comprehensive, approach to what is an important issue for many Canadians.
I think the amendment links the changes to the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement to the fundamental changes that are being proposed to the Canada Pension Plan. You can't talk about one without talking about the other.
We've had the Canada Pension Plan in place in this country for 30 years. It was established in 1966. Why was it established? Well, it was established to provide the sense of security for our workforce and for retiring Canadians, so that Canadians who had worked their lives away would be able to retire with some honour and with some dignity.
Mr. Speaker, it has been sufficiently funded over the last three decades, and it has been funded by workers. I would submit that it is adequately funded. We may need to make, as has been suggested, some changes to ensure that it's funded as the population bulges and the demographics change. But much of the gnashing of teeth about the future of the Canada Pension Plan and old age security and so on, particularly by the federal Liberal government, is related to this concern about unbridled costs. The costs are running away on us.
In fact, the projected costs between 1992 and the year 2000 are expected to increase from 5.3 to 8 percent as a percentage of our national income. This is, I would point out, underneath the current average expenditure of most industrialized countries in the world today.
So, the issue is not really about the cost of the programs. It's about a philosophical shift that we see with the current government, this notion of downloading, of cost cutting, basically this thrust to dismantle some of the social programs that are in place today.
So, what concerns do I have about some of the proposed changes to our old age pension system in this country?
Now, first of all, universality will be abolished by these changes. This brings in degrading means tests. We have everybody, all working Canadians who are paying into the program. No longer would it be available to all Canadians to withdraw from.
Maybe most importantly, aside from the issue of the means test, what this move away from universality does is erode public support. Canadians who no longer see any benefit deriving from it, will cease to remember why we have a universal or even the old age security net and an old age pension plan in place in this country.
That would be a tragedy because right now, by and large, Canadians see this as one of the things that make us a distinctive society on this continent: the way that we ensure that basic services and supports are in place for all Canadians.
The changes further erode security. They erode the security that's provided by abolishing the old age security system, by abolishing the guaranteed income supplement and by establishing a new seniors benefit that in fact is going to save who - save the government - $2 billion over the next 10 years.
Well, this is really a pay-more-get-less kind of a scheme. You can't tell me that there are no changes in benefits when the program is expected to save $2 billion over the next 10 years.
The special losers will be women, as pointed out. They will no longer be treated independently under this program. They'll be treated as part of a spousal unit. A cap will be placed on them, using this notion of a spousal unit. Losers will include the disabled people. In fact, the proposed changes aren't even as good as the recommendations that were contained in the federal Liberal government's own task force.
Pensioners in middle income will be losers under this new plan. Maybe the largest group of losers will be the workers, the lower and middle income workers who pay into this plan and will be paying into this plan for years to come. They're the ones who are going to be the biggest losers.
This group of young workers is kind of part of the hidden agenda, I would suggest, and it's part of the means by which the Liberal government under the Chrétien and Martin leadership have chosen to dismantle things. They've often made changes, not to the way we do things today, but to what's going to happen three, or five or seven years down the road.
So, it's kind of hidden in the bushes from many Canadians and we don't anticipate it until suddenly a change that was made years ago hits us in the face - I'll tell you.
So, that's really what we're seeing. We've seen the dismantling of the unemployment system. We've seen the dismantling, or at least the cutbacks, in the health care field, and indeed we've seen, with the social assistance, the increased social assistance payments that this government has had to pay out basically to cover the cuts that have been made to the federal unemployment insurance program - at least, many of them have been.
Mr. Speaker, I think the amendments proposed in this motion are good amendments and help us to remember that this is about the old age security system, it's about the guaranteed income supplement and, indeed, it's about the fundamental changes being proposed to the Canada Pension Plan.
Canadians know that over the years the Canada Pension Plan has provided that sense of security. It has been available to all Canadians. It has been paid into by all Canadians, and they're not prepared to see the erosion of that part of our social system by these kinds of changes. This is about fairness; this is about confidence - confidence for individual Canadians in terms of their ability to provide for themselves and to have the pension payments that they've made over the years provide for them in their old age. It's about that sense of security. The current pension system as it exists is good for seniors and it's good for healthy communities in the Yukon, and that's why I'll be supporting this motion, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: I rise in support of the amendment made by my colleague from Whitehorse Centre. There has been lots said already this afternoon and I'll try to be brief in my comments.
I first learned about this proposal watching CBC television news a month or so back, Mr. Speaker, and can recall our federal Finance minister, Paul Martin, glowing with pride in how he was going to save the pension plan of this country. I watched the program and interview with great interest, trying to wonder what problems there were with this program, as we'd find out as more information became known.
Mr. Martin's glowing with pride reminded me of another person about 10 years previously, when our Prime Minister of the day, Brian Mulroney, also glowed with pride when telling Canadians about a special program he was going to introduce, called the value-added tax, later which became known as the GST. Well, Mr. Speaker, we all found out the truth about the GST. I'm afraid we're beginning to find out the truth about the federal Liberals' pension scheme.
The federal Liberals have been very reluctant to provide any information to the public on the impact of the changes proposed, especially regarding any analysis on the incomes of retirees and other statistics. The government simply has not fulfilled its promise to issue a report examining the challenges and opportunities posed by Canada's aging society, which would have provided a rational framework in which to make recommendations for changes to the CPP and old age security.
In fact, Mr. Speaker, the proposed cuts to CPP disability benefits are at odds with the spirit of its own task force on disability issues. The government is heralding changes as improving the fairness of the CPP to younger generations, yet the benefit cuts and other regressive changes will apply to the younger generation of tomorrow.
Speaking about promises, Mr. Speaker, I can recall that the federal Liberal government, back in 1994, promised to make pensions affordable and sustainable. As it turns out, this is clearly a smokescreen to introduce benefit cuts. As many of my colleagues have said this afternoon, this proposed bill is bad news for pensioners.
I can't help but wonder about the timing of this debate, Mr. Speaker, as mentioned by my colleague from Watson Lake. Today follows on the heels of Remembrance Day, a day to pay our respects to our elders who fought against fascism in the name of democracy in this country.
We must respect our seniors, Mr. Speaker, and provide them with the opportunity to live with dignity and respect. Proposing cuts such as those contained in this bill insults the principles that I spoke of. They insult the seniors, they don't allow them to live their lives in dignity.
Many seniors now have difficulty supporting themselves, paying their utility bills, money for food or clothing. Some are forced to live on the streets. This is more prominent down south, but it could become more of a reality here in the Yukon. More seniors are turning to the streets, eating out of garbage bins, purchasing pet food and outdated items, frequenting charities for food or clothing. Mr. Speaker, this isn't respect for our elders. This is an insult.
When I think back to Mr. Martin's gloating with pride in saving the country's social program for seniors, I can't help but wonder just what he thought about the truth this program would bring. Surely, he must have been briefed on the disadvantages of this program. Why did he choose to pursue it, bring it to the federal Cabinet for approval, propose it to the public, when it was so insulting to the seniors of this country? I think it goes a long way, Mr. Speaker, in revealing how the federal Liberals view our society and view the seniors in this country.
I've had the opportunity to speak with many constituents on this, also with many seniors in Whitehorse. I've also had the opportunity to speak with senior groups like the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake on various issues, and I'm aware of the financial constraints they're forced to live with. In the Yukon, many seniors - elders in particular - receive only the $4,760 annual pension plus the guaranteed income supplement as their only source of income.
Given the nature of lifestyles in the north, including seasonal employment or living a traditional way of life, many Yukoners who are now seniors did not have the opportunity to pay into other pension plans. This has resulted in an old age security plan being their only source of income, with the exception of elders benefits, which may be discontinued depending on what individual First Nations decide.
It did not become mandatory for First Nations to pay into the Canada Pension Plan until 1990 and only for those who were employed on lands set aside. In many instances, if First Nations paid into CPP before 1990, it was refunded on their income tax returns.
Many seniors in Yukon receive only the old age security and GIS and have no other income. Unfortunately, this is a trend that will continue for next generation and as a result many seniors are and will continue to live well below the poverty line for some time to come.
What is the poverty line, Mr. Speaker? Well, in preparation I did some research this afternoon on what Statistics Canada believes the poverty line is. Although Statistics Canada does not define poverty, there are a few acceptable definitions available. It publishes figures called "low-income cutoffs," and in January of this year those figures applied to urban areas of less than 30,000 in southern Canada as requiring $16,971 per year to live on, or $1,414 per month gross income.
Well, Mr. Speaker, that happens to be very close to the amount that senior couples will receive under this program.
So in fact what the federal Liberals are doing here is placing our seniors at, and sometimes below -
Speaker: Two minutes.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Especially in the north, where we do have higher costs, they're placing seniors below the poverty line.
Once again, that is not showing respect for our seniors, who made this country what it is today, who fought for democracy and fought against fascism.
Mr. Speaker, I hope my colleagues across the floor will also speak out against fascism in the name of democracy and support this amendment, to send a clear message to the Liberals in Ottawa that we do not support this program.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to address the amendment that has been put forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. One of our roles in this House and other forums is to discuss important issues of the day. There's a fundamental point underlying that. We have a responsibility to have an informed and reasonable discussion about issues on the table. It's unfortunate that, sometimes in various forums, there's misinformation and misinterpretation, and I hasten to say that that's not deliberate in any instance, but merely to some, the glass is half full, and to some, the glass is half empty. The issues before us are complex in this particular motion, and I'm pleased that the amendment has raised the discussion of universality.
It really is the heart of this issue in many respects - the issue of universality versus selectivity - and there is a very, very fundamental political debate going on in this country. Universality has been defended at times and criticized at others - by all parties. I think the answer for most Canadians is somewhere in the middle.
For example, one of the points of universality versus selectivity on this particular issue is the cost of administration. One of the preferences by some is the system that is currently in place, rather than the proposed changes - the OAS - because it's universally applied and the cost of administration is less than one percent.
The cost of administration is less than half of one percent and applying that selectivity is very expensive and it's very confusing to manage. The cost is something like five-plus percent to administer.
The difficulty, of course, is that governments rise and fall by the financial decisions that they make - or don't make, as the Member for Klondike has pointed out.
Another point on the whole discussion of universality versus selectivity is that the move away from universality is viewed to be threatening by some because universality is an effort to ensure that those who need it most receive the help they need. What we end up with is one of these debates with "on the one hand this and on the other hand, maybe" and "on the one hand that and on the other hand this."
It reinforces the fundamental point that we need a full and open and informed Yukon discussion about this subject. I'd like to just address the idea of the subject contained in the amendment, as previous members have done.
There are the three pillars of our system. There's the old age security, guaranteed income supplement, Canada and Quebec Pension Plan, private retirement savings. In essence, we have a balance of government and individual responsibility for retirement income. As the Member for Porter Creek North pointed out, by 2030, the number of seniors in Canada will more than double. Of course, the political out for that is "barring anything unforeseen", the population of seniors will more than double.
The government's proposing the seniors benefit, in their view, to have a secure and sustainable pension system now and in the future. In their view, this replacement of the OAS and the GIS will be completely tax free and will incorporate the existing old age pension income tax credits. Benefits are delivered in a single monthly payment. Payments to couples will be made in separate and equal cheques to each spouse. Both the benefits levels and threshold levels will be fully indexed to inflation. And in the government's view, in the proponent's view, the benefit is designed to fully protect low and modest income seniors. Almost all will receive slightly more. Nine out of 10 single senior women will be better off.
The very highest income seniors, who already have secure pensions and other income, will receive no government assistance. For single earners with income above $52,000 and for couples with incomes above $78,000, benefits will be eliminated.
There are other views. I note that in a study entitled Protecting Public Pensions by pension expert Monica Townsend - and this is published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - the view from that perspective is that changes to Canada's public pension programs now being put in place threaten the financial security of future seniors and could result in a standard of living of older Canadians falling far behind the rest of the population.
Townsend further goes on and charges that government policy is being driven by a desire to cut costs regardless of the consequences for future seniors. In her view, there are much more progressive pension reforms that could be implemented, including some proposed by the CCPA and the National Council of Welfare, and in her view, it's time to give them serious consideration.
A writer in the Southam newspapers states that the new scheme will combine the existing $21.7 billion old age security and guaranteed income supplement to one entitlement, the seniors benefit, as we've stated. The writer, Mark Kennedy, goes on to state that high-income pensioners of the future will receive smaller benefits from the new plan or none whatsoever. Poor seniors will get larger benefits than they do now, and the increasing costs of the system will be kept in check and actually cut by about 10 percent annually within 35 years.
According to that reporter, the system will work as follows: anyone 60 or over on December 31 gets the lifetime guarantee. The new seniors benefit to take effect in 2001 will be indexed to inflation and be completely tax free, and again, the cheque will come monthly. Separate cheques, each of the same amount, will be delivered to each spouse in a marriage. The size of the benefit will vary according to family income. Benefits will be chipped away for many seniors with incomes over $40,000. Single seniors with income more than $52,000 and couples with incomes above $78,000 will get no benefit at all.
Poor seniors will receive $120 more per year in benefits than they get now. About 25 percent of seniors will receive lower benefits, and by the year 2030 the system will cost $69.1 billion, compared to $77.3 billion if the current system remained in place.
Another individual, a Mr. Ben Swanky, who has been active in the labour movement since the 1930s as a writer, educator and researcher, and author of books including Brother, Can You Spare a Billion, has written that, "In any case, even the $2 billion in cuts that is forecast is evidence that many seniors will be worse off under the new program. There's no way that this much money can be taken from public pensions without lowering the income of many retirees."
In Mr. Swanky's version and interpretation of this proposal - The Winners and Losers - the maximum amount of the OAS is now $4,764.42 per year. The seniors benefit will both be indexed and untaxed, but what the pensioner will gain by these changes has to be balanced against having to pay an additional $991 in taxes because of the elimination of the old age and pension credits.
Then there's the 20-percent claw-back on incomes over $25,921, which will obviously have a negative impact on those with retirement incomes above this amount. According to Mr. Swanky, "Women in particular will be losers under the seniors benefit. The government now claims to be promoting women's independence by providing all seniors, male and female, with their own pension cheques, but when the OAS and GIS are replaced by the seniors benefit, which is geared to total spousal income, many women who now qualify for separate cheques will have their pension payments clawed back because of the size of their spouse's income."
And Mr. Swanky goes on, "The point of all of these arguments pro and arguments con is that what we require in this country", and in the Yukon in particular is, as both the amendment and the motion have proposed, "a full, open and informed discussion about this issue, namely future retirement benefits."
So where does that leave us? The majority, like the Member for Riverdale North has said, are confused about this issue, about what one should do with one's own investments. Being one of the younger members of this House, I'm especially concerned as to what we're supposed to do, if we're paying this ultimate bill and, most importantly, like most of the people in this House, I also have an aging family, as I am aging rapidly, as my colleague points out.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: I did.
We will be judged, as the Member for Watson Lake has said, by how we treat our elderly. Everyone has expressed their concern about how we do treat our elderly and what will be left when we get there, how are we treating them now, and are we sentencing our elderly to the poorhouse with this motion? Are we actually providing better for them? Again I return to the point that I believe Canadians, especially Yukoners, need a full and informed discussion about this particular proposal. It's important that we are informed in this discussion. It's important that we take the time and energy to look from both sides, and that we examine where we are going and how we intend to get there.
We in the Liberal Party caucus maintain that position, as we have said from the outset, that we believe this discussion - and there are points and misinformation and information being provided by everyone. Again I return to the point. It is one of those discussions where, is the glass half-full or is the glass half-empty? It depends on how you look at it, and I think we need to examine this legislation from the perspective of every member of Yukon society with a view to how we chart our future. It's important that we have that discussion, and it's important that we have this discussion here in the Yukon.
For that reason, we will be supporting the amendment.
Mr. Phillips: Speaking on the amendment to the motion, Mr. Speaker, I am going to present a subamendment to the amendment, but I want to speak first of all about a couple of things with the motion. I found the last comments made by the Liberal member rather interesting.
I was a bit surprised by the comments, but I did find them interesting. When I say I'm surprised it's because the member obviously looks as if he is fitting in well with the Liberal caucus and is not taking a position one way or the other on the issue. It's a case of "First you say you will and then you won't."
I'm not sure whether the Liberals are voting for this motion because they are opposing this particular initiative by their federal Liberal counterparts or it sounds like they just want more discussion on it and they haven't really made up their minds yet whether it is a good idea and they're kind of hoping that their federal Liberal counterparts will come to the Yukon and convince all of us that this is the best thing since sliced bread and we'll all agree with them too and we can all say we like the Liberals. I don't think that's going to happen.
I know where I stand on this particular piece of legislation. I think it stinks. I think it's a bad piece of legislation. I don't know all the ins and outs of it yet, but I know that it's not good for a lot of Yukoners. I know that the federal Liberals in Ottawa have not been listening to Canadians out there when it comes to this initiative. This isn't anything that we all heard about in the last election campaign, that they were going to make these major changes. This isn't anything that Canadians voted for. It's not in their book. This is another one of those secret deals that happens in 2001 or 2002, and as someone pointed out, we'll almost forget who gave it to us by then.
I think it is one that we shouldn't just say "maybe" on, it's one we should say that we have a real problem with. That's the reason why the Member for Porter Creek North brought forth this motion and spoke so strongly on it and that's why other members from the side opposite spoke on the negative effects of this motion.
You know, I want to speak for a few minutes on parts of this that I find really unacceptable. I attended a meeting a couple of years ago, as the minister responsible for the status of women and I met who I think was a very dynamic women, the hon. Hedy Fry, who was the minister responsible for the status of women. I was very impressed with her talk and her speeches. One of the things that she brought forward at one of our last meetings that I attended was that this federal government was going to bring into all of its legislation a gender test. Every piece of federal legislation and had to pass the gender test.
It means, Mr. Speaker, that on any legislation whatsoever they had to look at it and see how it would affect women primarily in this country. Well, like some of our math students, the Liberals have failed the gender test in this particular piece of legislation. This is an outright failure by the federal Liberal government. This bill will affect women and senior women in this country in a dramatic way. It will take away their independence, in some cases, and I'm surprised that some members of the House are not taking a strong stand on that, because I believe that this bill - the way it's written, the way it has been described to everyone - is going to do that. There's no doubt about it.
When the amendment was brought forward, there were a few things left out, and one of the things, as the leader of the opposition stated when he spoke to the amendment, is that our concern was that hearings be held in the Yukon. The amendment that we had before us talks generally about public hearings, and we had a concern about that, and I've spoken to members on the government side, and I'll be proposing a friendly amendment to deal with that.
As well, Mr. Speaker, I have a concern that we're not going to be heard as much as we'd like to be heard on this one, that the federal Liberals are not going to come to the Yukon. I know their Liberal friends next door to us in the basement will be on the phones calling all their counterparts and urging them to come to the territory, and I hope they're successful in urging this committee to come north, but I have a sense that the federal Liberals are getting beat up on this one and that they're not going to want to go any further than the front door of their office in Ottawa, so we're not going to see their faces in the Yukon as we haven't on a few other pieces of legislation that have become rather unpalatable to a lot of Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, for that reason, I have suggested in my comments earlier that we bring in an amendment as well which would urge the Government of Yukon to conduct a public information campaign or hold some hearings on the implications of the proposed seniors benefit in the event that the federal Liberal government fails to conduct public hearings in the territory, and I think that comes back to what everyone here has been saying all day in this House - that we have to get the message out.
We have to inform people now how it's going to affect them. It's going to be too late after this bill goes through, and we coast along for another four or five years until all of a sudden, whammo, it hits you in the paycheque.
Another thing that was brought up, I think by the Member for Kluane, which is a good point and a point that I was going to make, and I'll reiterate: this bill, the changes to the old age pension, doesn't take into account the cost of living in the north and the added cost of living in northern Canada. So, where it is going to have what I feel is a very significant effect on southern Canadians who are retiring, it's going to have a more profound effect on Yukoners who are retiring. That's why we have to send a strong, clear message to the federal Liberal government in Ottawa that this particular piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker, is unacceptable.
Mr. Phillips: With that, I will table an amendment to this second amendment and, Mr. Speaker, I move
THAT the amendment moved by the Member for Whitehorse Centre to Motion No. 68 be amended by:
(1) adding the expression "in Yukon" after the expression "public hearings" where it appears in the last paragraph; and
(2) adding the following new paragraph:
"THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to hold public hearings on the implications of the proposed seniors benefit in the event that the federal Liberal government fails to conduct public hearings in the territory."
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Riverdale North:
THAT the amendment moved by the Member for Whitehorse Centre to Motion No. 68 be amended by:
(1) adding the expression "in Yukon" after the expression "public hearings" where it appears in the last paragraph; and
(2) adding the following new paragraph:
"THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to hold public hearings on the implications of the proposed seniors benefit in the event that the federal Liberal government fails to conduct public hearings in the territory."
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, just in closing again, I urge members to support this. I think the main purpose of today's debate is to, number one, try and get the federal Liberals to come up to the Yukon to discuss this issue with the Yukon public and, failing that, number two, to inform Yukoners ourselves what implications this bill will have on their retirement, so that they can take whatever action necessary to try and prevent it from happening.
You know, Mr. Speaker, it's interesting. We talk about who this bill will affect and who it won't affect, and I'm convinced this bill won't affect a couple of people in this country, and one is Jean Chrétien, and the other is Paul Martin. I don't think either one of those two will feel a ripple from this particular piece of legislation, but there are going to be an awful lot of Canadians and Yukoners who we're concerned about who are going to feel it.
So I think it's very important for us to take a strong stand against - not for or against, not maybe - but against this particular legislation. We're urging the federal government to come up here to explain it so people can have at least an opportunity to criticize, or they can hear the criticisms that are going to come from many Canadians.
So, Mr. Speaker, that's the purpose of the amendment, and I hope all members of this House will support it.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We're supportive of the amendment and supportive of the motion that's before us right now. Mr. Speaker, the previous Liberal member talked about what we, as relatively young and relatively privileged people, are supposed to do to ensure that we have some retirement savings in the future. I think that those comments show the fundamental difference between our approach to Canadian pensions, that we support the universality principle absolutely.
The Canada Pension Plan was set up 30 years ago as a social insurance program. It is not a welfare program. It is not intended only for those with low incomes. A social insurance program is one which, we all agree, pools the risks of providing for the loss of income that we all face when we retire, or if we become disabled.
Of course people can provide for their own retirement. In fact, they're expected to do just that. The Canada Pension Plan wasn't intended to be the only retirement income that you'd ever have or need. Public programs can be supplemented by people's own savings and private pension plans.
But I wanted to speak, Mr. Speaker, about the effect of this pension claw-back on women. Virtually all of the CPP changes proposed in the government's discussion paper would hit women much harder than men, from capping the indexing to limiting the child-rearing dropout to reducing the surviving spouse benefits.
I'm mindful that we want to come to a vote on this motion this afternoon, so I just want to point out that the Gerontology Research Centre at Simon Fraser University has done a lot of work about the Canada Pension Plan reforms and the concerns for women. Women's life expectancy is now 80 years; men's is 74 years. So, women's longevity exceeds men, making pensions obviously more of an issue for women.
There are a lot of women who are now in the workforce, and so they are more likely to have workplace pension plans. However, women earn between 69 and 72 percent of what men earn, so just as their wages are lower, women's pensions are lower. As well, many women bear the main responsibilities for family care, which means that they're out of the workforce for longer periods of time.
Many women also leave work to care for their parents or other elders at an average age of 52.
Now, we hear a lot about globalization and free trade, and the Liberals are very much in support of those interests if business is going to be of benefit. But one of the concerns that has been raised by the government in talking about the expenditures for these programs, and so the need to make cuts to them, is talking about how the programs as a percentage of the national income will increase from 5.3 percent in 1992 to eight percent in 2010. But this is less than the current average expenditure on similar programs in other countries in the industrialized world. I think we have an obligation to try to match the other countries in the industrialized world that do spend money on important social programs, like pensions, available on a universal basis.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I'll conclude my remarks and encourage all members to support the motion before us as amended.
Mr. Cable: I'm going to speak really quickly because I think we want to get to a vote, too.
We, as opposed to the Yukon Party, which originally tabled the rather amorphous motion without specifically spelling out that they were against a lot of the seniors benefits changes, we are firmly of the opinion that the seniors benefit needs to be taken back to the drawing board and reviewed.
And we're firmly of the opinion that the federal Liberals and the federal NDP and the federal PQ and the federal Conservatives and the federal Reform should all come up here on the standing committee. This is not just a Liberal issue. This is a parliamentary issue and it's a people issue, and we want to see the discussion. We are four-square behind the motion and we're four-square behind the public debate, despite the smoke and mirrors that came out one of the members on my right.
What I would like to say is there are many, many issues that have arisen. There are the principles behind the bill - not just the number crunching that we are concerned with but the principles behind the about-to-be bill. The Canada Pension Plan, of course, has seen its way through Parliament and we have a bill, but just to correct the Member for Riverdale North I say to him, "When the bill comes forward, then we can talk about the bill." There are many underlying issues that need to be talked about. There are inter-generational transfers. There are inter-senior transfers. There are inter-class transfers. There is a need for revenue neutrality. And there are many other issues. Somebody had briefed me this morning, a long-time member of the federal Liberals, who said he is shocked by his party's lack of informed debate and the lack of promotion of informed debate and this is something that we want to see. We want to see the people discussing an issue that is going to affect all of us sooner or later, unless of course we're run over by a car.
So that when seniors who have planned for many years under the assumption that there'll be certain revenue streams in their future suddenly have those revenue streams changed, we need to have that debate moved publicly. We need to know why the bar was set at 60 years, why people who have worked for many, many years up to age 59 were not given the same option. We need to know a great number of things.
I'm not going to speak any longer, because I know there's an anxiety here to get to the vote.
So I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that we will be supporting the motion. We want the public debate. We want the seniors benefit program analyzed closely. We want the people to understand what it's all about. We want changes made. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Just very quickly, I would like to let my voice be heard on this very important subject. I encourage all to speak and support the motion. I certainly will myself. I do believe that elders are our treasure. Without our elders, or without our youth, we will not have either eventually. I do believe that respect for our elders and seniors should be paramount in anything that we do within our lives. We must look to what history says of our elders and what our elders have gone through.
Mr. Speaker, I think our elders have gone through so much more than elders previous to them or coming up now. The elders, especially in the Yukon Territory, have gone through what you would consider an industrial revolution in the last 50 years. They've seen shocking changes, Mr. Speaker - from snowshoes to satellites, as the saying goes.
Mr. Speaker, it's not a case of whether the glass is half-empty or half-full; it's a case of let's do the right thing for our seniors, and I would respectfully like to be able to do that. I know that one of the recipes for change, maybe, or certainly - let me see... one of the members opposite said that it might force married couples into dividing up so that they wouldn't have to do that. That would certainly be disgusting if that ever had to come through in any person's life. People should be together and stay together. They should not be looking to break up over monetary issues.
Subamendment to Motion No. 68 agreed to
Speaker: Is there any further debate on the main motion, as amended?
Second amendment to Motion No. 68 agreed to
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any member wish to be heard?
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I will be very, very brief. I just want to thank all members in this Legislature for the very good debate on this issue today and for getting the issues out on the table - including our Liberal colleagues. I know that they're not very supportive of what has been done by their federal counterparts, and I think it bodes well for this Legislature and the philosophical beliefs that are in here that we can come together on issues that are important to all Yukoners.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the motion?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, would you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. Livingston: Agree.
Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 14 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the motion carried as amended.
Motion No. 68 agreed to as amended
Speaker: It is now 5:30. The Speaker will now leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will now proceed to Government Bills.
Bill No. 32 - withdrawn
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 32, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Harding.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that Bill No. 32, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be discharged and that the bill be withdrawn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board that Bill No. 32, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be discharged and that the bill be withdrawn.
Motion for discharge and withdrawal of Bill No. 32 agreed to
Speaker: I declare the motion carried and order that Bill No. 32 be withdrawn from the Order Paper.
Bill No. 39: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 39, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Keenan.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I move that Bill No. 39, entitled An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Community and Transportation Services that Bill No. 39, entitled An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Hon. members of the Assembly, I would like to begin my comments in support of this bill by stressing that this government considers the safety and security of all Yukon people to be a matter of paramount importance. Surely there is no better example of the need to act in the interests of public safety than the level of injury and death that we witness every year on our public roadways. I doubt that there is any member in this House who has not been personally affected by a tragic and preventable motor vehicle accident at some time in the past.
This bill is a concrete attempt by our government to address three areas that Yukon people have told us are a major concern for them. This bill represents the most significant legislative initiative for the regulation of motor vehicle use in the Yukon in more than a decade.
The legislative measures included in this bill are intended to get tougher on offenders. The objective is to make our streets and highways safer for all Yukoners, which is a goal I am sure is shared by all members in this House.
The people of the Yukon want the government to take action on impaired drivers. They want us to take action on people who do not accept their financial responsibilities by carrying adequate, current insurance coverage. They want us to take action on people who continue to drive while their driving privileges are under suspension, and I want to stress that driving is a privilege in this society and certainly not a right.
Mr. Speaker, a total of 1,401 responded to the Motor Vehicles Act review questionnaire that was sent to households last year by the Department of Community and Transportation Services in cooperation with the Department of Justice.
The results of this survey indicate that it is time to make some significant changes to the way we regulate motor vehicle use. This government knows that it is time for change and that is why we decided to move quickly on some of the most significant areas where change is needed.
The Yukon currently has some of the most lenient legislative penalties for impaired, suspended and uninsured drivers in Canada. The Bureau of Statistics' population survey on impaired driving clearly indicates that drinking and driving is still a major problem within the Yukon.
In the meantime, provincial governments from one end of the country to the other are sending a clear message that drinking and driving is not acceptable and are implementing tough measures to get offenders off the road.
The proposed amendments that I have introduced for the Assembly to consider are responsible and responsive initiatives to make our streets safer for everyone.
In the Yukon today, impaired drivers, suspended drivers and uninsured drivers continue to abuse their driving privilege. The extensive public consultation with Yukoners indicated that a majority of Yukoners want the government to take action against these offenders. In addition to this, there have recently been many different initiatives implemented in provincial jurisdictions to deal with similar problems.
The legislative proposals before the House today draw upon the experience in other jurisdictions and provide measures that are designed to recognize Yukon's unique characteristics.
The government has taken action on a number of different fronts to deal with impaired, suspended and uninsured drivers. Several regulatory initiatives will be enacted to complement the initiatives in this bill. Together, the legislative and regulatory measures will represent the integrated package of impaired, suspended and uninsured driver initiatives.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to comment on the government's initiatives to lengthen licence disqualification for impaired drivers. The Yukon has the shortest period of driver's licence disqualifications of any Canadian jurisdiction. This bill will impose a one-year driver's licence disqualification for first-time impaired drivers, a three-year disqualification for a second impaired conviction and an indefinite lifetime disqualification for a driver's third conviction for impaired driving.
A second major initiative is the introduction of a 90-day roadside suspension for impaired and suspended drivers. Impaired drivers will be given 14 days to get their affairs in order or to have the roadside suspension reviewed before it comes into effect.
Mr. Speaker, the third major initiative is the introduction of a vehicle impoundment program for impaired, suspended and uninsured drivers. Offenders' vehicles will be impounded for periods of 30 days for a first offence and 60 days for a second offence. A third offence will result in a 120-day impoundment and an eight-month prohibition against the offender reregistering the vehicle.
The bill also provides authority for the imposition of licence reinstatement fees for drivers who have had their licences suspended or disqualified. These fees are intended both as a penalty that increases with the frequency of the offences and as a means of recovering the costs for providing services to offenders.
Mr. Speaker, the amendments will also change the 24-hour suspension sections of the Motor Vehicles Act by removing the existing provisions for the return of a driver's licence before the 24-hour suspension period has expired.
I would like to assure the hon. members that this legislation takes into consideration the special characteristics of the Yukon and the circumstances of other people who may be affected by the actions of offenders. It provides due process to ensure fairness and checks and balances to provide accountability and prevent the possibility of abuse of authority.
For example, the impoundment provisions of this bill allow vehicles to be delivered to an impoundment facility by the owner or another person who can lawfully drive the vehicle if the towing charges would be onerous or if there was some risk to people's safety or damage to the vehicle. The impoundment provisions also allow an owner to have a vehicle released from impoundment if the owner was not the driver at the time that the vehicle was impounded. It also takes into consideration the inadvertent mistake that some drivers may make by forgetting to renew their insurance before their existing insurance cover expires.
The government has recognized legitimate concerns raised by many of the questionnaire respondents about the impact of the initiatives on the spouse and the families of the offenders.
The bill includes provisions for the compassionate release of impounded vehicles. The vehicles impoundment provisions also provide for restitution of costs to vehicle owners for vehicles that are wrongfully impounded.
The amendments provide authority to the Driver Control Board to use ignition interlock devices, which have been successfully implemented in other jurisdictions, to rehabilitate repeat offenders by trying to get them to separate drinking and driving behaviours.
With the support of this House, it is the government's intention to implement the new impaired driver's licence disqualification periods, including the lifetime disqualification, on January 1, 1998.
The proposed changes will be included in the safe driving public awareness campaign currently planned for the month of December. It is also the government's intention to implement the amendment to the 24-hour suspension process on January 1, 1998, as well.
Implementation of the roadside suspensions and the licence reinstatement fees is planned for the spring of 1998. The vehicle impoundment program is intended to be in place for the summer of 1998.
Mr. Speaker, before concluding, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincerest appreciation to the many, many Yukoners who took the time to participate in the Motor Vehicles Act review process. The input received from the 1,401 respondents was invaluable to this policy-making process.
Yukoners are very interested in these laws, and I have chosen to get involved, and for that, I think we all can show much deep appreciation. I would also like to thank all those public servants from the Department of Community and Transportation Services and from the Department of Justice for their dedication to this initiative. They have worked long and hard on these initiatives and should be recognized for the efforts they have made for the people of the Yukon. So certainly, Mr. Speaker, because of that dedication and the people in the Yukon who are involved in this, we should consider this to be well-thought-out and planned. It is not a knee-jerk, reactive act, but it is a certainly a well-planned and thoughtful act.
Mr. Speaker, I know that many of the members opposite have expressed an interest in having proposals, such as the one embodied in this bill, considered and approved by this House. I believe that this is a great opportunity to make our highways safer for all Yukoners, and I look forward to a constructive debate of the bill.
Mr. Speaker, at this time we would like to table an amendment to section 3 of the bill.
In conclusion, these are important amendments that our government stands behind as a means to improve public safety on Yukon roadways by placing responsibility where it belongs, on the shoulders of those who want the privilege of driving. I urge all members to support these amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, and I thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Our party is very much in support of this act. It was under the Yukon Party that consultation with the public and the review of the Motor Vehicles Act began under the direction of the hon. Mr. Brewster and the hon. Mr. Fisher at that time, the ministers responsible for their respective departments. The guidance to the officials who developed the act flowed from their leadership.
We have a number of minor concerns with some parts of the act concerning the provisions for suspending a licence indefinitely and the interpretation of that period of time. In the past, it has been open to a wide degree of interpretation by the board and by the courts. Many people who have received, in some cases, a lifetime suspension, or an indefinite suspension, of their licence for various offences are, shortly thereafter, seen back on our highways after somehow attaining their licence again. So, in this area I certainly feel that there is a need to tighten up and have a firm understanding of how this is going to be implemented and come into place.
One of the other minor concerns - or major concerns, depending on who you're speaking with - is concerning the inspection or the licensing of drivers and the upgrading of the licence of that individual through the various classes. It would appear to be necessary to have the inspector have the class of licence for which he is inspecting. An example of that is if an individual is going for a class 1 licence, then the inspector should have a minimum of a class 1 licence to conduct that inspection. You know, we could probably relegate a lot of that responsibility in the class 5 area or the motorcycle area, class 6, to other types of inspectors. But when you get up into anything above class 1, especially when you're into passenger-carrying vehicles, buses, coaches and trucks of the maximum GVW, I believe it's imperative for this government to have the inspector be at least accredited to drive that class of vehicle for which he is inspecting.
I am somewhat concerned as to whether we need extensive impoundment types and conditions in the act to the degree that they are there or being proposed, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure, once we get into line-by-line debate, the minister will have more than ample explanation as to why all of these various types of impoundments and conditions are necessary.
One of the other concerns, Mr. Speaker, is when we look in the definition - and I refer specifically to section 231 - it's a definition of "convicted". Even though the courts award an absolute discharge, according to this act you're still considered to have been convicted and I'd like an explanation of that area by the minister.
And then, when we start looking at these locking devices to combat people that have been convicted of a violation and are allowed a conditional licence, these ignition locking devices, while they appear to be somewhat reasonable in the Whitehorse area, one wonders how they will work in the more remote areas and how they will be policed and enforced in rural Yukon, which leads us to that famous analogy of Yukon that we have two Yukons: Whitehorse and TROY - and I'm sure the minister's pleased to note that this is the first time I've used that expression in this session. I'm sure your colleagues can refresh the minister's apparently restricted memory, Mr. Speaker, but I'm sure their understanding of it is still very, very much in front of them.
We don't have anything further, Mr. Speaker, and we will look forward to going through this act, line by line in debate. Thank you.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I am very pleased to rise to support these amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act.
Mr. Speaker, there is an obvious and real need to change attitudes in the Yukon. There is a culture here in the territory that seems to accept that drinking and driving is a relatively minor offence. How often have we heard, "Aw, the car knows its way home" or "Oh, I'm only going a couple of blocks" or "Oh, I know there aren't any check stops between here" - and the bar, or wherever people are drinking and their home.
Drinking and driving is not acceptable. Public awareness campaigns help, but they haven't stopped the problem. Our government is committed to developing legislation that recognizes the rights and needs of victims of crime. As the Minister of Community and Transportation Services said in his remarks, we all know people who have been the victim of an impaired driver, who've been injured in an accident or who've had a vehicle destroyed in an accident.
We must be responsive to community priorities, and I think that what the recent public survey of the public showed is that it is a very strong priority in our community to deal with the problem of so many people drinking and driving and thinking that it's acceptable.
The Department of Justice has worked closely with the Department of Community and Transportation Services on these changes. The amendments will put in place comprehensive administrative sanctions, providing stronger enforcement measures and meaningful personal consequences for impaired drivers and drivers who are suspended, disqualified or uninsured.
This action is long overdue in the Yukon. While nationally the decline in impaired driving continues, statistics prepared by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics show that the numbers of charges laid for impaired driving in the Yukon has remained relatively constant over the past 10 years. There were an average of 472 impaired driving charges laid in the Yukon every year.
According to the statistics kept by the Yukon RCMP, in 1994, 409 persons were charged with alcohol-related offences and 132 people were given 24-hour roadside suspensions for impaired driving.
In 1995, the RCMP charged 187 people with alcohol-related offences, and 140 were given 24-hour roadside suspensions for impaired driving.
In 1994, 71 people were caught driving without insurance, and 38 drivers who were caught driving while suspended or disqualified.
The Yukon RCMP estimate that for every impaired driver stopped by the police, there are 10 other impaired drivers who are not caught. In the USA, this figure is estimated at a ratio of 1:30. We do know that in the Yukon there are drivers on the road who have been charged with impaired driving as many as 20 times.
The process that must be used by the RCMP to lay impaired driving charges under the Criminal Code of Canada is both complex and time consuming. It is difficult to obtain convictions for impaired driving. Once an impaired driving conviction has been obtained, there are often different perceptions about the appropriate penalties to be given for incidents of impaired driving. In the Yukon, where intermittent or weekend sentences are the norm for repeat impaired driving offenders, we clearly need a new, better, tougher measure to deal with impaired drivers. We haven't seen the attitudes change.
Yukoners are aware of all of this. They are expressing concern that too many impaired drivers are going undetected and that when they are charged they are rarely convicted.
During the recent review of the Yukon Motor Vehicles Act, the public showed their support for stronger consequences to deal with the problems drivers create while driving impaired or driving while suspended, disqualified or uninsured. These administrative sanctions were originally proposed by an interdepartmental working group composed of the departments of Justice, Community and Transportation Services, Health and Social Services, the Yukon Liquor Corporation and the RCMP. This working group has also worked on a long-term action plan to develop additional assessment, treatment, training and public awareness initiatives focused on impaired drivers and drivers who are driving while suspended, disqualified or uninsured.
The proposed administrative sanctions complement the recommendations made by the Yukon Driver Control Board to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on November 30, 1995.
They also complement the national strategy to reduce impaired driving, an acronym of STRID, that the Yukon government has been participating in since 1990. The objective is for all jurisdictions to reduce the percentage of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from collisions involving drinking drivers by 20 percent between 1996 and 2001.
The departments of Health and Social Services, Justice, Community and Transportation Services as well as the Yukon Liquor Corporation and the RCMP, and interested groups such as the Canadian Red Cross and the Klondike Snowmobile Association are working together on public education and awareness campaigns based on seasonal activities.
Campaigns target social and persistent impaired drivers. The RCMP is working in conjunction with these departments to deliver year-round stop-checks aimed at detecting drinking and unsafe drivers.
The Yukon Driver Control Board has implemented a program which requires all repeat impaired drivers to appear before the board for review and assessment. The purpose of the program is to determine if the driver can separate drinking from driving.
A new program at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre called alcohol, drugs and personal choice was piloted in the spring of 1997. This course is a made-in-Yukon program aimed at repeat impaired drivers and will be offered to inmates beginning in late 1997, early 1998.
The STRID program also recommends that the provinces and territories also consider establishing a minimum one-year suspension of licence for the first impaired driving offence and a program of administrative licence suspension or other action for 90 days if the driver is over the legal limit of .08.
The government does not take imposition of penalties lightly. This is a serious responsibility that we gave a great deal of thought to. The Yukon public strongly supports these new, tough measures.
We are not the first jurisdiction to take this type of action. A number of other jurisdictions have already taken action to establish administrative sanctions. More and more frequently, administrative sanctions are being relied on as a more effective method of removing the impaired driver from the road immediately.
Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland either already have or are in the process of strengthening their legislations for dealing with these circumstances. In Newfoundland, a driver automatically has his or her driver's licence suspended for 12 months for refusing to take a breathalyzer test.
In Manitoba, there were 7,029 suspensions in 1992 and 1993 but only 300 appeals. Of the 300 appeals filed, only five were successful. Another side effect of the introduction of administrative sanctions in Manitoba has been a significant reduction in the number of offenders who contest the criminal charge. This has reduced the backlog in the courts. Manitoba's administrative sanctions program has received national recognition as an effective way to improve road safety.
Mr. Speaker, in the many provinces and American states where they have brought in these kinds of measures they've seen that they work. There have been dramatic declines in the numbers of impaired drivers on the road and the number of accidents caused by impaired and uninsured and suspended drivers.
I want to make it very clear that with these amendments we are empowering our registrar of motor vehicles and police officers with the right to exercise increased administrative jurisdiction to deal with people who have no insurance, who are driving while impaired or who cannot produce proof of insurance. This is in no way intended to violate the criminal justice process, which can impose penal sanctions, including loss of liberty, as well as a criminal record upon an offender. There must be, and there remains, in effect a completely separate process for the criminal justice system.
All we're trying to do here is deal with our own power over the privilege of driving to address a serious social problem.
I have in my hand a page from a survey done by our own statistics branch. Their estimate from 1995 is that 5,000 - yes, 5,000 - Yukoners drove while impaired last year. Out of a total population of little more than 30,000 people, that is a shocking number.
We believe very strongly that these changes will send a message that impaired driving is not acceptable. With the changes that are being introduced, we will have strong administrative measures to use to enforce that measure.
The bill will impose a one-year driver licence disqualification for first-time impaired drivers, a three-year disqualification for a second impaired conviction and an indefinite lifetime disqualification for a driver's third conviction. I would add that on a third or subsequent offence, there is an opportunity for review by the Driver Control Board on a five-year basis.
We're also introducing 90-day roadside suspensions for impaired and suspended drivers. Impaired drivers will be given 14 days to get their affairs in order or to have the roadside suspension reviewed before it comes into effect.
The third major initiative is the introduction of a vehicle impoundment program for impaired, suspended and uninsured drivers. Offenders' vehicles will be impounded for periods of 30 days for a first offence and 60 days for a second offence. A third offence will result in a 120-day impoundment and an eight-month prohibition against the offender reregistering the vehicle.
I want to highlight as well that we are providing due process to ensure fairness. We don't want to impose a hardship on family members who may need a vehicle that someone was driving while impaired. Consequently, we've put in place provisions that allow a family member to come forward and apply to have the use of the vehicle, even though someone else had been driving it while either uninsured or impaired and had had the vehicle impounded.
I look forward to support from all members of this House for a bill that is a great opportunity to make our highways safer for all Yukon residents. I look forward to a constructive debate and I hope that all members will support this bill.
Mrs. Edelman: By and large, this is a good bill. I have a series of general questions for the minister and I wonder if he could indulge me and maybe give me some responses on that.
Now, in Nova Scotia there was a 21-percent reduction in impaired in the first year that they brought their legislation in. In Manitoba they brought their impaireds down by about 40 percent. What sort of expectation does he have for the Yukon as far as having a direct effect on impaireds?
Speaker: This is second reading debate.
Mrs. Edelman: Generally speaking then, what I also was wondering about is what sort of consultation was done with the Law Society or with the legal profession and what sort of consultation was done with the RCMP and the people who actually have to enforce this legislation?
I was concerned that there was going to be some conversation around public information to do with the Christmas campaign. The Christmas campaign is a very limited campaign - it's only one month long - and I was hoping that the minister would consider perhaps developing a pamphlet or something along those lines.
Another concern was how the minister or how the department decided to go ahead with these particular parts of the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act. Now, in the questionnaire, there were a number of areas that were highlighted and a number of areas where Yukoners in general had a lot of concerns - mechanical inspections, commercial vehicle inspections, taxi safety inspections and graduated licensing. There were a number of Yukoners - the extreme majority of Yukoners - who responded saying that they had concerns in these particular areas. Perhaps the minister can get back to me about how he decided that this was going to be a priority.
Of particular concern to me is why graduated licensing was not a part of this portion of the amendments. It's my assumption that this is the beginning of a series of amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act and that that's going to be an ongoing process over the next few years.
Certainly the minister said that he had concerns about public safety and safety to do with death and injury on our Yukon roads. Graduated licensing, according to the Yukon Medical Association and three jurisdictions in Canada now, is one way of dealing very seriously with this issue. Graduated licensing saves lives. It saves young people's lives and those are our greatest risks right now on the roads.
With graduated licensing, in particular, I know that in Ontario they've had an opportunity to do a review about how successful graduated licensing is, although they've had it in New Zealand, as well. What I'm hoping to get back from the minister is an indication of how successful graduated licensing is in those jurisdictions. I know that the minister has a lot more resources than we do in the Liberal caucus.
I have to say again that I did appreciate the review that I got from the department this morning on this act. It was very, very informative, but in a lot of ways all it did was bring forward a lot more questions about the act and the way that the amendments are hopefully going over the next few years.
If the minister could get back to me on those issues, I would really appreciate that, particularly before we go into the line-by-line debate.
The other issue, just in general, is that, when we were talking this morning with the department, they talked about how if there is going to be a reinstatement of a licence fee, for example, and someone is getting their licence back after they had an impaired, there will be almost a punitive measure where the person would have to pay the cost plus other punitive damages in order to get their licence back. Right now, you don't pay anything to get your licence back.
But what I was concerned about when I talked to the department is that there has been no review of costs. There doesn't seem to be a clear understanding of what the administrative costs are in the department. That's a concern for me, because I think that if we're going to be punitive about it, then we need to be punitive in addition to recovering our costs, and I was concerned that the department doesn't have a real handle on that - and not just in the area of reinstatement of licence fees, but just in the general administration of licences, the board and the registrar's documentation and administration. I would certainly appreciate that so we can have a constructive debate at the next stage.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, I support this bill, as it's before us in the House, in principle. I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few people who have worked on the bill over a period of time. I know the Department of Community and Transportation Services, of course, and the department of highways have worked on the bill very hard for a number of months - in fact, a number of years that they've been working on some of the amendments - and the Health and Social Services people have worked and provided input on it. I know the RCMP have played a role in their concern over the administration and in carrying out the work they'll have to do after this bill is in place, and certainly the Department of Justice and, in particular, the Deputy Minister of Justice, who came to us from Manitoba, played a role. We were fortunate enough at the time, as we were starting to deal with this kind of solution to some of these problems, that Manitoba had just done that. So, we had the opportunity to not have to reinvent the wheel. We gathered a lot of information, not only from Manitoba, but other jurisdictions, which aided us in putting the legislation together in a way that would meet the test of the courts, I suppose, down the road. I think there still will be some tests of this legislation by some because that's just the nature of this kind of legislation.
I'd also like to thank, in particular, a couple of individuals who believed strongly in this, those being Mr. Brewster, the Member for Kluane, who felt strongly about these changes, as well as Mr. Fisher, the past Minister of Community and Transportation Services, who was also working on this under the Yukon Party government.
I think this is something that, again, crosses all party lines. Its time has come. I remember a few years ago, Mr. Speaker, when you could drive down the roads in the Yukon and drink a couple of beer.
Things have changed quite a bit since then, and partly because we've learned a lot more in the last 10 or 20 years about the effects of alcohol and drinking and driving. I would like to see this government or any future government deal with the issue of drugs and driving as well. I think that's just as serious as somebody who is impaired with alcohol. Drugs in our community are fairly widespread, and we know that there are a lot of people - the RCMP know there are a lot of people - who drive motor vehicles while under the influence of drugs as well as alcohol, and I think they are a possible hazard on the road as well.
Mr. Speaker, I speak to this particular bill from the impaired driving standpoint as someone who lost a friend to an impaired driver, and that friend would be here today if this law were in place. I guess it's certainly too late for her, but I'm sure that once this bill is in place, it will protect others from the kind of action that took her life, and I would hope that that would happen fairly quickly.
Mr. Speaker, a couple of areas in this bill that I think are extremely important are the issues of no insurance, people driving without insurance, and people driving while suspended. That can create horrendous problems for an individual who is involved in an accident with someone who doesn't have insurance and ends up with a serious injury of some kind. That has happened many times, I believe, in this territory and all across this country, and I think it is a very serious situation, and I think that it should be treated very seriously.
I know that they have tried to correct it, but there was a time here in the Yukon when you could go over to the insurance company and get your insurance and write them a cheque that maybe wasn't any good and get your pink slip and run over and get your plates and then run back and cancel your insurance a few days later before they cash the cheque, and you have the plates on your car. You wouldn't necessarily have your insurance, and the motor vehicles branch didn't know about it.
I believe now they have corrected that. I think there is a communication between the insurance company and the motor vehicle branch that that kind of thing has picked up, but that was the kind of action that took place. People were out there on the street without insurance and, of course, offered no protection to you or me or any other motorist who happened to be run into by these people.
I have some similar concerns that the Member for Riverdale South has about why the government did a pick-and-choose type of approach to the consultation, because there were some other initiatives in this particular consultation that I think the general public came out fairly strongly for, and I'm not sure why they were left out this time, so I would like the minister to maybe give us an outline, when we get into Committee of the Whole, of why they left some of these initiatives out now. I mean, it's always difficult to bring a bill forward and deal with it in the House; it takes time and, if the majority of people agree with these things, then let's get on with it. Let's change the law with respect to the direction in which the people feel we should go. So, I'll be interested to hear the minister's comments on that.
The other concern I have, and the Member for Riverdale South mentioned this as well, is the public information campaign. I think that the public information campaign will, for the most part, show us the success or failure of this particular program. I think there's an opportunity here to really let the public know that the law has changed and what the implications are if you drink and drive. Like the Member for Riverdale South, I don't think it should stop at Christmas. I think people drink and drive 12 months of the year. Christmas is a season, I guess, when we know that there seem to be more people on the road that might do that, but there are people probably this evening that will be driving home in an impaired state.
So, Mr. Speaker, I would hope that the government would adopt a year-round campaign, as other jurisdictions have. I think the one thing that will have a great impact on people is to let people know what the penalties are, and that should be done fairly quickly. I don't know whether this is legal to do or not, but there are people who have numerous drinking and driving offences and maybe there should be a way of sending them a letter - maybe anyone who's had an impaired driving charge - saying that, "The law has been changed and you're hereby notified that these are the kinds of changes that have been made," especially the ones that are repeat offenders. There have been people known to take one too many and drive home once and they're not the type of people who have ever done it before or would ever do it again.
Then you get somebody who has done it two or three times, and in the case that I mentioned earlier where a friend of mine was killed, I think it was the third or fourth offence of this individual drinking and driving. This is the kind of thing that may or may not make these people think once or twice, but it might be another less expensive way to get right to the people who do this, the ones who are the repeat offenders who do it two or three or four times. They should definitely get some kind of a notification that the law has changed and the public is not going to put up with it any more.
Those are probably all the comments that I have on this particular bill. I support it in the strongest terms. I may have some questions on some of the enforcement issues and some of the impoundment procedures and explanations from the minister when we go through, line by line, on how they're going to work because I see some of them as being a little bit difficult to administer or manage. So, I will reserve those comments until we get into Committee but, in general, I do support the principle of this bill. The drinking and driving and no-insurance side of the bill I think is long overdue, and I hope that this bill can be passed and put into law very quickly.
Mr. Livingston: I rise, of course, in support of the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act. These amendments will address some critical public safety issues around drinking and driving, around driving without insurance and for suspended drivers, drivers who are suspended from driving.
I don't think it's any surprise or any secret as to why this is such an important public safety issue. The rate of accidental death is highest because of traffic accidents and we know as well that, in too many cases, alcohol is involved.
I found it interesting to note in some earlier information from the Canadian Centre for Justice statistics that persons charged with impaired operation of a motor vehicle between 1984 and 1995 - so basically over a 10-year period - in Prince Edward Island, a jurisdiction with roughly three times as many people as the Yukon, in 1984 their numbers compared roughly to 1,300 in Prince Edward Island with about 550 who were charged with impaired operations of a vehicle. This was in 1984.
It is interesting to note that over a 10-year period, looking at 1994
, numbers charged in Prince Edward Island had dropped and were almost equal to those in the Yukon. In other words, Prince Edward Island had dropped their numbers by more than half. They were able to curtail the number of drinking drivers by more than half. In the Yukon, it stayed almost the same over that 10-year period.
Clearly, we need to be doing more and the focus needs to be the removal of drunk drivers from the road. That is what this issue is about. It is a community and a public safety issue. We need to remove them from the road by preventing them from drinking and driving, by suspending licences and by certainly dealing with those who will drive without insurance, because, of course, those impact as well on the safety and potential long-term health and support of people who might be involved in an accident.
I was pleased to note that these amendments take a targeted approach - an approach that really tries to target the problem, taking measures that remove drinking drivers from the road or drivers whose licences are suspended or who are travelling without insurance.
I think these amendments have taken care to avoid the arm of the law impacting on innocent third parties, and that, too, is important. I will talk just a little bit more about that in a moment.
The measures, of course, have already been described in some detail, so I won't go into them, such as talking about roadside suspensions, about licences being revoked, about impoundment of vehicles and even about preventing the registration of vehicles for a duration. In some cases, of course, a person can, after repeat offences, have their licence revoked for a lifetime. That is one of the features of these particular amendments.
I think that, in many cases - and it's very difficult for us to try to legislate about this - family members are impacted probably more than anyone. The other, of course, largest impacted group might be any member of the public who might be travelling out there. I'm talking really about after a sanction has been taken, whether it's a registration revoked or a licence revoked. One of the features of these amendments is to provide for a rather compassionate release. Family members can apply for early release of an impounded vehicle where there is a significant impact on access to education or work or whatever.
I think the consideration of interlocking devices after a second offence - but not after a third offence - a more clear relationship between the Driver Control Board and the courts, all help to make this an effective set of amendments.
As well, there is opportunity for a person with an indefinite suspension, essentially a lifetime suspension unless there is some action taken, to apply for reconsideration of that after they've done some work on separating their drinking and their driving.
The key message, I think, in this set of amendments is to focus on safer highways and safer roads for our community.
Will there be more to do? There will always be more to do. One of the comments from one of the speakers tonight was about a consideration of how we might restrict drivers who would be under the influence of some other type of substance. I think that we always need to examine the kinds of policies and procedures that are outlined both in the regulations and in the legislation to ensure that, as one of my colleagues pointed out, due process is followed and appropriate consideration is given to all questions.
Other matters I note that the government is involved in are in the way of education. As a participant, the Yukon government is a participant in a nation-wide strategy to reduce impaired driving by 2001. The objective here is for all jurisdictions to reduce the percentage of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from collisions involving drinking drivers by 20 percent over a five-year period ending in 2001.
As a part of this, the departments of Health and Social Services, I note, Justice, Community and Transportation Services, as well as the Yukon Liquor Corporation and the RCMP, and interested groups like the Red Cross and the Klondike Snowmobile Association are working together on public education and awareness campaigns based on a number of different seasonal activities. These campaigns target social and persistent impaired drivers.
It's interesting to note the comments from the member opposite lamenting what he assumed was a fact, I guess, that check-stop only operates at Christmas. Well, I can tell you, as I've driven home from work here on an evening going up Two Mile Hill, that on more than one occasion, I've been stopped in a long line of vehicles that have gone through essentially a check-stop kind of situation, and that's heading up the hill, and in some cases, there would be 50 vehicles lined up waiting to go through.
I think September or October was when I last noted that event. Could there be more? Well, I suppose, that wouldn't hurt. I think that probably one of the features that helps a measure like that to be successful is its unpredictability - not knowing quite when that check-stop is going to be in place. So, in that sense, I would certainly support the notion that once in a while it needs to be out there, it needs to be in different kinds of locations, and that's how it can be effective. So, they are delivering year-round stop-checks aimed at detecting drinking and unsafe drivers.
I note that we already have, as well, a Yukon Driver Control Board having already implemented a program that requires repeat impaired drivers to appear before the board as part of a review and assessment process. The intent there is to try to, I guess, determine whether the driver can separate drinking from driving. As I indicated, the amendments in this bill help to strengthen or make more clear the relationship between that board and the courts.
A new program at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre called alcohol, drugs and personal choice was piloted in the spring of 1997. This course is a made-in-the-Yukon program, again aimed at repeat impaired drivers, and will be offered to inmates beginning in late 1997 and early 1998.
So, I think this notion of trying to target the serious problems by avoiding impacting on innocent third parties, as I think some of the measures that are contained in these amendments do, by, at the end of the day, making sure that the amendments and the actions that we would have our RCMP and our court systems take, ensure that we have safe roads for people to travel on and, of course, the resulting safe communities for us to live in. That's done by keeping drinking drivers off the road, by removing drinking drivers from the road, by ensuring that people are not travelling out there when suspended or without insurance.
Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to be able to support the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act and look forward to what I think will be support by most, if not all, members of this House for this set of amendments. Thank you.
Mr. Cable: I was interested to hear the statistics that the Justice minister gave us. The RCMP had told her that for every one stopped, 10 impaired drivers are not stopped and that the police estimated there were 5,000 impaired drivers - caught and otherwise, I suppose - last year.
And I think this reinforces what many Yukoners think, that the operation of a motor vehicle while impaired is as much the use of an uncontrolled dangerous weapon as it is the use of a mode of transportation.
The Yukon population has spoken. The public responses show clearly that the large majority of people have had enough. Seventy-two percent want immediate roadside suspensions and 76 percent want impoundment of vehicles when the driver is found to be impaired or suspected of being impaired. Yukoners want drunk driving stopped and they're prepared to accelerate and accept a much increased use of deterrence as a weapon to ensure that that happens.
Many repeat offenders, I think, simply have the view that the use of a motor vehicle while impaired is all right; it's simply use of their vehicle for transportation instead of recognizing that they have this uncontrolled dangerous weapon in their hands, and they need to be brought up short and have the opportunity to repeat removed.
I'm very supportive of this increase in the use of deterrences, and I gather, from what the Justice minister said and from what the Minister of Community and Transportation Services has said and from what the Member for Laberge has said, that the deterrence aspect of it is working in other jurisdictions. It would be useful to get some more information when we get into Committee on that.
I just have one technical comment, and perhaps the minister who is bringing the bill forward could check with his staff on this. I notice the sections in the Criminal Code are specifically named, and the Criminal Code of course and the Motor Vehicles Act are constantly amended, and it would be useful to find out whether his advice is that the sections in the Criminal Code, as they are amended from time to time, are actually caught by the specific number.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: A point of order, Mr. Speaker, if I may?
Point of order
Speaker: A point of order has been called.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much. I'd just appreciate to the member opposite if he'd just repeat his last sentence. I didn't quite hear it clearly.
Mr. Cable: I don't know where the period started, so I'll go back over the whole thought.
In the amending bill, Mr. Speaker, there are a number of references to the Criminal Code - specific section numbers - and both the Criminal Code and the Motor Vehicles Act, of course, are amended quite constantly.
Those numbers may, from time to time, change. I was wondering if the minister would be good enough, prior to getting to Committee, to take advice as to whether the amendments that he is bringing in will catch the Criminal Code amendments as they are made from time to time.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: A number of us have spoken from different perspectives. What I would like to do tonight is speak from the Health and Social Services point of view. Particularly, I would like to speak a little bit about the impact of the sections dealing with impaired driving.
Mr. Speaker, it is a very rare day in Canada that we don't read about accidents involving drinking and driving. Increasingly, over the last decade or so, the rise of organizations, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have become a very strong voice and have brought about some effective changes in this regard. Very recently, probably one of the most eloquent things I've heard on the whole subject came from the federal Reform member, Deborah Gray, when she spoke about, as a child, some of the terror she experienced when her father, who had a serious alcohol problem, would go driving, and the impact on the family of an accident.
I think that, in the surveys that were undertaken, very clearly, the Yukon people expressed their concerns about these issues. Fourteen hundred people took the time to complete this very long questionnaire regarding driving privileges and restrictions and then returned them to the government for some action. I think we have an obligation here and now to take that kind of action.
The changes reflect, to a large degree, society's concerns about drinking and driving, and the specific concerns raised by our local people. The Member for Riverdale North spoke about the changes that have come about in this territory. I can remember when it was indeed acceptable to cruise down the highway with open beer. I think changes that have come about have reflected perhaps a maturing of public attitudes in this territory regarding the impact of alcohol and particularly the impact of alcohol and driving.
I think we should never lose sight of the fact that driving is a privilege. It's not necessarily a right in the same way as our Charter rights or our human rights. Driving is a privilege.
We undertake, when we go on the road, in a sense, a social contract with our fellow citizens that we will exercise a measure of concern and a measure of safety, and that when we engage in dangerous behaviour, such as drinking and driving, we are, in a sense, violating that social contract.
We've had a number of high-profile deaths involving driving while impaired and these tragedies are not only terrible to the individuals involved and those whose lives were lost, but as well to the families who lost a loved one and, in general, to society.
I was interested just in trying to get some figures on how much, in both monetary and social terms, drinking and driving costs us. It's very difficult to pin down, but there are some studies which indicate how much, monetarily, costs from automobile accidents can bring to us. For example, the average motor vehicle injury, based on a study by Rice, MacKenzie and Associates in 1989 - this is purely monetary - worked out to about $12,500. However, when we take a look at the social costs, when one factors in not only the monetary costs, but the loss to individuals, loss to their families, loss to society, the cost is much more. It's staggering.
The average for a fatal accident in social costs is estimated, based on a study by Miller in 1993, at $2,987,000.
As we go through the list of the kinds of social costs of motor vehicles injuries, the one that leads the way is spinal cord injuries, at $1,827,000. Some of these costs are just staggering when we consider the impact on society and impact on families in terms of extra care, lost earning potential, pain and suffering.
So, some of these costs, while I know we can never reduce things down to monetary points, I think we sometimes forget what the actual social impact of some of these injuries might be and we have to be very frank and realize a very large number of motor vehicle accidents do involve some kind of alcohol impairment.
I think not only do we have to consider driving in terms of highways, including trucks, cars, et cetera, but I think, increasingly, the other vehicles such as boats, skidoos, ATVs and motorcycles - anything that basically transports people - presents a problem and, during the summer, we've seen some of the impact of the personal water vehicles - I suppose the sea-doo kinds of vehicles - with a number of high profile accidents there. So I think not only do we have to consider highway accidents. There are other kinds of accidents, and hopefully we'll be able to address some of those problems as well.
I think we have to recognize that not all driving while under the influence are problem drinkers. Attitudes have changed, but we do know that there is a problem with the attitude that allows people to believe that they are quite all right to drink, perhaps even moderately, and then go for a drive. I guess the question is, how do we reach those people? I'm hopeful that some of these legislative and regulatory changes will help us reach them and change their attitudes.
I think we have to understand the whole issue around alcohol-impaired driving and have to understand the kind of psyche involved in this so we can design programs to prevent or reduce costs. Some of the statistics that have come out, for example, include one in five reporting having driven a car or truck in the last year after drinking two or more alcoholic beverages in the previous hour. When we look at 5,000 individuals and only 643 charges, clearly we are missing capturing a number of those people. We know that people who drink frequently and consume heavily when they drink are more likely to report driving after consuming two or more drinks an hour, and those with drinking problems are more likely to report driving after drinking. Heavier drinkers are more likely to be driving while truly impaired and doing this more often. The more that's drunk - both in the amount and frequency - the more alcohol the drinker believes that he or she can tolerate and still be able to drive. I think that's one of the astonishing fallacies - the more that an individual drinks, the more they believe they can actually function behindthe wheel.
Interestingly enough, the profile there tends to be those who drive while impaired tend to be light, frequent drinkers, Caucasian, male, single, between 25 and 44 years old, well-educated and with a good income - the kinds of social factors that you would think would mitigate against some of these unsafe practices, but people still do.
Surprisingly, these are the individuals who don't always wear their seatbelts but make sure that their kids are buckled up, so there's another contradiction in terms.
Interestingly enough, 50 percent of the respondents indicated that they have actually intervened to prevent a friend from driving while impaired. So I think we have a case here sometimes of people saying, "Well, this is good for someone else but not necessarily good for me."
We know that accidents involving alcohol make up 10 to 15 percent of all reported accidents, and I emphasize "reported", in the Yukon in 1995. We know when they drive, that alcohol-related accidents tend to be weekends - Thursday, Friday, Saturday, early Sunday morning - and, increasingly, and I think the issue has come up here, with our young people. This is an even more dangerous combination. We have young people who are not only inexperienced at driving but also, to some degree, are inexperienced social drinkers and tend probably to consume alcohol in inappropriate ways and probably at inappropriate venues and very likely in inappropriate amounts.
I think anyone who has worked with adolescents, as I have and my colleague, the Member for Laberge, has, realizes that young people have a sense of their own invulnerability. They often think that they're immortal and I was always quite surprised, when I talked with sometimes 17 and 18 year olds, for them to report what they'd done on a weekend. Some of it was very unsafe behaviour with regards to alcohol and driving, and it was clear that somehow the message wasn't getting out to this group.
I think alcohol affects everyone who drinks, and the more alcohol one consumes, it has an impact on behaviour. What we have to do is take actions, such as those being proposed in this bill, to send a very clear message that this is a kind of behaviour that can no longer be tolerated, is no longer acceptable, violates, in a sense, a sense of trust between one citizen and another, and it puts at peril people's lives, people's futures.
I commend the minister for bringing this forward and I think we should all support this bill, and I'm hopeful that this will represent the first of a number of amendments designed to make our highways and streets safer. Thank you.
Mr. Fentie: I, too, rise this evening in support of the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act. I think it's important that we focus on the fact that we are targeting a specific area of offenders. In that regard, I would like to share some information with the members of this House. It's a report produced by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation. What it's saying relates to a lot of what we've said in here tonight. A small number of motorists driving drunk are responsible for over half of all-night traffic fatalities in Canada. The Traffic Injury Research Foundation says that, while hard-core, drunk drivers make up just one percent of motorists, they are an extremely dangerous minority. It goes on to say that hard-core drinking drivers are hundreds of times more likely to be involved in a serious collision than the average sober driver. They are the single greatest threat to the public where alcohol and road casualties are concerned.
These are the people who drink excessively, with a blood level two or three times the legal limit. This is an area that we're targeting with this legislation. These people are very resistant to changing their behaviour. According to the foundation, many of these drivers are alcoholics who don't hesitate when it comes to driving while under the influence. In fact, many are driving while under suspension and have more than a passing acquaintance with the legal system. The report also makes a number of recommendations on how to handle the most incorrigible drunk drivers. One of the recommendations is what we're bringing forward with the proposed amendments to the legislation, which is interlocking devices.
Without going on and on, I would just like to reconfirm my support for the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act.
Mr. Hardy: For changes to happen in our society and for fundamental changes to affect the way people behave, often they have to come from an accident, a crisis or a war - or an election. In this case, changes in the Yukon started quite a while ago with the NDP under Roger Kimmerly, I believe it was. At that time, the change that was proposed was drinking and driving and the allowance of having an open drink in your vehicle and driving along. That was an accepted mode in the north at one time.
I remember growing up with that. I remember hitchhiking and being picked up on many occasions where I would get into the vehicle and the person who stopped to pick us up - I would always, of course, be very thankful because generally, when I was hitchhiking, it seemed to always be about 20 or 30 below, and you're freezing alongside the road and possibly we shouldn't have been hitchhiking, but we were - the driver would have been drinking. And I would have to say, Mr. Speaker, that my feelings at the time was that I felt very uncomfortable with that. Even as a young person, and even with the acceptance of drinking and driving, and the allowance of open alcohol in the vehicle, you did know it affected the person's ability to respond to crisis situations or their control of the vehicle. It was a very uncomfortable situation to be in a vehicle with somebody drinking - because you had no control. You were basically at the goodwill of the person who picked you up, which was a blessing, but you were also not blessed in the fact that that person generally, if they were drinking, was over .08 and did not have strong control of that vehicle, and you were now a passenger and being carried on a ride that may result in a serious accident. You or the driver or people coming the other way - innocent people - could be involved in a very serious accident.
Now, staying with that for a second and to speak personally, because I know some people have spoken personally about drinking and driving. This bill goes a little farther. It deals with more than just drinking and driving. It deals with suspended licences and alcohol. On a personal level, my first experience that I've never forgotten - it leaves a tremendous impact on you - was when I was six years old and was in a motor vehicle accident on Christmas Eve with a drunk driver. My family was in the vehicle, and it was a pretty horrendous accident - through a stop sign. I remember being thrown from the back seat to the front seat and blood and glass and lights, and you're six years old and your brothers and sister are older and younger. I was the middle child. Being stranded down there, a mile and a half from home, and having to walk home with blood all over people. At that time, the ambulance didn't come, and we had to walk home. And it was all because of drinking and driving.
That accident would never have happened. It was a very serious accident. It was on Christmas Eve and we were going to see my grandmother, something we never managed to do that year. It leaves an impression with you; it's something you never forget. It's something that I have lived with and will live with for the rest of my life. It had a huge impact.
I've also lost dear friends to drunk drivers and the first one was at the age of 16 in the Yukon, and there have been a few since then.
The most recent, of course, was a very dear friend of mine who was involved in an accident in Rabbit's Foot Canyon, coming home from a golf game in which a person had been thrown out of a bar because they were impaired and then went back in and got thrown out again.
Now we had nothing in place to take their keys away, to lock them up, and because of that, the person got out, jumped in his big vehicle and roared off in a fit of anger, very drunk, and killed an innocent person driving home after a game of golf. It has had a profound effect on many people who knew her, and myself as well, as she was a close friend.
But social change - when the law was passed, Roger Kimmerly I believe was leading it up and it was resisted. There was a lot of backlash because this is a frontier. This is where men are men and should be able to drink, a real macho attitude and real Yukoners and this kind of statement. You could carry your guns fully loaded in the back window of your vehicle. I think a lot of people remember that one. I remember the racks they'd put in the back windows for their fishing rods; they had put the guns up in there. They'd have the bullets in there just in case they saw an animal. You could whip it out and shoot.
That was the mentality up here, and part of that mentality was, "You can drink and drive. You bloody well had a right and no one better take that right away. I should be able to have my drink on the way home, or two or three." Well, I remember the hue and cry. I remember the battle royal that issued from that, and the MLA was my MLA in my riding, this riding I now represent. I remember him coming by to explain it, and it was always interesting because now, if it was ever proposed the other way that people should be able to have a drink and drive along down the road, it would be 10 times the hue and cry. It's totally unacceptable. So this is just another step in the social change, and it's a good step because it's for the protection of innocent people, all people.
The figures I hear are quite disturbing - 5,000 people admitting that they drink and drive still or have in the last year. It's a huge amount. The accumulation of beer cans alongside the roads indicates a lot of drinking and driving still. As you cruise down the highway, out goes the beer can, and so you obviously must have drank it. So obviously it is happening a lot, and that's dangerous. It's very dangerous.
But there's been a lot of education and a lot of consciousness raised over the years, and I believe the tolerance for drunk driving or any type of violation in the rules of the road are not tolerated any more. That's progress, and that's good progress. Not all laws are good progress, but this is a good one.
Prevention programs and a variety of addiction counselling services have to be made available. There are a lot of them out there right now, a lot of people trying to make changes in their lives, and we have to continue to reinforce that and continue to offer that. You just can't pass a law and leave people hanging, and as they want to make changes, and we do have that, and this government is very committed to the assistance for people.
There are other sections that I've been looking through, other concerns and other causes. We talk a lot about alcohol, but there's also drug usage. There's a lot of drug use and driving and I think that's also a concern. Whether it's alcohol, which is a drug of course, or whether it's marijuana, hashish, cocaine, LSD - all of the other drugs out there, including a lot of tranquilizers and depressant drugs that people take on medication. We could spend all night naming them, because there are a lot out there in this society. Yes, the member opposite has mentioned one drug and he's perfectly correct in saying it's a big problem out there. There are a lot of people that do drugs and they don't think it affects their ability to make quick decisions or to control a two-ton vehicle heading down the road at unbelievable speeds and conditions - up in the north anyway - such as icy conditions, wet conditions, and sometimes snow-blind conditions and getting hypnotized by that.
That's a serious concern and, going through, I was interested to see how they test for it; how they could actually deal with that, and there doesn't seem to be any real way of testing to see if a person is impaired by drugs, other than what it says in here. It says, "The officers rely upon their training and the gross indicators such as vehicle-weaving, straddling two lanes, driving too slow or erratic speed, running over curbs, non-use of seatbelts, to stop drivers who appear to be under the influence of some substance." Once they're stopped, again it's observance that they're trying to determine. They don't have a breathalyzer to determine these types of drugs. Blood tests probably can do it but I can't imagine how that would be administered on a roadside check or what the test would involve, but it's a serious concern and I think it's a step that we have to take. We have to find ways to measure it. There's the educational process, but there have to be deterrents, and unfortunately this doesn't deal with that, because how do you measure it? How do you, in a fair manner, measure drug use and impaired driving because of the drug use?
The goal is to make the roads safer and I believe this act, which I do support, is a step in that direction. Tougher enforcement measures are long overdue.
We can all agree, but they're tempered with concern for the innocent. In this act, provisions are made to ensure that spouses and families are not unduly impacted by the penalties imposed. For example, spouses or other family members can appeal vehicle impoundment orders when they depend on the vehicle for their livelihood. That's an extremely important part of this act. That is part of the caring society that I think we all want to belong to and that makes up Canada.
Not all people should be punished in a family because of one person's indiscretion. We have to consider the impact it has and to ensure that the family is looked after and cared for, and that the person who violates the law is dealt with but the family still has the opportunity to meet their requirements, such as getting to work or looking after their children. Compassionate release is very important.
There is information on the roadside suspension program, which is relatively new to North America. Just looking at the statistics on it are very interesting. Manitoba has seen a 40-percent reduction in alcohol-related convictions since it was introduced in 1989. Forty percent is a lot. In Nova Scotia, it was 20.1 percent in the first year of the immediate roadside suspension program on alcohol-related convictions. In the United States, in Delaware, fatal crashes went down 19 percent. In Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, alcohol-related crashes decreased by up to 25 percent.
Those are substantial drops in the accidents and charges. There is obviously something affecting that. Obviously, it is the roadside suspension program. It is very good, obviously, and this is what we're trying to achieve.
There's also the question of whether or not it is unconstitutional. I believe it is in the Ontario courts. The Ontario government is appealing the decision that there is the feeling that it will be ruled in favour of them and we'll be able to implement this without infringement on constitutional rights.
While these amendments take a tougher approach to crimes involving vehicles, they strike a balance between stiffer deterrents and concern for non-offending Yukoners, who are invariably hurt.
I think all that is being said here is that it is a step in the right direction. And it's also a step that was initiated by the previous government with a survey that they put out that is very, very strongly supported by the public. And, as is always the case, it's the public that we have to go back to, and during a mandate, during a term in office, it's the public we should go to and not use the reasoning that they will have the chance to judge us, therefore we don't have to consult with them during the four years that we're in. They'll have a chance to judge us at the end.
No, I think it's our responsibility, and in this case, with the work of the Yukon Party in initiating this questionnaire, I think it's the responsibility of any government in power that they go back to the people on a regular basis on major issues that affect people's lives. They reach out, they try to find direction from the citizens of the Yukon and they take that and they use it to develop better laws, to develop better programs to govern in a manner that reflects the will of the people.
In the questionnaire, going through it, there are many strong indications from the 1,400 plus who have responded to it, of directions that we should go in with this. I believe these changes are the beginning of that direction given to us through the questionnaire and the survey of the Yukon people.
So, they're necessary, they're balanced and they're fair. I'm happy to speak in support of these amendments. Thank you.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll be brief in my words of support for this motion and these amendments.
I think the Department of Community and Transportation Services has done a very respectable job in putting together a package of amendments to toughen the legislation, and to ensure that those who offend and cause the highways to be unsafe should take responsibility for their actions. That's what this bill is largely about. It's to ensure the people take responsibility for their actions.
As a general rule, Mr. Speaker, I do support tough action, such as that which is proposed in the act, where public safety is at stake.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the review of this particular piece of legislation has been reported to be initiated at various times -last year, the last few years. In fact, the review of the Motor Vehicles Act was begun in the late 1980s, as was the review of the Highways Act and the Motor Transport Act. As a matter of fact, I even remember receiving a discussion paper from officials on various amendments that should be considered in the review of the Motor Vehicles Act around 10 years ago. I probably wasn't even the first minister at the time. That was just during my watch that that took place - in the middle to late 1980s.
Clearly, the Department of Community and Transportation Services has been spending a very long time considering these amendments and is certainly doing more than just keeping up with the times. I think people are expecting - and the questionnaire suggests that there's a body of opinion in our community - tough measures be employed by government to ensure that the drunk drivers and people who are driving without insurance should be dealt with in a very firm and responsible way.
I was in this Legislature a decade ago when we debated the issue of prohibiting drinking while driving. While people may not believe it now, Mr. Speaker, that legislation actually got a fairly spirited critique by some members of the Legislature who felt that this was an unwarranted intrusion on individual rights - to be seeking any prohibition of drinking while driving. It sounds almost crazy to think that might have been the case only a decade ago, but that is, in fact, what happened.
Clearly, the times are calling for tougher measures. There is virtually no tolerance in the public's mind for fatalities or serious accidents, particularly involving a drunken driver.
Just to trade stories, when I first came to the territory back in the 1970s, I wasn't in the territory for more than four months before I was involved in a very, very serious car accident involving a drunken driver.
A number of friends were severely injured in that accident. I got out of the accident without any injury whatsoever - or, at least, none that anyone can see. It was shortly after that that I decided to take up a career in politics, Mr. Speaker.
In any case, I do support the legislation. I think that there ought to be a very good discussion about the particulars. I think the public is due that debate, and I'm certain that members in Committee will have their chance.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, it's certainly very encouraging to sit and to listen to all members of this House who have spoken. It feels good, because I know that, as I've said, that most people in this House if not all people in this House, have been affected by it - certainly so. I hear it in people's voices here, and I certainly am encouraged that we would all sit down and work together toward this. I know it's going to take debate, and we're going to go through debate so that we can find the easiest, most expedient way to incur these changes.
This is not an act of who beat whom to the act, but this is a principle-driven act. This act is going to enable the Yukon Territory not to keep up with the Joneses, or to keep up the provinces or the other territories, but to, more importantly, bring effect to social change - the word that the member for Whitehorse Centre used behind me. I heard that, and I thought, "That is good. That is really good," because most of us have been affected by something this serious. Myself, I've lost my only brother, numerous cousins, a multitude of friends. And it hurts to stand here and to say this. I think that if we'd been here 20 or 25 years ago, I'd still have a brother. But that is not so, so I don't think that we should be taking boastful credits about what we're doing and who's doing it, but we should be looking about why we are doing it - absolutely why. I, too, thank the former ministers - Mr. Brewster and Mr. Fisher - for taking some initiative to bring these things forward.
That's what can happen. This crosses all party lines, as a member of the House has said. This is an educational system, a punitive system, I guess you might say, that is going to allow us or others that have been in our situations not to lose brothers and cousins and uncles and aunts and children, but to teach them that we love them and we care for them. This is so much more than a legal problem, where you can just bring in legislation, put it into a pamphlet and just share it. This is certainly looking to curb a health problem, or an attitudinal adjustment, because it is very true that we are the men of the Yukon, and there are all sorts of fancy rhymes that go with that, but we've got to change that mentality. We must change that attitude, and to hear all members speak to that certainly means that we all feel that way.
So certainly congratulations should be given to everyone in the Yukon Territory, especially the ones who participated in it or who took leadership roles in it - again, not keeping up with the Joneses of the provinces, but making the Yukon a much better place to live.
I was encouraged to hear support from colleagues everywhere in the House for this. I'd also like to mention the fact that what we are doing is looking at a health problem, a legal problem, and we're going to look at that, but we're not looking to simply punish families or to put abuse on to wives or mothers or daughters that might be subjected to abuse because of a person - a man, a husband, boyfriend - that is in an irate drunken mood. We've got to have a discussion about that. How do we protect and preserve? So we're not looking at targeting all people in a family. We're looking at targeting the problem.
The Member for Klondike asked some very good questions and I look forward to answering those questions in Committee of the Whole. He came with suggestions that I'll certainly be taking to my department this evening, after we get through here, and asking how we can put this in and how we can make this better. Good questions on the interlocking devices and how it was going to work in all of Yukon. Good questions, and I certainly look forward to working and doing that with all members of this House.
I must just say again that it's public awareness. If we're going to treat this as a health problem and a legal problem and a problem that all Yukoners might be affected by, well, then, we've got to find out ways to do that. How do we communicate that? How do I turn and say that to my friend here, who's drinking and driving, that it's not such a macho thing to do? It's not a macho thing to do. And how do you best sit down and talk about the health problems that you might incur? And how do you do that with attitude? It is up to each and every one of us to use our peer pressure, to use our influence on each other, so that we might work together toward this problem.
So, it is incumbent upon every one of us in this House or in this room or upon the people of the Yukon that are listening to take that initiative and to move forward with it to protect one another.
Because, if 5,000 people a year are getting away with it, and it's one in 10, that's astronomical. That should not happen.
I've been reading the literature and listening to folks. We are too lenient. We've got to get a little tougher. We've got to let people know that this matters to us. We'll do it in partnerships. As my colleague, the Minister of Justice has said, we are working with partnerships. We are doing it with the Law Society. We're doing it in conjunction with the RCMP. We're doing it with the snowmobile associations. We are doing it with anyone who wants to participate. We are doing it with those people.
The reductions in Manitoba and Nova Scotia are 21 percent and 40 percent respectively. Those are great goals. Those are excellent goals. They are targets that we should be working toward. It has been suggested that we expand it for more than just a simple Christmas season. Certainly, I think that's a wonderful suggestion and that we should do this. My department will be looking at a communications program that will let others come up.
It's going to be astronomical. We're not here to say, "You're drunk and here you go; you're drunk and here you go and then you're out." What we're saying is, "You've got a problem. We want to help you with your problem, but if you don't want to accept help with your problem, then, doggone it, we're going to get tough with you."
It's not going to be leniency tough; it's going to be tough love. I'm sure everyone in the House understands the concept of tough love and cruel kindness. If you love somebody, then you have to get tough with them. Just because you love somebody, doesn't mean that you should be kind to them because that's cruel; that's definitely cruel because it affects all members of this Yukon.
So, we've got to get tough and we've got to use toughness. Why did we choose these three at this point in time? We took these three, because they were the highest and had the greatest number of comments. That is why we are moving forward with these initiatives.
We're going to do it in a thoughtful and considerate way. I know that the public has said that they want change. They've said change in very high statistical numbers. Well, we are acting on those changes, and we're going to keep up with those changes and move forth with those changes. That is certainly the reason why we're doing what we're doing.
My colleagues and I have come to an understanding that, yes, the amendments to the act will be done progressively, and within the next couple to three years they will be implemented. The people have spoken and that is certainly what we're going to do.
It's been said that we thank the RCMP and all others. Well, again, I reiterate that we do. I am thankful, as the member opposite has said, for the talent that we have from other jurisdictions. It all comes together to make it a better Yukon and certainly a better Canada.
I do believe that this will be tested in the courts of the land. I think that the challenge will come our way - a better way - certainly.
The idea of sending letters to offenders is certainly one that I'll take into consideration with the department to see what we can do, and we won't limit to only that. We might even expand in other ways, because I can certainly see, coming from all corners of the House, that we have a consensus and that we want to change. When I listened with open ears, I certainly began to get moody and upset, because when the people started to tell you about the high number of statistics across Canada, it's upsetting. So, we've got to target the real problem, and that real problem is the repeat offenders.
I will certainly, for the member opposite, get more information on the Criminal Code and paramountcy, I guess, or how does it keep up with the Motor Vehicles Act and will it catch up and keep up with the Motor Vehicles Act. I will certainly get that for the member opposite through the course of debate.
I'd like to reiterate again, loud and clear, that driving is a privilege. It is not a right. It's been said by everybody here. That is the number-one message that we've got to get out. You just can't go falling off your barstool and flop into your pickup truck and drive away. People think that's a right but it is not a right.
Will we be including this in the highways and waterways? Well, certainly, as we drive our snowmobiles and water vehicles around we'll be looking at ways to incorporate that, because it doesn't matter if you're on the road or off the road, if you have a problem with alcohol and you're under the influence and you're driving something, then that is what the problem is.
I suggest to all folks in this House also that young people learn from their parents. They learn from the people that they look up to. Generally, hopefully, that is their parents. So I encourage all, including myself, to lead by example.
I, for one, don't know why you get tougher and tougher and tougher and maybe certainly better looking with every drink you take, but again that is what we must work against. So, as my colleague behind me said, we're targeting the offenders. It's tragic that some of us have been through this, but certainly with the support of this House - and I would look for total support of this House on this issue and I'd look for good constructive talk to help me with this so that we might be able to bring this to fruition, if we might before the clock runs out. Thank you very much.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 39 agreed to
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 12, 1997:
Chlamydia disease: compact disc case containing a multi-coloured assortment of condoms (Sloan)
Yukon Utilities Board 1997 Annual Report (dated August 12, 1997) (Moorcroft)
Yukon Driver Control Board Report (dated June 13, 1997) (Keenan)
The following Document was filed November 12, 1997:
Yukon Employees Union Newsletter: Special Edition, Volume 97, Issue #6 (Ostashek)