Tuesday, July 11, 2000 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have a legislative return for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Kent: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that comments with uncomplimentary, sexist and violent connotations cast negative public opinion on all members in the House; and
THAT this House urges each member to strive to use gender-neutral, non-sexist and non-violent language at all times.
Mr. Fairclough: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the review of the Education Act is a matter of great importance to all Yukon people; and
(2) in order to ensure the full and fair participation of all the partners in education in this review, it is essential that the review process be free of any partisan political influence; and
(3) the unilateral appointment by the Minister of Education of the former leader of the Yukon Liberal Party to chair this review fails to guarantee such freedom from partisan influence; and
(4) school councils, First Nations and the Yukon Teachers Association were not properly consulted in advance about this partisan appointment; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Liberal government to immediately rescind the appointment of the former Liberal Party leader to a deputy minister-level position, reporting directly to the minister, and to consult with its education partners on a more appropriate way of conducting this review.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Education Act Review Steering Committee, appointment of chair
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Education finally announced how this government plans to reward the formal Liberal Party leader for services rendered. He admitted to the House last night that he and he alone had appointed this individual to head the review of the Education Act. Can the minister tell us what consultation he undertook with the four legislative partners in education before making this partisan appointment?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, the appointment of Mr. Taylor as head of the committee to review the Education Act was made by me, as I admitted in the House yesterday, but it was with consultation with some of my Cabinet colleagues.
The fact is that Mr. Taylor is very eminently qualified to conduct the review of the Education Act. He was involved with the extensive review of the Education Act 10 years ago and was appointed to that position by the Minister of Education of that day, Mr. Piers McDonald. We feel that his involvement as a teacher over the past 20 years and for the past year, as a matter of fact, upon the Yukon Teachers Association, under the current president, starting a review of the Education Act, bringing together past presidents of the Yukon Teachers Association to start the review of the Education Act. So, regardless of what the opposition is suggesting, I think that Mr. Taylor is certainly very proficient and will do an excellent job on the review of the Education Act.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: what consultation did he undertake? The only consultation that he said was with some of his Cabinet colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, when the former Liberal leader was the president of Yukon Teachers Association, he lobbied the Yukon government to change the act to accommodate the YTA bargaining demands. Two of the major players in this review have close ties to both the YTA and the Liberal Party. In fact, they spent the odd weekend during the last campaign putting up signs for the Liberals. What steps has the minister taken to ensure that the interest of all other partners in education will be addressed in this Liberal review of the act, not just those of the union?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I think I have indicated that Mr. Taylor is certainly qualified, and I think that he will prove to the committee, to the public and to all that he will be reviewing the Education Act in a totally unbiased manner. I think that he is certainly professional enough and has certainly proven competent enough to be conducting the review of the act.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, we would normally expect the four legislative partners in this important review to select their own chair and for the department to provide administrative support. It seems highly unusual to bring in someone, who answers only to the minister, at a salary of $124,000 a year, to do something that could be done by someone within the department.
Why does the minister not have the confidence in the ability of his own department personnel to complete this review in a fair and effective manner?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, this Education Act review is going to take a very dedicated and knowledgeable individual. I think that the former leader of the NDP, in his appointing him to totally review the Education Act 10 years ago, speaks volumes for the credibility the former leader had had in his selection at that time. I think, since that time, he has certainly proven that he has increased his credentials to be able to do this.
We have the utmost confidence in his competence and I think that, along with the other committee members and through the consultation exercise, we'll have a broad-based understanding of where they're coming from.
Question re: Education Act Review Steering Committee, appointment of chair
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, we know the minister wrote to the Education Act Review Steering Committee members on June 30 to inform them of his decision to make this patronage appointment - not exactly the kind of consultation that the Liberal government likes to brag about.
My question is to the same minister. Yesterday he told the House that the department will have to find the $124,000 for this political payoff from its existing budget. What programs or positions are being cut to pay this new deputy minister-level Liberal advisor?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, none.
Mr. Fairclough: Back when he was the Liberal Party leader, the new Liberal chair of this Education Act review took a public position that the Liberal government would review public servants' performance in the departments. By making this appointment, the minister has clearly expressed his lack of confidence in the Education department staff. Is this minister at all concerned that Mr. Taylor will use his new senior-level position to review the department and its employees instead of just conducting a review of the act? Can the minister explain this?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Taylor has been involved in the teaching profession for over 20 years. Ten years ago, along with the Minister of Education at that time, Piers McDonald, he rewrote the Education Act, so certainly he has an intimate knowledge of the act. He's a very professional individual. He is respected within the department. He is respected by his peers. I think that he probably, at this particular juncture, is the best person to be reviewing the Education Act, regardless of his political affiliation.
Mr. Fairclough: The Liberals have already cut a half-time school psychologist.
The process of reviewing the Education Act should be free from any taint of political bias. This appointment by the minister, which she says was his and his alone, is an unprecedented, partisan action on the part of the government. Will the minister do the right thing and reconsider this ill-advised appointment, which threatens the integrity of the Education Act review process?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: No I won't.
Question re: Circle sentencing for sexual or violent crimes
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Minister of Justice. One of the most contentious social issues at the present time concerns the use of circle sentencing. The previous NDP Minister of Justice advocated its use for a variety of crimes. While supporting circle sentencing, the Yukon Party expressed its opposition to using circle sentencing for sexual or violent crimes. This is the limitation that the Yukon Party put on its use. As is its custom, the Yukon Liberals did not state a clear position. They sat on the fence once again. I would like the minister to now be very clear. Does this Liberal government support the use of circle sentencing for sexual or violent crimes - yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: No, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: During the recent election, the Liberals in their election platform made the commitment to encourage the federal government to develop circle-sentencing guidelines. Can the minister advise the House what guidelines the Yukon Liberal government will be recommending to their counterparts in Ottawa?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: We're working on that right now.
Mr. Jenkins: So, in spite of this being a very important issue within the Department of Justice, we're just working on it. We haven't developed a position in opposition. It was very much a known stance of the Liberals, but you can't get that position out of them today, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, currently the Kwanlin Dun is planning to hold a circle for a well-known sex offender in Whitehorse and all Yukoners have been invited to attend. Does the minister support this initiative and does she plan to attend?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I'm unaware of the date of such an occasion and, until I'm aware of the date, I can't say whether or not I would be attending.
Question re: Education Act Review Steering Committee, appointment of chair
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission and it has to do with the politicizing of the Education Act review by the partisan appointment of the former Liberal leader.
Will the minister tell the House where, when and how this senior-level position was advertised and how many applicants were interviewed?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, it wasn't advertised. It was an appointment.
Mr. Fentie: Well, we can hear the sizzle of bacon on the grill, Mr. Speaker, the smell of pork in the air, and we can hear the pitter-patter of little trotters heading to the trough. The Liberal partisan feeding frenzy has begun.
Mr. Speaker, there are usually two ways a senior management appointment like this is made. Either it's through the Public Service Commission process where the competition follows certain rules - not an appointment - or else it's by order-in-council passed by Cabinet in the case of a deputy minister.
Can the minister tell us exactly what recruitment process was used in this case?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, during the election and previous to the election, the party opposite had already initiated a review of the Education Act by structuring the committee constituents of eight individuals - two from the department, two First Nation representatives, two from the Teachers Association and two from councils. It took eight months for the committee to organize and structure itself, finding the time where they could all collect and get together.
During the election it became obvious that there was more and more concern about the review of the Education Act and getting on with the Education Act. So, in the short time that we have been on this side of the House - and just one of the many things within the platform that we committed to and are now implementing, if we haven't already done it, is that we recognize that the committee, although instructed to start putting a plan together, would also require the assistance of a strong chair individual. So, within the limited time and wanting to get on with the review of the Education Act, it was decided by me that we would find a competent individual who was recognized in his competency by the former leader of the NDP...
Speaker: Order please. Would the minister conclude his answer?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: ... so that was how I went about and chose him as the chair.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, well, what is the matter with all of the department officials? There are many competent people in the Department of Education who could be doing the same thing, and they are partners in this.
It looks like this government is introducing a whole new hiring process when it comes to formal Liberal Party leaders. Now this government has promised to review a number of other pieces of legislation - the Liquor Act, the Wildlife Act and, who knows, maybe even the Mental Health Act. Let me ask the minister this: now that he has set the precedent with this $124,000 patronage appointment, can we expect to see instant deputy ministers created to chair the review process for these acts as well?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: A correction, Mr. Speaker: "other deputy ministers" implies that Mr. Taylor is a deputy minister, when in fact he is not.
The fact is that the employees within the departments right now are fairly maxed out with their own workloads. We recognize that we wanted to get on with a review of this act; that it would require someone who could focus full time and, unlike the members opposite, when they had the opportunity to do it, it took three and a half years to get nothing done. Within the first three months, we are well on our way to a competent and total review of the Education Act.
Question re: Education Act Review Steering Committee, appointment of chair
Mr. Fentie: Well, I agree with one thing. The former Liberal leader is not a deputy minister. He is just getting paid the same. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we wouldn't hire deputy ministers in the manner in which this particular appointment was made.
Mr. Speaker, my follow-up question is to the same minister. The Education Act review is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2001, presumably in time for the September school start. Now, when a teacher leaves the system to run for public office, their job is secure for up to four years.
Let me ask the minister this: has Mr. Taylor been given an assurance that any teaching position will be offered to him when his contract is completed?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I am unaware if that was a condition of hire.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I'm addressing the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. It is part of the contract. Let me put it this way: it is entirely possible that Mr. Taylor may, in fact, go back to the teaching profession in one capacity or another, after what I'm sure will be a stunning success in politicizing the Education Act review. What direction has the minister given the Public Service Commission to ensure that no conflict or appearance of a conflict of interest will exist, once he has finished with his partisan review?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I think the member opposite is doing an incredible disservice to the other members of the committee in not recognizing their competency, their intelligence, their capabilities, their voice -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, and their backgrounds. Mr. Taylor is only one of a team, and unfortunately the members opposite don't recognize that four-letter word; they consider it something dirty, but we on this side of the House consider the word "team" a very proud badge to wear. And that's what this team of individuals will be doing when they review the Education Act.
So, with respect to what happens to Mr. Taylor after the review, even if I did know, I would not be able to discuss personnel issues on the floor of the House.
Mr. Fentie: Well, it was not I who informed this House that the steering committee had spent months going nowhere, and it's not this side of the House that has plunked a partisan appointment in charge of the Education Act review.
Mr. Speaker, a few months ago when the current Liberal president of the Yukon Teachers Association was watching from the gallery, the Liberal opposition leader - now the Premier - took the position that the Education Act amendments dealing with temporary teachers should be made immediately, even before the review takes place.
Does the minister now intend to bring forward these legislative amendments proposed by the YTA as part of the Education Act review or as part of a settlement package with the Yukon Teachers Association?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, it really is unfortunate that the members opposite are putting such a slant on the review of the Education Act. They recognized that the Education Act had to be reviewed.
The selection of the committee was made before this government took over. We respected the choices that were made, and we trust that their competency will be there to review the Education Act, as we do with Mr. Taylor being appointed as chair. So whatever slant the member opposite - had they done it when they were in, that would have been fine. But I think that we should credit the intelligence of the group overall and respect the charge of duty that they do have.
Question re: Education Act Review Steering Committee, appointment of chair
Mr. Harding: Same subject, another question for the minister. Mr. Speaker, it is the Liberals who have put a slant on the Education Act review with this unparalleled act of putting such an important position in the hands of an overt Liberal partisan. Now, the members opposite has said, as a justification, that somehow the former Government Leader 10 years ago had hired this person. Well, this person was a part player, one of dozens, literally hundreds of people around this territory who reviewed the Education Act. He was not, at that time, first and foremost known as the Liberal operative former leader/candidate of the Liberal Party in this territory.
Mr. Speaker, a lot has changed. This particular review is incredibly important to students, children, to parents, to educators, to all the people of this territory, and to put this kind of bias on a review like this is indicative of the type of approach, lack of consultation, dictatorial approach of this new government.
I'd like to ask the minister this: will he reconsider this errant decision and rescind this appointment and put it in the hands of someone who can adequately, in an unbiased fashion, run this important review?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I have total confidence in the competency of the team as a whole. I believe that they will diligently review the act in a non-partisan, non-biased way. My confidence in the team is that they will present the options to the public at large for review. I don't think anything is going to be hidden. The product they bring forward is going to be totally scrutinized by the public through the consultation process that will occur during the review.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I woke this morning to the sound of the minister opposite telling the public of the Yukon on the radio that this appointment had nothing to do with the fact that Mr. Taylor was a Liberal. Does he honestly expect the Yukon people to believe that - a $125,000 a year sole-sourced contract to the former Liberal leader? And I bet, on election night, when Yukoners were watching Mr. Taylor give a congratulatory hug to the new Premier up on the podium, they didn't know that hug was going to cost them $125,000 a year.
Mr. Speaker, this is taxpayers' money; this is an important subject. The Education Act is critical to all aspects of this community, and it's important that it's handled well by an unbiased person, and in this case they have put a Liberal operative, a very biased person, well-known in this territory for that, in charge of this review.
Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister again in all seriousness, will he consider rescinding this appointment?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: That's exactly why Mr. Taylor is probably very appropriate to be reviewing the Education Act, along with his other team members. It is because of his competency. It is because of the fact that he had worked with the former Minister of Education in putting the act together in the first place. He has intimate knowledge of it. I have trust in his skills and abilities to be non-partisan, to be totally professional, to lead his team in the review in a totally competent way and that the product they produce will be reviewed through the consultation process. We couldn't agree more that the review of this piece of legislation is incredibly important and it's really unfortunate that the NDP are politicizing it to the extent they are.
Mr. Harding: What an answer from the minister opposite. It's well-known that this particular person, Mr. Taylor, and the current president of the YTA, have their own little Liberal kitchen cabinet. Already people are telling us that they have concern that collective bargaining issues are now going to dominate this Education Act review. Many other stakeholders out there have to have input into this particular endeavour. To have this kind of partisanship leading the charge, as chosen by this Liberal Cabinet, I think is abhorrent. I believe that the Liberal government should rescind this position.
I want to ask the minister another question. Under our laws, deputy minister level positions require that deputy ministers cannot carry party cards. This particular person is now going to be receiving $125,000 a year, in line with what deputy ministers receive. Will he continue to keep his partisan card and his party activity while he leads this Education Act review?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, what we have stated time and time again is that we look for the people with the greatest competency to do the job. We don't care what card they carry in their back pocket. I think I have indicated that to the Member for Klondike several times.
It is typical for the members opposite to put a negative slant on such a potentially positive exercise, in that they continually stress that it's $124,000 that this individual will be getting, when I provided that range to the House yesterday.
Again, I'm not privy to the information on the range that is going to be applied to Mr. Taylor. It is between $82,000 to $124,000. He is not a deputy minister, as the members opposite are starting to recount. I just wish once some goodwill would come across the House on an exercise of such importance.
Question re: Education Act Review Steering Committee, appointment of chair
Mr. Harding: Goodwill must flow both ways. We are not worried about ourselves; we are worried about students, parents, educators and people out there who have just seen this Liberal government put such an important act in the hands of a completely biased leadership. That is a problem.
Now, the minister just stood up, in this last answer, and said that they look for the people with the greatest competency. Yet, he freely admits that there were no ads placed, no interviews nor competitions whatsoever. It was just the party card that got the member opposite to select the former leader.
Because we have not been provided any legitimate answers by the minister, I would like to ask the Premier if she will require her Minister of Education to rescind this biased appointment for such an important review as the Education Act?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I don't doubt that the members opposite would agree with the members on this side that the review of the Education Act is incredibly important and that the team that has been put together - primarily constituents selected by the previous government and only the chair appointed by this side - and recognize then that it does take teamwork to do a competent job on such an important piece of legislation and recognize the skills and abilities the individualness, the self-thinking aptitudes of those individuals, rather than focusing on one individual like he is going to be a dictator and decree what goes in and what stays and what happens to the act. Give credit to the team as a whole.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, if the minister truly believed what he just said, he would have had the decency to consult with the partners in education prior to making this partisan appointment. However, he saw not to do that. He chose to ignore the people of the territory, the partners in education, and pay the formal Liberal leader, a long-time Liberal activist, $125,000 a year and put him in charge of a very important undertaking for this territory. It is no wonder the Liberals did not want to bring forward the all-party committee this legislative session because this is just the tip of the iceberg.
I want to ask the Premier again: will she rise today and take responsibility for this rogue action, as it has been indicated by the minister, and ask him to rescind this appointment of Mr. Taylor.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, one thing the leader on this side of the House has is confidence in her selection of ministers and their capabilities to make decisions. We respect each other. We work as a team on this side, and if the review of the Education Act is so incredibly critically important and if the member opposite, as he has suggested, feels that it's so important to students and teachers and to the public at large, why didn't they do it during their term in office?
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the Education Act, in and of itself, was a creation of a former NDP government, and the review timelines, which were identified in the act with hundreds of people across this territory in a consultative manner, were being followed by the NDP government. It is not the act of the NDP government but rather the Liberal government to make this partisan appointment of Mr. Taylor.
Now, Mr. Speaker, we have already seen cuts starting to happen in the Eucation department with areas like school psychology, and now we know that they're going to have to fund this $125,000 job for Mr. Taylor from resources within. School councils around this territory, like in Teslin, are being told by the department that there are no resources, yet this minister does not see fit to even trust the people in his department to have a more solid hand in this particularly important undertaking.
So, my question to the Premier once again is, will - the Premier's laughing. She thinks this is funny. The Premier thinks it's amusing that she can give a $125,000 job to Mr. Taylor.
Speaker: Order please. Would the member please get to the question.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the Premier, will she get the smile off her face and ask the minister to rescind this important appointment for this important undertaking in terms of reviewing the Education Act?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, we recognize every bit as much as the members opposite the impact the review of the Education Act will have on the education system here in the territory, on the students, on the teachers, on the department and I have full - just as the Premier has confidence in me and my charge - confidence in the Department of Education in conducting and doing their duties. I think they're an incredible group of individuals right from the deputy minister on down to the front-line workers. We recognize and value our civil service on this side of the House, just as we honour and recognize the skills and ability of the team that was put together to review the Education Act.
And through the processes that will be coming to me shortly by way of a plan, we will get to - and I will share that with the members opposite - how we plan to do a full review of the Education Act and also include the public at large, and sharing ideas and the plan with members opposite.
I just wish the members opposite shared the confidence in a competent, full review; that Mr. Taylor, as one of nine on the committee, that his competency in leading the team will be fruitful, and I wish the members opposite would have the trust and respect of the public at large, because they will have the review of the Education Act as it proceeds toward next year.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mr. Fentie: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), the official opposition does not wish to call any private members' business on Wednesday, July 12, 2000, in order to expedite debate in this Legislature.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, in order to expedite the business of the House, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to advise the House that the third party will not be identifying any item to be called on Wednesday, July 12.
Speaker: We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Deputy Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 2 - First Appropriation Act, 2000-01 - continued
Department of Economic Development - continued
Deputy Chair: We will proceed with general debate.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Deputy Chair, I would like to respond to a number of the questions that were posed last night by the members opposite. The Member for Faro, I believe, was asked me about the attendance by the Member for Mount Lorne at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region annual summer meeting in Post Falls, Idaho. I indicated to the member opposite that the Member for Mount Lorne attended at my request, on my behalf and on behalf of the entire government. The travel costs and indeed the entire cost of the trip was $1,486.15, including the airfare.
Members opposite asked for a report and any meeting notes, policy or public statements that were made by the Member for Mount Lorne. I have for each leader of the opposition - and perhaps the Member for Watson Lake would prefer to receive this as the critic - the meeting notes taken by the member, and noted and provided to me as Premier.
I'll have those sent over directly to the member opposite.
The Member for Watson Lake also asked at great length about rebuilding the economy and what was being done in the mining industry, and I would just like to provide the member opposite with a complete list of what has been done, what actions have been taken and immediate steps in the three months that we have been sworn in as government. First of all, there has been a template benefits agreement with Kaska First Nation to allow oil and gas preparation and exploration work to proceed in southeast Yukon this year. And the members opposite also asked for a copy of that agreement, and I have provided a copy for each leader and one for the table.
We have begun the consultation process, which, of course, is clearly laid out in legislation, for another oil and gas land sale, and for proceeding with the second land sale as outlined. And there have been extensive lobbying efforts for the Alaska natural gas pipeline to be built through Yukon, and there is a compilation of all of the media reports and interviews and work that has been done and that is being undertaken now. Some of those reports are still being published, as they're monthly and weekly magazines that I had interviews with. A complete compilation of that work is being done by the Department of Economic Development and will also be made available to members opposite.
Of course, if the House rises before that work is complete, we will be certain that the members opposite receive that information in a very timely manner.
The question was also asked about meeting with the mining investors in Vancouver. That message was very well-received, and I made reference yesterday to a media release by Copper Ridge Exploration Inc. The note I was making for the members opposite was that Copper Ridge Exploration Inc., announced its option from Placer Dome and the U.S. steel group collectively to purchase 100-percent interest in a property on the Yukon-Northwest Territories border, Howard's Pass, as the Member for Watson Lake noted.
The point that I was making reference to was that key factors making this an attractive acquisition target for Copper Ridge - of the key factors, which are listed, including a world-class zinc resource, there are seven factors listed and one of those factors is that the Yukon government is actively encouraging mineral development. The media statement goes on to indicate that the new Premier of the Yukon met with mining industry representatives in Vancouver and quotes from that address.
There is also, in terms of good news, if you will, and work on the investment community, a June 29 note from Expatriate regarding their announcement that they formalized plans to raise $10 million to $15 million this fall, which will fund the proposed underground test mining of the Wolverine deposit.
The question with regard to the focused flow-through share program, in terms of working with the mining industry and the investment in the mining community, I can advise the member opposite - as I indicated we had lobbied and expressed our support for this with the federal Finance minister - the British Columbia and Yukon Chamber of Mines have acknowledged our support.
I will quote a letter received July 9, "Premier Duncan has been effective in helping to convince Minister Martin we need to have the focus flow-through share program" and I have received similar sentiments from the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada.
So, in the short three months, less than 90 days, we have seen an improvement in the investment climate as documented in the media releases from Expatriate and Copper Ridge. We have seen actual results of some of our work on the focus flow-through share program, which is critical and very important to the mining industry program and support for our efforts in acknowledgement of our efforts from two of the leading mining industry associations in the country.
We have, of course, also put $250,000 in our supplementary budget in prospectors grants for this year. Again, I advised the member that we have started the process of fixing the protected areas strategy. We have also committed to putting it into legislation.
We have worked on the settlement of land claims and we are continuing our work. We have reintroduced the previous government's budget in order to create certainty for this summer's capital projects.
And we've cut personal income taxes to stimulate the economy. Now, this is something the NDP didn't do in four years. They talked about it; they talked about reducing taxes, but they never did it. That, overall, is the key difference between this government and the NDP in terms of our efforts on the economy. It's not just talk. We've taken real, concrete steps, and we're starting to see the results of those steps.
By no stretch of the imagination is our work complete. It's going to take far more than 90 days to turn this economy around, and everyone, particularly the Yukon public, recognizes that. The point is, in response to the members opposite, that we have started. We have got a really good start and we are going to keep working hard on economic initiatives for this territory.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I thank the minister for her informative response to our questions yesterday and for tabling the documents - of note, the agreement between the Kaska. And let me point out that the activity in the Kotaneelee, the southeast Yukon, began last year. This year is a continuation of that very activity. The seismic work began last year. Consent was given last year by the Kaska through the efforts of the former government in negotiating an agreement that would see us begin, for first time in 20 years, any oil and gas activity in this territory.
Furthermore, on reducing taxes, it was the former government that constructed the legislation that in fact will reduce taxes in this territory, and the Liberal government knows well that their only effort in it was tabling that bill in this sitting.
I have very little else to go through at this time. We'll be waiting for the fall. Time never lies, and the Liberals have made a great deal of promises and commitments with regard to the economy, and we shall see, in time, exactly how they intend to follow through.
Let me just, in wrapping up, go over a couple of items.
In the mining sector, for one, we have a number of mines sitting - permitted, exposed ore bodies, access roads and mills - and ready to go. I asked the minister last night why they are not operating and we didn't get that answer here today or last night. But when we look at Faro, Sa Dena Hes, Elsa and also the properties at Kudz Ze Kayah and Minto, there is one contributing factor as to why mines like Faro and Sa Dena Hes and Elsa aren't operating; and I would submit that it's the price of zinc. That's the major problem for any one of those mines.
Does the minister agree that the reason those mines aren't operating has nothing to do with protected areas, as they're not in a park; it has everything to do with profitability?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I do not disagree with the member's statement and fundamental principle that the price of metals is a factor. In every single one of the projects the member opposite mentioned - and he didn't mention United Keno Hill or the silver mine at Elsa - there are differing factors for each property.
The member opposite's colleague, the Member for Faro, had asked me for a complete listing of the permitted mines in the territory and mineral property potentials, which are close to mine development. I would suggest that the best way around this answer and information for the member - in order to be as forthcoming as I want to be - is for me to provide a case-by-case listing of each property, where it's at in the permitting process, and why it's not in operation today; whether it's an economic factor or a legal factor or some other reason. And perhaps just a spreadsheet, if you will, for the member opposite. Certainly I would be delighted to provide that same information to the Member for Klondike. Is that acceptable to the member opposite?
Mr. Fentie: Yes, it is. Could the minister also make note in that presentation how the Liberals intend to solve those problems with these mines that are actually at the stage where they could be in operation? Everything is there, ready to go. Could the minister please provide for us information on how the Liberals intend to get those mines back up and running?
Mr. Chair, the situation at Faro also has another added issue, if you will. The issue has to do with Trustco - the $200,000 a year, the partnership of Cominco, the feds and YTG holding the assets, so that the assets under the bankruptcy aren't dispersed or disposed of. Is it the minister's and Liberal government's intention to ensure that this arrangement continues, so that Faro does not lose what it has in terms of assets, and so that, should we get to the point where Faro could reopen, all the necessary equipment and means for them to do so are intact and on site?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I just reconfirmed that we have given no instructions to change or amend the existing memorandum of understanding, which, I will remind the member - the member is quite correct, it was signed by Cominco and the federal government - ensures that the Faro property is maintained in an environmentally sound manner and that the mine will remain in a position to reopen.
I have also committed that the Yukon government will ensure that community views will be heard on the management of the mine's assets, by providing for that input on the advisory committee associated with the MOU.
Mr. Fentie: I thank the minister for that.
I, for one, am a firm believer that many of the resource development sectors in this territory are critical to this territory's economy. Some of them are somewhat futuristic. Fixing all the problems that we have to face in the mining industry is simply not going to happen, as the member pointed out, in 90 days. It might not happen in four years.
However, there are some futuristic aspects to the mining sector. The oil and gas sector - same thing. Much of that - other than immediate action in that sector such as the seismic work, which is a good first step and is always the first step when oil and gas development takes place - is still futuristic. There's a lot to be done; there's a lot to go through before we actually realize in this territory an established oil and gas industry.
But we have a resource sector in this territory that is happening now. It has investment. It creates benefit. It creates jobs. It has a resource available. It has a framework policy by the Yukon government that is implemented and agreed to by the federal government as far as how to proceed now through an interim period into the long term. It is an industry that is now - much more than futuristic.
I'm a little confused by the Liberals' position that they are going to rebuild an economy when forestry, in their platform, and recent developments show that there seems to be a contradiction in that regard when it comes to this sector of our economy. For example, all that the Liberals say as far as commitment to the Yukon public in their platform is that they will develop legislation with the First Nations. Well, that's a brilliant move, a great idea. That's what every government says: we will develop legislation. That's fine, but right now there are issues, right now the industry is happening. And, in a very short period of time - less than 90 days, even though the minister was warned back on May 12 that there was a situation developing in the forestry industry that would see a shutdown of one of the main players, a very important player in the southeast Yukon, one that was driving the industry at this time - no action was taken.
How does the Minister of Economic Development intend to address this issue to ensure that this problem does not go beyond the point of no return? Investment money is here. The infrastructure has been put in place. The resource is available. A trained workforce is now starting to disperse throughout the country because their jobs are uncertain. How does the minister intend to ensure that we do not go past the point of no return and see the demise of what has been developed to date?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Let me start with the initial premise that the member has talked about in his argument about mining, in his laudatory remarks about oil and gas and in his comments about the forestry industry.
The overarching issue on all those subjects is devolution and the transfer of responsibilities over our natural resources and development of those resources from the federal government to the Government of the Yukon. We are diligent in continuing our efforts on devolution. We continue to expect and are working very hard toward success in that regard.
Focusing the comments on forestry - specifically South Yukon Forest Corporation - I would like to compliment the member; he has lobbied long and hard on behalf of his constituents. The Liberal government recognizes South Yukon Forest Corporation as a major source of employment and economic benefits to the community of Watson Lake and to the Yukon as a whole. The South Yukon mill was shut down for two weeks beginning June 30, 2000. There was a planned shutdown for this summer. That planned shutdown was in anticipation of the mill running out of wood at some point over the course of the summer. That touches on one of the key issues, which is the fibre supply to the mill. That's a very, very important issue. The Liberal government is addressing that issue. We are addressing that issue through the Minister of Renewable Resources and through the federal government who, in spite of our efforts on devolution and in spite of the previous government's efforts on devolution, still has control over forestry.
The Minister of Renewable Resources and I are in close communication on this. The Minister of Renewable Resources is taking the lead on the issue of wood supply and forestry resources.
The efforts on that continue, and I'm certain that the Member for Watson Lake, should he choose to be in touch with the Minister of Renewable Resources, can keep him updated continuously on the Minister of Renewable Resources' efforts with the federal government on the wood supply.
The issue for the Department of Economic Development is the support for South Yukon Forest Corporation, and again, I remind the member that the Yukon government - and it is the previous government - has provided support to South Yukon Forest Corporation sawmill. The support of the Government of Yukon, whoever was sitting in these benches and regardless of their political stripe, has been to date: training funding provided to the mill for a variety of mill positions; working on the fibre supply discussion, which is a key element; providing a loan of $205,000 to South Yukon Forest Corporation under the energy infrastructure loans for the infrastructure development program; and working with the mill and South Yukon Forest Corporation in investigating funding sources for the proposed mill expansion.
South Yukon Forest Corporation has approached the Government of Yukon with regard to the two issues - fibre supply, wood supply - and with further support for the mill, and that matter is under consideration. It is, I understand, a critical situation. I understand the timeliness of this. I have worked in the business community, and I understand how difficult business is and the financing requirements of business. They don't work on the same timetable as governments do with long periods of time. We are examining the issues, we are working with South Yukon Forest Corporation, we recognize that they are a major source of employment and economic benefits to the community of Watson Lake. We are working with them, and I am certain that the Member for Watson Lake would support our efforts to ensure that we are fair and that we recognize all of the factors that I have already mentioned today.
Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, there is one distinct difference between this government and the former government. Now, the minister has listed off a number of initiatives that were implemented to ensure that local people went to work through training. In other words, we made sure that there was enough put together so that people could be trained to work in a facility like South Yukon and not have the situation where we have to import a workforce; that's important. So we made sure of that. The infrastructure alone is quite important because it gives us the ability, should all the engineering come forward proving out that this can be done, for an alternate power source and allows us to decrease our dependence on the burning of fossil fuels.
Now, the forest industry today in the Yukon, no matter what, is going to produce residual wood, waste wood. The minute you create a forest industry and manufacture a product, you're going to have a residual product that is produced also. So the reason that the engineering is being done is to be able to turn that residual product into revenue and a benefit instead of watching it go up in smoke. So I think all those things - and we'll agree on those; I'm sure the minister agrees - are steps that have to be taken in the development of a forest industry. But the difference is the fact that we as a government ensured that there was timber. We made sure that we didn't run out of timber by focusing our efforts on the federal government through a channelled source. The Department of Renewable Resources was not in the lead on forestry, and for good reason. There was a system put in place to coordinate related departments and then, in doing so, we went to work on the federal government because we all know, in this territory, the feds are simply not responsive to the needs of this territory. And to make matters worse, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has abrogated its responsibilities in terms of economic development in this territory.
Examples of that are throughout the Yukon in every resource sector that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is responsible for. So, that's the difference.
The planned shutdown that the minister speaks of would not be a shutdown if the timber supply were ahead of South Yukon and the industry in southeast Yukon. It's going to get allocated anyway. The federal government will allocate X number of 100,000 cubic metres. The problem is they have missed every deadline to date in doing so; therefore, the industry had no choice but to shut down because they had no stable access to timber. That puts them at an extreme disadvantage in the marketplace, because they cannot commit the volume of product to the buyers in the marketplace that is being demanded.
So, that is the difference, and I want to make sure that the minister takes that with her and thinks it through, because no matter what we do, if we cannot produce stable access to timber, then all the rest is for naught.
Now, if the former government could ensure, through its efforts, in the manner that it approached this issue, that it could deliver on timber - which we proved we could do because it was done and that mill operated and the industry operated consistently day by day, week by week, month by month throughout the year with no shutdown - breakup or freeze-up, log inventory was available.
Mr. Chair, I'm sure the minister will agree that that is the crux; therefore, the efforts on that side of the House must be increased, enhanced, or whatever it takes, to ensure that the federal government is responsible and that they deliver, that they don't renege on their responsibilities of ensuring that there is access to timber.
It is a duty of the Yukon government. Devolution, though we all hope and wish for the day that we become masters and decision makers in our own territory, is not something that we can sit back and wait for, because it will be too late. We have to act now, regardless of whether devolution is going to happen or not. So, the Yukon government has a role to play.
I also would like to pass on to the minister that in this matter there are no political boundaries. In the forests and in the development of a forest industry or any other industry, there are no political boundaries. If somebody has a good idea that can help the situation, one would only hope that it is well-received.
I would lend my support to anything that helps us climb out of the economic downturn that areas like the southeast Yukon have been in for so long. The economic downturn in the southeast Yukon started in 1986 with the closure of Canada Tungsten, followed by Cassiar. We, in Watson Lake, have suffered through that economic downturn much longer than a city like Whitehorse. It's not news to us. We would only hope and ask the Liberal government to ensure that we don't lose what we've gained to date.
Mr. Chair, moving on, in these sectors of mining, oil and gas and forestry, there is another requirement that is vital, and that is access to markets. Access to markets has always been a difficult issue in this territory because of distance. We have one competitive advantage in this territory, should we exercise it, and that is access to tidewater. The former government had the vision to recognize that fact and move on to ensure that we were not shut out from access to tidewater on the Alaska coast - Skagway and Haines Junction.
Let me ask the minister: where exactly are the initiatives on the Haines and Skagway ports at this time?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there was a great deal in the member's comments, and I would just like to make a couple of key points. This government has not denied the support that has been given to South Yukon Forest Corporation, has not ever suggested in the response that it should not have been given, although we wonder why part of it was never made public. I have outlined it in the floor of this House in some detail.
I have also acknowledged, at least twice in my previous response - and certainly in my physical language and in my accessibility and in my own efforts as a member of the opposition with the South Yukon - the corporation's importance to the Yukon and to southeast Yukon.
What the member has done in the preamble to his question is that he has criticized the way that the Liberal government does business. He has suggested that, because we don't have a point person, for lack of a better term, on South Yukon, somehow we are not doing our job. I would say to the member opposite that we do things differently over here, and yes, we are doing our job. That being said, we recognize that every member of this House has an important role to play on behalf of their constituents, and my ministers and I and our entire caucus are certainly endeavouring to respond and to work with all members of this House on behalf of the people of the Yukon.
I would again invite the Member for Watson Lake to avail himself of an opportunity to speak with the Minister of Renewable Resources and work with him on timber supply issues. The Minister of Renewable Resources has expressed that invitation to the member before, and I would invite him to avail himself of that invitation.
Now the member has moved on from South Yukon and forestry issues to the issue of the infrastructure development and the ports.
Just for the record, I'm sure the member meant to state "Haines, Alaska" not "Haines Junction". Haines, Alaska and Skagway are the two options. The two options were in place. There was some research work done by the previous government, and the efforts by the previous government were focusing on securing tidewater access, not just for the mineral industry but for Yukon's emerging industries as well. So, forestry and all sorts of Yukon's economic development could be well-served by this. The options with respect to the purchase - we are in the process of examining this matter as a Cabinet and as a government and we have committed in this House, during the other debates and in Question Period, that we would deal with this issue with a decision and announcement by early fall. That is our intention. I am sure the member opposite would respect that a new government has an opportunity and should be afforded an opportunity to do their homework prior to reaching a final decision, and that's what we're doing.
Mr. Fentie: The Liberals are doing business differently. We agree. Here's a real good example of how they do business differently. One hundred and twenty-five people are out of work now. There's a shutdown in the forest sector. I would ask the minister to think about that. Maybe doing business differently, the way the Liberals are doing it, is not such a good idea. There was no need for this shutdown. None whatsoever. The member opposite can stand here all day and tell Yukoners that this was a planned hiatus; that is a bunch of bunk, and the member well knows it.
This planned hiatus that the member refers to wouldn't be planned at all if there were security of timber; that's the issue. So doing business differently, by this government, in the forest sector has resulted in failure. There is a shutdown.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the ports, the due diligence was being done by department officials. All that was required by the government of the day was a briefing. I submit to this House and to Yukoners that what the Liberals are actually doing is trying to figure out a way to repackage the whole thing so that it becomes a Liberal initiative, and in doing so, they are jeopardizing the possibility of us having access to tidewater. In Skagway, there are now competing interests for the very same property; the price is going up. The government has to act. Waiting to figure out how to repackage an initiative like port access is not serving Yukoners' best interests; it may be serving the Liberals' interests, but it certainly is not serving this territory's best interests.
Mr. Chair, there is no question that access to tidewater is vital to the Yukon's economy, just as vital as devolution. It's important because, without access to markets, we are severely limited in what our economy will be in the future. So I urge the minister to hurry up the troops and make a decision on this before it's too late and somebody else snaps up that property and we in the Yukon become landlocked with our only option of trucking goods to market up and down the Alaska Highway or Highway 37.
That's what we have been doing for years, for decades. That's why we pay an exorbitant cost for our goods in this territory and that's why we have been hampered in the development of our economy. Every time there's a downturn in commodity prices, like lumber for example, the farthest points are always the ones cut off, because they cannot compete due to cartage, due to the cost of shipping to market.
Access to the Asian markets through Skagway and Haines, Alaska changes that. Even southerly access out of Skagway through tidewater changes that. So it is vital and I urge the Liberal benches, the Liberal government, to act and act decisively and act now.
Mr. Chair, moving on to other areas of economic development, albeit very short term. In the absence of any major resource development, things like the community development fund have become very important vehicles, especially in the communities, to help generate jobs and benefit, and it's something that comes from the grassroots. The communities themselves, non-profit organizations, agencies, come forward with ideas and projects that will create jobs, that will create cashflow in communities, that will create benefit in communities and, through government expenditure, these things become a reality.
The same goes for fire smart, the tourism marketing fund and another very important vehicle, the trade and investment fund, because that's a vehicle that is helping us broaden our borders, broaden our horizons and look beyond the Yukon. That's where real economic development can be generated, if we can expand and move beyond the borders of this territory. It's true that we're small in population but we're large in potential, and the trade and investment fund was a vehicle to start to establish benefit from that very, very huge potential.
How does the minister intend to ensure that mechanisms like the community development fund can continue so that jobs and benefit and community, which are so desperately needed, also can continue?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member started out on South Yukon and talked about, yes, the Liberals were doing business differently and went on and was less than complimentary. I would suggest to the member opposite that, yes, we are doing business differently and we are endeavouring to do it cooperatively. I had extended and accepted his offer of cooperation - let's get back to that and work from there.
With respect to the ports, the member is completely incorrect when he says that all that had to be done was sign the dotted line, lick the envelope, let's go. What the former government did not do was provide any money for the purchase. The money had not been booked, so is the member suggesting that we should have cancelled the Mayo school and bought the ports? Should we have cancelled any of the other very important community Yukon projects? Rather than pull the money out of thin air, what we have done, as prudent fiscal managers, is secure the options until this fall, and we are taking the opportunity to examine the work that has been done and look at options for funding the ports. We are doing our homework as prudent fiscal managers and I know that every Yukon appreciates that regardless of where they live, even if the member opposite does not.
With regard to the community development fund specifically, the member opposite has implied and suggested repeatedly in this House that somehow we were not representative of all Yukoners.
Of the money and applications that were waiting to be reviewed, I can advise the member with regard to the community development fund that there has been an initial approval of the funds that were booked. Of the initial approval, 60 percent of the funding applications were approved for outside of Whitehorse. One particular grant was for Braeburn Lake, which does not fit into a category of Whitehorse or a community - a recognized hamlet. Of community development funding Yukon-wide, 28 percent was Whitehorse.
So, the member's inference repeatedly in this House that we are somehow not representative of all Yukoners is completely inaccurate. And the very first series of applications that were provided to us and were approved by my esteemed colleagues, who examined the community development fund applications - the majority by far of these approvals were for communities outside of Whitehorse, as in the past.
The member opposite has asked what we intend to do with these funds in the future. First and foremost, there is money booked in this budget. We have presented the budget. The money will be spent the way it is intended, once it clears this House. I have stated, as a member of the opposition - as leader of the official opposition - in the House and publicly, that there should be an evaluation of these funds. That is what's going to happen, bearing in mind that any evaluation is fully recognizing the fact that we are representative of all Yukoners. And we will continue to be.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I thank the minister for the lecture. It's always good to receive one, especially in the spirit of cooperation. But in that spirit, I'm going to let my esteemed colleague, the Member for Klondike, have a go. I am more than prepared to wait until the fall. I have a file folder full of Liberal promises that I will be itching to address. Time never lies; it marches on. We shall see.
But, I do stand by this statement: rural Yukon is not represented by elected members of the Liberal Party.
No matter what the minister may think, the Liberals have a great deal of work cut out for them in that regard. Rural Yukon didn't agree with the Liberals, didn't agree at all. However, that's what elections are about, that's the way it goes. And, as the minister has pointed out many times, we have four years to watch, to scrutinize, to hold these Liberal elected officials and this Liberal government accountable. And the Yukon public will, in fact, pass judgment upon the next election.
So, Mr. Chair, all in all we on this side in the official opposition, as far as economic development, will be keenly interested and very, very watchful of the performance of the Liberal government, and, with that, I will stand down and pass it on to my colleague from the Klondike.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would just like to thank the member opposite for his questions. Certainly, my response was not intended to be a lecture. It was a response to the member's tone and cooperation - which I'm endeavouring to display - and I look forward to answering, in a fully accountable manner, the member's questions in the future.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we left debate yesterday in the Energy Corporation, and, as the lights flicker in this Chamber, we know that the Premier has her work cut out for her in more than just one area, and we'll look forward to some successes and some improvements.
We learned yesterday about how little the Premier knew about land claims, and we're finding out her understanding of the Economic Development portfolio. I would ask that any information that is forthcoming to the official opposition be also sent over to the third party. I do recognize that I have received some to date. I don't know if that's the full scope of the information being provided to the official opposition.
Mr. Chair, I have some questions dealing with the various sectors of our society, which come under this portfolio and the impact that economic development may or may not have on the various Yukon activities.
We have seen the issue of mining exploration descend to virtually an all-time low in Yukon. In fact, I believe it currently is, Mr. Chair. I believe the statistics for this period will show that we're going to have the lowest exploration and mineral production in Yukon in constant dollars that the Yukon has ever had since it became a distinct territory of Canada.
I cite the publication Mineral Exploration and Deposit Appraisal of Expenditures in Canada, and it's by Natural Resources Canada in cooperation with Statistics Canada and the provincial and territorial governments. It surveys Canada's exploration activity. The exploration and deposit appraisal expenditures cited in this fact sheet are based on the survey of mineral exploration, deposit appraisal and mine complex development expenditures. It shows the Yukon, at $11,000,813 for this forthcoming year, as being at one of the lowest levels of any jurisdiction in Canada, exceeded only by - or, I guess, the bottom one is Nova Scotia at $5.8 million and New Brunswick at $8.4 million. If we contrast that to our neighbours to the east, or to the Northwest Territories at $119 million and Nunavut at $35 million for this forthcoming period, Mr. Chair, we're at the bottom of the barrel. We can't go much lower and still maintain a mining industry.
When I was back in Dawson over the past weekend, I learned that two more placer mining operations have curtailed operation. There are more shutting down as I speak. That industry virtually has been regulated to death by the feds. I guess the Premier can cite devolution as being the answer. But is it the answer? Is it the solution? What will happen is that we will have care and control over this area but the regulatory regime still in place will be federal. We probably just noticed the tip of the iceberg in this regard with the recent transfer of airports to Yukon where the responsibility for airports has been transferred from the federal government to the Yukon government. Transport Canada has remained the agency responsible for the rules and for enforcement. What had been permitted and allowed when Transport Canada was the owner and operator of airports is now being called into question. In fact they have recently cited the airport in my community. That's just one example of what happens when the feds maintain the responsibility for enforcement and Yukon now currently has jurisdiction, owns and operates the facility. That same problem will start occurring on a more frequent basis in the mining industry. I'd like to know what steps this Yukon Liberal government is going to be taking to ensure that the regulatory arm of Indian and Northern Affairs, and probably the regulatory arm of the federal Department of Fisheries, are not the great, big, awful enforcement arm that they have become to be recognized as being?
You just have to look at the Yukon Territorial Water Board and the North West Territorial Water Board, which flow from the same federal act. We just have to note the differences and interpretation of that same federal act by both respective boards, and there is quite a difference in interpretations in the Northwest Territories and in the Yukon. That should be called into question, and it is an area that this wonderful connection between the Yukon Liberals and the federal Liberals could be called upon to address, but will it be?
So, I would like to start by asking the Premier what steps she is going to take to address the issue of the federal regulations in the mining, and what can be done to encourage and stimulate mining exploration and mining activity here in Yukon.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I am just delighted to respond to that question from the Member for Klondike. Let's start with the placer mining industry, because that was the first reference made by the member.
As the member has quite correctly pointed out, the Yukon placer mining industry has been regulated upon regulated upon regulated, and it got to the point some years ago that, because of conflicts between various pieces of legislation, there was an agreement drafted called the "Yukon placer authorization", which was signed by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Fisheries and Ocean. That Yukon placer authorization calls for a review, and that review is to be conducted in the next short period of time. Of course, as we have seen with some other pieces of legislation, there is no outline of how that review should be done. However, it should be noted that the Yukon placer authorization is working very, very well in many respects for the industry. It has worked exceptionally well. And we, as a government, although we are not signatories to the YPA, we have been very supportive, and the member notes that in this budget there is an increase in funding for the work with respect to the Yukon placer authorization.
Now, unfortunately, the placer mining industry is also dealing with other federal regulations - mining land use regulations - and fuel tank regulations. Those are two difficulties that were very obvious this summer in the new rules. The other impact on the industry, of course, is the price of fuel.
The Yukon government's role, until such a time as devolution occurs, is to be of assistance and to help the mining industry work through this. We have done this. The mining facilitator, officials in my Economic Development department and I have worked diligently on these issues with the federal minister and the Klondike Placer Miners Association when we were in Dawson at the gold show. It's not going to happen overnight. We are working on these matters; we have been working very diligently and we will continue to work on them.
I have earned the respect of the placer mining industry for some years in terms of the work that I have done with them in terms of lobbying the federal government. I expect that to continue.
The member's question regarded what we are doing as a government to further assist the mining industry. There are a number of things that this government has done. It starts with overall certainty. That requires land claims - the settlement of the seven outstanding land claims. It also requires our continued efforts on devolution. Until such a time as devolution is complete, yes, the federal government still has authority. We are working with them. We understand some of the difficulties that we have had as Yukoners.
The mirror legislation has been discussed previously in this House. It is something on which we are continuing our efforts, working with the Yukon community at large on those pieces of legislation.
In terms of the overall mining industry, other areas of interest I have already detailed for the Member for Watson Lake. It's a requirement that the protected areas strategy be followed through as it was originally envisioned. We have put additional money into YMIP. Whether the member opposite chooses to support it or not, as he has not done, that program and that money are directly in the field this summer. Applications have been approved and people are out using that government assistance to increase the exploration expenditures this summer. I have had several letters in support of this program and in support of this initiative.
We are also continuing with the implementation of the blue book, and I have noted several times in debate that we have one of the authors. We have them elected. The Minister of Renewable Resources is here and is working very hard to ensure that the blue-book initiative is implemented, that it doesn't just gather dust but is implemented, as the mining industry has asked.
We have carried our message to the mining industry. I opened my remarks today outlining the response we have received, and I have provided the member opposite with that information. We will continue to do that.
So, the member opposite has recognized, as all Yukoners have recognized, that mineral exploration expenditures and the forecast for the year 2000 are down. We aren't alone in that respect, in that Alaska's exploration expenditures are actually anticipated to decline further in 2000.
There is still more than what is being spent in the Yukon. I don't disagree with the member. I also would suggest to the member that we're not going to turn this around in the 90 days that we have been in office. We have started. We have made a darned good start and it has been recognized by the mining industry. We have made a darned good start in a number of areas, and we'll continue to do that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister went on at great length about how she has been involved in this for quite a number of years and has earned the trust and respect of the placer mining industry. I was just wondering if she could point to one positive initiative that she has been involved in and brought to fruition since she has gained office or before she was in the position she currently holds, as a backbencher in the Liberal ranks in the official opposition.
Could the minister please point to one positive initiative that has come to fruition during that time?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, the most obvious is the most recent YMIP enhancements; that has come to fruition. That money is in the supplementary budget. There were 90-plus applications that had been previously turned down; we were able to fund over half of those. There's one.
Previous work to that, I was the only member of the House who wrote to the federal minister - there's a provision for a forgiveness of expenses - and took up that case with the federal government. And in the end, we were able to work through that with the federal officials in terms of mining. The income tax cut, which was tabled in this House and passed in this Legislature, was talked about for four years; we did it. We did it within the first three months of taking office.
We have an economic impact benefit agreement negotiated.
Some of the other initiatives prior to my even being elected are well-documented, and I would invite the member opposite to ask his constituents in the placer mining community about them. Some of the other announcements and work that we have done - the Mining Environment Research Group. There have been five projects that have been funded under that since the Liberal government took office. These projects - I'm not sure that the member's familiar with this - actually demonstrate cooperation between various stakeholders involved in the industry, and what they do is that they advance the scientific information. This is a project that - scientific information that has been available. And I'm sure if the member opposite would care to consult any of these - and I note that the Klondike Placer Miners Association is one of them - they would advise the member opposite that there have been a number of initiatives that have come to fruition.
Mr. Jenkins: Given the length of time that the minister had to consult with her officials to figure out what she had been involved in and what was actually of a positive nature, it gives some indication of the successes that we have had in the mining sector, Mr. Chair. There haven't been any. These initiatives of funding various groups and organizations, while they do stimulate the economy in some respects, they are of short-term duration. The additional funding to mineral exploration, while appreciated, is exhausted in a very short period of time. The chances of benefits accruing to Yukon as a consequence of that small an amount - a quarter of a million dollars of additional mineral exploration - and given the order of magnitude of mineral exploration in some of the other jurisdictions in Canada, it doesn't usually result in any major findings, although there could be.
With respect to the personal income tax cut that was an initiative brought forward by the previous NDP government - and it bears note, Mr. Chair, that the Yukon Liberals are only approving the first initial part. One only has to take the bill that passed this House and the previous bill that the NDP government brought to this House and contrast them on the back page as to the time frame for implementation of further cuts. Contrasting to what the Liberals have proposed, it is a one-time $750,000 deduction in personal income tax receipts to the Yukon government versus, I believe, five times that amount under the NDP government. So that is quite a contrast. That is a $3-million difference, and if the Premier is looking for somewhere to pick up an additional $3 million as Finance minister, there is one example of where she could pick up an additional $3 million.
Let's go on to another area. Let's look at oil and gas. Now, let's look at the agreement between the Kaska and the Government of Yukon. That will allow for the possibility of oil and gas exploration in southeast Yukon. What about in the northern part of Yukon? What arrangements have been arrived at with the Vuntut Gwitchin with respect to oil exploration, and let's specifically look at the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou herd. What arrangements have been agreed to between Yukon and Vuntut Gwitchin, or are there not going to be any oil leases let up in the northern part of Yukon? Potential is great in the northern part of Yukon. The potential is great. In fact, Mr. Chair, it is probably fantastic in southeast Yukon, but the fact that there is no exploration being undertaken in those respective areas is because of the First Nations. In one case, they are reluctant to allow oil exploration or gas exploration on the winter calving range of the Porcupine caribou herd.
Fine. Now, in southeast Yukon, we only have to cross the border into the Northwest Territories to see how active oil and gas exploration is in that area. We only have to go over there and have a look, Mr. Chair, and see the involvement of the First Nations from the Northwest Territories in those initiatives in their jurisdiction. It's unbelievable. It was done with the respective Government of the Northwest Territories and the various First Nations residing in that area cooperating. They are both singing from the same songsheet. They have conveyed that message to the principals in the oil and gas industry and lobbied them very effectively. They have come in to their areas, explored for oil and gas, and found tremendous deposits. The ultimate benefit will be to the people of the Northwest Territories.
The same holds true for Alaska. We are sitting right in the middle, so it would be and should be recongized, Mr. Chair, that the potential for oil and gas exploration exists to the same level. Why haven't we been able to attract oil and gas exploration? We've offered leases for sale - Anderson has a considerable number of them; they've come to the party and plunked down their deposit, and it's not a trifling amount of money we are talking about. They have a commitment for $20 million. But, at the end of the day, when they explore, they want to be sure that they are going to be allowed to extract the product, take it to market, sell it and make a profit.
The agreement in southeast Yukon only allows for the exploration. It doesn't carry forward from there.
So, we have the mineral industry in the Yukon, both placer and hard rock, on its knees, probably going to be extinct, and next year we'll probably see the demise of the Viceroy mining operation in Dawson. So the last remaining mine will probably be closing after next season, Mr. Chair.
I don't think that comes as a shock to anyone who knows the mineral industry, but the impact that closure will have on my community will be a very devastating one. I don't believe the minister has even given it any consideration as to what steps she could take to mitigate its eventual closure or its pending closure or to look at what can be done to enhance this operation.
You only have to cross the border into Alaska where Canadian mining operators are doing very well - and, as the Premier correctly pointed out, the mineral exploration activity in the State of Alaska is down this year. Yes, it is. It's still about 100 times more active in Alaska, if you convert U.S. dollars to Canadian dollars, than it is here in the Yukon. What is appalling, Mr. Chair, is that virtually 75 to 80 percent of that mineral exploration is being undertaken by Canadian mining companies, with money raised on the VSE and TSE. It's interesting to note that.
So, let's go back to oil and gas. What steps are we going to be taking to get oil and gas leases sold in the northern part of Yukon and drill rigs working there - seismic initially, then drill rigs and the activity associated with that? What arrangements have been reached with the Vuntut Gwitchin, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have indicated previously in this House what consultation work was ongoing with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation government, the Tetlit Gwitch'in, the Nacho Nyak Dun and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in with regard to the call for nominations and where we were at in the public process with respect to that.
The member opposite is asking about oil and gas exploration in the north Yukon. Anderson Exploration has two permits, and there is a commitment of an expenditure for oil and gas exploration work on those two permits, and the Yukon government is working with Anderson Exploration, the Vuntut Gwitchin and the Nacho Nyak Dun regarding benefit agreements and working with Anderson's workplan for northern Yukon. In this regard, there are efforts by the Government of Yukon to work with the First Nation government and with the community at large.
Mr. Jenkins: I did ask the Premier what arrangements have been reached with the Vuntut Gwitchin. What arrangements have been reached? I know we are still having ongoing negotiations, but what arrangements have been reached? Has anything been concluded, or is everything still up in the air?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: We are in the process of working with the Vuntut Gwitchin on the next land sale, and Anderson is working with the Vuntut Gwitchin, and I will discuss with the company the current status of Anderson's work with the Vuntut Gwitchin and provide the member with a written response.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, but the question still begs an answer. What arrangements have been reached between the Yukon government and Vuntut Gwitchin for oil and gas exploration in northern Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Anderson Exploration permits are there. They have them; they hold them - they have two permits. If the member is asking me if I have reached an agreement with the Vuntut Gwitchin with respect to Anderson, if the Government of Yukon has reached an economic impact agreement with Anderson and the VGFN, the answer is no.
Mr. Jenkins: Moreso, it was the Liberal position that they did not want to see oil and gas exploration on the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou. Now, how is this impacting on their permits?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite is trying to bootleg in a number of issues. Anderson has two permits; they have them and had them before we took office. They have two permits for oil and gas exploration over the next six years.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the issue still remains that it was a Liberal position that they did not want to see oil and gas exploration on the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou herd. What arrangements has the Yukon government come to with the Vuntut Gwitchin in this regard?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member is not using the full extent of that particular quote. I have spent far more time with the people of Old Crow in the last years as leader of the official opposition and as Premier than the member opposite has. I've been in the community, listening to what the people have to say, working with the chief and the duly elected First Nation government. There is, with respect to a call for nominations in oil and gas land sales, a very clearly laid-out, legislated public consultation process.
That public consultation process starts with government-to-government consultation. I have initiated the letters. I have planned a visit to the community of Old Crow.
Mr. Jenkins: So, Mr. Chair, the question then becomes: has this Liberal government changed its position? Are they now in favour of allowing oil and gas exploration on the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou herd?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: This government is following the process. There has been no change in our position.
Mr. Jenkins: So, on one hand the government is saying that they do not want to see oil and gas exploration on the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou herd, but on the other hand they're saying that there is a due process for applying for permits and going in and doing the respective exploration work. At the end of the day, when push comes to shove, we might not allow you to develop that or go any further because we are opposed to any activity on the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou herd. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, what this member said and what this member is now saying is that we support the Vuntut Gwitchin and we want to work with the people, with the Vuntut Gwitchin. The quote was - and I have asked that it be sent in so the member can read it in full - that until the people of the Vuntut Gwitchin want it to proceed, and want it to proceed means following the process, and that's what we're doing.
Mr. Jenkins: Sounds awful lots like doublespeak to me. It sounds like we're creating a wonderful way of circumventing all of the processes. On one hand we have a political belief and a political undertaking; on the other hand we have a process. I guess the exercise is to meld the two, and the overall guiding light is that we want to stimulate economic activity and economic growth.
Well, the light bulb that the Premier is shining on the process, Mr. Chair, is a very dim one indeed. And I guess that uncertainty is what's manifesting itself out in the industry, whether it be the oil and gas industry or the mining industry. The level of cooperation between the Yukon government and the federal government on the mining front doesn't seem to be paying any dividends for the mining industry here in the Yukon. It's doing a lot of good for mining exploration and development in Alaska, though, and Canadian mining companies are doing extremely well over there. There's the same potential here, but I guess we'll just mothball it and become the keeper of the gates to and from the Yukon.
Let's look at forestry, Mr. Chair, in southeast Yukon. When the rumbling started about the lack of timber quotas from the federal government in southeast Yukon, I waited a few days and then I brought forward a motion of urgent and pressing necessity in this House to deal with the forestry situation in southeast Yukon, which, through private investors, has done extremely well and has a tremendous potential.
But a sawmill needs timber, and timber is under the federal government's domain. To say that the federal government has been dragging its heels in regard to timber quota allocations would be probably quite an understatement. They have been dragging more than their heels, Mr. Chair.
The bottom line is that now we have an industry that was once viable and is considerably less so and, because of a lack of timber, has had to close its doors.
I would like to ask the minister why, when I presented this motion in the House - an urgent and pressing motion that was supported by the official opposition, and I certainly supported it, but the Liberal government of the day voted against it. It remains on the Order Paper, Mr. Chair. Why did the Liberals do that? I'm sure that the Premier could speak for the whole caucus as to why she instructed her caucus to vote against it.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, for the record, the member opposite should review March 4, 1999 Hansard, page 4383. My quote is: "I can tell you the position that was taken in the last election and the position that I took in my most recent meeting with a member of the Vuntut Gwitchin. My position, on behalf of our party, is that development should not proceed until the Vuntut Gwitchin is prepared for it to proceed. That was our position taken with the member of the Vuntut Gwitchin. I hope that clarifies that for the minister." That is the exact quote. I am working with the Vuntut Gwitchin - the people and the Vuntut Gwitchin government, as they represent the people of the community of Old Crow.
With respect to the motion, my understanding is that that motion was not called for a vote.
Mr. Jenkins: No, that motion wasn't even debated. It was vetoed by the Liberal government.
Mr. Chair, if you look back to the issue of the minister consulting with the Vuntut Gwitchin and go into the actual background information - and this is taken verbatim - you will see that "consult" or "consultation" means "to provide: a) to the party to be consulted, notice of a matter to be decided in sufficient form and detail to allow that party to prepare its views on the matter; b) a reasonable period of time in which the party to be consulted may prepare its views on the matter and an opportunity to present such views to the party obliged to consult; and c) full and fair consideration by the party obliged to consult of any views presented." That is what consultation with the Vuntut Gwitchin means, Mr. Chair. What it means is that, at the end of the day, the Premier still has the big stick. She can come back to this Legislature and say, "I have consulted with the residents in Old Crow; I have been to Old Crow, talked to all of the officials, talked to the chief, talked to the council, talked to the people, made numerous trips up there and consulted with them." But when you realize what consult and consultation means it is quite a different thing. It means that her views will prevail.
I don't want to belabour the issue of the Liberal position on the oil and gas exploration in the northern part of Yukon, but there are a lot of decisions to be made by this government, and they can't continue to sit on the fence. The fence is becoming narrower and narrower and narrower, until the decision as to which way the Liberal government is going to go will be decided for it. It's going to fall off one way or the other. The decision will be made for the government; they won't be in a position to make the decision.
On the offshore jurisdictional matter, I thank the Liberals for tabling the legislative return on that matter.
And offshore boundaries, in spite of what the Premier has stated previously in this House, are a very serious issue. And the boundaries in the northern part of Yukon, Mr. Chair, are still historical high-water marks; they still date back to the establishment of the Yukon as a distinct territory carved out of the Northwest Territories. Unlike the N.W.T. and Nunavut, Yukon doesn't have any offshore rights, and the Liberal Premier in our government has failed to take up the challenge and ensure that we have offshore rights.
At the end of the day, Mr. Chair, in order to provide certainty over a lot of matters, what it's going to take is a constitutional challenge. And the Premier might not like to hear those words, and might not like having to do battle with the federal Liberals, but I believe it's going to be ultimately her responsibility as the current Government Leader of Yukon to pursue that avenue.
Let's look at this legislative return that the Premier is just reading herself so she can get an understanding of where we're heading, Mr. Chair. There are two issues: the potential for oil and gas in that area, and the potential for a natural gas pipeline through that area. The natural gas pipeline through the northern part of Yukon is being strongly advocated by the First Nations in the Northwest Territories and by the Government of the Northwest Territories. The information I currently have is that they very much want to see the natural gas pipeline on the American side extend as far as Fairbanks, probably down to Valdez with a spur line over to Anchorage, down to the LNG plant in the Kenai.
It's just an economic exercise as to where it flows, if it flows to the east. Given that it's $1 billion-odd cheaper to put the pipeline across the northern part of Yukon versus along the Alaska Highway, I think it's extremely important that this challenge about offshore jurisdiction be taken up, and I'm very pleased that the department has commenced some activity in that regard.
There's also the issue of the boundary between Yukon and Alaska and the offshore waters - actually, it's not between Yukon; it's between Canada and the U.S. Does the Yukon have a position in that regard? Have they made representation to Canada, and has the minister any kind of indication as to the timelines for some sort of satisfactory resolution of that boundary, Mr. Chair? Because, again, it ties up some waters where there may be some potential for oil and gas deposits. It ties up some waters where a pipeline may or may not be installed.
So, just where are we at in that regard, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, that is an ongoing dispute that has been going on for many years, since before either the member opposite or I were members of this House. To my knowledge, that is an ongoing dispute.
Mr. Jenkins: There's normally no need to settle a dispute in high Arctic waters until there's an economic need to settle them, and there could potentially be an economic need. Is the Premier going to make representation to the Government of Canada, her Liberal friends in Ottawa, to see if we can at least move ahead on this front, or are we just going to sit on this one, too, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I have consistently spoken out on behalf of Yukoners on any number of issues and with respect to the offshore. With regard to any offshore economic development, I have spoken out on that as well and the member is very well aware of my position.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister table the correspondence she has sent to the federal government on these two initiatives, please? First, the boundary between Canada and the U.S. on the northwestern side of Yukon and also, on the offshore jurisdictional matters - if she could also table what correspondence she has had with federal officials or federal ministers in this regard.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There has been no correspondence. I have tabled, for the member opposite, two legislative returns in this matter. I have indicated publicly in the House our opposition to the northern Yukon routes - for which there are any of five different options - when I last spoke with the oil industry in this regard. I have consistently, clearly and publicly stated, for members of the industry, Yukoners and indeed all Canadians, our opposition to northern Yukon route, either offshore or mid-Yukon routes, for an oil or gas pipeline. I have stated that publicly and I said, at the outset of my remarks, that I was providing the members opposite with a compilation of the media interviews which highlight that information.
I'm advised that, recently in Ontario, there was a rather lengthy documentary about northern pipelines and the opposition of the Yukon to these northern routes was highlighted in that.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, we don't negotiate new boundaries for Yukon through the media. That is an initiative that has to be taken up directly with the federal government.
The minister, in this legislative return, in her first paragraph, states that the Yukon government is also vigorously pursuing available avenues to assert its authority in the offshore. And yet, Mr. Chair, she hasn't written one letter to the federal officials in this regard - not one letter. I have asked her to table them and she says she hasn't written any. Now, just what does "vigorously pursuing available avenues" mean, or this is just some more fluff?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it denotes work that is being done at the officials level; it is not referring to letters that I personally as Premier have signed.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, has there been any correspondence between officials in the Government of Yukon and Ottawa in this regard, and if there has been, could she table those letters?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have indicated on many occasions that I am more than prepared to share information with the member opposite, and I will be delighted to do so.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, before we leave that, I do say that this is an extremely important issue for Yukon - our northern offshore boundaries. It's one that the current Liberal government does not buy into for probably purely political reasons. They don't want to affront their political friends in Ottawa.
Now, I can understand the previous NDP position of not wanting to pursue it, in that they hoped to have the process of transfer of the various authorities completed during their last term of office and it just didn't occur, and had they delayed by pursuing this offshore initiative, it would have further held up the transfer from Canada to Yukon of the various areas now contained under Indian and Northern Affairs.
So, at least the NDP had a reason and justification for not pursuing this initiative, Mr. Chair. The Liberal position for not pursuing it appears to be for purely partisan, political reasons and nothing to do with the betterment and enhancement of Yukon. I urge the minister to take up the challenge and do what she says is being done in this legislative return, vigorously pursuing available avenues. I would suggest to the minister that that means taking it upon herself as Minister of Economic Development and Premier of the Yukon to write to officials in Ottawa and move this along as quickly as possible. At the same time, she should ask what is transpiring with the border between Alaska and Yukon, or Canada and the U.S.
Where are we with this dispute and resolution of that dispute? All it would take is a letter. Several letters might help, or some follow-up telephone calls, or is the cost of calls to Ottawa too much these days, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I thank the member for his representations.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm sure she'll put it in file 13 and do as she pleases.
Let's go back to forestry and southeast Yukon. The motion I tabled to deal with the issue was vetoed by the Liberal government. It has grown in importance and magnitude. We now have over 125 people out of work, a payroll of some quarter of a million dollars every pay period non-existent, because there is no timber quota in that area. This is because this government would not take it upon itself to fight for the industry in that area and secure the timber allocation.
In fact, when it was initially broached, the Premier correctly pointed to the Minister of Economic Development and indicated that he was the point on the Liberal government's initiative, and he was barely aware of the individuals and had recently attended Watson Lake and hadn't even paid a visit to the mill - that was my understanding, Mr. Chair - and hadn't even met with officials of that undertaking, which now, or then - up to a couple of weeks ago - was the single, largest private sector employer in Yukon.
I have been doing some checks with people I know in the industry in the southern part of Canada, primarily in British Columbia, and the sawmill industry is bumping on hard times. The Province of British Columbia has probably lost favour or faith with the Japanese market, and the U.S. market is looking at a more secure supply. They're looking to other areas of Canada for security of supply and, as a consequence, the demand has dropped off and lumber prices are plummeting. I'm sure there's going to be some initiative made, or some request made to the government, for assistance in one form or another by this company in southeast Yukon - an initiative that I'm sure we could gain all-party support for if it was correctly structured and done, Mr. Chair. But I was wondering if officials within the department had done an analysis of the value of a sawmill without timber rights, and what steps the Premier and her government are taking to ensure that there is an adequate supply of sawlogs to keep this mill going. It's the bottom line. It's like having a nice big mine with no ore to mill. We have a nice big sawmill - a very efficient, modern one - and no sawlogs to cut. It's great. And in both cases, where did the responsibility lie? With the federal government dragging their heels, or whatever they're dragging.
What steps has the Premier taken to do an assessment of the market, an assessment of the potential and the viability of that mill, and obtaining timber rights in a quantity that's sufficient to maintain this mill for as long a period of time as possible, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have already stated, in answer to the Member for Watson Lake, that the Minister of Renewable Resources - the member opposite continually refers to the Minister of Renewable Resources as the Minister of Economic Development. That's as completely inaccurate as most of his other judgmental statements that preceded all his other questions this afternoon.
The Government of Yukon has taken an active role in working with the federal government, which now has control over the forestry resource. The Government of Canada has responsibility for the forestry resource.
One of the key issues is the allocation of timber. The Minister of Renewable Resources is actively working with the Government of Canada to ensure there is an adequate supply of timber made available. The minister has indicated his work and his efforts to the federal minister responsible and has worked very diligently at the officials level, as have his officials.
In terms of the review of a request for assistance, the Government of Yukon will fairly evaluate any request for assistance and the Government of Yukon recognizes and supports the contribution of South Yukon Forest Corporation to the economy of Yukon and of Watson Lake.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, it won't be going very far to contribute to the economy of Yukon unless it receives some assistance by way of timber quotas from the federal government and probably some assistance from Government of Yukon. It will end up being another shutdown operation.
If I could move into infrastructure development with the Premier, I would like to ask - and I know we have been through ports so I won't go into that area - about airports. Have there been any initiatives within the department to attract other scheduled carriers or any Yukon-based carriers to service other areas of the Yukon? Watson Lake, for one, is out of the loop. Any requests would probably go through a number of departments, and I am sure that Economic Development would be where it would end up. There is an opportunity to either acquire Canadian Regional Airlines routes to the north that are currently on the block, or to parallel existing routes and include Whitehorse, Watson Lake and a scheduled carrier to the south. Can the minister advise the House what initiatives are taking place in this regard, if any, or is this something else that is in the bottom of the wastebasket?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there is an issue generally for all Yukoners concerning air access and air service, and it is particularly noticeable in communities such as Watson Lake, and we as a Cabinet take this matter very seriously and have assigned the responsibility for this matter to the Minister of Tourism. There have been no initiatives, and the member opposite is suggesting that the Government of Yukon should consider buying an airline. That is not something that the Department of Economic Development is considering at this time.
Mr. Jenkins: No one is suggesting that the Government of Yukon buy an airline or the minister would be using it constantly to go to Calgary and Vancouver, so we won't go there. I'm aware of at least one initiative by one scheduled carrier that has approached the Government of Yukon for assistance in flying a route that would go south out of Whitehorse and connect to the major centres of either Vancouver or Edmonton. That is in the Economic Development portfolio. I just want to know, has this approach been given due consideration? Is it being looked upon favourably? Because it could be extended to take in Watson Lake and connect Watson Lake with the south as it has been in the past. Unless we have an efficient transportation corridor, which includes scheduled carriers, we are not going to be moving ahead as a territory.
One only has to contrast Vancouver-Ottawa or east-west travel in Canada with north-south on a cost-per-seat mile and you will see that north-south is almost double what it is east-west in Canada. It doesn't matter which carrier you look at. You can look at the previous Canadian Airlines or you could look at Air Canada and Air Canada connectors or you could look at Canadian Regional. It was always the same. North-south travel was considerably more costly on a per-seat-mile basis than east-west. It's an area that is completely within the Economic Development portfolio. At least it used to be. It might have been shuffled off to Buffalo. Is the minister aware of this initiative? I'm sure the department officials can apprise her of this initiative and where are we at? Is it being looked upon favourably or not?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I thank the member opposite for his lecture on transportation needs in Canada and the north. There has been no approach made to this government and to this Department of Economic Development. I, too, have heard the suggestions; they have been suggestions only. The owner of the airlines and individuals have not approached me or my officials in the Department of Economic Development. There has been no approach made. There may have been an approach made to the previous government, but there has been no approach made to this government.
Mr. Jenkins: So the minister is saying that if the approach has been made it was made to a previous minister in a previous government and it's not applicable to this government now, even though it might have been made directly to the department. Is that what the Premier is saying?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, let me be more direct for the member opposite. I have not, nor have my officials, received any representations since this government took office - from anyone - on possible assistance on work in this regard. That has not happened. Were it to happen, were it to be brought to my attention, it would, of course, receive due consideration, fair and equitable, as all Yukoners' views do.
Mr. Jenkins: So if it were in the system before this government took power, is it now a dead issue? Does this individual have to come forward again with a whole new game plan or can it be looked upon as having been in the system before this government took power? When does the department stop functioning, or does everything come to a grinding halt when governments change? I know it does not, so something in the system would flow through the system, Mr. Chair, and I'm sure the Premier would be apprised of it.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite knows, or ought to know that, for example, ministerial records are sealed when a government changes. There have not been any representations made to me about this and if there was a representation made to the previous minister, I don't have it.
If the member is talking about representations made to the Department of Economic Development, my understanding is that there may have been a representation made to Community and Transportation Services under the previous government. There is nothing in the system right now and if the people that the member opposite is talking about were to make representations, of course, they would receive fair consideration. That is the objective after all, isn't it? Isn't this about providing good government to Yukoners? Isn't this about economic development in this territory? If that is the case, and I know it to be, then that means that if there is a suggestion out there, of course it should come forward. There isn't one currently in the system.
The Minister of Community and Transportation Services has advised me that she has received representation from an air carrier about a suggestion. There was no Economic Development proposal made and that is what the member opposite is asking about.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I happen to know that it was targeted at Economic Development, it went to C&TS and it also was in the Department of Tourism, so all three departments were involved, but Economic Development was a lead agency.
Well, I can't speak for the Premier. I am sure that my information is very, very reliable and, in fact, in most cases, I do check my information before I raise an issue in this House as the minister well knows.
So, Mr. Chair, the issue is one of providing adequate scheduled service into Yukon and including Watson Lake in the loop.
Let me put it to the minister in a different way: if such a proposal were to come forth again, or if the individual were to have C&TS or Tourism transfer it over to Economic Development and ask their officials for their assistance, I guess then the Premier would be aware of it and give it the due consideration that she deems appropriate and we would move on. But the whole program is in the government there somewhere. I don't know why it has gone to the extent that it has and why the Premier is not aware of it, but I know it is in C&TS and I know it's in Tourism, and I knew it was also sent over to Economic Development. I guess it just disappeared in the internal mail, so we'll leave it at that.
Let's move on to the immigrant investor fund. Just where are we with this initiative? How much money is in the kitty? Where are we looking at investing that kind of money?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The current immigrant investor fund, also known as the Yukon government fund, is conservatively estimating 75 units. It will be sold after applications are processed by the federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration. This leads to total gross proceeds of $19 million, 70 percent of which are available for direct investments in the Yukon.
The Yukon government fund board of directors has approved financing totalling $11 million for the Connect Yukon project. A first advance of $1.7 million has already been invested in the project, and $2,125,000 will be available for other investment projects. That's an approximate figure, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: I didn't get an opportunity to delve into great detail on the Connect Yukon initiative with the current minister now responsible for that area, but I was just wondering how the Government of Yukon is going to guarantee the rate of return that's mandated on this immigrant investor fund. Is it just being backstopped by the Government of Yukon, or are these investment initiatives required to be paid back? This investment in telecommunication infrastructure, we are told, is a grant according to Northwestel. How is the payback going to occur? Is it going to be by the taxpayers or the ratepayers? Under the terms and conditions of the immigrant investor fund, there has to be a payback and there has to be interest paid on those funds. Where's that going to originate from, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there are a number of points that the member needs to be reminded of with respect to the immigrant investor fund, or the Yukon government fund, and some of those points include that this is under federal guidelines for provincially regulated funds; it's a government-administered program, and I will provide the exact repayment terms in written form to the minister opposite as I do not have all the details with respect to the Connect Yukon investment in front of me. I'll provide those in detail to him in writing.
Mr. Jenkins: I certainly appreciate the constant reference by the Premier to me as a minister. That is probably telling of the level of competence being displayed by the third party and that it's duly recognized, so I'd like to pay tribute and thank the Premier for her ongoing reference to me as a minister.
If we look at this immigrant investor fund, there is a requirement under the terms and conditions that the Yukon borrows these funds, that interest be paid on them and that the principal would be secured. Before entering into any investment - and the order of magnitude of this investment is some $11 million. Given the minimum interest rates that are mandated on this investment by the federal government, just where are these interest payments coming from? Is it out of general revenues of the Government of Yukon? Or is Northwestel providing a repayment? According to the information and the documents I have, the Connect Yukon money is flowing to Northwestel as a form of a grant. It's not a loan; it's a grant.
It's an outright, upfront, capital contribution, over a period of time. So, just where is the interest and repayment coming from? The taxpayers or the ratepayers?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: In answer to some of the member's questions, the funding arrangement is the loan and principal, and the interest rate is at two percent. Of the fund itself, 70 percent is for investment, 30 percent is for treasury bills and more secure investment. There is not a Government of Yukon guarantee. It is not allowed under the federally regulated fund. As to the exact repayment terms for the Connect Yukon project, I will endeavour to find out that information at the break and provide it to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it's a requirement of the immigrant investor fund that interest be paid and the principal be repaid over time. Now, the effective interest rate is very, very low, as the Premier has stated and indicated. But with the $11 million that is provided to Northwestel over the next period of time for the Connect Yukon initiative, the understanding of Northwestel is that that is a grant - it's a capital contribution - and I'm sure even the minister responsible for that is not even aware of the terms and conditions associated with that transfer of funds to Northwestel but, as a taxpayer and a ratepayer, and a responsible one, I am. As a critic, I am very, very concerned as to how that $11 million is going to be repaid to this immigrant investor fund and how the two-percent interest is going to be repaid.
Perhaps we could stop for a little break now, Mr. Chair, so the Premier can get that information and we can deal with it right after the break?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I am very pleased that the member takes his responsibilities regarding repayment of loans so seriously.
I have already stated that the Connect Yukon funds, the repayment, is information that the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, who has responsibility for this project, will provide to me, and I will in turn provide it to the member opposite after the break.
This is that minister's responsibility, and she will be more than happy to provide the information. I would thank the member to refrain from further disparaging remarks about the minister who does not have the detail at her immediate fingertips. This is not, after all, her department's debate.
I suggest we take the break.
Chair: Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with the general debate on Economic Development.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I am advised over the break that the repayment on the Connect Yukon project is a line item in the Government Services department budget debate, and we have cleared that department.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, how interesting. Here we have an initiative spread over three departments and the lead department is Department of Economic Development. They are the ones that are responsible for receiving the fund, setting up the program and investing the money, and Government Services has the funds to allocate and, it would appear, to repay. Also, the responsibility has been transferred from Government Services for the Connect Yukon initiative to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
And the transfer from Government Services to Community and Transportation Services was a Liberal undertaking. Had one not been on top of things, it would have slipped through the cracks. I'm concerned, Mr. Chair, that here we have $11 million out of $19 million flowing basically to Northwestel. Northwestel has been - and I'm sure, after a comparison of this year's financial statements made with other telephone companies, it will remain the most profitable telephone company in Canada based on return on its assets. I can understand the reason for pushing the telephone company to improve their service, and CRTC has mandated them to improve their services.
As her department, Mr. Chair, and as the Department of Economic Development is responsible for repayment of this money - well, I'm led to believe now that the Department of Economic Development just receives the money. Now, what is done with it? Perhaps the minister could trace out the pattern as to how this immigrant investor fund flows through the various government agencies and how it flows internally in the government, so I am enlightened, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I was just reconfirming that the Department of Economic Development took the lead role in establishing the immigrant investor fund. Once the fund was successful and established, the Yukon government fund board of directors was set up and established to administer the immigrant investor fund. So what has happened is that the Department of Economic Development has an idea that, for this to generate a new and significant source of capital - and it's for the growth and expansion of local businesses - the Yukon government fund board of directors is put in place. The Yukon government fund board of directors approves the applications for funding and approves the financing arrangements; that's the way that the fund is set up.
Further details in terms of the actual - prospectus is the wrong word - documents in terms of recruiting investors and so on were provided by the previous government to the previous opposition, and I know that that's publicly available.
Certainly, the tests for investment in terms of citizenship and immigration regulations are passed prior to any investment being accepted by the Yukon government fund. So, there is, if you will, an approval mechanism at both ends through the Yukon government fund.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not concerned, Mr. Chair, with the attraction of the immigrants to this initiative. I'm concerned with how the Government of Yukon invests this money and how it's going to be repaid. It would appear that there's an arm's-length body set up.
Now, just how arm's length is that body? Who sits on the board of directors? Who do they take directions from and what are the guidelines for all of this Yukon government fund board of directors? Under what department is it and where does it report to the Government of the Yukon? Does it report directly to the Premier or the Department of Finance? What are the checks and balances on this Yukon government fund?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The board of directors is composed of the Assistant Deputy Minister of Finance, the Deputy Minister of Justice and the Deputy Minister of Economic Development, and the Yukon government fund reports to the Minister of Economic Development.
Mr. Jenkins: So, it's an in-house agency of government. Who appoints the board of directors?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: They are order-in-council appointments, to the best of my knowledge. I would remind the member opposite that it was not this government that set it up. This was a pre-existing arrangement, and it has not changed. I am providing the member opposite with information.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm just looking for the accountability side of the ledger. The minister, Mr. Chair, has conveniently passed the buck to Government Services for the repayment side of the equation. It would appear that the funds that flow out could flow out under the direction of this board of directors to any initiatives that conform to the terms and conditions set out by whom? Who sets out the terms and conditions as to what can be invested in? The minister said any local business. The shareholders of Northwestel are not a local business. There could be local shareholders in the parent company of Northwestel, but it's certainly not a local business. So, we can eliminate that part of the equation. So, who sets out where these funds can be invested?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The board of directors.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, there have to be terms and conditions provided to the board of directors as to where and how they can invest. All the Premier has said is local businesses, and I pointed out correctly to the Premier that Northwestel is not a local business. So, there have to be broader terms of reference as to what can be invested in than what the minister has currently advised the House.
Who sets the terms of reference - the board of directors? That would be highly unusual. There has to be some sort of lending guidelines that are provided to them. There are the federal lending guidelines, but there have to be some internal lending guidelines set, I would imagine, in addition. I am sure that, given whom this board of directors consists of, that there is also political direction. Is that political direction provided directly by the Minister of Economic Development to this board?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, funding guidelines and the federal guidelines, as well as the territorial guidelines, were set in place before this government took office. I will provide that information to the member opposite in a legislative return. The member is trying to infer that there has been some new political direction set for this fund. That is not the case. I will provide the member with a legislative return on the guidelines and on the accountability structure, just as promised before the break and just as I'm committing to now.
Mr. Jenkins: Given that Government Services has a line item in it for the repayment of this indebtedness, one would conclude then - and I'm sure the Minister of Economic Development and the Minister of Finance would have to concur - that this initiative is being funded directly by the Yukon tax base. Is that the case?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I am not going to agree with the member until such time as I have gone through the details of the funding guidelines and how this was set up, in response to that particular question. The member is asking me about guidelines, about a specific project and asked for the repayment terms. They were noted to me by the Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Development officials. I have committed, in a legislative return, that I will provide the member opposite with the guidelines and regulations and information surrounding this fund. I have said I would provide it in a legislative return and I will do so.
Mr. Jenkins: I would just like to get on the record, Mr. Chair, that if a line item appears in a budget, it is in fact funded by Yukon taxpayers. Is that not the case? It's funded by Yukon taxpayers and transfer payments in one form or another. Is that the case? Yes or no?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I don't see how that particular question pertains to the Economic Development debate. However, what I would advise the member is that, in Finance, for example, or in the overall budget summary, the list of revenues of this territorial government - the Canada health and social transfer, for example, and transfers from Canada - recoveries and territorial revenue - it's all taxpayers' money. It's public money. If that's the answer the member is looking for, I trust I have provided it.
Mr. Jenkins: So at the end of the day, Mr. Chair, we will have provided $11 million to Northwestel and we are paying the tab on it. That's what one would conclude. There will be $11 million ultimately provided to Northwestel, and the Government of Yukon is going to be debt-servicing it.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite has been known to leap to all kinds of conclusions before - all kinds of conclusions. I have said to the member opposite that we will provide details on the Yukon government fund, and we will provide details on the specific projects that have been funded. We will provide that, so prior to the member opposite reaching any kind of nefarious conclusions, I would strongly recommend that he examine the legislative return prior to doing so. We will provide that in a timely manner, and we will do that as expeditiously as possible.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I have a suggestion to the Premier: can we stand aside this department and go back into it on Wednesday after we get a legislative return and have a chance to look at it.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, absolutely not. The Yukon government fund is not a line item in this particular department. We have passed through the Department of Government Services. If the member opposite was asleep at the switch, that's not my problem; it's the member's problem.
We are here to debate the Department of Economic Development. I'm delighted to do that. I have promised the member opposite a timely legislative return on the Yukon government fund funding guidelines. The member may find this incredibly humorous. I personally am focused on the wise and sound expenditure of government money; that's what we're trying to do, and that's what we're trying to debate. If the member has a specific question about the Department of Economic Development, I'll be happy to answer it.
Mr. Jenkins: I have questions directly under the Department of Economic Development. They deal with the immigrant investor fund that that department has flowed out through an internal entity and subsequently flowed out internally to another department, shuffled it off to another department, and it takes awhile to work out the maze of these payments - where they go and where the money flows, Mr. Chair.
All I'm looking for is to understand this new Liberal way of conducting business. It takes awhile to understand where everything is flowing, but at the end of the day I'm sure we'll all have an understanding that $11 million out of $19 million of this immigrant investor fund has flowed through the Yukon government fund, which has an internal board of directors that reports directly to the Minister of Economic Development, to Northwestel for the Connect Yukon initiative.
Now, the Connect Yukon initiative was initially under Government Services, and the line item in Government Services is the repayment schedule to meet the debt obligation on those funds. But the responsibility for Connect Yukon has been transferred from Government Services to the Department of Community and Transportation Services by this new Liberal government. This is the new Liberal way, Mr. Chair.
All I'm concerned with is who is paying the repayment schedule on this investment, if we can call it such, because according to Northwestel, it's not an investment. It's a grant. It's an outright capital contribution. So, to call it an investment is a real stretch. What the minister is saying, Mr. Chair, is that we're giving money to that company and we're debt servicing.
That's not an investment by any stretch of the imagination. That is classified as a gift, a grant, or an outright capital contribution, but in no way and by no stretch of the imagination could it ever be classified as an investment. An investment has a repayment term attached to it that is paid for by the recipient of the investment. This one doesn't, Mr. Chair. The government of Yukon is debt servicing this one. It provides the funds and then debt-services it internally - nice game plan.
If we wanted to get into the telecommunications business, there was an opportunity to buy Northwestel. There was an opportunity to buy it a number of years ago, and for the amount of money that could be acquired at the time - I believe Tony Penikett was the Premier at the time. For less than $200 million, one could have acquired all of the assets at that time of Northwestel. To date, I am sure that the Government of Yukon has invested over $200 million in outright gifts or capital contributions to Northwestel.
So we will leave this alone. I'll await this wonderful legislative return on this initiative, but I am sure we will have a look at it this fall, and I am sure that Yukoners will be more aware of where this immigrant investor fund has been spending its money.
Are there any other initiatives before the board for investment? I'm sure investments have to have the okay of the minister before they proceed, Mr. Chair. How else would an initiative of some $11 million be dealt with on Connect Yukon? It was initially a political decision to get involved in all these areas, so political direction must have been given at numerous points along this path before the money flowed to Northwestel. I'm looking forward to receiving the agreements between Yukon and Northwestel on this Connect Yukon initiative. I've been promised those by the minister responsible, Mr. Chair, and we'll look at it this fall in general debate.
Before we leave this area, what other initiatives are before this Yukon government board - or Yukon government authorized group of individuals - for investment purposes? What else is in the works, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There are no other applications that I, as Minister of Economic Development, am aware of, Mr. Chair. The member opposite needs to be reminded that the Connect Yukon decision, and the Yukon government fund were established by a prior government. We have committed to ensuring the member opposite has the details he requires, and we will do that. There are no other applications at present that I am aware of.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, while we are researching this initiative, I'd appreciate receiving the application from Northwestel for these funds, because I'm sure there has to be a whole set of initiatives there - they're public documents, Mr. Chair - so there would have to be, as the minister referred to, an application from some individual, or some entity for these funds.
As the funds flow to Northwestel, along with the appropriate agreements, I would ask that the Premier provide a copy of their applicable application for this $11-odd million. Can the minister undertake to do so, please?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, public information is made available to the members. It is made available in a timely manner. We have undertaken to provide the member opposite with public information, and we will do that. Just because the member opposite assumes it is public, that may not be the case. There are confidentiality issues. It is also my responsibility to respect those, and I will do that. Where there is information available that is public, I will be certain that the member opposite receives it. I will not provide information that is confidential, however, and the member needs to be reminded of that.
Mr. Jenkins: So what the Premier is saying is that we have a public utility, which operates a monopoly in the Yukon and other northern jurisdictions, and is guaranteed a rate of return by CRTC, and it has received $11 million of taxpayers' funds - or it will be receiving in total some $11 million of taxpayers' funds - and their application for these funds may or may not be confidential. That's quite a stretch, Mr. Chair. I would urge the minister to reconsider her position on this issue and provide the requested application for these funds. Will she do so?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, public information will be publicly provided.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, well this does not appear under the contract registry. Why doesn't it?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, does the member have an Economic Development question?
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I certainly do. The immigrant investor fund is under this minister. The board that is set up to disburse these funds is set up under this minister and we have learned that it reports to this minister, so this minister would be ultimately responsible for any expenditure of funds. Now, the question to the minister is, why does this arrangement between Northwestel and the Government of Yukon not appear under the contract registry for Economic Development?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite has asked for information. I have said that I would provide that information. I've said that public information would be provided in a very public way to the member opposite. What more the member is seeking I am at a loss to try and understand. Why is the member opposite suggesting that I would provide less than the full information? I have committed to him throughout this entire afternoon that I will provide the public information, I will provide it in a timely manner. Look at the information; I will be happy to answer any of the questions.
I would urge the member, as opposed to leaping to a conclusion, to look at the information that is going to be provided to him. I will examine this information as well to ensure that I'm fully prepared for any of the questions the member might have. The member is talking about a decision that was reached by the immigrant investor fund prior to this minister becoming the Minister of Economic Development. Responsibility for the administration of that contract rests with the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, who is more than prepared to answer questions on that specific contract and that specific agreement.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member wants to go through the contract registry and ask, "Why isn't it in there? Why isn't it listed in Economic Development? Why isn't it wherever?
It's a decision that was made by a previous government. It is done. I said I would provide the member with a legislative return. What more does the member want?
Mr. Jenkins: I would like answers. I would like an understanding of how this money flowed, because it didn't conform to the normal procedures that are set out in government for the flow of funds. The contract registry has a listing of all the expenditures of all government funding, except for this one.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: It lists them when they're made and there's an announcement made by the government. It certainly does, Mr. Chair. The contract registry at the time that the arrangements are made lists every undertaking. That's a given. Now, this one somehow slips through the cracks, and any time Economic Development advances funds, whether it's a loan or something, they make an announcement to that effect - the amount of the loan and who it is going to. If it's a grant, they make an announcement of the amount of the loan and whom it is going to.
This initiative is not located in the contract registry. How did this amount slip through the cracks, Mr. Chair? How do we keep track of sums of money flowing out of the government? Where are all these figures of funds that flow out kept? Do we have another Liberal initiative like Jane Stewart had in Ottawa? Is that what we have, with funds flowing out and no accountability? How do we keep track, as opposition, of where the funds are flowing or where they are?
Now, all the minister is saying is, "Don't ask me, ask the NDP; they were the government that did it." But there is an issue here. We're dealing with $11 million here, Mr. Chair - $11 million given to what I believe to be the most profitable telephone company in North America and the taxpayers of the Yukon are debt-servicing this undertaking - great initiative.
I'd like to ask the minister once again how the arrangements for the transfer of the funds - how the cheque was cut, if there wasn't a contract recorded in contract registry. How was the cheque cut and how did it flow?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member's frame of reference is exactly correct - "was cut". Those details, exactly how this arrangement was struck, are details I have committed to provide the member in a legislative return. I have committed to providing it in a timely basis. I will do that.
As for the accounting of funds, the member has an opportunity and had, last night in Executive Council Office, an opportunity to discuss the functioning of the Bureau of Internal Audit with me, and he chose to gloss over it. That's one very good example of how funds are accounted for throughout government, and it's a commitment that this government is ensuring will be in place, something that has been absent for the previous two governments.
We are fully prepared to do that. We are ever cognizant - every single day and every hour of every single day - that we are entrusted with public money, hard-earned, taxpayers' public money. We are more than prepared to fully account for it on the floor of this Legislature and in the public throughout the communities of Yukon and with the people of Yukon. To that end, the member is asking me how an expenditure occurred and I have committed to the member opposite that I will provide as much detail as I am able, in writing, to ensure there are absolutely no questions remaining other than why a political decision was made - and he's right; he'll have to ask his political, new-found friends that question. I have said I will provide the member with the details on how an expenditure occurred, and I am prepared to do that. What more information can possibly be provided to the member opposite? I'm sorry I don't know how many angels dance on the head of a pin, but I'll try and find that out, too.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess the record will have to accurately reflect that we have the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Economic Development, the minister responsible for ECO and the internal audit function and the Premier of the Yukon all in one individual, and she's not aware of the internal flow of funds to the various projects. We'll await this wonderful legislative return that's going to spell this all out. I can't, for the life of me, even begin to understand why any part of it would be confidential, given that we're dealing with a regulated monopoly, Northwestel; we're giving them a gift of $11 million and we're making all the repayments on it.
Let's move on, Mr. Chair, to some of the other parts of this program.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on Economic Development?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Corporate Services
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Administration in the amount of $930,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
Corporate Services in the amount of $930,000 agreed to
On Mineral and Oil and Gas Resources
Chair: Is there any general debate?
On Mineral Resources
Mineral Resources in the amount of $476,000 agreed to
On Oil and Gas Resources
Oil and Gas Resources in the amount of $1,575,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
Mineral and Oil and Gas Resources in the amount of $2,051,000 agreed to
On Corporate Policy
Chair: Is there any general debate?
On Strategic Management
Strategic Management in the amount of $1,547,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the allotments?
Corporate Policy in the amount of $1,547,000 agreed to
On Trade and Investment
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Are there any questions on the allotments?
Trade and Investment in the amount of $1,703,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the recoveries and revenue? Any questions on the transfer payments?
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Economic Development in the amount of $6,231,000 agreed to
Chair: We will proceed to capital.
On Capital Expenditures
On Corporate Services
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, just on the capital side of this Economic Development initiative, I again have some difficulty in the way the government defines capital. A lot of these costs that we are incurring here are one-time costs and they are not by any way of a capital nature. If you want to look at page 4-3, the Yukon mining incentive program is not a capital expenditure; it is an outright grant to individuals. If you want to look at the Alaska Highway pipeline analysis, it is at $100,000. How can this be classified as a capital expenditure? Capital usually denotes that you have a tangible asset in place and none of these, or a great majority of these expenditures, are not related to a tangible asset.
I was hoping that the Minister of Finance would have her officials review it. It doesn't really matter if this is on the O&M side or the capital side really, other than it doesn't conform to any known description, other than something probably dreamed up somewhere for a capital undertaking. Even the description in C&TS for capital is quite a stretch. But, this is rampant across the whole Government of Yukon, as to what constitutes a capital undertaking. I would urge the minister in her capacity of Minister of Finance to address this, not just in this portfolio, but across all government lines.
Will she do so?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, as leader of the official opposition, I was very concerned about this particular issue and asked, at that point in time, with respect to not only the delineation of capital, but also capitalization of assets - it is another discussion, as well. Those are items that we are fully prepared to examine and will be examining. To assure the member, we are looking at it.
The only point with which I might disagree with the member in terms of capital is the bad debt expense and capital loans. I suppose if we were to call those loans, because we didn't have them repaid, we might end up as the owners of some capital assets, so I suppose that correctly belongs in there, but the other, certainly we will take under advisement.
Mr. Jenkins: I suggest she follow normal routing banking procedure as to how to accrue and capitalize outstanding interest on long-term debt and indebtedness to the Government of Yukon. It's applicable to a great number of people in the Yukon, including one firm that I'm the owner of. It's on the public record.
So, standard accounting practices should prevail and accounting practices that are universally accepted. There seems to be one set of rules for government and one set of rules for the private sector. The only body looking over one's shoulder is Revenue Canada in the private sector, so you have to be very, very sure of how you classify your expenditures, whether they're of a capital nature or whether they're of an O&M nature. I would suggest that it would be much easier for members of this Legislature to follow something that parallels common and accepted business practices for accounting purposes.
The same goes for the internal audit. I'm familiar with the workings of internal audits in larger corporations and in smaller corporations - in both public and private.
It's an issue that I agree with the Premier on that there needs to be an internal audit function. Now, to what extent, I believe to the extent that we get a handle on our expenditures, because until one gets into detail in these budgets and starts tracking money around, it is a very, very difficult undertaking.
I would submit that we need to streamline our accounting practices, so that they conform more to generally accepted accounting principles and more closely parallel what happens in the real world.
The excuse that we don't have to report expenditures to Revenue Canada and we don't really have to worry about whether it's capital or not just doesn't wash. People have their minds set. A capital expenditure is usually for a tangible asset and in many cases that is not the case here.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I am fully familiar with generally accepted accounting principles - very familiar with them - and with the practices of the business world, as are many of my colleagues. One of the generally accepted accounting principles is the collection of outstanding loans, and we fully intend to do that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I guess if that was intended for me, in my direction, there's proper process and there are explanations. I only hope that the minister will not single me out and afford me the same privileges and the same courtesies as anyone else, because I'm sure that's what she was targeting, Mr. Chair, and I'm sure that's what she was aiming at.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have worked in small business and know what it's like for accounts receivable and accounts payable. My point is directed in the direction of Yukoners, that there is accounting for grants and evaluation of grants, and there is collection of loans, and there is no individual who is singled out by my comment.
The member was talking to me about generally accepted accounting principles and business practices, and what I have conveyed to him and to all members of the public is that this government will follow those practices to the letter and with common courtesy, which we afford all members of the opposition and the public.
On Community Development Fund
Community Development Fund in the amount of $3,000,000 agreed to
On Association franco-yukonnaise Centre
Association franco-yukonnaise Centre in the amount of $475,000 agreed to
On Loan Guarantee Contingency
Loan Guarantee Contingency in the amount of $250,000 agreed to
On Bad Debts Expense (Capital Loans)
Bad Debts Expense (Capital Loans) in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Corporate Services in the amount of $3,725,000 agreed to
On Mineral and Oil and Gas Resources
On Yukon Mining Incentives Program (YMIP)
Yukon Mining Incentives Program (YMIP) in the amount of $506,000 agreed to
On Geological Surveys
Geological Surveys in the amount of $1,471,000 agreed to
On Oil and Gas Resource Information Management Systems
Oil and Gas Resource Information Management Systems in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
On Resource Assessments
Resource Assessments in the amount of $520,000 agreed to
On Alaska Highway Pipeline Analysis
Mr. Jenkins: Just what are we undertaking with this initiative, Mr. Chair? The Alaska Highway pipeline right-of-way has been well-defined. It has been established, it has been permitted, it's in place, it's a fait accompli. We're spending some $100,000. Is this just the ministerial travel to speak to the oil and gas people in Calgary for the next little while? What are we spending $100,000 on?
Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that we report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Chair, I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 2, First Appropriation Act, 2000-01, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:29 p.m.
The following Legislative Return was tabled July 11, 2000:
Beaufort Sea: information pertaining to offshore management and jurisdictional matters
Oral, Hansard, p. 292