Wednesday, June 14, 2000 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: As we begin proceedings today in this Assembly, we ask for divine guidance. May the deliberations in the House be characterized by temperance, understanding and reason, and may we, the elected members of the House, serve all Yukon citizens with dignity and honour.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Speaker: Under introduction of visitors, it is my pleasure today to introduce Bob Munroe, who is seated in the gallery. As members know, Mr. Munro will be serving as the Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms of this Legislature for the remainder of the summer session.
I would ask members to welcome him to the House at this time.
Speaker: Are there any other visitors to be introduced?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: Under tabling returns and documents, I have for tabling a report of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly on travel expenses of members of the Assembly during the 1999-2000 fiscal years.
Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I have for filing the Argus Development project agreement and, Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the 1999 Yukon visitor exit survey and a consultation report, Vision for the Development of Tourism in the Yukon.
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. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of Yukon should work toward the development of a territorial-wide electrical grid, commencing with the extension of the Whitehorse-Aishihik-Faro grid, from Carmacks to Mayo, and then to Dawson City.
Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon government should make electrical power rates more affordable by eliminating the "clawback" for those consumers who utilize more than 1,500 kwh per month.
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of Yukon should continue to commit to higher education by continuing to review the assistance opportunities available to Yukon students.
Mr. Kent: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the youth leadership program will help provide:
(a) community certainty;
(b) community wellness;
(c) youth activity;
(d) youth responsibility;
(e) youth empowerment; and
(f) youth knowledge;
THAT this House recognizes the previous NDP government refused to fund the program; and
THAT this House urges the Liberal government to continue to recognize the importance of youth.
Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon government has a duty to ensure that rural constituencies have strong voices in government; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to re-establish Cabinet tours and appoint a rural community constituency liaison to ensure residents in the communities have a voice in government.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds, protection of
Ms. Netro: Mr. Speaker, the caribou is the main source of food for the Gwitchin people from Alaska, Northwest Territories and the Yukon. The tradition of our ancestors to take care of the lands where the animals feed and give birth still holds today. All three parties in this House have, on may occasions, expressed their support for protecting the Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
This week in Calgary at the World Oil Congress, the president of British Petroleum is defending his plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.
My question is for the Acting Premier. Has the Liberal government changed their position on protecting the caribou calving grounds?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I say that, no, the Liberal government hasn't changed its attitude toward the calving grounds.
Ms. Netro: Mr. Speaker, our elders have asked us to look after the caribou herd for the survival of the Gwitchin people. In May, the Porcupine Caribou Management Board and the Vuntut Gwitchin Chief and Council wrote the Premier, requesting the government to support my attendance at a reception in Washington sponsored by the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. The Yukon government did not send a representative to Washington in May, but the Premier saw fit to attend the World Oil Congress. This doesn't make sense to the people whom I represent.
Why did the government wait until June 5, after the event in Washington, to deny the request from Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The Premier did send correspondence to the Prime Minister , as well as to the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, expressing the concerns, as just pointed out by the member opposite, for the Gwitchin Nation, and expressed the opinion of this government toward our concerns on the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou.
Ms. Netro: Well, Mr. Speaker, actions speak louder than words. Chief Joe Linklater, the Yukon Member of Parliament and I, as the Member of the Legislative Assembly, were in Washington to ensure the permanent protection of the Porcupine caribou calving grounds from oil and gas development. The Liberal government did not think this event in Washington was worthwhile enough to send a minister or representative to express support for protecting the caribou calving grounds.
My question is, again, for the Acting Premier. Why would the Premier choose to go to Calgary to sell oil and gas leases when she couldn't send someone to Washington to speak up for protecting the caribou?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I do commend the representation that did go to Washington to speak for the Gwitchin people. The House does recognize the initiative taken by the people of the north, and, again, I can only repeat that the Premier did send correspondence to the Prime Minister as well as to the ambassador in Washington.
Question re: Liquor Act review
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, while in opposition and during the course of the election, the Liberals were making many commitments to the Yukon public. Whether it be land claims, buying out the Tombstone claims, increasing funding to legal aid, pulling the funding from Argus - we've witnessed recently in this Legislature the Liberals back away from those commitments.
Another strong commitment they have made, Mr. Speaker, is to conduct a full public review of the Liquor Act. The Member for Riverdale South has been very vocal on this issue for quite some time. The member now has a golden opportunity to deliver. The Member for Riverdale South is now the Minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation.
My question is to the minister: when will the full public review of the Liquor Act be complete, and will it open up access to alcohol in this territory or restrict access to alcohol in this territory?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I am glad that the member opposite has given me this opportunity. Yes, we are working, and have been working for quite awhile, on getting the review of the Yukon Liquor Act out. That review is probably going to take two years. I can't guarantee a date that it will be finished. We are still working on the workplan right now. I also cannot speculate as to what the end results of that review are going to be. It's my hope that we can have a new Liquor Act ready for this government within the term of its mandate, hopefully within the next two years.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the Liberals were very vocal on this issue for the past four years. Surely, in this commitment to the Yukon public, they came to office with a plan. Now, the Liberals, in opposition, didn't seem to back away from the fact that they demanded that the government of the day do a review of the Liquor Act.
They were also very vocal about the fact that we have a serious alcohol abuse problem in this territory. Coupled with that, they were very vocal, via press release, about the fact that, without a Liquor Act review, businesses in this territory are losing revenue and are having a problem conducting business. Will the minister, given all this time and the commitment to the Yukon public, ensure, here in this House today, that, indeed, the Liberals are conducting the review - not trying to get a review out of the Liquor Act, but are actually conducting the review - and can she enlighten this House as to when that will be completed? Two years isn't good enough. And will that review open up access to alcohol in this territory, or will it restrict the access to alcohol in this territory, as the Liberals are on both sides of this issue?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to go through some of the points that the member opposite brings forward.
First of all, the previous minister under the NDP committed to doing a review of the Liquor Act and did not. This government committed to doing a review of the Liquor Act, and we are doing it. It is my hope that we can have good legislation back to this House within two years - good legislation. That legislation will go to the Yukon public. It will go to the Yukon public for discussion. I cannot speculate at this point as to what the results are going to be of that discussion, but I can say that this government has said that they were going to do something, we said that we were going to do a review of the Liquor Act, we're working on it right now, and we are doing what we said we would do.
Mr. Fentie: Well, given the minister's answer, I would request that she table a workplan in this House, with terms of reference or some indication of exactly what is taking place with the review, and will she answer here today, in this Legislature, given the fact that the Liberals are on both sides of this issue: will the Liquor Act review open access to alcohol in this territory, or will it restrict access to alcohol in this territory?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, unlike the previous government, we don't speculate on what the results are going to be of a consultation prior to it occurring.
Mr. Speaker, once again, if the members opposite want to be updated on the progress of the review of the Yukon Liquor Act, we will certainly do that for them. We will give them the documents when they become available, when they become public documents.
Mr. Speaker, this government, this party that has formed the government, said that they would do a review of the Yukon Liquor Act, we're doing it, and we are hoping to bringing that act back to this Legislature within two years.
Question re: Dawson City airport certification
Mr. Jenkins: My question today is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on an urgent and pressing matter concerning the airport at Dawson City. Yesterday, Transport Canada officials attended at Dawson City, and they were threatening to withdraw the airport certification, which would mean that the airport would be closed except for an emergency.
Now, I haven't read the Liberals' vision for the development of tourism in the Yukon - the paper just tabled by the Minister of Tourism - but I certainly hope that this is not part of that strategy, Mr. Speaker. The airport is vitally important to the economy of Dawson City, and its closure would give the whole Yukon a very serious black eye if aircraft are no longer able to land there and park. Is the minister aware of this problem? What does she plan to do about it? If she is not aware of the problem, I'd like to know her excuse for not knowing.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I understand there is an issue with the airport in Dawson City. It has been an issue for something like 20 years; it's not anything that should come as a surprise to the member opposite. I received a report just hours ago about this. Transport Canada aerodrome safety personnel conducted a routine summer inspection of the Dawson City airport on Monday.
Three forestry-contracted water bombers were observed parked illegally within the defined airstrip area. That's within 75 metres of the runway centreline of the airport. This is a situation that has been going on for some time. The bombers have been using the restricted area for approximately 20 years, and in 1994 Transport Canada instructed the Yukon government to resolve the issue. Nothing was done at that point.
We are working on it. We have asked DIAND to move their forestry tanker base to the other side of the Dawson airport to correct the problem. It is a safety issue, Mr. Speaker. Community and Transportation Services created an access road to the other side of the airport for this purpose. DIAND is expecting to receive word any minute that they will get the money necessary to accomplish the move of the tanker base.
I hope that answers the member's questions.
Mr. Jenkins:Just like reading the CBC news, Mr. Speaker, for the minister. She has her briefing notes right there. And I commend the department for keeping her well-apprised.
But the problem is that Transport Canada is now enforcing the letter of the law - regulations that effectively make it impossible for aircraft to stay, because there's hardly any parking place. You can't find a place to park. It has been going on since the start of the airstrip in that location. The restrictions, if enforced, would mean aircraft could take off and land there, but if they want to park and stay for any length of time, the pilot would have to take off, go and fly to Mayo and catch a bus and come back to Dawson. Great. Not very practical.
The solution appears to be to move the airport or move the Klondike Highway, both very expensive options. So, I'd like the minister to explain what she is going to do.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: In the short term, there is another aircraft operator - a local charter operator - who will cooperate with Transport Canada's wishes. Their strict compliance requirements will require him to park in a more confined area, but that charter operator is willing to do that, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: It's not just the one local charter operator. There are two local charter operators. There are the tankers. There is all the itinerant traffic that comes in and visits us. There is no place for them to park, Mr. Speaker.
And it must be noted that these regulations that are now being enforced are not new. They were just held in abeyance because the Yukon government, rather that the federal government, is now operating the airport. They are coming down with a big hammer. This is a product of devolution. It should be a warning sign to the current Liberal government about devolution whereby the feds offload the responsibility but retain the big regulatory stick and have no fear of using it because they no longer have to live with the consequences.
Will the minister use her special Liberal relationship with the Liberals in Ottawa to ensure that Dawson City has an airport that can be used as a tool of economic development for the whole Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I hope the member opposite is not suggesting that breaking the law is acceptable. Support for a 20-year development plan for the Dawson City airport was obtained from the community in January of this year. For airport development, hard-surfacing the runway is the community's top priority. We have asked Transport Canada for funding of these improvements, and that's being submitted, and we will continue to work on this identified problem and find more apron space. Moving the tanker base to the other side of the airport is a necessary first step, as I'm sure the member would agree.
Question re: Information technology, cutbacks to
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Government Services.
During a recent election campaign, several members of the Yukon's information technology sector raised some concerns that they had with a cutback in the Yukon government's spending on technology software now that the HRIS system has been completed.
Both in direct meetings and in correspondence, the Liberals gave these business people the impression that they would increase government spending in these areas.
I'd like to ask the Minister of Government Services why there is no additional funding for information technology contracts in the supplementary budget.
Hon. Mr. Jim: To the member opposite, with respect to cutbacks and why there are cutbacks, we are concerned about the reduced information technology spending by government. Many services are now being delivered to the public and are dependent on information technology. Examples are motor vehicles registration, land title registration, and many others.
We are concerned that the previous government did not allocate enough money to sustain electronic services that are already in place.
Furthermore, we believe that the public will expect the government to expand the number of services that are available on the Internet. This matter is under review and funding for information technology will be considered in the future supplementary budgets this fiscal year.
Mr. Keenan: In getting around to answer the question, again, the "out-for-review" sign is hung here. The minister must be aware that this government's failure to respond to these business people is already costing Yukoners jobs. One company has already cut back its workforce and others are facing a prospect of losing people to other companies or even other jurisdictions at this time. But the minister didn't even attend a follow-up meeting with these local business people a few weeks ago to discuss their concerns. Can the minister tell us what he has done to address this problem that is putting Yukon jobs and Yukon businesses in jeopardy?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, we have looked into information technology. We realize the budget reduction. We also realize that there will be a review in the upcoming supplementary. However, the information technology has been tabled with our group here - the caucus, the government - and we are dealing with it. We are underway in it and we are dealing with it. If the member opposite so wishes, we will give him a written response as to how we are dealing with it.
Mr. Keenan: Again, Mr. Speaker, "under review; reductions" It is obvious that the minister is not taking the situation seriously enough. The government inherited a surplus of nearly $60 million. They had money for grants to prospectors. They had million-dollar signing bonuses for the YTA, yet when they had a chance to do something to help this local business sector succeed, they blew it right out of the water. By the time the fall supplementary budget rolls around, it may be too late for many of our highly skilled Yukon people who depend on government contracts.
Will the minister give his assurance that he will sit down with members of the local information technology community and hammer out a solution before we start losing people to Alberta or the N.W.T. or elsewhere? With no personal income tax cuts in the budget, they don't even have that tank of gas to leave, as so eloquently stated previously.
Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, we have always maintained that we are looking at good management and at giving best efforts - and not only best efforts, but with the professionalism that is needed with respect to information technology, along with the dollar figures that we have for information technology. We are trying to be as adequate as possible. We are dealing with it in a very slow manner, in the sense that, yes, we have to understand the assessment of information technology and how we would like to expand on it, how it will meet the government's needs, and how it will meet the people of the Yukon's needs. We are looking at this, and we are dealing with it promptly.
Question re: Land claims, mandate to YTG negotiators
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Acting Premier on another matter that the Liberals are dealing with slowly, in a prompt manner.
I want to ask the Acting Premier this question: on Monday, I asked the Premier three times if she agreed with Bob Nault's position on section 87, on loan repayment issues, and Yukon First Nations. She refused or could not answer. The Liberals have said that they are negotiating already on the land claims, but we have heard that, two months after the election, they still have not even given a new mandate to YTG negotiators on Yukon issues.
Yesterday, in three hours of questioning, the Acting Premier refused to say whether or not this was the case. I ask her again today: have the Liberals given a new mandate to the YTG negotiators on land claims?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: First of all, yes, we had quite a lengthy discussion yesterday on how this government does land claims, how this government has a respectful relationship with Yukon First Nations and how land claims are our top priority here in the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is very much aware that the Premier has sent a letter to Bob Nault. He is very much aware that the Premier has spoken to the Grand Chief, and he is very much aware that this is a top priority to our government. I will repeat it, like I repeated it 28 times yesterday: this government does not negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature.
Mr. Harding:Let me say that we're not asking the Liberals to negotiate land claims on the floor of this Legislature. And I also want to say that she just did not answer the question. We want this government to be open and accountable. They're out there telling the Yukon public that they're actually working on land claims and resolving issues that were on the table from a Yukon perspective.
So, I'll ask her one more time: have the Liberals given a new mandate to the YTG negotiators for discussions at the land claims table?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, giving direction to a negotiator is a confidential process that is part of the negotiation process. We do not - absolutely do not - negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, that is pure gobbledegook. It's a policy decision of the Liberal government whether or not they give a new mandate for Yukon issues to the YTG negotiators at the land claims table. We're not asking for the specifics on land swaps or on community lands. We're asking whether or not this Liberal government, which is saying that it's making progress at the land claims table and which is saying it has such a respectful relationship with First Nations, has given a new mandate, because we have been told that two months in, they haven't even changed the mandate to the YTG negotiators.
So, I'll ask her again, Mr. Speaker: has the Liberal government given a new mandate to the YTG negotiators for Yukon issues at the land claims table?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, whether or not this government has given a mandate to the negotiators at the land claims table is confidential information that is part of the negotiation process. I want to remind the members opposite that in four years, only one claim was settled under the NDP. We have three and a half years; we have seven claims. We will have respectful relations with the First Nations of this territory. And we will not - and this is for the thirty-first time - negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Question re: Land claims, mandate to YTG negotiators
Mr. Harding: So, you have a Liberal government that refuses to answer the question as to whether they support Bob Nault's position on Section 87, or on repayment, or whether they support Yukon First Nations. We now have a Liberal government that says it's confidential information whether they'll tell the Yukon public whether they have even changed the mandate they have given to the Yukon negotiators.
Let me read a question from the Premier, then the leader of the official opposition, that she asked the former Government lLeader. She said, "In reviewing the minister's answer on land claims, and the minister's answer given to me previously on the subject in the update, I didn't hear any mention of outstanding issues. Yukon government issues are at the table. Are there any issues - strictly YTG issues - that the government leader feels are at a difficult negotiating point at this point?"
Mr. Speaker, we answered that question openly and with accountability. Why won't the Liberals do that?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, it was apparently the policy of the previous government to share specifics on land claims negotiations on the floor of this Legislature; that is not our policy.
Under the previous government, there was only one land claim settled. We have seven more claims to go. We have three and a half years. If the members opposite would like a confidential briefing on where we are at the land claims table, that will be made available to them
Mr. Harding: Only two conclusions can be drawn from this. One, they don't know how to give their negotiators a new position at the land claims table or, two, they haven't given them one. In which case, how can they claim to Yukoners that they're actually at the table making changes to what was negotiated by the previous government?
First of all, the NDP settled the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in claim, White River, Ta'an and Kluane First Nation - with the exception of federal issues. So, I want to ask the Acting Premier why she is being so secretive with Yukoners, why she won't be accountable and why she won't tell this House if they have reached a new mandate with their negotiators or given a new mandate to the negotiators for the land claims.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite thinks he's being clever. He thinks that he can trick this side into giving specifics about what's happening at the land claims table. Mr. Speaker, we are not going to do that. We are respectful of the relationships that we have with Yukon First Nations. We are respectful and we are trying to do good government. We have seven claims left and we have three and a half years. We are hoping that we can settle some of those claims. That is our top priority. That is what our government is going to do. We are respectful of those negotiations; therefore, we will not- and this is the thirty-second time - we will not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, all this from the Liberals who promised to be more open, more accountable, to share more information with the Yukon public. We are not asking for the details of the mandate. We're just asking if they have even provided, as a policy statement, a new mandate to the negotiators. It was fair ball when the Liberal Premier was the leader of the official opposition to ask these questions, and we answered at a high level as openly and as accountably as we could, given that we didn't want to get into the details and specifics of the negotiations. But certainly any questions about whether or not there was a new mandate provided, we answered.
So I want to ask the Acting Premier again, why won't she tell Yukoners if they have even given the YTG negotiators a new mandate for land claims negotiations, especially given the bomb that Bob Nault has recently dropped on the entire process in this territory?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: The direction that is given to negotiators at the land claims table is confidential information. The member opposite knows that. He was in government for four years. If he would like to have a confidential briefing on where we are at the land claims tables, that is certainly open to him. He did ask a number of times yesterday for specifics about what is happening at the land claims table. We did not give that information. We will not give that information, and for the thirty-third time: we do not negotiate land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 23
Clerk: Motion No. 23, standing in the name of Mr. Harding.
Speaker: It is moved by the leader of the official opposition
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) Yukon seniors and elders are entitled to a high quality of health care and other social support so that they can continue to live a life of dignity in the society to which they have contributed; and
(2) the Yukon Liberals have made a number of specific commitments to Yukon seniors and elders, which are not reflected in either the main estimates or the supplementary budget tabled in this sitting; and
(3) these commitments include maintaining stable funding for the Whitehorse General Hospital, expanding the number of nursing care beds for the elderly to ensure there are not waiting lists for our seniors, improving respite services; constructing independent living accommodations for the elderly in those communities where the need exists, ensuring that the existing home program is funded to adequate levels to support seniors in their own homes, and working to ensure that each community is staffed with adequate numbers of doctors and nurse practitioners; and
(4) the operating surplus of approximately $60 million the current government inherited from the previous administration is sufficient to support many of these commitments; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Liberal government to put adequate funding in its fall supplementary budget to meet these specific commitments to Yukon seniors and elders.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, this is a motion that's designed to do two things. First of all, it's designed to respect the contribution of seniors and elders in this territory, people who have contributed so much to the lives of Yukoners, so much to our quality of life in this territory and who often don't receive the recognition that they deserve to that end.
This motion is also designed to illustrate that the Liberal Party, and now government, made extensive commitments to our seniors and elders in the election campaign, and we, in the official opposition, intend to hold them accountable to those commitments.
Now, we all, on this side of the Legislature, remember from our time in government that the Liberal opposition at that time pursued these types of arrangements vigorously. They often, when we tried to suggest that they should perhaps be a bit better thought out, or that there was some long-term planning that needed to be done, dismissed that as excuses.
So, we are going to see today, in terms of their response to this motion, whether they are really going to do what they said they were going to do for seniors and elders in this territory. We will see if they will support this motion or not. We will see if they try to defer and delay on this motion or not. I would argue that should they decide to defer and delay, that that is a clear indication of their lack of support for following through on these commitments.
We also have heard inklings from the Health minister and from the Premier that we are facing health care cuts by the Liberal government in this territory. Probably the only department they mentioned in terms of overspending, in their estimation, is health care. So, it raises some flags for us, on behalf of seniors and elders in this territory, that the first to feel the axe from the Liberal government will be our health care services in this territory.
We saw yesterday in the Legislature, when I asked the Minister of Health and Social Services whether he was prepared to extend to health care professionals in this territory, who spend so much time with our seniors and elders, the same signing bonus or "retention bonus" - as the Liberals have called it - to retain and recruit health care professionals. There was quite a bit of skating on that issue.
Now, of course, I realize that professional educators at the college and the hospital will be going to bargaining this year. The minister could enhance the environment for that bargaining, so that we can retain and recruit further these professionals by saying, "What we've done for the YTA, with the $1 million signing bonus, we will extend to health care professionals."
He's also listed off a list of initiatives begun by the NDP government to aid in retention and recruiting, but failed to say what they intend to do with their own agenda in this area. On one hand, he said they wanted to conduct a massive PR campaign, so it begs the question of why there would be a $1 million signing bonus for YTA for rentention, yet the approach in the health care field is a PR campaign - a massive PR campaign, as he put it.
We have to know what direction this government is going to take on behalf of seniors and elders to aid them, in terms of the services they need. When you look at the list, what the Liberals promised is very extensive, when they talked about increasing their home care, increasing funding at the hospital, expanding nursing care beds. They also talked about facilities in rural Yukon - building brand new facilities in the ridings of the Members for Klondike and Watson Lake. They made those commitments and promises to Yukoners. These are very expensive commitments.
There are also commitments by the Liberals to increase highway construction and maintenance funding, a new jail, Grey Mountain School and Carcross. These commitments, Mr. Speaker, have a high price tag. But luckily, they were left in very good shape by the NDP government. The day before yesterday, the Premier announced that the surplus they were left with is actually $56.2 million, according to the latest Department of Finance official estimates. It may perhaps increase. We'll see what the Auditor General says in the fall, if there are further lapses or money that was budgeted but not spent.
We have to ensure that people in rural Yukon, seniors and elders are respected, and that their needs are met by our health care system. When I hear and see the words coming out of the Liberals in the Yukon, like I have heard from the federal Liberals, who have cut billions out of health care, I'm getting worried.
I'm getting worried for Yukon seniors and elders. But we will see today. The Liberals have a chance to support this motion and take that $60 million that they have in the bank and put it to good use this fall, in a supplementary budget. The throne speech promised that they would deliver on many of their election promises. We know that, when they were in opposition, they said that any delays to that effect were excuses. So, therefore, we would hope that they would do what they said they were going to do and stand up today and support our motion to prove their commitment to seniors and elders.
Mr. Speaker, when the NDP was the government, we worked hard. We well-funded health care in this territory. We increased funding to the hospital dramatically - millions. We did not cut like every jurisdiction, in spite of cuts from the Liberals in Ottawa.
You know, the Premier of Newfoundland said, in response to the last budget, that health care funding has gone in his province from 55 percent federally funded to somewhere around 11 percent. This is a staggering burden on the provinces and territories, and I heard the Minister of Health, to his credit, last Friday on the news - I believe it was CKRW - stating that he believed that the federal Liberals were not providing their fair share to the health care budgets in provinces and territories. I hope that the Health minister will continue to speak out on behalf of elders and seniors in this territory, to point out how the Liberals have sliced health care.
But what will be more important to me are, rather than words, the actions of his government and his department, and what he says today about this motion. It is a simple motion, and it can be done with a stroke of the pen. The resolution of this motion can be accomplished with a stroke of the pen this fall.
It will also be important for us in the official opposition to see whether the government is going to do what they've indicated. Just gently so far, they've sent up a trial balloon on health care, but they do not have, in my estimation, any justification for the slicing of health care. They have the financial wherewithal. It is all about choices. Our seniors and elders in this territory deserve solid health care. They deserve their government doing what they said they were going to do. When the Liberals said in the election campaign that they were going to construct independent living accommodations for the elderly in those Yukon communities where the need exists, people in those communities said, "I have a need for those services." Seniors and elders who read the election platform of the Liberals took them at their word, in Whitehorse and in rural Yukon. And when they established for themselves that they had a need, they will expect the Liberals to fund and to provide. And we in the official opposition will expect the Liberals to do what they said they were going to do. Therein lies the point of the motion.
We also want to know if the Liberals will commit, as they said they would, to the beginning - and it will be expensive - design money, this fall, for preliminary construction for the facilities that they promised in Dawson City and Watson Lake. We know they've got pressures now. The minister has announced that he's going to open up the full extent of the beds in the new continuing care facility in Whitehorse, but what about rural Yukon? What about the people in the rest of the Yukon?
The members on this side of the House have First Nations in their ridings who represent 12 of 14 in this territory. A lot of elders, a lot of seniors. I was talking to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin today who said that senior services are a big issue in her riding. Elders there need services, so one would imagine that improving home care, as the Liberals promised, is something that people are quite excited about.
Now, we did not see a reflection in the supplementary budget - even though the Liberals had the financial wherewithal, with $56.2 million in the bank - to make good on some of those early commitments to things like fighting fetal alcohol syndrome, to things like alcohol and drug counselling, to programs for seniors and elders. We saw a $1-million signing bonus for the YTA. We saw $250,000 more in grants for prospectors, but we did not see any reflection in that budget for seniors and elders, and that was disappointing to us. It was disappointing to me, as the critic for Health and Social Services.
So, we decided that perhaps the best thing to do was to not push too hard in this budget session for these initiatives but to take the advice of the Premier herself and wait till the fall.
When we read and heard the words in the throne speech about the fall and when we heard the Premier announce there was an accumulated surplus left to them of $56.2 million, we felt confident that this motion would have been appropriate, and we tabled it in Seniors and Elders Week.
When the NDP put more money into home care, we were proud of that and it did increase our health care budgets in this territory. It did make choices much more difficult, but that never stopped the Liberals in opposition from asking virtually every day for more programming, for more funding - not in the future, not planning money but yesterday they wanted it funded.
We are testing the Liberals to see if they will actually do what they said they were going to do.
When the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake came to the government and said that they needed funding to improve their facilities, the NDP government was there. The MLA for Watson Lake put a lot of work into ensuring that when the Signpost Seniors spoke, their words had clout. And the community development fund responded to them, and we were proud to help them.
When we put respite services in at the Watson Lake hospital, that was another move that we made to try to help the seniors. Outside the municipalities, we brought in the seniors property tax deferral option, another move to help seniors. And because seniors often do not have extensively high incomes, the Yukon tax credit for low-income families benefits seniors.
We also brought in a Yukon seniors income supplement, not an extensive amount but at least something to try to help seniors. And from a non-monetary perspective, we brought in the grandparents' rights legislation to respect seniors and elders in this territory. We also expanded dental and optical benefits for seniors. So we did a lot. That's not an extensive list, by any means, of the programs that the New Democrat government undertook on behalf of seniors. And I can't fail to mention the seven new beds at the Thomson Centre, which were opened by the NDP government. We were working - aside for the action we were taking in all of these areas - on a comprehensive seniors strategy. But, you know, when we announced that, it was not good enough for the Liberals. They said that action was demanded now.
Funding must be made available now, and construction must start now on these facilities that they were proposing. Now, given the words of the Liberals in opposition, we know today that they should have no problem supporting this motion because, in their estimation, that was good enough.
You know, we were very upset to hear - it was pointed out by the Member for Klondike in Question Period the other day that after telling Yukoners during the election campaign that seniors were being treated like "second-class citizens" - that was the quote by the Liberals - with regard to the location of the new continuing care facility, we thought that was very low politics. And it has been made even lower by the Liberals, given the fact that after the election, the Health minister has now stood up in this House and said that the process that was called making second-class citizens of seniors was the model process. It was the model as to how all other consultations should be undertaken, as the Health minister said the other day in this House. He read his briefing notes, met with officials and was absolutely convinced.
Did we hear an apology from the Liberals? It is very low politics on their part - scaring seniors, trying to play on their emotions, telling them that we had anything other than respect and that we're thinking about their best interests in consultation with them. But, lo and behold, after the election, where is the continuing care facility going to be housed? In the exact same location. But that didn't stop the Member for Whitehorse Centre or the Member for Riverdale South, who used to piously decry that we weren't treating seniors and elders with respect, that we were, in her opinion, warehousing them and treating them as second class.
But do you hear her now? Has she stood up and criticized her colleague, the Member for Porter Creek North and now Health minister? Do you hear the Member for Riverdale South, now Tourism minister, stating that she disagrees with the Minister of Health about where the continuing care facility should be?
Do you hear the Member for Whitehorse Centre, who had so much to say about Argus? He was going to tear that project down. He had so much to say about where the continuing care facility was going to be. He was so critical of the NDP. But do you hear him actually showing the chutzpah to stand up and say that the Minister of Health and Social Services is wrong, and that this is not where the continuing care facility should be?
In Whitehorse West, Mr. Speaker, as you, yourself, know, there was an issue, but Mr. Speaker, I do not hear you talking about that with your constituents, when the Health minister says now that it is the ideal location.
Mr. Speaker, this is what I'm talking about, when it reflects upon how services are extended to seniors and elders. When there is a government that says one thing and does another, such as the Liberals have turned out to be, in only two months so far - we are hoping they change - it's going to have an impact. When they signal cuts to health care, it is going to have an impact.
So, it is very important that this motion comes forward today. The NDP couldn't do it all. We increased funding for health care and services for seniors; we purchased the new CT scan and agreed to fund the O&M for that, helped with the mammography machine to ensure that there were better services and so that the hospital could provide better services to women; we worked on health investment funds and funded seniors projects throughout this territory through the community development fund. We did a lot, but we couldn't do it all. We are not the government any more. We do not have the reins, the power of government or the finances to deliver more for seniors and elders, but the Liberals do. Furthermore, they have an obligation, given what they said to people during the election campaign.
When the NDP built the new health centre in Teslin, not only did we put a lot of people to work in the building project to provide a new facility and a place for health care professionals to work, but we provided better services.
We recruited a doctor for Mayo, Pelly and Carmacks, and much of that work was done with seniors and elders in mind.
So, Mr. Speaker, it's important today that we find out precisely when the Liberals expect to have construction completed on the new facilities that they propose to build.
It's important for us to know when they are going to ensure that the Whitehorse General Hospital can retain and recruit - not just the Whitehorse hospital but the rural areas of this territory - physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses. We heard about pharmacists the other day. Good health care workers - blue collar workers who do so much good work at the hospital - are going to need to be funded to the extent that they are providing funding to their other employees, and beyond, I would argue, but we haven't quite heard that commitment yet. We've only heard trial balloons thrown up about cuts to health care.
Mr. Speaker, this is a concern for the NDP in this territory, because seniors and elders and disabled people need to know that when governments say they are going to do something they do it. And I don't think it would be prudent or appropriate for the government of the day to say to us that they have discovered that they're going to have difficulty meeting commitments. I hope we don't hear that.
Because government is about choices, and the financial resources are there for this government to make the choices. They will have to live with the consequences. We have already found that, on a number of areas: the Tombstone claims buy-out; funding for legal aid; the fact that they said they would pull the money back from Argus infrastructure if they got the chance; what they told information technology people about doing their best to put money in the supps if they had it - the first supplementary budget - and what they said about land claims. We have learned today that they don't even have a new position given to the negotiators, two months after an election, after what Minister Nault did to the land claims process at the gold show, after raising expectations completely. So, we see this is a government that has to be watched very closely. It's very secretive. It's not very open. It does not like accountability.
It was taken to the sublime today, Mr. Speaker, in Question Period, where the Acting Premier said that telling the House whether or not a new mandate has been provided to YTG negotiators is negotiating on the floor of the Legislature. That's a brand new one for this House, and I have been in here now for eight years. I watched the former Government Leader for the Yukon Party and the former Government Leader Piers McDonald explain basic issues at a high level, within parameters because we would never advocate negotiating land claims and specific issues on the floor of this House.
There is a certain level of accountability to Yukoners in public government that has to say whether or not they're prepared to change a mandate or not. Certainly the Premier had no difficulty at all talking about the mandate that Minister Nault was providing to the land claims table.
But I digress Mr. Speaker. My point is simply that this government has to be watched very closely. They are very, in some ways, sneaky. We know that on the budget they tried to avoid accountability. They said -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: The hon. Member for Mount Lorne, on a point of order.
Ms. Tucker: He used unparliamentary language, I believe.
Speaker: The hon. leader of the official opposition, on the point of order.
Mr. Harding: I would respect your ruling, but I would just point out that I have used that term in this House before and not been called out of order by the Speaker, so I would assume the precedent is that it's not unparliamentary.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Harding: I will withdraw it just to avoid putting you in an awkward position, but I do not believe it is unparliamentary. I will have a discussion with the Speaker later, and he can inform me at another time. I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker.
They are, as I was saying, not open and accountable. They behave in a fashion that is less than forthright. It was only through sheer public pressure and caucus meetings, where they analyzed how it sounded to the public of the Yukon when the Premier said, upon announcing a budget that they were tabling, "Well, don't blame me. It's the NDP." I'm sure that those members in that caucus heard that on the radio and said, "Gee, Premier, I don't think that really was a good line for us, so we better change it." It happened quickly, because when the Member for Klondike and I followed the Premier after an interview on CBC, she had already changed the line to say that they left the NDP's names in the budget because the cost of printing would have been too high, even though they printed throne speeches and budget speeches that were way more expensive to print than simple name changes - even though there wasn't much in them.
I won't speak long, because I'm so anxious to hear the support of the members opposite for this motion, because it's based upon their election commitments.
And, Mr. Speaker, we look forward to seeing, in the fall budget, concrete timelines and funding commitments in the areas that they committed to in Whitehorse and in rural Yukon. So with that, thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Roberts:It's always interesting to note that, when the camera is running, we get the NDP philosophy about what is and what isn't. As soon as the camera comes off, we get a completely different story. It's back to the reality. When we carry on for the length of time that we do, we end up trying to build our case, and I want to make a few corrections here.
I counted four times - and maybe I missed a couple - where the member opposite kept saying that we have a surplus of $56 million. May I tell him again, and may I tell him again, and may I tell him again that the budget that we basically are trying to pass here is the NDP budget, the budget that they proposed last April. They then called an election and, therefore, left it up in the air, and now we are left with trying to pass this budget so we can get Yukoners working. The surplus in that budget is $14.5 million plus a few more dollars. So it's $14 million and not $56 million. I know you are trying to leave that impression with the public so that they can say, "Oh my gosh, they have got so much money. We can do so many more things."
So that's four times that I picked it up in his short little speech. The trickery of the member opposite to portray health systems as being cut by the Yukon Liberals is not going to be bought by Yukoners. I am sorry. That is trickery that you constantly try to portray, because we have never said that we are going to cut health care at all.
The PR campaign that we talked about yesterday - the public relations campaign - is a campaign to attract more professionals to the Yukon. You made the comment that this was not something that we should be doing. I basically think we should. This is a project that I think is very positive. I think it's one that's going to show the world that we have a very attractive place to be.
Speaker: Order please. Would the minister direct his questions through the Chair, please, and refrain from using the word "you"?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Yes, Mr. Speaker.
I don't recall the Liberals ever stating, Mr. Speaker, that we were going to build a hospital in Watson Lake. I don't know where that came from. That was something that the member opposite brought up, so I'm just going to correct that. It's not in our platform and I'm not sure where he got that idea or the idea - and it's sort of in his notes here and it comes back again - that we talked about this thinly veiled movement toward cutting health care. Now, I don't know what he's talking about. What does he mean "thinly veiled air"? We have never said that we were going to cut health care. We basically support health care.
I have lived here for 35 years. I am in those sort of dawning years of being a senior and if you think I want to cut health care, because I'm reaching that level where I might have to use it, they are absolutely wrong, because basically we need the best health care that we can offer.
I want to make another correction here. He refers to everything when he comes up with his presentation. One was the YTA retention clause. That's not a YTA bonus. You have to spend a year here in order to receive that retention bonus. It's not a bonus in the sense of something that's just going to happen because you happen to be a teacher. You have to stay for a year, so it's called a retention bonus. It's not a signing bonus.
The model of setting up an extended care - these are all corrections I'm making here, of what the member opposite had to say, Mr. Speaker. In the model of setting up the extended care, he made the inference that I classified seniors as second-class citizens. I have never said that. I have never inferred that. I respect senior citizens. I am just about one of them. Why would I disrespect the most important people in our society, the wisdom of our society.
So, I just want to make sure that I go on record as stating that our seniors are our guidance for the future.
And once again, I'll have to repeat what was said over and over again - land claims was rolled up into this, as well, yesterday. I'm not sure what land claims had to do with health care, but I'm sure the member opposite was able to portray it as something that we are against. I'll just repeat the same expression that has been repeated before - we will not negotiate the terms of land claims on this floor, just to repeat that again. This is common sense and the respect that we have for our First Nations people.
To move right into where we, as Liberals, stand and what we want to do, I just want to make some points about what our platform states about health care. First of all, we said that we would maintain the funding of our Whitehorse Hospital. We never said anything about cutting anything to the Whitehorse General Hospital.
And Mr. Speaker, we also said that we would expand the number of nursing care beds for the elderly to ensure that there are no waiting lists for our seniors. I'm sure that, when I reach that level, I don't want to be waiting for a bed. I want to make sure there is a bed there if I need it.
We will also look at constructing independent living accommodations for the elderly in Yukon communities. We didn't say that we were going to go out and do it. We want to sit down with our stakeholders, communities and seniors and look at what the needs are.
And Mr. Speaker, we want to work directly with our communities to ensure that each community is staffed with adequate medical support.
Also, we are committed to building our health care system. When I constantly hear that we're going to be tearing it down, I just wonder where those words came from. They didn't come from us, and I want the public to know that we, as Liberals - as a matter of fact, it was, if you want to use the term "the federal Liberals", many, many years ago, that began our health care system. Why would we want to even be considered part of what the member opposite is stating - that we are going to tear it down?
The Yukon Liberals believe that a health care system in the Yukon must be preserved as a publicly administered, universal program, and it must provide the same benefits to all members, to all citizens. We basically believe in our public health care. We recognize the value of focusing on prevention, rather than treatment. I have attended a number of AGMs this spring, and I have made the message very clear to the various NGOs that we must get on the path of prevention. We basically believe that if we can do that over the long term, we can start to look at, hopefully, over time, reducing the cost of health care.
The important part about prevention is that we are all then responsible. There are no quick cures. We are all, Mr. Speaker, responsible for our own health. We must invest in programs that are going to bring about a change that, in our own ideas, are going to look at how we can take control of our health.
As a Yukon government, we will be forceful advocates for the Canadian health care system, and it's based on the same principles that I mentioned earlier about universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, portability and public administration. We will ensure a movement of financial resources from medical treatment toward health promotion, disease prevention and community-based care. The answers for health care are not in Whitehorse. The answers for health care are not in Vancouver or in Ottawa. They are in our communities; they are with our people.
We must work with the medical community to develop alternatives to the high cost and use of our hospital emergency services. We must come to, I think, the very important position of knowing that hospital care is expensive and that, really, if we need to expand, then we have to know the consequences of how and where we expand.
We are committed to looking at some of the major problems in our community; for example, FAS and FAE. We have to target how we work with communities and people in building a better understanding of how to prevent this terrible disease. We must also look at how we as Yukoners can continue and will always want a one-tiered system. We must continue to look at how we expand our Medicare to ensure that we offer the services that we can basically support in the community.
One of the problems that we have from time to time is looking at costs. And of course the operating surplus - you know, which we constantly hear about all the time. The member opposite brings it up almost, well, four, five, 10 times a session here - basically, is not what he says it is. And if you look at the estimates again, you will see that it's more conservatively at the $14,500,000 level rather than the $56 million, Mr. Speaker.
We basically have to look at, you know, how this money can be used. And, of course, it's right there on the paper; it states very clearly that the NDP budget, for the operating deficit of this fiscal year - and we adopted this budget for the sake of stability and what we believe are in the best interests of Yukon people. We don't like many parts of it. We basically have stated that many times, but we must do what is right. We must make the right choice, and we have done that. And because of the timing of the election, we end up with this situation where the summer work and the fall work are beginning and we end up with a transition, and of course everything is delayed. We didn't call the election, so to look at us and say that we have to fix all these problems because of what the previous government did, to me, is not fair at all.
Of course, we brought in a supplementary budget that sort of responded to some of the issues - very few of the issues - that we're concerned about. These issues should have actually been part of the main budget, even before we had to table the supplementary, because they are very important: our youth, our small, mom-and-pop mining ventures, looking at how we work with our youth during the summer, especially our at-risk youth. Mr. Speaker, it's very important that we respond to where we can deal with their concerns.
Another issue that we're concerned about in health care is home care. As we all know, this is an initiative that has been a very popular one across the nation. It's one that has basically been growing because most people want to be in their own homes. We have home support now that moves up to about 32 hours a week. We have evening service as well that can help those people stay in their own homes. We also have home care on weekends, which I think basically provides nurses for those people who, again, want to stay in their own homes. We also have some home care options that are now being discussed with First Nations to run a parallel program. We are also looking at how we can expand our program in the communities. And, of course, we all know that home care can come through a variety of situations. It can come through referral, self-referral, a nursing referral or a doctor referral.
And, of course, the philosophy of home care is based on the fact that dependence is not the full answer. We want independence. People at that level who need home care definitely want the independent mode. To exist in their own homes is one of the very superior ways of improving their health.
The program also encourages the involvement of informal caregivers, which I think, in past days, has not always been fully respected. We also know that research is very obvious about family and how important family is in the rehabilitation of people who are not well, and about having family around you. Mr. Speaker, I think the importance of that is to demonstrate that the connection of community is far more important than trying to put people in institutions.
Home care is an emergency service that really reflects how people can use those services to support their continuing lifestyle. Of course, there are some problems with home care, like anything else. We have an aging population and we have to look at ways and means to build our program. We also have to look at how home communities can respond to supporting home care. Communities want to be involved in the health of their seniors.
And, of course, what happens in the Yukon, for which we are very fortunate, is that home care in the Yukon is free, and we want to keep it that way, because then it becomes affordable and accessible to all, regardless of what criteria of funding you have in your own perspective.
There are no income means tests for home care, or user fees employed, and, of course, as we receive more pressure on home care, we have to look at creative ways to build our model. And, Mr. Speaker, we can do that by communities becoming involved in the process of health, and we'll be having some announcements in the next week or two about some of these initiatives that we are planning on putting in place for the coming year in health.
The provision of home care in outlying communities and the level of availability is, of course, a top concern of ours. We have to look at ways and means of training and building the resources in those particular areas.
There are some ways we can do this. I suppose there are a number of things that we could do to find out how we can build. You know, we could just simply increase the budget, Mr. Speaker. We constantly hear from the opposition that we have a big bag of money there and we can just add more money to it.
I would like to think that communities would come up with more creative ways to provide home care in our communities. I think that we can encourage the private sector to get involved or business people in some way. There are models out there that I am sure we could access in some way. I think, Mr. Speaker, when you get the idea that people want what we all want, and you engage them in the dialogue and the discussion of how we are going to achieve those goals, it's interesting what solutions you come up with.
I think even without sort of a crystal ball at this point to look at the future, we know that the whole area of home care is going to be a growing part of our health care program. What we have to do is that we have to be ready and we have to be promoting these ideas to see what we can come up with that will work in each of our distinct communities.
I think, Mr. Speaker, this is where researching - you know, not necessarily bringing people from outside. Mr. Speaker, I have always been a strong advocate that the expertise is right here. I have made a point of responding to many of the AGMs that I have been to, of stating very clearly that, basically, our expertise is here.
This kind of gives me an opportunity to make a little comment about expertise. Mr. Speaker, the opposition has made some inference that we have had expertise from British Columbia. Why would we want expertise from British Columbia? The last government had expertise from British Columbia, and they brought up expertise from British Columbia, and, basically, I don't think it helped. So, we have our expertise right here. We want to make sure that we tap that expertise.
The interesting thing about health care is that it is a - I guess you would call it a many-faceted portfolio. I made the comment to some people that you do your best, make the commonsense decisions, and you're still going to find that some parts of it are not going to be acceptable to everyone. That becomes the nature of the role.
I think one of the important parts of health care is respite for people who are in need. This is another issue that I think has become a reality in the last number of years, when you have families that want to take care of sick, elderly, or even aged seniors. And, Mr. Speaker, this is an area that I think we as government, we as community, and we as Yukoners can come up with some very unique ideas.
We don't have all the answers. We have never said that we had all the answers. We know that out there in the public, Mr. Speaker, there are lots of answers. What we have to do is to agree on what is best for each of our distinct communities and what is best for each of our distinct communities here in Whitehorse.
Respite is one of those areas where we need support for people who have varying needs. This can be for seniors who may be beginning that track of sickness that may be long term and, finally, terminal. Rather than putting them in an institution, we are going through a stage in society now where, for a number of years, we have put our seniors in homes. We have kind of shut them away from the common stream of the community. I see a move back to involving our seniors with the community. They are the backbone of our community, Mr. Speaker.
We have to look at ways and means of doing that in a very positive and effective way, because seniors are really our encyclopedia of the past. They can guide us in the future. Respite is one of those areas that we have to do far more work on. It's an area where, I think, if we put our collective minds together, we can come to some solutions. I invite the opposition to come with some ideas about how we can accomplish some of these goals. We are all here for the betterment of all Yukoners. We are not all here for my political ends. I got involved in this business of politics because I felt that I could offer something that I have collected over the years of being an employee here in the Yukon. I believe I can, and I believe that we, as a group, - encouraging the opposition to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem - we could basically come to some very dramatic solutions to some of our major problems here.
I know it is the role, Mr. Speaker, of the opposition to challenge the government of the day, and I appreciate that. It is very important. I have challenged all the groups I have met with over the last month to challenge me in my role as Health minister. In levity, I said that I suppose that won't be hard. They'll do it quite easily, as the member opposite has just remarked, but I will also challenge them, as people who want to work with us. I think that is the important part of trying to build a team. Many of the Liberal members here have talked about "team". They've talked about how we should build together. We are not just talking about working with each other; we are talking about working with Yukoners. Hopefully we can continue to work on that particular motivation in the future.
We also have another aspect of our health care, one that we call the one-tiered approach. We hear in Alberta that they may be moving toward a two-tiered system. I'm very familiar with the Alberta scene, Mr. Speaker, because my relatives live there. They are very concerned about what they see happening in that province. We are not supporting a two-tiered system, Mr. Speaker. We believe that health care is the right of all Yukoners, regardless of their income or social status in the community. We have to remember that when the Canada Health Act was passed in Parliament in 1984, it was the cornerstone of the health system. Again, it provides the basis to our health system that we currently operate under. Of course, the basic objective of the health care system was to ensure that all citizens were treated in an equal way.
Of course, if you look at the Yukon's health care insurance system, we meet the criteria established by the Canada Health Act, and we have two very meaningful pieces of legislation that provide the basis for the Yukon health system. One is called the Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan Act and regulations. The act and regulations provide the basis for coverage, payment and administration of medically necessary, insured physician services to Yukon citizens. The second component to that, for the Yukon health care insurance, is the Yukon Hospital Insurance Services Act and regulations. The act and regulations, again, provide the basis for coverage, payment and administration of insured services rendered in the hospital.
And of course we have interterritorial and provincial, what we call "portability agreements" with other parts of Canada to ensure that we are covered wherever we travel in Canada. And, you know, the problem is one of seriousness when we look at private clinics and what impact they may have. We have to realize that private clinics for profit are exactly that; they are private clinics for profit. They want to use taxpayers' dollars to make a profit and we are not in that. We cannot go down that path or we'll end up like some other countries where the health care system will only be for a privileged few.
Now where an insured service is only available through a private clinic, what you find is that they are probably going to move toward what they call a "fee". Then you are going to end up with a system that we are not going to be satisfied with, because when does it stop? We have to look at ways of meeting our commitment here in the Yukon. We will continue to monitor developments in other parts of the country. We will look at what other countries do, as well, in order to enhance our system, but we must always come back to the basics, and the basics is that of universality for all Yukoners. And if we find we stray from that, then I would expect that the community, I would expect the opposition, will be there to tell us this is not where we should go. And at this point in time, I have to say that we are on record as supporting universality for all Yukoners.
Another aspect of medicare for Yukon, and one that is fairly unique in many ways and a very attractive component of the health care system here in the Yukon, is that of the pharmacare support we provide to our seniors. The pharmacare program, as we all know, is designed to assist seniors with the cost of prescription drugs. When you reach the age of 65 - and guess what? I haven't got many years to go. I'll get free drugs. I think that's a very notable support for our seniors. Some people say I don't look my age, and you're right, Mr. Speaker - I don't. I am very young.
Basically, what we have to look at is trying to support those people who need that kind of support. The cost of drugs is horrendous, and this is a part of our health program that has to be maintained, because we know that there would be many seniors who would not be able to afford it. And of course, pharmacare clients pay no deductibility, and there are no limits on the amount that the drug is covered. We have some people in the Yukon who need drugs at a very early age - not even our seniors - and those are covered, as well, by the Yukon health care pharmacare system, and this is to be encouraged.
Benefits are based on the lowest priced, interchangeable brand available. Of course, if clients opt to use higher priced brands, they are responsible for those costs. But we will always support the basics that our seniors need.
There are always some issues, of course, and we have people who are probably not 65 who need those kinds of supports. Of course, they are eligible under private plans and under a federal plan as well, so we would like to continue to assess and re-evaluate how we can build in that area.
The important part about pharmacare - and it was an issue that was brought up at the Health ministers conference when I went to the one in Quebec one and a half weeks ago - is the escalating cost of drugs. It is going through the roof. If there is a problem with health care across Canada, a good part of it is attributed to the drug programming. The reasons for that are that we have an aging population - by the way, I'll never admit that, and I think that as I get older, I am really getting younger - there are new drugs being released on the market, prices are rising on existing drugs, and, of course, there is a continuous advertising approach toward consumers, who are being told that they need this or that kind of a drug. Also, there is the problem of patents, which is an issue about how long one can see them through and when generic drugs can start to be produced on the market.
So, there is that problem of drugs placing an increasing demand on all health care budgets. So, we have to look at creative ways of building our resources in this area and, at the same time, try to ensure that we corral the costs that are going through the roof.
The important part about pharmacare is that the Yukon is very unique in many ways. In many jurisdictions in Canada, seniors have to pay a good part of their pharmacare drugs. In some parts of Canada they don't, but in most parts of Canada they do.
We can't maintain the status quo. We know that. We have to continue to re-evaluate and reassess. We have to look at other options and how we are going to do that. Options are not the privy of just a few experts, Mr. Speaker; the options are the privy of all of us. How can we, as citizens, and how can we, as community, come up with some creative answers to stem the rising cost in some of these areas? Because, I can tell you, if we don't, the difficulty of funding and expanding our health care is going to be a very difficult one.
The area of what I call nursing care beds for the elderly, and to ensure that we don't have waiting lists for our seniors, is a very important issue, both with our government and with the community. As our population ages, we know we are going to need more of those kinds of supports. Currently, we have waiting lists at all the residential care levels. That's a reality that we have in the Yukon. That's why building the extended care facility is a very important momentum to, hopefully, stem some of the waiting lists. Continuing care has a five-level client classification system. Of course we have level 1, where clients are no longer admitted into the facility, based on care and provided services through home care and day support. We would like to see the majority of our seniors at this level, because we believe that health and long-lasting curing of any kind of ailments or illnesses is in the home.
We have level 2. This is for immediate care, and this is where clients are eligible for Macaulay Lodge. Then, of course, we have levels 3, 4 and 5, which are the extended and chronic care levels, and they are currently being housed in the residential beds in the Thomson Centre, and, hopefully, in two years' time, the extended care up in Copper Ridge.
Currently, Macaulay Lodge has levels 1 through 4, but we are no longer able to accept the people in the level 1 because of the crowded situation that we have there. So, we really have to be creative in how we build for the future. We are, Mr. Speaker, building an extended care, which will be a 96-bed facility, but we're always going to have to look at our watchful time clock here with our seniors and how this is going to turn out as time progresses, because that could mean, in the future, that we're going to be looking at other aspects of building our health care system.
There is actually a very - I guess you would call it a growing need to look at other alternatives, and I have alluded to a few of them - for example, home care. I have also talked a great deal about how we, as a community, have to come up with creative ideas. We never got into government or never became government because we had all the ideas. We knew we didn't have all the ideas, but we also know that the community has lots of ideas, and we're really extending our creative ways in trying to build, with the community, how we can overcome some of these concerns that we have with our health system and how we can continue to maintain the system as it is.
We are looking at other options too - for example, supportive housing and lodge services. That's another way of looking at extending health care and support for our families and our seniors in their homes. We can also look at how communities look at their seniors and what they feel for the future is in the best interest to build on their needs. And each one of those communities will be different.
The important part of what we call the nursing care - or, if you want to call it the extended care - for developing a sort of answer, it is not the answer. It is one of the solutions, and we are going to work very hard at making sure that we build with that concept in mind. We're also going to be looking at other ways of trying to build that support from the extension of the home and how family can be involved, because we have today a reverse of what I experienced here when I first moved up here in 1965. It was in those days, Mr. Speaker, when you came up here for one year or two years and then you left, because it was kind of a good Yukon experience. And so, you either got hooked by the Yukon lure, or you never came back. And, for those who stayed after their one-year stint, we are finding now that many people are choosing to stay here. They are choosing to live here, and, of course, their children are staying here, and their grandchildren are staying here. I can speak personally of that. When my wife and I were raising our children here, we had three children and they all went out and received training elsewhere in various parts of the country, decided to come back, and now they're having children, so I'm a grandfather here. My children never had that experience.
And I think you can speak of the same kind of experience. We're seeing a return and a long-term view of living their years out in the Yukon. With that in mind, we have to really look at how we build for the future, because that reality is now with us. We have to be committed to the extended care model, because it's a reality in our society. We have to be committed to our NGOs and how they wish to be part of the solution. And we have to be committed to ensure that when we build facilities they are accessible to all people. That is very, very fundamental.
How we do that for the future will depend on all of us. There is a very strong realization out there in the public that money does not grow on trees. We have to look at more creative ways of solving problems. One of the initiatives of the ministers of Health across the nation is to, number one, fund the basic health care needs - and this is through CHST - hopefully, to bring the federal government back on board with the basic funding of health care. An extension of that, Mr. Speaker, is to look at innovation and to look at other ways of delivering our service. We have models in place. For example, we have the process of looking at how we can accommodate the depleting resources of our professionals, of our nurses and our community nurses, who are so fundamental in our communities and for our hospital care and support that we have here in Whitehorse.
We have to look at ways at building that model. We also have to look at what ownership communities have in this issue because, basically, health care is a universal issue. It's my issue, it's your issue, and it's the Yukoner's issue. Somehow, we have come to the idea that health care is for someone else to solve - like, you have your hospital, doctors and nurses, and we, as individuals, do not have a stake in our own personal health. I'm not sure how general that is, but I see a turnaround in that sort of attitude - that health care is up to each one of us. What we have to do is use our seniors to build that model, because that's how they got to where they are now. Health care for them was something that was growing during their lifetime. But the services that they have now are not services that we have had all along. So, we have to look at ways and means, Mr. Speaker, to use our seniors for the future and to mentor us in where we have been.
The whole idea of adult education and how we build on that - how do we get the message across to our schools and communities that health care is more than just me, myself and I? Health care is a community issue, and we can only solve it by all of us putting our heads together and coming up with some solutions. And you're going to hear that many times from me because we, as a government, have never promised that we have all the answers. But we do know that communities out there have answers. We do know that citizens have answers. We have to learn to listen to those answers.
It's interesting, Mr. Speaker, that it took the former government two and a half years to come up with a capital plan so that they could go into the future. Our plan, Mr. Speaker, in the next year is to come up with what we feel is our vision for health care in the Yukon. We're going to do that with input from stakeholders. We're going to do that with input from communities. We're going to do that with partnerships. We're not going to wait until the last year of our mandate to put in place a long-range plan, because that is not fair. That is not honest.
I talk constantly to the groups I meet, and not about a four-year plan, Mr. Speaker. I am talking about a 10-year plan. That's why I got into this concern about how we can help and how we can support. Maybe we have to start rethinking how we plan for the future. Yukoners, I think, are tired of the two- and three-year plans, and we have to look at the long-range plan that transfers over many issues and many changes in the whole area of hospital care and health care.
Yesterday, we spoke a bit about the area of recruitment and retention of health care professionals. That's a very, very serious concern. We really have to look, as a team, as cooperative support people, at what we can do. The question was asked: what is the government going to do about recruitment and retention? It's not just the government, it's not just any one person's view of how we're going to continue in the future, Mr. Speaker. That message has to be all of our support, our direction. When communities have public health nurses, they have to look at how they can retain public health nurses.
It's not only a money issue, Mr. Speaker, it's what kind of reception, what kind of interaction and what kind of support our health professionals get in communities. Some communities have done a marvellous job in building that. I think what we have to do is get more of that message out there: that health care is all of our issue. It doesn't belong to the government that now happens to be in power; it belongs to all of us. What we can do is try to help it along, but we have got to get the message out that we all have a responsibility in that.
One of the problems we have, of course, in the near future is this whole idea of recruitment and retention of health care professionals. A number of ideas have come forth, Mr. Speaker, of how we can do this, and by the way, the Yukon is no exception, I can tell you that right now. The Yukon is no exception whatsoever. When I attended the Health ministers meeting last week - and by the way that's the only meeting I have been to, so I can only refer to it as my learning lesson about the role that I play - the interesting part about it is that, and I have shared that earlier and I have shared it with the public, is that we are doing well in the whole area of health care. But we can do better. There are a lot of situations out there that are going to require the energies of all Yukoners.
One of the issues that I brought up at that meeting was the whole area of prevention. How do we begin that ball? How do we start to inform our public and our community that we are moving toward what is called active living? Mr. Speaker, active living begins when you are born and it ends when you die. We have to maintain that sort of attitude and mentality.
And we have to look at ways and means of building the active-living model. The department has employed a number of recruitment and retention strategies over the past few years and is continuing to work on future strategies. We obviously have a problem in a number of areas. For example, general practitioners and specialist positions are on the decline across Canada. We also know that we are having difficulty in the various nursing streams - for example, intensive care, operating rooms, mental health. We also know that audiologists, nutritionists and emergency medical technicians are hard to come by, Mr. Speaker. Community support is of vital importance in trying to build our model.
What has led to some of these shortages? People wonder why suddenly there are no doctors, why there are no nurses. At one time you had to buy a practice here in the Yukon or in Whitehorse. Fortunately we don't have to do that any more, because the wisdom was seen that we were just excluding people. Currently, any doctor can set up practice here in the Yukon without having to buy a practice.
One of the reasons for the current shortage is that universities have reduced the number of placements for training for physicians and nurses. They are starting to increase, and this is what happens, Mr. Speaker, with the knee-jerk approach. Suddenly we have a surplus of doctors or nurses, and we're concerned about everybody seeing such inflation in our health care costs because you're dealing with fewer people because you have more people to deliver services to. So universities start cutting back, they start looking at their bottom lines and, guess what? A few years later you start to say, "My gosh, we have a problem here. Now we don't have enough, so now we're going to have to spend more money, Mr. Speaker, in order to bring it back up to where we need what we would call suitable services for people in the Yukon."
The other part that I think is a problem is that we have got to look at how specialists are trained, and look at sub-specialists like nurse practitioners. This is now in place in a few of our small communities. This is an idea that can be used here in Whitehorse; it's not a novel idea. We will work with our partners to ensure that whatever is put in place will be a first-class system. And the important part about it is that we will never unilaterally do something that is going to be to the detriment of Yukoners. That is not the Yukon way. That is not the Yukon Liberal way.
The problem we have, of course, is the changes by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons to require training by specialists from outside countries. That's a problem. And I'm not saying we shouldn't have some kind of gate where we ensure we have the best quality people from other countries. We do have, in the Yukon, doctors trained in other countries who are now practising here, and they are top-notch doctors. So, it's not like we don't have the options there to utilize resources from other countries. As a matter of fact, Canada is becoming a big exporter of doctors and nurses to the U.S. We have to look at the reasons why, Mr. Speaker. And that's why we have to look at our retention. We have to look at how we treat our medical people. We have to sort of realize that when we are dealing with people in the Yukon, they all want to be treated as people who are of equal value. And if we don't treat them, then they can go elsewhere.
The cost of training, of course, is another reason. And, of course, if you look at the whole area of specialists, that is even a more serious problem.
And the biggest concern, of course, is that we have an aging population. I hate to say that, Mr. Speaker. You and I are in that ballpark, but I'm not going to let it get the best of me. It's very important that we look at the big bulge that's coming through now with the group of people at our sort of age level. I think that that means there are going to be a lot of demands.
We have a number of strategies that we're looking at, and the first one is retention and how are we going to retain our doctors and our professional people. These are sort of ideas. Some of them are in place at this point, Mr. Speaker, and some of them are just being discussed at this point. By the way, when I say they are being discussed, that means they are being discussed with the stakeholders, they are being discussed with the partners, and they are being discussed with Yukoners, because the impact is going to be felt by all of us.
We have to look at appropriate monetary compensation. I think that's very important, Mr. Speaker, but that's not everything.
I've just been passed a note here. It's rather interesting - that I'm aging as I'm speaking. Yes, I am, and I'll share with you, after, why. I won't do it now, Mr. Speaker.
The important part of flexible working hours - I think we have to really look at how our medical people put in their time, because I, very fortunately, received a lot of inside tips about what happens to medical people. My wife was a nurse here at the hospital for 30 years and, when you realize what time frame they are on when they are working shift work, when they are working in crisis situations, I can't even imagine sharing some of those stories of emergencies coming into the hospital - she was an emergency nurse, of course, and was a supervisor there for many years - and trying to resolve and sit with all the problems that there were in trying to make a hospital work. They are very unique. Not all people could do that. I could not do it.
We have to really look at how we can resolve that issue of being more flexible with working hours.
Another one is the access to education and professional development - very fundamental here in the Yukon. We have got to make sure that we're up to speed with the best in the world.
Another point I think is very important is respect and recognition for services provided. Sometimes, that is a very difficult part for a lot of professional nurses and doctors - to be exposed to the very negative sides of people, not once, but time after time after time, and having to sort of address that in their own psyche, as far as trying to feel good about what they were doing. I think we, as people, have to have a better realization and a better understanding of what these very crucial people in our health care system are doing.
I think the important part is to look at how our seniors are going to be treated in this process. Of course, you know very well that as we move on in time and have more seniors, we have to look at that whole area of care in that particular category of our population.
We also must look at how we, as a team, in all of our health care delivery services, can support each other. The important part about recruitment, of course, is something that is not always easy. As I shared with you earlier, professionals are hard to come by. Mr. Speaker, we are very fortunate in the Yukon to have a very attractive environment. We come here and we stay here because we love the Yukon for what it has to offer, and we have to get that message across to people who are considering coming to the Yukon.
And we can do that by doing a number of things. Number one is, having competitive compensation packages. Now, we haven't come up with any classic model at this time, Mr. Speaker, but we want input from the community, we want input from professionals. What's going to make it attractive for them to come and stay in the Yukon?
Signing bonuses. We keep hearing this term, "signing bonuses" from the opposition, and of course, if we're looking at people coming up here to set up a practice or to be part of our scenery here, then basically that's maybe what we have to look at. That's quite different from a retention bonus for the teachers that they keep referring to. The teachers - it was very basically a retention bonus, not a signing bonus.
The interesting part about a signing bonus is that some of our professionals here, Mr. Speaker, are being lured away to go to the provinces. One particular speciality area, which is a very important technological support system in our hospital, one person is being lured away, we're told, by a signing bonus with one of the provinces for $8,000. In other words, "Sign on the dotted line and we will give you a cheque for $8,000." That's what we're competing with now. That is serious. It is serious to our health care system; it's serious to all of us as Yukoners.
We have to look at assistance with education loans. We well know, from my own personal understanding, that doctors coming out of university, coming out of their basic training, can have loans up to $150,000 outstanding. So, some jurisdictions, some provinces, are paying down some of these loans for them so they will come and serve in their particular area. So, that's another area that we could be looking at.
We could also provide assistance with education costs for return service. For example, as they are moving toward their final degree, they can come here and work at our hospital as support people in our hospital. We could provide them with some type of support, with some type of a guarantee that they come back and spend a few years here in the Yukon. That is being used by a number of areas as well. We have talked about educational opportunities. That is why currently we provide close to $170,000 from the YTG budget for doctors to continue professional development. That's at their discretion. That is, again, allowing our partners to be partners and not trying to manipulate or manoeuvre what they should do with their own resources, or resources that we provide for them.
We also must look at whether or not we can recruit foreign support, people from foreign countries, foreign professionals. We currently have a Web site that has been set up, and right now, as I speak, there have been a few hits from people from outside the country who are interested. So this is basically, again, spreading the good news about the Yukon. Definitely, national advertisements in medical magazines, periodicals, and, of course, probably the best way of trying to sell the Yukon is showing our prospective professionals the beauty of the Yukon, and finally, I think, showing how we as Yukoners receive them as professionals and respect what they do.
Part of the problem that we have, of course, is, as I said before, we have provided a variety of - I guess you would call it monetary compensations for our various professionals.
I've already shared with you one of the built-in monetary supports is that our doctor fees are about 50-percent higher, on the average, higher than across Canada, so hopefully we can retain that and maintain that. We also, as I have shared earlier with you, have to look at how we can continue to look at how other provinces deal with their support for their doctors. For example, the income tax rates and whether you can incorporate - that's a very important part of it. And, of course, the issue of on-call fees is something that has been debated here for the last year and a half and we have to come to a resolution. It's a very serious one.
The use of specialists: how we can have access to our specialists who come up here on a regular basis and maintain that pool. Because you can well-imagine that, if there is a crisis in some of the cities - in some of the larger centres, for example, Vancouver, and there are fewer and fewer specialists, that's going to mean maybe a bit of a hardship for us in recruiting these specialists to come up here on their regular schedules. That hasn't been a problem to date, but it could be. So, we have got to make sure we keep that in sight, as well. We are very fortunate that most of the specialists, if not all of them, come up here because they know what they are coming to. They are coming to a land that is, for them, a very beautiful part of the world. And so, if we can maintain that kind of attitude - that they're received here as professionals, and treated as professionals - we basically have to constantly say that message.
Nurses, of course, are - at one time, as we know, when my wife first started work here she was part of the federal government and worked for them until the hospital was transferred. And, of course, you know we had the problem of the classification that was solved, fortunately, in the last round, and so now we have to look at other ways that are going to be competitive with the rest of Canada.
We have talked about hours, flexible hours. I think that's something that's very important. We have a lot of locums coming up here, locum doctors who basically come up for a month or two months or two weeks or three weeks. We have to demonstrate to the visiting doctors that this is the place where they want to set up practice, and we all have a part in that, Mr. Speaker. Some of that could be just by providing accommodation. The Mayor of Dawson, in some of our discussions when we were first sworn into office, came in and talked about how we can better provide accommodation for doctors in his city. And communities can be a part of that. Like I said before, there are no instant solutions out there, but there are ways and means of trying to resolve issues like this when a community puts its minds together and comes up with ideas that can work.
We have different types of service for doctor support in the Yukon, which shows the creativity of professionals here, both from the professional point of view and also from the community. We have some doctors on contract in small communities. We have some doctors on partial contract. We have some doctors who are on fee-for-service, and most of the doctors in Whitehorse are. So, we have to continue to look at different ways of ensuring that they have certainty in what they do and in what they provide for the community.
I have already mentioned the fact of our aging population and the fact that we really have to look at how we serve their needs for our seniors. It is a growing reality here in the Yukon that we need doctors who understand the needs of seniors. We have to continue to work with our professional force to provide them with the professional development to have those skills and to provide those skills to the people around us.
We also need professional people to look at how families can be of support to our seniors. As I mentioned earlier, this is a new reality. It's a new reality for many of us to have our seniors, family and mothers and fathers with us. In days gone by - long before the 1940s and 1950s - that was a reality. I grew up in a small community, where my family and my mother's family, my grandparents, lived with part of the family. There was no such thing as seniors homes. Today, I sense that there is more of that going on.
So, how do we provide those supports? How do we build for the future? I constantly threaten my son-in-law and my daughter, who have four little girls, that when they build their new house, we want a granny-suite built on to it because we want to be part of the family. Guess what? I'm going to go on record as saying that they think it's a great idea. So, that whole attitude is changing about where our seniors should be. They must be with family; they must be with community. We don't tuck them away somewhere and forget about them.
I have talked about nurses. You know, nurses are a very valuable part of our health care system. Community and hospital nurses have a very tough job. We all know that. They are the health care in many of the communities. We have to provide them with those resources and support that makes their job attractive. I met with the director of the community nurses about a week and a half ago, and I was very enthused by some of the ideas and some of the - I guess you would call it - creative ways of looking at how we can support our community nurses.
Last night, when I was at the hospital for their public meeting and their board meeting, I had a very good meeting with the hospital board. There was a lady - I can't remember her name - who was a representative from Watson Lake. By the way, she was speaking from Dawson. We had a chuckle about that. She was from Watson Lake, but was speaking from Dawson. I guess she was visiting.
After I had given my little speech, she brought up the question, "You know, a satellite dish isn't going to cut it." What she meant by that was that it wasn't what community nurses want. They don't mind having them and I think we have to provide that kind of support, but they want to be respected as a professional in the community. They want the community to fully take on the responsibility of treating the people as part of the community and not as something separate. I think that that is really where we are at. How does a community build on their health support?
Community nurses cannot be on call for 24 hours a day. Yet, that is the expectation. They need a life, as well. So, we have to build into their time schedule some time off, whether it's for a week, two weeks, two months or whatever. The important point here is that we have to be creative. We have many seniors living in the rural areas. They need help and support. We need to have ideas about how to do that.
As I mentioned earlier, throwing money at it isn't the only way of solving the problem. That doesn't make seniors part of our community, just because you throw money at it. I think that throwing people into the process of trying to deal with issues and coming up with answers is how we solve the problem.
One of the things that I think is very important - and I've mentioned a bit about it - is housing. That doesn't seem to be a problem right now in Whitehorse because of where our economy is, and I won't thank anybody for that at this point. There is lots of housing in Whitehorse, but in the small communities that's not always accessible. We really have to look at how we support our professional people in the communities. I think, in Whitehorse, we also have to be cognizant of looking at interim support and how we provide them with that kind of backup.
As I mentioned earlier, the hospital has moved toward setting up what they call a nursing apartment or whatever near the hospital so that they can call on short-contract people to come up and at least have a place for them to stay. We have to really look at making sure that we treat everybody with equity, whether it's a YTG employee, whether it's a nurse, whether it's a doctor, and so on. But on the other hand, we also have to look at the seriousness of our problem.
One of the other problems we have is the access to education and professional development. We don't have what you would call an extensive training institute for health care, such as a doctor program or a nurse program. We do have some practical nursing training. We do have some expertise here that we have to keep accessing, but we really have to look at how we can work with the YMA and provide those opportunities. We also have - which came into effect here on April 1, 1999 - a $200,000 professional development fund that can be accessed by health professionals, including the Yukon registered nurses, the physiotherapists and nutritionists and so on. This is, again, to provide courses and upgrading of their skills so that they are always aware. We know that the needs of our seniors are different from their needs when they were younger, so there are some very important courses that they have to be exposed to so that they can come up to some kind of knowledge to provide that support.
So the whole area of bursaries - providing bursaries for health care people - I think is important. What we need are more Yukoners to get involved in the health care business and, of course, we have in place bursaries to encourage nurses. We also have a very handsome approach toward trying to encourage some of our citizens to take up medicine. I am sure if we had more wanting to do this, we would look at other ways of trying to provide those resources, because we know that in the whole area of medicine, it's a very expensive venture.
One of the real cruxes of our health care problem, I think, is one that has been highlighted a few times here: the respect and recognition for services provided. You may say I'm over doing it, Mr. Speaker, but when you find that you don't have the same access to health care that you had, say, a few years ago, and you have nurses who are moving in and out of communities like a clock, like a revolving door, you have to then question: what are we doing, or what are we not doing to ensure that these people, these professionals will stay with us for a long term? I think that's one thing that comes up quite often. If you're knocking on a nurses' door at midnight, and it's for a reason that is not really that serious, I don't think that particular nurse or community nurse is very enamoured by the fact that they're being asked to get up and put a Band-Aid on. Now, if it's for serious reasons, that's why they're there. So we have to look at ways of trying to balance what is required of them and give them time when they can have that freedom to do what they need to do.
We'll have to really continue to work on our health care. We have to look at how we're going to build. A recent survey indicated that 72 percent of Yukon residents were satisfied with the level of health care in the Yukon.
That's fairly high. I want to see 92 percent in 10 years' time. Everybody should be satisfied with their health care. If they're part of the solution, then obviously they have had input into how we are going to reach that 92 percent.
I think the other point is that you have to look at the whole issue of how we, as a community - how we as a government - respect the various functions that all our professionals and all our citizens play in the Yukon. I'm not saying that we treat people any differently, I'm just saying let's give respect where respect is due. I think having joint committee meetings - having joint meetings - is important for people like myself and for other ministers to meet with people and not just meet with the executives. I think the action is where people are.
I know when I was knocking on doors up in Porter Creek North, health care was a question on their minds. We've got to keep knocking on the doors and find out what else is on their minds about the future of health care in the Yukon.
We must work together. We must maintain our professional standards. We must challenge each other to work to the highest level of health care in the Yukon, because if we don't, we all pay the price. I think we, as a community, must look at what our needs are. We must look at our needs as far as being reasonable is concerned. We must look at some of those possible needs as sometimes being unreasonable. The health care system isn't going to fix all our problems.
We, as community, can really work on the path of fixing our problems. When we have problems in health care, it's often because we are looking for instant solutions, and there are no instant solutions. As I have said over and over again, basically, we must work as a team.
I think we are on that path. I think that message is out there. From our platform, I know that we made it very clear that we are supportive of health care. We are very assured that we have no "thin veil", as I keep hearing from my colleague across the floor. We have never even breathed a word about cutting health care. So, that's, again, one of those phantom ideas that come from some people who want people to believe that. If they say it often enough, then, I guess, people might believe it. But the Yukon public are too wise for that. They know us as people of integrity; they know us as people of honesty, so they're not going to buy that, Mr. Speaker.
Yukoners want the best health system that we can offer. They want the best health system with their input. They want the best health system that builds on team and that builds on community. Our seniors want us to use common sense when it comes to dealing with what their needs are and what the needs of Yukoners are. There is just no other way. We have no choice.
How we are going to do that is probably one of the big challenges before us. We can speak here forever - I gather I can do that. Somebody is telling me that I can speak here forever, and, you know, five days down the road -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Go for it, yes. I think the important part is that it's not what we say here that counts. What really counts is when we go to our communities, and ask them what we can do as a community, and look at solutions that are within the community, look at creative ways of building for the future. There is no doubt about it: we have a challenge ahead of us, and it's going to take all our forces. And when I say that, I'm not talking about this side of the House. I'm talking about the other side of the House. I want them to be part of the solution. They have a lot of ideas. They were here for awhile in the previous government, so they do have some ideas. If they are good ideas and they are part of the mending, part of the solution, then we'll use them. That's the kind of government we are.
Health care is of vital importance to all Yukoners. Health care, Mr. Speaker, is of vital importance to Yukon Liberals. That's why we, as a team, want to work with communities. We want to work with all people. We want to work for the betterment of our seniors, our mentors, our supporters, our guides, the people who tell us where they have been and where we should go. We must never lower ourselves to disrespect the wisdom of our elders.
So, when I hear, coming from the opposite benches, that I made comments supposedly that were reflecting our seniors as second-class citizens, I just cannot buy that. I'm sorry. Our seniors are first-class citizens. They are the base of our society, and it's time that we all realize that and respect them for what they have to offer to our community.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, for the past little while, we have been treated to an overview of the Yukon health care system by the Member for Porter Creek North, an overview that succinctly sets out a lot of the issues that we have to face in our health care system. What it did not do is outline, in the wonderful opportunity that the member opposite had, how the Liberal position on health care was going to be dovetailed into the existing. Once again, we were treated to the usual Liberal position of walking the fence, not coming down on either side of it, of how the election promises that the Liberals campaigned on were going to be implemented into the health care system.
We were treated to a wonderful series of words: "We have very good meetings, we have joint meetings, we have to meet with the people." That's great, Mr. Speaker. Then, "We're going to have to put our heads together." Well, it's nice to know that the Liberal Party has their heads together, but I suggest that, until they come up with a position and make a decision and tell us how they are going to implement their commitments and those decisions, their heads are together and they're stuck in the sand, and you can't stay there for very long.
This sitting on the fence has got to stop. The Yukon has to move ahead.
We have an aging population. People are living longer and, with the fact that the sizes of our families are decreasing, there is a growing concern about meeting the future health care needs of our population. Starting in the year 2011, it is expected that the number of retired people - those of us over 65 years of age - will more than double over and above the 3.7 million in our current population. So, it is no surprise that we're going to be facing a big challenge in the coming decades, with an increasing number of people requiring long-term care and a very serious decline in the number of people to care for these individuals.
Increasingly, all jurisdictions in Canada are having to look carefully at expenditures in health care to ensure that the best services possible are being delivered in the most cost-effective manner. What is simply needed are initiatives that will assist seniors and elders to continue to play an active role in their respective communities. That will enable these seniors and elders to retire in their own communities and to remain in their homes as long as they are physically able and willing to do so.
As currently is the case, those who require extended care have no choice but to leave their homes and, in many cases, to leave their communities, families and friends to move to Whitehorse in order to receive the appropriate level of care that they need. Well, Mr. Speaker, needless to say, those of us who have to move from their homes do so with a great deal of reluctance. Contrary to what many believe, not everyone has made the choice or decision to live in Whitehorse.
And the people that I am referring to here today are those who have made this Yukon what it is today. Those same people are the ones who have contributed their lives to their respective communities. These people are the backbone of our territory, and I believe it is incumbent upon Yukoners to do whatever we can to care for them and ensure that they are given the opportunity to spend their golden age in the place that they call home. Over the years, there has been a growing trend to shift from institutional to community-based care while at the same time ensuring a quantum of care that includes institutional care.
Mr. Speaker, today more than ever, there is an increasing emphasis on keeping seniors in their respective communities, helping them to stay in their homes and to be near their friends and families. The challenge these days for government is to determine how best to meet the range of seniors' needs, to ensure that families are not overburdened and at the same time control publicly funded costs. Here in the territory - we're not unusual - our population is growing older. As it currently stands, we have now more people over 55 than under 15 years of age. That's quite a shift from just a few short years ago. Our general population is growing older quicker, and so are many of our health care professionals. The situation today is that of an unfortunate cycle of decreasing resources, increasing workloads coupled with deteriorating working conditions that have forced many of our health care professionals to look toward generous employment offers from our counterparts in the southern part of Canada and in other countries, primarily the U.S.
We have many new challenges to meet, and the time to address these challenges is now.
Mr. Speaker, the motion before us today raises an extremely important issue: that Yukon seniors and elders be entitled to a high quality of health care and other social support, so that they can continue to live a life of dignity in the society to which they have contributed greatly.
More and more, seniors in the Yukon are choosing to stay in the Yukon. They are living here in the Yukon, and they want to be with their family and friends. They enjoy being in the Yukon and are grateful for the benefits they receive from all levels of government. Despite the benefits of living in the Yukon, many of our seniors and elders are having a difficult time in making ends meet, as a result of the rising cost of living. Food, electrical, heating costs and energy are but a few of the costs that have been rising dramatically over recent years, making it more and more difficult for retired individuals to live a comfortable life. Indeed, these are tough times for many Yukoners, especially for those on fixed incomes.
As I have pointed out time after time in this Legislature, I believe that government should be doing everything it can to keep Yukon elders and seniors in their own homes and in their own communities for as long as they are physically able and wish to do so. The home, Mr. Speaker, is where the heart is, and we believe Yukon elders and seniors feel more secure and healthy living in their own homes than in an institution.
Now, having said that, our party proposed a number of initiatives during the election that would enable more and more Yukon seniors and elders to enjoy a comfortable retirement in their own homes. Members will recall that, during the election, the Yukon Party proposed to increase the pioneer utility grant by 25 percent and to index it to guard against inflation. The pioneer utility grant has remained fixed for years, but the day-to-day cost of living has continued to rise.
Such an increase would have net approximately $600 to $750 into the pockets of our seniors. That's money that's immediately impacting upon the economy.
Our party also proposed to eliminate the Yukon fuel tax, an initiative that would have saved Yukoners 6.6 cents per litre on gasoline and 7.7 cents per litre on diesel fuel. That's more money in the pockets of Yukoners, not just seniors and elders, but everyone.
Our party proposed to enhance community-based home care programs for seniors and made the commitment to be proactive in implementing programs that will attract and retain health care professionals to our respective communities to ensure these services are provided.
Now, the Member for Porter Creek North is in a position to undertake a number of these initiatives that were discussed at great length by Liberals campaigning and who were elected. I didn't hear one word today about where the Liberals are taking health care, what they're going to implement and what they're going to be doing. We're just going to get our heads together. We're going to have very good meetings. We're going to have joint meetings. We're going to meet with the people. Once again, that fence that the Liberals are walking on is getting very, very narrow. Decisions are going to have to be made in the very near future. We can't just sit there and say nothing but wonderful words, and do nothing.
We had a plan and, if elected, we would be working at this moment to see those commitments through, unlike the Liberals. During the recent territorial election, the Yukon Liberals made a lot of specific commitments to Yukon seniors and elders. Those included maintaining stable funding for the Whitehorse General Hospital, expanding the number of nursing care beds for the elderly to ensure that there are not waiting lists for seniors, improving respite services, constructing independent living accommodations for the elderly in those communities where the need exists, ensuring that the existing home program is funded to adequate levels to support seniors in their own homes and working to ensure that each community is staffed with adequate numbers of doctors and nurse practitioners.
Those were all dealt with at great length, and I can recall, Mr. Speaker, just a few short months ago, when Liberal members in opposition spoke at great length, criticizing the NDP government of the day about the direction they were taking. Members of the Liberal caucus of the day went on to say, "Well, we don't need another study. Watson Lake needs a multi-level care facility. The need is real. The minister, from personal experience in that community, is excruciatingly aware of the need." The same member went on to say, "Mr. Speaker, the minister has to do more than talk. The minister is building a fine, new multi-level care facility here for the citizens of Whitehorse. What has the minister done to help higher need citizens in Watson Lake?"
Well, the Liberals are now the government of the day. Many, many of those very same issues are not being addressed, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I recall discussions regarding the issue of a referral service senior who needed assistance with home cleaning, yard care and snow removal. I recall discussions about the housing shortage in the territory for seniors and the need to start acting now.
While I don't expect everything to be accomplished in one day, I would have thought that more of an effort would have been taken by this government - this Liberal government - in beginning to address some of these issues and with an opportunity like was presented today, to enunciate or at least spell out how they're going to dovetail their election promises into the existing programs.
The government has failed in this regard, Mr. Speaker, and I would urge the government to put their money where their mouth is by placing adequate funding in the fall supplementary budget to support their commitments to Yukon seniors and elders.
At the same time, I would also urge the government to keep an open mind and give serious consideration to our Yukon Party election commitments in relation to helping Yukon seniors and elders. A lot of our programs were carefully considered and have very good impacts on our seniors and elders. Have a look at them. When you have your heads together, make sure you are looking outwards as well as inwards.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to provide members with a brief outline of the facilities in both the City of Dawson and the Town of Watson Lake. I would point out what it is that these communities wish to have and why they are requesting multi-level health care facilities in their respective communities. Look at Dawson City. McDonald Lodge was built in 1970. It was designed to accommodate those seniors who could primarily take care of themselves. There are 10 beds and one self-contained apartment. Services available to the lodge include helping seniors with meals, mail, shopping and so on. There is a common dining room for seniors to meet and share. Currently the facility is full. There is an increasing demand for more rooms, as well as additional services. Examples would be palliative care, rehab, respite and so on.
When we look at Watson Lake, Mr. Speaker, there is no seniors complex. The Signpost Seniors have sent a proposal to the Minister of Health and Social Services regarding the construction of a multi-level health care facility in the Town of Watson Lake, which would include a total of 12 beds.
Six of them would be long-term care, two respite, one palliative care as required, a couple of rehab therapy and one adult daycare. They are also looking at a common dining room, meeting room and an area to hold clinics. They are suggesting that that facility could be made available to the whole community, and not used just solely for seniors.
In Watson Lake, as in other areas, they do not wish to replace home care services but feel that services should be made available to seniors and individuals when family and friends are not able to be with those in need on a continuing, 24-hour basis. Watson Lake is suggesting that the facility would be built in such a manner that it could access the acute care area of the hospital, either directly or through a corridor. The Signpost Seniors are currently seeking the purchase of the lot beside the hospital for the construction of such a facility. These are all great undertakings, and the Liberal candidate in Watson Lake, during the last election, committed to building a 22-bed extended care facility. You don't hear anything from the previous speaker, the Member for Porter Creek North, as to its viability, or if that's going to happen. Mr. Speaker, this facility would also be built in such a manner that an expansion could be accommodated further down the road if time was needed.
We go on to the other areas, Mr. Speaker. We go on to using the current beds, adapting them accordingly. It's an issue that has to be addressed. What people in Watson Lake or Dawson are asking for is not a full-blown extended care facility such as the Thomson Centre in Whitehorse, but a facility to accommodate and meet the needs of our seniors to enable them to reside in their home communities with their families and friends for as long as they are physically able.
Mr. Speaker, it's not often that I agree with an NDP position or a motion, but today I will be supporting this one.
Mr. Kent: Before I get into my speech, I'd just like to take this time to wish the Minister of Health and Social Services a very happy birthday today on behalf of all members of this Assembly.
As the youngest member here, you may not think that seniors' issues are important to me, but my riding of Riverside has many seniors living in it - at Macaulay Lodge, the Hanson Street Seniors Complex, and there are many seniors gathered throughout the riding in private homes. As my colleague, the Minister of Health and Social Services, commented on all of the medical issues regarded, I'd like to focus more on some of the programs that are offered to senior citizens.
The Liberals will continue to work with the relevant bodies to ensure the continuance and enhancement of the following grants and services in order that our seniors and elders receive the best care possible. The pioneer utility grant, as the Member for Klondike referred to, was introduced in 1978 to help Yukon seniors with their heating costs. These costs include wood heat, propane, oil or any form of fuel used by a senior to heat his or her home. The pioneer utility grant is paid once a year to a maximum of $600 and is available to those who are 65 years of age or older, who are a surviving spouse, aged 60 or older, of an individual who would have been 65 or over, or who have resided 183 days in their own home, 90 of which were during the months of October, November, December, January, February or March.
Those homes may be rented or owned by the senior.
A second program that I would like to mention here today is the City of Whitehorse utility grant for up to $500, which offers a rebate on fees paid for water, sewer and garbage collection. Those eligible are 65 years of age or older and, similar to the pioneer grant, 60 or older with the surviving spouse of a person who is eligible.
The home owners grant, for Yukoners who are 65 or older and who own and occupy their own home, is equivalent to 75 percent of the general taxes, to a maximum of $500 per household. In order to qualify, seniors must own and occupy their residence since January 1, or 184 days of the current property tax year, and have their property taxes paid in full.
There are a number of ways to receive the grants, and they are as follows. If they pay their own taxes, the grant may be credited at the time the taxes are paid. If a mortgage company pays their taxes, the grant may be credited at the time taxes are paid. The application must be submitted by June 10 of the current year. If they or the mortgage company pay the taxes and they wish to receive their grant check, they are required to submit their application requesting the cheque be forwarded to them. Applications are accepted from the time of current year tax payment until February 15 of the following year.
Another program that is designed to assist seniors is the social assistance program. Health and Social Services offers financial assistance to residents in need. Assistance may be granted on either an ongoing basis or to help overcome an emergency situation. The following forms of assistance are available: assistance with medical-related expenses, which are beyond the ability of the senior citizen and are not covered under the extended health care benefits program for seniors, Yukon pharmacare or the chronic disease list.
For assistance with special needs, consideration may be given, on an individual basis, for assistance with unexpected expenses with the senior citizen, which the senior citizen cannot afford.
As a funder of last resort, eligibility is determined by income and financial resources of the applicant. The Council of Yukon First Nations offers an interim pension to potential beneficiaries of Yukon land claims until land claims are settled. People are eligible if they are at least 60 years of age, they are at least 25 percent of First Nations blood, they were a resident of the Yukon Territory prior to January 1, 1941, or if they are a descendent under First Nation custom, or if they have been named by the Elders Council to receive such benefits. The elders pension is paid monthly at a rate of $200. These are just some of the programs, Mr. Speaker, that we, as the Liberal Party, would like to see continued and enhanced where possible.
As my colleagues from across the floor have said, the continuance would be the NDP's agenda; the enhancement would be the Liberal's priority. As the member responsible for the Youth Directorate, I would like to see the youth of today educated on some of the needs of seniors. They need to understand that they too someday will be seniors and that other cultures respect seniors and elders as well. And with regard to the motion put forth by the Member for Faro, the operating surplus of approximately $60 million that the current government inherited from the previous administration is sufficient to support many of these commitments. It's now my turn, as my colleagues have been stating for the last two weeks of sitting, that the deficit is not $56 million, $61 million, $51 million or whatever number they come up with -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Kent: Thank you. You got me.
The surplus is not $51 million, $56 million or $61 million, as members from across the floor have stated. The surplus, March 2001, will be $14,724,000.
When the Liberal supplementary budget is tabled, it will be a fair budget, a responsible budget, a realistic budget. Leading up to that time, we will sit down and examine the needs and requirements of Yukoners and design a supplementary budget that will reflect their best interests.
Mr. McLarnon: I'm pleased to stand and talk about the seniors' issues and the motion put forward today. One of the reasons why is because right now, in the downtown area, about 35 percent of the residents are over the age of 65. Why I'd like to address this issue is not just for these people but also to talk about attitudes represented by parties and how these people are treated.
During the election, as I went down and talked to my neighbours, talked to my friends, people I've known all my life, I was shocked and dismayed to find out that the NDP platform, the NDP strategy, was to scare these people, was to take the most vulnerable people in our society and take the one thing they depended on most and use it against them, use it as a political tool. They continually said to the seniors throughout my riding that the Liberals will cut health care. They continually went to them and said that one vote for me is a vote against one of their lives.
We had the candidate, the previous Member for Whitehorse Centre, and his wife going around talking about the fact that a Yukon Liberal is a federal Liberal, that a person they have known all their lives is now their enemy, and that person would now hurt them, now take away rights that they have enjoyed. I would never attempt to take away that.
I think that brings us back to the reason why this motion is being presented today. We have to look at this motion as it's being presented today as not a motion that is honestly being discussed on health care, on seniors' issues. This motion, as it's being presented today by the opposition, is an attempt to score political points, to create fear, to again raise questions in our seniors as to whether we will cut their basic needs and attack their lifestyle. I can honestly say that I'm a little miffed. I'm looking at it and asking how we can possibly create a political question out of something as fundamental as taking care of people who have taken care of us all our lives?
When we look at the NDP record across Canada, while they say that they stand for health care, who was the government in Saskatchewan when they closed 50 rural hospitals? Who was the government in Saskatchewan at the time that stood for the Saskatchewan rural community, but closed senior beds.
I ask you, when we are looking at who has historically cut, all parties have historically cut. Why have they historically cut? Because they follow a program and a platform that creates fear or does not answer the questions being asked by their populations. Our platform was based on the needs of seniors, not just physically, but in the roles of society that we have today. We have created opportunities and we will create opportunities for mentoring, asking our seniors to teach us, to be part of our society, to give them an active role beyond retirement and to allow them to extend their knowledge to the younger generations. We have stood for it. It was an original platform item and we will stand for it beyond just costs of health care and just costs of housing, but in the more holistic sense of inclusion of seniors beyond the age of retirement.
I would also like to take issue with the fact that the NDP has attributed to me comments on seniors which in fact are not true. When we were talking in the Question Period, when we were talking previously, the NDP had at one point attributed the comment of second-class citizenship to myself. That letter was written by my sister, Shauna McLarnon, who has a masters in political science, and it developed a very academic reasoning as to why the extended care facility policy of the NDP had created injustices within our society. My sister is not elected, she is not here represented in the House today and if anybody has issues with her, I recommend they write an academic critique back to her telling her why she's wrong. Do I stand by my sister's words in that letter? Partially. Do I respect my sister's opinion? One hundred percent. Do I attribute those words to her? One hundred percent. They were not words spoken by me, nor do I care to answer for my sister's ideas and thoughts, as well-developed as they were.
What my sister was talking about during the election, though, was the process that went into putting the extended care facility up the hill away from services. She was talking about the lack of consultation done by the previous government on the location of the extended care facility.
What I was talking about in the election, when I was talking to the seniors in my riding, was the fact that we would not make those decisions in the same way. We would not pay lip-service consultation on seniors' issues. We have people in my constituency who were on the advisory board and who were called at the first meeting and then the last meeting. It was two years before they were consulted again. They were called in in the last meeting to sign off an agreement that they hadn't seen or talked about for two years. They voted for the Liberals en masse. They did not believe the lies. The reason why they did is because, for the last time, they had heard that they were going to be consulted by this government. That was the last time they would trust the NDP government on a consultation basis. So, they chose to change governments because the person who was knocking on their door and asking them for their vote was the same person who didn't listen to them for the previous four years.
So, I would like to really take issue with the fact that, while we are debating this on seniors, this party, this caucus, will take this issue seriously, take the mandate of this government seriously in the fact that our platform has said that we will ask seniors what they want and we will do what they want. The extended care facility fulfills a need. One of the reasons that our party did not stand up against that extended care facility is the additional year of delays, one more year of pain in Macaulay Lodge, one more year of over crowding in our system. I went through hotels, and I'm not talking about nice hotels - I'm talking essentially about where we send our social assistance recipients over the winter - and found people with gout, with access problems, with problems just walking around, being told, "This is where you stay; we have a waiting list." Why I didn't stand up when we won and say that the extended care facility needs to be moved is because I met those people. The facilities that they are in now are no longer adequate, and they cannot wait any longer. That is why I never raised my opposition to the fact that the extended care facility is up the hill.
Would we do it differently in the future? Damn right. In a second. Would we -
Speaker: Order please. Would the member be careful with his language.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. McLarnon: Thank you. I retract that - darn right.
We are in a situation where the pressures on the downtown area are increasing daily. We have, through our mandated system, created seniors housing in the downtown area to take advantage of the facilities and services available. Yet, another issue that is being raised that has been attributed to me that I need to correct right now is my opposition to the Argus project. Why I stood against the Argus project is because it's going to -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The hon. Member for Watson Lake, on a point of order.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, under the Standing Orders, during motion debate, any speaker standing in this Legislature to the motion must be speaking to the main body of the motion. The Argus development issue has nothing to do with this motion. Therefore, I would ask you to rule the Member for Whitehorse Centre out of order.
Speaker: Thank you, Member for Watson Lake.
Mr. McLarnon: On the point of order.
Speaker: Member for Whitehorse Centre, on the point of order.
Mr. McLarnon:Why I am raising the Argus issue is to talk about services and facilities in the downtown area, which are vital to the needs of downtown resident seniors. If you allow me five minutes to discuss this, I will prove my point.
Speaker: Would the Member for Whitehorse Centre please ensure that you display this as relative to the motion at hand.
Mr. McLarnon: This has everything to do with seniors.
Why I spoke up against the Argus project and why I will continue to speak up against the Argus project in many facets is because of how it affects the life of downtown seniors and affects the lives of downtown residents. Downtown seniors are downtown for the reason that we have the facilities, such as the doctors' offices. It is because it is the area downtown that fulfils the needs of seniors and residents. Why I spoke up and why I am here today is to take into account the larger picture: the fact that seniors will be affected by the Argus proposal.
Why I spoke up in the election was, again, about the decision and the way it was made. This talks about how our government is not going to make those decisions any more. We are going to take a holistic approach to what our community is, what we're about and who lives there. What the Argus project did is take services away from these seniors, and that's why I spoke up about it. Will I oppose it in the future? Yes, I will. Will I talk to my Cabinet ministers about never making that type of decision again? Yes, I will. Why? Because it affects downtown seniors. When shops close, when doctors' offices move because there are fewer people downtown in need of them, then that's when we are affected.
Why I talk about Argus is because it affects my community, of which 35 percent are senior citizens who need those services downtown. That's why I stood against it and why I still stand against it, because it has affected my neighbourhood and the people who live in it. As I have said, 35 percent are seniors, who are people who need to walk to those facilities and do not have the transportation capabilities they previously had. We, as a Yukon Liberal government, will make sure that when we make decisions on overall policies - things we don't think will affect the average Joe - we will then look at the holistic approach. Who is this touching? This is touching the seniors of the Yukon Territory. This is touching the seniors downtown.
Now, Mr. Speaker, that's all I'll discuss on Argus, and how it affects the seniors and why the mistake was made all those months ago, and why we have to live with it. We are going to have to increase our Handy Bus service to all of them now, and we're going to have to increase our budgets. I'm sure none of this was considered when we put the $750,000 in last year's NDP budget toward the Argus mall. We didn't think about how it was going to affect our senior citizens. We didn't think about how it was going to happen and what it was going to do to the rest of the infrastructure. We are in a situation where we are complying with this agreement until the end of this month. At the end of this month, I will bring my voice forward again about it to my caucus.
Now, when we talk about seniors, we should also talk about accessibility issues. That's one thing I know my government is committed to. Downtown Whitehorse has done a very good job, in many cases, on accessibility issues - about the ability for seniors to get around.
One of the things that I will be pressuring my government to do is to address accessibility issues in rural communities. We will be looking at this fact, and we will also be looking at the fact that there will also be medical needs in rural communities to address these accessibility issues.
My hope is that the opposition will not encumber the positive changes that we can make on this side, as they have for the last three days. We will hope that the opposition, when we look at seniors' issues down the road, will understand that there is a limited amount of time to discuss these issues, to get them through the House. We will hope that the opposition in the future will not hold the seniors as hostage as they are holding the Yukon population hostage right now on this budget debate.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to say that, this month, I'll be joining the Yukon Order of Pioneers. I'm pleased to say that there are seven people, eight people, nine people, 10 people on this side who have the ability to do that. We will be communicating with seniors on much more than an official consultative basis. We will be meeting them at the bridge clubs. We will be meeting at the seniors centres. We will be meeting at the Yukon Order of Pioneers meetings. These kinds of consultations are meaningful. We can be held accountable to these kinds of consultations, without hiding behind a flippant and, in my opinion, an inconsequential consultation process that the seniors have been exposed to for the last four years. As we talk to our parents, as we talk to our friends and people whom we have respected all our lives, we will be held accountable by these people, because these people are people whom we respect - always have, always will.
There's no danger of cuts to their health care. There's no danger of us abandoning our seniors after all the years of service that they have given to us.
I ask, Mr. Speaker, that this House recognize that and that we all understand that there is nobody here out to hurt their elders.
There is nobody here with disrespect enough not to listen to their needs. I ask that the politics of this House be removed on issues dealing with people as important as our elders and our seniors. I ask that the rhetoric stop when we are talking about seniors. If we are going to choose rhetoric, let's choose rhetoric on areas where it can be applied. Let's talk about different things - for example, capital projects - but we have to look at our seniors with the respect they deserve. They are not a political football. They do not deserve to become a political issue. Seniors have the respect and know they have the respect of the people on this side. It's apparent that there are no seniors over there, because if you were, you'd know you have the respect of the people on this side as well.
Speaker: Order please. The member will address his comments to the Chair and not use the word "you".
Mr. McLarnon: We are in a situation where the basic lack of respect that the government has shown for the last four years - they are trying to make it contagious and bring it over to this side. Well, we refuse to accept this. We refuse to accept the political situation of making seniors a football. We will deal with seniors in the most respectful way as we always have, in our lives personally and in our platform.
Speaker: The member has two minutes to conclude.
Mr. McLarnon: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
One of the things that I would also like to address in the downtown area on seniors is home care. As I walked through the riding during the campaign, as I met neighbours who have needed it for years, I understand the fundamental need for this in Whitehorse and in the communities. I will be on my watch. This will not be decreased. On my watch, as I walk through the riding, I will be able to proudly say that our government will continue to service the needs of the seniors in this area. I will be asking my government to address the need for seniors to stay in their homes.
Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda:It is a pleasure to stand in the House to discuss this motion respecting Yukon seniors and elders. I have been a resident of the Yukon Territory for a good portion of my life and, through this time, have become acquainted with many Yukon seniors and elders all over the territory. Their knowledge, insight and humour are a legacy that will remain in our hearts and in our minds. I have many personal friends who are seniors, and I have worked with many First Nation elders throughout my adult life. I agree with the motion that our seniors and elders are entitled to the highest quality of health care and other social support.
My mother lives in the riding in downtown centre and has very much appreciated the respect, and the fact that the member who represents her in this House, who sits on this side of the House, will just sit and listen to her. There's an old, favourite song of mine called Say Hello In There, and it talks about just listening to older people, respecting what they have to say, relating to the stories they have to tell.
I heartily agree that it is important for seniors and elders to maintain dignity in their lives and within their respective communities. We want to be sure that seniors and elders are in favour of proposals that we put forward. We don't want to force seniors and elders to accept something that they do not want or feel that they do not need. We value all our seniors and elders and respect their continuing contributions to our lives and to our communities.
I have even watched young groups of children who listen intently to the stories told by seniors and elders, and have seen the look of wonder when they realize that the folks whom they are talking to - who, believe it or not were their age at one time - had no televisions, had no computers, had no Nintendos, had none of the modern conveniences that youngsters take for granted. But the youngsters are willing to look at photo albums, to listen to the stories - the recounting stories of the homestead. Yukon is only just over 100 years old. We have had populations in the territory that go back some 20,000 years, and we respect that. Seniors and elders are truly a valuable resource. Whether through their historic knowledge or their keen insight, we should never underestimate them.
Mr. Speaker, in my short time in the House, we on this side have extended offers to work cooperatively with members opposite because it's the right thing to do. But we have only received a barrage of catcalls and negative retort, even after some of them have indicated a willingness to work with members on this side. If there is a single issue - as my colleague so eloquently put it - that all members should work together on, it is this one. But Mr. Speaker, as I listen to the other side, they are maintaining a steadfast unwillingness to even try. So we on this side will provide the care and need for all our Yukon seniors and elders, but we will also maintain a willingness to extend a hand across this House, inviting members opposite to work cooperatively and positively, especially on an issue as important as this. We will, hopefully, wish that they will accept the offer.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Tucker: I rise today to speak to the motion on seniors care and elders care. I have listened to other members in the House, and it is with some pride that I follow them. Each of us has our own perspective, and each of us brings something very unique to the House.
For myself, I worked in housing for many years and have dealt with a number of seniors' and elders' issues, and they don't just deal with finding places to live. They deal with the ability of our community to provide care and comfort on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year basis.
I had the opportunity several years ago to go to a conference in Vancouver for non-profit societies in housing, and we all sang the same song: who is going to provide the care for our families as they age? Who is going to be there at 11 p.m.? Who is going to be there at 3 a.m.? Our health care services are limited. We have an increasing seniors population. We have increasing poverty. We in the Yukon do not have the facilities to support our seniors as they age, and that's in the broadest sense of the term "support". It goes right into the basic education of our children in the value of seniors and elders, and what our commitments to each other as a community mean.
I listened to Ovide Mercredi on Friday evening talk about the responsibility that First Nations had in their communities culturally, and that was that everyone had a role, everyone had a responsibility. And the First Nations and every other culture need to return to that sense of responsibility for their First Nations. We need to work together, and that means not only in this House but in our departments. Health and Social Services needs to work with Yukon Housing, we need to work with Education and we need to work with Economic Development to provide opportunities both for people to work and for people to have care.
We need to go back into having a healthy society. We need to have emphasis on family. We need to appreciate and acknowledge the contributions of the women and the men who have worked hard over the centuries in the Yukon to provide care to their families, their seniors and elders. We need to sit down and we need to look at the programs and the budgets in the future to see how we can work together to get the most benefit out of decreasing dollars. Over and over and over again, we have said to the departments, "Do more with less." And that's what we, as leaders of the people, have to do. We have to find places where we can save money and put it to better use. We need to be able to get out there and to help our seniors and elders make healthy, happy contributions to our communities, and the only way that we can do that is with long-term planning and with the input of those seniors and those elders.
We need to move forward. We need to emphasize what it is that we need in the Yukon. What is it that we need from each other? What is it that we need from our institutions? What is it that we need from our education facilities? We talked about getting health care professionals in the community and retention bonuses to make them happy, to keep them here, to be productive members of our community. We also need to look at how we, as members of this community, can do more to help ourselves, where we have programs that overlap, or where we can work together on a volunteer basis. We need to be able to take the wisdom of the ages and regularly put it into our day-to- day lives, not just in a token fashion here in the Legislature.
There are many things in this motion that the Liberals agree with. There are a couple of things that we do not agree with, and based on some of the things that we don't agree with, we would like to put back to the other side of the House, an amendment to the motion.
Ms. Tucker: I move
THAT Motion No. 23 be amended by deleting paragraph (4) and by deleting the expression "its fall supplementary budget" and substituting for it the expression "future budgets".
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Member for Mount Lorne
THAT Motion No. 23 be amended by deleting paragraph (4) and by deleting the expression "its fall supplementary budget" and substituting for it the expression "future budgets".
Ms. Tucker:The Liberals would like it to make it clear that we support seniors and elders in every facet and we will do our utmost to ensure their rights to a high quality of health care and other support so they can live a life of dignity. It is unrealistic, however, to assume that the Liberal government can accomplish all of this in a supplemental budget, which is the reason why we put forward the amendment.
We have some concerns, as does everyone in the Yukon, about the quality of life for seniors. Some of the things that we have seen are that many seniors are left alone and we would like to look at ways to try to find partners for them - foster children for them; grandparents. We would like to see that improvements in health care are made in terms of opportunities for mentoring for our youth and working more closely with them.
Having worked in seniors housing for a number of years, what we found is that many of our seniors are sitting behind closed doors.
Many of them don't have families to support them. How can we work to provide that as a community? Many of us have parents who live outside. There are concerns among many of the seniors here that people coming in from outside are taking their services. How do we address that? Many of the people who have been here for an awfully long time - generations - feel that they have a priority on services. We need to address those competing needs.
We need to look at some way for all our seniors to feel that they are valued, respected and cared-for members of our community, not just today but for the next four years, the next 10 years and on into infinity, which brings us back to a planning process. We need to do some planning, long-term, not for the next election but in perpetuity. The same with land planning, in perpetuity. We need to get back and do some planning and not be reactionary, and that's where we would like to go. There will be changes in the supplementary budget, and we look forward to making more, productive changes after that, in consultation with Yukoners.
Mr. Harding: On the amendment, as anticipated, the Liberals have made the move that I thought they would make, and we, in the official opposition, are very disappointed in this move because it is a very tangible step toward supplying Yukoners with the evidence that they are accumulating very quickly, that this government is not really committed to doing what they say they are going to do.
If this amendment was much more specific as to when they were going to live up to the commitments and which budgets they were contemplating and committing to putting funds into the projects that they have already said they stood for, then we would be able to support it.
However, "future budgets" is not good enough - not when you have $56.2 million in the bank and you have made all of these commitments. The members opposite can keep talking about 2001 all they want. They had a choice. They said they didn't like red ink. They could have told people that they didn't want to table the NDP budget, but they did. What happens in 2001 is their responsibility, as it is right now.
As a matter of fact, they proved they liked red ink so much that they're spending more. So, whatever the surplus is as of March 31, 2001, they are the architects of it and they have to be responsible. They made the promises, not the NDP.
It's interesting to hear the Health minister say that there was no commitment to extended care in Watson Lake. I beg to differ. The candidate, Isaac Wood, told a roomful of people that, if the Liberals were elected, it would be built - unequivocally. He should read the press releases from the Member for Riverdale South about the extended care in Watson Lake. That's a commitment. Are the Liberals now saying that they are not responsible for their party? If they are, they will learn a quick, hard lesson.
You know, Mr. Speaker, the Liberals stood up today and said that the NDP was politicizing issues around seniors and elders. We are politicians; we make political statements. They should read the press releases of the last three and a half years from the Liberal opposition caucuses and perhaps then the Member for Whitehorse Centre wouldn't be so hurt by the motion today.
This is an important motion for seniors and elders that we put forward. And there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that the Liberals could not agree to it. The reality is that the Liberals are going to make moves toward cutting health care. I can see it; can hear it from the Premier and from the minister. It was in the speech. Targeting health care and health care alone was the only area they mentioned. It's going to become readily apparent.
Now, it's interesting: the Liberals have said that the surplus was spent down by the NDP, but they continue to make spending commitments on the fly and say to just wait for the fall. So, one has to wonder whether they are going to spend more in the fall. I just don't know how they are going to reconcile that with all these noble words about the spending of the previous government. But what they've done with this amendment is say clearly that, even though they have $56.2 million in the bank, they want the maximum flexibility to avoid keeping the commitments they made.
We would have liked to support this amendment. But given the fact that this is so arbitrary and so open-ended - precisely what we knew they would do - we cannot support this amendment. We need to know that they were serious about their commitments.
When the Liberals said in their election campaign that the NDP treated seniors like second-class citizens; when we read the press releases from the Member for Riverdale South, when she made her public statements accusing us of treating seniors with disdain and politicizing these issues, we expected more from the Liberals in government.
However, we received this.
It's interesting. I heard the Member for Whitehorse Centre speak eloquently about who authored a letter. Well, Mr. Speaker, I wasn't even referring to a letter. I don't know. I wasn't even referring to that. I was referring to oodles of other things I heard from the Liberals in opposition.
But it's interesting to note that he went on to say that the concerns he agreed with were the process for the selection of the site for the continuing care facility. Well, he should turn to his right and ask the Minister of Health, who stood in Question Period today and said that the process was a model for how decisions should be made.
I don't blame him for being angry. I think he would have made a better Tourism minister, too, but he shouldn't take that out on us.
Mr. Speaker, it's very clear from what we have heard today that the Liberals are not committed to their election promises. It's very clear where they're heading on health care. It's very clear as they distance themselves from a clear commitment to the people of Watson Lake - those seniors and elders - and it's very clear to those who are watching this government as they continuously break promise after promise after promise, that they are not going to do what they said they were going to do.
When we hear them talk now about long-term planning, they used to call that "excuses" in opposition. Build it now, build it fast, build it high, build it big, pay the O&M and don't ask any questions was their attitude with the NDP. Anything less than that could or would not be supported by the Liberals.
So, how can we, on this side, given those lofty words from the members opposite, given their desire - as they expressed it with indignation - to see more done now for seniors and elders. How could we, on this side, allow them to table an amendment that says "future budgets". It doesn't even say "future Liberal government budgets". They could be talking about the next government, because it will probably be left to them to make good on these commitments.
So, it's impossible to support this. It's disappointing. There were so many promises, so many commitments for our seniors and elders and such an open-ended response. You will hear these words about the cost pressures in health care from the Liberals now. We are already starting to hear them. You're going to hear about the need for long-term solutions and strategies and what they're really doing is avoiding taking action on the issues which the NDP government did.
I listed off, in my initial speech, a significant number of accomplishments. You know we didn't make the promises the Liberals made for seniors and elders, because we knew the price tag was high. I used to cringe when I heard the Liberals, in the campaign, promising the sun, the earth, the moon and the stars in all different facets, from school construction to highway construction to jail construction to services for seniors and elders, new health care facilities in Watson Lake and Dawson. I knew that people's expectations would be jacked up and then dashed upon the rocks. This amendment today is the first step toward dashing those expectations that were legitimately created in the minds of people by Liberals who said anything to get elected.
The press releases from the Liberal opposition - there's probably $50 million or $60 billion in requests - hundreds of millions. This budget isn't enough, build this, build that - more in the budget. They are the last of the big-time spenders. We'll see that in the supplementary in the fall. Because they have built up such extreme expectations, everybody is going to be focused on them. They're going to be spending, spending, spending. But in the midst of all that, they still will not be able to meet the expectations. It will leave them in a much more difficult position when they actually go and do their real budget - the first one they actually author - next spring. So, they will be in that conundrum, as well. So, I wish the Minister of Renewable Resources well and the colleagues in the Legislature opposite.
Mr. Speaker, there is no reason why this motion that we tabled today cannot be supported by the Liberals, unless their intention is to very clearly avoid the commitment they made. The motion they put forward is in no way supportable
I almost get the feeling they actually believe there is only $14 million. I think it's a result of the fact that they haven't had much significant time to get into the budgeting process yet. When the fiscal year-end happens, and when you get lapsed funding, that already has an impact on what affects the $14 million in the year 2001. That already jumps that up. And, of course, you're going to have lapses in 2001. You heard the Premier say that the traditional lapses are $15 million to $20 million per year, every year. But I guess this is a political place, so they're grabbing a political line. When the Auditor General reports in the fall, they'll find that there will be a significant number of people in the Yukon who, when asking for things, will quote $56.2 million.
We certainly will, on this side of the House. It will probably be more than $56.2 million. It always is.
Obviously, Finance is going to budget conservatively, as they should, and they will find that they'll be rolling in the simoleons when the Auditor General reports and it will make suppressing expectations very difficult. And we will do our best to ensure that people's expectations are not suppressed, because, of course, the Liberals promised and committed Yukoners in a whole host of areas a lot of things that we knew they couldn't deliver.
The same thing is happening in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia now, where in that case other Conservative governments like the Independent Alliance/Yukon Party/Liberal Premier that now runs this territory have seen it occur. Seven hundred teachers are being laid off in Nova Scotia. In New Brunswick, the new Conservative premier there is having trouble dealing with reducing taxes, hiring more educators, hiring more nurses and ending all highway tolls and the multitude of promises that he committed to.
Essentially, they had campaigns like the Liberals: say anything to get elected. The Conservatives in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia came out of nowhere to win. Nobody expected them to win when things started, because they weren't on the radar screen, but by saying anything to get elected, similar to what we have seen here by the Liberals, they did.
So, Mr. Speaker, I'll just say in closing, as I want to allow some opportunity for other members to speak, that we cannot support this amendment. This is the first step by the Liberals toward eroding their election commitments to seniors and elders in this territory. This is the first step to avoiding the commitments they made to people by tabling an open-ended amendment with no level of commitment, that is basically designed with one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to avoid paying people and providing the services that we need when it comes to retaining and recruiting nurses, health care workers and professionals and when it comes to providing services for seniors and elders. This is not acceptable to the NDP. We did a lot in government, but we couldn't do it all. What we couldn't do, the members opposite said they could do and they should do, and we believe that now that they have said they would do it, they should do it.
This particular motion is designed to test whether they really intend to come forward and make good on what they said they would do for Yukoners. And this amendment is a testimonial to the fact that they don't really intend to do that. So, Mr. Speaker, with that, I would like to say we will not be supporting this amendment.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I'd like to speak on the amendment. It's always very interesting to listen to the member opposite talk about what I call his "phantom budget". He keeps coming back to this $60 million - and four times he mentioned it again - I don't know to whom he's speaking. Maybe he hopes the Blues will get to all the population out there. The budget is really the budget that they tabled in the last round and then called an election, so we have a surplus, as of March 1, of $14.5 million.
We, the Liberals, are concerned about the quality of life of our seniors and it's very important to note that, on this amendment, we cannot understand how a motion of this nature could encourage the fact that there is a $60-million surplus - I'm not sure where they're getting their information.
In talking about planning, the important part here is that we, the Liberal government, believe in long-term planning. Now, how that can be construed as basically being political, I'm not sure. We're looking at a 10-year plan. Past governments have looked at a three-year plan or a three-and-a-half-year plan, and that's the end of it. That leaves a lot of uncertainty among Yukoners.
What happens when we look at the supplementaries, Mr. Speaker, when you look at the amendment, there is this thought from the other side that there is nothing but a money tree out there. And they know full well - except for the Member for Klondike; he probably wouldn't know that because he wasn't in government last round - that the surplus we have is not what they keep telling the House. It's a good opportunity, once again, to show that we are on the right track - that people - citizens of the Yukon - change government because they were obviously dissatisfied with the government that was there. That's very obvious, Mr. Speaker.
So we cannot pursue a motion that states that there is a surplus here of $60 million. That's not true, Mr. Speaker. I think another part of my support for the amendment relates to some distant factors here when we are looking at whether we, on this side, agree where the extended care should be placed - whether it should be up here, down there or everywhere. That shows you the depth of the Liberal Party that we have now in government, that we can have different views and we can work together as a team, because that's what it's all about, Mr. Speaker, that we are basically working for the common good of all Yukoners.
I believe that the amendment will put us in a position of stating, as a complete body of legislators, that we support seniors. To portray another group or another party as being opposed to seniors because they don't want to be tied into what they see as a financial point of their motion tells me that this motion, initially, was for another reason.
We have said over and over again - our platform states it very clearly - that we are supporting seniors. We will work with seniors. We will work with community. We will work with health care people to ensure that we deliver the best health care that we can offer.
The amendment, very clearly, points out that the future is what we are basically talking about here. We are not talking about past governments or past groups. We are talking about the future and we happen to be the future at this point. We want to ensure that we are going to make those decisions in the best interests of all Yukoners.
I'm always impressed when it comes down to really looking at what the goal of this sitting is all about. The goal of this sitting, Mr. Speaker, I would think, would be to pass this budget so that we can get Yukoners working and so that we can get busy at building our health care system for our seniors.
That's really what it's all about, Mr. Speaker. I believe, very honestly, that we have to support the amendment, because it gives us a common ground that all of us can support - including my fellow colleagues across the floor, because I am sure they have the same feelings that we have about doing the best thing for our seniors. I've heard that. They've said it over and over again: they believe in the seniors; they believe in their programming; they believe in supporting health care for them. And yet, I hear that, if we don't vote for their complete motion, we are against seniors. I am not sure how that can be twisted around like that. As my colleague said here, maybe it has something to do with translation. But the point is, we are here to represent Yukoners, and that's all Yukoners.
I believe we have to support the amendment because it's what Yukoners want, and if we don't support this amendment then I think that says something else.
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m., the Speaker will now leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Debate on Motion No. 23 accordingly adjourned
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call the Committee of the Whole to order. The Committee is dealing with Bill No. 2, First Appropriation Act, 2000-01.
Bill No. 2 - First Appropriation Act, 2000-01- continued
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I was looking forward to a considerable amount more from this new Liberal government than what was provided to us on the opening day of this Legislature. When I look over the various options that were available to this government, there were exactly three that warranted review.
Now, probably the first option was to present the NDP budget in its entirety. I guess the second option was to introduce their own budget, which probably closely followed the NDP budget and the supplementary budget that they tabled simultaneously, and do so together - combine both of these budgets, and assume ownership of them, Mr. Speaker. And the third option, which, in my opinion and in the opinion of a lot of the individuals whom I spoke with, deserved the most attention, was the option of coming into this House, telling this House that they were going to operate on warrants until the fall and that their spending pattern would approximate the NDP guidelines as contained in the previously tabled budget.
Now, that third option, Mr. Speaker, would have given the new government an opportunity to conduct the review that they say they need time to conduct and to assume ownership of the various programs and to introduce a lot of the positions and policy that were so prevalent during the recent election campaign.
But unfortunately, common sense did not prevail, and we're probably going to be sitting much of this summer to deal with this budget before us. To sit here this summer and deal with this budget is our responsibility, Mr. Chair. That's what we've been elected to do. We are elected, and, in opposition, we are elected to hold the government accountable for their policies and their budget.
Now, that's going to be somewhat difficult, given that the Liberals have said, "Well, it's not our budget; we're just going to do it." They didn't want to assume ownership, but I believe that fact came home to roost and the responsibilities are clearly theirs, even though the names preceding the various departments belong to the ministers of the previous budget.
Well, so much for a new NDP-new-Liberal-Democratic Party, I guess we can call it. I didn't know that both parties were so intertwined. I knew the Liberals very much walked the fence and had a foot on both sides of the fence, but they certainly did fall off on the left-hand side of the fence in many respects this time.
And what that does, Mr. Chair, is that it says to the people of the Yukon that we, as a newly elected government, are not prepared to govern for the first year of our four-year mandate. It says, "We're only going to assume the responsibility for three years of our four-year mandate," and I find that very disconcerting.
They borrow a platform, used the New Democratic Party platform, when, if they had taken the time, Mr. Chair, and reviewed some of the positions and policies that the Yukon Party campaigned on, and adopted them, they would be turning this economy around, putting Yukoners back to work. But what are we doing now? We haven't seen one initiative from this new Liberal government that is going to turn the economy around. In fact, on the contrary, we have seen many initiatives that are going to slow it down considerably more so, and really provide a considerable measure of uncertainty in three major, major areas of the Yukon.
Now the Liberals, like the Yukon Party, like the New Democrats, identified land claims as one of the first issues that has to be addressed.
The Liberals said that their Liberal colleagues on the federal level were going to be very cozy with Yukon Liberals and that wonderful, close relationship was going to result in tremendous benefits flowing to Yukoners. Yukon First Nations would see the results from Minister Nault and the Liberals when he was first given the portfolio of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and I'm sure there was an olive branch given out to the Yukon First Nations with respect to the two outstanding issues that are stalling four of the seven remaining First Nations land claims here in Yukon, that being section 87, the income tax, and then the repayment of negotiating loans.
Well, Minister Nault's bomb that he dropped at the gold show in Dawson City kind of clearly demonstrated that that wonderful relationship between the Liberals here in the Yukon and the Liberals in Ottawa was not going to prove to be of any benefit, and certainly not with respect to some sort of closure with the land claims.
In fact, it sent a clear message to the seven remaining First Nations that they have been solely responsible for the delays in land claims negotiations. Mr. Chair, that is simply not the case. All three parties at the negotiating table deserve some of the responsibility for the delays, but Minister Nault's statement placed the responsibility for the delays clearly on the backs of the Yukon First Nations. That, in itself, is unfair - very unfair.
I can see something occurring, but I think we're probably going to have to wait until after the next federal election, Mr. Chair, and we see a new Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs assume the portfolio and perhaps address this issue head-on. It's going to be interesting, should the federal Liberals not be successful in the next national election in Canada. It's going to be interesting indeed. We have a Yukon Liberal Party that campaigned on the benefits of this very close association between themselves and the federal Liberal government. If it doesn't continue to exist, where's that going to put us?
It certainly won't be of benefit such as the one that was used extensively in the last Yukon election campaign, Mr. Chair.
At the onset, a throne speech sets out the direction that a government is going to take with its mandate. One minute and 40 seconds' worth of direction. I have to take off my hat to the authors for saying so little as to where we're heading. I guess we all know where we're heading. We're heading into another year of uncertainty on virtually all of the economic fronts that have sustained the Yukon economy over many, many decades previously.
The Liberals, in their campaigning, made 122 commitments, of which two appear in the supplementary budget. We are told to wait, hang on to your hat, don't go away. Well, we can't afford to go away. Many of us have families and businesses, and it is very hard to pick up and leave. Many Yukoners have done so - in fact, fully 10 percent of the Yukon. Our population has been eroded by 10 percent, Mr. Chair. Ten percent, if not more, of the population of the Yukon has left in the last three to four years. That in itself is very appalling.
So, what are we left with? We are left with a newly elected government that has the hopes and aspirations of a lot of Yukoners in jeopardy.
I was extremely hopeful that we would have seen some guiding lights as to where we are heading. We haven't yet.
The other area that the Liberals have failed miserably to date on is to provide some certainty in the mining community. We only have to look at Premier Pat's position with respect to the claims in the Tombstone. Buy them out, or purchase? What is the difference? I am sure that, after this session of the Legislature, we are going to be rewriting many, many definitions in the dictionary to conform to the new Liberal definition that is being advanced here in the House.
I have started compiling a list of the words that, under this new Liberal government, have new meaning. I suggest, Mr. Chair, that our Premier is in very, very good company when it comes to the definition of words - excellent political company. I know only one other individual in politics today who is able to split hairs and put new definitions on words; that is the current President of the United States of America. I do acknowledge that our current Premier is in very good company.
So, we've dealt with the land claims. We've dealt with the uncertainty surrounding those land claims. We've dealt with mining, and we've dealt with the uncertainty surrounding the mining community. It was a very interesting press release that we received today from the Yukon government, that our Premier will outline the Yukon government's plan for improving the investment climate for mining at a meeting in Vancouver.
It would be much, much more enlightening if the Premier would outline that plan here in this House, share some of her insight as to what she's prepared to do, how she's prepared to do it and when she's prepared to do it, before she goes flirting off to Vancouver to tell the rest of the world what she's doing. This is the body from where that information is supposed to initially come forth.
Mr. Chair, I just find that appalling. Here we have a new government and a brand new Premier. In the second week of the sitting of this Legislature, she abandons this House to run off to Calgary and to Vancouver -
Chair: Order please. We ask that members do not comment on the absence of members from the House.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Well, currently, the Yukon Premier is in Calgary and that has been carried through the press, and then she goes on to Vancouver, and it appears that she's putting out the government's position as to how the Yukon government plans on improving the investment climate for mining. Mr. Chair, I ask you, should that information not be initially coming forth in this House?
In Calgary, Mr. Chair, at the World Petroleum Congress, the N.W.T. appears to have their act together. They have a group of eight individuals there, attending, including the Premier of the NWT, effectively lobbying the oil and gas industry to come, explore in their area and extract and build pipelines, and do all the things that the resource extraction industry is about. Where are we? We have a Liberal government that, with respect to oil and gas exploration in the northern part of the Yukon, have said they don't want to see any oil and gas exploration on the wintering grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd.
And they were very much opposed to anything occurring until the concurrence of the Vuntut Gwitchin was obtained. The Vuntut Gwitchin have been very adamant as to their position. In fact, it went right to the Supreme Court of Canada with respect to no exploration, no extraction of oil and gas in the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou. The Liberals have attached themselves to Vuntut Gwitchin's position.
So, do we expect to see anything occurring up there? Certainly not. In fact, Northern Cross has put all of their gear out, right down to their mats. It's in storage. It's not going to be used. They have gone away. Whether they come back or not and do anything - they're going to have to wait until some certainty exists.
We know there's a certainty existing on the demand side of the oil and gas equation; $30 U.S. a barrel is right up there. That's going to impact on each and every one of us. The Yukon is unique, Mr. Chair, in that we could be self-sustaining as far as energy is concerned. We can be self-sustaining as far as energy and energy production is concerned. Let that sink in.
A few years ago we were told that out of every dollar that traded in the Yukon, 25 cents went south to buy energy in one form or another. Mr. Chair, that in itself is significant. That's a main driver over our economy. On a per capita basis, Yukoners use more energy than most other places in North America, except for some of our neighbours east and west in the north.
Then we look at the southeast part of the Yukon and the potential for oil and gas exploration there. You might want to take a little trip up the Liard Highway - the Liard Highway, incidentally, that the Government of British Columbia is going to chipseal in the next little while - and see what is going on in the oil and gas industry in that area, Mr. Chair. That is probably one of the busiest highways in the north. The number of rigs going into that area is at an all-time high. That area will be connected on the Northwest Territories' side into pipelines connected to the south very, very soon.
So, once again, Mr. Chair, a golden opportunity missed because of the unsettled land claims in that area. The oil and gas people aren't going to come until they know there's some certainty. They're pretty well assured that there's a tremendous potential for oil and gas. In fact, there are producing gas wells in that area - producing gas wells in the Kotaneelee field that are already tied into the pipeline grid. Royalties are flowing to the Yukon from that gas field production. Where's the certainty?
I'd like to ask the Acting Premier why none of these issues have been addressed in this budget. Why are we forced to wait, virtually another year, before something will happen? Why are you keeping and holding Yukoners ransom for a full year before you institute your own policies that may or may not turn the economy around
We know that the NDP weren't successful for three years. That is, in part, the reason for the change in government. This is a wonderful opportunity. I hope you're not going to let it go down the drainage system. We need the economy turned around. You have the opportunity, and you have money in the bank. Now, whether you want to call it a deficit, or however you want to term it - the lapsed funds, the surpluses - there is still an amount approaching $60 million there that can be utilized.
And in opposition, the Liberals had all sorts of ideas as to what to do, all sorts of suggestions. They usually pirated some of the Yukon Party platforms or latched on to some of the initiatives that were advanced by our party, but that's fine.
But where are we going to go? I guess it's all about opportunity - probably not for you and me, because many of us will be retired pretty soon. But somebody is going to have to keep up the contributions to the Canada Pension Plan fund, and I'm hoping that potential here will exist for our children to do so. We're a burden on the backs of the rest of Canada, as far as money is concerned. When we look at the federal transfer payments, that's the only thing that is sustaining the Yukon's economy today. What is this government going to do? When are they going to start introducing their own platforms? Why do we have to wait another full year before we see something happen, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: I think I need to go back and address some of the issues that the member opposite has brought up that are beyond the last question. The first thing is that I'm really impressed that the member opposite thinks that the Premier is in the same league as the President of the United States. I knew that member had a very high esteem for the Premier, but I didn't realize it was that high. Of course, we think the same on this side as well.
The issue around passing the NDP budget, which is now our budget - and we take full responsibility for that. We take that responsibility very seriously. Half of the money is already spent, though. Half of the money is already spent, and it was passed through special warrants. Special warrants do not work. They do not provide certainty. If we had waited until the fall to bring forward a budget and gone all summer on special warrants, we would not have provided certainty for businesses, NGOs, organizations and the people in this territory who are in need of work and who are in need of funding for their organizations or their businesses.
Special warrants do not provide certainty. The last time we went through the summer on special warrants was in 1985. There were a number of businesses that went under; there were a number of organizations that went under and never recovered.
It's really important to restate again and again and again that the current spending priorities were set by the NDP, and this government will set its own spending priorities in the fall when we table a supplementary budget.
It's important to this government, to our government, to put Yukoners to work. That's why our Premier has gone to Calgary to lobby for a pipeline to come through the Yukon Territory down the Alaska Highway corridor. That is why our Premier has gone to Vancouver, which is where the investors are, to try to get them interested in putting money back into the Yukon.
The Yukon - the member opposite is quite correct - has had a really poor economy for the last three years.
The member opposite spoke about the surplus. I'm very clear what the surplus is. The surplus at the end of the year 2001 will $14.7 million.
The member opposite, who is familiar with bookkeeping, understands the difference between a surplus and a deficit. He understands that, at the end of the day, the number that is reflected in our budget book is $14.7 million, and that will be the surplus at the end of the year 2001.
The member opposite says that we're not thinking of Yukoners in the long term. We very much are on this side of the House. We're going to be sitting down and planning our priorities, not just for the next three and a half years, but well into the future. We take that responsibility very seriously. We will be doing that; we have started that process and, when we table our supplementary budget in the fall and our own budget in the spring of 2001, those priorities will be reflected in those documents.
Mr. Jenkins:Just on one point, Mr. Chair, it's interesting when the Acting Premier mentions that the Premier is out of the House and in Vancouver and Calgary, she doesn't get called to order, but I do. But, be that as it may, that's not the issue I wish to address. We're here to deal with this budget, with the spending and with the economies.
Could the Acting Premier advise the House why a press release was issued saying that the Premier, Pat Duncan, will outline the Yukon government's plan for improving the investment climate for mining? Could the Acting Premier advise the House why that information wasn't tabled in this Legislature prior to it being presented at this meeting in Vancouver, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the document that I have in my hand is It's All About the Future, which was the platform for the Yukon Liberal Party during the last election. And I'll read to the member opposite from that document. I'm sure he hasn't seen it. On page 4, we have "Improving the Investment Climate", and this is the information that was available to the general public. It says, "A key to turning our economy around is improving our investment climate. An essential element of that improvement is the election of government that will inspire confidence in investors. Yukon Liberals will: promote economic development in the territory; host a "Welcome Back to the Yukon" conference on resource development; after devolution, administer the Yukon Quartz Mining Act and Yukon Placer Mining Act as they are now written; implement the Blue Book strategy which improves the administration procedures for the environmental assessment of major mining projects in the Yukon; encourage cooperation, not confrontation, among all stakeholders; consult with, and listen to, Yukoners on land-use planning issues; promote the competitive advantages of the Umbrella Final Agreement and a common regime for oil and gas development."
Mr. Chair, that is the plan that we put forward to the Yukon public in the election. That was the plan that was accepted by Yukoners. That's the plan that we are going with today.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if that's the game plan that we're going to be following and that this Liberal government has adopted, Mr. Chair, why wasn't it contained in the throne speech?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the purpose of the throne speech was to outline the legislative agenda for this session. The legislative agenda was to table the budget. That's exactly what we did. That was what was in the throne speech.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm afraid that the Acting Premier is all wet with respect to the throne speech and what it's supposed to contain and what it's supposed to do. One minute and 40 seconds of a throne speech didn't spell out any of these areas that are currently being followed by the government of the day, Mr. Chair.
Now, if this is the platform, if this Liberal government has adopted verbatim their position in that election campaign paper, could the Acting Premier stand on her feet, Mr. Chair, and indicate so - that that's what they're following, that's the guideline and that's the blueprint for the next while in the Yukon? Is that what it is?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this is the platform document for the Yukon Liberal Party. The Yukon Liberal Party was elected as government in this territory. The 121 promises in this document are the promises that we're going to be using as our blueprint for the next four years and longer, as long as we're government in this territory.
We will be sitting down, doing a planning and priority exercise, over the course of the summer, probably on a day when the Legislature's not sitting. We will be tabling a fall supplementary budget. We will be tabling a full budget probably in the spring of 2001, and in that will be further details as to what we want to be doing that year as far as spending priorities on our full agenda.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, is the Acting Premier prepared to table that document as the document that is going to be followed by this new Liberal government as to their direction and how they are going to guide the economy for the period of their mandate? Is that document what they're prepared to table?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this is not the time to table documents; however, I will circulate this document to the side opposite, if they would like. I would be pleased to share this document with the side opposite. You can be assured that, as I speak, there are people in our offices gathering those documents together, and that they will be circulated to the side opposite as soon as humanly possible.
Mr. Jenkins: What I'm looking for is the force and effect of this document being tabled here in this Legislature as to the direction that this government is taking for the period of its mandate. If they are prepared to do that, we can move on.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this is not the total sum of what our government is going to be doing; it's part of it. It's a blueprint. It doesn't have a lot of detail about how these things are going to happen. That will be outlined in future budgets.
Now, tomorrow, at the proper time, I will be pleased to table the appropriate number of copies in the Legislature in the time that is set aside in our agenda for tabling documents. I would be happy to table our platform in the Legislature. I would be happy to make that a public document. It already is.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm aware that it is a public document. What I'm asking the Acting Premier to do is to table that document as that is the direction that this new Liberal government is going to take and going to be following - this is the document - because when we ask questions about certain areas, Mr. Chair, that document is pulled out, and we are told that this is what they're doing. But that information hasn't been provided to the House. When opposition members go to constructively criticize this government, we look to the background information in the news media, the positions taken by the various candidates in the last election, and the campaign literature for their platform.
What I'm looking for is the force and effect that document will have, and the Acting Premier can table that document right now. It's part of the House. It's part of the policies that are going to be followed.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I would be happy to circulate this document tonight so that the member opposite has a copy for tonight. Tomorrow, on the agenda, when it says, "tabling returns and documents", I will be happy to table this document for the members opposite. By that time they should have at least two copies. That should be adequate.
The member has been in the House as long as I have been. He knows the rules. He knows the documents are to be tabled on the agenda item, during the Orders of the Day, at the beginning of the day, and at that time I would be happy to table the document. If the member wants it right now, I would be happy to provide one immediately and have that circulated to the side opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: As long as when the Acting Premier tables the document, she says that this is the document that they are following, that they will be following, and that they are not going to be deviating from it. That's all I'm looking for.
When I look through the 122 Liberal commitments, I only see two in the supplementary budget, Mr. Chair. When we look at the totality of what's being done here in the Yukon, why has this new Liberal government only singled out a couple of points? Why are not many more of those commitments, which this now Liberal government made, contained in the original budget or the supps? There has to be some reason why more of the initiatives are not being dealt with at this juncture. To hide behind the veil that, "We don't have time, and we want to provide certainty, and that's the reason we're just tabling the NDP budget, and we're not going to run on warrants because that doesn't provide enough certainty" - well, that's bunk. By the time this Legislature rises, half of the total budget of the Yukon - more than half, probably approaching two-thirds - will have been committed, and there is no falling back from that point.
The money will have been committed or spent. That's it. To run on warrants and to provide the certainty that would surround a new Liberal budget might be much more advantageous for Yukoners.
Because really, right now, the uncertainty surrounding not just the budget but all of the Liberals' positions on land claims, oil and gas exploration, and the purchase or buyout or whatever the Liberals want to call it - expropriation, if they may - of the negotiated acquisition. I'm sure they can find some more fancy terms for the acquisitions of the claims in the Tombstone region, Mr. Chair. There isn't any certainty around all of these areas, and perhaps a new Liberal budget would have that certainty to it. So I'd like to ask the Acting Premier why there are only two initiatives out of 122.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: I have three points, Mr. Chair. The first one is that the member opposite said - in one of his press releases actually - that he was going to provide constructive criticism. Certainly, he is trying to do that, and I have to give him credit for that.
The next thing is that there were two items from the platform that were in the supplementary budget. We have three and a half years. We're going to be working on the other items. They will come forward over the next three and a half years. To be absolutely clear, the member sees things one way. The official opposition sees things completely differently from everybody that we know, and this side of the House sees things differently as well. That's the way it is. We have three parties in the Legislature, and it's a great thing. It's a very responsible way of doing government. I have talked to people in areas of the world where they don't have this type of government, and it doesn't work very well. We have responsible government here, but clearly, we don't agree on everything. Otherwise, we wouldn't be in three separate parties. That's just the way it is.
We said that we would pass an NDP budget - the NDP budget. We said that all the way through the campaign. We have tabled that budget. We will be passing that budget. We are doing what we said we would do.
That was our promise to Yukoners. We fulfilled that promise; we fulfilled two more in the supplementary budget. We have a few more to go in this document and we will be working on those in the next three and a half years.
Mr. Jenkins: I now see how the Department of Tourism came up with a slogan like, the "Magic and the Mystery." There is quite a lot of magic surrounding where the money comes from and there is a lot of mystery as to the process we go through to spend it.
There doesn't appear to be any Liberal direction to speak of in this budget and I guess we might just as well say, Mr. Chair, that this new Liberal government has admitted this.
But of immediate concern is the economy and the cost of living. We don't have any jobs. Whether we run on warrants or an NDP budget, there are going to be businesses going under.
With respect to organizations going under, Mr. Chair, the Liberals have failed to recognize the ongoing commitment to NGOs for continuous funding. That debate went on quite extensively between the leader of the official opposition and the Premier and there wasn't one commitment made to ongoing funding for NGOs.
If we're talking about certainty, here's what is needed: a commitment in a number of the areas that drive our economy. Probably the only area where there is some certainty is in the printing business, printing the welcome-back-to-the-Yukon party that the Premier is going to be hosting. I'm sure those invitations are in the mail. I don't know if they'll fill up a phone booth with the people who'll show up or not, Mr. Chair, but at this time, the uncertainty surrounding the resource industry for investment here in the Yukon is probably at an all-time low.
I know a great number of individuals in the mining sector and a number in the oil and gas industry. All of these individuals are somewhere else. A lot of the mining people who used to be here in the Yukon are no longer here. In fact, a lot of them are no longer in Canada. Canadian mining companies have a worldwide reputation as being excellent at that field. They have clearly demonstrated that in many areas of the world - in the United States, in Africa, South America and Australia, and many, many other areas, Mr. Chair. Because of the lack of opportunity and lack of certainty here in the Yukon, they have chosen not to demonstrate their ability here.
Who are the losers in this equation? At the end of the day, it's you and me, Mr. Chair. You and me, our families and all Yukoners.
And what are we going to do about it? Well, the Premier is going to host a mining meeting in Vancouver and meet with oil and gas officials in Calgary. It would have been a courtesy of the Premier for her to table the Yukon government's plan for improving the investment climate for mining - to table that document. Instead, the Acting Premier pulls out the election platform and says, "This is the document." It probably is, Mr. Chair, because I don't think anybody in the Liberal caucus has spent the time finding out how to create that certainty in the Yukon and what steps have to be taken. The first step is to settle the remaining land claims, and I guess Minister Nault has seen to it that four out of those seven land claims probably will not be settled during the remaining term of his time as Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.
But we've all witnessed ministers of Indian Affairs come and go. A lot of certainty here stems from one single letter from one Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Jake Epp. He provided a lot of political certainty surrounding the role of this Legislature. Some governments have proven that they have the ability to govern, to set the stage, create certainty, to attract investment in the mining community and in the development of our wealth of resources.
About the only area that is still alive, although not very well this year, is our visitor industry. That's heavily reliant upon the transportation sector. We've got problems there.
Mr. Chair, it's not that we do not have a wealth of resources in the ground or a wealth of opportunities in our wilderness. They're all there; they exist. The culture and history of the Yukon is tremendous. It's known internationally. It is an easy sell. We have our toe in the door. I'm sure that our new Minister of Tourism will be in Berlin at ITB next year. She will encounter people there, like I did, "Oh, yes, Dawson City, great place - the Klondike." They envision this big, massive city. "How do I get there?" "Well, you fly to Whitehorse." "White-what?" is their answer. In the total scale of things, we are such a small area with a tremendous potential but, in that field, we are losing ground. This year, we will probably see a downturn in the total number of visitor dollars spent here in the Yukon.
And why? A lot of it stems back to the marketing initiatives of the government. If you look at the visitor exit surveys, the best conversion comes from our European visitors. On a per capita basis, they spend the most. The largest number of visitors come from the U.S. If you analyze it further, the ones coming from Alaska are the best spenders. But no, I understand we fully committed a considerable amount of our marketing budget to the Asian market. We have not addressed the need for opportunities in the markets we are known in and that produce results. Why is that, Mr. Chair? It just doesn't make sense. Similarly, this wonderful relationship between the federal Liberals and the Yukon Liberals doesn't make sense when it comes to the benefits we are going to accrue here. Mr. Nault clearly demonstrated that at the gold show. That bomb is going to echo and reverberate through the Yukon community for some time to come.
So, I'm hoping, Mr. Chair, that this new Liberal government will not only wave around this document, but will enshrine it in this House, as documents and, like the throne speech, outline where we're heading - the direction the government is going to take.
To take an NDP budget and say, "This is what we're going to move forward with because it's quick, and we don't have time" - that sends a very clear message, Mr. Chair: we are not prepared to govern at this juncture. That's the message it sends, Mr. Chair. I'd like to ask the Acting Premier: why is that message being sent to Yukoners, the message that we're not prepared to govern at this time?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: That is certainly not the message that is going out there. The message that is going out there is that we do what we say we will do. We said, all the way through the campaign, that we would table the NDP budget. We did that. That's the message that's going out there. The other message that's going out there is that we do not tear up signed contracts, and we do not back away from commitments that were made by the previous government. It's for that reason that NGO multi-year funding will continue. Those are existing commitments, and we are committed to them.
The member opposite spent some time talking about the fact that there is a lack of support for mining, and it's interesting because one of the items in the supplementary budget - a clear indication of our support - was the research and development tax credit, which aids investment in the mining community. We are strongly committed to mining in the territory. We are strongly committed to the economy. Right now, the member opposite is talking about tourism. That is the first item that is up in the departments. When we get to that department, I would love to speak to the member opposite about that in greater detail.
I know that he and I share an awful lot of the same opinions about tourism in the Yukon. It's something that we have spoken about many, many times and spoken about for many, many years, prior to even being in the Legislature.
I think that I also need to talk to the member opposite about our commitment to devolution, which is also going to help mining in the Yukon, and it's going to create certainty for an awful lot of industry here in the territory. Once again, I am going to restate a commitment to devolution. We are still committed to the March 31, 2001, date.
The member talked about the magic and the mystery. The member opposite should be aware that we change our slogans every 10 years. It's called "branding". Two months ago, we changed the slogan or the brand to "Canada's true north". That is now the new motto for marketing of our tourism industry everywhere else in the world. The member talked about how our numbers are way down for visitors. I have an up-to-date set of figures here. The number of visitors is actually up considerably from last year. We do not have the figures yet for dollars spent but, if there are more people here, then it's extremely likely that they will be spending more money. The member opposite is saying that I'm wrong. Actually I'm looking forward to hearing that quite often over the next three and a half years.
The member opposite also said that we should erect a shrine to our platform. I'd be happy to do that as well.
Chair: Would the members care to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll recess for 10 minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate on the estimates.
Mr. Jenkins: When we stopped for the break, the Acting Premier focused on the Tourism side of the remarks that I had made, and I would ask that she go back and have a look, have a serious look at these numbers. What I said is that the total spending will be down. Visitors are probably going to be up, and the driver is going to be the number of visitors entering the Yukon and registering at the visitor reception centre in Carcross. They come off the cruise ship in Skagway and come up either on the train or the coach. They register, they go in and have an ice-cream cone or a look around, and they go back to Skagway and get back on the cruise ship.
And each one of those visitors who enters the Yukon that way, while welcome, doesn't contribute significantly to the economy of the Yukon with their spending.
The other change that we are experiencing this year is a change in the tour patterns of one of the majors, which has chosen to get heavily into one-night stays in the Yukon, and those one-night stays do not give that visitor an opportunity to get out, get around town and spend any money.
When you step off a motorcoach at five or six or seven o'clock in the evening and you're back on that same motorcoach at seven or eight o'clock the next morning, the time you have to spend money in the community you are in in the Yukon is extremely limited.
They remain pretty well within their own hospitality area, and from the food service to the lounge service to the souvenir shop, the motorcoaches, the actual hotel - all owned by the same owner - they're extremely vertically integrated. So, where the money siphons off into the Yukon economy - it just doesn't happen.
So what I'm saying, Mr. Chair, is that, while the number of visitors might increase and they probably will increase as a consequence of these two drivers, the total spending in the visitor industry will be down this year. We are not going to enjoy a good visitor season. All the indicators are currently there, and there will be big holes in the course of this summer in that industry, and it's scary. Yes, we might stand back and say it's a character-builder, but be that as it may, most in the visitor industry must amortize their investment over a 100-day season. That in itself is extremely tough.
Mr. Chair, when you start looking at the visitors who do spend considerably here, they are Canadians and Europeans, and their length of time here in the Yukon is longer, and their spending patterns are different. They are much more advantageous to us here from an economic standpoint. So, that's probably a quick lesson for our new Minister of Tourism, and we can get into all sorts of debates on it, but we should be focusing on the areas that produce the maximum returns for Yukon, and those are the areas that I have outlined.
Mr. Chair, our party has had a copy of the paper, It's All about the Future, which, the Acting Premier has indicated, is the document that they are going to adopt and have adopted, and that's going to be the blueprint for what this new Liberal government is going to do.
Now, my first comment is, if the Yukon Liberals can't even prepare their own shopping list, how can they be expected to run a government? The whole budget that they have chosen to adopt is a budget belonging to the previous NDP government. The NDP government was rejected in the last election, and the Liberal government was elected with a majority. It was elected based on what the people perceived to be a number of factors: (1) that very close working relationship between the federal Liberals and the Yukon Liberals; and (2) that they appeared to have a platform. Well, they didn't.
When you start analyzing it, the Liberal position with respect to their budget - that wasn't announced until the last week of the campaign, that: "Wow, we have a shot at this ladies and gentlemen, but I guess we have to have something in the numbers end of things; we can't just sit on the fence and expect the people to buy into it. We'll have to have some of the numbers side set out. So, we'll just tell everyone we'll adopt the NDP budget." And all parties clearly identified that the economy was the number one issue that had to be addressed.
The Liberal position was that Pat Duncan and the Yukon Liberals have a plan to rebuild our shattered economy. Well, that says two things: the economy is shattered, and the Liberals have a plan. It's still shattered, and we haven't heard much about the plan, even though the Liberals formed the government. They've got approximately $60 million in the bank, and they've tabled a budget belonging to someone else.
It starts with settling land claims. Well, we know that we're not going to be moving ahead very extensively there, because the two main impediments are federal issues. And the Yukon Party's position was that we would go and act as a mediator and fess up that the Yukon was partly responsible, as is the federal government, as are the Yukon First Nations, for the slowness in the negotiating process.
No party alone is totally responsible. Not one of the three parties alone is responsible for the slowness in the negotiating process, but Minister Nault put it squarely on the backs of Yukon First Nations. That, Mr. Chair, is fundamentally wrong.
Premier Duncan went on during the campaign saying "...improving the investment climate, encouraging junior mining companies to return to the Yukon, are also essential parts of the equation. Reducing uncertainty by removing some of the risks involved in development will mean the Yukon is a more attractive place to invest." Well, these are words we can all grasp and hang on to, but how is this new Liberal government going to accomplish that? "How" is not spelled out.
I'm going to send the Acting Premier a copy of the Yukon Party's platform and commitment. Our platform clearly enunciates how one can create mining certainty, ensure that the free-entry system under the Yukon Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act is maintained and preserved in any subsequent mining act after devolution; develop made-in-Yukon mining legislation, enshrining the free-entry system for public lands now in preparation for the transfer of ownership and control of mineral resources to the Yukon; work with the industry and the federal government who established greater certainty for the mining industry and access to resources, water licences, land use permits and mineral tenure.
Now, the offer was made, and it has been accepted for input into the policies and directions of this government. So, our party accepts the challenge, and I'm going to be sending over a copy to the Acting Premier, spelling out how she can accomplish for Yukon the necessary steps to put the economy back on track, to put Yukoners back to work.
It's not a big, dark secret. There's no magic to it. There's no mystery to it. It's a plan. It's a workable plan. That's what it's all about, and I'm sure that the buy in will be there.
But, Mr. Chair, the first step that has to occur is that someone in government has to make a decision. You can't just sit on the fence and expect things to happen, because they will happen. But instead of leading, you follow, and if that's where you want to be, I guess that's fine, but we all lose. And, perhaps next election, Yukoners will say the same thing to the Liberals as they have said to the last two governments in Yukon, "We really don't want you any more. It's time for a change."
And the Liberal Party platform goes on to say that they want to make "local hire" more of a catch phrase. I haven't seen anything about local hire whatsoever in any documents that have been tabled so far by this new Liberal government.
It goes on to talk about the settlement of land claims, that one fundamental of a strong Yukon economy is certainty of land tenure for resource development. Now, we've dealt with that. And again, the nice, mushy, warm and fuzzy words, "work with First Nations in a respectful and professional manner", and "make the settlement of the remaining land claims our top priority." Don't you get a warm feeling in your tummy, Mr. Chair, when you hear those words? But when you analyze them as to how and when something is going to be achieved with these warm fuzzy words, there is no substance to them - no substance whatsoever.
Then the part about the rebuilding of the Yukon economy goes on to say, "promote economic development in the territory", "host a 'Welcome Back to the Yukon' conference on resource development." Well, as I said earlier, Mr. Chair, the printers will be busy printing up the invitations, time after time after time.
It goes on to say, "after devolution, administer the Yukon Quartz Mining Act and the Yukon Placer Mining Act as they are now written." Now, that's pretty hard to bend around, but the legislation has to be mirror legislation. There's no choice - no choice provided to the Yukon by the feds. The timelines for devolution - we heard from the Acting Premier that they have committed. The Liberal government is committed - I stand corrected.
My notes are for the development assessment process, not for devolution, so the minister committed to DAP for March 31, 2001. That's the development assessment process. Devolution is another issue, Mr. Chair. How is devolution going to take place without the settlement of First Nation land claims? The First Nations have spoken at great lengths as to their unwillingness to see devolution take place without the land claims being settled. In fact, it is clearly indicated that the land claims might be before the courts, should that occur. So much for the timelines from this Liberal government.
Step one has to be the settlement of the remaining land claims. Then it goes on to say, "Implement the Blue Book strategy which improves the administration procedures for the environmental assessment of major mining projects in the Yukon." One only has to be marginally involved in the mining industry today, Mr. Chair, to see the tremendous amount of paperwork associated with running the smallest of mining claims. A mining operation today has a stack of documents, applications, many of them duplicate, for the land use and the water licensing. And then, at the end of the day, after you've got the appropriate land use permits, which may or may not be forthcoming from the federal government, and the appropriate water licence, which may or may not be signed off by the minister when he sees fit, you end up occasionally having to deal with the federal Department of Fisheries, who really don't give a tinker's darn about any of these other areas.
They are a god to themselves and work at their own beck and call, at their own speed and in a manner that is often construed as a "gun-toting" mentality. But that's the federal Department of Fisheries. I guess that's part of the reason why, on each coast of Canada, there are no more fish. The federal Department of Fisheries doesn't appear to be able to get a handle on fish in the ocean, let alone fish in some of the streams and tributaries in the remote northern regions of Canada. It's everyone else's fault except theirs.
It goes on in this Liberal Party paper, under "rebuilding the Yukon economy. Promote the competitive advantages of the umbrella final agreement and a common regime for oil and gas development." Well, that's great, and I'm sure that the Premier, in her time in Calgary, is doing just that. I will look forward to seeing the successes because, currently, we are, once again, in the Yukon, enjoying very little, if any, oil and gas exploration. Don't expect to see any in the Southeast Yukon until land claims in that region - the Liard region - are settled. Don't expect to see any in the northern regions of Yukon until agreement is reached between this level of government and the Vuntut Gwitchin.
That's in spite of leases having been let, and oil and gas companies having the rights to go in and explore. Everyone in that area hasn't bought in. I don't wish to debate the merits of the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou herd. Caribou are historically very much a contributor to the First Nation's way of life, and they make a very valid point: that previous governments - federal and Yukon governments - have made commitments. This current Liberal government stands on their record of not tearing up any agreements that were signed by previous governments. Well, they don't have to tear up any agreements that were signed by previous governments. They don't have to tear up any agreements. But you can do and accomplish the same by supporting a group that is opposed to oil and gas exploration. The principals in those companies don't want to get into the middle of a dispute, and they'll continue to avoid the Yukon like a plague. That's exactly what has happened, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I will send over the Yukon Party's platform and its commitments, and if the current Acting Premier were to spend the time having a look at this document, she would see clearly how to create mining certainty, how to look at the oil and gas area, and what it's going to take to resolve the seven remaining First Nations' land claims.
I spoke about the tourism potential and what's happening there. Tomorrow, I'm sure that the Tourism minister will be speaking with her officials to see if what I said has substance. I'm sure she'll find out that it's very much the case. The numbers might be up; the dollars spent will be down here in the Yukon.
So, the last remaining area where we had a little bit of an advantage, our visitor industry, we're kind of whittling away at that. I guess we can thank the federal Liberals for the transfer payments, because that's all Yukon is surviving on. That's what's keeping us alive.
I'd like to ask the Acting Premier whether she envisions the Yukon ever being self-supporting financially, and whether we'll ever achieve, during her reign, during this Liberal tenure - whether we'll ever be coming closer to paying our own way, or are we going to have to continue to rely on federal government transfers?
It's pretty hard to wean oneself off that kind of money. Transfer payments are unbelievable in comparison as a percentage of our total budget here in the Yukon. But I don't believe that's in our best interests down the road, to maintain our future. I believe we should become more self-supporting. We should be creating wealth.
We can do it. We are sitting on a tremendous abundance of minerals, oil and gas. Our forestry has tremendous potential and our visitor industry has unbelievable potential.
So, I'm very hopeful that the Acting Premier will share with me some insights as to how we're going to get this economy back on track and the implementation procedure for the platform that the Liberal government announced. It was clearly mentioned by the Acting Premier that this has been adopted, this is their position, this is going to be implemented, and they're going to set priorities. I'm hopeful we won't have the same story this fall with the supplementary budget, Mr. Chair - "Well, you'll have to wait until the next go round to the spring when we bring back another budget. We haven't completed the prioritizing of all of these matters, and just hang on" - and then sit on the middle of the fence a little longer. Well, its getting very uncomfortable sitting on the middle of the fence. I'm sure you're going to find it that way. Sooner or later decisions have to be made.
So if we could start with the Acting Premier as to when she envisions that her government will come closer to being self-supporting with revenues from our own sources rather than transfer payments. What are we looking at? What's the wisdom in that regard?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I don't know if it's wisdom, but certainly we are working toward improving the economy.
Part of improving the economy, of course, is bringing more business to the Yukon. Our Premier is being very aggressive in that respect. She has gone down to Calgary to promote a pipeline for the Yukon. It was one of the promises in our platform. She is also, tomorrow, having lunch with over 90 people in Vancouver - 90 people who are interested in investing in the Yukon.
I totally agree with the member opposite that the economy is in terrible shape. A lot of that was created from the previous government, and we are trying to fix a lot of that. But we've got three and a half years, fortunately, to do that. We can't do all of that in the last two months, although we have done quite a bit. We've certainly made Herculean efforts in that regard.
Once again, our Premier is very interested in rebuilding the economy. We have large sections in our platform document that talk about rebuilding our Yukon economy, and part of that, obviously - and the member has spoke about this at length - is looking at certainty of land tenure.
And I'd like to repeat for the member opposite: part of that is going to be devolution. I didn't say development assessment process. I need to correct the member.
It was a commitment to devolution by March 31, 2001. That was the commitment that was made previously, and that is the commitment that is being made again and again and again. Also, if the member will look on his copy of the platform, on page 14, under "Yukon protected areas strategy", this is part of bringing certainty to land tenure. "We will reconvene the protected areas strategy committee to set standards for mineral and economic assessments that must be completed before land is set aside. We will enshrine the protected areas strategy in legislation and bring the Yukon Chamber of Mines back to the table." That is a commitment toward certainty of land tenure. Obviously the biggest commitment is to settling land claims. Yukon First Nations have legitimate claims. There are seven outstanding land claims in the Yukon. Settlement of the land claims is one of our very top priorities and will help, obviously, which will give certainty on land tenure in many, many areas of the Yukon.
The member opposite said that the words - let me just repeat the words that he said from our platform document, which I obviously don't have to share with the member opposite. On page 4 of the document, it says that we will work with First Nations in a respectful and professional manner. The member opposite said those were warm and fuzzy words. Those are not just warm and fuzzy words. That is our pledge to Yukoners. That is our word. We will do what we said we were going to do. We will have respectful relations with First Nations. We will deal with those First Nations in a respectful manner. Part of that is not negotiating land claims on the floor of the Yukon Legislature.
The member opposite spoke about spending being down and the visitors being up. He's quite correct that the visitors are up. The figures are not yet in on spending.
The member opposite talked about the type of visitors who are going to be coming to the Yukon and he is correct; I have already checked with my officials about previous statements made by the member opposite in Tourism.
In 1999, the Yukon experienced the largest number of motorcoach visitors ever recorded. I presume these are the individuals who are coming over from the cruise lines and in through Carcross, of which the majority travel with one of these two carriers. The Yukon has experienced growth and visitation by motorcoach as a mode of travel for the past six years. Those cruise companies are: Holland America, Westours and Princess Tours.
Now, we will be discussing tourism in much greater detail in the departmental debate, but let's go through it again. We are committed to conventions. That is money that comes to the Yukon and stays in the Yukon. We have a strong commitment to conventions. We are supporting the Yukon Convention Bureau heavily and we will continue that commitment.
The member opposite, when we were going through our duelling platforms exercise, talked about our shopping list. Well, our shopping list, in many ways, is the platform, and our budgets and our supplementary budgets over the next three and a half years will reflect the priorities that are set into this platform document.
Clearly, the Yukon Party platform is not our platform; that is also not our plan.
The member talked about being leaders in the Yukon, leading the Yukon out of this horrific economic morass. We are the leaders of the Yukon - all of us in this Legislature. That is our role in this society. This side of the House governs. I give the member that.
We certainly support - quite frankly, I have no idea if we'll ever be self-supporting in the Yukon. I really have no idea. That's certainly my hope, personally, but I think it would take a tremendous, tremendous change in the way we do things here in the Yukon and an awful lot more people. Sometimes I think that maybe that's a good idea; sometimes I certainly don't think it's a good idea.
We will be implementing our platform over the next three and a half years.
Mr. Chair, I don't know what more I can say. We are aggressively going out, trying to improve the Yukon economy. The Premier is trying to bring a pipeline to the Yukon Territory, down the Alaska Highway corridor. The Premier is speaking to 90 people tomorrow who are interested in investing in the Yukon Territory. We have brought back a research and development tax credit in the supplementary budget. We are strongly committed to mining in the Yukon. This government is committed to Yukon mining.
Mr. Jenkins: Once again, what we have demonstrated by the Liberal Acting Premier in the House today is a bunch of words. They don't mean really a lot. She said, "We've done quite a bit." I don't know what they have done, and, "We're going to fix the economy." She doesn't say how. And, they are "strongly committed." So, they're strongly committed, they have done quite a bit and they're going to fix it. It doesn't give me a lot of confidence and I'm sure, when you think about those words, Mr. Chair, you'll share that concern with me also. It certainly doesn't give you a lot of confidence.
The Acting Premier went on to say about their commitment to resolving remaining land claims that they'll work with First Nations in a respectful and professional manner. Well, I'm not aware of the negotiating team from the Yukon government having ever worked otherwise. I believe that's been the standard maintained since the onset of negotiations.
The two biggest issues that Yukoners elected this Liberal government on was this warm and friendly relationship between Yukon Liberals and the federal Liberals, and it has failed the current Yukon government, and it has failed the people of the Yukon so far. Minister Nault has clearly demonstrated that, Mr. Chair.
So, I'd like to ask the Acting Premier if she's aware of any negotiations that are going on between the Premier and the federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs with respect to bringing him back to the table. Is the Yukon government negotiating with the federal government on this very important issue?
I'm not asking the Acting Premier about negotiating the land claims here on the floor of this House. I'm asking if she or her colleague, the Premier, have taken steps to cement this relationship between the federal Liberals and the Yukon Liberals to the advantage of all Yukoners to bring Minister Nault back to the table with a change of heart. Is this underway or is that going to be taking place, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, as we have mentioned on a number of occasions in the House recently, the Premier has spoken and written to Minister Nault. That letter was tabled in the Legislature and is obviously available to the member opposite.
The Premier has spoken to the Grand Chief on this issue. The Premier is committed to the settlement of First Nations outstanding land claims.
I am not too sure what else the member opposite is asking for. Perhaps he can be a little clearer or give me more detail about what he would like in the way of information.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's going to take more of a mediator role for the Premier of the Yukon in this issue. It's going to take the Premier of the Yukon spending a bit of time with the federal minister responsible for Indian and Northern Affairs and persuade him that his officials in his department and the mandate provided from his office is in part responsible for the delays at the negotiating table, and he is going to have to do more than just say no with respect to section 87 and the repayment of monies advanced to the First Nations for negotiating purposes. All of the responsibility for the delays is not a consequence of First Nation initiatives. All three parties have to share some of the responsibility and the federal government is the lead agency.
I would see the Premier's role as more of a mediator, sitting down with Minister Nault and persuading him to come back, because I don't think we're going to move ahead very quickly without that mediator role taking place. Now, perhaps the Acting Premier can advise the House if this is underway, or if there's just what we have had shown to us, that there's a cordial exchange of correspondence between the parties.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: I need to be clear in my statement. The Premier has attended the principals meeting. She has met with the Grand Chief a number of times, and she has met with Mr. Nault. We are working on Yukon government issues that remain unresolved at the table, and it is certainly in the best interests of all Yukoners to settle land claims.
Mr. Chair, the time being close to 9:30, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 2.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: 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, entitled First Appropriation Act, 2000-01, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the 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 9:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled June 14, 2000:
Travel Expenses of Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly 1999-2000 (dated April 2000)
Yukon Visitor Exit Survey - preliminary results (1999) (dated May 2000)
Vision for the development of tourism in the Yukon: a consultation report (dated June 2000)
The following Document was filed June 14, 2000:
Argus Development Project Agreement between Government of the Yukon, City of Whitehorse and Argus Properties Ltd. (dated October 30, 1999)