Tuesday, March 6, 2001 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the Yukon Exploration and Geology Report 2000, which was prepared jointly by the Yukon geology program and Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development staff, and it contains a tribute to the late Chris Guichon.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the Yukon College Annual Report 1999-2000.
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Mr. Speaker, I have a legislative return for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Fairclough: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) the Yukon Liberal Government has stated that settling outstanding land claims is one of its seven top priorities;
(2) the small amount of new money allocated to settling and implementing land claims in the 2001-02 budget does not reflect that this is a high priority matter;
(3) two major issues involving the federal government, namely taxation and the repayment of negotiating loans, remain as obstacles to completing the remaining land claims; and
(4) in spite of many promises to push the federal government for action on these two issues, the Yukon Liberal Government has yet to demonstrate that any significant progress has been made to date; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Liberal Government to use its so-called special relationship with the federal government to impress upon the federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Finance the need to take positive action on these issues without any further delay.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) the platform of the Yukon Liberal Party in the last election campaign made a commitment to the five fundamental principles of health care: universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, portability, and public administration;
(2) since forming government, the Liberals have done little to ensure universal access to health services throughout the territory, particularly in areas such as hearing services, mental health counselling, and home nursing care;
(3) the principle of universality should also apply to support programs in the social services area, such as the Yukon Child Benefit and the Pioneer Utility Grant; and
(4) recent statements by government ministers have raised serious doubts about the Liberal Government's commitment to the principle of universality in social services programs; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Liberal Government to affirm its support for the principle of universality in health care and social services and to refrain from any actions that would limit access to important public services on any grounds that could reasonably be considered discriminatory.
Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon Economic Outlook 2001 clearly shows that the Yukon Liberal Government's efforts to rebuild Yukon's shattered economy are not working; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Liberal Government to revitalize the Yukon economy by implementing the following actions:
(1) amending the 2001-02 Budget by reducing operating and maintenance expenditures and increasing capital spending to create more private sector jobs;
(2) recommending proposals to the Government of Canada that will enable Yukon First Nations that have yet to settle their land claims to keep a more equitable portion of their settlement money, rather than having to pay between 55 and 65 percent of this money to cover land claims negotiation costs;
(3) ensuring that there are no more massive withdrawals of land from all development under the Yukon Protected Areas Strategy or Special Management Areas, established under land claims;
(4) planning the construction of a resource road in Southeast Yukon in conjunction with First Nation governments and the community of Watson Lake in order to provide access to timber, minerals and oil and gas resources in that area;
(5) increasing personal income tax exemption; and
(6) eliminating the federal and territorial taxes on gasoline and diesel, as well as the GST on home heating fuels and electricity.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Economic outlook
Mr. Fentie: My question today is for the Premier in her capacity as Minister of Economic Development.
Yesterday the minister, after keeping the economic outlook under raps for quite some time to try and find some semblance of a positive spin, tabled this very bleak picture in the Legislature. My question to the Premier is this: given the overwhelming evidence of the situation we are in economically in this territory, what is the Premier, this minister, prepared to do now to address this very, very grave situation and try and avert this constant increase in unemployment and migration of our workforce leaving this territory? What is she prepared to do now?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, there were several questions that the member asked in that one question, and I would like to address them.
First of all, the statement that the minister was slow to table this report is not quite correct, Mr. Speaker. The fact is that there was an initial draft prepared of the economic outlook and economists that work in the department - as the member is aware, this is reviewed by a number of departments - reviewed the economic outlook in light of the budget. As soon as it was completed, it was tabled in this Legislature, which is quite a different practice from what the party of the NDP endured. Because the Yukon Party wouldn't even release the 1994 economic outlook until they were hounded and hounded and hounded for days in this Legislature.
So, in answer to the member's opposite question, the economic outlook was tabled as soon as it was completed.
Mr. Fentie: Well, that wasn't my question. I asked the Premier: given the evidence in this outlook, which is a very bleak picture - bleak picture of which the Liberal government members opposite are the architects - what is this minister and her government prepared to do now to avert this desperate situation Yukoners find themselves in economically?
Now, whether the Yukon Party tabled a document eight years ago or not is irrelevant in this situation. This is the government; this is the minister responsible; we have a serious problem. What is the minister prepared to do now?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There is a reason, Mr. Speaker, why we get three tries to make our point. Let me restate it for the member opposite.
First of all, the report was tabled on time. Secondly, there was no attempt to hide the report from the members opposite, and certainly it is an accurate, thorough document. It doesn't paint a rosy picture. It's not the worst economic outlook the Yukon has ever seen, however.
The point is that the economic outlook recognizes what the NDP did for four years to our economy. The architects of the poor state of the economy - the member opposite ought to look in a mirror, not at me. What we're trying to do is rebuild the Yukon economy, and we are doing that. What the report recognizes is that there has been - the best word I have heard, in terms of a description is "modest".
Overall, the economic outlook is positive in a number of key fronts, and it also speaks of modest growth in tourism, of stemming the decrease in mineral exploration and a number of other key areas. So, for the member to suggest that it's all doom and gloom is not entirely accurate. There are some very good points in the economic outlook. There is also information, received just last week from Statistics Canada, that supports that, in fact, our efforts are making progress on the Yukon economy. It's not going to happen overnight. It's not going to happen in one short year. I guess that's why governments are given four years.
Mr. Fentie: Well, the minister's answer was merely the product of a figment of her imagination. The facts are clear. The economic outlook, coupled with statistics that have recently been released, shows a very clear trend under this Liberal government.
Now, the minister made reference to the former NDP government. Well, when faced with the shutdown of Faro and the massive unemployment that that one corporate entity caused by shutting down in this territory, because the former government had a plan and a vision for the economics of this territory, the trend under the NDP government was decreasing unemployment, increasing workforce, and people in communities like Watson Lake actually moving back in. And under this government, the stats and trends are clear. It's reversed - under the Liberal government, unemployment is increasing and the workforce is leaving. I ask the minister what she's prepared to do about this situation?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: What I'm going to start with, in terms of what we are doing about the situation, is challenging the facts that the member has chosen to present. In fact, unemployment is down from a high of over 17 percent during the NDP's reign, to an average of 11.5 last year, and the unemployment rate is expected to decline.
Granted, Mr. Speaker, that's a decline to 10.5 percent; that's still too high. We are working on it. Our budget will further reduce the unemployment rate in terms of the jobs that are contained in the budget. The number of people with jobs - the number of Yukoners with jobs - increased last year. That's not something we saw under the NDP. The total value of building construction rose by 13 percent last year, and we're talking about a further 12-percent increase this year. The economic outlook talks about the value of furs harvested by trappers increasing by 33 percent last year. The report recognizes the outlook in the oil and gas industry.
Mr. Speaker, the facts are that while we cannot stand here and say that the economic outlook says everything is rosy and bright, it does point to modest gains in 10 short months.
Question re: Economic outlook
Mr. Fentie: Well, let's go about this again with the minister - same minister, same issue. The minister has just reeled off a number of areas where jobs are happening - all of them directly attributed to the former government, the NDP, and their vision for the economy and their budgeting practices. Secondly, this member came up with stats: a high of 17 percent unemployment, reduced last year to 11.5. That is the trend that I speak about.
Under the former government, unemployment was decreasing in this territory by some five percent. Now, let's look at the recent stats. We have gone from 11.5 percent unemployment from last year to 14-plus percent now. The trend is increasing unemployment. Why? Because this government is not rebuilding the economy; it is dismantling it - dismantling everything that the former government did in diversifying Yukon's economy, and it starts with -
Speaker: Order please. Will the member please get to the question?
Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It starts with programs like the community development fund, fire smart, tourism investment fund. This government has done nothing. I ask the Premier: what is she prepared to do to address the situation now?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: On the one hand the member opposite stands up and says that the reason all of this happened - despite the fact that they weren't in office for nine months last year - was just because the NDP was such a good government. Well, Mr. Speaker, if the NDP was such a good government, they didn't get re-elected. Yukoners spoke about the way that the NDP managed the economy and they spoke in volumes - about 11 I would say.
The point is, Mr. Speaker, what this government is doing for the economy and how it is working with Yukoners on our economic situation is contained in this budget. It is also being reflected in our efforts in that we are hearing from Statistics Canada, we are hearing from the mining industry, we are hearing from the oil and gas industry, and most importantly, we are hearing from everyday Yukoners, who are saying, "We appreciate what you are doing by putting clear criteria in for Project Yukon and ensuring that communities have access to that funding."
They are saying, "We appreciate the fact that the budget contains the projects we asked for in the community. We appreciate the fact that, yes, you're doing what you said you'd do. You're aggressively promoting the Alaska Highway pipeline, you're building an oil and gas industry, you're working with the mining community, and you're working with the forest sector." Yukoners are appreciating what we're doing, and they will see results over the next four years.
Mr. Fentie: Yes, Yukoners are showing their appreciation by leaving this territory, and the really disturbing fact about that is it's people who are 25 to 40 years old leaving the territory. That, I might add to the minister, is our workforce. Now, the former government did reverse the trends in this territory when it comes to unemployment, did work on diversifying the economy and actually was providing a great deal of results. This government, on the other hand, has hidden behind the former government's work and now is trying to claim that it is Yukoners telling them that yes, the Liberals are on the right track.
Well, then I ask the minister this: if this Liberal government is on the right track, why is our workforce leaving this territory in a steady parade of people who are 25 to 40 years old, heading to other jurisdictions so that they can find a job. Why is that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, first of all, the number of Yukoners leaving this territory is a trend we saw under the former NDP government. We saw thousands of Yukoners leave. We have stemmed the tide of Yukoners leaving, and we hope to stem it further by the work that we're doing.
No results are instantaneous. The member opposite is not going to see them overnight, and the member opposite is treading on thin ground talking about people leaving the Yukon and lauding the former Minister of Economic Development. Where's he?
Mr. Speaker, I maintain my point that what this government is doing in terms of working on rebuilding the Yukon economy is on the right track and that we are going to see results. I'm disappointed that we didn't see them in 10 short months in an economic outlook, but that would have been unrealistic, and we are realistic. We are working very hard on the Yukon economy and rebuilding it.
Mr. Fentie: Well, making remarks like the minister has just made about the former Minister of Economic Development leaving the territory has no place in this Legislature.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: The minister just said I started it. Well, excuse me.
I'm asking the minister what she's prepared to do about a desperate situation in this territory's economy under this Liberal government's watch. To date, in 10 months, the Liberal government has done nothing but follow through with some of the NDP programs that are creating jobs, but nothing new has been developed or created by this minister.
I ask the minister, given the economic outlook and given the situation we are facing, what is this government prepared to do?
The Member for Klondike offered a constructive suggestion: amending the budget, putting more capital dollars into the budget, and lessening O&M. Is the minister prepared to even look at that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: First of all, the member opposite chides me for my behaviour in this Legislature in response to a question. The rebuke, perhaps, was well deserved. I point out that the member opposite was lauding the previous minister's accomplishments, and I would dare to suggest that the previous accomplishments spoke for themselves, in terms of the election results.
Mr. Speaker, the members opposite suggest we should cut operation and maintenance of this government and spend it on capital, although I note that the Member for Klondike stood up yesterday in this House and said that those capital works are not going to create these jobs, and today he stands up and says, yes, they are. The members opposite can't make up their minds.
And what exactly would they have us cut? The police servicing contracts? Women's shelters? The first time they've seen an increase. Foster parents? Would they have us cut a number of key projects that are finally being recognized? Are those what they would have us cut?
What services to Yukoners are they suggesting we do not pay for? The money has to come from somewhere. We're doing our best to live within our means, Mr. Speaker, and rebuild the Yukon economy.
Question re: Economic outlook
Mr. Jenkins: My question today is for the Premier in her capacity as Minister of Economic Development. Now, I have to compliment the drafters of the economic forecast for 2001. They had a massive job. They had to paint a picture and kind of instill some hope, because it's a long, long tunnel we're looking down, and the light at the end of it is only flickering marginally now, Mr. Speaker, and that tunnel is growing longer every day.
But let's explore the mineral area of this economic forecast 2001.
The mineral production is estimated to be between $55 million to $60 million for this next fiscal period, but it's predicated on Brewery Creek, the Viceroy mine, remaining in production. That's not the case.
Is the Premier prepared to admit that the actual value of mineral production will be less than half of what is estimated in the economic outlook?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it's interesting that the member opposite wants to ask a question about the economic forecast. I'd just like to remind the member opposite that the Yukon Party's economic forecast in 1994 was so bad they wouldn't even release it. So the member opposite might be cautioned about his doom-and-gloom media releases and perhaps consider visiting some of his previous work in this Legislature.
The Member for Klondike says it's the worst economic forecast Yukoners have ever seen. At least, Mr. Speaker, we are open and accountable, and Yukoners are getting to see it. We're tabling this information in advance of when previous governments have tabled it and, what's more, we are defending it. The member opposite wishes to speak about the mineral exploration figures and the mineral results in the report, noting that, indeed, we have released the report and that we're answering for it.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I thought this was question-and-answer period. There are no answers coming from the Premier. She failed, once again, to answer the simple question. The value of mineral production in the Yukon, estimated at $60 million, is predicated on the Viceroy mine being in operation. That's not the case. What is it going to be? Estimates are half the amount stated. That figure is alarming in itself, but most alarming is the exploration budget. That's at an all-time low for the Yukon.
What is the Premier prepared to do to reverse this disastrous trend in mineral exploration here in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would remind the member opposite that page 8 of the report talks about the outlook for commodity prices in 2001 and does not list as one of those prices - although there are a number of gold, zinc, lead, silver and copper - tungsten. Tungsten is missing from that report, which we have also seen.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite says that tungsten is in the Northwest Territories. The access to the Canada Tungsten property is through the Yukon, and, Mr. Speaker, reserves at that mine are estimated at well over four years, and a reopening would generate 140 direct jobs.
The member opposite shakes his head and doesn't seem to think that that counts. Well, working with Canada Tungsten is the work of this government. Working with the private sector, dealing with issues that the mining community asked us to deal with - things like roads.
In terms of mineral exploration, we have answered the call of the industry, dealt with the issues that are under our control - the mineral exploration tax credit. And it also, if the member reads the report, notes that it will stem the decrease in mineral exploration that we witnessed in the previous four years.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what we have is an overstatement of the total mineral production of the Yukon by at least 100 percent from what it will probably be next year. We have an all-time low for mineral exploration in the Yukon from what it has ever been historically, if you want to look at constant dollars, Mr. Speaker. The one way that the Premier can reverse this tend in mineral exploration is by establishing an upper limit on the amount of land that she is setting aside for no-development parks under the protected areas strategy.
Will the minister - the Premier - now undertake to establish an upper limit of the amount of land in Yukon that will be withdrawn under the protected areas strategy, so that we can provide some certainty and attract the mineral exploration industry back to the Yukon? All of these other areas that are being touted are for nought, until certainty is surrounding the amount of land that is going to be withdrawn. Will the minister do so and establish an upper limit?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: That question is out of order in the sense that it introduces a new topic - the Yukon protected areas strategy. I answered the question yesterday. The Minister of Renewable Resources answered that question yesterday in general debate. The member opposite is going about the issue of the Yukon protected areas strategy contrary to what the public advisory committee and others, including the previous government, recommended.
Question re: Alaska Highway reconstruction at Champagne
Mr. McRobb: Well, so much for an open and accountable government, Mr. Speaker.
My question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. This coming year's budget contains $2.1 million for a reconstruction project on the Alaska Highway near Champagne. According to this Liberal government, this allocation will straighten out the dangerous corner at Champagne. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, both the minister and the Premier have not provided much information to the public about this project, other than the vague budget ballyhoo. I am hoping that the minister can alleviate some of the confusion surrounding this matter.
Can she confirm that the road reconstruction project is, in fact, the on-the-shelf project known as the Champagne section, which is located some distance away from the community?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: Well, I was looking forward to discussing this in debate of the Community and Transportation Services budget. However, we are beginning the project known as the Champagne bypass, which has been on the shelf for some time.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, the information I've obtained from the department of highways indicates that the total cost of the Champagne section - or Champagne bypass or Champagne revision - is some $8.1 million. However, this coming year's allocation is only $2.1 million, or about 25 percent of the total amount required. Can the minister provide us with the total cost of this project and indicate whether the required allocation for this project is contained in this budget?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I would point out that this government is doing more about that particular road project than the previous government did in its four-year term. And no, we will not finish the project this year, but we will get a good start on it.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, the record will show the minister refused to answer the question. I asked her to confirm that this project is only one-quarter of the total cost; she did not do that. So when she gets up on the final supplementary, I hope she will contribute something a little more worthwhile.
Now, Mr Speaker, this project has been communicated to Yukoners as revising these corners, making the highway safer; but, in fact, what the minister's hiding is that three-quarters of the project is for future years. And we all know the Liberal budget didn't contain a long-term forecast. Future years don't exist. How can she explain the secrecy surrounding this project, and why doesn't this government level with Yukoners and be more consistent in what it's saying about this project and the highways budget?
Hon. Ms. Buckway: I note, again, that this government is doing more about that particular project than the previous government did. They did nothing. The clearing for that project has been done for some years, and it's time to get on with the work of actually redoing that highway.
If the member wants details, he will get it on the debate on the C&TS budget. This government is not hiding anything.
Question re: Pioneer utility grant universality
Mr. Keenan: Certainly, based on the questions that are coming out, or the answers that are coming out, I can expect nothing but spin again from the spin masters.
But I do have a question today for the Minister of Health and Social Services, as appropriate. Yesterday, the minister played the blame game. He played the denial game. He put on his skates, and he went skating on thin ice, Mr. Speaker. He had his hands behind his back, and he looked elegant, but that was about it. That was absolutely it. Today, I seek some clarification.
In the recent consultation on the pioneer utility grant, the seniors and elders overwhelmingly supported an across-the-board increase. In a ministerial statement just last week, the minister said that the pioneer utility grant, including the eligibility requirements and the universality, is up for review.
Can the minister tell us now what other programs in his department are going to be under review, in terms of universality?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Thank you for that question. The issue of, number one, saying that it was overwhelming - the idea of seniors coming back and sharing with us how it should be done - wasn't overwhelming at all. It was almost 50:50, so I'm going to correct that for the record. There were a lot of seniors out there who felt that those who need it most should be getting it, more than they did. So, I mean, that was the discussion and the tenure of the conversation and the dialogue.
So, we have a very caring senior group that believes in the disadvantaged.
The issue of the universality of the pioneer utility grant, because it is a Yukon program and not a national program - we abide by the Canada Health Act stringently, Mr. Speaker. We don't deviate from it. There are definite requirements of all governments to follow it and, if you don't follow it, then you're penalized.
So, we believe in those tenets, and I'm not sure where the member opposite is getting this idea that we're going to be tinkering with the national universality model that we have in place for all Canadians.
Mr. Keenan: The member did not answer the question. The member provided a lot of spin on the question, but did not answer it.
Speaking about the seniors and saying 50:50, there was pretty well an equal split, in correcting me. Well, let me correct the minister.
The minister, acting in his capacity, went over to Closeleigh Manor, and did not go in consultation, as these folks across the floor like to say they do. He went over with an options paper. Two options, Mr. Speaker, that did break the universality. So, for this minister to stand on his feet and say different is absolutely wrong.
It says here in their election platform - the five principles that have been laid out. It says how they're going to protect this.
Now, I asked a question of the minister, and I'll reiterate if I have to, about Yukon programs.
Your platform said that you are committed to the principle of universality. Again -
Speaker: Order please. Question please.
Mr. Keenan: The Member for Riverdale said that everything was on the table, so now I'd like to know: does this mean that the Yukon may be facing change in universality? I'd like to know what other programs are moving toward those income-tested programs.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite - I think it's very important that we all read what's coming out of the Canadian scene with health care. It's not just Yukon that is looking at how we deliver health care. The issue of CHST, the issue of cost, the issue of more seniors over the next number of years - all these are on the discussion table, and it's very important that we not bury our heads in the sand. We just don't keep adding on, Mr. Speaker. We have to look at how we can deliver more efficiently. That's going to be required, or we're going to need even more dollars in the future.
Mr. Keenan: Again, I'd note for the record that the member is speaking about what's happening across the country in federal programs, and I'm not asking to speak to Allan Rock. If I want to speak to Allan Rock, I'll write the gentleman a letter.
What I want is a commitment, right here, Mr. Speaker, that there will be no breakdown of universality. It's not even a year, and your party has already deviated from your election platform, and I find that very, very appalling.
So, we're on a pretty slippery slope right now, Mr. Speaker. That's where we are. We have no commitment to universality under PUG or even the child benefit. Some pretty disturbing trends are coming out because of this now. We have physiotherapy happening. You can go to the hospital, you can get on a long waiting list, or you can go to a private clinic. And I can say the same thing about the audiology services, if I may.
Now, with the move away from universality and social services, I'd like to know what that means for health care on this government's agenda for change.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, I don't think the member opposite listens to the answer. I don't think the member opposite wants to understand what the answer is, because it doesn't fit with the member opposite's philosophy.
The important part, Mr. Speaker, as I have said on occasion after occasion, is that the whole issue of health care is a discussion point. We issued a report card. And by the way, I have heard nothing but positive comments about the report card that we issued to all Yukoners. As a matter of fact, they would like to see report cards come on a more frequent basis with more realistic information about what our costs really are, because Yukoners care about their health care. They want to maintain their health care and they want to improve it as best they can.
They also realize that it costs money to maintain our health care system.
We are committed to the universality of our five basic principles of health care across Canada. We are committed to that. We have not discussed making any changes in those areas. What we are discussing - and I know that the members opposite are afraid to discuss anything that might infringe on programs that they put in place, but unfortunately we have to. That's the whole point of trying to live within your means, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private members' business
Mr. Fentie: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the official opposition, to be called on Wednesday, March 7, 2001. They are Motion No. 63, standing in the name of the Member for Watson Lake and Motion No. 80, standing in the name of the Member for Watson Lake.
Mr. Jenkins: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, March 7, 2001: Motion No. 77.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Mr. Kent: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting 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: Good afternoon. I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: I now call the Committee of the Whole to order. We will proceed with general debate on Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 2001-02 - continued
Chair: I believe Mr. Jenkins had the floor.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, when we left general debate on the budget yesterday, I was reviewing the amount of estimated private sector jobs that would be - not created, but sustained by this budget, and providing a breakdown. The budget said approximately 700 jobs. It turns out to be 677.74.
I was formulating a number of questions to the Premier as to how this breakdown is established, and it appears to have been established in-house by a number of departments acting together.
While one can see straight up the amount of jobs being created by the capital budget in the Department of Community and Transportation Services, one has less of an understanding when one gets to Renewable Resources and they're going to create 0.19 percentage of a job. That's in Renewable Resources corporate services and policy and planning, 0.19; resource management, 6.48 jobs.
Then we get into Tourism, and we have the same kind of thing. We're going to create 0.10 jobs in corporate services; heritage, 11.2 jobs; industry services, 6.2; marketing, 0.58.
I'm very, very curious as to how we can get as accurate as we are in the FTEs when we missed the boat so tremendously, Mr. Chair, in the Yukon economic outlook.
Mr. Chair, I want to go on record as commending the excellent job done by the department in putting together the economic outlook and the economic forecast. They really had to work very, very hard to take an extremely dismal picture and attempt to portray some hope at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, this Liberal government is constantly stretching the length of the tunnel, and the light at the end of it is flickering less and less and less as we go on.
Mr. Chair, one of the areas of tremendous concern is the movement out of the Yukon, or the out-migration, and it is strongest among the young working age individuals and families with young children. The population of those aged 25 to 39 has dropped by some 7.2 percent, while the number of children under 10 dropped by 6.4 percent. In contrast, the number of people aged 45 to 59 increased by 2.7 percent, while the number of Yukoners aged 60 and over has increased by 6.6 percent.
What this says is that our workforce is moving elsewhere, and that comes about because of the lack of economic opportunities and the lack of ability of this government to create economic opportunity here in Yukon.
Now contrast that to when the Yukon Party came into power this last time, and mining exploration was at an all-time low then, at just over $10 million. In a matter of just a couple of years, driven by the incentives provided by the Yukon Party, it was up to $55 million in the Yukon. There was a 3,000-person increase in our population as a result of new economic opportunities. And the first thing that the Yukon Party did when they came into power was create a public sector/private sector committee to look at the budget to help create jobs.
Now here is an opportunity and a position that this government could take, Mr. Chair. They could create the same private sector/public sector committee, have a look at the budget, have a look at what changes could be done, move around capital and O&M - not increase the budget, just move capital and O&M - and look at ways of creating opportunities here in the Yukon. There are opportunities to put Yukoners back to work; to take that light that is at the end of the tunnel and either shorten the tunnel or increase the intensity of the light, so that we have some opportunity.
About the only statement that is completely accurate in the minister's budget is the statement, "Our way is the highway." It's the highway up to Inuvik, looking for work, or the Alaska Highway south, so Yukoners can go south looking for work.
Here in the Yukon itself, opportunities for employment are at an all-time low, and this government is not providing any certainty in any of the areas.
Now, the first suggestion we're offering, Mr. Chair, is to create a public sector/private sector committee to look at ways and examine ways of creating more employment here - how to work the capital, how to work the O&M side of the budget to enhance opportunities. The other area that some certainty has to be provided in the Yukon is in the mining area, the exploration area. And the only way that the government can do this is to provide some certainty around land tenure. There's just too much uncertainty as to what areas will be made into parks next. How much of the total land mass will be withdrawn and made into parks? That uncertainty in itself is detracting from the mining community's presence here.
There will be no exploration dollars of any major amount spent here until some certainty surrounding land tenure and the reality that, if they stake a claim - if a mining company or an individual prospector stakes a claim - the rights accorded to that claim staking are maintained. They're not encompassed in a park. And the suggestion from this Liberal government that they be expropriated or bought out has been heard over and over again, or even that the park boundaries created so that the claim block is rendered useless by just the boundaries and how they're established in the park itself - it kind of reeks of collusion as to who is overseeing the opportunity and why it's being done.
So, the Yukon protected areas strategy is the other area that is providing a tremendous amount of certainty. And the Premier and her colleague, the Minister of Renewable Resources, are sitting in a position where they can provide some certainty and do something in that area - but they're failing miserably to address the issue. They're just going to allow it to run its course, Mr. Chair.
That, in itself, is extremely disappointing and it's manifesting itself in the mining outlook and what is going to be realized for mineral production. It will probably be an all-time low this forthcoming year, at some $20 million to $30 million in 2001, Mr. Chair. The forecast is predicated on the Viceroy mine being in operation. That's not the case.
Look at the $8.8 million that is the reality of last year's exploration budget for the mining community here in the Yukon, Mr. Chair. That is down from $9.5 million the previous year.
To blame this on commodity prices, one only has to look back at the price of lead and zinc when the Yukon Party was in power, and they're virtually the same as what they are today, Mr. Chair. Gold differs significantly. There's a reason why the placer mining activity and the hardrock mine at Brewery Creek are closing. Gold is at really an all-time low and has been for quite a number of years. Couple that with the additional regulatory burden and with the virtual harassment of the mining industry by the federal Department of Fisheries, and we have a serious problem that the Premier could be addressing with this wonderful relationship they sold the Yukon public on - between the Yukon Liberal Party and the federal Liberal Party.
When will the Yukon see the benefits of this wonderful relationship between the federal Liberal Party and the Yukon Liberal Party? Probably the only time we'll see it will be at the fundraising event tonight - the dinner for the Minister of Finance, the hon. Paul Martin. That's where we'll see the relationship manifest itself and the coffers of the Yukon Liberal Party replenished.
The problem we are facing here is that hope no longer exists, Mr. Chair, and this government has not provided any insight as to how they're going to rebuild that hope and build those opportunities.
There are numerous other areas that I'll be exploring with the minister, but let's just deal with the number of FTEs that are being created in this budget, the issues surrounding a public sector/private sector committee to examine the budget to look at ways of creating jobs. Will the minister undertake to put together a public/private sector committee to conduct such an examination and look at ways of creating opportunity here in the Yukon? Will the Premier do that?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I'm delighted to have an opportunity to address the member opposite's lengthy comments with regard to the budget.
First of all, I would like to address the comments of the member opposite about the economic outlook. Just for the member's background - and I appreciate the positive comments that the member has afforded the very hard-working public servants who worked on this document - and just so the member is aware, there is a specific process for the economic outlook to be prepared. This process was actually designed and approved by the member's party when they were in government. It was approved by a Cabinet of that particular stripe.
The steps include drafting - and this is done by the economic research and analysis unit, with input from all government departments. There's a review by an interdepartmental working group to ensure that nothing has been missed, and then there's a final review by deputy ministers and also by communications individuals. So, this is truly the work of public servants who have worked very hard and evaluated the economic outlook in terms of the budget, as well. And I would remind the member opposite that, in 1994, the Yukon Party wouldn't even release the economic forecast, because they didn't like what was in the report.
They were hounded in this Legislature for days and days and days, and they refused to table it, similar to the Government Services contracting report under the NDP.
The Member for Klondike says it has been the worst economic forecast Yukoners have ever seen. At least Yukoners, Mr. Chair, are getting to see this one. We are not hiding the report from the public.
Just in terms of timeliness, to advise the Chair, in 1997, the budget was tabled on March 24; the economic outlook was almost a month later, on April 17. In 1998, the budget was February 23, and the outlook was March 4. So we are entirely timely with the economic outlook.
And I would just like to speak to that document for a moment. Mr. Chair, it must also be noted that the economic outlook is also, through no fault of its own, unable to deal with any sudden change of events, because this document is prepared and is examined with the budget. If, for example, a particular mining property makes a production decision, then it's not taken into account in this. And I note that the economic outlook, indeed, also says this. It says that, for example, with the Minto project, further infrastructure development, et cetera, will depend on metal prices, financing, and a production decision by project owners. So there are some factors that cannot be built into the economic outlook.
The other point that the member in Question Period stated today and made a number of comments on, with respect to the Viceroy gold operation - and I would just ask the member opposite, perhaps he could share with us, when he next gets to his feet, when Mr. Nauman appointed him as spokesperson for the operation? I was unaware of that.
The economic outlook recognizes fully that the Liberal government, elected last April 17, sworn into office on May 6, is not going to rebuild the economy overnight.
It does recognize where we have made changes and what impact those changes will have on our economy. And I would like to note again for the members opposite that, among the highlights in the report, there is a decline in the unemployment rate and a reduction in the unemployment rate by the sustaining of jobs in the budget; the number of Yukoners with jobs increased last year, after years of decline; the value of building construction is up; the value of furs is up; the outlook for the Yukon's oil and gas industry is especially bright; the decision on the Alaska Highway pipeline is expected later this year; Statistics Canada is saying that Yukon is expected to have the second highest percentage growth in capital spending in all of Canada.
The economic outlook says that the improvements that this Liberal government has made to the exploration tax credit and increased funding for the Yukon mining incentives program are expected to stem any further decrease in spending on mineral exploration. And there is also mention of the tax cuts, with which, between the federal Liberal tax cuts and the Yukon Liberal tax cuts, we are expected to stimulate the economy by over $10 million this year; that is money Yukoners are spending in our economy. It also talks about the construction of the Mayo-Dawson line, and I note the Member for Klondike has steadfastly opposed these jobs. And the tourism industry is expected to experience modest growth. That is the overwhelming phrase with regard to the economic outlook, Mr. Chair. It's not doom and gloom, as the members would have us believe; it's modest, which is what any government should be, after almost 10 months in office.
The members opposite are also going on about the level of spending in the budget, in terms of suggesting that we should focus our efforts on decreasing the operation and maintenance. And I would just like to point out that that operation and maintenance money is money that is spent, for example, in Health and Social Services: on Kaushee's Place, which the Yukon Party tried to cut; the Watson Lake shelter, recognizing the need in that community for Health and Hope; the Dawson City shelter; the Line of Life program, for the first time ever; hospice, in order to provide their good services in rural Yukon; Teegatha'Oh Zheh; and foster parents. The Whitehorse General Hospital has also seen an increase, as well as, of course, the recruitment and retention of medical professionals. And that is only in the Department of Health and Social Services.
Those are some of the issues that we have addressed in this budget. That's operation and maintenance money - operation and maintenance money that the Member for Klondike says should be cut.
Mr. Chair, what the Liberal government has done, which the previous government - the NDP government - neglected to do, was think about jobs for today as well as jobs for tomorrow. We are tackling today's economy as well as tomorrow's economy.
Yes, we have increased capital spending. Net capital spending is up by seven percent, and that means increased spending on highway construction to over $30 million. That means jobs for Yukoners. There's more than $3.4 million in capital spending to support mining in this territory, and that means jobs for Yukoners as well.
There's also money for other capital projects that translate into jobs - the extended care, the Mayo school and the Catholic school expansion.
The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes is heckling across the floor that the Catholic school expansion is some NDP initiative. Much as the NDP like to try and take credit for everything, and much as we know the members opposite do not like the people in Whitehorse - as much as we recognize that members opposite don't like the people of Whitehorse, they continually put down any projects and any initiatives contained within the City of Whitehorse.
Well, don't think, Mr. Chair, that the people of Whitehorse aren't noticing, because they certainly are.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Fentie, on a point of order.
Mr. Fentie: Pursuant to Standing Order 19(j), a member can be called to order when using abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder. To make the accusation that this side of the House does not like people in Whitehorse is simply very, very insulting.
I, myself, know and am friends with many, many Whitehorse residents. I have grown up in the Yukon. This is simply not something that should be allowed on the floor of this Legislature. That accusation is out of order and, Mr. Chair, I'd like you to rule on that, please.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on the point of order.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, on the point of order. With all due respect to the Chair and the gallant attempt by the Member for Watson Lake, if pointing out that the members opposite continually ridicule projects in Whitehorse is abusive, then I question the Member for Klondike's comments with respect to light bulbs, his comments and behaviour with respect to every female member who stands on the floor of this Legislature. I challenge that, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Speaker: Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: We're supposed to be upfront, truthful and honest, and I would ask the Premier to be forthright, truthful and honest in her remarks in this House and not cast aspersions like she is casting currently, Mr. Chair. That's totally out of order and it's unparliamentary.
I would ask the Premier to withdraw her remarks.
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on the point of order.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I will respond that my comment with respect to the Member for Klondike's behaviour toward myself yesterday was, yes, abusive.
Chair: On the points of order, there are now two points of order being raised.
First of all, on the point of order, there is no point of order. This is a difference between members.
Mr. Jenkins, on the second point of order, it is unlawful and against the rules to accuse a member of being dishonest, of lying and not being forthright, and I expect a withdrawal of that remark.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Jenkins: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, what the Premier said is not an accurate reflection of what I said the other day. That's her personal interpretation, and it could be construed as very inaccurate.
Now, I'll withdraw calling the Premier an outright liar and say she was inaccurate in her interpretation of it.
Chair: The withdrawal is accepted, thank you, Mr. Jenkins.
I would also remind the members that, while one person is speaking and standing, they have the floor, so please respect the fact that there is only one person allowed to speak. While heckling is allowed, I am finding a problem with the fact that speeches are being made from both sides by members sitting. This does not help the rules of the House or the conduct of the House.
Thank you very much. Ms. Duncan, please continue.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The point I was making prior to the discussion that ensued was with regard to the suggestion by the Member for Klondike and members opposite that operations and maintenance expenditures of this government should be reduced, and also money spent on capital expenditures. I reminded the members opposite that they are asking that this government cease funding to Kaushee's Place, the Watson Lake shelter, the Dawson shelter, the Line of Life, Hospice, Teegatha'Oh Zheh, and foster parents, as well as an increase to the Whitehorse General Hospital and recruitment and retention of medical professionals.
Mr. Chair, those are only the items in Health and Social Services that are new operations and maintenance spending by this government. They are increases that this government has put in place in response to what communities have said and what communities have asked us to do. And, yes, it is operations and maintenance spending. While the members opposite continually suggest we are somehow growing government or spending money on ourselves, this is money spent on Yukoners, Mr. Chair. This is money about which Yukoners have said: "This is where we believe you should spend it."
Some of the other points with respect to operations and maintenance spending are, for example, the municipal grants that are transferred to municipal authorities and homeowner grants that Yukoners receive - $2.4 million worth, Mr. Chair. There is also $11.4 million in contribution to Yukon College. There is also money for post-secondary student grants, the police services agreement, as well as $56.5 million in the public schools programs.
So, the members opposite are suggesting that this government is spending money on itself, and, that, in fact, is not what those expenditures point out in terms of what some of the operations and maintenance expenditures of the government are.
In terms of other economic indicators, the member opposite talked about the estimated private sector full-time equivalent impact. I've produced, at the request of the member opposite, an accounting of the private sector full-time equivalent jobs we anticipated through the budget. Now, these are not our figures. These are figures that departments themselves have estimated. They have then been revisited by Finance and Economic Development statisticians in terms of what reasonably could be envisioned for these jobs.
Each of the questions by the member opposite was on an activity-by-activity basis, and each specific one would best be debated in those particular budgets, and I'm certainly prepared to answer those, as are members.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, the member opposite suggests that the economic outlook does not present hope to Yukoners. And the member and I are having another disagreement, because I believe it does show some modest improvement, and there is clearly hope on our economic horizon, and, clearly, there is very good work being done by this government.
The member closed his comments by asking if we would put in place a private/public sector committee to provide us with some guidance in terms of the budgeting, and I would answer to the member opposite that that is already in place, in terms of the work that this government does in working with other Yukoners, in terms of not only this budget creation, but throughout the year in terms of how we work with Yukoners.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that was an overview and a quarter, Mr. Chair. It does nothing to instill any confidence in Yukoners that they'll be going back to work, or that there are investment opportunities here in the Yukon, or that there are opportunities for employment. They simply do not exist, and they're being eroded at a rapid pace under the guidance of this Liberal government.
The suggestion to the Premier was for her to create a public/private sector committee to examine ways of taking the current budget - both the O&M and the capital - and look at ways of enhancing opportunities for employment and creating more employment in the private sector, because the multiplier there is considerably in excess of the multiplier in the government sector for dollars spent.
Now, that worked previously. It is what turned the economy around, in part, under the previous Yukon Party government, and if it worked once, is the minister saying that it won't work a second time and that she doesn't want to pursue it? The suggestion that there's a committee in place currently - where does this committee exist, unless she's referring to the caucus? And we have a clear example of their views and what they've sanctioned from the Yukon economic outlook.
It's pretty sad. It's very sad indeed.
Now, there has to be some optimism created by the government. Instead, Mr. Chair, all we're seeing is pessimism created by this government. The only opportunity that this Liberal government is hanging their hat on is a pipeline that may or may not come down the Alaska Highway. In fact, they're not just hanging their hat on it. They're hanging their entire wardrobe on it. And that pipeline may or may not become a reality. I sincerely hope it does, but we can't put all our eggs in one basket. If one is to look at the construction of the Alaska Highway pipeline and look at the opportunities for Yukoners in its construction, they are not going to be significant.
We will end up with not a great number of jobs originating out of the construction. That's a given. The equipment to bury the pipeline or build the pipeline is specialized equipment. It moves around the world to where the opportunities are to construct pipelines. That equipment will be mobilized and then demobilized. That equipment doesn't currently exist in the Yukon, Mr. Chair. Other than the clearing of the right-of-way, the opportunities for Yukon will be minimal. And the entire Liberal wardrobe of economic opportunities is being hung on the potential of something that may or may not occur.
There are opportunities in the mining sector, but certainty has to be provided in that sector by ensuring that when a claim is staked, they'll have access to that claim and they can utilize that claim and it won't be surrounded or encompassed in a park.
There is an opportunity there for the Premier to create some certainty. But no, there is a tremendous amount of waffling on the part of the government of the day in that area. And why? I don't know. I guess that they just do not want to make a decision.
We look at the Alaska Highway pipeline - all our eggs in one basket. It may or may not occur. We look at mining, and we are not going to attract mining back to the Yukon - the mining investment or mining exploration dollars - until such time that there is certainty surrounding land tenure.
The Yukon protected areas strategy issue can be addressed. It is in the portfolio of the Minister of Renewable Resources, but there has been either a Cabinet or caucus decision to not address it and not fix the percentage of land that would be taken over by this initiative. Just look at a few years ago in Ontario, when it was suggested that that government encompass 12 percent of their land base into parks. And the government of the day in Ontario bought into it, and they were patted on the back for the initiative and for moving forward with putting 12 percent of their land base into parks. Contrast that to the Yukon, where we currently have 15-plus percentage points of our total land base put into parks, and where we are heading. It would appear to any layperson standing back and examining it that we are headed toward at least 30 percent. If you talk to some of the conservation groups, I am sure that they are aiming for at least twice that amount, Mr. Chair. Now, that in itself is alarming.
What it means to the resource extraction industries is that they are just going to stay away - whether it be mining, oil and gas, or forestry. All of these three resource-extraction industries can be done and can be undertaken in an environmentally friendly and sensitive manner.
Reclamation and reforestation can be undertaken as part of the process of these respective industries, Mr. Chair. We don't see any initiative in that direction whatsoever. I guess that's where we're heading. That's the uncertainty surrounding the issue of this budget and that's the issue surrounding the lack of opportunities here in the Yukon. That's why we're seeing an outward migration.
Oh yes, we're told that there are a few jobs up in Eagle Plains, and Anderson is cutting some seismic lines. The minister might be well-advised to apprise herself of what's going on there, how well they're accomplishing the tasks at hand and what the turnover rate is. It's alarming, because the snow is so deep there today, they're cutting a seismic line, and I guess all they can get at are the treetops. I believe there's just over 250 kilometres of seismic line to be cut, and it might not be attainable at the width that's being proposed. It looked like a good deal; it looked like it would put a number of Yukoners to work. The reality is proving to be a little bit different.
And that holds true for many, many aspects of this budget, Mr. Chair.
Let's go back to the public/private sector committee. Could the minister spell out where this currently exists in the government, and why she will not undertake to put together such a working group to look at the budget, examine it, and look at ways to maximize the benefits of job creation for Yukoners? Why won't she undertake such a positive initiative as this? What's the problem? Why can't she take a very positive suggestion and develop it into an opportunity that will turn that light bulb at the end of the tunnel up in intensity, and provide some opportunities for Yukoners - some hope.
Could the minister point out where this group that she has alluded to currently exists in government? If it does exist, fine. I'd like to see some results from it. And if it doesn't, will she create it, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have already previously indicated to the Member for Klondike that, first of all, this government seeks the opinion and works with the private sector since taking office. The member opposite mentioned the private sector, so I'll focus on them, but I would caution my remarks by saying that it's not only the private sector. An example of how this works and how the consultation process works, if I might, is with Health and Social Services, in that the Minister of Health and Social Services has visited every health and nursing station in the Yukon, listened to the nurses and the doctors who work with them, met with the YMA and meets with all of these individuals on a regular basis - the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society and others. And those individual groups - and as individuals - are continually giving feedback to the Minister of Health and Social Services. As a result, in the Health and Social Services budget there are a number of expenditures that recognize community needs and recognize how we, as a government, might best address those needs. A good example of that is with social assistance payments, in that those who work with clientele have said that the issue isn't so much the rate; the issue is how the rules are administered. The minister is working on that and has worked on that.
With regard to economic development and private sector, I, as the minister, and others of my caucus colleagues, upon my request, have met with a round table of the investment community, a round table of the infrastructure community, a round table of the trade team partners. A further round table is anticipated to work with the real estate community and work with some of the other sectors. The IT community - the Minister of Government Services and I both meet with them.
How we meet with those groups - first of all we meet with them not simply once a year to get their input on the budget, but there have been regular meetings in the last 10 months. And their input has prompted us. Again, I point to the fact that the infrastructure community - the road builders is what I refer to them as - has asked me to do two things as Minister of Economic Development in terms of job creation in the budget and in better expenditures of government. They specifically made the request that we move the capital budget to the fall, and secondly, they asked that there be an increase in highway spending. I asked the very direct question: well, where and how do you spend it, then, in terms of job creation and working with that? And the response was to finally deal with those corners on the Alaska Highway, and we did that.
This is not a finite, call-a-group-together process and it ends there; it's ongoing. And that's just my role and that of others, in terms of asking specifically for them to consult with communities on the budget and spending priorities. It's the work of others.
In addition to this, the Minister of Renewable Resources and I have the forestry summit upcoming in April, the business summit upcoming at the end of March, and, again, the previous business summit recommendations were largely ignored by the previous government. We have already started our implementation of them, including working with the private sector to focus and assist, without overriding the agenda, with the business summit itself.
There's another business breakfast group from which I also meet with individuals, and the group as a whole, upon their invitation and upon mine.
So the consultation process is not the way the Member for Klondike wants it to happen. Mr. Chair, with all due respect to the Member for Klondike, this is the way we want to work with the private sector. We're seeing good results from it, and simply because it's not the members opposite's way doesn't make it wrong, doesn't make it not workable, and doesn't make it ineffective. We believe it is effective, and we believe that if the member consulted with any of the individuals associated with those groups, they would support us in that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I guess the minister has missed the boat completely. No one is suggesting that what she is doing is wrong. What I'm suggesting is that what she's doing is not producing any results and not providing any optimism here in the Yukon. In fact, it's only encouraging more and more people to leave, Mr. Chair.
Now, one of the ways that the minister can create some optimism is by creating opportunity. And one of the simplest and most effective ways that has worked in the past and that I would encourage the minister to pursue, Mr. Chair, is to put together a public/private sector committee to look at the budget that her party tabled in this House. They could look at both the O&M and the capital, and look at ways to maximize the benefits for employment and for perhaps just moving some of that money around, subject, of course, to the approval of the Liberal government of the day.
Because it's obvious from the economic forecast that the Premier tabled and it's obvious from all the economic indicators, save and except the unemployment rate, that the Yukon economic situation is going backward, and that what it will result in and what it has resulted in is a decrease in our population and, down the road, it means a decrease in our transfer payments from Ottawa, which comprise the major component of the Government of the Yukon's budget. And the kind of money that currently exists and is currently being transferred from Ottawa to Yukon is going to be reduced in the not-too-distant future, Mr. Chair. And that day of reckoning could be averted and could be altered if this government created economic opportunities, started and did something with the mining sector that is positive - like establish a clear amount of land that is going to be withdrawn, establish a clear position with respect to claims that exist in existing park boundaries after the boundaries have been created. Are you going to buy them out? Expropriate them? What are you going to do?
That uncertainty is scaring away the mining industry, and the oil and gas industry is in the same boat. It's not that the potential for oil and gas doesn't exist in the northern part of the Yukon. It's just that the conditions put in place by government in the Northwest Territories encouraged development in that area.
There are producing wells in southeast Yukon, Mr. Chair. The potential for major gas reserves in that area is tremendous, but where do we see the oil and gas companies drilling? Just over the border in the Northwest Territories, or in northern British Columbia - that's it. Two of the major finds for gas - one has recently been located in the Northwest Territories, one in northern British Columbia. Those are massive finds. The potential for those same types of gas deposits being located in the Yukon is quite significant.
It would be very, very beneficial if the government put an access route into southeast Yukon, so that we could access the mineral potential, access the oil and gas and access the timber in that region. But we are going to study it; we are going to look at it. It is a sad day for Yukon, because all of the access to that timber and oil and gas is currently through British Columbia. It is not through the Yukon. It could be, but it's not.
There are many, many examples of what this government could do in their existing budget. There is a lot of expertise around the Yukon and something could be done with the public/private sector committee, examining ways within the existing budget - both the capital and the O&M - to maximize the benefits for employment opportunities. Instead, the spin that we hear from the Premier is all these reviews, lunches, committees and summits, and the ongoing, ongoing, ongoing. It's all talk. What we need is that converted into jobs and those discussions converted into opportunities, which they could well be. It could be done if there were the political will existing in the Yukon.
I guess that that appears to be the difficulty that this novice government is experiencing. There is not the political will to deal with the federal government on federal government issues, whether they are the Crown in right or the northern offshore boundary. There is not the political will for this Liberal government to confront a senior Liberal government, make a determination and clearly establish the issues surrounding - I used the two examples of the Crown in right and the northern offshore boundary. Instead, the Premier is just waffling all over the place, pointing to other documents that may or may not determine our Crown in right position or the northern offshore boundary.
The issues surrounding mining and taking up the challenge with the federal government with respect to some of the regulations that are coming down the pipe and some of these reviews - if the government were determined to see mining move ahead, it would be insisting on equal representation and paying for it to ensure that the resource sector is as well represented at this table, discussing changes to the respective federal acts, but they're not. They're not, Mr. Chair.
So the environmentalists in that movement are ruling the roost, calling the shots, and their position as to how much of the Yukon will be put into parks is probably going to come closer to reality than the 15 or 20 percent that most Yukoners would accept as being realistic.
Perhaps the federal Liberal position is that the Yukon should be one big park. In fact, when the current Prime Minister of Canada was Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, it was he who created Kluane National Park, and at that time Kluane National Park was touted as the jewel in the crown of the Yukon, the jewel in the crown of Canada. All we are today are really keepers of the gates around Kluane National Park because the economic benefits that should accrue to Yukoners, should accrue to First Nations as a consequence of the park, just haven't occurred.
If you contrast that, Mr. Chair, to Denali National Park in Alaska, where there is controlled access and a restricted number of people allowed into the park - guided, looked after. That park is producing economic benefits for Alaska. Kluane National Park is costing Canada to maintain, where it could be a driver of our economy if access were provided - controlled access, Mr. Chair.
So where are we heading in all these initiatives? It would appear that the Yukon Liberals are just echoing the position of the federal Liberals. They're not prepared to stand up and serve Yukoners. They're serving their federal Liberal masters. That message is coming to the Yukon more and more frequently. Initially, we were given to understand that by electing a Liberal government here in the Yukon, we'd have a wonderful, cozy relationship between the Yukon Liberal Party and the federal Liberal Party, but we're coming to understand it as being just another colonial government serving the masters in Ottawa.
But let's look at what we can do within the existing legislation within the existing budget. Now, the minister, when I last asked her about this public/private sector committee, waffled all around the wall and went on at great length to elaborate on meetings and initiatives being undertaken that are not producing the results that Yukoners are expecting. Yukoners are expecting economic opportunities, and they're expecting jobs.
I guess by creating this massive system of parks here in the Yukon, the Premier and her colleagues are probably helping to encourage jobs for Yukoners, but they are in the Northwest Territories, Alberta and elsewhere, Mr. Chair. The mining industry has abandoned us. The oil and gas industry is here, but it's a small amount of money being spent here in comparison to what is being spent in the Northwest Territories, northern British Columbia or Alberta - a very, very small amount, indeed.
The mining sector is doing very well in the Northwest Territories. It's doing quite well in Alaska. It's probably going to be the worst year for production and for exploration here in the Yukon on record, if we look at production and exploration in constant dollars, Mr. Chair. I don't think you can find a year, even during the depression, where production - if you want to look at the troy ounces produced during the late 1920s and early 1930s here in the Yukon, YCGC was doing a lot of mining and producing a lot of gold, even in those days. In fact, there was a shortage of skilled workers during those times in the Yukon.
I guess the minister has managed to create a shortage of skilled workers here in the Yukon, once again, but it's only because our skilled workforce has had to move elsewhere to find meaningful employment. This Liberal government has virtually devastated the economy here and doesn't appear to be doing very much of anything to turn initiatives around.
I guess the one area that the Premier touts that there's a turnaround in is reducing the unemployment rate, but we just have to look at the total workforce that that's based on, Mr. Chair, and we soon see through the whole picture. Fewer and fewer people are in the unemployment ranks because the workforce is dropping. It's moving elsewhere.
That's outlined in the economic forecast under the population changes. It's a scary picture, especially when you contrast the situation today to the Yukon about six years ago, when there was an abundance of opportunity, when there was some mining activity and when there was some certainty surrounding mining claims here in the Yukon. All that has been eroded, or eliminated, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I'm not going to get anywhere in encouraging the minister to create a public/private sector committee because she doesn't want to accept the challenge and the responsibilities of her office. She just wants to answer and look good in the eyes of her federal Liberal masters and maintain the colonial status for Yukon here.
One of the areas where we could produce some very quick results is in the energy picture and the energy field. It's a well-known fact, Mr. Chair, that the Yukon could be self-sufficient as far as energy, given the reserves of both natural gas, oil, and the potential for hydroelectric. Have any of these areas been explored as to what we can do to put communities on natural gas, like Inuvik? I suspect not, and why not? Inuvik has a pipe system of natural gas that was recently installed by a company owned by the First Nations populating that area. It's doing very well. It's a good economic activity. Their emissions from their previous source of fossil fuel, which was from Norman Wells, have now been reduced, and they're on natural gas, which is a much more environmentally friendly way of generating electricity or heating, which are the two main usages of the product.
Now, the minister is responsible for economic development. I don't really see anything in this economic forecast that is going to reduce Yukon's reliance on outside energy. Now, the minister is going to stand up on her feet and say, "Well, the Mayo-Dawson transmission line is going to do that." Well, it could do that, if they found a home for all the electricity being generated by the Mayo hydroelectric site. But after we have had an expenditure of some $20-odd million, my community is going to have to burn more fossil fuel to heat its potable water supply. That is not factored into the equation. And what is wrong with selling secondary power, as it is named, to the residents of Mayo for heating? Have any of these areas been explored by the minister? Are any of them being looked at at all, Mr. Chair?
Perhaps we can start there and see how much of an understanding the Premier has on these important initiatives to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels from outside of the Yukon. What initiatives is the government taking in this area, Mr. Chair, and where is it demonstrated in the budget?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I would just like to make a couple of points. The member had a rather lengthy preamble. I just want to remind the member opposite of a couple of key points.
First of all, all of the MLAs speak with and listen to what the business community throughout Yukon has to say on a daily basis, and their opinions are reflected in our caucus and Cabinet discussions.
With regard to operation and maintenance expenditures, I have also neglected to mention that for the first time ever, the Government of the Yukon has not simply provided funding for the support of the Yukon placer authorization; we have also treated the Klondike Placer Miners Association in the same vein as others and provided funding to them. The member opposite may wish to note that in his next conversations with the Klondike Placer Miners Association, as well.
The Prime Minister, as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, not only worked with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues in the creation of Kluane, he also opened the Arctic mine on Montana Mountain in 1972.
With regard to whether or not the work of this government is producing results, the member and I agree to disagree on that point. We believe that it is.
Now, with respect to Yukoners and access to alternative fuels that are currently used, the member opposite is very well aware that the Alaska natural gas transportation system - the treaty between Canada and the U.S. with regard to the Foothills pipeline project - provides for access to natural gas. Also, while that makes our sedimentary basins that much more attractive, it also provides access in terms of future access to Yukoners.
Now, what the government is doing in preparation and working with this, first of all, again, I point out our efforts in terms of the Alaska Highway gas pipeline. The others have indicated they are less than enamoured with our work in promotion of this particular project.
The member is also aware that there has also been private sector interest expressed in terms of gas distribution in the Whitehorse area - private sector initiatives, private sector hope, private sector belief in our economy - and the government is preparing to respond to that. The member opposite can anticipate in that regard that the government must be prepared legislatively to deal with this issue, and we are working toward that end.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, can we explore this a little bit further with the Premier - the initiative surrounding natural gas distribution in the Whitehorse area? Where are we at with this initiative? We know that the Foothills pipeline along the Alaska Highway may or may not occur, but even if it does occur, before gas flows in this area, we're looking at at least another four or five years before anything happens and before gas is available.
Now, the price of fossil fuels are just going up and down, see-sawing or holding fairly steadily around $30 a barrel. But we, as Yukoners, consume a lot of energy, because of our low temperatures and the great distances between our communities; also, our lack of daylight for a good part of the year. Whereas in the Lower Mainland, you wouldn't be using lights for a good part of the day, in the winter months we have to, because it's dark.
Perhaps the minister is looking favourably on that approach - leave Yukoners in the dark - but I don't think that's a practical solution.
Could the minister elaborate on just what the government's involvement is in on - let's take the Whitehorse area where natural gas distribution is being looked at, or gas distribution is being looked at. There was propane air, there was liquid natural gas. There were a number of different options being explored. What is the government's involvement, other than preparing legislative authority and legislative rights-of-way or whatever she has deemed it appropriate to concentrate on, rather than the reality of the day, which is to provide the best priced energy we can for Yukoners in the most environmentally friendly manner? That should be the exercise we're looking toward, but it doesn't seem to be even on the screen of this government, Mr. Chair. Could the minister just elaborate on what has being done?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: This government received interest from the private sector with regard to a piped propane distribution system in the community of Whitehorse. There is no ability for the government to tender that, to deal with that, to regulate that. Therefore, there must be a legislative change required. That is what will come forward to members opposite this session. We are working to ensure that we are prepared to deal with that.
A piped propane distribution system is very easily transferable to a natural gas system, and I see the member nodding in agreement. There are also other opportunities that can be undertaken at the same time. This is private sector interested in investing in the Yukon. And, as with the recommendations of the private sector and any private sector individual I have ever dealt with, all they have asked, in dealing with government, is that the rules be fair and that the rules be clear on how they go about doing their business. And that is what we're working to ensure is in place prior to further examination of these proposals, and that is working with the private sector that is interested. I might also add, Mr. Chair, that we are working with the municipal government in this regard as well.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I guess that's all the mining sector is asking also of the government - fair and reasonable rules, Mr. Chair. That's all the forestry is asking for - fair and reasonable rules and access to THA - access to a product that grows or exists in the ground and the ability to remove it in an environmentally friendly manner. There's no difference.
But there currently exists within the government's domain the ability to regulate this area, and that is under the Yukon Utilities Board, which would be regulating and could be extended to regulate this product. This isn't the first time this type of initiative has been looked at. It was looked at about a decade or so ago, but I know that, when it was looked at for the community I live in, the stumbling block was getting the government of the day to agree to convert the diesel generators to burn both diesel and gas. They wouldn't agree to do that, but you have to have a certain volume to utilize the product.
What about the initiative of extracting our own natural gas from Eagle Plains, scrubbing it and using it, or natural gas from the fields just east of Watson Lake? The closest capped wells are in very close proximity to the town of Watson Lake, Mr. Chair, but there currently isn't enough volume there to substantiate a pipeline to access that gas. The industry is volume-driven.
There is a book published that the Premier might be well-advised to read, and it's on the natural gas distribution system in Alberta and how it came about. We could virtually mimic the same type of situation that Alberta undertook to provide gas to all of the rural communities and all of the outlying areas.
That brought one of the major costs of that population down significantly, and, yes, it was a public/private sector initiative. Mr. Chair, what's wrong with that?
This is but one of the opportunities that could be examined by this government, and yet the Premier just shakes her head. All she's concerned with is the regulatory authority or the authority to oversee it or something. That's because there isn't a political will in this government to address the high-cost areas that Yukoners currently are experiencing. That's but one other suggestion that the minister could take and deal with and do something with that would benefit all Yukoners - or the majority of all Yukoners in the municipal regions, Mr. Chair.
We can spend $25 million odd on Connect Yukon, but we can't do the same for a natural gas distribution system. It doesn't make much sense to me, Mr. Chair. The money is there. It's being spent. Here we have the largest O&M budget - the total O&M and capital budget - ever in the history of the Yukon, and our population is eroding, and we're spending more and more and more on government itself.
Is the Premier even responsive to taking up the challenge and spearheading the drive to look at natural gas distribution around the respective Yukon communities and do something in this area, or is she going to sit back on her haunches and not even examine the possibility? I mean, the potential is great. The opportunities for Yukoners are tremendous, but someone has to do something, and there has to be a political will to examine these initiatives. When is that going to start, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I disagree with the member's use of the term "haunches". However, I would like to point out to the member opposite that his interpretation of the Public Utilities Act is different from that of legal authorities within government and others, in that the legal authority to regulate a piped propane distribution system is not within the Public Utilities Act, because there is not a definition of "propane". And that is why that particular piece of legislation is coming before the House this spring, so that this government can respond in a fair, clear manner with straightforward rules to a private sector initiative and respond in that way. The political leadership that the member opposite is asking for has been demonstrated.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, small propane distribution systems currently exist in Whitehorse. Now, how do they exist if the minister is adamant that there is no authority and no way of controlling them?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: There is not a piped system of the type that is envisioned by the private sector for investment. And that is why we are looking to this House to pass legislation to enable the government to ensure that this is dealt with. That is what we are doing and that is what we are bringing forward.
We are acting as the private sector has asked us to do. They are interested in investing in the Yukon. They believe in the Yukon economy even if the member opposite doesn't. And what is required is a set of rules that are clear and fair, and that is what we are dealing with: making sure that we have the right climate and the right regulatory authorities to enable us to deal with this. It would be completely inappropriate to deal with it after the fact in some manner. We are dealing with it the way that we should - making sure that the rules are in place, with the assistance and diligence of members of this House, and making sure that we act upon them and work with the private sector. That is what we are doing.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, once again the minister failed to answer the question. Piped propane systems currently exist in the Whitehorse area. Now, if there is no authority, how do they exist and how are they controlled?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Contrary to the member's shot across the way that I am reading my briefing notes, I am gathering patience. It is our advice that propane is not dealt with under the Public Utilities Act. That is advice that I accept - that it is not defined. In order for there to be a piped propane distribution system within the City of Whitehorse, we need to be able to deal with this in the appropriate regulatory framework. Now, if the member believes that the piped propane distribution system already exists, why are companies coming to us? That is not the information that we are working with. We are dealing with major private sector companies who wish to invest in the Yukon economy, invest in infrastructure.
They need the right regulatory environment and the ability of government to respond, and the way to do that, Mr. Chair, is to ensure that the Public Utilities Act has the appropriate regulatory framework, and has, yes, that legislative authority to deal with it.
It's obviously a question of size and a question of regulation. I don't know why the member opposite can't accept that explanation.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's go at this a little bit differently. Is the Premier saying piped propane distribution systems within the city limits of Whitehorse currently do not exist? Is that what the Premier is saying?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I am saying that there is not a large complete distribution network throughout the City of Whitehorse, and that those who wish to obtain and invest in such a large network want to ensure that there is the appropriate regulatory framework. They have come to us. They recognize the potential. They recognize the future of the Yukon, just as we have, and many others have, and we want to respond and be able to deal with that in a manner that is a level and fair playing field for all those interested in putting this in place. The way to do that is to ensure that a definition of propane is included in the Public Utilities Act, and that's what we're bringing forward this session.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, small propane distribution systems currently exist in the City of Whitehorse. No, they're not massive across the whole city, but they currently exist, and they're piped.
Now, what is being proposed is a propane air system, and that has been talked about for quite some time, but somebody is seeking the rights to basically maintain a distribution monopoly on this initiative. I guess there are pros and cons to that kind of an initiative being granted and those rights being granted totally, but it's not just Whitehorse, Mr. Chair. All of the major Yukon communities could benefit from such an initiative, and benefit from lower energy costs.
The propane air proposal - its costs currently are such that it would be prohibitive, given the current cost of propane, to convert from solid fuel oil to propane, but that's not to say that the cost of propane could not go down. That's not to say that the ultimate end product, natural gas, could be located here in the Yukon and piped into that system. But all I'm hearing from the Premier, Mr. Chair, is that her government is being reactive to an initiative and not proactive to the development of this initiative, and that manifests itself throughout the whole Liberal government of the day. There are a lot of these initiatives that the government of the day could be proactive on and encourage their development to the enhancement of the lifestyles of all Yukoners, but we're not seeing that.
We're seeing a colonial government just answering to the political masters in Ottawa, not wanting to rock the boat, not wanting to do anything outside the bounds that currently exist, and not wanting to explore all those many, many avenues that could lower energy costs for Yukoners.
It's just not happening, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I don't think I'm going to get anywhere on that initiative either, so let's move on to another area.
Let's move on to the solid component, oil. Now, under the NDP government, there was an initiative that was brought forward to take the oil from Eagle Plains and utilize it for power generation around the Yukon. It had too high of a sulphur content, and the company basically was told, "If you want to burn it, you supply your own generator, and you burn it, and we'll buy electricity from you." So, this company went out and bought its own diesel generator, moved it to Dawson, was ready to set it up, and the Energy Corporation said, "We're sorry, we're not going to buy electricity from you. We're going to wheel it over from Mayo, so we don't want to buy diesel-generated electricity."
So, another potential for private participation just went out the window, Mr. Chair, and all of their equipment at Eagle Plains was removed and put into storage. The diesel generator that they brought to Dawson is still sitting there, mothballed, Mr. Chair.
Now, here's another initiative that the government of the day could get involved in and make something happen. Now, I'm sure the minister is aware of it. Has there been any initiative made by the government of the day with the proponents of the oil from Eagle Plains and its use here in the Yukon? Where are we at in this initiative? It has a tremendous potential, but that's all it is, and that's probably all it will remain under this Liberal government, Mr. Chair, just potential. We were hoping that the reality of the day would set it up.
Mr. Chair, a point of order.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Point of order, Ms. Duncan.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I'd like to draw members' attention to a visitor in the gallery. The hon. Paul Martin has joined us this afternoon. Welcome.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, did you have a further point of order?
Mr. Jenkins: It was the same one.
My question to the Premier, Mr. Chair, was this: what are we doing with the oil initiative from Eagle Plains? Are we going to develop anything in this area, or are we going to sit back and watch the opportunity go by?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Yes, Mr. Chair, we have continued to work with Northern Cross, which is the company the member is speaking of. And I met briefly with one of the principals of the company during his last visit to Whitehorse. He did not raise any concerns, such as what the member opposite has indicated, and I anticipate meeting with him on Friday in Calgary. A full discussion of their future interest in the Yukon will no doubt take place at that meeting.
Mr. Jenkins: Is this discussion on the agenda? And is there a kind of overview of what the initiative could develop into here in the Yukon, or is this just speculation on the Premier's part, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I do not speculate. I am meeting with Mr. Wyman from Northern Cross, at his invitation, while I am in Calgary later this week. There are a number of initiatives that I believe Mr. Wyman would like to discuss. Ongoing discussions have taken place between the government and Northern Cross, and I will be reviewing those prior to my meeting and discussing with him his future interest in the Yukon, which, according to the recent conversation we had, which was very short, was quite positive.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, while we are on the subject of heating fuel and its high cost here in the Yukon, has the Minister of Finance, the Premier of the Yukon, made representation to the federal Minister of Finance to remove the GST on heating oils, fuels and electricity?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, that was already done. I appreciate that the member opposite attempts to use his time wisely, and I am sure that his lobbying attempt was appreciated by the Minister of Finance.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, could the Premier give us some indication of the response she received from the Minister of Finance? Was it positive, or are we going to continue to go along with paying this seven percent on heating oil, which is going up and up and up in cost, and the electricity costs that are ever increasing? Is there some hope at the end of the tunnel? I mean, the whole Liberal platform a few years ago was to scrap the GST. Now we are paying it on some of the highest cost energy ever experienced in the north, and it hasn't been there before. So, just where are we at? I know the minister indicated that she had some initial representation. Can we drive the point home in any further way?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, you know, I know that the member is sorry that he didn't buy a ticket to this evening's dinner with the minister. I know that he is sorry. And I know he is sorry that he won't have a chance to ask that question directly.
The point for this Legislature is that this government does not tax home heating fuel, and the member should be wise to remember that. That is also part of the debate on the budget, which we are presently discussing. If the member had the foresight and interest in this matter, I am sure that we would have sold him a ticket to tonight's dinner, and the member could have asked the question himself.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, once again, the Premier is proven to be wrong. I do have a ticket to tonight's dinner, and I will see her there.
If the Premier doesn't have a ticket to this $100 event, I'd be happy to scalp her one for probably $150. I do have a ticket, and I'm probably the only one in this House, Mr. Chair, who will be receiving a donation for a contribution to the Liberal Party, to the NDP and, of course, to my own party, the Yukon Party.
So, could the minister kindly retract her position? I do have a ticket, and the minister was once again wrong in her suggestion here in the House.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Oh, Mr. Chair, I can't tell you. I just don't seem to spend enough time with the Member for Klondike. I'm so looking forward to his attendance at the dinner, and appreciate his interest in all the political parties - whichever will have him - in supporting them.
Mr. Jenkins: That brings me back to the question: what kind of representation was made to the federal Minister of Finance on the removal of the GST from heating oil and electricity north of 60? Just where are we at, and does the minister believe she could possibly be successful in this initiative and this request?
I mean, we were all sold here in the Yukon on this wonderful working relationship between the federal Liberals and this Yukon Liberal Party. Now, we bought into it, hook, line and sinker. When are the results going to be produced by this Liberal government, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: I had no idea that the member had changed his name to Steve West and had become the treasurer for the Alberta government. The Alberta government has been the largest proponent of this particular issue. I would suggest to the member opposite that, yes, in my initial meeting as Minister of Finance, with the federal Minister of Finance, the hon. Paul Martin, I did raise this issue, and there's a lot more to it than simply the member's supposition - than he would have the rest of the House understand. He believes it's simply a stroke of the pen, and that's the end of it.
There's a Canadian context to this issue and, as a Canadian and as a Yukoner, yes, I raised the issue. It's not within my purview as Minister of Finance to make that decision in this budget. We're talking about the fact that this government does not tax home heating fuel.
If the member opposite wants to talk about fuel tax and how ours is among the lowest in the country, or wants to talk about the issues I will be discussing with the Minister of Finance, like the formula financing arrangement or other key issues relevant to the Yukon, I'd be happy to share that with him, but I already did, in Question Period.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the doom-and-gloom Yukon economic outlook for 2001 could certainly be enhanced, Mr. Chair. Does the Minister of Finance here have any idea of the amount of tax paid in total on electricity and heating oils here in Yukon? I'm not referring to the business sector, which has an input tax credit. But what kind of order of magnitude of dollars are we looking at that could remain here in Yukon if the Minister of Finance is successful in lobbying her federal counterpart on this initiative? I'm very hopeful that we can see the light of day and leave more money here in the coffers of Yukoners.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, I'd remind the member opposite that we are already leaving more money in the coffers of Yukoners with the work of the federal Liberal tax cuts and our tax cuts, which are leaving $10 million more in the pockets of Yukoners, thanks to working on that particular initiative, working together. With regard to the GST paid by Yukoners on specific bills, we will provide a written response to the member.
And if I might, Mr. Chair, I would excuse myself momentarily from the debate in order that I might continue these discussions with respect to formula finance funding arrangements with the federal Minister of Finance.
The Minister of Renewable Resources will answer questions on general debate in the budget.
Chair: Do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a half-hour recess.
Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole back to order. We are dealing with Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2000-01.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, when we left debate we were dealing with gas in the Yukon, GST and a few other areas. Let's put some questions to the Acting Premier in an area where the understanding is probably greater than in some of the other areas, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to take the Acting Premier to the Yukon protected areas strategy and to the percentage of total land that will be set aside into parks. If we look at the mining industry and how devastated this once proud industry currently is here in the Yukon, all we can recognize is that the Yukon still has a tremendous mineral potential.
Given the exploration budget that currently exists and where they're currently headed, the government has made some concessions, such as the exploration tax credits and the increased funding for the Yukon mining incentive program. But these are not going to obtain the desired results of increasing mining exploration, given the government's position on the protected areas strategy. This is the Achilles heel, Mr. Chair, and will continue to be so until such time as the government of the day tells the mining community and, indeed, all the resource extraction industry, how much land is going to be set aside and put into parks and how existing mining claims, should they appear within these new parks, are going to be treated.
Now, until those two areas are dealt with, Mr. Chair, we are not going to move ahead and encourage any more mining production. Is the minister prepared to tell us what the position is of the Yukon Liberal Party with respect to the total amount of land that will be set aside as a percentage of the total Yukon land area for parks under the Yukon protected areas strategy?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I very much appreciate the question. The member opposite knows full well that it is nigh on impossible to absolutely define the land quantum - or those in the 16 remaining ecoregions as a territory that will be identified - by a specific number.
I do appreciate where the member is coming from, and I would just like - I know that there was a ruling by the Speaker yesterday, but if I could get clarification from the member opposite on exactly what he has espoused time and time again - that his party is of the belief that goal 1 protected areas were to be multi-use. I would just like to bring it to the member opposite's attention that there was a letter on November 8, 1995, to the then Minister of Economic Development, Mr. Fisher, asking for clarification and support of the Yukon Party's position on protected areas. And, if I could quote, Mr. Chair, the response that the MLA, Mr. Cable, received from the Minister of Economic Development, he specifically stated - and I quote from the letter - that: "To meet both this goal and the Yukon government's commitment to establish protected areas, the Department of Renewable Resources is taking the lead to develop a framework for a comprehensive protected areas strategy for the Yukon. This strategy is expected to be completed by next spring."
Parks will then be selected based on this strategy, with the intent to represent and protect a representative sample of each of Yukon's ecoregions. These ecoregion parks will be on the high end of the protective scale and will be free of industrial activity.
The second goal stated in the protected areas section of the WMI leadership accord is to provide that mining may be acceptable and permitted actively in conservation-related areas not required to achieve representativeness, so long as such development is compatible with the objective of such an area and is congruent/consistent with relevant legislation and management practices.
One final quote, Mr. Chair: "In order to meet this second goal, industrial activities like mining, logging and oil and gas exploration may be permitted in other types of protected areas not set aside to achieve ecosystem representation. Such types of protected areas could include recreation parks, heritage rivers, campground reserves, bird sanctuaries, habitat protection areas and forest reserves. A current example of such an area is the Kluane Wildlife Sanctuary, where exploration and mining activity has occurred both before and since it was established."
I would appreciate, Mr. Chair, just a clarification on the current Yukon Party's position on this issue and, if there has been a change, what is the position of the party at this time?
Mr. Jenkins: That still didn't answer the question that I posed to the minister, and he's not prepared to answer the question. That's the issue.
The position of the Yukon Party, Mr. Chair, has not changed. We still support the protection of each one of the small ecoregions - the basic centrepiece of that ecosystem - and the balance of the area can be and should be multiple use.
I guess where we differ in political philosophies and in party philosophy is how large that principal area should be and how large the eventual ecoregion should be in total.
Therein lies a lack of determination by the Yukon Liberal Party to provide some certainty to the industry, because if you look at any of the initiatives that have taken place under this government and what was originally envisioned to be protected, the eventual outcome as to the size that was ultimately protected was considerably larger. One only has to look at the Tombstone Park and the Fishing Branch, in terms of the original area that was determined and what the eventual area size ended up being.
Under the Yukon Party leadership, if you want to look at the Tombstone Park, it's a little bit different from what we're discussing, Mr. Chair. But with that park - the principal area of Tombstone Peak - a direct approach was made by the Government Leader, Mr. Ostashek, to the owners of those claims, outlining what the government anticipated occurring in that area. The owners of those mineral claims subsequently gave them up in the interest of creating a heritage area right on the pinnacle of Tombstone and just in the surrounding area.
We contrast that to what has transpired since that time in that one area and what was originally envisioned in Fishing Branch with the area that was eventually being totally protected. It's like night and day, Mr. Chair.
One only has to go through the text and see the size of the principal core area that has been determined in the Yukon protected areas strategy review and look at the maps that have accompanied a lot of the initiatives originating out of CPAWS and a lot of the initiatives arising out of even the YPAS to see the total land mass that we were looking at. I can understand why the Liberal government doesn't want to spend any time, other than just looking at a road in the southeast Yukon into the tremendous forest or wealth of forestry, oil and gas and mineral potential there.
When you overlay the map and you look at the R-block that the First Nations have in that area also, there's not much land left, Mr. Chair. And the mining community is very, very concerned that there's no certainty surrounding access to land and land tenure. Government could come along, superimpose a park over existing mining claims without forewarning those individuals, like the Yukon Party government did. They were upfront with the owners of mining claims in proposed park areas. Subsequent governments haven't been, Mr. Chair. That's a problem.
So until such a time as this Liberal government determines how much land is going to be withdrawn, we're in that never-never land, just floating around. We're a moving target. And today, it's a global economy. Money knows no boundaries - no political boundaries. It moves where it can recoup the best return on its investment.
Any investment in mining exploration in the Yukon today is so highly speculative that that money is moving elsewhere, where there is a lot more certainty surrounding the initiative.
I guess, at the end of the day, the phrase that captures the mining community is - well, Mr. Chair, I can't recall exactly how it was phrased, but it was something to this effect: "Well, they have mining claims there. Well, what happens if they discover an ore body and want to build a mine? Oh, my gosh, it's like it's the end of the world."
So, the mining community has, by and large, given up on the Yukon. It's a shame, because about 80 percent of the total capital that is used for mineral exploration in the entire world was generated on the VSE and TSE exchanges. That's Canadian dollars. We pay a premium to explore in Alaska and in the Lower 48. More and more Canadian mining companies are choosing to do so, because the environmental regulations might be somewhat stricter, but there's certainty, and the window for permitting is set. So, you know if it's a yes or no. You don't go into that never-never land where you don't know which new government agency or other government agency is going to be taking a kick at you or coming back with a request for additional information. And yes, there is supposed to be a window, but the clock stops when they request additional information. They go right to the end of the time allowed and request more information.
So, the frustration out there in the mining community is just unbelievable, and this government could do something to address the issue. They could do something with that wonderful relationship we're told exists between the federal Liberal Party and the Yukon Liberal Party. But I think we'll probably be clearly demonstrating the results of a request to remove the GST from fuel oil and electricity. That will probably fall on very deaf ears, Mr. Chair.
My question to the minister: when will this Liberal government come up with a fixed amount of land that is going to be established into parks under the Yukon protected areas strategy?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The Member for Klondike isn't going to be satisfied with any answer from this government with respect to that question. I will agree with the member opposite on a key aspect of the trust that both the mining sector and industry have with respect to government. I do understand what happened.
There was total buy-in to the protected areas strategy, and a key component of the strategy was the implementation aspect and, unfortunately, Mr. Chair - and the Member for Klondike is right - the train fell off the track; it was forced off the track. What this government has committed to do is to get it back on the rails. The Premier and I have met several times to convince and urge those members that this government is committed to listening to what they have to say. We do want them back at the table, and if there was ever a balanced representation - environmentalists, conservationists, industry, mining, private sector - it was at the first meeting that we conducted a few weeks ago.
Then again, the mistrust - even though both the Premier and I have indicated, loudly and clearly, that we would, within the next two years, identify, with consultation and involvement of other people, those remaining 16 ecoregions, we also indicated that we would make every attempt to bring together a number of ecosystems in one area that would be representative and sufficient to represent those ecoregions, so that we wouldn't have 16 individual areas on a map - that conceivably there would be less, and opportunities to couple or triple these ecoregions in one locale - and we would clearly identify those areas on a map.
Step 1 in the implementation process - there would be plenty of opportunity for input and consultation with the resource sector - oil and gas, mining, industry - so that if there were areas of concern, we would certainly be flexible in determining the final boundaries of these areas. So, that was our commitment, and we are obligated and we do have support from a good number of Yukoners already. There were 20 representatives at that meeting, who did supply constructive review of the implementation aspects. And we are obligated to follow through with that.
The member opposite is suggesting that we unilaterally just come up with a number, without respecting the consultation and without getting industry involved - oil and gas, mining - and to just unilaterally make a decision, pull a number from the air. This is what the member would like to hear. But that is not how this government operates. We are open and accountable, Mr. Chair, and we will continue along like that, despite the rhetoric that he continually, continually spews in the House, day in and day out. He is creating anxiety within the industry when he should be encouraging them to put forward their points of view by expressing to government directly what their desires are with respect to the protected areas strategy. But, no, he would rather encourage disharmony, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, nothing could be further from reality as to how I view this process. What I am suggesting to the minister that he do is not pick a number out of the air like he is suggesting that I am suggesting. I am not even going there, because that is not reality. Reality is that currently there is enough documentation existing and that the government has a very, very good idea in-house as to the total amount of land that they are looking at turning into parks under the protected areas strategy.
It's set out in the document itself. One only has to read it, Mr. Chair, and I have read it, and I would urge the minister to sit down and read it himself or obtain a briefing on it, so he can understand the total area that is being looked at being withdrawn. Because that's the crux of the problem - that and equal representation on the panel to deal with the initiative - equal representation from the resource sector and from the environmental sector.
The minister made mention of a recent meeting that had equal representation. He said there were 20 representatives at the meeting. Of those 20 representatives, how many were directly from the mining fraternity and the oil and gas fraternity - from actual industry itself?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Chair, all the member opposite has to do is read Hansard, because we have already indicated who remained after the group of seven walked away, and it did include members of the - I'm not quite sure of the terminology. The oil and gas representative from outside was there, and the Mineral Advisory Board stuck around. So, there was representation from industry who continued to participate for a few days in the workshop.
Since that time, the group has decided to meet again, and I would invite the member opposite to encourage those individuals who did walk away to come back and have their voice heard, because we are committed to do that, and have the people express their concerns and issues.
The Whitehorse mining initiative had indicated and recognized the need for protected areas. The member opposite's former colleagues, both in and out of government, had expressed and recognized the need for protected areas. I don't think the idea is in dispute.
What this government is doing, though, is taking a leadership role, Mr. Chair, and indicated at that same workshop that we want these areas identified on a map and that it will be completed in two years. That is our commitment - to not have this thing that I have heard from mining and industry, which is that the processes sometimes seem to go on for ever and ever. We wanted their input to help us design the borders that go around these remaining ecoregions. I feel confident that, with continued meetings with these individuals and, despite the willingness or lack thereof from the member opposite, we will get those people back to the table to input on the protected areas strategy, and we will have a comprehensive representative between ecoregions in the territory that will be the pride of all Yukoners.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, my question to the minister still didn't receive a response. I said - and I repeat again, Mr. Chair - how many people are directly - let's phrase it a little bit differently so there's no misunderstanding. How many people at this meeting, at which they had 20 representatives, were directly employed in the resource sector - not by government agencies, but, rather, outside government agencies or just arm's-length agencies? How many individuals in attendance were directly employed in the resource sector out of the 20?
Mr. Chair, I know it wasn't half, and it should be. There should be equal representation, because the government has clearly demonstrated that they are not upholding the interests of all parties in the equation. There appears to be a bias in favour of the environmentalist movement, and that's a shame, because it's my understanding that the government should equally represent all of the areas. That's not the case.
So, out of the 20 reps at this last meeting, there was not an equal representation - 10 people in attendance who are employed directly in the resource sector. I'm sure that's the case, and maybe the minister has some new information there that has just been conveyed to him that he can share with the House.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Chair, I would like to acknowledge the competent staff that I have working for me, in order to get these down for me.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Unfortunately, the concept of team hasn't sunk into the members opposite, either.
I would caution the member opposite that representation from such individuals as the Tourism Industry Association, from the Wilderness Tourism Industry Association, are not there solely to represent the environmental aspects, and I think that they would be quite insulted by the comments from the Member for Klondike.
There were, and I would like to -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I'd be more than willing to table them, but I think it's out of a lack of respect that he doesn't believe that people not directly working in the industry could have other concerns and interests that they can present.
The members remaining did present some balanced arguments for industry, and I think that, in all, the two days were very productive, and I feel that the next session, when they do get together, will be even more productive.
I would invite the member opposite to become a little more aware of the discussions that are going on in those meetings and to really find out the facts before he espouses that industry isn't being fairly represented or heard. If he would be willing to even attend one of these sessions instead of looking through a knothole and trying to see the world that way, Mr. Chair, it would be far more productive.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I will put on the record the position that I have taken and still maintain - that there is not equal representation on this protected areas strategy review committee. There should be 10 individuals, if it's a committee of 20. Half should be from the resource sector and half from the balance of the environmental and the sectors that the minister is referring to. They all have meaningful input, but the majority of individuals in attendance from the mining community are totally frustrated in their dealings with this committee that doesn't seem to move ahead. So, why be part of the process when you can be part of the solution somewhere else and just move ahead in a meaningful manner in another jurisdiction? And that's exactly what's happening today. And for the minister to not accept the rationale behind what I'm stating here today, I find it very disconcerting.
No wonder the mineral industry here in the Yukon is in its present state. No wonder it's not moving ahead. No wonder production is at an all-time low. We're led to believe it's because of the price of the base metals. Check back and see what the price of the base metals were when the mines were in operation. Precious metals are a different story.
But the mining industry has virtually abandoned the Yukon, and none of the little tinkering you can do will do anything, and especially not until a determination is made as to the total land area the Yukon protected areas strategy is going to encompass and the makeup - the amount - from the resource sector doing the review.
It should be balanced and it should have equal representation from the resource sector and the environmental community and government. That is the only way it is going to work. A lot of the individuals attending these meetings have other interests than the mining community, and they are volunteering their time to attend these meetings, unlike virtually everyone else. There are exceptions, I admit. But they are usually volunteers from the mining community attending these meetings - self-employed people who can probably put their time and efforts to better work elsewhere, to more meaningful and positive gains for themselves and their families than they would ever experience here under this regime.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I think he has just insulted the mining and industry community as well, because equal representation doesn't necessarily mean that these people aren't going to be listened to. They are intelligent; they do represent themselves very well. We have indicated over and over that we want to listen. We are very good at listening and hearing. Balanced representation doesn't mean that we are not taking into consideration the concerns and interests that are being forwarded by these folks.
And, again, I would challenge the member opposite to encourage these people to come back to the table so that we can get more input and balanced input, as he is suggesting. Another thing that this side of the House is doing - myself, the Premier and all MLAs - is encouraging the individuals who, through their frustrated efforts, left the group meeting. And I am pretty confident and hopeful that they will be back at the table, because this is a government that does listen. This is a government that does what it says it will do, despite the rantings from the Member for Klondike, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: I want to enter the discussion here and continue with the Acting Premier whom I believe has now reverted to his role as Minister of Renewable Resources. I want to continue with this same subject.
I want to assure the minister that at least somebody on this side of the House is supportive of the Yukon protected areas strategy. Certainly, we would like to see the strategy completed and put into legislation, and see some on-the-ground process and progress, because our fear, at this point, is that these problems related to process will result in delays, and this government won't have the opportunity to implement any new protected areas.
Perhaps it would, Mr. Chair. Time will tell, but let's see if this government will tackle any of the tough ones. I think it can be agreed that the previous government did tackle a couple of the tough ones - a couple of the larger protected areas that have been identified - and they were very contentious, especially being first in line. They were a bit of a lightning rod for the dichotomy of stakeholders, and certainly we're all familiar with some of the contention that resulted.
But I would encourage the minister to continue on with the program and bring it into legislation, and let's see some on-the-ground progress.
Now, there are a couple of concerns, and they mainly deal with the way this government has handled the process. Just to help that understanding, I think there are similarities here between the way the government handled the YPAS and the way it has handled the teacher issue.
Certainly, I think it's fair to say that expectations were raised in the mining community about how this government would handle the consultations, and the government went out on a limb, Mr. Chair, and promised they would have the stakeholders from the mining industry - particularly the Chamber of Mines - back at the table. And that might not have been too good a strategy, Mr. Chair. But anyway, we all know what happened, and we fear that progress will be delayed as a result. So, if anything, we'd encourage the minister to bring all the parties back together into one process, because if there are two processes going on, where is the accountability?
Now, I see the minister. He's obviously disputing this, but we know that the minister is listening to what is said by those who walked out; and, meanwhile, there is consultation continuing with those who stayed in. Obviously, those are two different processes. So that's what I'm referring to. And what we need is some respect for the process and to have everybody together so they know what's being discussed.
Now, on the issue of a land cap, I would agree with the minister that it's not a good idea to set a cap. I've reviewed much of the information the minister has reviewed. I've also reviewed a recent publication - Economic Benefits of Protected Areas - and through those materials, it's quite clear that a cap on the land quantum would not be a wise move, because it would limit the total area remaining in which the remaining protected areas would have to fit - to something like 2.6 percent.
Now, I would like the minister to indicate how the Yukon stands on a comparative basis with other provinces and Alaska, let's say. I know he's got that information. How many of those other areas have a land cap in effect?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I'm not quite sure what this has to do with general debate in the House here, but I would invite the member, if he wanted to talk about the budget, then we could certainly do that. I could provide the specifics if he wants to go into the departmental budget.
Mr. McRobb: I have to remind the member opposite that general debate on the budget covers government positions and policies, and a discussion on anything related to the expenditure of public funds. Now, do I have to build a case for that, or can we see that the connection is obvious?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I appreciate that the member opposite is saying that general debate is open for discussion on the budget and, indeed, it is. However, specific questions such as a land cap and what other jurisdictions might have such a land cap, are specific questions that would be better addressed in the line-by-line debate, or general debate on Renewable Resources.
If the member opposite wants to provide the government with notice - and I believe he just has - that he would like that answer, we will certainly provide it to him, either in the Renewable Resources general debate or in a written form.
But the minister has indicated that he fails to see the connection with general debate on the budget, as do I. I mean, there's plenty of fodder for general debate on the budget, and I'm sure that there are some other questions that pertain more to the budget itself.
Mr. McRobb: I disagree with that, and I would ask the minister who was, until moments ago, the Acting Premier, to respond to the question I asked.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: In spite of the Member for Klondike chatting and chirping and doing his usual off-camera stunts, saying that this side of the House doesn't have the freedom to speak, I would disagree with that. I would reiterate what the Premier did indicate, though, with respect to general debate on the budget. I would be more than willing to get into the specific details with anything that the Member for Kluane wants to discuss in general debate on the Department of Renewable Resources.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I feel quite strongly that my position is right, but I am not going to argue. Let's just concede. This is another example of how this government isn't very open or accountable, or willing to provide information when asked.
These types of questions fit into the bigger picture of what this government is doing and why. Day to day, on a regular basis, the issue of land caps seems to arise in Question Period, Committee of the Whole, and we will probably hear it tomorrow during motion debate as well.
We had an opportunity here, the first time ever, I believe, in this Legislature, where an opposition party is trying to glean information from the government side about this particular issue. And I would have thought that it would have been very beneficial. I would have thought that the Liberal government would have been more than willing to provide this information, because it's not of a contentious nature. I am saying that I agree with the minister. I agree with the position of the government that the protected areas strategy is a good thing.
I know that the minister wasn't sitting in this Legislature in this last term - perhaps he read a few Hansards, or whatever - but if he had been here, he would have known that this member brought forward two motions on the Yukon protected areas strategy and he is probably aware that there is another one sitting on the Order Paper by the same member.
And even though I wasn't Minister of Renewable Resources, I know that the previous minister was very responsible and diligent about seeing this strategy proceed. Certainly, we, on this side, are in support of that initiative. I have outlined my concerns, and I'm sliding down that slippery slope, it seems, into arguing about why I believe that this information is particularly relevant in general debate.
But let me turn to another area, since the regular Premier is back. I have a few energy-related questions. On the Alaska natural gas pipeline, can the Premier provide us with a project overview, in the sense of the information that was provided to the public? I was unable to attend any of these meetings, but I have talked to some people who did attend, and apparently there is some very interesting information out there.
For instance, there will be a construction camp, if this project proceeds, located about every 100 kilometres along the route, from what I understand. At each construction camp, there will be about 500 employees, and the duration of these camps would be about two years. As I recollect, that would be about years two and three of the project, with the first year work being focused on logistics and getting things set up. Can the Premier give us an overview on the Alaska pipeline project, in the sense of what it will mean in terms of jobs and where in the territory?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, with any discussion of a project of this magnitude, there is bound to be information and misinformation. I believe the member opposite is referring to oil and gas presentations given in communities where this is included as part of that discussion. Could I just clarify? Is that what the member is referring to?
Mr. McRobb: Like I said, Mr. Chair, I unfortunately was unable to attend any of the meetings, so I'm not absolutely certain what meetings they were. It could have been meetings with Foothills Pipe Lines, or it could have been the other presentation. I'm not sure, but regardless, I'm sure the Premier is aware of this information, which I would think would be fairly important to the government.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, yes, I am aware of a number of issues surrounding the discussion of this project. I would like to suggest, though, that the project scope is, to some degree, also still being determined. I revert to the we-don't-have-a-project-yet scenario. And things like the diameter of pipe and things like what the final assessment of the 1982 environmental work - that sort of work is ongoing.
What I would like to offer for the member opposite, so that he is fully aware of this, is that I will offer to set up a meeting with the right-of-way holder, Foothills Pipe Lines, which has a local office and which has been doing a number of consultation sessions with communities. I will offer that to the member opposite.
I will also, in addition to that, offer that the officials from the pipeline unit will meet with the member opposite and just review the scope of the work that we are undertaking now. The scope of the work we are undertaking and have been doing includes things like assessing what capacity would be required, what skills, what resource inventory - all of that work is ongoing.
So, rather than provide the member with a written response - because there's an opportunity in a one-on-one exchange to ask questions, I would offer the member opposite a full and complete briefing.
Mr. McRobb: I thank the Premier for that, and I, too, would believe that an interactive session would be more beneficial to improving our understanding of this project. I was hoping for a little more information today, however, but let's turn to some of the other issues, such as the distribution system.
I know that there was some discussion with the Member for Klondike this afternoon about that, but I would like to know which distributors have expressed interest in distributing natural gas to customers in the Yukon.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm not confident that that is my information to share. There have been a number of companies that have expressed an interest in this, and it's their private sector interest. I'm not confident that I can release that information without double-checking that they, in fact, as interested parties, want this information passed on in the House publicly.
It was some time ago that I met with one of the bodies, so whether their interest still exists - I'm confident it does - I would just like to double-check before I release that information in the House.
Mr. McRobb: Well, what's the big secret, Mr. Chair? I don't quite follow that. Anyway, one of the perceptions that Yukoners have that I am aware of is that if this project happens, they'll be getting cheap gas. At first thought, I kind of believed that too. But, after giving it some more thought, it occurred to me that there are a number of issues that might drive up the price of that gas beyond what you can call cheap, such as the cost of the distribution system, which would have to be recovered from the customers, the fair rate of return on investment of the distribution company, which would have to be recovered from all customers, and then the replacement price of the gas, which has been an issue in recent days in this Legislature.
And there are other issues, such as the small market base of the Yukon, the large geography of the Yukon, and the number of communities that would have to access the supply of natural gas. And all of this is very expensive on a per capita basis.
Yet we have a similar situation in the Yukon with a distributor of electricity, the privately owned Yukon Electrical Company Limited, purchasing bulk electricity from the Crown-owned Yukon Energy Corporation. Now, Mr. Chair, we know the average price of producing electricity in the Yukon is somewhere around four cents per kilowatt hour. Well, the price charged to customers, less the rebates, is probably somewhere around 11 or 12 cents per kilowatt hour. So we see a tripling of the cost between wholesale and retail, plus GST, as pointed out by the Member for Klondike.
In terms of natural gas, the original agreement, I believe, provides for replacement of any gas used at Alberta prices. Well, the price of natural gas in Alberta is at its highest level ever. One would have to question the fairness of that deal if applied here.
But if that particular cost is amplified more yet to cover the cost from the profits of the distributors, which would take into consideration the higher cost of doing business in a small market/large geographical area, such as the Yukon, then what is the ultimate price of the gas going to be?
Now, I know that if I asked that question to the Premier, she would stand up and offer us another briefing and caution us that this is a project that hasn't happened yet. But, Mr. Chair, I recall that you, yourself, at the budget meeting in Haines Junction, clearly indicated that if this project proceeds, people would get cheap energy. And I believe that I have heard this from several of the other members. That is where the perception and expectations of the public have been raised to the level that they expect cheap gas.
Now, I would like the Premier to address this matter in whatever way that she can. We understand that there will be briefings offered to us, and that is fine, but I would like her to comment on the issue of cheap gas. Will it be there for Yukoners or not?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, as a result of the treaty that was negotiated and as a result of previous work done that should the Alaska Highway pipeline project proceed - and we are certainly working very hard to see that it does - we fully expect that the supply of natural gas to Yukon consumers will be at an advantageous price. The exact price is something that I cannot provide to the member opposite. It wouldn't matter who was here, they wouldn't be able to provide it to the member opposite because -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The member opposite is saying that he has asked me to comment, and I have provided him with a comment. Yes, we fully expect it to be at an advantageous price. Natural gas overall in world markets isn't cheap. It has seen a tremendous increase in price, and that, with demand, is what is making the Alaska Highway pipeline economical.
Mr. McRobb: Well, okay, I'm aware that the Department of Economic Development, of which the Premier is minister, commonly prepares analyses on comparative fuel costs. I have recently seen an analysis comparing the heating costs of different types of fuels, such as wood, propane, electricity and so on. I believe the department has the ability to produce an analysis on the comparative fuel costs, including natural gas. Can the Premier indicate if any such analysis has been done to date? If not, is any planned soon? If it is available, can the Premier provide it to us?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: If it's readily available, I will provide it to the member opposite and to the third party as soon as possible.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you for that, Mr. Chair. If it's not available, is this something that the Premier believes should be done?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I have every confidence in the work of the economists in the Department of Economic Development. They are continually monitoring a number of factors and are continually providing us and the public with all kinds of information. The very information that the member opposite referred to, I believe, has been used in recent Yukon Housing Corporation documents.
So, I'm quite confident that if the precise response asked for by the member opposite is not immediately available, it will be available shortly, with the information that the Economic Development has. And certainly, yes, I believe it's an interesting question.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, the information I'm requesting isn't quite something you'd find in a Yukon Housing brochure. The information I'm requesting would be a cost analysis on comparative fuel costs, including natural gas. I don't believe that this would automatically be done by anyone in government. It would have to be requested.
I would like to know if the Premier believes that it's important enough to make this request.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: It may be somewhat premature, Mr. Chair, given that we don't have the immediate access to natural gas. I've already stated to the member opposite that comparative heating costs are something that every Yukoner is concerned about, and that, yes, I have seen the very type of tables that he refers to.
The fact that natural gas isn't included in that table is because it's not available. We don't heat our homes with natural gas, and any data is highly speculative and may or may not be out of date fairly readily, depending on the price of natural gas.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I think my request is reasonable. I would agree that it's speculative, but so is the pipeline that this government has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money to. Mr. Chair, this government has contributed to raising Yukoners' expectations that they'll have cheap gas.
Now, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect that, given the number of economists and number-crunchers in her Department of Economic Development and given the way our political system works, if the Premier feels this is important information, she would make the request and it would be done?
Mr. Chair, people want to know if natural gas will compare with existing options and, if so, how. Will it be cheaper, the same, or more expensive? People want to know. Because for the reasons I outlined before, in caution, this may not be the cheap source of fuel that some people believe it might be.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite has made it clear that he is not supportive of our work on the promotion of the Alaska Highway pipeline and that what he's looking for now is for me and the economists in Economic Development to spend a lot of time and energy proving to Yukoners the answer to a hypothetical question in the member opposite's hypothesis.
If that information is readily available, I will provide it to the member opposite. I'm not going to ask the pipeline unit or the economists to spend hours and hours and hours on work that can be out of date in a heartbeat with a market fluctuation.
The issue right now is that we don't have access to natural gas, so even if we provided the member opposite with the information - saying that if a home were heated in Burwash today with natural gas versus the wood-boiler system that's in place, this would be the price difference - that information could be out of date as soon as the market changed.
As the member opposite knows, answers to hypothetical questions can change.
The issue is this: if the Alaska Highway pipeline project is successful and is chosen, will natural gas be available at an advantageous price to Yukon consumers? I have already indicated to the member "yes". Beyond that, I really think the member is fishing.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I'm really stunned by that reply from the Premier. I'm very disappointed. It shows that this government is not prepared to be flexible in terms of providing information to the public. I would note that the gas prices appear on the Web site and change weekly. Now, why is it so rigid in this area of great interest to Yukoners? People are running in the streets saying, "We'll get cheap gas with this pipeline." Isn't that an important enough issue to ask the number-cruncher to spend an afternoon and crunch this number?
Well, this is another example of how this government prefers to operate on raising expectations without providing anything as a basis. We are seeing that more and more all the time. I can see that pursuing this matter with the Premier at this stage will be futile and unproductive, so I am prepared to move on.
Staying with the pipeline, on the question of environmental studies, can the Premier give us an update on what is happening in that regard? Will the studies require upgrading, and if so, how will those be done?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the environmental regulations - in 1982, the pipeline met the environmental standards of the day. Since then we have had Canadian Environmental Assessment Act enacted. I also understand that there is some interest in - I am not sure where the federal government is currently at in terms of dealing with CEAA. I sense that there was some interest and some changes to CEAA legislation.
The environmental regulation of the pipeline is largely a federal government issue. In terms of Yukon responsibility for that, we have done two things. We have been concerned and expressed the view that the 1982 environmental review would require refreshing - it doesn't require going back to ground zero, but it does require refreshment - and that the federal government be consistent and in line with the requirements of the treaty and be prepared to deal with any permitting issues and screening issues in a timely and expeditious manner. So we have urged the federal government in that regard, and I understand that our representations have been well-received and I am looking forward to some results, such as the re-establishment of the northern pipeline agency.
Mr. McRobb: What about the development assessment process? Would this project be cleared through the development assessment process, and if not, why not?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Because the development assessment process is not law.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, this government campaigned on bringing in development assessment process legislation, and I will note there was not even a mention of it in the budget speech.
Now, once again, I'm a little concerned about what could be perceived as delays, like the YPAS issue. With all the speculation surrounding this project, it would seem reasonable to try to advance the development assessment process discussions to ensure that this screening mechanism is in place at the time this project would be filed. What is the Premier doing along those lines?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite knows very well that development assessment process legislation is not ready, and to subject this particular project to brand new legislation - well, the legislation isn't ready. It's that simple. It's not right at the point where Yukoners feel that it's where it's prepared to go. Federal legislative draftspeople have pushed back a number of time frames, and I hadn't anticipated, as the previous government had, that federal draft legislation would be forthcoming sooner. It hasn't been; it's not done yet. And what's more important, it's not done yet to the satisfaction of this government or Yukoners.
There are events that are moving beyond that - beyond this particular piece of legislation - and there is already in existence federal legislation that would deal with this particular environmental screening process.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, there's a significant difference between DAP legislation and CEAA legislation. Furthermore, the Yukon government is a party at the development assessment process table and is able to influence the process. What message is this government giving to that process?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The message that the member opposite should have received is that the work on development assessment process legislation continues and that it's in the hands of the federal drafts people, and it's not complete to our satisfaction yet, or to the people working on it. It doesn't mean they're not still working; it doesn't mean we're not interested in this particular issue. It's not complete.
And the member opposite and I would disagree that CEAA legislation is, in effect, there, it applies, and it will continue to apply until such time as there's another piece of environmental regulatory legislation in place.
Mr. McRobb: One of the shortcomings of the CEAA legislation, in comparison to the development assessment process legislation, is the attention paid to socio-economic concerns. Now, is the Premier prepared to let these slide off the table, should the project proceed before the development assessment process legislation is in place? Is she doing something to try to speed up the DAP legislation so it is in place, if this project should be filed as soon as she believes it's going to be filed?
What process is this government engaging to collect concerns, like socio-economic concerns, from Yukoners in regard to this project, to avoid unnecessary delays, should the project be announced?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: The issue for a project, such as the Alaska Highway pipeline project or any other project requiring permitting, is that the laws of general application apply. The laws with regard to environmental issues and environmental screening, until such time as there is something else in place, is the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. That piece of legislation will apply.
Now, if the member opposite is suggesting that there is a requirement for a socio-economic analysis of the pipeline project, that work was done and is continuing in the Department of Economic Development. That is why the member sees, on page 4-6 of the budget, the money allocated for the Alaska Highway pipeline analysis. It's to do this very sort of work that the member opposite is suggesting should be done. It is being done, and I have offered the member a full briefing on that.
Mr. McRobb: Well, all right, Mr. Chair, I ask the Premier what process will be engaged to collect concerns, such as socio-economic concerns, from Yukoners prior to this project proceeding, and especially in doing advance work - preparation work - in order to avoid delays and a sped-up process later on? Who is gathering the socio-economic concerns? Apparently there is money in the Department of Economic Development, but how is this being done? What is the process, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I get the sense that the member opposite is suggesting that we have another Lysyk inquiry. My argument to the member opposite is that I don't believe that that is what is necessary in this case. There was a great deal of work done - 700 hours of testimony from Yukoners. The Member for Lake Laberge listened to every single minute of it. As a lifelong resident of the territory, the issues are still the issues that were heard and that government is responding to.
The pipeline unit is headed by a hard-working public servant. There are others in the engineering, socio-economic and environmental areas. There are individuals working with communities, gathering information. So, if the member opposite is looking for a name to funnel concerns to, or a methodology as to how Yukoners' concerns are being heard, I can outline for the member opposite and introduce him to those officials. As the member opposite knows, for example, there is also an individual tasked with working with First Nation governments to ensure that our strong government-to-government relationships continue on this and other issues.
Mr. McRobb: I am merely reiterating concerns that I have heard in places like Haines Junction, Destruction Bay, Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek. These people have legitimate questions and are asking, "How can I provide my concerns on this project to the government?"
Now, it appears that the Premier is saying that those concerns were provided 20 to 25 years ago, and that's good enough for this government. Well, times have changed in the last quarter century. Times have really changed. Laws have changed and society's principles and values have changed. There is a real need to address this situation, and if it's going to be addressed, there is a need for process.
I know that the government has got some groups running around giving information - and you are probably hearing some feedback at the same time. I am aware that the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board is taking on some aspects. But, Mr. Chair, who is looking at the larger issue? Who is out there collecting concerns that are related to socio-economics and so on? Who is out there listening to the ordinary people in the communities that I identified?
I think that this is a legitimate question, and, believe me, I would not be prepared to go back to those people and reiterate the Premier's response to me, because I treat people with a little more respect than that. I try to treat them with respect, both in the way I talk to them and in the information I provide. When they ask me those questions, I am not about to say, "Sorry, you missed your chance. It happened many years ago and there is no process now."
I would like to find out if this government is prepared to consider initiating some process to go out there and collect legitimate concerns such as the ones that I have described?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I do not believe my answer was in any way disrespectful to the member opposite or to the people in Beaver Creek, Burwash, Destruction Bay, Mackintosh Lodge, Haines Junction, Aishihik or anywhere else. That answer was not disrespectful. I was trying to answer the member's questions as respectfully and as openly and accountably as possible.
I outlined for the member opposite that the Lysyk inquiry gathered a great deal of testimony. Government officials have revisited all of that testimony. They have also travelled to all of those communities mentioned, as I have done in the pre-budget tour, with the exception of Haines Junction. Mr. Chair, you were in attendance at that meeting. The people there indicated to me that they were looking forward to working with, and in some cases already had met with, oil and gas branch and pipeline unit people. As well, the company, Foothills Pipe Lines, is also working in travelling and listening to people's concerns.
So, for the member to suggest that I have been disrespectful to those people or in providing my answer, I feel is unfair, Mr. Chair. I feel I was respectful. There are opportunities for people to provide input, and there are always opportunities to hear people's concerns and to respond to them. That's exactly what we have been doing and will continue to do.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, another question unanswered by this Liberal government - I asked if they were willing to consider a process to deal specifically with these concerns. That question was not answered.
While I'm on my feet, I want to address another issue that I was reminded of by that condescending tone, and that is her accusations, Mr. Chair, that we on this side do not support this project. That is completely false - completely false. This government has misconstrued our position and our concerns, and it has turned them into what it wants people to see as opposition to this project. And that is simply not the case. That is pure fiction, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I believe the member opposite is accusing me of false motives, making false accusations and suggesting that we have misconstrued the members opposite.
This side has not issued media releases making reference to pipe dreams and so on, and all we have done on this side is call the opposition on their media releases and on their public statements, just as they have done. To suggest that those are false motives, I believe, is out of order.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, if the Premier insists on raising these points of order - they're nothing more than a dispute between members - we're going to really prolong debate here in this Legislature. It's just a dispute, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, I notice that you took note of my use of the word "misconstrue", and the Premier also noted that reaction and stood up on a point of order. However, in the terms of how I used it, I said the government misconstrued. I did not say the Premier misconstrued or anything like that. In addition, I said that doing that was fiction, because it was fiction.
And the Premier challenges us to produce some press releases. Well, I'll bring in some press releases tomorrow, Mr. Chair. The evidence speaks for itself. This government did exactly that by misconstruing our concerns as opposition to this project, and they were very quick to get it out there in the public, very quick to mutter it around the Foothills Pipe Lines public meeting and spread that misconception, which was not true. We are in favour of this project.
Chair: As far as what has actually been said or not said, whether it is true or not true, is not the Chair's position. The Chair's position is to find out if there are any rules of the House being broken. In this case, with the words "false accusation" being used in the same sentence, I would ask the member to withdraw the words "false accusation" and please come up with another way to put it, because for the most part, the point of order is well-taken - that the government may have put facts in a different way, but "false accusation" was said, and I will have to rule that that be withdrawn.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. McRobb: I'll withdraw the words "false accusation" and replace them with "fiction".
Chair: Give me one second please. Can you pass me the dictionary?
If we're using the statement, "fiction as an invented idea, statement or narrative", and we're not accusing someone of falsehood, I will allow the word "fiction" to stand.
Go ahead, Mr. McRobb.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Mr. Chair, aside from these language disputes in this Legislature, I want to reiterate the importance of this matter, of having a process to listen to the concerns of Yukoners. I'm talking about socio-economic concerns. These are very significant, Mr. Chair. We've heard some socio-economic concerns expressed already. One that comes to mind is any comparison at all with the number of pipeline workers with a similar situation that occurred 50 years ago during the construction of the Alaska Highway. That's one potential similar concern, Mr. Chair.
Obviously any concerns expressed 25 years ago on this matter are extremely outdated. There's more information available in the present day, and what is needed here is for some process. What's this government afraid of? It has hundreds of thousands of dollars allocated to this project. What's it doing with the money?
Collecting these concerns and integrating it into a position in order to advance to the regulatory boards, to the project developers, or to whatever, Mr. Chair, is very important. This work must be done in advance. Obviously, Mr. Chair, this government prefers to confuse that matter - that request - with what happened with the Lysyk inquiry decades ago.
To be clear, we're not requesting that this government initiate another Lysyk inquiry. That's not what we're asking at all.
I believe that the government has engaged the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board to undertake some aspects. It has got its oil and gas consultant going around engaging people on other aspects. The potential developer is going around conducting public meetings on other aspects. Well, who is considering the socio-economic concerns? I think that there is a big crack here in what this government is doing. Obviously the Premier is unprepared to respond to it, so I will move on.
I have a few other questions in the area of energy that I would like to ask the Premier. One of them is if this government plans to develop a new electricity supply option.
Hon. Ms. Duncan: In terms of electricity, what this government has considered is the Mayo-Dawson transmission line.
Is the government contemplating a major hydro project? Not that I am aware of, but I am certain that the minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation would be pleased to provide the member opposite with more of a response than that, if there is more information. I am not aware of the contemplation of any major hydro project. We have asked for interest in terms of mini-facilities, but that is in development of green energy initiatives. We are certainly interested in maintaining our energy efficiency grade in terms of furthering our work.
That is all that I am aware of right now that I can advise the member opposite on.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, the Mayo-Dawson transmission line is not a supply option; it's a distribution option. This government campaigned on the promise to develop a new electricity supply option in its first term in government. There are options, other than hydro. Obviously, the minister's mind this afternoon is stuck in the 1970s.
Does this government plan to develop a new electricity supply option in this term?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: We certainly intend to live up to our platform commitments. We have focused our energies - if you'll pardon the pun, Mr. Chair - on several initiatives other than that particular point in the platform at this point in time. However, we will keep the member opposite posted.
Mr. McRobb: I'll look forward, very eagerly, to these postings.
Now, on the Mayo-Dawson transmission line, can the Premier provide us with an economic analysis of this project, particularly in a scenario in which the Elsa mine was restarted?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, that question was asked at a number of public meetings about the Mayo-Dawson transmission line in meetings with the communities of Mayo and Dawson. The answer is that, yes, the supply is there, and yes, should the Elsa mine restart - and we're certainly hopeful of that - the Mayo-Dawson transmission line is still an economical and entirely supportable initiative.
Mr. McRobb: Can the Premier provide us with some written economic analysis of that, either through bringing some material back or a legislative return - whatever?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Information that's publicly available will be made available to the member opposite.
Mr. McRobb: In relation to this same project, given the cost of the project, which I believe is in the high twenties - millions of dollars - maybe the Premier, when she's on her feet, can provide that number for us. Can she indicate what other options were considered at the time this development decision was made?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, this is a level of detail of a YDC/YEC project that is not germane to the general debate on the budget.
Witnesses came to this House and have appeared in public to answer these questions, and if the member opposite wishes to forward these questions to me, I'd be more than happy to answer them. However, in terms of the general budget debate - pardon me, I won't answer them; the minister responsible will answer them.
The YDC/YEC issues are not part of this general debate on the budget. They are generally reserved for when the witnesses come to the House. And if the member wants information in the meantime, he is more than welcome to question the minister, either in a specific section of the House - I do believe we vote a dollar. Yes, it's a dollar for the YDC. If he wants to ask that specific question, he can do it during that line vote.
This level of detail is not a question the previous government, or the previous government, answered on the floor of this House, not during general debate on the budget.
Mr. McRobb: I believe that's fiction, Mr. Chair, because the previous government did provide information such as this when requested by the very opposition that member led.
I believe it's disrespectful for the Premier to tell me to go to a public meeting or wait until budget debate on YDC. Mr. Chair, budget debate on YEC will occur about a month and a half from now. It could be at any time of the day, or in the middle of the night if we sit all hours. It's one of the last departments called.
So much for an open and accountable government.
Mr. Chair, she also refers to the two-hour session when officials come into this Legislature. Well, that member herself will remember how she cut me off, on I believe it was my third question out of a dozen, and called for closure of debate.
Mr. Chair, there has not been an opportunity for me to ask for this information. If the Premier was sincere in providing this information, all she had to do was say something to the effect that she'll bring this information back. I would find that acceptable, and we can move on. But instead, we hear a challenge, we hear about these other make-believe opportunities, and they're supposed to be good enough.
These issues are important to Yukoners. The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce has been outspoken on its concerns with this project, asking the very same question. The Yukon's consumer group has asked the same question.
I'll stand here and ask the Premier the same question. What other options were considered?
Hon. Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, all of the individuals who have chosen to ask those questions have been answered, and in no way, in no disrespectful tone, did I suggest to the member opposite that he was unable to ask those questions. I have invited him to ask those questions of the minister responsible.
I find it amazing that the member opposite stands on his feet and accuses me of being disrespectful and condescending when, in fact, it is the member opposite who stands up and talks about postings - "I'll look forward to that posting," or "I'll look forward to that."
Mr. Chair, we welcome questions from the opposition, we're fully prepared to answer them. We're fully prepared. The witnesses were here, and no opposition member had to stand up and scream and holler in House leaders' meetings and beg for it to happen and wait until the last minute of the session. It was arranged ahead of time, with plenty of notice.
I, myself, because of other parties in the House, got shut out of asking questions, so I know how the member feels. There is ample opportunity outside this Legislature to ask any question of any minister under their areas of responsibility, and the member will receive a response promptly and courteously. In all fairness, I think that that should work both ways.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, I disagree with the position taken by the Premier. I've stated my position. I've heard no conciliation. This is another example that what I'm hearing in terms of feedback from Yukoners about arrogance is, in fact, true, because we're seeing it today in that type of answer.
If the Premier really wanted to provide that information, Mr. Chair, this could have been settled several minutes ago with a simple, "I'll get that information back to the member," and we could move on. Instead, Mr. Chair, the Premier herself was prolonging debate - very unconstructive debate.
She is throwing up roadblocks to obtaining information.
This government campaigned on doing things better and improving the decorum in this Legislature, but I feel antagonized. What we are seeing, Mr. Chair, is a government that is not willing to cooperate, a government that is not willing to provide information. These are basic questions. This project is close to a $30-million project. The Premier wouldn't identify how much. I guess she doesn't know. This is a major project. It will be the largest project since the Yukon government got control of the Yukon Energy Corporation, some 14 years ago. There is very little accountability. There is no public process to examine this project and to discuss concerns. The Premier won't tell us what the project's estimated cost is. The Premier won't tell us what other options were considered as alternatives to spending that sort of money on this project.
Well, that's fine, Mr. Chair. I won't pursue it. The record speaks for itself. This Liberal government refused to provide that information. Now, I'm going to move on.
I want to ask the Premier about the rate stabilization fund, which, I might add, she took credit for, back in January when the issue of higher heating costs arose. I believe the Premier said something to the effect that this government has already increased the subsidy to consumers of electricity through the rate stabilization fund. But Mr. Chair, the truth is that this government did nothing - zilch.
The mechanism was automated. The mechanism that automatically covered the increase in the price of fuel - I believe that was the increase - was put in place by the previous government. It was a recommendation by the Cabinet Commission on Energy.
Do we hear any mention of that at all? Of course not, Mr. Chair. Do you know why? You probably do know why. I'll explain for the others why. It's because this government is desperate for credit and acknowledgement of production, because it's not doing anything. It's riding on the coattails of the previous government, which was very hard-working.
Just today, we heard about the economic trends in the territory. We all know that, a year ago, they were recovering. The Yukon economy was recovering. The economic diversification strategy was paying off. There was finally fruit on that tree but, Mr. Chair, the Liberals have ignored that tree. Even though there's been plenty of fertilizer that could have been fed to the tree, this government has ignored it, and the economic indicators are downturning again.
We've asked the Premier what new economic initiatives are in this budget. There's nothing, Mr. Chair - nothing. It's a scorched-earth policy, in terms of economic programs and economic development.
The economic outlook looks at the year ahead, as well as providing a snapshot on the economy a few months back. There's very little to be excited about, Mr. Chair, and one of the reasons is this government has failed to plant the seeds of economic growth, of initiatives, to spur the economy. It has not planted the seeds. Soon it will be spring, and there will be nothing sprouting but weeds in Yukon's economic garden. No more fruit trees on the near-term horizon. Nothing.
Mr. Chair, some of the bigger projects in the budget that were mentioned are projects initiated through the hard work of the previous government. The Mayo transmission line didn't just appear out of anywhere. It was the subject of considerable discussion inside government.
But back to the rate stabilization fund, people are very concerned. This Liberal government's agenda is to kill this subsidy to electrical consumers in the territory. It's similar to what they did to the community development fund. They put it on delay, hung it out to dry awhile, killed it and then repackaged it in a red and white box and said, "Here you go. It's only half, but it looks prettier." But they are pretty short on details even about that program.
What else is in the budget? They raised taxes. There is no vision, no long-term planning. There are lots of promises broken. I know that you are eager to learn more about what I am talking about, so I refer you to the budget reply on February 27, when I provided more examples.
There is no vision at all. Turn to the long-term planning section of the budget, and it's blank - blank. Just today, we found out that one of their flagship economic projects, the upgrading of the road to Haines Junction, in fact isn't going to be done this year. Mr. Chair, that's an outrage, an absolute outrage. This government provided only about a quarter of the funds.
Mr. Chair, this government likes to take credit for the hard work of the previous government, has done very little itself. It's very ungracious when it comes to recognising the work of others, the accomplishments of others. Take the energy award, Mr. Chair. Has anybody mentioned the previous government and the energy commission that worked hard in conjunction with other parts of the government, including the Yukon Energy Corporation, to achieve that award? Nothing.
At the opening of the new wind generator, atop Haeckel Hill, was there recognition given to the previous government? None. The truth is, Mr. Chair, that turbine was ordered long before the election, and if it weren't for some delays from the manufacturers, it would have been in place long before the election. Does this government even mention it? No.
This government is desperate for any credit it can get, and that comes through on just about anything it does, Mr. Chair - right down to the tone used when it answers questions in Committee of the Whole, even when the cameras are off. That type of attitude is not consistent with what Yukoners were promised they would get under this Liberal government. They campaigned on making government better. Well, when are we going to see it?
Government is not better at all. They're worse - far worse - because when questions such as the ones I have asked in the last hour were asked of the previous government, the information was provided. Time and time again, the minister responsible for YEC and YDC brought back information, legislative returns; all kinds of material were provided - responses to letters, you name it. Not like this Liberal government, Mr. Chair. They don't want to provide any information.
I think it was summed up quite well last week by the Minister of Renewable Resources when he said, "We know best." Mr. Chair, that's an obvious reference to the fact that they don't need to hear constructive suggestions from us on this side of the House; they have all the answers.
Mr. Chair, I move you report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. McRobb that we do now report progress.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Kent: Mr. Chair, I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 2001-02, 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.
Mr. Kent: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:57 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled March 6, 2001:
Yukon Exploration & Geology Report, 2000: Mining & Exploration Overview, Yukon Geology Program, Geological Fieldwork, Property Descriptions
Yukon College 1999-2000 Annual Report
Yukon College Financial Statements as at June 30, 2000
The following Legislative Return was tabled March 6, 2001:
Annual returns (Business Corporations Act) filing system: explanation of system, filing fees
(Oral, Hansard, p. 937)