Monday, April 2, 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.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 38: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I move that Bill No. 38, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Utilities Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Acting Minister of Justice that Bill No. 38, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Utilities Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 38 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. McLachlan: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) it is regrettable that the previous NDP government was inactive in securing a natural gas pipeline;
(2) Premier Pat Duncan should be applauded for her tireless efforts in showcasing the Yukon as an economical and practical venue for such a pipeline;
(3) staged construction of two pipelines offers the greatest economic benefit for northern Canada; and
(4) the proposed "Over the Top" pipeline route offers little in the way of economic benefit for the Yukon; and
THAT this House recognizes that the Member for Kluane has referred to the project as a "black hole"; and
THAT this House urges all members of the Legislature to voice their unconditional support for the Alaska Highway Natural Gas Pipeline.
Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(a) the federal Liberal Government had the responsibility to ensure that the Dawson City Airport was brought up to proper standards prior to its transfer to the Yukon Government; and
(b) the $4 million being provided by the federal Liberal Government under the Airport Capital Assistance Program is totally inadequate to meet the requirement to have a fully modern airport serving the Klondike region; and
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal Government to meet its obligation by providing an immediate transfer of $8 million to pave the runway and any further necessary funding to fully upgrade the Dawson City Airport.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Dawson Airport upgrade and federal funding
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I rise today to advise the House of a significant milestone in the history of the Yukon government Dawson City Airport.
This government has a stated policy of working cooperatively with other governments. The results of pursuing a policy of cooperative governance can often be intangible, but it can also yield very tangible results. To that end, Mr. Speaker, we have been working hard with the federal Minister of Transport, Mr. David Collenette. I am therefore pleased to inform this House that the federal Minister of Transport has approved a grant of almost $4 million from the federal airports capital assistance program to enable us to proceed with a major reconstruction project at the Dawson City Airport this summer.
Yukon Member of Parliament, Larry Bagnell, made the announcement this past Saturday in Dawson City on behalf of Minister Collenette. The hon. Pam Buckway, Minister of Community and Transportation Services, was also in Dawson and, along with Acting Mayor Aedes Scheer, welcomed the MP, Transport Canada officials and many Yukoners to the Dawson Airport for the announcement.
On behalf of the government, I would like to publicly express my appreciation to the Government of Canada and Minister Collenette for their generous support toward aviation safety and airport infrastructure improvements at this Yukon airport.
The aviation industry and the citizens of Dawson have worked with the Department of Community and Transportation Services to prepare and adopt a plan that will guide the development of the airport. This funding will provide a good start on infrastructure improvements outlined in the 20-year plan.
Mr. Speaker, this will be a significant construction project this summer in the Dawson area. The work will include reconstruction of the existing runway, taxiway and apron areas, construction of a new taxiway, expansion of the apron area, installation of a new windsock tower and replacement of the runway approach lighting systems with newer technology.
Work is expected to commence in July and will be largely completed this fall. The project will employ 12 to 17 workers and provide about 200 person weeks of employment.
Mr. Speaker, the Dawson Airport upgrade is another excellent example of how our government is continuing to meet its priority commitments to Yukon people by creating new jobs and helping to rebuild the Yukon economy. It also serves to uphold our commitment to improve infrastructure in rural areas for the benefit of both residents and visitors alike.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the many Yukoners who have shown continued interest in the Dawson City Airport over the years, and particularly those who participated in the airport planning process. This government thanks and expresses appreciation again to Minister Dave Collenette for his approval of the $3.96-million grant from the airports capital assistance program.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: It's rather interesting to respond to this so-called ministerial statement today, Mr. Speaker, and I say that because, as we all know in this Legislature, a ministerial statement is supposed to be a short, factual statement on government policy. Now, looking through this ministerial statement from today, I'm really hard-pressed to find any policy statement there at all, Mr. Speaker. Instead, this is really a tribute to the federal Minister of Transportation for coughing up $4 million for the Dawson City Airport. Where is the policy of this Yukon government? And I would submit that, once again, this is an abuse of the rules of this Legislature for self-gain and back-patting by this Liberal government.
Now, Mr. Speaker, there's another issue about this statement. What the minister just read was different than what was provided to us earlier today. In the copy earlier today, they took a shot at me for a comment I made last week.
This is similar to the MLA for Faro standing up and bootlegging in his motion, something to the effect that I was opposed to the pipeline. We all know that that is bogus, Mr. Speaker. We on this side are in support of the pipeline; however, it is incumbent upon us to raise some issues of importance to Yukoners to see how this Liberal government will react. Now, we all know that this government doesn't like to be held accountable, and those who do hold it accountable had better be prepared to be defending themselves from personal attacks, because we see it day after day. It's commonplace.
Now, aside from those issues, this ministerial statement is more of a love letter, a bread-and-butter thank-you note to the federal minister. Why don't we just wrap it up in a number 10 envelope, Mr. Speaker, and send it to him? While that's in the mail, we might remember that it was the previous territorial government that spent millions of dollars on the Whitehorse Airport. It didn't wait around for a federal handout, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to ask the acting minister why there is no money - absolutely nothing - for the airport in Old Crow. Has this minister taken any action to make sure that the people in Old Crow are not left aside by this government?
Now, Mr. Speaker, we know that for the MP to attend this event, his absence was required in Parliament. We all know what happened there on Thursday. The Liberals failed to hold a quorum, and business was shut down for the day. I think this speaks to not only our Liberal MP, but to our Liberal members. They all like to cut ribbons and eat cake, rather than take their responsibilities in the legislatures to the full level they should.
It's interesting, Mr. Speaker, to finally see an example where the federal government has coughed up some money for the territory in the way of capital projects - finally. It's interesting that, after visits from the Prime Minister, the Finance minister and Energy minister, there was no money given to the Yukon. Here's a situation where the minister doesn't come, but he does send a suitcase full of money. That's great, but I would suggest to the Liberals across the way to invite the suitcase full of money first, before the ministers, in order that the Yukon can benefit more than from having fundraising opportunities and photo opportunities.
Now, there are plenty of other programs in demand of federal money. In December, we saw where the Northwest Territories was getting millions of dollars for bridge enhancements. Nunavut has got its irons in the fire for federal money. What about when the federal government traded the cleanup of our military sites in the territory - the abandoned military sites - for a bunch of rusting tanks. Where are the Liberals on that issue?
Speaker: Order please. The member has 30 seconds to conclude.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. What about the mine site cleanups? There is the Faro mine, the Clinton Creek mine, BYG mine, Keno Hill mine - there are all kinds of situations where this territory needs to approach the federal government, so I would suggest that finally we have an on-the-ground example. Let's see more.
Mr. Jenkins: I rise in response to this so-called ministerial statement that is really just a news release made by this novice, colonial Yukon Liberal government on behalf of the federal Liberal government.
The $4-million upgrade to install new lights, windsocks and aprons is better late than never, but it is totally inadequate to bring the Dawson City Airport up to truly appropriate standards.
Mr. Speaker, the experience that the Yukon government has had with taking over the Dawson City Airport has not been a good one. The airport should have been fully upgraded prior to it being transferred, not just slotted into a 20-year plan that may or may not occur. Just how many of these 20-year plans are we going to uncover in the next little while?
Now, Mr. Speaker, it has been previously indicated that a further $8 million is required to pave the airport. Where is the $8 million and when can we expect this announcement? The federal government pawned off the Dawson Airport to the Yukon government and then enforced the rules to render the airport in non-compliance with its operating certificate. Had this money not been announced at this juncture, the Dawson City Airport would effectively have been closed. The Dawson City Airport would have lost its operating certificate and would not have been able to receive scheduled airline service and would no longer have been a point of entry into Canada.
That's the reality of the situation, Mr. Speaker. Now, this must be the Liberal way of undertaking devolution. There's a lesson to be learned here, and this Liberal government should learn it in relationship to the overall devolution of federal responsibility, and that lesson is let the buyer beware. The federal Liberals cannot be trusted as the Dawson City Airport has shown. You only have to witness the situation in Whitehorse, Old Crow and Dawson. All of these airports should have been fully upgraded and expanded prior to transfer, when the Yukon government still had some leverage. That didn't happen.
Now, Mr. Speaker, Yukoners are left with an inferior series of airports while the federal government is off the hook. The $4-million upgrade that the minister so proudly announced today will only just bring the airport to minimum compliance and cannot disguise the fact that the Yukon government has inherited a pig in a poke in the form of the Dawson City Airport.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, I would like to introduce to the House the Mayor of Dawson, Mr. Glen Everitt, sitting in the gallery.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I'm sure he'd be very pleased to hear the comments and criticisms from the member opposite. It seems that ribbon cutting and cake cutting are a continual theme of the members opposite, Mr. Speaker, when it's something that we fully acknowledge because most of our projects in the territory are conducted by the public at large, and we're acknowledging the good work that they do, as well as the volunteers. And we extend the government's appreciation to those people. So, they can interpret it any way they want.
It is amazing that the members opposite continually - it just seems like there's nothing that is appropriate that comes from this side of the House, Mr. Speaker.
One of the commitments that we made was that we would build infrastructure in the territory, and here's a prime example of that happening. But, no, we're criticized for that.
We're putting people and Yukoners back to work, Mr. Speaker, and they criticize that. The laments from the members from Watson Lake and Kluane and even Klondike don't acknowledge that fact.
We are being recognized by the ministers from Ottawa. They are coming up here and seeing Yukon first-hand, but when the minister sends money ahead of a potential visit, we're criticized for that because it's only $4 million. Maybe we should close the suitcase and ship it back. It's just amazing that the members opposite, in their ramblings and yearnings, don't seem to find it appropriate to acknowledge a good thing when it does happen. So it is unfortunate - very unfortunate.
We have worked very hard with our federal counterparts to expedite this project, and I am very pleased to say that this effort is bearing fruit in the form of 10 percent of the total federal budget this year in the federal airports capital assistance program. And we give credit to all parties who do participate, unlike the members opposite who can't seem to look past the end of their noses on things. We're getting off the ground, and we are pleased that this Liberal government could play a role in it.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, oil and gas development
Ms. Netro: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources. It was interesting to note that the Premier's speech to the Northern Oil and Gas Symposium in Calgary last month made no reference at all to this government's position on oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Now the Premier is taking her Alaska Highway pipeline message right into President Bush's backyard. Has the minister given the Premier any advice about the importance of telling U.S. oil and gas companies that the Yukon government is opposed to drilling in the wildlife refuge?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: We continually get refreshing suggestions from members opposite, but this one isn't that refreshing, since the Premier and I have continually espoused that we are opposed to that kind of activity in ANWR - totally opposed to it - as has the federal government expressed that directly to the President of the United States.
I am sure that during the Premier's visit to the United States this time around she will continue to express our opposition to that activity over that way.
Ms. Netro: So much for the Liberal government's claim that it is raising this important issue at every opportunity. What they say and what they do are two different things. The Premier also ignored these concerns in her opening remarks at the recent climate change conference here.
My supplementary question is about climate change, Mr. Speaker. Last week, we heard the shocking news that President Bush is pulling the U.S. out of the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas emissions. What action has this minister taken to express Yukon's concern about this to the federal Environment and Energy ministers?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: With respect to climate change, this government has continually supported the arguments presented with respect to climate change, as has the federal government. We will continue to do that, Mr. Speaker, regardless of what position the United States takes.
Ms. Netro: The federal Environment minister's position on President Bush's decision has been lukewarm at best. Many people consider Canada to be partially responsible for the failure of the climate change summit in Amsterdam last year, which this minister attended. There are serious concerns that Canada may simply fall in line behind the Americas on this issue. This could be very detrimental to northern Canada's interests.
Will the minister undertake to tell the federal Environment minister, in no uncertain terms, that abandoning our Kyoto commitments would not be accepted in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin managed to get three different questions in on three different topics. That is okay, I suppose, because we are continuing to aggressively lobby the American government with respect to our concerns and issues regarding the Porcupine caribou herd, for one.
The issues concerning climate change are uppermost. As a matter of fact, the northern territories are taking the lead in bringing to the attention, not only of Canada, but of the world at large, that effects and impacts of climate change are occurring here now. Yukon is even taking a greater lead in getting that point and message across to our federal counterparts. At every opportunity we do express our concern.
I might even have suggestions for the member opposite that maybe they could convince their friends in organized labour to oppose drilling in ANWR. Maybe that is how we could get support from organized labour.
Question re: Pipeline, choice of routes
Mr. Fentie: I have a question this afternoon for the Acting Minister of Economic Development. Last week, President Bush was very clear that he is prepared to buy oil and gas from anybody to make sure that the U.S. economic engine continues to run smoothly. He specifically mentioned the Northwest Territories, and that sounded very much like an endorsement for a Mackenzie Valley pipeline. And also, the Canadian federal government seems to be very coy on which project it favours. Can the minister tell us what this government intends to do to get the Yukon economy back on the rails, should a Mackenzie line be built before the Alaska Highway pipeline?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, again the members opposite are flip-flopping. They don't know what they want to come first or they're not quite sure which way this government is going. I do believe that the minister has continually indicated to the House, as she is doing as we speak, that she is promoting the Yukon-Alaska Highway pipeline route. I wouldn't put too much credibility on what Mr. Bush says, because he doesn't have a whole lot of sense of what is where in Canada.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I have never heard such drivel. This government across the floor simply doesn't get it. We are competing. We are competing for billions of dollars from the industry to build the biggest pipeline project ever. If the Mackenzie line is built before the Alaska Highway line, northern Yukon oil and gas could well be isolated and not be able to reach a market through the Yukon. In fact, it may have to go into the Northwest Territories.
What consultations does this government have planned with the First Nations involved, with stakeholder groups, in the event that oil and gas from Eagle Plains and the Peel Basin deposits need to be shipped to Inuvik or Arctic Red River?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, first of all, the Premier isn't doing enough, and then she's doing too much. She's never around. Again, it's a continual lack of understanding by the members opposite of the efforts that our Premier is making when she leaves and goes to Vancouver or Calgary or Houston or Ottawa. She is getting the point across that we see the preferred route for the Alaska Highway pipeline being down the Alaska Highway as opposed to the Mackenzie Valley at this time. We are getting ready for that in a number of areas, as well. We are getting our programs for training up and running, recognizing that, even though she has also indicated to the House that we don't have a project yet. We are eagerly looking forward to it being announced as the producers had indicated, probably toward the end of the year. We want to be ready for it, so we are moving in that area, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I would caution the acting minister not to take the Premier's tack and get overly antagonistic about Question Period.
Mr. Speaker, the facts are plain: the industry itself is actively pursuing a feasibility study on both projects. There is a situation here where, should a Mackenzie Valley line be built first, a downward pressure would result on Yukon resources. We have already witnessed the paltry sum that the Yukon has received in terms of land sales in north Yukon while a billion dollars is being spent this year in the Northwest Territories.
My question to the acting minister is this: what is this government doing to prepare for the eventuality that the Alaska Highway pipeline may become a second project and we then will face over five years or longer before we realize any benefit from that sector? What is this government doing today to address that fact?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, it's beyond me that the members opposite don't recognize the efforts that are continually being worked on by my colleague, the Member for Riverside, in his travels, in the Premier's travels and in any travels that we have also been criticized for in promoting economic development in the territory. And one of the primary economic development indicators that we're trying to move on is the Alaska Highway gas pipeline.
So that's exactly what the Premier has been doing all this time - moving forward, indicating that this is the best route to start the flow of Arctic gas southward. She is not opposed to the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, as the members opposite have just indicated, but we believe that this is the pipeline that should go first. So that's exactly what we're doing, Mr. Speaker, at every opportunity available.
Question re: Protected areas secretariat
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Minister of Renewable Resources.
Back on February 8 of this year, seven resource and economic development groups walked out on a Yukon Protected Areas Strategy Public Advisory Committee meeting because the economic interests were not being given proper consideration in the creation of the protected areas. Now, on March 13 of this year, in an address to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Premier and the minister invited the seven groups to return to the table. The resource users coalition has put forward a five-point plan that it would like addressed. I would like to canvass the minister's response to this plan.
Will the minister advise the House that the minister is prepared to give independent status to the secretariat supporting the Yukon protected areas strategy, so that it isn't tied to either the Department of Renewable Resources or the Department of Economic Development? Will the minister be doing that?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Again, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike is not respecting the process of consultation, which is exactly why we're having the YPAS Public Advisory Committee get together to discuss these issues.
I want to make it perfectly clear that, at our meeting with the group of seven, we had indicated that it is in that forum that they put forward their five-point proposal and that we were not, as the official opposition had done when in government, creating sweetheart, backroom deals. We will be open and accountable in our exercises. The Premier made that very, very clear to those members in the Cabinet room who, even if they did present their five points, it was the best forum in which to do that and that we would not be committing this government to those five points until it was reviewed by the YPAS Public Advisory Committee.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's see if we can get the minister to agree to anything, other than just attack, attack, attack, Mr. Speaker. This same group is calling for full-scale assessment of the economic impacts of protecting a particular area in addition to the full-scale environmental assessments that are currently being done, and it wants to see a cap established on the total amount of area that can be protected under this strategy. Will the minister agree to the comprehensive economic assessment, as well as agree to the cap? And what will that cap be? Is it going to be 30 percent, 40 percent, or even higher, of the Yukon's land mass? What is the cap?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Again, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike has continually grilled the Premier on the same point. I believe that the Premier has indicated that, again, respecting the consultative process, we will leave that suggestion and recommendation up to the public advisory committee. And the recommendations that are initiated from the next set of meetings will come directly to Cabinet for review, and a decision will be reached on them. So, again, the Member for Klondike is fishing. And he is, as usual, fishing up the wrong creek because we are respecting consultative process, and that is what we are going to do.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there have to be guidelines established by the government as to what the total land mass recognized under the Yukon protected areas strategy will be. That's a given. That's a political decision. When is it going to be made? He can't keep passing the buck on that.
The two remaining points concern the need to guarantee access to land that may be blocked through the creation of a protected area and that no more protected areas be created until the settlement of land claims, because more parks will be created under land claims. Will the minister agree to these last two points? Will the minister agree to anything?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, Mr. Speaker, in a previous motion put forward to this House by the Member for Klondike, he read off the five points that were prepared by somebody else for him to read into the motion. Now he is again reading from the five conditions that were presented to the Premier and me in the Cabinet room by the group of seven. We were very clear - very, very clear - and emphatic that those points go to the public advisory group for inclusion in any recommendations that come forward directly from the public advisory group to Cabinet to review and make decisions on. I don't know much more clear I could make that to the member opposite.
Question re: Government spending
Mr. Fairclough: I have a question for the Acting Premier.
Mr. Speaker, in the first nine months the Premier and her colleagues blew their travel budget by more than $60,000 and here we are, only the second day of the new fiscal year, and the Cabinet high-flyers are already at it again.
Will the Acting Premier table a full breakdown of travel costs for Cabinet, government caucus and the political staff to the end of the fiscal year 2000-01, including all departmental and other sources of funding? Will he table that information by tomorrow?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I believe the Premier has already committed to that action and she will be providing that information at a later time.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, that information is incorrect. The Premier did not table all of those breakdowns to me, and I'm asking a very simple question to the Acting Premier.
Now, Mr. Speaker, this government loves to spend money on itself. We know that it took advantage of the spring break to install new carpets in the Cabinet areas, in spite of the fact they have already been making efforts to reduce the traffic by keeping people they don't like out of the area.
My first supplementary is to the Minister of Government Services. Will the minister tell the House how much this carpeting and the new trappings for the members' lounge cost Yukon taxpayers?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, we have the numbers. I don't have the numbers with me right at the moment, but I can get the numbers to him before the end of this sitting here.
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, these are very simple questions, and I appreciate getting that information.
I have a related question for the same minister. Recently, the area for French translators in the Executive Council Office was basically a storage room for new furniture and office equipment. Now this government has obviously gone on a year-end shopping spree to reduce the lapses and keep the accumulated surplus from being too big.
Will the minister table for the House a complete list of all furniture, office equipment and computer systems ordered by the department, Crown corporations and agencies between February 15, 2001 and the end of this past fiscal year? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Jim: Mr. Speaker, there are many departments that purchase furniture and office equipment. Would the member opposite be so specific as to whether it would be the Executive Council Office that he's looking at, or is it all departments that he's looking at?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Jim: All departments. It would take some time in gathering that information. I think we can probably give you a general overview of that.
Question re: Lumber, softwood agreement with U.S.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Acting Minister of Economic Development. On Saturday, the Canada/U.S. softwood agreement reached an end. My question is this: what representations has this government made to the federal Government of Canada with regard to the very difficult negotiations ahead between the two countries when it comes to the export of wood products into the United States?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I don't have an answer ready for the member opposite on that specific issue, but I will certainly make every attempt to have an answer ready for him tomorrow.
Mr. Fentie: Well, I think that maybe I could ask the minister the same question in this manner: the Yukon advantage, when it comes to the export of lumber from this territory into the United States, is that we are exempt. We have exemption status because we are basically a non-producer in the eyes of the Americans. Will this minister ensure and make every effort at the table with the federal government that that representation will be brought forward, and that the Yukon can maintain its exemption when it comes to any further softwood agreements with the United States?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, without committing the Minister of Economic Development, I will certainly take forward the suggestion that was just made by the member opposite. If, in fact, that is true, I am sure the Minister of Economic Development will again forward that notion on exemptions.
Mr. Fentie: Well, you see, Mr. Speaker, we don't have to be antagonistic in Question Period. We can be quite productive.
I have a follow-up, final supplementary. Will the minister also commit and ensure at the table that the Yukon maintains enough latitude that we can reach our own arrangement with what will probably be, when it comes to the development of a forest industry in the territory, our most beneficial marketplace - the State of Alaska? Will the minister ensure that the Yukon can have the latitude, along with the State of Alaska, to negotiate some arrangement in trade regarding manufactured wood products being exported from the Yukon into the State of Alaska?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The Member for Watson Lake is absolutely right. And it might even be in the tone of the question or the substance of the question that we are readily willing and able to respond in a like fashion. So I would hope that his colleagues take example from the type of question that he has asked and that we would be more than willing to clearly provide the best answers that we can.
With respect to the question that he did ask, though, again, I will confer with the Department of Economic Development and take his suggestion under advisement because it was a positive, constructive suggestion, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Faro mine site, environmental cleanup
Mr. Fairclough: I have a question again for the Acting Premier. This morning we heard that assets of the Faro mine site will be sold off to repay its debts. I suppose this means that the mine at Faro, for all practical purposes, is a thing of the past and nearing its end. What isn't in the past is the environmental work that still lies ahead. What steps has this government taken to ensure that the federal government lives up to its obligations to remediate the Faro mine site?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The ink on the pages of the plan of arrangement, as structured by the judge, is still wet. It is still going to take some time to assess the judgement. But I do believe that there is recognition in there about the treatment facilities that DIAND can bring - and secure and improve the water treatment facilities, at least. The plan of arrangement is still being looked at, and the department will be assessing exactly what the judge is interpreting in that plan.
Mr. Fairclough: After devolution, responsibility for mineral resources will be in the hands of the Yukon and the cleanup of the Faro mine site could cost in excess of $100 million.
What is this Liberal government doing to make sure that the federal government will provide enough money, on an ongoing basis, to clean up the mine site that was abandoned during its watch?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: The member opposite, Mr. Speaker, knows well how negotiations are going or have gone between the territorial government and the federal government with respect to devolution. I do believe that, in the very short while, we will be hearing more and more details on that arrangement. In fact, the member already knows that there would be in place an agreement of accountability with respect to the Faro mine site and, in all probability, it would be recognized and accepted by Canada.
Mr. Fairclough: I'm hoping the Acting Premier can answer the questions. If there is a positive side to the Faro situation, apart from the fact that some Yukon creditors will finally be paid out the money owed to them, it is the fact that the cleanup work could provide some badly needed jobs in Faro.
What is this government doing to make sure that the federal government acts quickly so that the mine reclamation work can get going without any unnecessary delays?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Well, Mr. Speaker, as I have just indicated, the ink is still wet on the agreement, for heaven's sake, and it's going to take some time to work it out. An initial look at the plan calls for a 32.5 percent payment being made to secured creditors with 67.5 percent payable to Cominco. Cominco is owed about $24.4 million on that project, and about $14 million in secured claims by 42 companies has also been recognized and is proven.
So, Mr. Speaker, the finality of the agreement is still being worked out, still being interpreted in how the payments are going to be applied. There are a substantial number of companies and individuals that were affected by the final shutdown of Faro.
I would just like to point out, as well, Mr. Speaker, that it was believed that the Cantung mine was going to be shut down forever, and as we see, just as the Phoenix rose from the ashes, the Cantung mine is also being looked at to be re-established. Even though there was a sense of finality to the Faro mine - who knows, somewhere down the road, 10, 15, 20 years, maybe it will be started up again as a viable mine.
Speaker: Order please. Will the minister please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, I will, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.
In 11 years of the last 15, under the NDP, they did nothing to mitigate the possible damages with respect to the Faro mine and its tailings, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Electrical rate stabilization fund
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, today is April 2. And I'm sure that we realize the significance of that date. It's not one day after April Fool's Day; it's into the second quarter. Consultations are supposed to start from the Yukon Energy Corporation on the rate stabilization fund. So I'd like to know, now that we've passed the deadline that the previous president had outlined for us, when can we expect the consultation to be effective on the rate stabilization fund?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Speaker, as my colleague, the Minister of Economic Development, just said, the ink is just dry on one of the very important issues of the Mayo-Dawson transmission line. We are just moving into this next stage, and to expect to have it all lined up and set, ready to go on day one would be very presumptuous. We take things by doing our homework and making sure we're on the right track. I would say to the member opposite: very shortly.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, that's absolutely appalling. We got a bit of a lecture there on doing homework and how good we're doing at homework and whatnot. Well, Mr. Speaker, school is out. The teacher and students are still sitting in there studying. The exams are over.
The former president of Yukon Energy Corporation said, right in this House last fall, that consultation has to happen within the first quarter. Now we're hearing about dry ink and the transmission line. Mr. Speaker, this is not about transmission lines; it is about the rate stabilization fund and how or if this government is going to be putting forward this program again.
So, I would like to ask this of the minister: is this minister committed to maintaining the rate stabilization fund?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Thanks again for the question. Mr. Speaker, the rate stabilization fund was established in December 1998 and absorbs rate increases for most consumers, so electricity bills will remain nine percent above their January 1997 levels until March 31, 2002.
The rate stabilization fund resulted from a recommendation of the Cabinet Commission on Energy's final report, which also suggested that the program be reviewed in its third year, with public input.
Mr. Speaker, it did not say that we had to start on day one. It said, "in its third year." We are just beginning that. The member opposite has made it clear that he is expecting something to happen in the next little while. I am just confirming that. Yes, we will be coming in with a plan. The member opposite will hear about it, just as all Yukoners will hear about it, in terms of what procedure we will be taking in assessing this whole issue.
Mr. Keenan: Well, I do believe that the minister is lost out there in wonderland. He is so confused by all of the homework and reviews that he is going through that he forgetting the very basic issues.
Mr. Speaker, I don't need a lecture. It was my colleague from Kluane who brought that document forth to this Legislature. That is not what I am asking. It was in a presentation by the Yukon Energy Corporation last year that the former president said that we have to go into consultation in the first quarter. I didn't say that we are going to do it on the last day.
I have asked this question now for the second time in the House. When is it going to start? We have passed our deadlines, Mr. Speaker, which is starting to make me wonder if this government is not committed to the consultation that is directed by the president of the Yukon Energy Corporation. Again, will there be a rate stabilization fund after the current program expires in March 2002? We created a program. What is this government going to do, if they are not going to go out to consultation, to protect the consumer from a 40-percent increase in electrical rates? What is this government going to do?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Once again, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes wants a commitment that the last government made to rate stabilization. What we are committed to is to go out and consult with people to find out and to share and interact as to what route we should go. We are not committing ourselves to what the member opposite would like to commit us to. I am sure that if that member were sitting here or standing here, he would be making the same comment.
We said that we are committed to consultation. I don't know how many times that I have to say it. Consultation is the backbone of the Liberal Party. We believe in consulting with Yukoners, not just going off and doing it and then thinking, "Well, this is what people really wanted and we consulted." I don't care how many commissions were held in the past. The important part is looking and reacting to what people want today and also being realistic to people today, not giving people the smoke-and-mirrors message that sometimes has happened in the past.
We are believing in reality, Mr. Speaker, and we will have consultation. It will be with all Yukoners, and it will be within our first quarter, not in the last quarter as the member opposite constantly tries to suggest it will be. It will be in the next while. We have just begun our first quarter. It's very important for us to take our time so we don't rush into things and make improper decisions.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Good afternoon everyone. 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 will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We're discussing Bill No. 4.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 2001-02 - continued
Department of Health and Social Services
Chair: We're just commencing general debate.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I'm pleased to rise before the members of this Legislature to introduce the operations and maintenance budget and capital budget for the Department of Health and Social Services for the year 2001-02.
The request for $125,889,000 in this budget represents the highest ever O&M expenditure for this department. This budget is about investing in people. It is about supporting all Yukoners who need these valuable services.
Our commitment to ensure the health and well-being of Yukoners is demonstrated in this budget by the increased investment in the people of the Yukon.
As mentioned in the Finance minister's budget address, the expenditures in the area of Health and Social Services respond to the many commitments that we were elected to fulfill.
In one short year we have made substantial progress on a number of fronts in the budget before you, which builds on that progress and moves our election commitment forward.
If we look at the previous administration's O&M budget, tabled one year ago, we have increased funding by more than $10 million - $10 million by this Liberal government. That is a real commitment. It is a commitment about maintaining quality health care. We are ensuring that the quality of care and programming that Yukoners have come to enjoy will continue. We have increased this year's funding for O&M by approximately $3.5 million over last year's forecasted spending. So, Mr. Chair, I would like to take this time to give a quick snapshot of where some of these increases are taking place.
Mr. Chair, it was this Liberal government's election commitment to maintain stable funding to the Whitehorse General Hospital. We are doing what we said we would do. The Yukon Hospital Corporation will see an increase of just under $1 million to their base O&M funding, as compared to last year's base.
The capital funding for the Yukon Hospital Corporation will increase by 50 percent for this fiscal year. Included in this 50-percent increase is $200,000 from the federal medical equipment fund. Mr. Chair, this $200,000 was the result of this government's successful negotiations with the Prime Minister last year. May I remind the members opposite, when they constantly ask about travel, that's what we brought to the Yukon, Mr. Chair - money to the Yukon. We had to go to these venues in order to ensure that our voice was being heard.
When we go out of the territory on government business, we get results. Obviously, these results help Yukoners. The additional cashflow we have provided to the hospital will help in many areas. It will help ease the increased service delivery pressure that it has been feeling. It will help the hospital deal with the rising cost associated with chemotherapy. It will help meet the need for ongoing equipment repair. It will support equipment replacement and new equipment purchases.
We are preparing for the completion of the continuing care facility. And as well, we are preparing for its anticipated opening in June 2002. $300,000 of O&M is identified in this budget in order to get some of the necessary staff in place for this new facility. On the capital side, $7.9 million is requested to substantially complete this construction project, and $1 million is required for equipment and furnishing purchases.
Again, moving forward on this project and increasing the construction to include the full 96 beds fulfills our election commitment that we made a year ago. We committed to expand the number of nursing beds for the elderly and for others who require long-term care services. We are doing what we said we would do, Mr. Chair.
In the area of recruitment and retention, there have been many questions asked about this in this session, and we know that it is a very serious issue, Mr. Chair. It is serious right across North America.
It is one of the biggest challenges that this government and all governments are facing. We are working with our health care professionals and with our communities to ensure that we are adequately staffed with doctors and nurses to deliver the high quality health care we enjoy in the Yukon, Mr. Chair.
An initial investment has been set aside in this budget for that purpose, and we are continuing our efforts to support new initiatives and new ideas to attract new health care professionals and to help maintain the high quality of professionals who have made the Yukon their home. It may not be enough at this point, Mr. Chair, but it's a beginning and hopefully we can build on it.
During the fiscal year, $50,000 was provided to assist the family physician relocation costs. In this fiscal year, $50,000 will be provided to the Yukon Medical Association for locum travel and accommodation. Also, Mr. Chair, an additional $20,000 will be provided to the Yukon Medical Association to assist with the residency program in the Yukon. As well, $10,000 has been earmarked for the establishment of a bursary to encourage Yukon students to enter medical school.
Mr. Chair, our nurses are also facing challenges. We have allocated $50,000 to be given to the Yukon Registered Nurses Association to establish a nursing education fund, and another $10,000 will be used to establish a nursing advisory council. There has never been a nursing advisory council to the government and we now have in place a nursing advisory council.
This government supports and cares for Yukon families and youth. We were made aware of the previous government's lack of investment in Yukoners when we took office, Mr. Chair. Well, we believe in Yukoners. We believe that people are the Yukon's best resource. We have made an investment in the people of the Yukon.
This budget sees increased funding of $100,000 for foster care. May I remind the members opposite that this had not changed for nine years. We have put an increase of just over $300,000 into youth residential care. This is a very serious problem in our community and communities throughout Canada, particularly with our teens. We have allocated an increase of approximately $100,000 for youth justice. After having had no increases for the last nine years, this government - this new Liberal government of one year - has committed to an increase of $100,000 to help with the increasing costs for the services provided by Kaushee's. As well, in order to provide better staffing in women's shelters, we have given an increase of $62,000 to the Watson Lake Help and Hope shelter. The Dawson shelter has also been given this same amount, $62,000.
Mr. Chair, this Liberal government is following through on yet another one of its election commitments. We campaigned on our commitment to maintain stable funding to the Child Development Centre, and we have done this. We do what we say we are going to do. This budget also reflects staff increases to enhance services of our healthy families program, to enhance services of our foster care program, our child care program, our youth probation services and our residential youth treatment services.
Yukon Family Services will see increases in their base funding. This is $39,000 to respond to needs in the rural communities and modest salary increases.
Recent changes to our social assistance program will largely benefit families with children, single parents, and a greater financial benefit will be realized for all those recipients who have other forms of income from employment, or income from maintenance payments and student loans.
This government recognizes that the support, the agencies and the programming that help parents and their children in Whitehorse and in the rural communities are priorities for Yukoners and, as such, they are priorities for stable and increased spending.
Other areas of increased funding for programming includes the increase to Hospice of $75,000 to support increased demand and expansion of services to rural communities. Teegatha'oh Zheh will get an additional $50,000, and Line of Life will get $10,000 to assist with equipment costs.
We have stated very clearly that one of our top priorities as a government is alcohol and drug addictions, and following on this priority, the budget reflects this for the first time - the creation of an alcohol and drug secretariat as a separate entity. Total funding for the secretariat, in its first year of operation, is estimated at $2.3 million. This represents an increase of over $250,000 from the forecast amount for alcohol and drug services.
I am looking forward to working directly with the secretariat and Yukoners over the next year, as we begin to revamp our programs and services to better respond to this ongoing problem. The impacts affect so many people.
Mr. Chair, the spending priorities of this government in the area of Health and Social Services are clear: we support the people who are on the front line delivering services; we support the agencies and organizations that work at the community level to ensure that the right supports and services are available, and we support the people of the Yukon who access the many programs and services provided by the department and our agency partners.
I must make a few comments, Mr. Chair, on the issue of active living and prevention. I believe that this is where our resource is. If we do not put more dollars and more energy and more effort into prevention, we are always going to be falling behind when it comes to paying for the catch-up. So, Mr. Chair, I would encourage all government members and all employees to ensure that we work on this very important theme for the future, that of active living.
These are just some of the highlights of the department's planned activities and spending priorities over the year. I would be pleased now to answer any questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Keenan: Today I'd like to, I think, start off with thanking the minister for bringing forth the budget as presented. I have a few comments as we go through it over the duration of the next couple of days, and I think that certainly it will take a couple of days - maybe not much more than that. It just depends on how forthright the answers are.
I guess it's not so much that I'm seeking answers, but I'm seeking some clarification and I'm seeking the vision of the minister. I put the minister on notice about that vision, I think, in Question Period about three weeks ago. I did express that I'd like to keep it to a policy-level discussion, if I could. So if the minister would like to let the gentleman to his left go now, I don't think there will be a need for that gentleman for the rest of the afternoon because we're certainly going to take it into a policy discussion and get active in a policy discussion, because I'm really looking to hear -
Baby cries in the gallery
Mr. Keenan: - beautiful, young voices, refreshing voices in the Legislature. Well, we can't stifle that here, can we, ladies and gentlemen?
Maybe we have a legislator coming someday, I hope so.
But certainly I would like to probe - well maybe probe is not such a good word, but explore might be a better word - with the minister some of the issues of procrastination or vision development, I guess. So, yes, you may let the gentleman to your left go, and he is free for the afternoon. I am sure that he has got all sorts of other things to do. But I don't think that you are going to let him go, so I would also like to express my thanks to the department and all of the folks who work within the department.
I know that the front-line workers within government, I guess, the bureaucrats who sit behind the desks behind those six-by-eight foot walls that are the partitions - their own private space - between them and the next desk, are comparable, I think, to nurses and the doctors. Certainly they are there with a desire for change and for efficiency and to make things better.
So, as I said right from the day that this budget was tabled, I think that there is some good spending authority in it. Again, I would like to congratulate all of the staff and all of the folks who have come together to make this what it is.
Now, just over a year ago, or exactly a year ago, practically everybody in this room, with the exception of one, I believe, was out campaigning and asking if we could be put into this Legislature - it says, "Watch your 'you's" - and we did that. We did that based on what we thought we could do on a personal basis, on a personal level of representing our constituents in here. We did that based on the it's all about the Future campaign document. We had ours, the gentlemen to the left of me had theirs - the Yukon Party - and that is basically what we campaigned on, what we lost the election on, I guess, and what the Liberals won the election on.
Certain issues that are reflective, I guess - or not reflective - in this budget are not set about in any of this documentation.
But before I jump off the deep end and say, "You're full of beans and it's contrary to the fact and you're wrong," and all of those things, I'd like to give the minister his opportunity to explain, because I like the idea of prevention. Sometimes, judging from me, you can't tell, but certainly I have my own means and ways of doing things, and it releases me physically, releases me mentally, and it gives me a role model to play in different ways.
The minister speaks about prevention and working with Community and Transportation Services and the sports minister and the active living program. I have some ideas on those types of issues that I'd like to explain and explore with the minister, to give to the minister if the minister will take them.
I'm also interested in hearing some of the concrete steps that the minister is going to be developing for the 10-year plan. I know that I take the minister at his word that, in the beginning, it's just that. It's a 10-year oral plan, a verbal plan, and as we go through the development of that plan, through brainstorming, through consultations and through reviewing - and all of those other words, I guess - I hope we can come up with some concrete steps and take it away from a motherhood statement of better health for Yukoners - which is always reflected in this type of platform document, I guess you'd call it - and get right into the nuts and bolts. I'm very interested in that. I'm going to take the minister up on his offer to have a little tour of the Cabinet room. The minister, last Wednesday in debate, said that he would like to invite me to his Cabinet room and to look at the chart.
I strongly believe in those visual aids, those reminders. My background comes from many different things that I have done in my life. It wasn't until I was asked by the elders to represent my First Nation at the political level, as a chief - and I did that for, I guess, a decade - that I really got to see how things could and should work and the benefits of planning. Certainly, before, when I did my own personal planning, it was disgusting in some cases, because it was on a paycheque-by-paycheque basis, and then it evolved as you mature. You become more of a planner and start to put benchmarks and goals in your own personal life. That's exactly what I did as Chief of the Teslin Tlingit First Nation.
I am very pleased to say that, today, the process that was developed - and when I say "I", I mean only as the chief political spokesperson at the time, because it was all of those surrounding me and who were affected who had input into it. We created an action plan. As I go back to my First Nation, sit in the boardroom and look at that and see, in the sixth and seventh year, what they're doing, where they're going in policy and what they're taking over - wow. I really do think that it is a better way of doing things. Now, maybe it's a bit too socialist of a way of doing things, because it certainly encompasses all.
I guess, at that level and with that number of people, as compared to 30,000 people at this level, that type of process might not be applicable. But there are good things from that process that we could take and bring to this level here - the territorial and national level that we influence - and we may be able to start to focus more.
I, as a politician and a leader - yes, I am a leader, just as every one of us in this room is a leader - have responsibilities and obligations to bring forth thoughts. Maybe one day, the territorial government, of which we are all a part - maybe not the government, but we have a government in the territory that reflects all of us - will be able to start to focus more outside of election time as to what it is that we really see, want and desire for our communities.
So, we can start to set those goals then, and if they're 10-year goals, 20-year goals or 30-year goals, or whatever those type of goals are, well then, we have something to march forth to. We can say that. We have examples here now of doing those types of issues. There's the three-year capital plan that we, as the government, brought into place.
The government of the day is changing that now, so that we have a capital plan in the fall. This is all for better planning. This is all to make it work better for the people who are affected, and the constituents out there are many-fold. They're from citizens to business people, to NGOs, to all those issues.
I will make the offer to the minister if he'd like the gentlemen to his left to go and do some real work this afternoon, instead of listening to me. He can still do that, because this is where I'm coming from. I want to know about those benchmarks. It has been a year now since I head this, so I'd like for the minister to take me in some detail - it doesn't have to be minute detail - through the process that we're going to go through.
I'll stop right there, if I may, at this point in time, and just let the minister explain that.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I appreciate the comments from the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes. I guess my response - and, again, I'm speaking hopefully on behalf of our caucus in how we see the vision for the future.
I believe that, right across the country, there's a very strong feeling among people - among citizens - to look at, you know, what we've been doing in our history, and how we can change some of those ways of trying to respond.
We probably reacted in historic times by throwing money at things rather than looking at the systemic reasons why things are the way they are. If I want to use one example, like FAS - this is a very obvious one. I mean, we know what causes FAS, and there's no point just saying it all the time. I think we have to have in place social programs that are going to bring about that quality and fairness among people to understand that when they drink they really have a potential of destroying a child for life. I think what we really want to look at - and I think it's not something new from our vision, but it's a vision that many governments have. Even the last government had some of those visions, as to trying to look at what causes the issues and then trying to throw what I could call good programming ideas on how they're going to resolve these.
Home care is an example. You know, it wasn't started by this government; it was started by previous governments. You know, rather than people staying in the hospital, they're better off to stay in their homes. People we know want to stay in their homes for as long as they can; they don't want to stay in institutions or what we call large buildings where many people live. They would rather stay in their own homes. So it is incumbent on us as a government to ensure that we're providing them with the resources to do that.
The healthy families initiative is, again, another approach toward addressing what we as society would expect from our people and how we can help them, because we came to raise families in different ways - some of them very good, some of them that needed improvement. If I were to parent like I was parented, I'm not too sure how my children would have turned out. Fortunately, I had a partner who had a very practical home approach toward raising children, so the two of us were able to hopefully do a job that provided them with the skills to survive and exist in the future.
Not all people have this, so I think that's where this healthy families initiative project can come in, giving parents some very basic ways to respond to the needs of children and how to respond to - well, I guess the bottom line is who is in charge, quite often.
Looking at how we respond to our nursing strategy, the philosophy - and I know I have been criticized by the members opposite of trying to move into another direction here with primary health care. This has been going on for years in our small communities. Teslin has had primary health care since the beginning of nurses in that community. Those nurses are very valued people in that community and they feel very strongly about how they can help. They don't take the place of a doctor, but we can't have doctors in every community. So obviously, when you have shortages, you have to look at how we utilize the strengths of the resource people that we have in the communities.
One issue - and I know some of my colleagues might take a little exception about my real concern about tobacco and how that is causing many problems. I am being told from very reliable sources, Mr. Chair - and I don't know if Mr. Chair wants to hear this - that over 30 percent of our cancer patients are smokers. Over 30 percent. So I said we're raising the tax this year by one cent a cigarette and I said I hope we could keep raising it. One person said, "Well, raise it to 10 cents a cigarette and see what happens." I'm sure people who smoke will not like the idea, but if this is where most of our costs are coming from, then that's one way we have to respond to it. We have to continue this proactive material.
The Prairie Northern Fetal Alcohol Syndrome conference approach toward FAS/FAE - and around the first of the month I will be going to the big convention in Saskatoon. The Yukon has had a very strong part to play in how we address FAS and FAE in our communities, and we will be holding the conference in the following year.
I believe that this government and previous governments have finally started on the track of trying to look at the causes of these issues.
The federal government, in its early childhood development programming and throwing additional money into helping smaller and younger children under the age of three, I think, is another way of trying to address it. We have got to look at long-term ways of doing this. You are not going to solve this problem overnight.
The health summit that were started by the former government and that we continued this past year is another way of raising the awareness of health issues, I believe. When you talk about active living right now, everybody knows what you are talking about. It's because that word has been broadcast throughout the territory. If it's any indication of what I see happening on our roads, on our streets, in our bushes, on our ski trails and so on, I think that more people are starting to realize that if they take control of their health, that means, in the long run, that it is going to save dollars from our coffers.
I don't think that we are ever going to get away from helping those people who need those kinds of supports. I believe that that is what the health care system is all about. But if we can avoid it, if we can avoid teenagers starting to smoke at the age of 13 and not carry it on and be hooked by it, then obviously that is where we have to spend our dollars.
The report card that was just recently issued by the Health department - and I think that the Health department did a wonderful job on that - was an idea that came from the Premier. She said, "You know, we need a report card, just like my child gets in school." Her child goes to Jack Hulland, she gets these report cards and she says, "I need to know how our health system is responding." And I think we were one of the first, by the way, in the country to do this kind of format. I am not saying the first to have a report card, but of that kind of nature, I think it was a good start.
We have got a lot of work to do. We have got to look at what is causing the problems, number one, and, number two, what resources we have. And I don't mean adding resources; I mean using our resources, redirecting our resources and maybe re-educating our resources or having resources re-educate the population, and then looking at how we can deliver.
I don't know if that's a good backdrop for the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, because I think, hopefully, it might give the member the view that I really believe in prevention. I've said it before, and we're not there yet, and I don't know when we are going to be there, but we have to throw almost as much money into prevention as we throw into the real rehab. If we don't, then we're going to continue throwing more money into buying more equipment, more tools; we'll need more doctors; we'll need more nurses, and so on.
Right now, we have no choice, Mr. Chair. We just don't have the doctors; we just don't have the nurses. So we have to work overtime ensuring that we keep the ones we have.
If you look at the age demographics of our nurses and doctors, guess what? It's all up at that upper age when retirement is slowly creeping up on them. We have a big gap there, so we have to do something very dramatic in the next year or two, in order to ensure we don't lose out on those services.
Mr. Keenan: The backdrop that the minister provided does give me an inside look, I guess, at what drives the Liberal medical machine, because the minister is the chief, primary spokesperson of that, and I appreciate that. I don't think you'll ever see the day that you're going to have a - well, let's hope that the minister's goal, which is a common goal, I know, of even the smokers in this room, that we want healthy lives. So, I don't expect that we're ever going to need a $125-million budget in here for prevention and, if we do, it's too late for society, at that point in time - it's too late.
I certainly appreciate that fact, or that vision, I guess, of how to spend smarter. I like the idea of redirecting because, certainly, not at all times am I going to stand here and say, "Good work, good work," because, even in redirecting and reallocating, we have two different views on such things as social assistance, and that's going to be there forever, I guess. I guess that's the difference between the right and the left.
We'll get into that much later in the debate, but certainly I agree with the idea of prevention.
Now, in the document of the campaign material that is just a year old now, it speaks about protecting our social programs and protecting the five principles of health care: universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, portability and publicly administrated. Now, it says there that the Liberal Party is very committed to that, yet it was just a few short months later when the minister was on a vacation - or maybe he was on a conference, I'm not really sure - when the Acting Minister of Health and Social Services was over meeting with the seniors and the elders of the territory and put forth an options paper. It seems to me that that options paper on the pioneer utility grant, which is a part of our health care system for elders, was a deviance from what the minister and the Liberal Party had said just a few short months before that.
I'd like to know if the minister agrees with me: is that pioneer utility grant, which is for the health and benefit of a select group of our society, albeit the elders - and I guess the elders and the youth are the most important thing to our society that they could be. That's what the elders and the youth are to us. So when we talk about a program that is universal, and then we're going to deviate from that, I was wondering if the minister would agree with me on that point. Obviously, he's not going to, but I would like that on the record if at all possible, and I'd like to know if any other programs are going to be brought forth. The reason I ask this is, yes, I certainly understand that we are a growing and ageing population and all the baby-boomers in the room are all going to get old. I guess we're all baby-boomers except for two, but even they're going to get older, and we're all getting there. So to sum it up: is there anything else on the table, and does the minister agree on the pioneer utility grant?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The five principles put forward by the federal government as the basic health principles by which we operate - we are not deviating from them, Mr. Chair. We never have, we never will, and I would hope no government in the future ever will. That's the universal character of our health care system.
When the member opposite talks about the pioneer utility grant, that's something that's very unique to the Yukon. Many jurisdictions, if not all of them except maybe some of the northern jurisdictions, have no such program. I would suggest that any programs that are kind of made-in-the-Yukon programs are always open for discussion and debate. If we can't do that and review these programs and where they're going and what the impact is going to be - just because they have been introduced and are there forever, I would suggest, Mr. Chair, that that is not really the objective. I think the objective is to always review. I think I shared in my earlier statements with the member opposite that if it means rethinking and re-looking and re-identifying, then we have to do that. That's what governments are all about, whether it's on the left or the right or down the middle.
The important issue here is the five principles that the Canada Health Act very strongly states that we are all part of. Those are unquestionable. We stick to those like glue, because those are the guiding principles for our health care system. Again, when it comes to programs that we, as Yukoners, have put in place, I would believe that, if we're going to have open discussion and open debate, go ahead and move ahead, we have to discuss them. They may not reflect the day, they may not reflect who they're serving. It could mean that we should be looking at more resources for those who need them.
These are all questions that we should always ask, whether they are more, whether they are less, or whatever.
So, I guess for the member opposite, again, for the third time, the five principles are untouched. We believe in them and we support them. Made-in-Yukon programs - I would hope that as a democracy we could have a good discussion about them. That's really what it is all about. No decisions have been made. Consultation is the name of the game. You talk to people, you hear what they have to say, you get reflection on what they think we should do, and then the governments of the day make decisions. We have made no decisions about any programs that have been made in previous times here in the Yukon. Yes, we have discussed them and we are in the process of trying to discuss some of them, but no decisions have been made.
Mr. Keenan: I will just say, forthright, that I am going to ignore the insults there, Mr. Chair, and if I feel that somebody is talking down to me, I am going to ignore that, because a great man, one who influenced me in politics - my previous Government Leader - said to me that one of the first principles was to ignore the insult and look for the issue. Because when somebody throws an insult, whether it's a smear or a duke-out or whatever it might be in-between, they are generally doing that from the point that they are frustrated and they have no other reaction. So, that's how I take that and look at that.
Now, Mr. Chair, I did ask - and I thank the minister for clarifying that he feels that anything that is not a federal program is on the table. And I appreciate him for coming clean, because that is certainly what I expected the minister to answer because I know full well that the minister is the Minister of Health in the Yukon territorial government, and although an influential player at the national scene, he is not the national scene. I know that. I have been to ministerial conferences myself, and I participated and came away with a sense of consensus and an idea of where we are going in the future. So I understand that, and the minister answered in the way that I expected him to answer.
That was only the first part of the question. The minister did not answer the second part of the question - is the department looking at anything else, other than the pioneer utility grant?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, I'm a little miffed - not miffed - I'm a little puzzled here. He was insulted by my making an underhanded statement. I don't know what I said, but I would appreciate - I'll ask the question. What did I say? What did I say that insulted the member opposite? I'm sorry. I did not say anything that I thought was insulting. I was just laying out, you know, what the principles were. If I did, I apologize, because I didn't mean to insult anybody. I'm just trying to give answers; that's all.
So, if the member's rather sensitive, I guess I'll try to choose my words a little more carefully.
As far as other specific programs, I think, as a government, we look at all programs. There's nothing specific. I believe efficiency is the name of the game - how do we deliver in a better way? How do we make sure that we address, in a better way, the needs of those who need it most? If there are vast disparities in how people are treated, then I think we have to know that as well.
He says that we're picking on this one and we're picking on that one. When I had four or five focus meetings in January - and some of my colleagues took part in them - some of the seniors felt that everything was on the table, because they recognize that we can't sustain a system that's out of control fiscally. They know that we are not going to be able to pay for everything that just keeps coming along, so how can we do a better job of what we're already doing?
I think those are some of the questions that we have to ask ourselves. We have to ask our communities; we have to ask the citizens how they would like to move ahead. It's not going to be a top down kind of thing - we do this, we do that.
Hopefully it's with that spirit of cooperation that the member opposite keeps talking about that we will go ahead with in the future. It's not one that's going to be, you know, the laying out of the facts, the laying out of the consequences, and then looking at where we want to go with this.
I don't know if that helps, but we are looking at no other specific programs; we're looking at all of them.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, the member was clarifying things until the very last sentence. So I guess I've got to go back to that. The minister said that everything's on the table, but that they are not looking at anything specific. Is that a good way to sum that up?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, the question was asked: what other specific programs are you looking at? And my response was that we're looking at them all. As a new government that would be expected. We don't just accept carte blanche that, because it was there before, it's the best way of delivering the program. That's probably why we're a different government. We have different views, different objectives, and maybe different ways of trying to achieve maybe some of the same goals, but that's why we have to look at all the issues, so that we can hopefully come up with the right decisions for the future.
Mr. Keenan: So I take it that looking at all programs and endeavouring to make them more efficient, to make them more targeted, I guess - okay, I understand that. But there is not a schedule of four years' administration saying that we're going to look at this this year, we're going to look at this year, and right now we're doing a review on all, and we're looking at this. I see the minister nodding his head on the opposite side, so I'll take that as a positive.
Well, let's stop and talk about this a bit, then. The minister used some inflammatory language. Now, if you use that inflammatory language, when you go into a meeting with seniors - and the minister did. I see the minister smiling; I bet the minister did. He said the system is out of control. Well, Mr. Chair, I beg to differ; I don't think the system is out of control. If you go to a meeting with seniors - and it's not consultation. I beg to differ with the minister; it is not consultation. Consultation is when you book a room in a community - Whitehorse is a community, and there are many communities in the territory - you have a discussion paper out there, and you circulate it to the community, and individuals within the community say, "By golly, that is pertinent to me and dear to me, and I'm going to go and discuss that."
That's consultation. When the department or a minister comes through with a paper with two options on it, it's an options paper. It's not a consultation paper. I understand where the minister is coming from, but I am pointing that out. I think it was done a bit awkwardly. If you want people to buy in - especially if you want this side of the House to buy in - I can't speak for that side of the House, only for myself and my colleagues, and I think I can speak for some of the citizenry that I represent - then we should do that. We should talk to them. We should say that this is what we're thinking and this is how it could work, and it's got to be efficient, because these are some of the problems.
If it's done in that context and people buy in, then I think we're working toward a common goal. I can buy into that. I might not buy into the decision of it, but it's a process. At least there's a bona fide process that's transparent, so that people can say, "That affects me or my family and I want to buy into it." That's a lot different from saying, "Well, we're thinking, in the backroom here, that we're going to do this, because, holy moly, we're in here for three years, and gee, I've got clout in Management Board anyway, so this is what we're going to do." That's not buying in.
So, I would like, I guess, to know the process, so that I can speak to the people about the process. But I would like to stop right here, at this point in time, and thank the minister or someone within the department for finally getting back to a constituent of mine, Mr. Koser. I just received a letter from Mr. Koser thanking me for raising his issues. I think that he also thanked the minister, or whoever the bureaucrat was who signed the letter, for getting back to him.
I think that we can learn a lesson from that in process - that if there is going to be a process, we have to have buy-in to it. It is communication. It's ongoing communication. I will even take a shot myself, right now. I represented that gentleman for three years previous to that, so it's not, "You're to blame" or " I am to blame." It's "How can we make it better?" We will leave the blaming or the duke-out, I guess, for here, and really try to calm the duke-out down.
We've got very short years in this Legislature. At least in some cases I hope that they are short. But we all have short years, Mr. Chair, and if we make the fundamental decisions on behalf of the people, it has to be a clear and very transparent process.
So that is the process that I just spoke about. And I have another point to this, I guess. Would the minister like to stop and answer that question on process for me at this time? Maybe we can do it that way.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The member opposite described exactly what we are trying to do when we consult - or at least when we did what we call "focus groups" with our seniors. The objective there was to show them the long-term financial picture over the next four or five years. Then, we would look at where our pressing increases were taking place and ask seniors, "What should happen? What do you think should happen? What should we do here?". Not coming out saying, "Well, we should do this and do that" and do everything else that we think should happen. We were asking for input from people who probably know best.
I would suggest that most people feel very, very strongly about how they want to work as a team. They recognize that this whole issue of cost of health care is not something that just came about in the last year. This has been going on for years.
I understand the member opposite, by saying it's out of control. I make those comments not because I'm trying to be inflammatory, but I'm also trying to look at where the costs are probably the hardest to really control, and that's in health care because when you have an accident, you know you have to deal with it. Here in the Yukon you can have one accident, and it could cost us a million dollars, and a million dollars, as the member opposite well knows, is a big hit for the Yukon government. In the provinces, it's probably not as big a hit, but here it is.
So, really trying to consult with people in an honest way is the only way that I believe we must proceed. Hopefully, what the member opposite has described is the approach that we would like to use and have been using already, and we want to build on it.
Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I thank the minister for that, and I thank the minister for clarifying the "system out of control" comment, because it's that type of comment - that inflammatory type of comment - if taken out of context - and the minister put it into context for me so I can say, and get this, coming from me: that was a poor choice of language. It was not a good choice of language. So you explained it to me so that I can understand it. If that's the ultimate goal of government, then we have to be able to understand what the ultimate goal of government would be, and then people would buy in.
Now, this is the next stage of the question, I guess, if I could. When the department goes to the seniors and the seniors say, "Molly needs something more than Minnie does, and don't worry about me because I'm okay and I can look after myself" - I have heard that from seniors in this community of Yukon of ours and in northern Canada in general, because we in northern Canada have a different mindset from folks from outside.
We have a bit of a different mindset, and maybe it's because there are only, I don't know, 30,000 of us here, and I know there are 300 in the Northwest Territories, and I don't know how many in Nunavut, so let's say that there are not even half a million people north of 60. And we have unique aspiration, we have unique needs and those types of things.
But don't ever lose sight of the fact that a lot of the indigenous people come from a very, very traditional background. I won't get into my philosophical view at this point in time, but, at some point in time I would like to sit down and share with the minister that philosophical view.
There was a traditional lifestyle where you could more focus that traditional lifestyle that says, "Here's working for the belly." It looked after those real basic needs - the bacon and eggs, the medicines and those types of things.
Those people have travelled this land for all of those years and then along comes the contemporary economy in which a lot of those folks didn't fit, and they're right at this point in time now moving in. I'm not sure if I have the minister's attention or not. If he's discussing a newspaper with the deputy minister, I don't think I have the attention of the minister.
I did say that this was going to be more about policy. I want to get into the minister's head. I want to find out, so I can get a deeper understanding of the decision-making process that the minister puts himself through. Then I might be able to buy into that, or something, or I might be able to critique and offer pointers, to say, "You're in power, and I accept that, but this is how I can have input into it."
I know the minister rejected the all-party committee. He explained that in his own way, but this is my only chance to stand on the floor of the House and have this type of debate with the minister.
So, as folks enter a contemporary economy from the traditional economy, they don't have the background, they don't have the wealth that you and I have worked for for all of our lives. Whether we have accumulated that and held on to that wealth is a different story, but we've had the opportunity to work toward that. So you and I, if we're lucky, when we retire, we're going to have whatever it is that we're going to have through our financial wranglings, I guess. But other people in the territory never had that opportunity. What they have in their wealth is a culturally rich, very culturally diverse wealth. It doesn't really translate into something that, if you put it into your wallet and you sit in a chair, is going to hold you two inches higher in the air. It doesn't do it in that manner.
So for the minister to assume that all seniors in the territory are on an equal footing is wrong. If the minister does not assume that and that all seniors can describe or take a hit, maybe - or maybe that's not a good choice of words - in their pioneer utility grant, say, or give up some of the pioneer utility grant so that others might have more, I was wondering how do we go about establishing that basic needs level? What is the formula for this basic needs level that we're going to give to Minnie that Molly can't have because Minnie's got something over Molly? What is it? Is it a financial arrangement? Is it a social arrangement? Is it a cultural arrangement? Is it a combination of all those things? But how would we describe a basic needs level, and what is the process to get to a basic needs level?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Again, I appreciate the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes bringing forward some of the philosophies that he believes in. I really think that that's important.
I guess, just to respond to one comment that the member made about me not paying attention, I was listening with one ear, but also was handed the paper here - the Yukon News. I don't always embellish the Yukon News, but the title here caught my attention. It reads, "Nurse practitioners to the rescue." I was just sharing with my official here that this is really where we're going. Nurse practitioners to the rescue, because we don't have the sort of plentiful doctors that we've had in the past. That was what I was commenting on.
The second point was that the member was disappointed that we did not accept the all-party motion toward recruitment. There are a couple of reasons why we didn't do that. The member opposite didn't mention those couple of reasons, but I will, for the record, again. The first was that when we proposed the all-party committee to set up boards and committees, the members opposite refused. So, all of a sudden, they're on to an all-party committee again - one that suits them. We have still not enacted the all-party committee for the boards and committees, because the members opposite refused to take part. To suddenly jump on board and say that they're going to do an all-party committee for recruitment would have been a contradiction. We don't believe in contradictions; we believe in consistency.
The other part of that is that we are just moving into our second phase of recruitment of doctors, nurses and health care professionals. We have just finished the report, and it will be forthcoming in the next little bit here. The members opposite will obviously be able to see it, as well, so it would have been rather presumptuous for us to jump into this when so much work has already gone into the second phase of the whole issue of recruitment. It's not that we don't want input from the members opposite, it's just that we're at a different stage in trying to get to where I think the member opposite wants us to go.
For the members opposite, we are always interested in how we work together. I think that's very important, but it can't always be on the terms that the members opposite set. There has to be an agreement according to which we collectively set terms, and that hasn't always been clear and transparent for the members opposite. Yes, we recognize that they have had experience in government, and we would like to use some of that experience to make better decisions, but we have to be able to sit down together and come up with what I call common grounds as to how we approach it.
Hopefully, that may clarify a bit of how we see us working together. It can't be just on one side. It has to be collectively together. We have other examples, too, of where we have tried to work with the members opposite and they have refused, so obviously, the government of the day has taken certain steps to move ahead instead of backwards. And we don't want to do that, Mr. Chair. We want to work together.
So, I hope those kinds of responses will help a bit in trying to set the tone as to how we should work together. Now, if that's called undercutting or harsh words, it's just some facts. I'm just trying to present the facts as they are.
I appreciate the fact that I will not always have all the answers the member from the other side wants to hear, but I hope we will come fairly close together, because we're really looking at how we can help Yukoners.
When you look at the issue of helping and what issues we're going to take there, as far as how that's going to be done, I guess these are words coming out of the mouths of seniors when they talk about how we should help others. These are not my words. I'm just being a conduit for what they are saying.
And you're right. Maybe sometimes they'll say that they can help others when really they're not in a position to do that either, Mr. Chair.
So, hopefully, what we're going to be doing here over the next while is listening to what people and Yukoners have to say as to how we can better the system. If I'm repeating something that I have heard, it's only because I'm repeating it. It's not necessarily because I believe in it. I might believe in it, but it doesn't necessarily mean I do believe in it. I'm just sharing what some of our very esteemed people and our seniors and elders have to say, and I think they have some very good observations. They have come through a system where they had no health care, period. And when they see what we have today and how we're going to sustain it for the future, they're very concerned. They're concerned about it not only for themselves, but for the next generation coming along.
So I think that, hopefully, it is with that give and take that we try to come up with conclusions. We are not going to be rushing into any hasty decisions. I would hope that these decisions will be made with input from all resources, including the members from the other side.
Mr. Keenan: I will stay away from the debate on Wednesday, although I will quickly point out that the minister, in two and a half minutes on his feet, provided more information to the Wednesday debate than two and a half hours in debate on Wednesday. I have got to say that I thank the minister very much for being able to condense a two-and-a-half-hour speech to a two-and-a-half-minute, factual statement. I appreciated that very much and we could probably have got into another debate on Wednesday. The minister sort of skirted all around but did not answer specifically, but alluded to a couple of points of consultation. Does the minister have guiding principles that he is following through this endeavour?
This is not a set-up question or anything like as such. I ask for principles. I can give the minister some of my ideas on principles or considerations, if the minister would like, if the minister does not have principles. Would that work?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I am glad that I don't have any principles, as long as the member opposite says it, but I believe I do. I think principles are based on what you are, who you are, and where you want to go. And, I think that it is very important for us to understand that we as government are really guides as to where Yukoners want to go, wherever it may be - whether it's economics or whether it's health or whether it's education.
We try to touch base with Yukoners, and that means looking at the basic principles of what's fair to all. Then I would appreciate that that is one of our principles, right there. I think people want to be treated fairly and equally. They want to have access. I also think we must present challenges as to what we as individuals must also put into the equation. It's not a matter of just sitting and accepting and getting.
The one thing that I have found in my role in government, and I probably didn't realize this when I was sitting out there as one of the taxpayers and as one of the Yukoners who, from time to time, would criticize government, was the expectations that Yukoners have of government.
I guess what we have to do is sort of look at what we can do, as Yukoners, to help move along the principles of trying to help each other. We have to protect those things that are very basic, like health. We have to ensure that we provide the support when we need it. We must ensure that people are treated equally. I think that's very important, Mr. Chair. It doesn't matter where they come from, what part of the nation they come from, what part of the land they live off or where they come from in the territory, we have to treat people equally and also recognize that we can't have the same kind of care in Pelly that we're going to have in Whitehorse. It's just not realistic.
Now, if people expect to have the same care in Pelly that we have in Whitehorse, then we have to make sure that we clarify the roles that we have here.
I hear from the Member for Klondike quite often that we have two-tiered, three-tiered - the Member for Klondike is up to about four-tiered now - system, but that comes with where you live, Mr. Chair.
What we're trying to do is to offer, as best we can, that support you need, when you need it, but we also have to recognize, Mr. Chair, that we have individual responsibilities to ensure that we're doing our best to make the system work.
So I think that's very important. To say I have listed, in my office there, these principles, you know, of great sayings - I haven't. I just believe that I must do my part. My role as the Minister of Health and Social Services is to help others achieve their goals. I have worked with youth all my career. My goal was to ensure that we maximize their potential, and we try to do it right across the board - intellectually, physically, spiritually, emotionally. And there are many ways of doing it. So I think those are some of the goals that we have to look at.
Of course, tied to it, Mr. Chair, is that the bottom of the barrel is always in sight. We must be fiscally responsible. We can't expect just to throw money at it and expect something to be done. We have to look at what is going to work for us as individuals. Hopefully that may provide some clarity. If it doesn't, I'm sure the member opposite will tell me, and I'll carry on from there.
Mr. Keenan: How about a five-minute break, Mr. Chair? Just quickly.
Chair: Five minutes.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Mr. Keenan: I'd like to thank the House for their indulgence. I appreciate it.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to commend the minister for a good job of spin. The spin is on the principles. I never did say to the minister that he has no principles. I would never stoop that low, to say that people are not principle driven. That is not what I meant at all, and I want that clarified, being that the minister said I was saying that he had no principles. We all have to be people of principle if we're going to be representing constituents in this House.
The principles I was talking about are these: how are we going to identify a formula? Is this formula going to be purely a fiscal formula? Is it going to take into consideration, for instance, an extended family in a rural community, and does that help to alleviate a medical or a health need? Those types of things.
I heard the minister speak a few moments ago about - I was thinking of urban and rural, and the minister clarified that he'd take that into consideration. I guess the fiscal reality of how much that person would have if it comes through - all those types of things: the location, the cultural background as it alludes to whatever that particular culture might have in terms of holding up a family or protecting an elder or something like as such, or learning from that elder. Those are the types of principles I was talking about. When we start delving into and identifying what that basic need is, it gets very personal for people. It gets to be almost, "Well, what are you asking these types of questions for?"
Some people just don't want government assistance, and others do. But it's going to be a tricky little thing. It probably could be done. I don't think that the Yukon Territory is the only jurisdiction with a program of this nature - the utility grants. I understand that Mr. Klein just brought one in to bring down the costs. I think Mr. Klein extended that to all Albertans, because they are in a different situation than we are. It was a program that was particular to Alberta, but it also has some type of peculiarity, I guess you might say, to the Yukon Territory. So, it's not just a one-jurisdiction type of initiative. You might be able to - no, please. I don't mean the department when I said "you". I don't want the department to go and ask Mr. Klein anything about health care. I almost suggested that. Stay away from Alberta.
Those are the types of issues I mean as principles. They are guiding principles. Is that a better way of describing it? They are guiding principles to take into consideration all of those issues. How do we do that? I know that some First Nation elders and seniors don't receive pension plans and things like that. It is going to be touchy and tricky. I would really suggest that if government is going to go out and do that, it should put some really good thought to it. It should say to the elders and seniors of the territory, "This is where we want to go." I'm sure you will have buy-in. It may be reluctant in some cases, but you will have buy-in.
I would like to see that process be very defined.
I will just go here for a bit if I may. The minister spoke about tobacco and cigarettes and prevention and putting, I think it was, a penny per cigarette tax on it so that we could just bring it more to people's attention. Does the minister have anything else up the minister's sleeve in terms of prevention of that? I guess, what I see is the Government of British Columbia taking the tobacco giants to court. Are there other issues that we have up our back sleeve?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Just to mention - the member opposite mentioned Alberta with their utility grant - all of my relatives live in Alberta and they found it just fantastic as a great lead-up to the Alberta election there to get all of these positive bank accounts with their utilities. They thought it was great and a very good lead-up to an election that was held, by the way, and won by Mr. Klein. You know, obviously there were circumstances that necessitated topping up everybody's utility bill. Well, it may not be a principle, but obviously it worked for Mr. Klein. So, I guess when it comes to elections, you can do anything when you've got a $7-billion surplus. The member opposite is correct that there are other jurisdictions that have pioneer utility grants but many of them, if not all of them, are based on income tax. Obviously for those people who have more, it is clawed back. Right now in the Yukon, we don't have that. I am not suggesting that we are going that route but I am just giving a response to the member opposite or how some of the systems work in other parts of the country.
In response to your question about the tobacco, I guess when I hear that over 30 percent of our cancer cases are tobacco-related - I know of at least two people now who are going through these last stages of life, and I'm feeling very sad, but they're also smokers. I guess if they could do it over again, they probably wouldn't be smoking. So it is a very serious problem; it's a very serious problem for them, obviously, at this point in time. For us to sort of take on the tobacco companies with our small population would be almost impossible.
There was some talk at one time, I understand, of working with a larger jurisdiction like B.C., which was taking on these big corporations. We're not in the discussion mode at this time because there are other priorities right now in B.C., so I would expect that when these priorities are over and done with, hopefully we can get on with it and try to partner with some of the larger provinces so that we could move in that direction. I agree. I think a disservice has been done to all smokers, and now that they're hooked, it's very hard to get off. I understand that, but, on the other hand, we've got to look at ways and means of avoiding this in the future. So if that is going to be one of the ways, then hopefully we can throw our support into that area.
Mr. Keenan: I thank the minister for presenting his thoughts on tobacco and the idea that the minister might be able to join forces in the future with other jurisdictions on that. I appreciate the forthrightness.
Just to go back to the universality of our own particular programming - the pioneer utility grant - about two years ago, I had instructed the Department of Community and Transportation Services to have a look at how the rural services that are provided match up to the taxes that people pay.
Now, I know this isn't Health. but what I'm saying is, within government and Community and Transportation Services, there is this paper, and it draws a match between taxation and the services provided. I remember looking at it and getting quite excited about it, if you can get excited about taxation and rural services - but I did get excited about it, because I saw the benefits of it.
It might be worthwhile just to have a very cursory read, just to see if there's anything in there in terms of process or guiding principles that might work in this situation, so we can catch all, I guess, or all interested thoughts and talks.
I will deviate a little bit right here and talk about the debate Wednesday. Now, the minister said that they felt, as a government and a government caucus, that they could not enter into an all-party committee on recruitment at this point in time because the official opposition - I take it it's just the official opposition, and not the third party there, because that has its own dimensions.
I take exception to that because when we as the official opposition were approached to sit on a committee of boards and committees, the work was basically done.
Now, the minister might not want to admit that, but therein lies the answer. The work was done. We felt as the official opposition that, if we were going to be partaking in this kind of board, it should be all and that we would work toward that end. So, it's not that the plum patronage appointments were made at this point in time and that it's all done, and then you guys come.
When I offer my advice, direction or energy, I offer my total advice and energy and all the goodness that comes with it. There is goodness that comes with it, because I don't look at the issue of politics at that point in time. I'm looking at the issue - the real issue. So when I spoke about trying to find a way to enable a good brainstorming session - and it might not have been possible, but I certainly wanted to try to do that. It was with that type of spirit and energy, because the recruitment process that we're in - I'm not a member of Management Board. I understand that - and I know I don't have as good an understanding as Management Board, caucus and Cabinet do of the fiscal reality - but, holy moly, we are getting beat out there. We're getting trumped by other jurisdictions.
The minister just said it, that it was Klein. There is a billion dollars in surplus and things like that, and to just throw it out at this point in time - we have to get more competitive. If government caucus thinks that this is an issue they want to tackle head-on, I congratulate caucus for tackling that issue and bringing forth a budget of this magnitude.
We could be helpful to it, but I guess the process is already in place. All I can encourage the government to do at this point in time is to put the resources to it. I think the Northwest Territories spent $3 million - and I'm reaching back into my memory here a bit - for designated people to sit here. We have California, as I said, off on surfboards, and New York and the theatre, and Malaysia and all these other people. If we're going to ever come and alleviate this problem through that as only one mechanism, then we have to put more resources to it.
So, I congratulate the minister for coming up with the idea, and I congratulate the minister for putting the locum support as an issue within there, but if we don't have a reliever to relieve the people that need to be relieved, then it's kind of a moot point.
So, I would appreciate if, at some point in time, we could become more aggressive with that recruitment, so that we could have people out there. Now, that's only one side, one issue out there. Right now, we have a world shortage of professionals - nurses and doctors, those types of people; I'll just lump them in as professionals - we have to get very aggressive. We're not going to ever be able to offer up the waves that California has, or the Broadway theatres that New York has, or the tax incentives that Alberta has, but we do have other things to offer. It might be a means of looking at the students, our youth, whom we have in the room with us today, to encourage them to go on. Would it be in the minister's mind to be able to reach out and look at these different types of avenues where, I don't know what it would be, a brainstorming session? Maybe if I were in a brainstorming session as I am right now, I guess, I'd throw out, "Could we pay off all their student loans for them? Could we get them to guarantee that they'd be coming home for two months?" I believe it was the minister himself who stood on his feet in this House on Wednesday and said that he has a son who is a doctor and that that son is located here in the Yukon.
What a success story, what a success story - and I think that the minister should be proud that his son -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Keenan: Your son-in-law? Pardon me.
What a success story that you would still have some type of influence to be able to do that.
So there are other ways, I guess, of looking at things. Would the minister be willing to look at those types of issues, and does the minister have any other ideas of recruitment other than what he has already focused on?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I really appreciate the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes being really concerned about this. I think that this is an issue that we all should be very concerned about. I appreciate the fact that you have come forward with more questions and more thoughts on how we can proceed in the future.
I guess that one of the things that we have to really look at is that we as a government have sat down with the YMA and the YRNA and have actually had their input to these different stages in our recruitment package, which I believe is very important. We did not say that we have all of the ideas or the department has all of the ideas. We actually sat down with the front-line practitioners who came forward and sat down with us and said, "Okay, this is what we think will work. This is where we think we should go. This is how we should approach different areas and issues in the communities" and so on. So we are very, very pleased about being able to do that.
I feel, a little bit, the chagrin of the members opposite for not being able to be part of this, but I think that we were kind of ahead of the gun a bit. You know, we were out there all ready to go with our second phase; the second phase is just about in place. I guess I would just make a couple of observations. This weekend I went to my cabin out at Crag Lake and really let the sun pour in because it was peace and quiet. I didn't have any radios or telephones. I could just listen to what nature was telling me. It is interesting that, when you go back and forth, there was a discussion on nursing, and on the weekend they had some discussion about how this is a very serious problem in Canada, that the president of the Canadian Nurses Association, I guess you would call it, is looking at close to a quarter of a billion dollars from the federal government to promote nursing so that we could get on with it.
We recognize there's a big problem. I don't remember the lady's name, but I know that she was on the radio, and they were commenting on how this is almost essential. Now, we haven't got any of those dollars. I think all the provinces and territories are doing the best job they can with the resources they have.
Just another observation, this morning, listening to the radio - I try not to listen to it too much, but I from time to time fail in keeping that sort of promise, and so I do listen to it - they had on CBC three families that have returned to the Yukon. You know, we may not have Broadway and we may not have Hollywood, but guess what? A lot of people don't want those particular things. We have something even greater, and I think the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes knows what that is. It's the fresh air, it's the freedom, it's the small communities, it's getting to know people, and it's getting to work for a future for their children. They were talking about the education system; they were talking about a lot of the things that they found to be a big advantage here. Some of them were in Edmonton, some of them were down east, and they would just love to return. Some are still outside, holding their job down, and half the family is here because they just felt that they did not fit outside any more because of what we have to offer. So we do have something to offer, very, very clearly.
I think the important issue for us in this whole area of phase 2 in the recruitment and retention - not to keep it all hush-hush and secret. There have been some very interesting discussions that have taken place with our doctors and our nurses. Even though many jurisdictions have talked about alternate payment plans, we already do some of that. If this suits a doctor who would like to relocate here, we're open to it, you know, rather than a fee for service. So we want to move on. If doctors want to stay with a fee for service, fine, we're not going to change that, either. If they're happy with a fee for service, then we're not changing that, either. There are different ways of looking at it. In Yellowknife, as I talked about last Wednesday, all the doctors are on contract. I'll qualify that - most of the doctors are on contract. There are about five or six who are still on fee for service, so there is a bit of a transition going on there.
There are no two jurisdictions that have the same recruitment and retention package, because each jurisdiction is so different, and it's very hard to compare. I always ask, what's the bottom line for nurses and doctors? And that's not easy to arrive at; there's no simple answer to that, I find, because there are different attractions and detractions in each area, so they all have to be considered when we're looking at providing packages. Hopefully this second round - this second phase, as we call it, phase 2 - has rolled into there some attractions that will, number one, address the crisis of maintaining our doctors here. I think that's number one. We want to keep our doctors here, so we're trying to address those issues.
Now, these are just thoughts and ideas at this point. They still have to move to caucus, and they still have to go to Cabinet, and they still have to go to Management Board, because obviously there will probably be implications. So, it's not just a matter of saying they all want to be treated, because anything you do requires additional resources.
So, hopefully, we're looking at creative ways, be it helping Yukon students. I'd like to encourage our pages here, if they want to be a doctor or a nurse or a health care professional, get on with it, because there's potential there; there's a career for you and, guess what? It's in Canada - you don't have to go to the States. In the 1980s, they had to go to the States. I can recall, many times, nurses were being laid off all over the place, and doctors were having difficulty finding - not necessarily as badly as nurses - complete practices. I remember here we had to close practices for a while, until that was found unconstitutional.
So, I think there are some issues here about how we can be creative. Again, I invite the members opposite. I mean, this is ongoing. We have come to phase 2; we're going to have to go to phase 3, probably a phase 4 - it's ongoing because, as long as we have a crisis, we're going to have to look at creative ways of trying to solve this very important issue.
By the way, Mr. Chair, it's not just doctors and nurses, it's all health care professionals - radiologists, people who work in the labs here, the pharmacists, it's social workers - the same thing. We're going to have problems. In the future, it's going to be teachers, in another year or two, so it's not just one area.
Mr. Keenan: Well, I always get mixed emotions when I stand and talk to the minister, because we can stand and talk like this, then I'll give my ideas - they're good ideas - and we can interact with one another. I certainly appreciate that, because we're getting beyond the politics. Yet when it comes time - let me bring forth another motion for phase 2, all-party commitment in phase 2, because phase 1 is over.
I hear the minister encouraging me to bring forth ideas, and I appreciate that, but I'm not being mean or malicious. I'm laying out the point there that we've got to get beyond the politics. I appreciate that.
Another thing the minister might be able to work on - and maybe the minister is working on it at this point in time, because we talked about education of the folks - is the community health representatives, the CHRs. I know it's DIAND or maybe it's a federal program of some sort, mixed in through self-government. I remember the development of that program. It was around 1988 or something like as such when there was a recruitment drive. We looked at who was aware in the communities. There were lots of people who were excited about the idea of becoming a community health representative. I don't think that a community health representative is too doggone far away from being a nurse, I guess. They encounter the same types.
Is there anything within the minister's mind or the department that might be able to bridge the gap between the CHR and a local nurse?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I guess just to again make the point that phase 2 is just about complete. The submission is being made right now and it will be in my hot little hands in the next few hours - a week, anyway. I will be seeing it. So, hopefully, after that, we will be sharing it. I would suggest that for the future, yes, I would like to see some ways that we can work together.
I believe again we're at sort of a defining time in trying to look at how we can build on our CHRs and how we can build on our capacity to increase and develop some of their skills. We currently have a bursary program for nurses, which is open to Yukon students. It doesn't mean that's the end of it. I think DIAND also has programs that are supportive and also will build on this need.
So, again, I would be open to future ideas, other thoughts in this area as to how we can develop it even more. I can't make a commitment at this point, but I believe we have to be as creative as we can and we have to get ideas out of the box that are maybe going to sound rather way out but they may respond to some of our needs.
Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, the member knows I have a hearing problem so I'd just like to reiterate - was that a quarter-of-a-million-dollar new federal program or a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar new federal program? And was that strictly for nurse development and retention?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: For clarification, Mr. Chair, what I heard on the radio - and I'm just going to repeat what I heard - the Canadian Nurses Association has requested close to a quarter of a billion dollars, $250 million, from the federal government, to throw into the development and encouragement and recruitment of nurses for all of Canada. Obviously we, as Yukoners, will probably get some of that if it ever comes to pass. We know it's in a crisis mode right now, as I shared with you earlier. This "Nurse practitioners to the rescue" headline is here in today's paper and has been in every paper that I know of over the last number of months. So I think it's important that we put more pressure on the federal government to come forward with these dollars, because we don't have a lot of extra dollars, as we all know, and yet we need these very important people in our health care system.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Chair, I would very much encourage the minister to find a way to lobby his federal counterparts in the development of that, I think, very much-needed program. And if it's coming from the nurses themselves and if the government would form a partnership at every level - whether it's territorial or provincial, First Nation, national or local - we should be putting that pressure on the government.
I appreciate the minister saying that he will lobby far and hard. I'm just wondering if the minister has sent a letter, and if not, will the minister send a letter on behalf of the department and the Yukon? Or does the minister want to bring a motion to this House so we can bring it out and show them that we're very serious, in a collective way, about doing that? I would encourage the minister to look at that and if the minister does have a letter, I would encourage him to table the letter that he has sent. If the minister has not sent the letter and has nothing to table, could the minister send the letter and then table the letter? I'd very much appreciate having a copy of it, if I may, so we can put out that collective clout.
We were talking just a moment ago about lifestyles. There was an unfortunate accident in Teslin this weekend, and I didn't come into town until bright and early this morning, so I, too, live in a little spot much like the minister, only mine is Teslin Lake, not Crag Lake. I don't get radio or anything like that down there. I've got a movie channel, but it's always outside business. So I was kind of in limbo coming into town this morning. I did hear CBC, and I said, "Aha, there's another one. Come on home." So many people are that way, in that this is home, and it takes that trip outside for them to trigger their internal fortitude or whatever it might be. But this is home. So I heard that, and I was happy to see that people are coming back because of the uniqueness of the Yukon.
We do have that uniqueness of Yukon to bring the technicians, the nurses, the doctors, whoever they may be, and to let them live the lifestyle that they so choose to live. Whether it's working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, or whether it's working five days a week, four hours a day, we need those professionals.
The reason why I say a part-time doctor is to defend the previous Minister of Health, who was taken completely out of context when he said that. I guess that's all I'm going to say to that point. When it comes to part-time doctors, the minister wasn't saying, "Well, they only work part-time anyway, and what the heck." That's not the way it was meant at all. We do have all this opportunity, and I would encourage part-time doctors to come into some of my territory, into the Yukon, where it's needed the most, because we do need them.
It's interesting that during the Liberal campaign, they said that they would work directly with communities to ensure that each community is staffed with adequate numbers of doctors and nurse practitioners. Now, if ever there was such a motherhood statement, there's the motherhood statement, and now the minister realizes that it's definitely a motherhood statement and that maybe every community will not be able to get a doctor, or that not every community will be able to get a nurse.
Last week, the minister spoke about working with the community of Haines Junction in the Member for Kluane's riding, and about a little bit of give-and-take this way, and we have a solution.
Against that backdrop, I'll take you back to last fall's debate, I believe it was, when I asked the same question, maybe with bad spirits around me so it came out angry, or something like such. But I asked the question of process, and about how we go about identifying the need in the community of a doctor, nurse, technician, whatever. I felt really spoken down to that day, because the minister basically accused me of saying, "I haven't heard that, I don't know that, so there isn't a problem."
Yet, I became aware of the problem that some folks need that comfort level. They need to know that, if they are living there, because I think that the minister said that Pelly shouldn't expect the same doctor service that Whitehorse should have. I think that a lot of folks understand that - that if you live in these areas, it is not a different tiered system but certainly the services are not as readily available because of all these reasons. I think that most folks understand that. That was actually why I commissioned the rural service taxation paper, to bring that type of information out and about.
But what I would like the minister to do is define, orally, if the minister can do it, or, if there is nothing there in policy, to look at a policy or a memorandum of some sort that would trigger a process. I am speaking of Tagish, and the minister knows that I am speaking of Tagish. Tagish has the highest number of seniors per capita in the Yukon Territory. I have chatted with some of them, and you know, some of them have been in the territory for 90 years. They have spoken to me about the trials and how they have had to take building materials to Tagish 50 years ago because it was so far out. It was a wilderness journey. Now, today, it is a bedroom commute for a lot of the professionals who work in Whitehorse. They drive every day to Tagish.
The seniors who live there, in some cases, don't have a telephone. They live on a road that would not be plowed on a regular basis, or it's not the first priority. The first priority is the highway, then the school route and those types of things. They want some comfort and they need some comfort. So, now that we have had half of this winter to think about those issues, I was wondering if the minister has anything in policy or on paper in terms of a community-driven process, I guess. Not an MLA-driven process, but a community-driven process, as to whether there is a need, how you identify that need, and whether we can take that in conjunction with the next budget process of allocating a nurse or whatever.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I guess just to mention a couple more things, I find that so many things are happening in this whole area of recruitment and retention that I don't want to give it all to you at once. It's not always remembered. I think it's best if I dribble it out.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: No, I don't think I meant that. It's just that there's so much. There are volumes.
We've had two nurses go outside to find a job. They did with no problem. I think one is in Edmonton and the other is in Vancouver. Within months, they were back in the Yukon, because yes, they were offering them good jobs with maybe a signing bonus and other things, but they found that when they got there, there wasn't that sense of community or responsibility. They didn't feel that they were part of solutions; they felt that they were just a body. I think that's another thing we have to offer, as Yukoners, in recruitment.
Another part is that we've just got together with Tourism. There are going to be joint advertisements going out, and they are already in place. I think the member opposite well knows that. It probably happened under -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: No? It's something recent? Okay, I won't give credit where credit is not due. This has come from my esteemed colleague here, who has worked with the Health department in trying, again, to do a double-shot. Thanks for keeping me informed, fellow member. It is in the works - in process.
The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes asks if we have sort of a plan. I think the member opposite knows that there is a plan out there that has been used in the past. It's called the community health plan. It's a plan in which the department works with communities, trying to build on what they believe are their needs in a community.
When the doctor was being assigned to Mayo, this plan was in place before the doctor actually came on board. It was a community-driven activity. Haines Junction, when we went through this process this last time around with looking at what they wanted - whether they wanted a full-time doctor or whether they wanted a part-time doctor or a visiting doctor - again, that was worked out with the community, trying to build on what their needs are and what they believe should happen in the community. That wasn't driven by the department. There were a lot of rumours out there that it was being driven by the department and de-da, de-da. So, hopefully the more we share with individuals and communities and so on, it's very important to have the desire of the community moved forward, not the desire of the department or my desire. It's the communities that have to live with whatever decisions are made.
Does it mean we did it perfectly or do we do it perfectly every time? I would say not. We try our best. My assistant here went out there last week to meet with the First Nation's chief and council in Haines Junction and had a good dialogue as to what worked in the process and what didn't work. Is it closed forever? No, Mr. Chair. We're really trying to work on how we want to move in the future. We received some good advice and we expect that there is going to be more advice coming back to us. So, there is one in place.
Now, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes knows full well that when the Teslin community health plan was put in place it was a community-driven activity. It's a plan that, I think, reflects what the community wanted, where they want it to go and how they want to see the future. That's another model that serves to give us a good example of how a community can build on what they have.
The question about Tagish and that area - my suggestion would be that two or three or four individuals, or a community, get together and maybe work in cooperation with the department, looking at building a community health plan. Of course, there's always the reality of trying to even fill the positions we have, and looking at what we have in Carcross and what we have here in Whitehorse.
That's not prejudgement; those are just kind of realities.
So, I would suggest there are ways and means to address their concerns, using their resources, using the department's resources, and working together.
Mr. Keenan: That's certainly refreshing after the statement I got in reply last session. It's something I can promote and hold on to, that I can speak to when I'm in the community, because I think it's very important that the minister understand that - The minister says it's not him; it's not the department. Well, it's not me either. I only come out and represent what I hear and, in some cases, I talk to the people from the voice of experience to say, "Look at it in all these different lights so you might be able to come to a decision."
So I will. I'll take that back to the community. I'll let the community know that there is a vehicle of identification. I will inform the Tagish advisory committee, because they're certainly only an advisory committee to the Minister of C&TS, but I think if they advised the Minister of C&TS, then it would be passed on to the Department of Health. I don't see where that would be a jurisdictional problem. Or would the minister see that as being a jurisdictional problem? Would the Tagish advisory committee be a vehicle that I might send a letter to and talk to them about it? Would they have jurisdiction?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Keenan: Okay, thank you very much. I got a positive from the minister on that, and I appreciate that.
On the community health plan model, I get torn sometimes between the needs of the community and the professional who is delivering the service, because I understand where the professional comes from and I understand the workload that that professional bears. Then, if I look at the community and some of the elders' needs as they speak to their needs, I also look at it from a different light. I try to look at everything holistically in every which way and try to make sure that it's not personality-driven. It's not Molly doesn't like Minnie, and Minnie says this about Molly. I never, ever want to get into those duke-outs; and I say, "You kids grow up," whether they're 80 or whether they're eight, and I back out the door.
But the conflicts are happening, and I hear a lot of these conflicts myself. I don't bring them to the minister and I don't bring them to the department, because I try to stickhandle it myself through the system. I guess what I'm talking about is maybe some of the elders' needs in the community of Teslin, because Teslin is a community that is probably 60 miles long along the Alaska Highway. If you go right from Johnsons Crossing to Morley River, that's kind of the community of Teslin. Now, the reality of the community of Teslin is that it's only a kilometre long, and they have that jurisdiction. But all of those folks who are outside - and there are a few, the elders - they want these types of services. So I try to stickhandle that, and I go there and say, hey, you know, and try and get that joviality back into working with one another so they can forget about what the grandson did or whatever made them angry that day.
That's not working all the time, and I have a bit of that challenge on my hands at this point in time with a couple of folks out there, and I'm going to keep working on it. But are the community health plan models looked at on a regular basis like every six months, or is the life of them until they go boom and they blow up? Or is there a possibility that we could have folks from the area sit down and say, "Well, this has got to work, and maybe if we did this to that" - in a community sense, I guess, is what I'm looking at.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I believe, like the member opposite, that this should be ongoing. I would believe - and I'll just repeat that - that these plans are ongoing. I don't think they ever stop. The health care people in the community, the nurses, the visiting doctors and the CHR people, will obviously be well aware that these need to be reviewed on a regular basis. I think the impetus has to come from the communities and hopefully that's where changes will be made. If we were to come in and say, "We're going to review this because we're the department and we know everything," then we'd be accused of being dictators, so hopefully we can encourage communities to take ownership and to move ahead on ensuring that they're updated all the time.
Mr. Keenan: I will pass that on to the folks I'm talking about, and say, Let's not involve me as the MLA." I mean, I'll listen of course and I'll try to find solutions but I think I have found a solution that can put it back into the hands of the community and get the community to work together on it.
So, I will do it in that manner, and the minister might hear something or the minister might not hear something. It might be something that could be looked after at that level.
The minister, in protecting their social programs within the campaign document, spoke about "construct independent living accommodations for the elderly and those Yukon communities where the need exists." Now, I heard in his opening remarks the minister speaking of the continuing care facility with 96 beds opening in June 2002.
Well, that's a New Democrat initiative - definitely a New Democrat initiative. It was to be phased in over a couple of years, but the minister put his personal touch on it and moved it all up so we could have other beds quickly - well, quickly in government terms. We're opening in 2002.
I did a direct quote from protecting our social programs within the campaign platform, and I was wondering if the minister could elaborate on that? Would there be an expectation of another community and, if there is another community, which community would be receiving this service that the Liberal caucus promised?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I've heard this question many times before, and we're always open to what the needs are. We hear this question from time to time when we go to the communities and we believe that, again, the communities are the best advisors as to what the potential need would be.
The Member for Watson Lake often mentions multi-care or extended care, or some type of care facility there and, as you know, as we know, the department is monitoring communities that have extended care. Dawson is being monitored at this point, and there's even an item in the budget that looks at the future of that particular facility.
Other communities, like Haines Junction, have been mentioned there as well, as a potential need - they're not saying now, but they're saying that maybe in the next five years there's the possibility of needing something there.
Again, I think using your community health group or your focus group would be a very good way of trying to ensure that this is not lost on the radar screen. I think it's important that it always be mentioned. If the need is not there at this point, obviously the need is coming; that's why it's being mentioned. Obviously, they're not trying to be alarmists. They are concerned that in another four, five, six, maybe eight years, there will be some need there, so we should be planning for that.
That's why I always mention the 10-year plan. You can never work on four-year plans, because you may need nothing in four years, but in eight years or 10 years, something will be needed.
And it doesn't matter who is on this side of the House. Hopefully that is the vision that we can all accept in the future. So, yes, I would suggest that the community review group would be one way of approaching it. And I would suggest that if they are starting to see a number of elders who don't want to come to Whitehorse, obviously, and want to stay in their communities, then that is what would be best for all of us. So we are supportive of that.
Mr. Keenan: Well, the minister has defined a process for me and I appreciate that. But I just have to point this out. I have just got to. While the Liberals are busy voting against everything that we ever brought forth into this House, I find it strangely ironic - although they do say that strange things happen in the land of the midnight sun - that the crystal ball of the Liberal Party was able to capture the need for elders housing in the territory and to catapult that into a process. And what is that process called? It is called - and I like it - community health plan - you know, the model for that, and that would be the avenue where you would identify that.
Well, holy moly, Mr. Chair, I have to say that the minister should be wearing a turban, because if he can see that far into the future, that is good work. What I think is that there is a bit of spin going on there, and I will let the minister get away with that bit of spin, just so the minister knows that I know that there is a bit of spin going on over there.
And in the next document that the Liberal caucus brings about - and it says "it's all about the future" - you're going to have a picture of a crystal ball or something on there to say that that is the vehicle that we use to project. So I am glad to see that the minister and his caucus are learning from that.
I would like to ask about the youth directorate. I understand that the Member for Riverside is looking to head up a youth directorate, I think, or do some consultation on it. I do believe that that is contained within Health. If it's not, then just point me in the right direction and I will go in that direction.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I will not comment directly on the youth, because it is actually contained in Executive Council Office at this point, but it's a passion of mine that we work with youth. Of course, we as a Health department have a very big stake in trying to build with our youth, because they are the future.
My colleague here from Riverside - we have our offices back to back, side by side, and we talk about youth all the time. So we work very closely on these issues. I think that when that comes up under the Executive Council Office, we'll be able to give you some more direction as to what's happening there. That's the youth directorate - the Executive Council Office, sorry.
Mr. Keenan: Then in the Executive Council Office, we would like the Member for Riverside to stand on his feet and speak to that, then, if that's possible. But I certainly appreciate that that's where it belongs.
Now, I commend the government for putting dollars into the Dawson City women's shelter, and I commend them for putting dollars into Kaushee's Place - and Kaushee is a Tlingit name - and I commend them for putting dollars into the Help and Hope for Families Society in Watson Lake. But I would very much like it if the minister would qualify his remarks when the minister says that it is the very first time that extra money has been put in there, because that's contrary to the fact, Mr. Chair. Although there was an increase of x-thousands of dollars in the Help and Hope Society, there was an 11-percent increase in that base budget at that point in time, and I believe everything was looked at. So it wasn't as if we, the government of the day, said, "Look, you did a service." We, the government of the day, solidified that NGOs service, which was taken away to build a road here in the Yukon from 1992 to 1996.
So we did. Mind you, it was difficult at times, but I wanted to bring that to the minister's attention.
I commend the minister for - did I hear the minister say, "for the first time in nine years", foster parents who look after our kids in foster care? And maybe a lot of times the children are troubled, if I can say it in that manner. So it's quite a dynamic to open your home. I have seen the advertisements in the paper that said we're going to ask you the toughest thing that we could ever possibly ask you, and that is to open your home, so I know there's a real need there.
I guess those folks, looking after some of those children in need, deserve that increase. And I will never take that away from them. I read the article in the newspaper. The minister said they came in, and I guess what the minister said at that point in time regarding the newspaper was that, when the minister asked them, "If you don't get the money, would you do it?" And every one of them said yes.
That shows me that there is community fibre out there - absolute community fibre to help one another, so that when the tough gets going, you have somebody to reach out to. I appreciate that, and they need that.
The minister knows I'm going to social assistance, because here I am. The folks who are on social assistance - I wish we could say that every one of them is just a bunch of lazy, no goods, and that we should just treat them this way and kick them off. But I can't say that, and neither could the minister stand on his feet in this House and say that. I'm certain that there are abuses. Probably in every section there is some type of abuse. And unfortunately, all the limelight - whatever type of light it would be - gets focused on that abuse.
Yet I shared a story with the minister, and I saw my friend again, just a couple of days ago, where my friend was in a canister, and my friend does not have an alcohol problem. My friend has an economic problem, and he's digging through a canister of bottles and cans, and it ripped my heart. I tend to look at things that way. I know we can't have band-aid solutions yet, at the same time, we do have band-aids made for band-aid solutions, with the proper vision.
Some of the children who are coming from poor families - and I don't mean just people who are on social assistance or on welfare, and it's all the same thing, I guess. It's a public fund to help people when they need it. They have the same type of problems that the children who are in care under foster families have, and maybe even more severe at some point in time.
Some of the working poor - some of the folks who are on SA and those children - don't have a fully functional family. They don't. I'm living testimony to witnessing that in certain cases. The children in the care of the foster family have the security of that family because the government - in the department's wisdom - do these checks. So, there's a difference. There's a big difference.
I know in the campaign, on protecting our social campaigns, and the Liberals of the day did speak about what they would do. And of course they didn't say they would give a two-percent increase or anything to income assistance. Instead, they spoke about supporting the development of employment skills, recognizing the value of parenting - all those kinds of initiatives.
I guess what I'm asking the minister to do is, in the next round of consultations or the next budget-vetting session - I would assume that something like that would be under O&M. Now, I'm not sure because some things get tied into capital - of an increase. But I would very much ask the minister to look into that whole situation and to try to reach down deep into the minister's heart and to show the same compassion - I know it's possible - that the minister showed to the foster parents of some of these kids and their children, and not to look at that situation and that family and that one particular incident, but to look at the plight of the people who need it the most.
Some of those children who are in those situations could be a page in this House and that page could escalate into a doctor. So people from very humble beginnings have great success stories also. You just aren't born into a doctor's family to become a doctor. You just don't do that. It doesn't happen in that manner. So I am asking the minister and the entire Liberal caucus, if I may at this point in time, to look at the seriousness of the situation because it is deeper than just a band-aid. I think that if we took that into context, you would see that it could fit into the goal setting in your Cabinet. You could say, "We want to have a reduction in social assistance of this much by this time, and this is the way that we are going to do it. And we are not going to do it in the manner that was done by the former representative of Ross River-Southern Lakes, in a cold-handed, high-handed manner." It was done in this manner. I am asking the minister to show compassion and to look at it, and for the caucus to look at it in that light.
It's break time.
So I will come back to this if I could after, but I guess it's not a direct question, it's a statement, and I would like the minister to answer after the break if possible.
Chair: Order please. The time being 4:30, do members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: As you probably have noticed, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes - we're playing tag-team here. We have the ADM in now because it's such a big department and we have so much expertise we have to utilize all the resources we have.
The member opposite has not burned out anybody at this point. We have a lot of stamina.
To respond to the member's question, there are a couple of things that I just want to mention. First of all, we appreciate the fact that - and I'm not too sure where the member is coming from when the member talks about this 11-percent increase or whatever. All I know from my information - and that's, I would hope, fairly reliable information - about the monies that we have increased to the women's shelters and so on, is that it has been the first time in four years, so I guess I'm just going back four years. I'm not going back any longer than that.
Foster rates - I will go back nine years - they have not been increased, and I'll stand by that at this point.
I don't know what the member was talking about with the 11-percent increase across. Not being a Finance person, I'm not sure. I will have to get more information on that to validate what the member opposite has said about believing that increases took place at that time.
Can you hear that?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: We are in school, you know.
Chair: I now call the Committee of the Whole to order. Is that better for you, Mr. Keenan?
Mr. Keenan: Very much so.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The rates for foster parents, as I have mentioned earlier, were increased for the first time in nine years. So again, I'll stand by that. I can understand the member opposite being a little concerned that we have not increased SA rates across the board, as the previous government suggested that they were going to do. They had not included that as a line item. It was just sort of one of these general, broad-brush approaches, and in our mandate, it's all about the Future, the Liberal platform that the member opposite keeps waving - I appreciate the fact that the member has one and the member opposite is using it to keep me accountable. That's very good, because in there it says, "Income assistance - recognize the value of parenting and provide benefits to single parents of preschool children without the requirement of a job search for employment outside of the home."
We as a government went from two years of age to six. We feel very proud of the fact that we were able to do this. We increased the age exemption, and this change will allow an exemption from the requirement to seek employment training when an applicant is taking care of one or more children under six years of age. We believe that this is a move toward fixing the system - not trying to band-aid a program. We have received a lot of positive feedback about that.
Also, increasing the flat rate exemption from $50 to $100 for singles, and from $100 to $150 for families, per month - again, we're very proud of the fact that this addresses one of our major platform planks in our election campaign, it's all about the Future.
Of course, the third part of that is to increase the maximum allowable utility rate by $100 in each category, which everybody received, from my understanding - even people who weren't affected by the first two. So, that was an increase that all SA people received.
If the member opposite wants to know where the $200,000 has gone, that is where it has gone - in those areas.
We've also looked at healthy families. Again, I've mentioned that a number of times - I think a very good initiative, started by the last government. Great work, and we want to build on it because it's prevention. Also, we're looking at the kids recreation program - again, another project started by the last government, and we want to build on that because we've heard nothing but positives about that as well.
So, there are some very important initiatives that are in place. There are some new ones coming from the child benefit that's coming from the federal government, trying to improve even more those children from the ages of zero to three, six. It's important that we try to address those needs, as the member opposite has shared very clearly. It's those young families with small children who are in need of that support.
So, are we completely there, as far as responding to all those needs? I would say not, but I think we're working very hard at trying to move in that direction. There will be some more initiatives coming down fairly shortly, I would think, in looking at how we develop that partnership with our communities, in the area of building more SA support, and also of trying to encourage more of the work-type support, where they can get off SA, because nobody wants to be on SA. There are people who have no choice, but most people do not want to be on SA. They want to be standing on their own two feet.
The SA program, as we know, is sort of the last program that anybody would want to be on, but it's there as a safety net. So, hopefully, we are going to try to fix the system, rather than just try to increase rates. We're trying to also make sure that they can live on the rates that they are getting. The important part here, again, is to fix the system.
Mr. Keenan: I beg to differ with the minister. I appreciate what the minister has done. Do not get me wrong. For a single parent to be at home with their child in those most formative years is probably one of the most important things that we could do - one of, and only one of. There are other things that we can do.
Now, I did hear the minister say that we are coming up with more initiatives, I guess, directed to this program. Now, the minister has taken some pretty bad heat over this in the newspapers and on the radio here over that last little while, since he has brought it out. I, again, would like to see the minister, if he could, not only look at lateral moves, but to move to put just a few more dollars into their pockets - what we call a discretionary spending. Because by the time that I broke down one - and I guess I can't do it factually at this point in time, because I don't have the numbers in my head - it turned out that, if I remember right, I think a family of two was left with about $160 a month after all of the sort of basic needs, not even including food, were looked after.
So that tells me that there's definitely a need out there. Again, I would just like a simple answer to a very problematic question. Will the minister consider an increase in the monetary value that a SA recipient could and does take home?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I hear the member opposite. One has to remember - and I'm not trying to preach - that SA is a program of last resort. It's not meant to be a standard way of life. Hopefully, the objective here is to ensure that they do have enough resources to manage their lives, at least in a very basic way. Of course, our program is no different here than in other parts of Canada. As a matter of fact, I suppose our rates reflect our economy in many ways. Sometimes the rates are much better here, mainly because of the cost of living here.
If there is any benefit, it is the utility one, which is automatic. Whereas most of us received a big heating bill in September, the SA recipients just turned their bill into the department and we paid it. They didn't take money out of their pockets to pay their utilities. The utilities were covered fully. I guess you could say that there was an increase there by design, rather than by automatic decision, because that's the way it works. Utilities are covered fully.
I am not sure we can play that up as being a big increase, but it was a big increase and it cost us money to pay out. To say that we are going to increase the rates in the future - at this point, it would be presumptuous of me to make that kind of decision without caucus input and without Management Board and Cabinet approval. Hopefully, that is the direction we would go if we were to go that route.
I hear the member opposite. We will take it under advisement and see if we want to go that route or if we can go that route.
Mr. Keenan: Where there is a will, there is a way, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I have heard the minister speak, stand on his feet on the floor of the Legislature during Question Period. Of course, we all know that Question Period is not the best time to get information, but it's a part of the system and it works within the system. But here, where I have an opportunity to talk back and forth, I would like to ask the minister quite pointedly: who have the department or the Cabinet as caucus been talking to? They can't be the same people I'm talking to. They can't be.
People I don't even know come to me in the street and say, "Keep it up, keep it up." I don't think they're card-packing New Democrats. I don't think they're card-packing Yukon Party or Liberal Party people. They're just people who need it. I think they're absolutely non-political.
If you can believe that everybody in this room is such a political animal that I can't believe there aren't any out there - all of us aren't in the same manner.
I'm asking the minister to listen and to listen to the people at large.
Now, contained within the budget - we had a discussion with the Anti-Poverty Coalition previously, Mr. Chair. We talked to those folks about how we as a government would be able to make an impact on homelessness and make an impact on social assistance recipients and these people, because they're all intertwined. It seems at times it's intertwined.
I'm not trying to speak down to these folks who are in this awful plight at this point in time, but we had set up an arena called a social justice forum, and we wanted to listen to those folks and we wanted to bring some of those people here to talk about how to make it better, and I'm sure that, within that forum, government would be able to say, "Well, these are maybe the abuses that take place; this is how we see things." It was going to be an open and honest forum, but I see that is not there at this point in time. The forum is kaput.
I'll probably get a note from Hansard asking how to spell that, and I expect that note.
It's not there now. They don't have a vehicle, and I would like to ask the minister if the minister would consider, in his wisdom and the wisdom of government, to establishing that forum to listen to those people, to give them the opportunity to speak. Would the minister consider that?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I guess the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes again wants to know some premise, or some principles, that I believe in, and I guess I'm just going to repeat again one of the basic principles that I believe in, that community is fundamental in making decisions. We already have, in our system, a number of community groups that represent various groups in community - for example, the Health and Social Services Council, which advises me and the government on direction. I believe they're a very powerful voice in trying to influence how we change government.
As a person who has been around for a number of years, I have met many of these people in my former life. I believe in visiting, interacting and interchanging with NGO groups on what their goals are and what their roles are, and how we, as government, can work together. So again, that's another forum that I believe is very important when trying to look at the future.
To actually respond to the question of whether we set up another group now called the Anti-Poverty Coalition group and fund them directly, I would say that there's no problem with them forming any group they wish, in order to bring issues to the government. But I think that's the right of any individual, but to suggest that they needed funding, or any kind of funding in order to bring their ideas forward, I personally, at this point, would not see it being necessary because we have so many other groups out there that are representative of Yukoners.
If it's a special interest group who has a special dedication to a special kind of role, again, I invite those people to come forward. I think it's very important that we look at how we can change and respond to these needs versus having groups for groups' sakes. The member opposite knows fully well that we're really highly represented throughout the Yukon with a lot of different groups that have a lot of interest. I think that's participatory democracy, where people participate. My role is, and one of my goals is, to put it collectively, because I don't want to see people go down single tracks all the time. Unfortunately, there's a lot of crossover. Just as the member has said, there's a lot of crossover, a lot of mixing. Quite often, the role of government should be to say, "Oh, this is what another group is working on. Can we pull that together?" That's why I believe in the Yukon Health and Social Services Council, the group that's directly representative of all communities, and they have a very strong feel as to where they're coming from, because they come from all ends of the territory. They have a good social justice conscience about how we should be proceeding. So I'm not saying no; I'm just saying if they want to form a group, go ahead, form a group. That's not a problem; bring forth the issues. But if the real question is, are we going to finance a group for that particular reason then, at this point in time, the answer is no. I think what we have to look at is what we already have out there.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Chair, let me state that the question wasn't about funding for an NGO. I appreciate that we have a Health and Social Services Council, and I'd appreciate if the minister could give me the terms of reference and the backdrop, you know, just what we have on it and the makeup of that council.
It's probably a very worthwhile service, which provides a social service, just as it says in the title. And I appreciate that. But what I'm also saying here, on the floor of this Legislature, is that the people I'm speaking of are social activists, and they need to do this for themselves so they can help people. It's the way some folks are. I think it's a good way to be, and I think all of us should be able to do that. I guess the Christian or the core values that each one of us has, asks us to do that.
I know that I do those types of things. I'm not saying that in a boastful manner. I'm saying that that is part of my core. I try to help in that manner. Whether I was in that situation or not is another thing. It's how I feel. So, we have many of these types of social activists out there. They're not asking to be funded, as an NGO, to provide a service. They're bringing something to government and saying, "This is what we see." They feel very strongly about it, and they work hard at helping people.
I guess to deviate just for a second - is there anybody on the Health and Social Services Council who is a recipient of social assistance, or are we talking about professionals in different fields that make it up? What I'm talking about is that I trust those professionals. Those professionals, guided by their basic political direction and policy direction, are there to do something to make it better. But are they actually getting the goods? Are they really getting the goods?
I'm talking about Joe Blow on the street. I guess, in today's analogy, it was Molly and Minnie. I'm talking about those kinds of folks. Those folks on the street need something to express themselves, and that would be this forum so they could say this is where - you know, I didn't know that. It could be an information two ways, so they could also learn something and maybe find a way to come out of the dilemma they're in.
But as I said - I don't know if it was last week or the week before - the food banks are struggling - I wish that it wasn't illegal for me to go out and hunt for the Salvation Army. I asked that question, "Can I go hunt? Can I take my food that I would hunt to give to those struggling people?" And they said, "No, you can't. You would be breaking the law." Yet, part of me wants to go break the law because I have the skills to be able to do this and to bring this to the people who need it the most. The food banks are struggling. The Sally Ann, you know, does whatever it can, operating its soup kitchen. The food bank has just gone down. There was a cartoon in the paper, you know, about homelessness the other day - God, I hated that cartoon. I just hated that cartoon when I saw it. I said, "This is just awful", because it's one person's way of looking at something. Can you imagine drawing smelly socks and saying that all homeless people are in this manner? Ah, goshes - I was so disgusted and I had to say, "Oh, you know, Dave, don't go out there and write a letter to the editor about this type of thing. It's not going to do anything good because you are in the station here." And I am already the guy who wants to hear myself for all these different monikers, but I don't care what people think in that manner. I care what's here.
So, I guess what I am saying on behalf of those people is that they do need a forum, they do need an increase. I know that you are getting into a glare here with our pit bull but he is our pit bull. I would appreciate it if we could concentrate on the plight of the homeless people. We need to find a way that we might be able to strengthen people, I guess, and to look at holding a social justice forum. I'm not looking for NGO funding for a social justice forum, but hold this forum; bring these people in and create some action plans that might work for the NGOs, so that the NGOs could be the deliverer - well they are the deliverer of some of these services - of the message and give it educational tools. But, again, I am sort of superseding the forum itself at this point in time. Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I believe in what the member is saying. These groups have that venue to do that - pull together and look at what the needs are. There is now a homelessness group, working as a united group, from what I understand. They have spent the first round of dollars on a variety of projects here in the Yukon. There's going to be more money coming in next year. I would hope that that is a group that can be well-schooled in the needs of people we have in the community.
Just for the member opposite, the Health and Social Services Council is made up of representatives from all over the territory. I think it was the former government that named all these people to the council. They're still there. They're all there. There have been no changes to that. Some of these same people belong to the Anti-Poverty Coalition. They belong to a number of various groups. So, I guess I would invite them - and challenge them - to keep me informed as to what the real issues and needs are; how we can move ahead and ensure that the very things the member opposite talks about are brought forward. We have a review of the challenges that I presented to them, and then they bring their responses back to me.
So, I'm open to any coalition group who wants to work together and try to poll some of these ideas for the future. We've never closed the door. It has nothing to do with dollars. That's not my first interest, anyway. My first interest is trying to really respond to the need. We invite all groups to do that.
I am supportive, but I'm trying to give different venues as to how it can be done. We do have a very active Health and Social Services Council. They are very good at analyzing what is happening in the communities, because they come from the communities. When I go to these meetings every couple of months, they are all there, from all the different communities - from Watson Lake to Old Crow. It is very important that we hear these people. I think they hear what is happening in their communities. I believe that that's very important for me to share that with caucus and government so that we can dictate what the future should be, at least under our mandate.
Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much for the display of compassion and description of process.
In summary what I am hearing from the minister is that the minister has a council in place, and if this council brings issues that are generic - well maybe not generic, but particular to the situation - the minister would then act on them, but the minister at this point in time does not feel the need for a conference or a social activist forum on this, and the minister is going to seek clarification or approval from caucus to see if it's going in the right direction for an increase in actual social assistance rates.
Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, I guess I'm not interested in imposing on communities what I wish. If communities and groups want to get together and look at basic issues - we talked about that in how we address health issues in communities. Individuals get together and look at what the priorities should be, and if they want to have a conference, then let them decide they want a conference and what the goals and the theme of that conference should be. I shouldn't be deciding that.
So, it's not whether I'm supportive or not supportive. I would be supportive of anything that's positive.
As far as the objective here of promoting rate increases across the board, as the member opposite is constantly on about, I have already suggested that we have increased the rates by the very fact of utility hikes. We have done that. To say that we're just going to give two percent or five percent or whatever, right now that's not on. Our caucus, our government, has not made that kind of a decision, and I am not going to commit our government to anything like that at this point in time.
If our government decides to go this route in the future, we'll definitely be sharing that with everybody, but at this point in time, that is not going to happen.
Mr. Keenan: That has to be the longest no that I have ever heard.
Mr. Chair, I'd like the minister - in his opening remarks, I think it was, or maybe it was just afterward, in the description of hospital equipment. But the member spoke about the federal medical equipment fund and how it was purchasing some new equipment for the hospital. I just wonder if the minister could describe what that new equipment might be.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: We are moving into line-by-line, but, for the member opposite, I will give him some idea of how this money is going to be used.
The money is going to be used for purchasing medi-lifts - this includes beds that are electric, which cost thousands of dollars - wheelchairs, stretchers, some kitchen equipment, some equipment for the operating lab, lab and medical imaging equipment. And in 2001-02, there will be an additional - which is provided through the medical equipment fund.
So that's sort of generally what some of the equipment will be for. I don't know if he wants more specifics than that.
Mr. Keenan: I just got notice today, Mr. Chair, just shortly before coming in, that the cancellation at the Whitehorse General Hospital is now not going to be taking effect. I understand now that they have found, in the last moment, another surgeon to come forth to take the place of the one surgeon who is on a sabbatical, and the other one who needs a holiday, I'm sure, from there. Is that correct? Can the minister provide an update to the House on that situation, please?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I have to admit that I'm not sure of the latest on this, as of today. If we have recruited another surgeon, I will definitely get back to the member opposite with that information.
Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Chair, I do believe that I've given the minister the right information. Yes, what I have just said is correct, that it's not going to be. But I think that brings to light the greater problem. We've skipped by this, now. Thank goshes that we've skipped by this one, because we got lucky. I don't know how much longer we're going to continue to keep getting lucky like this, because I did describe what the problems could be in Question Period, and I guess, you know, you don't schedule a broken leg or else we'd never have broken legs - that type of thing, those issues.
So it's a very, very urgent situation, and I would appreciate it if the minister could work harder, I guess. At least that's what my mom and dad always told me. If you work harder, you will get it, and if you look for different ways of doing something, it shall come to you and you will be there for the betterment of people. So work harder.
Actually, in Tlingit, there's a saying, and maybe your learned colleague to your right there can explain to you what it is. It's [member spoke in Tlingit; translation unavailable] and that's marching orders. And those marching orders I might have said in this House before, but [member spoke in Tlingit; translation unavailable] means simply, you do your best. That's all it means. Do your best. It doesn't mean, do 70 percent of your best; it means, just get out there and do it, and if you choose to do it, well, whether it's through a sweet compromise or whether it's good energy, a way will be found to come to that answer.
I guess I'm getting a tad disappointed, because every time the minister stands on his feet and says, "Thank you for that question", I know there isn't an answer coming. That's the way it is. I don't like the "Thank you for that question," because I'm putting forth concrete issues.
Now, I know that it's easier for others who don't have an interest in health to sit and detract or take the minister's attention away from what the minister is doing. But I'm giving the minister the benefit of the doubt here and I'm very much trying to work with the minister. So, I would very much appreciate other folks on that side to continue sleeping, or whatever it is that you do best, and leave the minister alone as I go through debate with him. I would very much appreciate it.
I'm not hearing positiveness.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Keenan: Well, thank you for that. I'm hearing no. I'm hearing that he is going to talk to caucus about this, that we don't have a forum here to do this, but I don't want one, because I have this forum. So, it's not really what I want it to be, but I guess politics isn't really what you want it to be, unless you're government. Then, it won't be - well, I won't go down that road.
What road I will go down is that the plight of rural pregnant mothers has been in the news for the last little while. I understand that some of the mothers and the activists from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre have put forward a proposal to the minister. I have had a chance to peruse that proposal and I asked a few questions about it. It's a very modest proposal.
I'm here to ask the minister if he would consider the proposal, and the intent of the proposal, to work with the group to find a way to make it work. The problem is - and it really bothers me - when people come and identify a problem, but don't leave with a solution. I think that for every problem, you should at least try to surmise a solution. You can then take it to the wise ones. The wise ones in this case are the ones who hold the purse strings. If they say no, they say no, but at least we're interacting with them. When it's raised in the context of a race card, that's disgusting. It is absolutely disgusting that it would be raised in that context.
So, what we have here - now we're getting cartoon editorials from the members opposite, so we can keep the laughter up on that side of the bench and take away from the seriousness of the issue. I'm talking about rural pregnant mothers. Those rural pregnant mothers, in some cases, are suffering. Now, I am a father, so I understand the complications of birth, and probably in more intimate detail than people here care to realize, but that's a private story I won't share. I understand that magic moment of birth and what can and can't happen - the life and death of a mother.
Well, I'll just tell you. Twenty-eight years ago this May, I was given a choice - my son or my wife, and which one I wanted to have saved.
What an awful choice. An awful choice. All I did was throw my hands in the air and scream, and ran around the Vernon Jubilee Hospital. By the time I got back to the front door, my son was born and my wife was healthy. So, I understand the anxiety that comes around that. I guess what I'm saying is that those families - and most importantly the mother, who is going to be delivering a baby - need some type of security.
First Nations, through their self-government powers or through resources from DIAND if they do not have the self-government authority at this point in time, are able to bring down the mother and, I think maybe in some cases the spouse of the pregnant mother also, for a month. They're given a per diem and they're looked after.
Now, rural pregnant women get $30 a day when they're sent down, and they're in a different situation. Thirty bucks a day.
Now, there's another group of women. If you're a pregnant woman and you're an employee of the territorial government, the union has negotiated - I guess the union negotiated that, eh? - for benefits for that woman. It doesn't matter what her background is - what her nationality or race is.
So, we have a First Nation group that has a solution for their women in their pregnancies, and that's not a problem. We have the union folks that have looked after it. What I'm asking the minister is if the minister will try and find a way to accommodate the people who fall under the minister's portfolio or jurisdiction.
Now, I have this rural pregnant mom program proposal in front of me, and they have an executive. Well, we all know the work that has been done by the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre and the good work that they do, but they have a total request for the year of $15,000, which would enable them to fix up the suite at the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, and they would pitch in. I'm sure the minister has read the proposal and knows the proposal. I'm sure the minister does. They would help with the food, they would help with the children and the educational values that some of the children need; they would help with, it says here, all pregnancy-related trips, including ultrasounds and appointments with prenatal doctors, and X-rays. In high-risk pregnancies - I guess that's what my wife experienced at the time, but we didn't know it at the time. They would look after that. They would provide an environment that would be comfortable for that mother and for that mother's spouse.
What I'm asking the minister is to - of course, the minister is going to stand on his feet and say, "It's going to the department and we'll fix everything that's applicable, then it will happen." But what I'm asking from the minister is to very closely look at it, because we're talking about pregnant mothers from the communities who are coming in and who need this help. They need this security. Sometimes they need a break from their immediate spouse, I guess, just to relax a bit. They need to be able to go for a walk. They just need that little bit of extra money, I guess, and $30 a day just does not cut it. It doesn't cut it at all for these folks. But if we looked at working with the NGO, Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, still give them the $30 per diem or somehow work out something and find a way to make it work, it would be better for that person, and then that ugly race card would not be coming up on the floor, and you wouldn't have all these multi-tiered assumptions.
What I can say is that there are good people in Whitehorse. I happened to have just found out this morning that the MLA for Klondike, on his own personal initiative, helped a mother who very much needed that help because she was a high-risk pregnancy, I believe, and he opened his home for her in Whitehorse here for two months. I mean, holy moly, to me that is community. That is very much community. Just, "There it is, take it. I'll help."
Now, it can't always happen in that manner, but it shows that people need that help because, if that person with a high-risk pregnancy had no place to go, or she could only be there for a certain time frame - two or three weeks, or whatever it is before the estimate; I guess you estimate when you are going to have a baby - it puts that person in kind of a limbo. I would hate to say that it put them in a risk situation, but it might have. I am not trying to make this big with lots of smoke; I am trying to lay out that there is a problem and that there is a solution.
We are spending over $500 million this year in the territorial government. Health has over $100 million of that - the highest Health budget ever. I would very much think that $15,000 would be just a drop in the pot at that point in time. So I would like to ask the minister if the minister would look to influencing this situation, or would the minister think that there might be a better way of doing something? Does the minister have another solution? I would very much - because I have only laid out one solution. Maybe the minister has another. If he does, I would appreciate hearing that from the minister.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: It's always in the context of $500 million, or half a billion dollars, that $15,000 isn't anything, but it's not just $15,000. It's far more than that if we are going to be fair and equitable to all Yukoners.
This is a typical example of what has happened over the years here in Yukon. The federal government initiates programs, or people from the Yukon request special status or special programming in the communities, and then the federal government comes forward and says, yes, we will do it - like they did in Dawson, they will provide additional funding. Then, what they do - and I sat in the gallery for a few years, listening to the members on the other side, who were sitting on this side, chastising the federal government for offloading all these programs that they start.
Now, I hear from the member opposite that, yes, it's okay, now that he's on the other side. It's called offloading a program that was begun by the federal government through a request by one community here in the Yukon, and then it is carried on. Then, when the federal government decides to cut the program, we, as the territorial government, must automatically pick it up and run with it, because it's such a great program. We don't think of the consequences. I have heard this over and over again, being a citizen of the Yukon - hearing the members opposite chastize the federal government over and over again for offloading programs. Here we have them supporting now an offloaded program. Are we on this side or are we on that side? I'm not sure. It's called flip-flopping.
So, it's a far bigger issue than just one segment of our population. I recognize the very important role that parents - mothers - play in this future of ours. It doesn't mean - my daughter just had four little girls, over the last five or six years, so I well understand what it means. They were all born here in the Yukon, except one.
Now they live in Whitehorse, so obviously it's a little simpler, I suppose, in that sense. You know, they chose to live here in Whitehorse, as some people choose to live in other parts of the Yukon. Yes, there's an inequity, obviously, from what happens with the DIAND support and what happens with our programming. To make an instant decision, just like that, just change our minds and say, "Yes, it's for everybody," but it's for more than women who have children. There are a lot of people in the Yukon who come to Whitehorse for assistance and support. We got a proposal for one specific response to ladies who are pregnant. That's all we received. We haven't rejected it. I mean, I know that the members opposite say we rejected it, and the press says we rejected it. Mind you, I don't believe most of what the press says anyway. So you have to sort of take that with a grain of salt.
The objective here, Mr Chair, is to do the right thing for all Yukoners. That is really our goal, because when you make a decision once, it's very hard to get off that in the future, just as the member opposite keeps talking about universality and pioneer utility grant and all these things. Well, the member opposite is concerned that we're going to be tampering with that - or even discussing it. Heaven forbid, we wouldn't want to discuss it, because that means we actually are going review it.
I think the important part for us, Mr. Chair -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I'm trying to give the member opposite an answer, Mr. Chair, and the member opposite doesn't want an answer, or he doesn't like the answer that he's going to hear. Then the Member for Klondike keeps piping up all the time, even though it isn't his turn, that we don't have any. Well, that's always the answer from the Member for Klondike. Even if we told the answer very clearly, the member opposite would say it's not the answer.
It's very clear that it is the answer.
Now, Mr. Chair, we really trust the work of the Victoria Faulkner group of people. They do a lot of good work in our community, and we appreciate them coming forward with a thought or an idea, but suddenly to latch on to it as the only idea, as the member opposite questioned - it's not. There are a lot of other ideas out there. But we as a government, we as a caucus, have to really look at how we want to proceed in the future because once we make a decision, it's very important that we make it for the right reasons.
It's very important that we look at the recommended options. They're not always equitable in that the Victoria Faulkner apartment would not be available to women who required other medical services. Those are some of the questions that were raised. Once the pregnant lady goes into the hospital, what happens to the family, or what happens to the father who is there in that apartment and somebody else comes in? What happens if you have three people needing the apartment? It's just one apartment, with the potential of an additional room. How long can they stay there? Two months? So, it's not the complete answer, Mr. Chair.
How can you say that this is the only alternative? We haven't said no, despite what the media says and despite what the former Minister of Health says. I read the paper once in a while. I try not to, because if you read the paper, you'll almost sometimes be convinced why you shouldn't read it.
There is never a simple solution, Mr. Chair. When you're in opposition - yes, there are always simple solutions. Just do it. That's what they're saying.
I think the important part for us is that we believe in doing our homework. I have brought this up many times over the last number of months. I think it's very important that we realize that we're not a knee-jerk government. I know that disappoints the members opposite. We're not a knee-jerk government. We do our homework.
I'm going to spend some time on this issue because I know the Member for Klondike is going to bring it up again, and I just want to be able to read Hansard when the member brings it up again, because I know it will be the same question, because it will be the same answer.
We're doing our homework, Mr. Chair. We're looking at all kinds of alternatives. We're also trying to work with all of the needs in the Yukon. I'm not trying to place any less emphasis on women who have children. I believe that's a very important function in our society, and I believe it's one of those roles that I'll never experience, and I know it's a beautiful experience. But it is one that I think we have to support in as many ways as we can.
The important part is that when you make these decisions, you don't just jump in and make the decision. Unfortunately, the government of yesterday did that on many occasions, and then we found out that we were left with the legacy. And then you can't change it.
We have looked at the subsidization of in-territory hotels. This could provide a greater level of coverage within the territory than the current way of looking at it.
I guess that I am still speaking to hopefully those who are interested in what I have to say here.
The current level of coverage either meets or exceeds the level of coverage available in other jurisdictions. I think this is very important. I sometimes think that we want to do things here. I mean, it's part of the issue in the Yukon that I, as a citizen, find very difficult, because we are doing things here in the Yukon that they do in no other jurisdictions in the country. And the expectation is as high as the ceiling in this room and it keeps getting higher, because we keep making knee-jerk decisions.
I'll give you an idea from British Columbia. British Columbia residents are provided reduced fares from transportation partners to assist with the cost of travel. B.C. does not provide direct financial assistance to its residents. Assistance with meals and accommodation is not provided. Those are people living in Atlin. Those are people living in Lower Post. Alberta does not cover any costs for patients. Some regional authorities -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: It's rather interesting that the Member for Klondike is yelling out that we want to do it better. We are now doing so many things much better, the rest of the country is having a hard time keeping up with us on many of these issues.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, a lot of the issues here were long here before we arrived on the scene.
Alberta does not cover any transportation cost to patients. Some regional health authorities may provide assistance - may. A big "may". But what the opposition would like to see is that we get tied into this forever. You know what happens when we tie things in forever. We can never take them away.
The Member for Klondike wants to hear about the Northwest Territories. Well, I hope the Member for Klondike will listen very carefully. The Northwest Territories has a medical travel plan similar to the Yukon's wherein eligible residents are entitled to the coverage of transportation. However, they are required to pay an air travel co-payment of $125 one-way or $250 return. Now, two boarding houses - room and board - are available in Yellowknife and one in Edmonton. Now, all eligible persons travelling to Yellowknife receive insured necessary medical services and can utilize the boarding home, subject to availability, at no charge. Now, that's the big key - availability. What happens if it isn't available? However, if the boarding room is used, no subsidy is provided during their stay. The Member for Klondike is very good at saying, "Check Northwest Territories out," except when you get all the facts, you find out it's not as clear as the Member for Klondike states. Persons in Yellowknife choosing to stay in private accommodations currently receive $13.50 a day for meals and accommodation. Those who stay in commercial accommodations are eligible for a per diem rate not to exceed $38 a day, beginning on day one.
Use of the boarding home in Edmonton is restricted to aboriginal persons, seniors and persons with certain chronic diseases. All other non-entitled persons are not eligible to stay in the Edmonton boarding home and are responsible for 100 percent of the costs of meals, accommodation and ground transportation.
Those are the examples I have before me, so I keep hearing, "Look at the Northwest Territories, look at Nunavut, look at whatever." Mr. Chair, those are the examples we have, and you can see that there are costs related to all of them. Nothing is free in this world.
For the Member for Klondike, of all people, to be talking about freebies, I'm shocked. The Member for Klondike would never talk about freebies if that member were standing over here. It's "pay your own way". It would probably be even much harsher than what the Member for Klondike is trying to portray us as I think we are more than generous in what we do here in the Yukon. Does that mean we're finished with it, that it's game over? No. This issue, as I have mentioned before, has to come to caucus. We as the government of the day have to make a decision as to where we want to go with this, because it isn't going to be $15,000 a year if we do it right. It's going to be thousands and thousands of dollars if we do it for all Yukoners, because we believe in an even playing field.
Now, how this whole thing started, of course, is with what Dawson did. You know, they got the off-loaded program and then said, "Okay, let's do it now. Now, let's get the rest of the Yukon to do it." You know, the long letter, and some in the paper - I mean, they're very good letters, and I can understand those issues, but there are other ways of trying to come to some conclusions on these. I think the important part, Mr. Chair, is for us to do it for all Yukoners.
I think the other point I wanted to mention, Mr. Chair, is that we, as a party and a government, believe in being fair - listening to the debate, looking at the positives and negatives, and then coming up with a decision that we can live with.
Looking at our financial picture - both today and what the future is all about - I keep hearing $500 million, half a billion dollars; what's $15,000 out of half a billion? As I said earlier, $15,000 is a lot of money in anybody's budget, but it's not going to be $15,000, if we decide to move on in this area.
We are going to be spending far more than $15,000.
We got focused on the issue of Victoria Faulkner. I appreciate the Victoria Faulkner people coming forward with this idea. It's another one of those ideas. But what happens when you have three people waiting here for the birth of their child? We have one apartment. What happens to them? There's never any discussion about what we're going to do there.
We really have to look at how we do it for the right reasons. Yes, there's inequity. We know that DIAND supports First Nation people in their stay here in Whitehorse. That has been there for a long time. It's not something that just arrived. It has been there since the beginning of time, I would suspect, when it comes to funding for First Nations. I believe that we, in the first year of our mandate, have taken on a lot of these very tough issues. We're quite willing to try and look at how we can build a future.
So, I hope that I have given the members opposite a little overview of how this medical boarding is not a simple problem. It is a very difficult problem.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, the time being close to 6:00 p.m., I'd like you to report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Roberts that we do now report progress.
Motion agreed to
Ms. Tucker: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved by Ms. Tucker 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 Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McLarnon: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, entitled First Appropriation Act, 2001-02, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.