Tuesday, April 3, 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.
In recognition of Cancer Month
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I rise on behalf of the House to talk about a very important topic - April, which is Cancer Month - and to further recognize the hundreds of Yukon people and others who work very hard during this month to raise the awareness and funds for cancer research and support. But my greatest admiration and recognition goes to the men, women and children who have fought the battle of cancer and won. And it goes to the families and friends of those people who have supported them through one of life's most difficult journeys. It goes to those who have fought the battle and lost. The valiant battles should not go unrecognized, Mr. Speaker.
Cancer wears many faces. There is an estimated 129,300 cases of cancer across Canada. In 1999, 63,400 deaths from cancer are expected to occur - did occur, I'm sorry. The most frequent diagnosed cancer will continue to be breast cancer for women and prostate cancer for men. The leading cause of cancer death for both sexes continues to be lung cancer.
"Cancer" is probably one of the most frightening words in the English language. We don't know what causes cancer, and unfortunately there is no immunization for the more than 200 different types of cancer that can invade a person's body.
There are many known risk factors for cancer. A recent estimate of the proportion of cancer deaths attributable to known risk factors suggests that approximately half of all fatal cancers are attributable to tobacco - 29 percent - and diet - 20 percent. Other known risk factors include occupation, family history, alcohol use, reproductive factors, sexual activity, sunlight, drugs, and ionizing radiation. There is so much we do not know, but with each passing day, there is more that we do know.
Every day we are learning more and more. Cancers that held out no hope for the victims decades ago are now treatable if they are detected soon enough.
In 1938, a patient diagnosed with cancer had a one-in-five chance of survival. Today, that same patient has a one-in-two chance of survival. But one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
Mr. Speaker, we all have a stake in this battle. Those who work in the field of research and development - the scientists, technicians, nurses and doctors - work right alongside those who raise funds to enable the research to happen. Together, we are all striving for solutions to eradicate the fear around cancer. We must beat it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. McLachlan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) there is a critical shortage of health care providers in Canada;
(2) shortages in staff create serious work-related issues for those in the system; and
(3) shortages in staff reduce access to health services simply because there is not enough personnel to provide services;
THAT this House commends the Yukon government for actively working with Yukon doctors and nurses in reviewing options to be considered in the development of a health professionals' recruitment and retention plan; and
THAT this House urges the federal government to provide targeted funds to various jurisdictions, including the Yukon, to help them support initiatives aimed at addressing the critical shortage of health care providers.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes that:
(1) that with the selling off of the mine assets of the Faro mine and the decommissioning of this property, environmental cleanup plans potentially costing over $100 million will now come into effect; and
(2) current environmental work valued at $10 million is being undertaken primarily by outside workers; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Liberal Government to use its special relationship with the federal Liberal Government of Canada to ensure that Yukoners will have access to the jobs created by the environmental cleanup plans for the Faro mine.
Mr. McRobb: I have for tabling the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) the Rate Stabilization Fund established by the previous NDP government has been very effective at keeping electricity rates stable for Yukon consumers;
(2) without the modifying influence of this fund, consumers will face a major increase in the cost of electricity as early as next year;
(3) the Minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation has consistently refused to make a commitment to extend the existing rate stabilization program beyond March 2002; and
(4) the Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy Corporation have recently undertaken multi-million dollar commitments that could limit their ability to finance a rate stabilization program; and
THAT this House urges the Minister to direct the corporations to initiate a process of full public consultation on the future of the rate stabilization program without delay, and further urges the Minister to make a clear commitment to government-funded rate relief as a legitimate instrument to help ensure that Yukon people and businesses have stable and affordable access to electrical energy.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Statements by ministers.
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Yukon Utilities Board, propane distribution
Mr. Fentie: One of the legislative items that this government has tabled recently is an amendment to the Public Utilities Act. Before that item comes up for debate, I have a few questions for the Acting Minister of Economic Development.
Can the minister give us his understanding of what economic benefits might accrue to the territory by having propane distribution regulated by the Yukon Utilities Board?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, unfortunately I cannot provide an answer for the member opposite at this time, but I certainly will get the information to him by whatever means he deems suitable.
Mr. Fentie: Well, let me help the acting minister. Obviously this change is being made with an eye on the potential natural gas pipeline coming through the Yukon. But that is by no means a certainty at this stage.
Uh-oh - to quote a famous astronaut - Houston, we have a problem. This Liberal government's directional rockets have misfired, and this territory is now lost in space.
Let me ask the minister this: what impact would this amendment have on existing propane distributors in the event that a natural gas pipeline through the Yukon doesn't materialize in the next half a dozen years or so?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, it is a positive comment that I hear from the member opposite with respect to now acknowledging that we are actively pursuing and hopefully getting a pipeline down the Alaska Highway soon.
But I know that the Member for Klondike continually refers to our special relationship with the Liberal government in Ottawa. I would make reference to the member opposite's counterparts in Ottawa, as well. They have openly stated in the House of Commons that they are not in favour of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline at all. As a matter of fact, last week, the federal NDP Member of Parliament, Bill Blaikie, spoke out against selling northern gas to the United States at all.
So, Mr. Speaker, it sounds to me like the NDP is opposing construction of the pipeline, overall. So we are still making best efforts, and we are confident that, through the efforts of our Premier, we will have the project come down the Alaska Highway.
Mr. Fentie: Hello, Houston, are you there? I asked the acting minister what impact this would have on existing propane distributors. Let's put it this way: yesterday, the news release quotes the Premier as saying that this change would pave the way for natural gas distribution in the future. How many outside companies have been involved in discussions with this government about a potential gas distribution system in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I will again have to get that information for the member opposite, and we'll do that as expeditiously as possible.
Question re: Yukon Utilities Board, propane distribution
Mr. Fentie: Well, I'm only stating what the press release states, and surely - surely - this tightly knit group across the floor, this Liberal government, all reviewed that press release that was sent out by the government yesterday. The Premier's news release is based on a possible distribution system for Whitehorse. It makes no mention of other Yukon communities like Haines Junction and Watson Lake. Can the minister explain why the focus is exclusively on Whitehorse and what impact this would have on propane suppliers in the rest of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker, this is Houston answering the member opposite. Of course, they're on Apollo 13, and we know what happened there; they were flying all over the place. Luckily, there were some experienced ground people who managed to bring them back, just like this government, Mr. Speaker. We are gaining more and more experience every day, getting better and better. So, Mr. Speaker, they're coming up with these obtuse questions, and I have indicated to the member that I will get back with a competent and full answer to his question at a later date.
Mr. Fentie: Well, it's a comforting thought that the members opposite are gaining more experience every day. I am sure that Yukoners are going to sleep warm in their beds tonight, especially those unemployed Yukoners.
Something else that is missing from the Premier's news release is any reference to other options. This government seems determined to get into a franchise arrangement with some outside company, Mr. Speaker - companies such as ATCO Gas and Sask Gas. Will the minister give an assurance today that other options, including public ownership, perhaps in partnership with First Nations or municipal governments, haven't been ruled out?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: That is one thing that this government does on this side of the House, is consult fully - consult with all Yukoners including First Nations. We will be continuing that exercise with respect to the issue that the member opposite is discussing now.
Mr. Fentie: That begs the question then: what consultations took place with existing propane distributors before this amendment hit the floor of this Legislature? It would be a serious disservice if Yukon people were shut out of the action in favour of private companies from southern Canada. Not only would we be surrendering considerable control over our own affairs, we would also lose the opportunity to develop local expertise. Another important question is who would pay for the Yukon Utilities Board to conduct the necessary hearings on a franchise? That alone could cost a couple of million dollars to this territory. Can I ask the minister this: who would pay for this process? The Department of Justice? Economic Development? Or the Yukon Development Corporation? Can the minister assure us that money to extend the rate stabilization fund won't be used for the purpose of doing a hearing?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Again, I do appreciate the question coming on the supplementary there. He is, again, indirectly helping us out, as he does on occasion, by providing a list of options for this government to consider. And we will do that. We said that we would be open and accountable and we will maintain that practice, Mr. Speaker. We will consider the options that the member opposite just provided.
Question re: Faro mine, environmental cleanup
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Acting Minister of Economic Development.
The death knell has been sounded for the Faro mine, and over the past year $1.5 million has been spent to convert the old mill into a water treatment plant. The Faro mine has been in the hands of a court-appointed receiver and the recent court decision will put the mine in the hands of government, allowing access to a $14-million cleanup bond. The total cost of the cleanup at this site could be well over $100 million.
Currently, Mr. Speaker, there are over two dozen workers on-site; however, the vast majority of them are from Vancouver, and I have received a number of complaints about this situation from unemployed Yukon tradesmen. I would ask the minister to tell these workers what he is going to do to ensure Yukoners are hired to implement the Faro mine abandonment plan.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I don't have a problem speaking in the manner in which the member has just suggested. We all agree in this House, I think, that we want to see Yukoners working first and foremost, and we will make best efforts to do that. I believe the Premier has indicated that, as have other colleagues of mine on this side of the House.
We are very concerned about the cleanup at the Faro site. The member opposite knows that. Again, in questions that I answered yesterday, we had indicated that the ink is still wet on the judge's statement. There is a lot of legalese that is involved with the judge's decision and rendering, so it's going to take some time to work out the details, Mr. Speaker, but we're confident we'll be able to do that, and we will keep Yukoners busy and working.
Mr. Jenkins: We're talking a great sum of money here. Currently, the expenditure to clean up the Faro mine site could amount to about $100 million. That's a significant amount of dollars, and currently the firm that has been hired is there and has brought all its workforce from Vancouver to do all the mechanical changeovers in the mill.
I'd like the minister to outline for the House what initiatives his Liberal government has taken, if any, to secure jobs for Yukoners at the Faro mine site.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker, the member is talking about a defined and definitive exercise that may require outside expertise to help. But, as the member opposite well knows, the site cleanup at Faro is going to take a good number of years and will involve many professionals, many individuals to partake and work at the cleanup. We're well aware of that.
We, as part of the devolution negotiations, are also talking about environmental cleanup aspects. Those negotiations are not yet complete. So we recognize, as the member has indicated, that there is a tremendous amount of money required for the Faro cleanup alone, and we are pursuing that through the devolution process and will be utilizing the monies that have been identified in the judge's rendering yesterday.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, currently the firm Ledcor is on-site. It has brought all its welders, pipefitters and plumbers from Vancouver. Can the minister table any correspondence that he has on hand that outlines what initiatives his Liberal government has taken to secure jobs for Yukoners at this mine site. Will the minister do so, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Again, Mr. Speaker, I have just outlined to the member opposite - but he refuses to hear the answer - that the judge has indicated that there are some monies available through the settlement on the Faro claim for cleanup, and we will be making best efforts to put forward programs and initiatives for cleanup in working consultation with the Environment department and DIAND and their water experts. We're very aware of the condition of the Faro mine site. Again, I think it is worth repeating that there isn't anybody in this House who doesn't want to see Yukoners working, and we're making best efforts toward that end.
Question re: Protected areas secretariat
Mr. McRobb: It appears as though the coalition of groups that walked away from the Yukon protected areas strategy process is ready to return. This so-called group of seven has a mandate. It's a five-item shopping list.
Yesterday the minister said that the government won't commit itself until these items have been reviewed by the YPAS Public Advisory Committee. Will the minister tell us which of these five demands he supports and which ones he does not?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I very much welcome the question from the Member for Kluane - very much. The whole situation with respect to the protected areas strategy and the current exercise that has had to occur on the implementation aspects are the direct result of the mismanagement of the previous government. I'm sorry that the Member for Kluane doesn't like to hear disparaging remarks directed at members opposite, but it is a clear fact that there was direct interference at the political level in the process of implementation. That is what we are fixing, Mr. Speaker. We will be moving toward those aspects being entrenched in legislation.
Answering the member's question, we do respect the consultation process and the PAC will be reviewing those recommendations that have come forward from the group of seven. So, it will be up to that group to make recommendations, which come directly to Cabinet.
Mr. McRobb: Well, so much for an open and accountable government. At some point, this minister is going to have to stand up and show some leadership. I merely asked him which ones of the five items he supports and which ones he does not. This is the Government of the Yukon Territory. It can't hide behind boards and committees forever. It has to show some leadership at some point. That's what I'm asking for.
One of the coalition's complaints concerns the minister's own department. Is this minister considering the coalition's demand for a YPAS secretariat that is free from the influence of the Department of Renewable Resources?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, if the previous government had only followed the process of implementation, we wouldn't be where we are right now. If they had consulted with the extraction industry, oil and gas people, the mining people, if they had only sat down and followed the process, if they had only consulted with those people during the establishment of the Fishing Branch, we wouldn't be where we are right now. We wouldn't be where we are. But we are consulting.
Very funny, Mr. McRobb.
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: I apologize for that, Mr. Speaker.
The situation is that we are going through the consultation process. Those points have been forwarded to the Premier and me, and we had indicated in the meeting that those points would, in turn, be forwarded to the Public Advisory Committee, as we respect the process that's going on, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, these thin-skinned Liberals just don't get it. They can't hide behind these committees. They have to show some leadership and demonstrate it on the floor of this Legislature. They can't expect the opposition to go running around to various board and committee meetings to get answers that should be provided here in this House.
If the minister would just get on the same wavelength, we could maybe have more production in this area.
Now, obviously we have an impasse. The coalition is concerned about the influence of environmental groups in the YPAS process. One of the coalition's demands is that the secretariat be independent and free of the influence of the Department of Renewable Resources. This is one way they hope to achieve equality between resource and environmental stakeholders.
Does the minister support the request for balance? And what other acts would the minister extend that principle to?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Yes, Mr. Speaker, it is fundamentally clear that the Member for Kluane has no concept whatsoever about respecting the process of consultation. We made it very clear - the Premier and I - at the meeting in the Cabinet room with the group of seven, when they submitted their five points, that those five points would have to go to the PAC group. They were charged with the responsibility of forming recommendations and of including those five points, as they see fit, and that those recommendations and points would come back to Cabinet.
The members opposite don't understand the concept of consultation and respecting the process, respecting those individuals who have been charged with the responsibility to do that. They have no idea how to deal in a public, consultative process. That's why we are where we are with YPAS.
Question re: Tourism, promotion of
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, the only idea this government has is how to point the finger, because they are totally incapable of standing up and taking responsibility, which is what they should be doing.
My next question is for the Minister of Tourism. Last week, while trying to defend her travel budget expenses - I see that she is glad to be reminded that she is part of this government - the Premier said that the Minister of Tourism has convinced thousands upon thousands of visitors to come to the Yukon by attending an RV show in Alberta. This sounds about as convincing as this minister's ridiculous claim that, last June, the Liberal government was creating jobs, jobs, jobs.
Mr. Speaker, when the minister was in Edmonton, exactly how many people did she convince to visit the Yukon this year?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to answer a question.
First of all, we have created jobs, jobs, jobs. In the last film production, which is just starting, I think, today, we created 30 jobs, 60 person-weeks. We created jobs in a number of different areas. Mr. Speaker, we are working hard to finally fix the Yukon economy. It's going to take a long time. There has been a lot of damage done.
As for working with people in the RV industry and trying to get people coming in their RVs up to the Yukon, that's something we want to pay attention to. An awful lot of our traffic comes up here every year. It's not glamorous, it's not sexy; it's people in their RVs. But they're coming here, and the problem we have this year is that the cost of gasoline is going up. So we have to work twice as hard to make sure that those people still make the choice to come to the Yukon for the visit and the travel of a lifetime, and we are working very hard at doing that, Mr. Speaker.
In the budget that the member opposite has had a briefing on, he'll note that the amount of dollars we're spending on going to RV shows, consumer shows as well as wholesaler shows, has gone up. That amount of dollars has gone up because we are paying attention to that market. We want people to come to the Yukon, spend their money, spend an extra day, and help save the Yukon economy from the devastation that was done to it by the previous government.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, those aren't real jobs. Those are phantom jobs in the mind of the minister. The only real jobs that could have been created by the minister she shooed away. The Call of the Wild television series - 130 jobs and $45 million to $50 million in the Yukon economy over the next four to five years, which they said no to.
The RV traffic means travelling Yukon highways. The minister's colleague sitting right behind her is well-known for her views on the Yukon so-called lousy highways, according to her. Did the minister include that warning in her information to the rubber-tire trade at that RV show?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, let's go back to the first assumption made by the member opposite, which was, to say the least, not factually correct. The member opposite said that we are not creating employment. I've just said to the member opposite we created 30 jobs in Snowbound, the latest film that's going to be shot here in the Yukon - that's 30 jobs. And I said before, and the member opposite wasn't listening, and it was certainly in the press release, that will be 60 person-weeks of employment being created. Those are jobs - real, tangible jobs - and those people appreciate the efforts that this government has made to make sure they have those jobs so they can put food on their tables, Mr. Speaker.
The number one industry in the Yukon right now is tourism. Regardless of what the member opposite thinks, the number one industry in the Yukon is tourism. That's the private sector; that's what it is. It's tourism. I know the member opposite doesn't like that, but that's the way it is.
Now, as for the quality of our roads, the odd thing about going out to the RV show is that the roads everywhere in Canada are lousy. They're not great. That's why we're going to the federal government. All ministers of Tourism are going to the federal government, and they're saying, "Look, the roads in Canada are not good. We need more infrastructure dollars." That's why we have continuing discussions with Mr. Collenette and the other ministers responsible in that area. It is our number one industry. When we were in the RV show in Edmonton ...
Speaker: Order please. Will the minister please conclude her answer.
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: ... we told them that the roads in the Yukon were good.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, if that doesn't take the cake.
If what the minister says is true, why is it impossible to find a U-Haul trailer in the Yukon? That's because they're all on the road south, along with the 500 people who have left the workforce.
Mr. Speaker, the minister talks about 30 jobs. So what? They are 470 jobs in the red. What about those? And the jobs she's talking about are in Inuvik, Fort Nelson, Fort Liard and Grande Prairie. That's not the Yukon.
Now, this morning, the minister's own officials admitted that visitation was down seven percent last year and will probably be flatlined at the 1998 level. What exactly is the minister doing right now to lure those tourists to leave their RVs and go into the Yukon tourist facilities? What is she doing?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is living in another world, perhaps. Maybe he is up there in the ozone with the people from Houston. The construction of the Mayo school will employ up to 25 Yukoners. There are 30 people who are going to be employed on Snowbound. Anderson Exploration is employing over 60 Yukoners and will spend more than $20 million on oil and gas exploration near Eagle Plains.
Now, the member opposite can't even come up with his own lines. He talks about the U-Hauls being used to move outside. If I recall, that was a Yukon Party line that they used on the NDP in the previous government. At least come up with your own lines. Good gravy, Mr. Speaker.
Now the stay-another-day program is going to give people who come to visit the Yukon something to do when they are here. It is a really concerted effort of Yukoners in every Yukon community to come up with activities and events that will attract visitors to their communities and keep them there for another day. That potentially could bring another $13 million into our economy from the number one industry in the Yukon Territory, and that is tourism.
Question re: Tourism, promotion of
Mr. McRobb: I thought that the previous answer took the cake, but I was wrong. They just keep getting better and better.
This question is also for the Minister of Tourism. These people can't stay another day if they are not here in the first place, Mr. Speaker. We need people to come to the Yukon before we can convince them to stay longer. They won't just stay for a bean supper as was suggested by the minister. What is this minister doing right now to make sure that these people have a reason to stay if they come at all?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I don't know what the member opposite has against beans.
The people of the Yukon are the ones who are telling us what they can do to keep people in their communities - what they want to do, what they're able to do and what they will do this summer to attract and keep visitors in their communities. I have faith in the people of the Yukon. I have faith that they know what they can successfully put on for 110 days of the tourism season, and I have faith in Yukoners' ability to put out a really good, quality product that people will remember for the rest of their lives, during that visit of a lifetime to the Yukon Territory.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister is full of beans. She killed the funding programs on a trumped-up case of interference. The real interference was this minister's cutting of the funding. Deadline for funding applications for the arts fund was just last week. Can the minister tell us how many arts fund applications were received during that time?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, what I can tell you is that the number of applications for the arts fund is substantial, and the amount being asked for is far beyond what we have to give out this year.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, it's rather disappointing to realize that this is supposed to be the year of the festivals in the Yukon, but organizers of well-established events like the Alsek Music Festival, the Dawson City Music Festival and the Storytelling Festival are very uncertain about what these new reduced funds will mean to them. Some groups are worried that accessing one of these funds will now jeopardize other funding options they have. They are even worried that they won't be able to continue beyond this year.
The so-called year of the festivals could become the year of the last festivals.
Will the minister assure our community groups that the funding they need will be available in the future and that this does not have to be their last event?
Hon. Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, this is just ludicrous - absolutely ludicrous. They haven't even gone through the applications yet to decide who is going to get funded and who's not. The member opposite doesn't have any faith in the ability of the people at the Alsek Music Festival to present a good application that's going to get them funding, or the music festival in Dawson City.
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite doesn't seem to have any faith in Yukoners whatsoever.
It is the year of the festival, and the member opposite talks about reduced funding. Well, there wasn't even an arts fund last year, so how could you reduce something that didn't exist?
Mr. Speaker, we have great faith in Yukoners and their ability to present good applications for funding and to put on a good product for Yukon visitors and Yukoners alike.
Question re: Economic development, trade and investment strategy
Mr. Fentie: Well, one thing is for certain. The Liberals have been eating their own beans and are simply putting along in this territory.
I have another question for the Acting Minister of Economic Development. Last year, members of the business community stated bluntly what this side of the House has known for some time. The economy is in the tank and this Liberal government is making it worse. This week, the Premier is demonstrating once again that all her eggs are in one basket - a hopeful pipeline coming down the Alaska Highway. Why has this government abandoned Yukon business people by slamming the brakes on the trade and investment strategy that was developed by the previous government?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Mr. Speaker, I am so inspired by my colleague, the hon. Minister of Tourism. She is inspirational. Thank you.
Getting back to the response to the member opposite, the Premier is making best efforts in numerous areas - in oil and gas, in pipeline, in building up credibility and faith in government by the business folks and by the private sector, because they have lost faith. They have been damaged, abused, ignored and the consultation process has been trashed, time and time again. So, it is taking time.
The Premier is continually consulting. She is confronting these individuals, either one on one, in groups or as she did just this past weekend at the summit here in Whitehorse. So, she is making best efforts, all out, with the full support of her caucus and Cabinet colleagues.
Mr. Fentie: Well, it doesn't take much to inspire the members opposite. That is clear, because our economy is not moving forward at all. In fact, it has gone backwards. The Minister of Tourism has claimed that they created 30 jobs, but we have had 500 people leave this workforce in the last 11 months. Mr. Speaker, the Liberals bailed out of the trade and investment fund because of their trumped-up claim of political interference, but they are doing nothing to help Yukon companies develop export markets for their goods and services, which would have provided jobs and benefit for Yukoners. I ask this acting minister if he will sit down with the Premier the minute that she returns from Houston back to ground control and impress upon her the need to do more for the economy than schmoozing with the oil barons.
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: Here we go again, Mr. Speaker. She should be here; she should be there. She should be up; she should be down. She shouldn't be anywhere. She shouldn't be travelling. She shouldn't be talking to anybody. It's continual and it's really quite boring hearing the continual flip-flop on this side of the House.
The Member for Watson Lake suggested that we may be putting along, but guess who is behind us, Mr. Speaker. The thing is that we are at all times remaining open and accountable. We are at times creating a greater trust because of that openness and accountability, Mr. Speaker. Yukoners have questions regarding the accuracy of anything the members opposite are saying. Why there is trust, we have no idea. The members opposite said that we weren't going to be building the Mayo school. Well, guess what? We are building the Mayo school. They said that we cut Faro and Ross River out of Connect Yukon, but Northwestel says that the NDP didn't commit any money to make the communities part of the project. That is a fact and that was what was reported. So, we are, through openness and accountability, building -
Speaker: Order please. Will the minister please conclude his answer.
Mr. Fentie: Well, there's clear evidence of why the Liberal government is focused solely on a pipeline; it's because they're full of beans and have a lot of excess gas, Mr. Speaker.
This Liberal lube rack has been lurching along, and due to the friction in caucus and the grit in their gears, they're grinding this economy to a halt. In fact, this Liberal government treats our economy like a lemonade stand that's in receivership.
I ask this acting minister again: will the minister urge the Premier to restore the necessary funding to the trade and investment initiatives right away, as the business community wants, so Yukon entrepreneurs have some reason to believe that this government is truly on their side and working on the economy?
Hon. Mr. Eftoda: That was a good one, Mr. Speaker - True Grit. Well, we have John Wayne on the other side, and then he turns around and tries to sell lemonade, as Charlie Brown. Well, that's just their point of view - a child's point of view. We are making progress.
As the Minister of Tourism had indicated, the damage has been so severe that it is taking a considerable amount of time to repair it. We have to build trust and we're building trust. The Premier is making best efforts to round out the economy in the territory by talking to businessmen, entrepreneurs, oil and gas people, pipeline constructors, oil companies, Mr. Speaker. Gee, that's a bad thing, apparently.
It's too bad she has to have supper with an oil baron, Mr. Speaker, but you know what? Things are improving. We are seeing a turnaround in the territory. We do have an increase in employment in the territory, unlike during the previous reign of the NDP and its unemployment rate that reached 17 percent. So we are making better progress than the previous government did in three and a half years.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of government private members' business
Ms. Tucker: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to inform the House that the government private members do not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, April 4, 2001 under the heading of government private members' business.
Speaker: We will now 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 adjourn until 2 o'clock.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with debate on the Department of Health and Social Services.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 2001-02 - continued
Department of Health and Social Services - continued
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I'm not going to carry on where I left off last evening, because no doubt I am going to be getting questions in that area again. So, I will save that for a later time.
One of the things that we are really trying to promote as a government is the whole issue of what I call self-realization, where individuals - Yukoners - look at what they have to do to maintain their health and improve their health. Mr. Chair, that is not always an easy thing to do. We become very complacent about our health, because we assume that there are things out there that are going to fix us. Quite often, we find that we are so far down the pipe that that doesn't happen.
One of the initiatives that we, , strongly believe in as a government is what we call the active living model. I'm going to spend a couple of minutes talking about that again, because I don't think we spend enough time on prevention. We spend a lot of time talking about how we should spend more money on remediating the system when, hopefully, we should be spending more time and money on preventing it.
This is the forward-thinking approach to health and wellness. It recognizes the importance of lifestyle in prevention and shaping health policy and in delivering health-related programs. It is a cornerstone to a prevention-based approach to individual and community health. This is based on a lot of research.
I can tell you that, in my former life as a school administrator for 32 years - 29 of those being a principal here in Whitehorse - I spent a lot of energy over those years trying to share with staff and with the community what healthy lifestyles meant - what is meant for the community, what it meant for the school and what it meant for all of us.
Our objective in this program is to try to reduce the number of inactive Canadians or Yukoners by just 10 percent - by just 10 percent. And if we can do that, Mr. Chair, we could save $5 billion in Canada. We are a part of the national commitment that many parts of Canada are starting to move on. It's a big discussion point at all of the Health ministers meetings that I have gone to. We have a lot of discussion around prevention versus what I would think traditionally have been the questions: how do we buy more equipment, how do we get more nurses, how do we get more doctors, and so on.
That's still part of the conversation, but we are spending a lot of time just talking about prevention.
We have to recognize, Mr. Chair, that to encourage Yukoners to embrace physical activity in their daily lives, we have to use a lot of resources. We have to use all the facilities that we're thinking about in our natural environment. Almost everything we do, from walking the dog to cycling to picking berries to hiking in the woods, is aspects that have to be supported and promoted.
I feel that the benefits of taking time out from your hectic day are very important. I think all of us - I see a number of our colleagues here at noon hour getting outside and getting some fresh air, doing a quick walk around. I think these are very important points for all of us to keep on the straight and narrow.
I think the important part for us, Mr. Chair, is that we have to work very closely with all our partners, and for us in the workforce, "partners" means government, it means citizens, it means our seniors. And if I really look up to a lot of the seniors organizations, like Ms. Joyce Young and her elders group that puts on the elders games - again, a lot of different activities. This is the first time it was held last year. There were a number of activities that brought seniors together. It's those kinds of things that are promoting the active living model.
We have invested $130,000 this year in our current budget, 2001-02, and we're hoping to hire an active living coordinator. It may be growing government but, hopefully, we're growing it in the right areas so we can prevent a lot of the other expenditures that we're always facing in these debates and in these discussions.
We want to develop an extensive community-based program, an awareness program. Doctors, as I mentioned earlier, have a green prescription program that they're endorsing. They are partners in this process; our nurses are partners in it. We're developing extensive, school-based active living programs. What we're really basing a lot of our discussion and a lot of our future on is the Lifestyle Research Institute, which will be undertaking activity benchmarks from 1998 to 2003, on behalf of all the provinces. They will come up here and do a sampling of 250 people to determine whether we have improved, and look at the determinants for physical activity.
When they did come up here the first time last May, they told us that 51 percent of the Yukon people are not active enough to achieve health benefits, so I think that tells you something - it's a little over half of our population.
It's very important, Mr. Chair, that we try to improve on this in the future.
I want to spend just a couple of seconds here on recruitment. We have spent a lot of time around recruitment, on whether we work together, how we work together and on whose terms we work together. I again invite the opposition to be part of our solution in trying to be more proactive in the area of recruitment. What we're really seeing - and every day it's on the news - is the need for health care professionals like general practitioners, nursing, mental health, nutritionists, specialist physicians, audiologists, mental health counsellors. We can also expect shortages in physiotherapy, medical laboratories, radiation technologists and pharmacists as well.
So retaining our health care professionals is a very important goal for us as a government. As I shared with you earlier, we have just, in January/February, released phase 1 of our recruitment and that's there for public knowledge. We'll soon be releasing phase 2 where we have worked with the YMA and the YRNA in developing the next stages in our health care recruitment drive.
Mr. Chair, I really would encourage the members opposite to be positive in trying to submit to us some of their ideas as to what we can do in this area.
We are not necessarily not interested in the all-party approach; it's just that we felt that, at this time, it wasn't the time for it because of how fast and how far we've moved with the ideas. I suppose that as soon as the opposition realizes that "all-party committee" means not just on their terms, but also on the terms of the House - I shared with members earlier that the members opposite did not want to take part in an all-party committee to discuss boards and committees. All of a sudden, they want to be part of an all-party committee. I'm not sure where that fits, but I guess that once that is decided we can start moving on to trying to work together.
I think that for many of us the important part is to look at how we can work together as government. I was very pleasantly, I guess - not surprised, but pleasantly satisfied with the debate that we had yesterday. We debated policy. We didn't get into line-by-line. I think there was one issue that came up as a line-by-line thing. We really talked about philosophy, direction and where we should be going as a health care entity here in the Yukon. So, I'm very pleased about that type of approach.
How we as a government see ourselves in the future and how we work together will really be the marks that citizens out there in the Yukon will recognize. I think we as a government have done a lot of things for the economy at this point. The unemployment rate in February of this year was 12.2. Last year, under the NDP, it was 12.8. So there's a slight move there.
It went as high as 17 percent with the NDP.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The Member for Watson Lake talks about people who have left the territory. Under the NDP watch, it is suggested that over 3,000 people left the Yukon. The Member for Watson Lake is also suggesting that under our watch so far, 500 have left or have not put themselves on the list. I am not sure whether these are fact or fiction.
Statistics Canada says that the number of people collecting unemployment insurance in February this year was down almost 10 percent over last year. StatsCan says that the value of building permits issued in January of this year increased by more than 85 percent over January of last year. Statistics Canada forecasts that Yukon will experience the second-highest percentage growth in capital spending in all of Canada this year.
There is the construction of the Mayo-Dawson transmission line, which will create 70 jobs over the next two years. Construction of the Mayo school will employ up to 25 Yukoners. Anderson Exploration is employing over 60 Yukoners and will spend over $20 million on oil and gas. We recently completed our second land sale in the Eagle Plains area, which will create more jobs. The North Slope gas producers, Chevron, Phillips and Exxon, are spending $75 million in the north studying the feasibility of building a natural gas pipeline.
It is rather interesting listening to the members opposite. Every chance the members opposite get to play down a pipeline, they do it, whether it is the Mackenzie line or whether it is the Alaska gas pipeline. The suggestion is that they're always in support of a gas line, but we on this side and people out on the street are saying, "No, they are not." Because every message that comes out is always negative.
A decision on the Alaska Highway pipeline project is expected this year. This could mean a lot of dollars if it is here. If it is not, then we move on. Our eggs are not all in one basket. North American Tungsten has recently announced the commitment to reopen the Cantung mine. It will probably be one of the first mines operating in a long time here. So, obviously there is a resurgence in mining because of the environment that they are coming to. I mean, it's in the Northwest Territories, but it will benefit Watson Lake greatly because most of the people will probably come from that area.
The economic forecast, which was released earlier this sitting, says that the improvement this Liberal government has made to the exploration tax credits and increased funding for the Yukon mining incentive programs are expected to stem any further decrease in spending on mineral exploration.
Our government will spend $30 million on highway construction in the coming year, reversing years of cuts to the highway construction budget by both the NDP and the Yukon Party. You can well imagine what the additional $4 million that will be going up to Dawson for the airport improvement - he talked about a cozy relationship with our cousins in Ottawa. Guess what? It has paid off with $4 million more. This was because of the work of this government. It was also forecast that the tourism industry will experience modest growth this year, and the value of furs harvested by trappers increased by 33 percent last year, and sales were expected to increase.
Mr. Chair, I could carry on here for hours about what we have done as a government in our first year, and I think, obviously, we have tried very hard. We have made mistakes, Mr. Chair. That is how you learn. I always believe that you make mistakes and you learn from them and try not to do them again. I believe that we are working very hard as a government at trying to build together for the future.
I know from the members opposite if we could stick to policy and stick to legislation and not worry about characters and innuendoes and all those things, a lot could be accomplished.
Chair: Order please. The member has 30 seconds.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I believe, Mr. Chair, it's very important for us to be open and transparent. I know people on the street believe that we are, because we answer the questions, we give the information, and people are very satisfied with the way that we have been operating so far.
Mr. Fentie: Well, one thing I must begin with is it's very difficult at times to grasp where this minister is coming from because he speaks in code quite a bit.
We all understand that the minister is a strong advocate of active living. However, in that oxygen-induced state of righteous nirvana, one must wonder exactly what this minister is doing in terms of the delivery of health care for the people of this territory. There are many points that must be brought to bear in rebutting the minister.
First, let me begin with the economy, and it's evident that the minister has absolutely zero grasp of what the statistics are saying and what has happened in the economy. Quite frankly, if this Liberal government had been in office when the Faro mine shut down - and they keep making the claim that, under the NDP watch, 3,000 people left the territory. The facts speak for themselves. If the Liberals had been in office, today there would have been 3,500 people who had left this territory.
The reason that the trends were turning around under the former government is because we were seriously addressing, diversifying and attacking the economic problems in this territory.
Mr. Speaker - Mr. Chair, sorry. You are the Deputy Speaker, so I get confused sometimes.
Mr. Chair, let's look at another fact. The minister again comes up with the statistics about how, right now, the statistics show that the unemployment rate is lower than last year under the NDP government. Again, this is either a refusal to understand and grasp what the stats are saying, or the minister is trying to manufacture some new type of statistic. But the facts are this: there is a decrease in the unemployment rate in the territory under the Liberal watch for one simple reason. It's not because the Liberals have created jobs, but because 500 people have left the workforce. That's why the unemployment rate is lower. There are 500 people out of the workforce.
The minister has to get a grasp on the statistics and provide the appropriate information to the Legislature. I'm not too sure how we're going to be able to get through debates on Health and Social Services if simple things like an unemployment rate have gone past the minister's willingness to address the facts.
The minister also makes the claim that, under the Liberal government, there are jobs because of the Mayo school; there are jobs because of the Mayo inter-tie; there are jobs because of oil and gas development; there are jobs because of mining exploration tax credits. And he's also stating at the same time that we, on this side of the House, are downplaying the Alaska Highway pipeline.
Let me begin with the Mayo school, the Mayo inter-tie, development of the oil and gas industry, and mining exploration tax credits - all initiatives begun and instituted and implemented under the former NDP government. The Liberals across the floor, in 11 excruciating months of being in office, watched 500 people leave this territory, and we have nothing to show for what they claim to be their efforts in addressing an economy in crisis. The business people of this territory were clear that the economy is in crisis and, instead of doing something about it, the Liberal government opposite is making the situation worse.
Now, let's deal with playing down the only economic plank that this government has managed to continually impress upon Yukon people, downplaying the oil and gas pipeline. The facts are that the Minister of Economic Development's own department, in the tours through the Yukon, is downplaying the pipeline. The industry itself, just last week, right here in Whitehorse, cautioned Yukoners to not hype this project. There isn't one.
And the reason they're spending $75 million is to study the economic viability of one or another option in terms of a pipeline. So, the Minister of Health and Social Services is speaking in code here when he's passing this information out on the floor of this Legislature and expecting Yukoners to buy into it. They're not.
Now, let's go on to the minister's portfolio under his purview. The minister has just stated that we, on this side of the House, aren't cooperative, and that we should be more cooperative. Yet, when we, last week, brought a motion to the floor of this Legislature in an extremely cooperative and constructive manner to address the biggest fundamental issue we have in health care in this territory - the recruitment and retention of health care professionals - what did the side opposite do? They trashed it. They stomped on it and threw it away. They ignored it. They refused to reciprocate in the same constructive and cooperative manner in which this side of the House brought forward the motion.
So, that leads us to look closely at what the minister is saying. In reviewing yesterday's Hansard and listening to the minister today, something is becoming clear. The code that the minister is speaking in is one of cuts to health care, disguised by some form of creating this special active living program in the Yukon Territory.
I want to point something out to the minister. At a very young age - and I can assure this House that I'm no spring chicken - I can recall this phrase, which I heard on many occasions: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
This preventive type of approach to health care is nothing new. It has been with us for years and decades - long before this minister ever realized that probably the best approach to healthy living is active living. So this doesn't wash. What about delivering health care to the people of this territory who need health care? Our biggest downfall and our biggest problem is the fact that we are facing a critical shortage of doctors and nurses in this territory, and yet, in one small community in this territory - Watson Lake - a doctor, through his own initiative, is actively recruiting doctors into that community. This minister snubs the doctor, doesn't even stop to talk to the doctor and ask him a simple question, "How are you managing to recruit these doctors into Watson Lake when we have this major problem in the City of Whitehorse and can't get any?" So something just doesn't jibe here, Mr. Chair.
I want to go on about how this minister speaks in code and what the real agenda of this Liberal government is. I have to begin with the minister's colleague - if they're still colleagues - the Member for Riverdale South, who stated publicly on January 31 of this year, "Universality will have to be examined," said Sue Edelman, Acting Minister of Health and Social Services. "There are ways to better manage this grant." Grant? I didn't know that universality and health care for Canadians and Yukoners was some sort of a grant. I thought it was entrenched; it's a right. "There are ways to better manage this grant as well as other grants, and we are going to be looking at that very seriously."
Now that tells me, Mr. Chair, that the Liberal government is putting everything on the table in the delivery of health care to this territory and its people, including universality.
In fact, I will go even further and state that this minister is spending much too much time focusing on a Liberal-style delivery of health care, which is two-tier and which is a situation of a public/private delivery of health care. That is contradictory to the minister's own claim that they will follow faithfully the five health care principles. We on this side of the House - as we all know, leading back to Tommy Douglas - are proponents of universality and the champions of health care for every Canadian in this country, as a right. And I would submit, Mr. Chair, that this minister is leading this Liberal government against that grain.
There are many examples that bring that to mind. When you go over comments from the minister like "a system that is fiscally out of control" - well, wait a minute, Mr. Chair, the system, for the last 11 months, has been under this minister's control, responsibility and management. What has the minister done in that time? We haven't seen any concrete action toward our most serious issue - recruitment. Nothing, Mr. Chair, nothing whatsoever.
We have to realize that there is much more to delivering health care, especially to those who need health care, to those who are sick, to those who require this minister's focus and attention. There is much more than just talking about it in this Legislature. There has to be action, concrete action. Talking about active living is also questionable. The National Post has recently put out the results of research that they have from the New England Journal of Medicine.
Now, we're saying, fundamentally, as the minister points out, that active living is the answer. That's what we have to do. Yet the New England Journal of Medicine says that it's more important to recruit and get doctors and nurses and health caregivers, because of this fact. It says death rates are declining, not because of lower fat diets, but because doctors are treating heart disease - and this is all related to heart disease - with greater success. Doctors. In other words, if we have the doctors, we can address devastating diseases like heart disease.
It goes on to say, "In fact, more people are having heart attacks, but fewer are dying from them. Doctors in Canada now perform four times more medical procedures for heart disease than they did 20 years ago." That's why there is success in dealing with heart disease. It's because of doctors and, if we don't have doctors, we will rapidly slip backward to a state we were in decades ago, and this disease, again, will become a very difficult one to deal with.
Now, I don't dispute, for a moment, the minister's claim that active living is important - it is. I believe it myself, but the minister has to get focused on what the problems are and address them.
Now, beginning with the problems of the territory, obviously the slashing of the transfer payments in health care by the Liberal cousins in Ottawa was what began some of our most serious issues in this territory. Under the disguise of attacking the national debt, the federal Liberal government has jeopardized the delivery of health care for us in this territory, for Yukoners and indeed for Canadians.
There's no need to have slashed health care. The federal government did not have to attack the national debt by slashing health care. One minister alone, responsible for human resources, lost track of a billion bucks. The notion that they needed to slash health care to address the debt is ridiculous.
Mr. Chair, there are many things to go over with this minister because, quite frankly, I do submit and claim and stand by the fact that the real agenda of this Liberal government is not to deliver health in the manner it was intended - the universality of health care. Their real intention is to cut health care in this territory and to develop a two-tier system. We on this side of the House are fundamentally opposed to that and we will fight that move with everything we have.
Can I ask the minister to stand on his feet and answer this? Does he concur with his colleague's comments that everything in this territory is on the table - including universality - under this minister's watch?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, talk about bafflegab. The Member for Watson Lake is just full of it. I can't believe the things that that member would say. To pick an article out of the New England Journal of Medicine and say that the reason we have fewer heart attacks or are solving heart problems is because we need more heart specialists - that's what the member opposite said. We want to get there before they need a heart specialist. That's the whole objective. That's where active living becomes a very strong part of our society.
It's rather interesting that the members opposite - and I gave credit where credit was due. The program was actually initiated by the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes. It was a very good step. And now they are attacking it. I can't believe that they would attack a program that they initiated and that we have taken to the next stage of implementation. I am shocked and appalled that this is the approach that the member opposite would take.
I think that one of the problems with the members opposite is that they have a problem with universality. The five principles of the Canada Health Act are intact. They are not being discussed or even being challenged. They are there because they are the backbone of the medicare programming in Canada.
When we talk about the pioneer utility grant or programs that we in the Yukon have put together, obviously we can discuss those. We, as government, have a right to discuss those. Citizens of the Yukon have the right to discuss those. It would appear from the member's observation that, once they are in place, you never touch them again. They are there forever, even though our costs are out of control. That's not the way we solve problems, Mr. Chair.
The whole objective here in presenting this government as attacking universality is a smoke-and-mirrors game that the opposition plays daily. They play it daily - or the idea that we are incompetent and that we don't know what we're doing.
The Member for Watson Lake is a master at trying to get that image out there. Guess what? People see through it. They don't believe it, because they understand where the Member for Watson Lake is coming from.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, that's the problem, Mr. Chair. The members opposite actually believe what they read in the newspaper. I mean, if that's what you believe, that's the reason why you have problems.
Mr. Chair, we already have income testing in our system. The Yukon supplement is income tested. It's based on your gross salary, so it's not like this is a new thing; it has been around for a long time.
I think the important part for us is to try to get on with the real issue of how we improve the system. We have been challenged over the last two or three years by the Canadian public to come forward with innovative ways of trying to address our health care issues. If we keep relying on the old ways, as the Member for Watson Lake talks about - the prehistoric theory espoused by the Member for Watson Lake that we never change, that once it's in place we just accept it blindly forever - then obviously nothing will change. That's a prehistoric view of what life is all about. Life changes all the time. It's very important that we look at the times, look at the pressures, look at how we can become more efficient and how we can become more effective in delivering our services.
The member opposite is trying to scaremonger, as the member opposite does often with the public. I have to underline that; scaremongering is one of their favourite ways of trying to present to the public out there that there are problems. The important part of this, Mr. Chair, is that, rather than looking for effective answers, all they're trying to do is create an issue where there is none.
What we are trying to do as a government is to address the issues. What we are trying to do as part of the Canadian nation is to look at how we can deliver health care in a better way. If that means from the member opposite that we can't question, we can't discuss and we can't look at anything that we have ever done or will do in the future, I don't know how it can be done. It has to.
On one hand the Member for Klondike says that we don't do enough. Then the Member for Klondike asks when we are going to start. So which is it? We either do too much or we have already made our decisions or we haven't done enough. So the members opposite really haven't got a clue as to how we are proceeding here.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I will withdraw that, Mr. Chair. They haven't got a point.
I think that the issue -
Chair: Order please. I will remind members of Standing Order 6(6), which states: "When a member is speaking, no other member shall interrupt, except to raise a point of order or a question of privilege." I will be enforcing this today.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think that the important part for us is to be open and accountable. We want and invite some of your expertise from when you were government. The members opposite have expertise, but we want it in a positive way. What I am hearing are the negatives all the time.
We try to be positive. If we point out things that didn't work in the past, it is only to remind the members opposite that there is a little history here. And we are trying to build on trying to work together. I know that is difficult for the members opposite. They are not used to the idea that we work together, but we are going to keep trying. As long as the negative wall goes up, it is very difficult for us to reach over and say, "Come, give us some of your thoughts and ideas." Because every time we come up with some thoughts or ideas, the members opposite find all the negatives with it. We didn't say that anything that we say here is perfect. We are throwing it out as an idea, and we are looking for creative ways of trying to solve our health problems in the territory.
I would expect that we should be pulling together instead of pulling apart at this point in time. The five principles of universality - as far as I'm concerned, we're not even discussing those. Those are issues - if we want to discuss them, we'll discuss them. We're not challenging those. They are the basis upon which the health care system is built.
But, if you're talking about the pioneer utility grants and all the made-in-Yukon programs as being open for discussion, why not? They should always be open for discussion. They're not there forever. Hopefully, we can come up with better ways of trying to improve on our services. That's the whole objective - better services for Yukoners.
Mr. Fentie: Well, in all that, Mr. Chair, it's clear that this Liberal government is certainly going to review everything. Everything is on the table, including universality.
Now, the minister's position is completely loopy that this side has a problem with universality. We don't have a problem with it - it's the members opposite. They have the problem with it. The issue about active living and prevention is not one that we dispute but, to get to that juncture, we're looking at a long, long time that must pass. We don't dispute starting now, but we have a serious issue in health care here in this territory today. What this side of the House is saying is that this minister, through all his rhetoric and Liberal bafflegab, has done nothing about today, and "today" is about recruiting doctors and nurses.
What has this minister done? Give one concrete action that has brought doctors and nurses into this territory.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: For the member opposite, I guess, unless we read it over and over again, the question is not retained. We have worked very hard with our partners - that's the YMA and the YRNA. We have built on their expertise, their knowledge and their understanding of what our needs are.
In the area of nursing, we have been encouraging this partnership with the hospital board, as well as the continuing care branch.
We are looking at how we can work collectively, because we know that we have to work with all our partners here. We have to build on how we can develop a better attraction. We have increased our compensation package to pair or to model some of the others. Maybe it's not the best in the country, but we have worked very hard at trying to do that.
Our nursing team has gone to a number of job fairs in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and St. Johns to again look at attracting nurses to the north. Advertising activities include regular insertions in nursing journals, newspapers and other health-related publications. Health and Social Services is planning to join forces, as I said yesterday, with Tourism because we believe that that is another very good way of attracting people here.
A database presently containing 260 contacts - this is when this note was written; it is probably about 300 at this point - has been created to capture resumé information received through our participation in job fairs as well as recurring advertisements. A recruitment video and attractive recruitment packages have been completed. A formalized preceptor program has been developed to facilitate accommodation of nursing students in the workplace during their clinical rotations. A formalized mentorship program has been developed to facilitate the hiring of registered nurses that require some additional knowledge and skills. Existing positions have been reclassified to recognize the expanded role of nurse practitioners. We have tried to increase the clerks' hours in our nursing stations in order to give more support to our nursing staff. We initiated a rent freeze in 1999 - I'm sorry. The former government initiated a rent freeze which is still in place today.
It has being extended until April 2001, and nurse managers are devolving some of the recruitment and staffing responsibility to the recruitment advisor. Again, this is to help managers to focus on their field studies. The nursing educator job description has been finalized, which means that we are moving toward more workshops and professional development. We have a number of activities under professional development. The annual one-week spring conference on clinical skills, the nurse practitioner in charge conference every six months, access to University of Victoria, community health courses, access to University of Manitoba clinical skills and opportunities to attend workshops and conferences in Whitehorse on diabetes, respiratory abuse, mental health.
Recently, the Cabinet has approved the department's interim action - what we call phase 1 - to recruit and retain health care professionals in the Yukon. In addition to the benefits and incentives currently available to health care professionals, funding has been identified to develop a number of things, like continued nursing education, physician relocation assistance program, locum support program, Yukon Nursing Advisory Council, and medical student bursary program. As the member opposite likes to say, this is all under our watch. These are the things that we have done. Now, I have given you more than one - probably about 15.
Interestingly, when I went around last fall visiting a number of the nursing stations, I found that many of our nurse practitioners were taking advanced programming through the Internet, which tells me they want to be at the top of their line of work. They're very professional. They want to deliver the best service they can, and we as a government are supporting that kind of approach. We believe that that's where we're at. Is it enough? Obviously we wouldn't be in this dilemma of talking about recruitment if it were enough.
The second phase of our recruitment package, as I have shared with the member opposite many times, will be released fairly shortly, once caucus, Cabinet and Management Board have seen it.
Again, the members opposite are going to see a list of things that have come forward, not from the government, but from our partners. We are working hand in hand with our partners, because we realize that they are the best people to tell us what we need to keep them here and also to promote where we should be going in the future. I hope that has been helpful. Like I said before, we haven't done everything, but we are trying to do as much as we can.
Mr. Fentie: Well, yes, it has been helpful, Mr. Chair. Briefing notes are always helpful. But I noticed that the minister skirted one very important issue. He did not mention once how many doctors or nurses have been recruited to the Yukon.
Let me ask the minister this: while we go to phase 1 and phase 2 and all these wonderful things that hard-working department people are actively pursuing, how is it that, in the last three years, one doctor in one tiny community in the Yukon can recruit four doctors to come to the territory, and this minister cannot even recruit one? Will the minister explain that?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, the member opposite knows full well why we don't recruit doctors when you have a fee-for-service doctor who owns his own business. That particular individual runs his own business. We don't go out and run their business for them. I guess our recruitment strategy is working, obviously, if that particular doctor has been able to recruit four different doctors. That's great. We believe that what we have been doing has helped, and we say thanks to the doctor for going out there and being creative in how to get doctors into the Yukon. I guess our recruitment packages are working when it comes to contracting doctors and so on. That's the only time that we recruit doctors.
Doctors here in Whitehorse are fee-for-service. They recruit their own doctors. We don't recruit doctors. All we can do is offer them the sort of - I guess one would call it positives about why it's good to be in the Yukon.
In the last couple of days, when I have listened to the radio in the morning - again, I try not to listen to it too much, because it can influence your thinking. When I hear about why people want to live in the Yukon and why they have come back to the Yukon, those are the same reasons why our health care professionals like to live in the Yukon, too. They like the lifestyle and the environment. Yes, they want to keep improving it, and that's why we're partnering with them to ensure that we are on the cutting edge of ensuring that we always have health care people.
There is not a crisis in health care professionals. In nursing, we have some very big issues, in terms of recruiting nurses.
Doctors, yes, they're close to being on the edge of needing a lot of support. Right now, it's not in a crisis mode, as the member opposite likes to pretend. Hopefully we can continue to work together in trying to ensure that we don't get into that stage where we will be in a crisis.
Mr. Jenkins: I was very interested to hear the minister's response to the question as to why the government didn't get involved when a rural doctor recruited another doctor to that community. They didn't get involved because these doctors are on a fee-for-service basis. They're in a private practice by themselves. Well, if that's the case, Mr. Chair, why is it, in rural Yukon, that as soon as a doctor has been recruited, the department sends out a contract to that doctor and offers them a contract with the Government of Yukon to practice in that community? That has happened on two occasions in my community.
The minister is saying one thing but something else entirely different is happening, Mr. Chair. Why is that?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I can't help but smile, Mr. Chair. The smoke and mirrors of the Member for Klondike are well-known throughout the Yukon. We have never offered a doctor a contract if they were being pursued by a fee-for-service doctor. Where the member gets that information, I am not sure, but he is again presenting it in the sanctity of this room while hoping that the protection is there. That is not true - Mr. Chair, I'll withdraw that. How do you pick these words? It's distortion; it's a distortion of the facts.
The interesting part of it is that we don't -
Chair: Order please. The "distortion of the facts" is still imputing falsehoods. I would have to agree, after consideration.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I'll call it "twisting" the facts then. We ought to keep using these words. I don't know why we can't say it the way it should be spoken, but I guess that's the way it is in the House.
That is a twisting of the facts, Mr. Chair. There was never such an activity, and the member keeps saying that. The member said that last time we were in this debate. So, once and for all, I would hope that the member will listen.
We have no reason to not give the facts, because everything and anything the government does is out there anyway, so why would we not want to present the facts as they are? The important part is that we would not do that. If that was a situation that was coming about, and we knew about it, we would back right off. We don't want to interfere in the private sector. The private sector does it better than government does. We know that.
So hopefully that will clarify that for the future because, once again, I'm stating very clearly that we did not make any offers, if people were being pursued in a private practice.
Mr. Fentie: Well, the only twisting here at the moment is the minister twisting in the wind, because he just alluded to what we, on this side of the House, submit. The minister is saying that a fee-for-service doctor in a community, in a private practice, can do it better than the government. Well, I submit that that's the whole point here. What the minister is saying is that we are going into a two-tiered system in this territory.
I want to point something else out. Who does that doctor in Watson Lake bill for that service, a service that doctor has provided to the community and its people for almost a quarter of a century? I challenge the minister to come up with anybody who disputes the level and extent of health care that one man has provided to his patients and his clients.
What we're saying on this side of the House is that the only smoke and mirrors is across the floor. The code that the minister is speaking in, disguised as a system out of control, with expenditures out of control, under his watch - there were no comments like that under the previous Health minister.
We committed to the Yukon public that we would not cut health care and health services in this territory, and we didn't. But this minister is lining up to do that. What difference does it make if a doctor is a fee-for-service doctor or that a government and its department, with all they have at their disposal - what difference does that make? The question is how can that doctor recruit four doctors in three years and entice them to come to Watson Lake when this minister and this department haven't got one?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: You know, talk about smoke and mirrors. I guess the member opposite, again, is a master at the smoke-and-mirrors game. Our objective is not to hire doctors. We're not in the business of hiring doctors, unless we need doctors for particular contract positions that we now have. We have two of those - one in Faro and one in Mayo. That's how the communities see their needs, and we respond to those needs. It is also on the cutting edge of moving ahead in the whole delivery of health care.
Our approach is to work, as I have shared with the members earlier, with our partners, the doctors, who in this territory had given us the ideas as to how we can help them, the fee-for-service doctors. Now, if they stay as fee-for-service doctors, that is their choice. We're not saying they don't have to. That's a business. They run a business; we don't run it. They do a better job than we do; I've said that before.
What we try to do is that we try to help them in that recruitment process. If the member opposite there thinks that we don't have an input into the member from his community not having some of this incentive to attract doctors, then I think the member had better ask again, because we do provide dollars for locum support, which come from the taxpayer. We are also providing how we can look at physician relocation. Mr. Chair, we pay those relocation costs. It's not the doctors, wherever they are; it's the government.
That's how we are helping. We are just at the beginning of this recruitment process, as I have shared earlier. I don't know how many times that one has to say it, over and over - I guess maybe repetition is good. I find that I learn after awhile. I am not sure that the members opposite learn very much from it, but obviously they just want to hear themselves. They don't want to hear that we have done so much in recruitment. I just listed off all of the things that we have done in recruitment.
I think it just blows one's socks away to know that in our short year we have done so much. Maybe that is what the embarrassment is, that in a year we have done far more than the former government did in three years. I tried to give credit where credit was due but that is not good enough either. It seems like the members opposite just want whatever they want. I guess they wanted to be on this side but we rejected that. We thought that it was better that the Member for Watson Lake stay where he is there on the other side.
The important part is that we are working very hard with our partners. And if you think that government hasn't helped in their recruitment process, then the member opposite had better go back and ask the doctors about how we can help. Are we doing everything? Not really everything at this point but it is stage by stage. The second phase is coming in. In the next week or two we will be seeing that as a caucus and as a Cabinet and some very hard decisions will have to be made. We know what we are facing. It is not a simple matter. I applaud doctors who go out there and are able to get other doctors to come on board. I think that's great. What we want to do is give them all the help we can. We don't want to take over their responsibilities. We are not in the business of running a business. We are in the business of providing support.
Obviously the particular person whom the Member for Watson Lake has been talking about has been very successful and we applaud that and we want to encourage that. We want to make sure that we are there to help the process along. I know that it is difficult to talk about the second phase of our recruitment when we really haven't released it yet. I know that that is what the member opposite is searching for, but I can't release that until we as a caucus and as a government have seen it ourselves.
Mr. Fentie: Let me just try and get some clarity here. The minister states that the government is not in the business of hiring doctors, and then he follows that up by saying, "But we're paying for it and we are helping other doctors recruit doctors." I find it hard to grasp what the minister's point is, if he has one.
The other issue I want to put on the floor of this Legislature is that, when the minister makes a claim that he has greatly assisted this doctor in Watson Lake, who has taken it upon himself to recruit doctors, this minister, on a visit to the community, snubbed that doctor, didn't even stop to visit and talk to him and discuss the health needs of the community. He is somebody who has been there 23-plus years, taking care of the people of the community, and the minister didn't even ask him what the health needs were in the community. I find that astounding, shocking and unacceptable.
The minister can stand on his feet and make all the claims that he wants about how much he is doing in 11 short months. The fact is that all the minister has done, Mr. Chair, is talk about it - no action. The action is coming out of department people, people who have, for years, been working on health care in this territory.
However, the real issue here is what this Liberal government is going to do with the delivery of health care in this territory And the evidence is starting to pile up that they are going to fundamentally change universality, how health care is delivered in this territory, and we may very well go to an Alberta-style two-tier system. We have a two-tier system basically already when you look at what health care is delivered in Whitehorse and what rural Yukon receives in terms of health care.
Furthermore, I say that the Liberals have some debts to pay when it comes to the recent campaign of April of 2000.
It's the Liberals who maintain that such areas of health care in rural Yukon must be addressed, such as multi-level care in communities like Watson Lake. It was the Liberals' own candidate who espoused and committed to that. Yet, when the Liberals get into office, where the decisions are made in government and where this disjointed, very antagonistic group of people - toward each other - try to make decisions, they forget all about that commitment. It doesn't happen.
What I've heard from the minister so far today is nothing but rhetoric. However, I believe that all of us in this House have to try to address the situation we are facing in health care. It's not us who are maintaining that we are in a crisis situation. We were close here, recently, in this city to not even having a surgeon. These are the facts. We are in a desperate situation. We are facing difficult times, and they can only get worse unless this minister does the right thing and unless this minister quits talking about things and starts implementing some concrete action that is going to achieve results, such as bringing more doctors and nurses to this territory. That's the issue.
Furthermore, with the shortage that we face, these health care professionals are taxed to the limit. Therefore, in that working environment, the delivery of health care is now in jeopardy. We can't expect a human being to go 24 or 36 hours at a stretch and be able to give the best possible service that they were trained to give. It just won't work.
The minister can try to claim that he has helped the situation, but I will submit and argue to the nth degree that that is not the case. It's simply not the case, and I challenge the minister to ask the doctor in Watson Lake, and have that doctor provide how this minister helped him recruit those four doctors.
I am trying desperately to find areas where I can credit this minister, because his portfolio is one that impacts and affects every Yukoner in this territory. This minister is responsible for something that every Yukoner, at some juncture, will face.
We're trying to get to the bottom of what this minister and this Liberal government are really up to, and it's continuing to look more and more like health care in this territory is in trouble - big trouble - under this minister.
Can the minister explain a specific item, then, regarding the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre? How is it that such contradictions can come forward? When the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre brought forward a proposal to address the need of pregnant women to have somewhere affordable to stay when they come into Whitehorse from rural Yukon, the minister clearly stated in Hansard that it had been rejected. After reviewing Hansard, the centre became extremely concerned about the minister's comments and contacted his office. The executive assistant backtracked and said, "Oh no, it hasn't been rejected; it's under review." Yet, in the long, long week since that proposal came forward from that centre, there has been no contact from this minister whatsoever. Have women stopped getting pregnant in rural Yukon? Have they stopped needing somewhere to be in Whitehorse, when they come here to deliver their child?
This is an example of the smoke and mirrors - as the minister puts it - coming from the side opposite.
Can the minister clear up the issue around Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre and the needs of pregnant women from rural Yukon coming into Whitehorse to deliver their children?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I promised the members opposite that I would reread Hansard last evening, just to share what the objectives of the whole medical boarding position is. But I will refrain from that at this moment.
I will try to respond to what I think is always a tactic that the member opposite uses. The member opposite and his partner from Klondike use the same tactics. It's kind of fear-mongering. You get this message out to the public that we are in crisis, we are incompetent, and we're this and we're that. I heard that from the member opposite on radio this morning, when the member opposite was not addressing the issue but was more concerned about being negative rather than being positive. That was brought up and, guess what? The whole Yukon heard it. I think, Mr. Chair, that we're very concerned about that kind of governing. Being negative doesn't solve problems.
For the member opposite, when I went down to Watson Lake, I did visit the doctor, and the doctor wasn't available. So, I'm sorry. On one hand, I'm supposed to visit the doctor, and I did drop in but he wasn't available. Therefore, I cannot, you know, communicate with the doctor. So I guess you get it on both sides.
Again, just to remind the members opposite that we have just completed phase 1 of our recruitment package, and we have come forward with a lot of good ideas. These ideas, by the way, came forward. When I say "we," I'm talking about doctors and nurses, with input from us, but they were the drivers in this whole process.
The Member for Watson Lake also talks about this multi-care facility. It has come back again to rear its head. We believe that, wherever there's a need, we as a government want to be responsive, and we will be responsive when there is a need. We are connecting on a regular basis with our partners in the communities, despite what the Member for Watson Lake says. What are the real needs there? Are we looking at a plan next year, are we looking at a five-year plan or are we looking at a 10-year plan? We want to be prepared, Mr. Chair.
The member opposite and his partner, the Member for Klondike, also talk about tiers. They're into a lot of tiers. I'm not sure if it's t-e-a-r, or t-i-e-r. But I believe there may be a mixture here. The members opposite keep throwing these tiers/tears out. They are crying, I guess, obviously, but there's nothing positive about their cry. It's always negative. We have not presented a two-tiered or a three-tiered health care system. It's like the members opposite never want to hear that we should analyze or question or even dialogue about things that are in place. They're there forever. I made this comment a number of times.
What we have to do is really look at how we can reflect on things that are running well, things that are not running so well, and then go on to improve our system if we can. In order to do that, you have to have debate. You have to have discussion.
The member opposite also talked about a surgeon - again, another fact that is not correct - and that we didn't have a surgeon. That's not a fact. There was no such fact out there. There was some talk that we may not have a surgeon, but there is a surgeon. So to give the impression that there are no surgeons because one makes that comment is not appropriate.
We have been meeting with our partners, over and over and over again - the YMA and the YRNA - to ensure that our second phase of recruitment is going to respond to at least what we call the short-term need over the next year. The first package was to respond to our needs within the first few months. Now we are hopefully looking at a little longer time because this is going to be ongoing. The whole area of recruitment, retention and that issue of trying to maintain our health care people is not something that is just over because you come to phase 2. It is going to be many phases.
Finally, with the final issue about the medical boarding, again, I am going to be refraining from reading the comments that I made yesterday. And I would like to tell the members opposite very clearly and loudly that we as a caucus are reviewing this whole process - to throw out there that we have rejected the package. We have not rejected anything at this point. What we are trying to do is to assess, based on the following points: equity for all Yukoners - and that is very important, Mr. Chair. And we as a caucus will be making a decision that will be passed on to Cabinet and Management Board, and then final decisions will be made. I mean, that is the appropriate process. This just came into our bailiwick over the last few months. To say that we haven't responded - we have responded. We have at least listened. We had a submission prepared. We are in the process of analyzing, you know, that whole pro-and-con approach as to how we deliver services. And we definitely want to be as supportive as we can.
But we also, as a government, have to be equal with all Yukoners. That's the objective for us. We want to have an even playing field for all Yukoners. Hopefully that will help in trying to address many of the questions that were asked of me.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's go at this a little bit differently this time, given that the minister tends to expand on theories and the whole gamut.
The area that we left off exploring with the minister, through the Member for Watson Lake, was the proposal from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. Now, I have a simple yes-or-no question for the minister. The proposal from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre - the program proposal for rural pregnant mothers - was submitted to his office some time ago. Has the minister taken the time to look at this proposal, and does he understand its content? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I've seen the proposal. I'm moving it on to caucus, because it has major implications for the future. Yes, it was a proposal that I think needs to be reflected on. We don't make knee-jerk decisions.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it's a proposal for $15,000 annually. I have had an opportunity to review Hansard, and the minister said that there are some problems with the proposal from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, in that it did not allow the spouses to remain there. Would the minister like to elaborate on that statement that he made the other day, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Yes, Mr. Chair, the concern was that it was not clear in the proposal that the spouse could stay in the facility after the pregnant mother went to the hospital. So, those are things that we have to review. We just can't make quick decisions on that. So, yes, it was a question.
Mr. Jenkins: Do the minister and his officials have any other concerns with the proposal, as presented?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The concerns that we have with the proposal - whether it's that specific proposal or just the idea in general - is whether it's open to all Yukoners, whether they are ill, whether they need some type of testing, or whatever, here in Whitehorse. There was also the concern about what happens when you have two or three individuals needing the same facility, yet you only have one apartment. The major issue of concern is the cost. It wasn't going to be just $15,000. It was going to be far more than that. Even being conservative - and that's, again, a very small "c" - if it's being looked at with the eyes of one community, the funding might seem adequate, but if you're looking at the total territory, there's far more impact on the financial ramifications than just that one issue.
So there are a number of questions that we have around it, and hopefully those are the kinds of things that we need to have a good dialogue about, because the impact is far more than $15,000.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister expand on the order of magnitude of what the expenditure is anticipated to be for this undertaking? I'm referring specifically to the rural pregnant mom program proposal from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. What is the cost analysis breakdown, and could the minister be much more specific than to say it's going to be greater than the $15,000 annually?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The initial proposal was $15,000, and this was to provide accommodation at the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, and this would not be available to women who required other medical services, nor would it be available to men who travelled for medical treatment. It was just that one particular classification of women who need support during their pregnancies. That was the only one issue that they would respond to.
The subsidization of an in-territory hotel would provide a greater level of coverage within the territory than would be available to persons who must travel outside the territory. If decisions were made to implement this proposal, it would be necessary to tender for rates and service in order to minimize costs, and these costs could be anywhere from $35,000 to $40,000, depending on the results of the tender. Persons accessing this service would be expected to pay the first $25 toward cost of the hotel room. This is consistent with the program previously offered by the Rotary House.
Finally, as another current concern in question, the cost to increase benefits equitably to all eligible residents travelling both in and out of the territory would be prohibitive. There have been several different options that have been promoted related to increasing subsidies for all persons travelling to receive medical care. The least costly proposal would increase cost by approximately $100,000. Caucus is going to be provided the opportunity to address this issue. It's going to be a very important issue in the progress of health care in the Yukon. We have to look at what's happening in other jurisdictions in the country, and we have to look at what our bottom line is. Can we afford it? Yesterday I rattled off a number of jurisdictions that don't have what I call free service from rural areas. There is always some hitch, there's some cost, even in the Northwest Territories. The Member for Klondike is always espousing that they have a free service. They don't have a free service.
They have to pay for their transportation, and one has to remember that, in the Northwest Territories, they have no roads so everybody has to fly, so everybody has to pay. So it's not a simple situation. The members opposite like to pretend that this is very simple - just make the decision, $15,000, and it will go away. No, it won't go away, Mr. Chair. There are many more factors in here than meet the eye. We have to look at all of them, because when you make this decision, it's a decision that's there almost forever. And in speaking to the members opposite, when it's there forever you can never discuss it again and you can never bring it back up, because obviously it's written in stone. I personally believe that when we're going to make decisions we have to make sure we're making the right ones, because it's going to be very hard to change afterward.
Mr. Jenkins: I asked for simple, succinct answers, Mr. Chair, and the minister was all over the wall. I was exploring with the minister the issues surrounding the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre rural pregnant mothers program proposal. One of the reasons it's not acceptable to the government is that men sent down here for medical treatment wouldn't be allowed access to this facility. Well, last time I checked - and maybe the minister has some new insight into some new technology - men do not get pregnant. It's women who give birth. Maybe something has changed in the minister's mind, but I can't see how this even fits into the equation or why it should even be brought forward in the context of the issue we're discussing.
So could I ask the minister to get back to the specifics? The specifics are that there's a request for $15,000 from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre to address a need, and it would fill a very definite void. The minister comes out and suggests that it won't, because it doesn't recognize the needs of men sent down here for medical attention and the end cost might be a prohibitive $100,000 a year of additional cost to the department.
I fail to fathom or grasp how we can achieve $100,000 a year. If we look at the two rooms that we are considering - the two suites, two bedrooms - in the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre - and last time I checked, except for leap year, there are 365 days in the year. So if you double that, and that place is occupied 100 percent of the time, how does the minister arrive at $100,000 a year for this kind of proposal? Where does that number come from, Mr. Chair?
Can we just focus on the issue that is before us that must be addressed by this government? The issue is one of women from rural Yukon being required by the medical system to come to Whitehorse to give birth. It comes about as a consequence of another series of devolution - the devolution of the health care system to Yukon. If we just look back a few years ago, we had hospitals in Watson Lake; we had hospital status in Mayo and in Dawson City, all operated by the federal government, all with 24-hour nurses, all with adequate levels of staffing of doctors - very dedicated doctors, indeed. Now the federal government reduced the hospital status of Mayo and Dawson to that of a nursing station. It reduced the number of nurses and reduced the complement of staff. From there, a transfer took place to the Government of Yukon. The Government of Yukon took over these rural facilities.
The understanding that was there for decades in Dawson and Mayo, since the turn of the century, was that if you are going to have a child, you can go to the hospital and the doctors would deliver your child there. That's no longer the case under this Liberal government.
So, either we've been sold a bill of goods under devolution, or we're not taking the money and using it wisely. I would suggest that it appears to be a combination of both practices.
Currently we have a proposal before this Minister of Health and Social Services to meet a need, a need that is there and is not going to go away. It's an anticipated need, because, by and large, we have a very clear and knowledgeable understanding of which women are going to have to come to Whitehorse from rural Yukon to give birth. We have, through modern medical technology, an understanding of when the due date is. So it's not something for which we have to gear up with a tremendous amount of staff. We can anticipate the needs, and we kind of have a knowledge of when the births are going to take place.
Mr. Chair, the minister has failed to give a reasonable overview as to why this proposal from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre has shortcomings. Because it would certainly meet the needs of a number of mothers and mothers-to-be I know from my community, from rural Yukon.
Now, I would ask the minister to probably just go back to his briefing notes and his officials, and have a look at this again. Could I ask the minister, once again, to be very specific as to where this proposal - the rural pregnant women program proposal from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre - falls short of meeting the expectations of the minister and his department?
What I hear are really three things: what happens if it's a man, which is virtually impossible, Mr. Chair; the cost is going to be over $100,000 a year, or could potentially be, and I can't see how that cost will be incurred; and what happens if we have more than two women? Well, that could very well occur. But by and large, if you look at what has transpired in the past, that would fulfill the initial need. Yes, there would be peaks and valleys. There would be times when these rooms would be unoccupied, and, yes, there would be times when there might even be three or four expectant moms.
The minister went with great fanfare to the Northwest Territories, but let's give recognition where recognition is due, Mr. Chair. The Northwest Territories at least has something in place that is reasonable and that, by and large, serves the function it was intended for. In the Yukon, what we have is the federal government backing out of a program - the federal Liberal government, I might add, which is in very close relationship with this Yukon Liberal government - and this Liberal government here in the Yukon can't deliver the message to their federal colonial masters, Mr. Chair, that there's a major issue there.
They've backed out of part of the funding. What's going to fill the void? The expectations are that the Yukon government will step up to the plate. I have to remind the minister that he is in charge of the largest O&M budget of all the departments of the Government of Yukon - $125 million. Capital this year is over $11 million. There is $137 million in his one department, Mr. Chair, and if you couple that with the accounts receivable and the total amount of dollars flowing around annually, there's probably at least another $25 million to $30 million in receivables from Indian and Northern Affairs and from all other sources. You know, we're way over $150 million. When you look at the population of the Yukon, Mr. Chair, it is probably currently fewer than 30,000 individuals. When you start looking at the population that is required to be served with this budget, why the minister can't deal with it and why he has to walk all over the place without addressing the shortcomings of the system is beyond belief.
Now, this government has a very large majority here in this Legislature. It has the funds. It was left with a surplus of some $60 million, so there is no shortage of money. More federal money is being transferred to the department on a continuing basis. Why can't the minister address the shortcomings in this one specific area, Mr. Chair? Could the minister be very specific? What are the shortcomings of the rural pregnant moms program proposal as provided to the minister by the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre? And I don't want to hear that there is no place for men who come down for medical attention.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The specifics will be presented to caucus next week. I will not prejudge the decision to be made by caucus. I felt this issue was important and deserved to be presented to caucus because it has deeper implications than the member opposite is trying to portray. The issue of rural pregnant women will be addressed by caucus, and all the needs of Yukoners will be addressed at that point. We're really trying to be fair and equal to all Yukoners.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I guess the other way we can look at it is to level the playing field, and there's a whole series of benefits provided to First Nation women who are pregnant. Has the minister considered providing the same benefits to non-First Nation pregnant women as are provided to First Nation women?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The specifics will be presented to caucus, and they will be discussed next week, Mr. Chair. Caucus always makes very wise decisions, and then Management Board and Cabinet also make very wise decisions, so that's where we're going with it.
Mr. Jenkins: As I understand it, Mr. Chair - and could the minister just kindly confirm it - the presentation to caucus and Management Board is, number one, the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, and could the minister confirm that the same arrangements for First Nation women will be on the table for discussion and be advanced as a proposal for non-First Nation pregnant women?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: For the member opposite, we don't control federal programs but the specifics will be presented to caucus next week and we will be discussing all the issues. I trust my caucus. They have a very good grasp of what the needs are in the Yukon, and we will be coming up with a fair and equitable decision.
Mr. Jenkins: I still haven't received a definite answer, a simple yes or no. Is one of the proposals on the table for discussion involving the same financial compensation that is currently being provided to First Nation women who are pregnant? Is that level of compensation being considered for non-status and the rest of society?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The caucus will discuss all the issues. Everything is on the table. We believe that we have to reflect what happens in the Yukon and we will make the best decision, in our wisdom, for the future of the Yukon.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, basically, although the minister hasn't said it, that area is not being explored or being given any consideration. It further advances the two-tiered health care system that currently exists in the Yukon. We currently have one system for Whitehorse and another system for rural Whitehorse. We have one system for First Nations and another system for the balance of society here in the Yukon. Does the minister believe that that is a fair and equitable way for the Yukon to move ahead?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The only tiers being presented here are by the member opposite. We, as a caucus, will discuss all the issues as they are in the Yukon and we will come up with the best decision.
Mr. Jenkins: I didn't think that all the caucus was present. I understand that one member has opted out of caucus, but that may or may not be the case, Mr. Chair, I don't know. What I am looking for is a similar type of arrangement and a similar type of treatment that the First Nation pregnant women receive. Now, the minister has failed to even recognize that the benefits accorded First Nation pregnant women exist.
I'm just curious as to why that is, Mr. Chair. Why can't we get the same benefits for all society here in the Yukon? Is that even on the table for discussion at this caucus/Management Board meeting?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The specifics will be presented to caucus. I'm not going to prejudge the decision of caucus. Caucus will make the wise decision, based on all the needs that are presented to us.
Mr. Jenkins: I would submit that the minister is just failing to answer the question. It's a very definite question that could be answered with a yes or no, and the minister has skirted all around the issue.
There are a lot of rural moms and moms-to-be out there, Mr. Chair, who are hopeful that this minister will address his responsibilities in a rightful manner. But, when we hear some of the stories and the bafflegab coming out of this minister, I don't anticipate a successful conclusion to the plight of pregnant rural Yukon women, save and except if they're First Nation. They're well looked after and well treated by the federal government.
I remind the minister that all his government is a representative of the federal government here in Yukon. I would see it as the minister being remiss in his responsibilities, should he not provide at least a commensurate level of assistance to the balance of society here in the Yukon as that which is being provided to First Nations.
Mr. Chair, we're just going to belabour a very, very serious shortcoming in this minister's portfolio, and that is his inability to address this issue and deal with it. I'll look forward to hearing the results in due course. Mr. Chair, could I ask the minister what the timelines are for a decision being made by his caucus and Management Board on this very important issue? When can we expect to hear the results? Is it in the 10-year plan or the 20-year plan, or when will the results be made available to the public? Furthermore, when will this new procedure and plan be implemented by the minister, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The caucus will consider it in due course. It's like most things in government; we take our time to ensure that we're making the right decisions. I can't put a time on it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's give the minister another example that might be helpful in his selling of this position to his caucus and to Management Board, Mr. Chair. Look at the education system. Just recently the federal government increased the grant to First Nations for post-secondary education. When that occurred, the Yukon government also jumped on the bandwagon. Mind you, that was at election time, Mr. Chair, so that probably helped. The election has been won. Now, I guess we're not going to see anything else occur that is of fundamental importance to Yukoners until the next election. Mr. Chair, I'm very, very disappointed that I can't even get a decision from the minister as to when Management Board is going to hear this. Is it this month? Next month? Can he put some tangible timelines on it? Is it six months? Three months? A year? Is it a year away, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, I'm not going to be drawn into timing anything because, obviously, when you make the decisions, it takes time.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, could I ask the minister this: are there funds in the current budget cycle to address this need?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, up until our watch or our government - this has been an issue that has been around for many years, and suddenly, in 11 months, we're to correct whatever the member opposite feels were all the ills of the past. We're not magicians. What we're trying to do is provide good government, based on sound reasoning and common sense, and we are trying to be fair to all Yukoners. So why the member opposite wants to make an issue out of specifics, one can only guess.
Mr. Jenkins: Once again, I am very, very disappointed, Mr. Chair.
The debate that we have had today and the comments the minister has made previously about the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre - I'll be sending them to a number of my constituents and to other individuals and over to the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre for their consideration.
This is an issue that is not going to go away. We're not talking about preventive medicine. We're not talking about anything other than the basic fundamental birth of a child and access to adequate health care that has been taken away in rural Yukon by previous governments, previous federal governments, and the responsibility for this area rests firmly in the hands of the Government of the Yukon.
Mr. Chair, let's look at a number of other areas where the system is failing us: the attracting, recruiting and retaining of health care professionals. Can the minister provide a list of the number of health care professionals in all categories - and I don't expect him to have it at the tip of his fingers - when he took over his watch and what it currently is today? I mean the number of family physicians in Whitehorse and in rural Yukon. What I want to see is what has changed. I know we have lost a great deal of health care professionals, and I want an undertaking from the minister to provide, by way of a legislative return, a list of all the health care professionals in the various categories when the minister took office and what it is as of, let's say, March 31 of this year.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, as a government, when we hire professionals we keep a record of those factors, but there are a number of health care professionals who are in private practice. We don't keep track of what they do or when they come and go. So, we couldn't do it for those people; but for those that we employ, yes, we could do that by way of a legislative return.
Remember, government doesn't employ doctors. We have two who work for us on contract. The rest are fee-for-service, so what they do is what they do. About other health care people - those who work for us as a government - we can provide some sort of record on them, but about those who work in private care, we cannot.
Mr. Jenkins: So, as I understand it, I am going to receive a list of all the health care professionals as of when the minister came into office to March 31 of this year. That is step one. Is the minister committed to that? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: You know, Mr. Chair, the problem that we have here is that the Member for Klondike takes up a lot of staff time with his requests. The questions regarding numbers of people and why the member opposite would like all of this, I am not sure, but we will have to check with our resources and see if we can do this. It takes a lot of time to do this, a lot of very valuable time that could be spent on trying to improve our health care system. I am not sure that this will lead toward that, but we will see what we can do. To give him a definitive answer that we can do it for every health care category that we have, I couldn't do that at this point. I will get back to the member opposite with more information on that.
Mr. Jenkins: The second part to the question is regarding the doctors who are on a fee-for-service basis: could the minister provide, from when he took office, the number of doctors who had Yukon health care billing numbers and the number of doctors currently with Yukon health care billing numbers? That should be an easy undertaking.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Yes, we can do that, but they don't all work for us, obviously. I would ask the member opposite to please put this in writing so that we have the specifics of what the member opposite really wants.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister only has to read Hansard tomorrow and it will be in writing for his consideration. So, it's in writing tomorrow morning. If he wants, I can print off an extra copy of Hansard for his consideration, Mr. Chair, but I would see that as being more than adequate.
What I'm getting at is there is a shortage of health care professionals in quite a number of areas, and it's adversely impacting other parts of our health care system. If you're currently a resident of Whitehorse, to pick up the phone and find a family physician is just about an impossibility today. It's very difficult to find a family physician today. Or, if you want to see a doctor for one reason or other, it's extremely hard to get an appointment, because there's a shortage of individuals in this category.
So what is happening is that quite a number of these individuals are ending up at the Whitehorse General Hospital on the emergency ward. Is the minister aware of this? What is he proposing to do about it?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I'm not sure about the definition of "health care" from the perspective of the Member for Klondike, but there are about 40 different categories of health care people, and that's just being very conservative - again, a very small "c".
I would expect that, if the member opposite wants it for all 40 or all 50 or all 150, that's what I want requested in writing, so we know exactly, specifically, what the member wants. To make a comment that it's in Hansard, and that he would give me a copy of it, doesn't cut.
If the member wants something, put it in writing, and we'll get it to you. That's really what we were asking for.
Another point, Mr. Chair, is that there's a national shortage of health care people. This is not just a local problem - it's national, across North America.
The member opposite knows that, and yet the member makes the intimation that it is only here in the Yukon that we're experiencing this problem because we're not addressing the issues. It's not true. I mean that's factually not correct.
What we really want to know here is that we are working with our doctors and our nurses. That's why we're working on recruitment strategies. We know that there's a problem with health care; we know that. The member opposite doesn't have to tell us. That's why we're working on it very feverishly in order to come up with some solutions. We know there's a problem at the hospital. That's another reason why we're trying to promote active living. People don't have to rush to the hospital for everything that happens. Nowadays, there is that expectation. We have created it, as a society. We have to change it. That's why we have nurses in our nursing stations who are working 24 hours, because there's an expectation that they should respond to every need. Communities also have to play a part in recruitment and retention.
We know for a fact that when the Yukon Party was in power it rolled back the wages of nurses. We know that for a fact. So here, the champion of the health care people from Klondike is suddenly riding another horse because the optics look very good. I would suggest, Mr. Chair, that we be honest and upfront about the real issue here. Let's get on with trying to solve the problem instead of trying to display this inadequacy or incompetence or the lack of vision. Yet, Mr. Chair, we've tried to give lots of vision about how we can work together, but all we get from the other side are the negatives. We're not doing enough; we need to do more. We're on the left; we're on the right; we're up; we're down - whatever. Mr. Chair, we're trying to get on with answering the major concerns.
I know it's very difficult for the members opposite to believe that we want their input, but I think it's like a lot of things, Mr. Chair. We are trying very hard to address the issues with our partners. The doctors are working with us; the nurses are working with us. We know we have problems. We are trying to help doctors and nurses be partners in the decision making. That is really the objective, and if we're not doing enough, the members on the side opposite are probably correct. We have to do a lot more. But being negative isn't going to solve the problem. It's just going to create more problems, because we have a very hard-working civil service that really wants to get on with the job of making things better for Yukoners instead of addressing all kinds of legislative returns that will lead nowhere. What we're trying to do is come up with solutions.
Mr. Jenkins: Just a couple of points on the diatribe from the minister, Mr. Chair. If you're going to create solutions, you first have to recognize the problem. That's what I was pointing out for the minister. And the second area I'd like to point out for the minister's benefit and understanding is with respect to the Yukon Party rolling back the wages. Yes, they did. They inherited a $60-odd million deficit and they had to bring forward a lot of fiscal constraints to deal with this issue. What is more important is that, when the Yukon Party rolled back the wages, the Liberals agreed with them and voted for it.
So, I don't know why it was even brought forward, Mr. Chair. I guess the minister thought he could score some brownie points throwing that one out. But what we are doing here today is dealing with the Health and Social Services budget we have before us. Before you can propose solutions, you have to recognize the problem.
The minister is failing to recognize the problem. The problem is that there is a shortage of family physicians and it is impacting on the emergency ward at the Whitehorse General Hospital.
Let's look at another area within the minister's portfolio that is causing a lot of serious concerns, and I refer specifically to mental health counsellors. There are not enough because of people leaving. The recruitment program is not up to speed or it is not successful. We are talking about individuals who are in a crisis situation. We are talking about individuals and the case that was brought to my attention - and it is not an isolated case - was regarding an individual who was in a suicide situation. There were not enough health care counsellors and no appointment could be made for this individual. So, I guess what they do is get into that 10-year plan that the minister has in mind, buy a bicycle and drive around and take a little ticket and stand in line. What is happening in this area? This is another very important and critical area. What is the minister doing in this area?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I am well aware of the concern but it is another one of those big issues regarding recruitment and retention. We have had some recent resignations; people have moved on. These people are not so readily available. We have to go through a process of trying to attract them here. We need all the positives we can muster in order to do this. So the Member for Klondike lays it out very clearly; we are in a situation where it is not easy to recruit health care professionals. That is why we are working overtime with our partners in ensuring that we have an attractive situation here, both in contract and in how we can support recruitment and retention. That is why we are working with our front-line people. We believe that it is very important. I am not saying that there isn't a problem. There is. That is why we are expending so much energy on recruitment and retention.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the issue is attraction, recruitment and retention, Mr. Chair. That's the issue. It's for all health care professionals.
Now, the minister has been at this for some period of time. I don't want to pass judgement and say the minister has been a failure at recruitment and retention, but I guess we can let the general population of the Yukon come to their own conclusions. But let's be a little bit more considerate and give the minister the benefit of the doubt and say he hasn't been successful utilizing the current program.
So we're going to have to look at a great number of factors. We're going to have to look at what we have to offer here in the Yukon. We have an excellent quality of life, or it has been in the past. It's deteriorating rapidly with the shrinking economy. People who look at moving to this area, look at the community. They look at the opportunity for advancement. They look at the working environment. Then they look at the remuneration package and, currently, they compare it to other jurisdictions.
I've had a chance to pick up some of the ads and compare them to what is being offered in other jurisdictions. The minister is dreaming in technicolor if he thinks that he's going to attract health care professionals from a complete gamut, a wide range of categories, with the current offer.
The minister is going to have to get in step with reality and with what's being offered in other jurisdictions, Mr. Chair, and the area that has to be looked at is not solely the compensation package. It's the benefit package and the housing package, as well. They are critical components of attracting individuals to Yukon, and especially to rural Yukon where there is no housing market.
While we're on that note, can I ask the minister if it is his intention to extend the freeze on the cost of housing for health care professionals, which comes out on April 1 this year? Has there been any directive provided to the department to extend it for another year? Is this in the 10-year plan and we're going to look at it at the end of 10 years? Where are we at with this initiative? Because it is very important.
Let's just start there, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The Member for Klondike is very often confused. The member tends to mix fact with fiction or imagination. I just want to correct the record. The Member for Klondike made the statement that the former MLA for Riverside - not my esteemed colleague here, but my esteemed colleague across the street, serving in another capacity - voted against the wage rollback by the Yukon Party. He voted for the Yukon Party's budget. That's the difference. You know?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. The Member for Porter Creek North has the floor. I would ask members to understand that when a member is speaking, no member shall interrupt except to raise a point of order or a question of privilege. Interjections will not be allowed.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The big difference in the way the Member for Klondike presents it - but then the Member for Klondike is very good at presenting, as is the member for the other side on the member's right. I don't know who's on the left and who is on the right there, but I guess they're all the same on the other side. It doesn't matter. They're all from the same left, I guess you'd say.
So the former MLA for Riverside voted against the wage rollback by the Yukon Party. He voted for the Yukon Party's budget but not for the rollback. There's a big difference. I know the Member for Klondike always likes to present that they're the same, but they're not.
I guess the Member for Klondike wants the specifics of phase 2 before we even as a caucus, or even I as minister, look at what the partners - YMA and YRNA - have done. I guess the member opposite hasn't got this paper. The Member for Klondike hasn't got this paper at this point, not like some of the other information that he shared in the past about having inside tracks. That is very good. The Member for Klondike has not got an inside track on this phase 2, which I think is really good. So that's why the member is pushing hard to find out exactly what's in it. Well, it includes benefits, housing, educational benefits, on call, recruitment incentives, retention, locums and rural initiatives.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister is obviously reading from a document. Could he just table the document as required, please? It's quite extensive.
Chair: On the point of order, there is no point of order. The document could be a Cabinet document, which is confidential.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: It's not even a Cabinet document; it's not anything. It's a piece of paper with notes written on it. If the Member for Klondike wants me to table that, it's the issues I have just mentioned. Read Hansard. They're going to be in Hansard tomorrow. The Blues will have it all. As the member very clearly told me, all I had to do is read Hansard. The Member for Klondike can read Hansard, and that's exactly what I said.
So, that's what's in that second phase. Now, I'm not going to go any further than that and, if the member keeps pushing for more of the specifics, I will not give the member any more specifics. I will promise the member that that member will be privy to the package once we, as a caucus, Cabinet and Management Board, have approved it, as the Yukon public will be. All these alarms that have been raised by the Member for Klondike and the members from the official opposition - they will say, "My gosh, it was because of what we did." Our response will be, "No. We were there long before it ever came up in the House today. We have been working on this for weeks with our partners."
And I want to underline that, Mr. Chair. The YMA, the nurses, are our partners in this. It's their initiatives, their ideas, that are driving the recruitment and retention. This is a joint option paper. It addresses what the future is, so I think the members opposite can rest assured that, if our partners are involved in it, then it's going to be good because we, as a government, believe that people in the front line know best.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I was exploring with the minister one specific area. A rent freeze was put in place on dwelling units supplied to health care professionals. It expired at the end of this fiscal period, March 31 - just a few days ago. In order to provide some certainty, could the minister just advise the House what the intention of the government is - whether it's to extend the rent freeze, to do something to adjust the rents, or not to do anything? Obviously, it's one of the three. Which one is it?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The freeze is still on. That hasn't changed. There has been no decision on changing that at this point. The freeze is still on.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what the minister is saying is that the freeze that expired March 31, 2001 - or, I believe, it was April 1, 2001 - still continues, and it will not be reviewed until there is a new program or a new policy in place. A new policy is presently before Cabinet, but the minister is obviously ashamed of it because it has been developed with all his partners and he won't share it with anyone. Is that the case, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I don't know what the member is talking about. Sharing - I mean, when we work on a joint effort, obviously the partners are sharing information and have come together with a submission that will then go forward to the government in power. It will not go to the opposition, but to the government in power.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Well, that will still be the government on this side, obviously. Because the way that the members operate on the other side, Yukoners have seen through that. You know, the smoky mirrors and the scare tactics and the fearmongering don't work. People are tired of that. We are getting on with the issues, Mr. Chair. We are trying to solve problems. We want to work with Yukoners and obviously we are coming forward. I think that may be a concern that the former government has and that the Member for Klondike has is that, "My gosh, these guys are way ahead of the game." And, of course, they don't like that because in our first year we have done so many proactive things that it has been unbelievable. They are just starting to catch up. They are not even sure what is going on because we are so far ahead of them.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the facts speak for themselves. There are now fewer doctors in the Yukon than there were when the Liberals came to power. There are fewer doctors and fewer senior health care professionals. I guess that's indicative of the way they're driving the economy into the ground. They destroy the economy, and there is an exodus of thousands and thousands of Yukoners seeking work elsewhere. I guess we won't need that many doctors.
Mr. Chair, let's go on to another area and see if we can get some sort of a response from the minister that might indicate where we're heading.
The on-call fees for rural doctors - where are we on this initiative? Or is this another initiative that's dead in the water? Can the minister confirm that the only way they're going to hire doctors for rural Yukon is on a contract or salaried basis? No more fee-for-service doctors.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, when we meet with our partners, we have the Yukon Medical Association, which represents all the doctors in the territory, and the YRNA, which represents all the nurses in the territory. We would expect that that partnership extends to the rural communities, as well, where we have doctors and nurses.
As a matter of fact, when I had my meeting a few months ago last fall with the nurses, there were nurses who wanted to get on track by having an open phone, as well, because they were so interested in the fact that we had gone to sit down with them to look at the issues. I meet with the YMA on a regular basis. I will be meeting with them next week.
I did mention in my little statement before that on-call was one of the issues. It's part of the options paper. It's part of the proposal.
The options paper, again, not to raise people's expectations to the ceiling - we're going to have to make some very positive and concrete decisions based on what our finances are like in the total package, and then make some suggestions for the future.
So, we have to take all these things into balance. I wouldn't want the members opposite to think that the options paper is just going to be rubber-stamped all the way through. The options paper is to look at what we can do and where we have to go, and what some of the things are that we're going to have to do.
The Member for Watson Lake talks about universality in offering better health care and being more efficient in health care. We're going to have to look at ways to do it better so we can have our dollars to ensure that we support the right areas, because, as members opposite well know, there's only a $6-million surplus that is forecast for this coming year and, with the deficit budget that we have had in the last couple of years - and probably to continue on until next year - we don't have much room.
So, that's just to kind of keep it in perspective. So, if I'm out there talking to seniors, talking to people on the street about how we offer health care in a more efficient way, it's with obvious reason, because we do have limited dollars, and the budgets show that. It's not a big secret.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like bafflegab to me, Mr. Chair. The numbers speak for themselves. We only have to go back a few years in the Yukon Territory when the O&M budget for Health and Social Services was under $100 million a year, and the population was 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000 people more.
So, we haven't assumed more responsibility for other areas. The minister just has more individuals in-house; we have taken more and more programs in-house and set up these wonderful secretariats that are costing millions and millions of dollars, but the exercise of delivering health care has fallen out of the equation, Mr. Chair.
The exercise in rural Yukon appears to be to hire nothing but doctors on a contract basis or a salaried basis. Could the minister confirm that that is indeed the case?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: The Member for Klondike is always putting words into sort of an image here that presents something quite different from the real facts. The interesting thing is that we are looking at how we present and how we offer health care in different ways. We are using alternative methods of payment where we have two contract doctors. That suits these doctors. They're very pleased about it. They work very positively with the nurse practitioners in their communities and in the other communities that they visit. We have fee-for-service doctors in the rural communities, and if that's the route they want to pursue, we have made no changes. What we're trying to look at is how we move on in the delivery of health care. We have made no definitive step or stand on one or the other. We're offering both now, and there could be a couple more that come up that would even be acceptable here in Whitehorse itself, looking at different approaches.
Again, we're sitting down with our partners and listening to what they believe can be some ways that we can approach this. We're open to the front-line people. We believe that they are also looking at different ways of offering health care services, so the case is never shut, but we have not made any changes. We use the alternate payment part of the YMA collective agreement where it suits the needs. We don't have a specific route that we want to take. We're just trying to encourage how we can deliver services better.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I look forward to seeing that occur, Mr. Chair, but to date, the minister has been extremely unsuccessful.
Mr. Chair, the other area that is a concern in rural Yukon is that, more and more, we're seeing a downplaying of the role of the doctor, and the nurse practitioner is coming more to the forefront, and actual individuals are being referred to the nurse practitioner rather than the doctor. They're open for the same service, virtually. That has raised some concerns. Couple that with the fact that nurse practitioners are, by and large, filling a role that the doctors have.
What has been brought to my attention - and it's a very serious concern, Mr. Chair - is that our population in the summertime in Dawson consists more and more of seniors. We are receiving more and more visitors who are in the upper age group, and they're having a higher rate of heart attacks. The doctors on call are not there on the weekend or on holidays, and heart attacks can occur at any time. The drug that has to be administered can only be administered by a doctor, unless of course you're in Alaska. The paramedics can administer TPA. Here in the Yukon, that's not the case. I believe it's not the case in Canada. So the last industry that we have going for us is our visitor industry. We know that a number of visitors coming up our way are predominantly in the senior age group, and we know that their incidence of medical problems is somewhat higher than people in the lower age groups and were relying more and more on nurse practitioners.
Now, could the minister advise what steps he will be taking to get in line? If we are going to rely more and more on these nurse practitioners, so be it. I don't have a quarrel, as long as the level of service is there. And for heart attack victims, really, the only saving drug is TPA. What are we doing about it, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I hope that I am not hearing what I think I hear from the member opposite. The member opposite can correct me if I am hearing it wrong. I am almost hearing that the nurse practitioner does not have the same, I guess you would call it, response that a doctor would have. I mean, their skills are different, obviously, but most of our communities have nurse practitioners and this is where I think the new - it's not new, it's something that has been around a long time. It's new for maybe some health care people, that we are moving toward nurse practitioners. In the paper - again, I hate to even admit that I sometimes read the paper, but I had to read the article about nurses. Again, it talks about a nurse practitioner and what resources they can provide to communities. I hope that I am not hearing that these resources shouldn't be at the highest level that we would expect. I know that, from meeting the nurses in Dawson, they are very competent, very capable people and they are the first line of health care. Obviously we want our best people to assess where this can go.
One of the problems in our health care system is that we're not utilizing our health care people to their maximum in many jurisdictions. We're trying to move ahead on that. Because of our many rural nursing stations, we may have a bit of a jump on that in trying to address those primary health care needs. In fact, many cities are now moving toward that as the first step, before they even see a doctor. Many people don't even need to see a doctor, because the problem is that there are not a lot of surplus doctors out there. So, it's a need we're trying to address. It's balancing both. To become trapped in one line of thinking - to not be able to expand what other needs are out there means that we're trapped.
We always have to start thinking outside of how health care has been traditionally provided in the past. Most of our health care people are now doing that. They believe that we have to be in a more team-type relationship. We have to work together. I think it's a very important rule for nurses and nurse practitioners; they want to have an integral service delivery so that the skills of all people are used.
I can recall reading my wife's nursing magazine - she was formerly a nurse - and I was very attracted to those articles, because they were good articles about health care and the state of health care during all those years my wife was involved in it. I could sense from some of the articles written by nurses that there was fear among doctors that these nurse practitioners would be usurping or taking on the role of a doctor. That's not the role they play. They play the primary line. They are the first contact. Many jurisdictions in North America have an excellent system of trying to address these issues.
For example, the hospital - does everybody who comes to emergency need to be seen by a doctor? That's a question. In some jurisdictions, they're seen by a nurse. In our rural communities where there are no doctors, they're always seen by nurses, so it's not something new.
But I can respect the fact that it's sometimes hard to shift one's traditional view to maybe being more of an integrated resource and working as a team. When we have contract doctors, that's how they work. They work with a team approach. The nurses provide primary care. They're empowered; they make assessments and they make judgements. If it's beyond their scope of practice, they move it on to the doctor. That's what health care is all about.
Chair: Order please. The time being 4:30, do the members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 15-minute long recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We will continue with general debate, Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Jenkins: I was looking for an answer from the minister. The issue was that, more and more, we're relying upon very capable nurse practitioners - no problem there. But we have a situation where the only industry that's surviving and may or may not be growing is our visitor industry, and many of the individuals travelling are in the upper age group of society and they are prone to a lot of various health conditions. One of the number one health conditions they are prone to is a heart attack, and the drug that is administered to overcome that situation is TPA, and it can only be administered by a doctor.
In Alaska, they appear to have a different set of rules, and given that we are going the way of nurse practitioners, I don't have a quarrel with that, as long as we can level the playing field.
So what are we going to do when a situation arises? How do we get hold of a doctor when they're not on call? Or is it going to take knowing the fact that this drug is available, the government has failed to recognize the need for on-call services, the doctor can't attend, the individual passes away and his estate sues the Government of the Yukon? Is that what it's going to take before something occurs, Mr. Chair? We have the technology. We just don't have the proper service delivery, and that service delivery is by way of a doctor.
Now, what are we going to do to overcome the shortcomings in the system, given the direction that the minister has taken?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I think the Member for Klondike forgets that there are very few communities with doctors. We have nurse practitioners in these communities, and they're very effective and resourceful in resolving and solving problems. I guess the nurse practitioners are always on call because when there is a need, they are there to rise to the occasion.
Doctors in some of our communities are fee-for-service; therefore, they are private businesspeople. And they decide whether they need more doctors, or whether they want to hire nurses, or whatever. I mean, we as a government don't dictate how they run their business. So the important part for us in this whole issue - it's not only Dawson that receives tourists and worries about TPA. It's probably an issue. Obviously if they are doing it in other parts of North America where they can administer it - I'm not up to speed on the roles that we play in administering any kind of drug. I know doctors are normally the people who make those kinds of decisions.
So, that sort of supposition - looking at what might be. And I guess we try to build on the best possible conditions, if we can.
But we as a government cannot force other private entrepreneurs, such as doctors, to hire more doctors. That's really up to them.
We have nurses in all our communities. They do work for us. They are the front line. They are the first line of health care in these communities. I guess that sort of logic that the Member for Klondike is using could be applied to all the communities. It's a problem in all our communities, I guess, if that's the issue.
As far as putting doctors in every community, I don't think that would be realistic at this point. We just don't have those resources. There is not the need for a doctor in every community.
Again, we will work with our partners - hopefully that is the objective here - to try to build together. The on-call, as I mentioned earlier, is part of the submission that's being made to our government. Those are some of the issues that we're going to have to discuss and come up with some solutions for. There's going to obviously be a cost attached to whatever we come up with.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not very comfortable with the minister's response that he's not up to speed. I would suggest to the minister that he has been in place now for almost a year, and that I would be very hopeful that he will soon be up to speed, Mr. Chair.
If one looks at the visitor industry and looks at where the greatest number of visitors congregate overnight, you have two major centres in the Yukon. You have Whitehorse, then Dawson City, Watson Lake and Beaver Creek. The biggest number of incidents would occur in Whitehorse, given the influx of visitors to this area, but we have 24-hour medical attention at the Whitehorse General Hospital. We have a full-time ambulance service here in Whitehorse, and their response time is very, very good.
Watson Lake is the only other centre that has a doctor there all the time and 24-hour nurses. So you don't go to the door and press the doorbell, pick up the phone, wait for the phone to be connected to a nurse, and the nurse has to come down.
Watson Lake has 24-hour nurses and doctors readily available. The largest number of visitors congregating in one area at a given time are in Dawson City, outside of those two centres. Dawson has a nursing station open from 8:00 to 4:00 or 5:00, Monday to Friday. It is not open on weekends or holidays, and the doctors are not on call. If there is a medical emergency, you call the number and usually reach a nurse who is on call, and comes down to the nursing station.
The level of medical attention being provided to Dawson City is considerably less than Watson Lake. And Watson Lake is accorded the high level of service primarily because of the dedication of their doctor in that community, who has given freely of himself and his time to accomplish that goal.
The shortcomings in the medical field in the community where I reside are serious, and it's not because we do not have very capable, adequately trained health care professionals. We have them. It's because this minister is failing to recognize his responsibility and has created and is maintaining a two-tiered health care system in the Yukon. When is that going to stop? That is very, very sad.
We only have to go back a few years when not only the visitor industry in our community was bustling, but the mining community was very, very active. And look at the number of situations that arose that required immediate medical attention - accidents. We were fortunate at that time to have doctors on call. That's finished. It's no longer occurring, because this minister, Mr. Chair, has failed to recognize the need for paying these doctors for on-call service. Other jurisdictions are doing it. I'd be very hopeful that the minister could see his way clear to come to some arrangements that would enhance the provision of health care in rural Yukon.
Mr. Chair, the minister appears to be determined to follow the mould that has been set out. Now, the minister is great at philosophizing.
I would be very hopeful that he can look outside the box and see if he can come to a suitable arrangement that is going to enhance the delivery of health care and not just overtax the nurse practitioners, and deliver an adequate level of health care.
I would urge the Minister of Health and Social Services to get together with his colleague, the Minister of Tourism and ask, when you get down to the nitty-gritty, if some of the questions from major tour organizers and tour operators revolve around the type of health care that you have in the community. It comes down to a determination of whether they're even going to enter your area, because of inadequate health care.
If the minister wants examples of this, they're readily available all over the State of Alaska, where they have air ambulances and paramedics that can and are able to perform a lot more than nurse practitioners here in the Yukon, Mr. Chair. It's a different jurisdiction; in fact, it's a different country. But it is an issue.
Now, I don't know of any instances where the Yukon has lost visitor business, but I know of instances where we haven't gained, and that speaks for itself. Should they require medical attention, these individuals' costs are usually not a burden to our health care system. They're totally picked up and paid for elsewhere.
So I take the minister back to my original question. TPA is the drug that is administered for a heart attack. Are there going to be changes made, so that nurse practitioners can administer this drug? Not very likely, Mr. Chair.
So the other option, in communities like mine, is to come to some arrangement so that doctors are on call. Does the minister not see the seriousness of the situation? Is he prepared to address it?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, the member took an opportunity to talk about me not being up to speed on a specific reference to my knowledge about drugs. I don't have my medical licence, and therefore, I am not going to be an authority on drugs. That's what I was referring to. The Member for Klondike chose to forget that that's what I was referring to. But again, it's just one of these general terms - "not up to speed" - and we'll generalize it and show everybody in the world whatever the Member for Klondike wants to show, but it's not the reality.
I guess we're always open to changes or approaches that are going to better our health care system. I mean, if the member opposite has an idea that is a good idea, we'll pursue it and see if we can follow through on what the member opposite is talking about. We already may be able to do it. Again, I'm not an expert in this field, and I wouldn't want to pretend I am.
So, I'll follow up on the question that the Member for Klondike asked and get back to him with some information as to our position on our nursing stations. We may be able to do it; we may not be able to do it. I'm not sure.
The other point, talking about doctors and having more doctors - the Member for Klondike has to remember that the doctors in Dawson, if that is who the member is talking about, are fee-for-service doctors and they can hire another doctor any time that they wish. That opportunity is theirs. We are not going to tell them to hire another doctor.
As far as the on-call issue, that is being addressed in phase 2 of our options paper. And again any time that you put anything in an options paper, there are going to be all kinds of things that are going to be attached to it: number of people, number of resources, cost and so on. So this will be coming forward to our government and we will have to make some very hard decisions.
So as far as looking at the on-call, it's part of the package and I am going to repeat that again, because it is very important that we haven't forgotten it. We know that it is an issue. It is an issue across Canada. I have found out in the last number of months that things are not always as simple as they appear. I always believed that you can compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges, but quite often in health care, there are a lot of different variances and it makes it very difficult to sort of do a comparison with what one doctor is getting in Sioux Lookout or in Newfoundland. It's sometimes like comparing apples and oranges.
I felt that it could be done very simply - a doctor gets paid so much here, so much over there - but there are a lot of other things that are coupled with it. Even with the big increase that doctors got in Alberta, it appears that they are going to be the highest paid doctors in the country. But when you start looking at what some of their rates are and what our rates are, our rates are still higher in a lot of areas. Now, that doesn't mean that they are as high as they used to be or in comparison in the relationship or the ratio, but that is something that we have to look at. So that is why we are working very hard with our partners in trying to bring forward the whole issue of recruitment and retention.
Mr. Jenkins: The other area, Mr. Chair, where we see a number of initiatives being taken everywhere except in the Yukon, surrounds the installation of defibrillators. Now, the question has been posed again and again. Virtually all the major airlines are installing them onboard, where they have anywhere from just under 100 passengers up to 300-odd passengers. That's the nature of the situation, Mr. Chair.
So we have a recognition by the travel industry that there's a need. Is this matter under review and part of the equation, or is it off the table and the status quo is going to prevail?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Again, I thank the Member for Klondike. He's talking about an issue that was brought to my attention by my partner, my wife, who worked in emergency for many years, feeling that we should have these in our ambulances and in our communities. But there's also the caution that even the defibrillator that's in our hospital has - my understanding is that it has been used on very rare occasions. There have to be ideal conditions for it to be used.
But, in this budget, we will be purchasing nine defibrillators, and these will be located in our communities. So, we have moved ahead on that. It's part of the federal government capital programming, and we're responding to that by ensuring that we upgrade our hospitals. That's just one part of it, but we're very pleased that we're able to do this.
Mr. Jenkins: Currently, there exists a number of rural facilities with defibrillators. Could the minister tell me if these are going to replace existing units or are they going into ambulances? Where are they going to be placed, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: We're sort of into line-by-line debate. I was hoping we could wait until line-by-line, but I'm quite willing to answer the question.
The decisions haven't been made as to where they're all going to go. The nursing office and the ambulance services will be making those decisions. And, I suppose, no matter how old they are, the defibrillator is not an old technology. It's fairly new, so even the ones we have in stock will be recycled or reused in some places where there are none right now, possibly in a lower impact area. That's one thought, but I'm not saying that's what's going to happen. I'm just throwing out some possibilities. But we definitely want to see them in the high-need areas. Obviously, Dawson probably would be one of them, I would think, but I can't promise that. I'm assuming that we are trying to just come up to some kind of level of equipment in all our nursing stations. The ones we have in stock and the ones we're purchasing - we would almost see something in almost every one of our stations.
Mr. Jenkins: Here we go again, Mr. Chair. Could the minister advise the House how we came to the understanding that we needed nine sets of defibrillators? Where did nine come from? Obviously, we must know where they're going and what they're going to be used for, or was there $10,000 or $50,000 of federal money that, if we accessed it, we could use to buy nine defibrillators? What's the case? Are we just spending federal money and it was the end of the fiscal cycle? How did we come up with this number - nine?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: For the Member for Klondike, this is at the beginning of our budget year, not the end. This is in the coming year's budget. So we're not purchasing them at the end of the year. The past year is gone. It's away. We're into the new year. So this is next year's budget. We're into the current year's budget. This is what we're discussing.
It was felt that, with our health professionals, this was what we needed. I mean, I'm not into O&M, doing the operations and maintenance or micromanaging. I leave that up to the people who know best about it. What we try to do is just give broad direction - broad approaches - to where we feel we should go in our various departments, and we leave it to the people who know best as to how these should be divvied up. It has been part of the package for the last couple of years.
I know there has been a lot of discussion last year that we did a lot of travel. But guess what? We did a lot of travel, but brought home lots of loot from the federal government. So when you're out there promoting the Yukon, we have to look at results, and that to me is accountability. When we're bringing a lot of federal money to the Yukon to help Yukoners, then those travels are well worth it.
So as far as the specifics of how they're being divvied up or where they're being applied, that's up to the department. I'm not going to be micromanaging their departments.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister mentioned that this was a flow-through from the federal government to his department. Could he indicate what program this flowed through or what federal initiative these funds came from?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, it's the CHST medical equipment fund. We had a one-time application of $1 million over two years, I think it was, or over one year. You may spend it over one year or over two years. So we're moving ahead with ensuring that we upgrade our equipment, because we know that in some of our stations we need to upgrade.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, those kinds of funds for medical equipment could go a long way, and it's also not very much on some of the larger equipment. How is the determination made to acquire these defibrillators at this juncture? For the longest time, it appeared to be the position of the government that they didn't want to put these in because there was no need, and the existing units received very little use. Was the change of heart because of the availability of money from the federal government? Does that sum it up, or was there actually a demonstrated need for these defibrillators?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Mr. Chair, I think it's a combination of what the Member for Klondike is suggesting. It's the availability. They have risen on the priority list, and also the technology has improved dramatically. So, that's another very important part of ensuring that we have updated modern equipment. Those are all factors. It's not the sole factor, but they're all factors.
So, there is a whole list of items. I'm sure that when we get into line-by-line, we'll be able to go through them very specifically. I mean, there are lots of items we're trying to look at, even ambulances that we're going to be purchasing. As you know, we have ambulances that are 14 years old. Normally, an ambulance lasts about seven years, so we have almost doubled the life of our ambulances.
It just moves up the priority list as we see the need and as the dollars become available.
Mr. Jenkins: I was just reading quite an extensive article on defibrillators. The technology is virtually the same technology. The price of the units has come down considerably. That appears to be the major factor. But the technology, and how they operate, hasn't changed significantly, Mr. Chair. So, what has changed is the price of the unit - the price and technology are two separate components.
I'd like to explore with the minister the issue surrounding the departmental objective. Now, the minister - I attempted to reread the debate he had yesterday in the House, and some of the positions advanced by the minister, and I kind of lost track where the minister was headed and wandering. Will there be an effort to change the department objectives to more closely match what the minister outlined yesterday? And, if so, in what areas will the departmental objectives be changed from and to?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I guess the short answer to that is, yes, we're reviewing the departmental objectives as a government. It's very important that it reflects where we as a government want to go. To say that we've made any decisive changes from what has been in the past, the answer is no. We don't change everything within 11 months. Hopefully, as I've shared earlier, we take our time and ensure that we make the appropriate decisions that reflect where we want to go.
So, yes, we are looking at those. And, hopefully, in the next budget cycle, that will more or less reflect where some of the philosophies are coming from right now.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, could the minister share with us how some of these departmental objectives are going to be changed - which ones and in what manner?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Again, the short answer at this point is, no. Our policy here - what do you call it? it's all about the Future is sort of the backdrop for our future. I don't have a crystal ball saying where we are going to end up. We are in the discussion stages right now. We are reflecting on this. And definitely, once we have arrived at that juncture, we will be sharing it with the Yukon public and the members opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: Are departmental objectives determined by caucus, or is that just done in the department? If we are going to fundamentally change some of these departmental objectives - it has been done before. I have noticed some changes over the years, but it is usually just tinkering with a line or two or adding another priority to the equation. That is what took place and unfolded during the time of the NDP government.
Could the minister just shed some light on how the process works? Is it just contained in-house in the department under the minister? Or is this something that is determined at the caucus table? Just how is it done, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: My understanding is that the procedure is normally that Management Board - caucus, the government of the day - requests from various departments what objectives they believe one should be pursuing, and it comes back to the government of the day and they look at whether this reflects their philosophy or their direction. And, quite often, the objectives are fairly broad so that almost any philosophy could fit under it. There may be some tweaking or some changing or a line may be changed. Sometimes there are no changes. I am assuming that the same process that has taken place in the past with former governments that will happen with us. This is not something new. This is not rocket science, but it does involve people.
It involves the communities as well because, obviously, we as politicians are out talking to the communities. We're trying to reflect what people on the street are saying. We're trying to reflect how we, as governing people, want to move the Yukon along in the future.
We do have a couple of new ones. For example, the drug and alcohol was a new one. This was to provide territory-wide leadership for alcohol and other drug addiction prevention and treatment services for the health and safety and productivity of all Yukon residents. It's fairly broad, and we will be looking at it and trying to improve on it.
We do this all the time. Every year and at every budget time, there's this request to review and look at them. If there are no changes, they stay as they are.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's go into another couple of areas and see if there has been any policy change, Mr. Chair.
The healthy families program - that's a very beneficial and worthwhile program. Is the program to assist mothers awaiting the arrival of a newborn going to be dovetailed under this program, or is it going to be a separate entity? And how is it going to dovetail with the current assistance being offered via the federal government in rural communities?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I believe it's currently under family and children's services. And, I suppose, in light of where we're trying to move, it is in the active-living model in trying to do prevention versus trying to pick up. We as a government, or we as a health department, haven't really looked at it in terms of making any changes at this point and looking at what the federal plan does. We obviously know that the federal plan is offering a type of program, and we're in discussions, of course, with our counterparts. If it means changes, then collectively and together we'll make some changes. So, right now we're not in the discussion stages.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if we look in this area, especially for mothers-to-be, there are a number of programs and initiatives - some with federal government funding, with Yukon government funding. And there appears to be an overlap in some areas. What steps is the minister taking to address this and dovetail and streamline all of these programs so that we get the best bang for our buck, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I guess the Member for Klondike raises a very good point, and it's a point that I definitely agree with the member opposite on. It's not often I agree with the member opposite, but I do on this issue - the one-window approach toward delivery of services. If I can sort of bring that back a little bit to how we got trapped into this medical boarding, it was Dawson that brought this into the picture and then wanted to offload it to the government. So it was another one of these federal plans that had no long-term discussion or future.
I would hope that, in the future, we can really look at how to avoid some of these issues, because they do create a lot of problems for the government of the day, and we're working hard with our partners. We've asked our nurse practitioners to try to work with the community in trying to build that one-window approach. We know that even with First Nation programming, they're very open to also working in cooperation with us. They're realizing that having one pot of money versus having many pots is probably going to be far more advantageous to everybody.
So we're not there yet, but I would agree with the Member for Klondike that we have to keep pushing on that, because we are a small jurisdiction and quite often, if you don't know what the left hand is doing and the right hand is doing something different, then we end up with duplication or triplication of services, and we don't want that.
Mr. Jenkins: I would have thought this would be an excellent opportunity, seeing we have a federal Liberal government. We have a federal Liberal Minister of Health, we have a Yukon Liberal government, and we have a Yukon Liberal Member of Parliament. Now, I can't go near the Yukon Commissioner, so we won't go there.
But if we just look at all the areas where the star, the sun and everything are lined up, we have a whole series of Liberals. The one-window approach is usually the most cost-effective, if the service is delivered. We're in the predicament we are with respect to the funding for rural women because of the federal government initiating a service like the hospital in Dawson, then removing that service, and then transferring the responsibility to YTG. Let that be a lesson for devolution, because it's coming more and more to the forefront.
So, when are we going to see some of these programs dovetailed? There are duplications. Now, I'm not saying that they aren't advantageous to a mother who is expecting, but there are some duplications there, and duplications cost money.
When are we going to see these all aligned and service delivery take this one-window approach? Is it going to happen under this minister's guidance? Is it even an issue that is being worked toward?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: Again, there's that expectation that this 11-month government was to solve all the problems that have happened over the last number of years and number of governments. I know there are great expectations, and already we're starting to see results from this holy alliance with our federal counterparts. We call it a delivery - a deliverance, if you want to use the term very expressively. When we look at the airport in Dawson, how the federal government came forward and said, "We believe you have a really legitimate project there, so we're going to give you an extra $4 million."
It really had very little to do with the Member for Klondike. It had a lot to do with us being Liberals and rationalizing that with the federal government. I really agree with the Member for Klondike.
We are hoping that the north can serve as some kind of model for the rest of Canada on this one-window delivery. Our department - our DM and his counterparts in the territories, and also the federal DM are working very closely together. Now, we have had change in DMs there, so that has maybe been a bit of a hiccup along the way.
The former DM of Health has now moved to another position. We know that Mr. Dodge was very supportive of trying to move in the direction of a one-window approach. We, in the north, because we are smaller - it was felt that this could be a real model for the rest of Canada, because they're finding that they're getting a lot of this feedback about duplication and triplication.
So, I'm right on board with the Member for Klondike. The sooner we do it, the better, and the faster we do it, the better services we are going to be providing to Yukoners. So, I appreciate the fact that the Member for Klondike brought it up again. It just reactivates my resolve to ensure that we promote it even more when I meet with my counterparts. I think it's long overdue.
Mr. Jenkins: The other area where a two-tiered system currently exists is with the service delivery and who pays for what with respect to First Nations. There is an opportunity in that area to combine service delivery. But there is quite a bit of difference in how you and I are treated by the health care system in the Yukon, especially in rural Yukon, and how First Nations are treated. First Nations have effectively negotiated their positions.
But there is a great deal of difference. And who pays what and how much? Is the Government of Yukon looking and reviewing what First Nations currently receive and who pays for it and how, and looking at streamlining and dovetailing the health care system so that those of us who are not members of a First Nation can be accorded the same benefits and privileges?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I hear the member loud and clear as to where this conversation may end up. We as a government are always discussing with our counterparts as to how we deliver services. We deliver some of them jointly and together, with the sort of understanding that we may deliver the service and they may pay for it. Obviously that is a very important connection that we have. Medevacs, hospital care - I mean, we have nursing stations and all these things. You know, we have our own support in those areas, and there are other supports that First Nations have, primarily because a lot of it has to do with their primary rights, and, secondly, land claims is still a big discussion around many of the tables currently.
So, we are not into direct discussion - if you want to call it that - about how we should proceed in the future at this point. We are trying to, first of all, complete the first stage. We are not really trying to integrate services at this point at all. But we try to work together in ensuring that we are singing from the same hymn book. And that is not always easy, but there is an attempt and a resolve to do that because the recognition is that having a one-window approach toward dealing with issues is far more advantageous than having many windows. So, directly, the answer that I would have to say at this point is no.
Mr. Jenkins: The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs has another whole program - uninsured health benefits. Is the minister aware of these benefits, and is there any way that his government can look at bringing these same types of benefits and putting them in place for the balance of the population? I mean, what's the problem? We're supposed to all be the same, but the federal government appears to have made a very definite distinction, and it's paying for part of our population and not the other, and it's transferring money to the Government of Yukon to address that need.
Now, why can't the same uninsured health benefits be accorded to the balance of the Yukon? It is done in some respects if you're a Government of Yukon employee, through the collective bargaining agreement, but by and large, those who are not employees of the Yukon government or the federal government are not accorded these benefits. Why not?
Hon. Mr. Roberts: That, again, Mr. Chair, goes back into history, I suppose, to when the first treaty or the first agreement was made with the federal government for First Nation care and its fiduciary. It's uninsured support that comes from the federal government directly to First Nations. It's a guaranteed right. It doesn't fall in the same category as ourselves, in the sense that we have our health care and we have our own medicare.
If we were to move in that direction, we would need probably double the budget that we have now for health care. So there's no easy answer to this, and I think we always have to look at bottom lines. I know the Member for Klondike is very concerned about bottom lines. The fact that the member owns a business - obviously to make a profit you have to ensure that you can pay for your resources, and we're in the same boat. We have a bottom line, and the pot isn't unlimited.
We must find there's a base for everything. So there is a big difference in trying to compare - that's like comparing apples and oranges. Its responsibility is more direct for First Nations than it is for Yukoners, and this happens right across Canada. It's not just here in the Yukon, so everything can't be, according to the member opposite, that people are unequal. I think it's just the responsibilities.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister did make one error, in that owning a business and being profitable - that used to be the case when the Yukon Party was around, but it hasn't been the case for quite some time. In fact, we've gone backward at such an alarming rate under the Liberal government this last little while that the NDP are going to have to pay heed and recognition if they're going to catch up. It's pretty hard to destroy the economy any further than the Liberals have managed to do so far. It's going to be hard for any future government to do the job any worse.
That's just a side issue to the main question. While we're exploring with the minister why there's a considerable number of two-tiered health care systems here in the Yukon, can the minister advise the House where we're at with respect to the recovery of money from Indian and Northern Affairs on behalf of First Nations and the services we've provided to First Nations here in Yukon? Just what is the total amount outstanding? An aged accounts receivable summary would be appreciated, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Roberts: I believed that for the member opposite, this has been an issue for the member opposite for, from my understanding, many years. I am pleased to share with the House that Health and Social Services and DIAND have successfully negotiated an agreement covering payment of child welfare services to status First Nations.
The agreement deals with outstanding invoices and establishes a mechanism for payment of services provided in the future. To us this is a recognition that will go a long way in the future, so we won't get into these arguments about what the process is. I think that is what has been established here.
So again I give full credit to the former governments - many governments, as I understand this has been going on for quite a few years - that we have finally arrived at that particular moment in the history of the Yukon as far as coming up with some kind of a protocol or agreement.
As of February 5 this year, the regional director, Mr. Terry Sewell, who was the lead on the child welfare agreement, was basically representing the Yukon government. He represented the DIAND group and the Yukon government, and Cabinet Management Board approved the agreement in December 2000.
This agreement marks a significant progress in clearing up our outstanding invoices sent to DIAND for services to First Nations over the last number of years. DIAND will pay all direct child-in-care costs and a portion of the Health and Social Services operating cost. DIAND will pay $8.2 million in back payments to the end of 1999-00. This leaves some outstanding amounts; however, we have felt over the last number of years that the identified amount was the real amount and it has been sort of looked on as doubtful accounts. It has been forwarded into what they call the public accounts over the years and our books have been reduced by the same amount. So, really, it has been written off.
This leaves $1.2 million as an additional recovery on the books, in excess of what Health and Social Services had already written off.
No deal is always one way. A deal is working with partners or groups and trying to come up with the best deal. It is my understanding that, if you look at similar kinds of packages that took place throughout Canada that had to be negotiated with various provinces and so on, the way this was structured and the way it was resolved was - we did much better compared to provinces. What this has done for us is that it's brought about some equity in how we, in the future, can address future billings.
DIAND owed the Yukon government $6.3 million for 1999-00 for the First Nations residing at the Thomson Centre. This bill had accumulated since 1993, when the Thomson Centre opened. DIAND has recently agreed to use an assessment form developed by Health and Social Services. This form will provide information to DIAND to allow them to validate the level of care being received by residents, and DIAND will also pay for non-acute care. This has been resolved and will be paid very shortly.
Other services, for which DIAND owes money, include monies outstanding for Kaushee's, which was over $1 million; social assistance was $1.24 million - for McDonald Lodge - there was home care, $416,00; home care, again, for Dawson and women's shelter was $278,000, and the women's shelter in Dawson was $33,000 to the end of March 2000.
Health and Social Services and DIAND have initiated negotiations on all of these adult services with the aim of clearing up all the disputed amounts. The issues are far less complex than child welfare. The parties aim to reach agreement on the substantive issues by the spring of this year.
Now, I am reading from a dated memo, but what it does present to us as a government is a resolution of a major irritant that we, as a government over the years, have been experiencing with the federal government.
I would like to very strongly suggest that the Department of Health here has worked very hard at trying to come to some equality and ensuring that, in the future, we don't end up with these big arguments. That is what has happened over the years. There was never any kind of format, and it made it very difficult to come forward with any kind of what I would call equity in the situation.
So hopefully what this has done is brought about some equity. Now, I know that the Member for Klondike is probably not going to be pleased about the amounts. The member is probably going to suggest that it wasn't enough but I think, from our point of view, when you are negotiating and agreeing on things, it is obvious that it is a give-and-take situation. If we would have recouped all that we were asking for, we would have been treated far differently from most jurisdictions - we were treated a little differently anyway because of the northern region, but we would have been treated far differently from how they resolved this in the provinces.
So, I think that the important part for us is that it has finally come to a conclusion. I think that our government and even past governments should all sort of, you know, wipe the sweat off your brow and say, "This is great," because it now puts in place a policy for the future.
To us, that's the important issue here - that it's on a more direct basis so we don't have to argue about how we're going to develop it. I don't know if that helps the Member for Klondike, but it provides us with hopefully some closure to this whole file.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I would like to go back to the minister and ask if he could find the total sum that was outstanding, the total amounts that have been written off, and where they have been written off.
In previous years I have asked previous ministers on a continuing basis what contingency we had, and that figure was never forthcoming, because they didn't want to tip their hands in the negotiating table with the feds. But, be that as it may, I think it's important for us to recognize that Yukon has delivered a service. The feds haven't paid for it entirely, and it has cost Yukon some dollars. So we're at the table, negotiations are ongoing, and that's going to be a continuing problem, Mr. Chair.
The other area that I do have some concerns about is what provisions have been made for payment in the future? Now, I do have concerns as to how we were adding up the sums at the end of the year and billing once after the end of our fiscal year. We're talking about a considerable sum of money, Mr. Chair, to go that route. I'm aware of other Crown corporations and other agencies of Canada dealing with Indian and Northern Affairs, where they get paid on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending on the order of magnitude of the costs. Indian and Northern Affairs tends to - I guess you can say drag their feet in the payment of some of these costs, especially when they go back quite a number of years.
What I'd like to know from the minister is, initially, the total amount, what we've written off by area, what understanding we've come to with the federal government on the payment of these in the future, how the payments will flow - monthly, quarterly, I hope it's not annually. I do have some serious concerns.
Just for my information, I'd like to find out how we got this all through the Auditor General for prior years, because they normally make a notation in the audited financial statements of the Yukon with respect to amounts due, and make a statement as to their legitimacy and whether it's a bona fide receivable.
The minister indicated that, in prior years, the amount receivable has been written down. I'd like to know from the minister if the amounts tabled in the House are the written down amounts from previous years, or if they were the full amounts outstanding. In prior years, for quite a number of years, this has been quite a topical question, and the amounts tabled in the House - I was quite specific in my questioning of the minister of the day as to whether there were any write-offs in the amounts, and I was assured, no.
But then, where were the write-offs reflected? I dovetailed them back to the financial statements, and they were spread all over the place, but it's easy to add the columns up. So there has to be a way it was accounted for from an accounting standpoint, and I'd like to know how that was done.
It's one of those areas that is interesting to track through the government, Mr. Chair, and one has to find out how it's done so you can look at these things and come to an understanding.
Mr. Chair, there's a whole series of questions surrounding the provision of health care to First Nations with respect to the costs. Are we going to recover the full amounts in the future? Some of the First Nations are drawing down, under their final agreements, a lot of the health care provisions. And I'd like to know from the minister how we're going to dovetail all of this into the equation, or are we just going to be a fallback agency if the respective First Nations draw down this component under their final agreement?
There are a whole series of areas where we may or may not have costs, but do we have to gear up for the eventuality that we will have to provide all of these services and then kind of back away from it? The question that begs the answer, Mr. Chair, is how this is being managed internally within the department.
The Government of Yukon appears to be in a kind of fallback position, or a facility of last resort, in many respects. In other respects, it's the front line, and it delivers a service. So, what areas are going to be, and where? It's a question that has tremendous cost implications for us, given that we provide the service and then bill Indian and Northern Affairs for the costs so incurred and may or may not get paid. So, I would be very hopeful that someone in-house has a handle on this area, given the costs that we may realize.
Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that we report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins 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, 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 5:54 p.m.