Thursday, November 27, 2003 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Order please. Before we proceed with notices of motion the Chair will make a statement about the practices of this House with regard to notices of motion.
Speaker:Since the end of the 2003 spring sitting the Chair has sent two letters to all members regarding what is and what is not in order regarding notices of motion. Annotation 565 of the sixth edition of Beauchesneís Parliamentary Rules and Forms says, "A motion should be neither argumentative, nor in the style of a speech, nor contain unnecessary provisions or objectionable words." To put it succinctly, notices of motion that are argumentative ó that is, contain argument in favour of the motion proposed ó are not in order.
Yesterday members offered 10 notices of motion. Each one contained a preamble that contained words and phrases designed to support the argument in favour of the motion. Such argument was contained in the preambles that begin, "That it is the opinion of this House thatÖ"
Argumentative phrases belong in debate on the motion and not in the text of the motion itself. Since the beginning of the 2003 fall sitting, the Chair has directed the Table Officers to amend any notices of motion that are not in order so that they adhere to proper form once they are on the Notice Paper and the Order Paper. In keeping with this direction, yesterdayís notices of motion appear on todayís Notice Paper in their amended form. The argumentative phrases in question have been removed from the motions without depriving the motions of their purpose. This leads to the conclusion that the phrases are unnecessary and only serve to make the motion argumentative.
Argumentative motions are procedurally problematic because notice is given at a time during the Daily Routine when there is no question before the House. As such there is no opportunity for members to debate what is being said. At times like this ó for example, tributes, introduction of visitors, a point of personal privilege ó it is expected that members will refrain from comments that are argumentative. It is at times when members may respond to the comments of other members, such as Question Period, debate on motions or bills, and ministerial statements that partisan statements are allowed.
Over the years the use of preambles has become common in the Yukon Legislative Assembly. Notwithstanding, such a practice need not continue if it stands in contradiction to established parliamentary rules. It should also be noted that the use of preambles developed over the years and has never been explicitly authorized by way of Standing Orders or other direction from the Assembly to the Speaker.
Given the letters that I have already sent to members on this issue, and the fact that yesterdayís notices of motion contradicted the direction contained in those letters, the Chair can only conclude that certain members are deliberately ignoring direction from the Chair. Members should be aware that the Chairís authority with regard to notices of motion goes beyond amending them so that they are in order. The Speaker also has the authority to order that motions that are not in order not be placed on the Notice Paper, and to rule a motion out of order at the time that notice is being given in the House.
Members may argue that such action constitutes restriction on their freedom of speech in the Assembly. Freedom of speech in the Assembly is a fundamental component of the parliamentary privileges of the House and its members; however such freedom is restricted. As noted on page 504 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, freedom of speech "is circumscribedÖby the necessity of maintaining order and decorum when debate is taking place. Thus, the right to speak is tempered by the written rules of the House which are, in general, limitations on what may be said, and when, by whom and for how long."
There are other instances where members are restricted in their comments. In addition to those regarding the length of speeches and the use of unparliamentary language Standing Order 52(2) says, "A motion for first reading of a bill shall be decided without introductory statement, debate or amendment." Similarly Standing Order 65(3) says, "Every member offering a petition to the Assembly shall confine himself or herself to the statement of the parties from whom it comes, the number of signatures attached to it and the material allegations it contains." No argument in favour or against the petition is allowed. Parliamentary practice in the Yukon Legislative Assembly also stipulates that members are not to offer comments regarding documents they table, except to inform the House of the name or nature of the document.
The purpose of notices of motion is to allow members to inform the House of business they intend to put on the Order Paper. The purpose is not to argue for those motions. It is clear, therefore, that restricting the use of argumentative language in the text of motions is consistent with rules and practices regarding motions and other rules and practices that circumscribe freedom of speech in the Assembly.
Explicit direction, perhaps in the form of new Standing Orders, will have to be adopted by the House if members wish to have argumentative notices of motion accepted. Barring such explicit direction it is the Chairís intention to follow the rules of procedure as stipulated in Beauchesne and other parliamentary authorities.
It is not the Chairís intention to impede members in their work. However, the Chair has the ultimate responsibility in ensuring that matters placed before the House are in order and that direction from the Chair is adhered to.
We will now proceed with notices of motion.
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) victims of violent acts such as sexual assaults suffer the immediate pain of the assault and also endure psychological stress for many years following the assault; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to establish a rape crisis centre such as the successful help line VictimLink with a counsellor accessible 24 hours a day and to provide ongoing support for victims of assault to assist them in gaining access to the effective, long-term psychological help that they need.
I also have for tabling the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) public transportation within the City of Whitehorse has been more expensive and has been severely reduced;
(2) seniors and elders are affected greatly by the costs and lack of public transportation; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to work with the City of Whitehorse, volunteer agencies, seniors and elders to establish a program of affordable and reliable transportation alternatives.
I have for tabling the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Canadian labour market participation rate of persons with disabilities is 53 percent, compared with the overall participation rate of other Canadians at 80 percent;
(2) cutbacks, freezing and privatization of support services to persons with disabilities has meant fewer employment opportunities for them; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to address the need for greater investment in individuals with disabilities by increasing the numbers of disabled people in the public service of the Yukon.
Mr. Arntzen: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Canada to increase the federal contribution to the health care system, traditionally set at 50 percent of total funds, from its current level of 17 percent to at least the 25-percent level recommended by the Romanow report.
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes that with devolution the Yukon Party government now controls forestry in the Yukon. The Yukon Partyís 2002 campaign and election platform outline five forestry points to develop a forestry industry in the Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the government to develop a long-term, sustainable forest industry in the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the environmental cleanup of Type II mine sites is required under Canadian environmental law;
(2) the devolution accord transferred related securities and liabilities to the Yukon government;
(3) any decision to relinquish securities must not absolve the federal government of its liability;
(4) any such decisions must be supported by Yukon First Nations, whose traditional territories are impacted by those mine sites;
(5) all Yukoners deserve the right to participate in an open and fair process to develop a security release policy;
(6) while such a policy is being developed, the government should adopt an interim policy of releasing publicly a statement setting out the estimated costs of clean up, along with an account of securities;
(7) such an interim policy should also require the release of written support from Yukon First Nations whose lands are affected; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to adopt the preceding items.
Mr. Fairclough: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) Yukon hospitals and nursing stations face the prospect of severe shortages in nursing staff as competition for nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing-related practitioners continue to be high throughout North America;
(2) programs of financial assistance to specifically encourage Yukoners to become involved in registered nursing training and other related professions are not adequate to meet the Yukonís needs; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to develop and fund assistance programs to make it possible for Yukon residents to enroll in nursing and related professional training.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the highest rate of consumption per capita of alcohol in Canada is in the Yukon;
(2) the highest rate of impaired driving is in the Yukon;
(3) the use of and addictions to drugs has increased;
(4) wilderness treatment centres have proven to be very effective in the treatment of addictions;
(5) the Department of Health and Social Services has an additional $20 million over the next three years; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to work with First Nations to make full use of existing First Nation wilderness treatment facilities and to extend training support to all communities for NNADAP workers.
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) there are many pre-retirement men and women in the territory who are unemployed and in need of training;
(2) many people in this category also face a need for retraining as employment in traditional occupations is no longer available to them; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to establish special employment and training programs for men and women who are between the ages of 45 and 65.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) programs to help offenders learn the skills they need to reintegrate into society as well as addictions counselling services are inadequate in both the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and the Young Offenders Facility;
(2) rehabilitation should be our prime concern for Yukon inmates and young offenders; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to make these programs immediately available to inmates and young offenders in these institutions.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Childrenís Act review
Mr. Fairclough:My question is to the Minister of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Speaker, in Hansard on April 9 of this year, the minister said, "Öwe are going to have to dovetail our laws and rules into First Nation communities Ö" and, on September 3, the minister named the panel to review the Childrenís Act ó three First Nations representatives and two non-First Nations.
He also said that he consulted with First Nations. Then on September 23, CYFNís representative withdrew because the family and childrenís services representative was named chair. On October 22, one First Nation representative was to co-chair and appointed by First Nations on the panel. On November 3, the CYFN representative had resigned.
So if the minister is seriously consulting with First Nations on this very important act review, why have two appointed First Nation members resigned in the space of two months?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Our government worked diligently and very effectively with the chiefsí committee on health and the Grand Chief here in the Yukon to establish the terms of reference for the Childrenís Act review. Our government is firmly committed, as is the Grand Chief and the chiefsí committee on health, to the process that we agreed to, and we are moving forward. This template we established is a very efficient, effective way of dealing with issues where thereís a co-jurisdictional issue.
The member opposite is trying to make a situation that is personnel within the terms of reference, and bring that person to the forefront as being a main issue. It is not.
The process is firmly established and firmly agreed to by all parties, and we are moving forward on a complete review of the Childrenís Act here in the Yukon.
Mr. Fairclough: We are bringing the issues out, and this minister is not going to keep it hidden. It is not going well, Mr. Speaker. Letís see how this minister shows respect for First Nations. Support for the panel on the government side is a paid co-chair, full-time. There is a paid coordinator who is full-time. There is a legal services representative and a research assistant. Letís see how the minister respected First Nations. The Council of Yukon First Nations representative is part time with no research staff.
So I would like to ask this simple question of the minister: will the minister provide the same support for First Nations as he provides for his own representatives on the review panel for the Childrenís Act? That is a full-time, paid position for a chair, a paid, full-time coordinator, legal services and a research assistant. Can he do the same thing for them?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The workplan for the Childrenís Act review here in the Yukon was agreed to and established by the chiefís committee on health and the Grand Chief, in agreement with me and officials. That is the reality of the situation. The workplan and how we are going to proceed was agreed to by all parties. Thatís a given.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, itís obvious from listening to the news that problems have arisen about this. The truth is coming out, and there needs to be some action taken by this minister. I asked the minister a very important question, whether or not he was going to be treating people equally across the territory ó First Nations versus non-First Nations ó on this matter ó the panel, the support staff.
So I will ask the question: will the minister provide the same support for First Nations on this panel as he does for the non-First Nation representatives? Itís only a fair question.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: At the beckoning of the member opposite, I am not going to change the terms of reference and the workplan that was established by the chiefís committee on health and the Grand Chief and ourselves. That is a given. We are firmly committed. We acknowledge that there are some difficulties around this emotionally charged issue, but the Grand Chief and the chiefís committee on health have put forward a new nominee, and itís their position that this individual will be working in concert with the other members of this panel. Weíve moving forward on this initiative. This is a sound initiative; this has got the buy-in of the First Nations, by and large, of the chiefís committee on health and the Grand Chief. One only has to give them a call and find out over at Council of Yukon First Nations.
Question re: Social assistance rates
Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the Finance minister. Yesterday the Minister of Health and Social Services refused to make any commitment to increase social assistance rates so that Yukon people who need help can live with a little bit more security and dignity. Since the Finance minister now has all sorts of cash available, will he agree to make that commitment on behalf of his colleague?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This is my area of my departmentís purview. Let me share with the House what the current SA rates are.
A single employable individual: in the Yukon, $12,145; in B.C., $6,200; in Alberta, $4,800.
Persons with disability: in the Yukon, $13,645; in B.C., $9,500; in Alberta, $7,300.
A single parent with one child: $16,664 here in the Yukon; $10,500 in B.C.; $8,500 in Alberta.
A couple with two children: $22,246 here in the Yukon; in B.C., $12,973; in Alberta, $13,073.
In the first category, single employable, we have the highest rates for SA in Canada, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hardy: The Finance minister didnít stand up that time. Maybe he will stand up this time.
Itís very revealing that the minister dragged out tired old party lines from a decade ago when they talked about how increasing the social assistance rates would unleash a tidal wave of poor, lazy Canadians who would come here to live in luxury on welfare.
Well, he has already admitted that we have the highest rates today and we donít see that happening, so his argument, of course, is complete nonsense. For one thing, a population tide has been running the other way, thanks to this governmentís failure to create jobs and stimulate this economy. If anything, theyíve been creating a welfare situation.
For another thing, our SA payments arenít addressing the needs of the people who are actually living here, or we wouldnít have record lineups for the food banks every month.
Does the Finance minister share his colleaguesí pinch-penny attitude that raising SA rates to reflect the Yukonís real cost of living would simply increase the welfare roles? Does he share that viewpoint?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let me assure the House that the Minister of Finance ó the Premier ó and I and all of our Cabinet worked very, very closely together in addressing the social assistance rates and addressing all of the social agenda that our party has identified, and we are putting efforts where those efforts are required. In this part of the year, up until the end of this last month, the SA payments were up just about $1 million overall here in the Yukon.
But that leads to the real issue: we as a government have to provide sound fiscal management here in the Yukon, restore investor confidence, rebuild the Yukon economy and create wealth. Yes, we will provide the backup that is necessary for those who are less fortunate and those who require social assistance or any other form of assistance that we currently have in place.
Our social safety net here in the Yukon is one of the best in Canada, and it will continue to be maintained that way, and we have enhanced it considerably as a government.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, what the Yukon Party has delivered us is increased unemployment, increased social assistance payments and increased lineups at the food banks. Thatís what this Yukon Party government has delivered in one year.
When the Minister of Health and Social Services was speaking with media yesterday afternoon, he referred to Albertaís enlightened approach of providing one-way bus tickets out of that province for people who need social assistance. Isnít that interesting that today heís saying something different?
We recently heard about one of the Maritime provinces wanting to ship some folks back to the Yukon ó at Yukon expense, of course ó rather than help them make ends meet. Mr. Speaker, the minister may not have used the actual term, but at least one reporter detected a fear of welfare bums in the ministerís response yesterday.
So Iíd like to ask the Premier a question about welfare bums. Will the Premier consider giving one-way bus tickets south to his two Cabinet colleagues who have been acting like corporate welfare bums by refusing to pay back money they have owed Yukon taxpayers for years?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the issue before us is social assistance rates and our governmentís commitment to provide a social safety net for those less fortunate or those in need, and we have clearly identified where the SA rates are here in the Yukon today. They are among the highest ó if not the highest in many categories ó in Canada. That said, we look to the additional support we are providing to our seniors by way of income support supplement, the pioneer utility grant, the pharmacare program, the extended health care benefit program, and the medical travel program.
Mr. Speaker, one only has to compare these social programs to what exists in other areas of Canada. In most categories, if indeed not all of them, they are the best in Canada.
Question re: Access to information
Ms. Duncan:The government has developed a disturbing habit of keeping information secret from the public. The Minister of Environment has refused to provide letters he received from the Conflicts Commissioner. The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources has kept reports about the Brewery Creek mine secret. The Executive Council Office, the Premierís responsibility, paid a defeated Yukon Party candidate $2,000 to do a report on childcare that has never been released to the public.
I have another example in this long list of things that the government doesnít want the public to see. The Kaska Tribal Council wrote a letter to the Premier during the week of October 19. The Premier doesnít want the public to see the letter. I filed an access to information request asking for the letter and was told by the government, "No, you canít have it." Will the Premier set an example, as heís often fond of saying? Will the Premier lead by example and release the letter?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is customary for any government upon receiving correspondence from other governments, from corporate entities, from citizens, whatever it may be, that we respond in kind by corresponding to that person, entity or government, not through a public forum but as was intended when they wrote to us. This member appears to want a lot of information that may or may not reflect anything of substance, but in the case where a letter is written to our government, to me, to the Premierís office or to any other department, we will follow the standard procedures in corresponding to those citizens, those other governments, municipalities or corporate entities, if you will.
Ms. Duncan: The Finance minister ó the Premier ó did not answer the question. What he said is, "Weíll engage in correspondence but no, you the public" ó and this is about the publicís business ó "arenít going to see it." The government received a letter from the Kaska during the week of October 19; it doesnít want the public to see the letter.
This spring ó April 2, to be exact ó I asked the minister to release a report written by a defeated Yukon Party candidate. He said he would, and I quote, "Ö make the report available in a reasonable amount of timeÖ Thatís what this government does; thatís what any government does. Weíre not holding back information from the member opposite ó not at all."
Mr. Speaker, I still donít have that report. The minister said, "Just ask. Weíll get the information to you."
Iím asking. This government promised to be open and accountable. They have delivered the complete opposite. Once again, public information is being kept secret.
The Premier got a letter from the Kaska in October. Will the Premier release the letter?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, let me point out to the member opposite that if the Kaska wanted that member to see that correspondence, they would have ccíd that member or written to that member in the first place. That is not the case and, of course, as a government in respect to another First Nation ó which is in this territory not only self-governing but has the commitment and potential to be self-governing First Nations ó we will correspond with them. If a First Nation ó be it the Kaska or any other First Nation in this territory ó wishes to provide that correspondence on their own decision to the leader of the third party, the party of one, that would be their choice.
If they direct us as a government to provide that information to another member of this Assembly, of course we would follow that direction. In this case that hasnít happened, and we will follow standard practices in corresponding with First Nations.
Ms. Duncan: We are talking about the publicís business. The Premier has made much of his relationship in southeast Yukon. There are residents in his own riding who are watching, hoping, waiting for the development that the Premier promised, in light of this special relationship with residents of the southeast, with the First Nations in the southeast Yukon.
The government is keeping the publicís business secret. Just this week we learned that the MLA for Klondike tried to make sure that the public didnít know that he owed the taxpayers money on unpaid loans. The Minister of Environment tried to keep reports secret regarding hunt farms. The first instinct of the government is to keep public information secret.
Now, the Premier received a letter from the Kaska. This is about the publicís business. The minister can release it if he wishes. He is choosing to keep the letter secret. Why is the Premier keeping the publicís business, such as the letter from the Kaska, a secret?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, there is no secret here at all. If the Kaska wanted this particular letter that the member opposite is so exercised about, the Kaska would send it to the member opposite.
The member also made the comment that the people of Watson Lake are waiting for something to happen. Let me point out to the member opposite that back in the year 2000, when that member took government ó that government, a Liberal government, shut down everything that was happening in the community of Watson Lake and the southeast Yukon, to the detriment of the citizens of a community in this territory.
Let me point something else out. Frankly, this is happening far too often in this House. This member continues to provide information to this Assembly that is incorrect. Let me give you an example. The other day, this member put on the public record that a contractor of this government had racked up a travel expense of some $76,000. The actual figure, Mr. Speaker, is $8,400. Let that be the example. The government side rests its case in dealing with that member, the third party.
Question re: Game farming
Mrs. Peter:Last week, on Tuesday to be exact, the acting Environment minister said in this House that First Nation people really donít have as much of an issue on game farming and captive wildlife as I had said.
I donít know if either the Environment minister from last week or the one this week realizes that renewable resource councils, the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, the Grand Chief of Council of Yukon First Nations and the First Nation leadership do not support game farming and are against holding wildlife in captivity for private profit.
Is the Environment minister as out of reach and touch as his colleague who acted for him last week, with where First Nation people and the First Nation leadership are on the captive wildlife issue?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I do have some concerns with the way the question is phrased. I share the concerns of the Premier about the way questions are asked and the way there is a great deal of lateral optioning on this.
Approximately three weeks ago in the Yukon News, the member asking this question said, and I quote, "The minister lied." Now, that, of course, is a word that we canít use in here. While I do try to concentrate more on reputable media, and havenít perhaps checked completely ó
Speaker:You cannot bring into the House what you cannot say in the House. That means you cannot quote an article and presume that it wonít be out of order, because it is out of order. I would ask that the minister retract that.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Kenyon:I certainly retract that quote from the Yukon News, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Please continue.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: As I was saying, I certainly try to concentrate on reputable media and perhaps Iíve missed it, but I have noticed; nor have I received an apology for what the Speaker points out is a very terrible accusation. I am nervous about continuing to answer questions until I have that clarified. Is that an accurate quotation, or was that another bit of misinformation from the media?
Mrs. Peter: Last year the Fish and Wildlife Management Board received more than 100 written briefs, and about 50 Yukoners attended an open house on captive wildlife. That is the issue right now, Mr. Speaker. The Environment minister chose to ignore most of the boardís recommendations. There are many serious concerns about the economic viability of game farms and about the threat of disease that captive wildlife can pose to indigenous wildlife. Where does the minister stand on captive wildlife issues? Does he support holding Yukon wildlife in captivity for private profit? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite is quite correct that approximately 50 people and 100 submissions, many of which I would point out I was denied the opportunity to spend time to study, and it was not provided by the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. But again, Mr. Speaker, I go back to Hansard on November 5 when the member opposite said "We care about the next person who sits beside us, and we try to show respect in every way that we can." The leader of the third party very correctly agreed: you earn cooperation and respect and you earn it by being respectful of others. Our House leader followed on that same date, "The leader of the third party speaks of cooperation and respect that is earned, but there also has to be the capability to provide cooperation and to provide respect. That has to be demonstrated also."
In light of the disrespect shown, I think that it is not appropriate for me to answer the question.
Mrs. Peter: Talk about avoiding responsibility.
The Game Growers Association of Yukon is advertising that it can provide trophy animals for hunts. This minister is on record as saying that he canít do anything if Yukon wildlife is killed in canned hunts outside.
Will the minister undertake to convince his Cabinet colleagues to ban the exports of Yukon wildlife to any operation outside the territory with a record of sponsoring canned hunts?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: To precede my comment on that, certainly this government does not support hunt farms. They are illegal in this territory, as I have stated in this House. The members opposite complain that we gave them five days to study the budget ó perhaps they are slow readers and perhaps they are a little slow to understand statements that were made in the House at that time.
But pursuant to Guideline No. 10, of the Guidelines for Oral Question Period, a minister may decline to answer a question. Insistence on an answer is out of order.
Question re: Brewery Creek mine site reclamation
Mr. McRobb: Letís see if we can get an answer this time, Mr. Speaker.
There are many unanswered questions with respect to how this government has handled the Brewery Creek security deposit. There are questions about the reports held secret from the public and the Tríondëk Hwëchíin. There are questions about the after-the-fact consultation process forced upon the First Nation. There are questions about what appears to be premature and unsubstantiated releases of securities from the reclamation account. There are questions about the sequence of events of this whole matter. Any open and accountable government would have no problem providing a chronology of those details.
Will the minister do that? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The report the member opposite refers to is, of course, on the public register and is publicly available. I guess we did such a great job in making it secret that we placed it there.
Brewery Creek is something we inherited through devolution, and we took responsibility from that. It is a Type II mine site, but it is still completely retained by the owner/operator, who is completely responsible for the reclamation work, and theyíre doing an exceptional job. I guess the member opposite considers their job to be less than worthy and ignores the fact that they have won awards.
Mr. Speaker, if this company is not doing its job, then we canít possibly work with other companies. This is an exemplary company that we are very, very proud of.
Mr. McRobb: The Environment minister did not answer the question about providing a chronology of those details. Obviously this government isnít open or accountable, and obviously the Mines minister has been transferred from this file due to his embarrassing performance and probable mistakes that could cost Yukoners big time in the future.
We look forward to receiving some information. Thereís also a very serious issue about the status of federal liability with respect to this Type II mine site. In his haste, the Mines minister may have absolved the federal government of any future liability with his unilateral action to refund security prematurely. The Yukon public needs to know whether the minister has a legal opinion in support of his actions.
Will he provide us with a legislative return that spells out liability issues with respect to refunding securities for Type II mine sites? Will the Mines minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I remind the member opposite that the things he talks about fall under the Department of Environment. As I was explaining before, the surety falls within our jurisdiction, and it is up to us to gradually put this money back into the hands of the operation. I would remind the member opposite that weíre not talking about putting money back in. This was a letter of credit. We allowed the reduction of letter of credit. It was the letter of credit that could have expired at that time. With the cooperation of the company, which has acted in every way to the benefit of the Yukon, it was agreed to retain a further $5 million. What theyíre doing out there is a good thing. It allows them to do more work; it allows them to do more reclamation; it allows them to do more looking for minerals out there and more exploration, which they have already done.
This is a very good-news story, Mr. Speaker. Weíre very, very proud of Viceroy.
Mr. McRobb: This government is hiding information related to this matter, Mr. Speaker. Theyíre hiding the chronology of events, and now theyíre hiding information about liability with respect to this mine. Thereís another major issue in regard to the process the minister used to decide about relinquishing securities set aside for environmental cleanup at the old mine site. This site, by the way, is loaded with toxic chemicals and situated next to a salmon river. The minister said he consulted with the THFN before making his decision to refund securities, but the First Nation has indicated otherwise. In situations where sites are located in sensitive areas, we must ensure that other governments support these kinds of decisions. Will the Mines minister undertake to establish a process to develop a security release policy in conjunction with First Nation governments and other stakeholders? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I still have to admit to some confusion as to how we hid something on a public register. That, to me, is a bit frightening.
But I do refer back to, certainly, the Brodie report that the members opposite keep liking to quote. I would like to just sort of get into that. Selenium levels ó a potentially very toxic chemical that the member opposite has referred to. The Brodie report said: this appendix was not reviewed; it is outside of my area of expertise.
Hiring a consultant who acknowledges that he has no expertise relevant to the environmental concern makes no sense. This was done prior to devolution. It is not a reflection on the consultant, Mr. Brodie. He was quite right in saying that he had no expertise in the area. The problem lies with the ones who commissioned the study. Also in the effect on fish tissue analysis, and I quote one line: "This appendix was outside my area of expertise."
As we discussed, we have a fish and wildlife branch with some of the most capable people in Canada. They werenít consulted prior to devolution. The report was put on the public register without going through the normal process in the Department of Environment. It was put under before we saw it. Thatís how good of a job we did in hiding this document.
So I must admit to some confusion. But with five days to study a budget and not being able to read it in that time ó perhaps it will take a few more months to digest.
Question re: Emergency firefighters
Mr. Cardiff: I have a question for the Minister of Community Services. It has almost been two weeks since we received a briefing on the departmentís part of the $95-million supplementary budget. Can the minister tell us when we will receive the written information that his officials promised us during that briefing?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will endeavour to look into it for the member opposite.
Mr. Cardiff: One of the reasons the departmentís budget has increased is because of the new employees who came over from the federal government as a result of devolution. The department is now responsible for fire management in the territory, which is a very important responsibility, as we well know from watching the disastrous events in B.C. this summer.
The main item weíre waiting for the department to provide is the new policy on emergency firefighters. These are people in Yukon communities, many of them First Nation citizens, who are called into service on a temporary basis to fight wildfires.
Will the minister confirm that his departmentís policy is to pay these people at a rate of approximately $9.30 per hour, just over half of what the lowest paid government employee makes, without any benefits or protections the governmentís unionized workers enjoy?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are following the procedures and outlines, as per the devolution process.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, Mr. Speaker, itís shameful that they would treat people that way. Itís shocking that this government is asking Yukon people to risk their lives on the fire line for not much more than minimum wage.
This government has effectively created a fourth category of workers, or maybe itís a fourth-class category of workers. Theyíre not exactly temporary, theyíre not auxiliaries and theyíre not casual on-call. They donít have any rights or benefits that any other government workers enjoy, but theyíre paid by the government to work in a very difficult and life-threatening situation.
Will the minister make a commitment to meet with the Yukon Employees Union and work toward a policy on emergency firefighters that treats these people with the dignity and respect they deserve? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working with restrictions provided under the devolution transfer agreement. We have to deal with that particular item under the devolution transfer agreement. Thatís how we are going to deal with it.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Cathers:I would ask the members of this House to join with me in welcoming a former member of this House to the visitors gallery, Mr. Doug Phillips.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: 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. Are you agreed?
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair:Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Chair: Before we proceed, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will stand in recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Bill No. 36 ó Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act ó continued
Mr. Hardy:Where we left off was with the Premier talking. He spoke for a long time on wide-ranging issues with regard to what he loves to call this "benign change". Itís interesting because, in discussing the Taxpayer Protection Act and using the term "benign", he managed to identify massive, major changes that it could have on the Yukon Territory.
His wording and the way he likes to present stuff does not necessarily match up when we have a chance to hear him try to explain what heís actually doing.
We have many questions around what heís really doing. Iím going to go back to the initial arguments that the Yukon Party government brought forward and tried to present to the Legislature. They sure havenít presented them to the public, I can tell you, but they have tried to present them in here why theyíre making the change.
I think weíve managed to identify that the Auditor General and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants did not recommend that there be changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. Yet, when this government brought forward the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act, they tried to cloak it with this argument. Thereís nowhere that I have been able to find where the Auditor General or the chartered accountants have indicated that you must change the Taxpayer Protection Act to go to full accrual accounting. Nowhere. Yet this government continues to insist that that is one of the reasons.
They have not been able to make that case, and because of that we really do have to question their whole line of argument and whether theyíre really presenting the whole picture, all the arguments, what has been happening behind the scenes, where they are planning to go with this territory, how open they are to the taxpayers of this territory, what the real reasons are, who theyíve been talking to, what kinds of deals are being cut behind the scenes.
What is driving this change?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: The Premier just said "the economy". I would like to make mention of that. "The lack of economy" is really what he should say. The lack of economy that this Yukon Party government has driven the territory into, because we have seen an increase in the unemployment levels; we have seen increase in SA recipients; we have seen lineups at the food banks. We have continued to see very skilled people leave this territory, and we are going to see a massive exodus of people leaving again this fall, this winter, because there are no jobs in the supplementary budget for these people.
There is no thought for the communities of this territory in the budget that they brought forward. But what they can bring forward is misleading information with regard to the ó
Chair:Order. The member is well aware that the term "misleading" is out of order, and I will ask the member to retract that phrase.
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. Hardy:I retract that statement, Mr. Speaker.
The public will make that decision on what kind of information has been brought forward and whether it is as accurate as it should be or not.
As I said, one of the arguments that the Yukon Party government has tried to use for the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act was that the Auditor General qualifies the books when theyíre reporting on the accounts of the territory. Interestingly enough, my understanding is that there is no qualification at this present time on the public accounts. I read the statement from the Auditor General and I didnít see that. So obviously weíve managed to remove that qualification the Auditor General put on in the past, without changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
What does that say? The argument that has been presented by the Premier doesnít hold water ó like his cup, it doesnít hold water.
My position initially has been to present your arguments for why youíre making the changes up front and clearly ó letís have the debate around that, which weíre quite willing to go into ó and drop this argument that the Auditor General made you do it, or the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants had some kind of influence in that you had to go in and make this benign change ó as the Premier likes to say ó to the Taxpayer Protection Act. It doesnít hold water; itís not there.
Now, there are other big issues around this. First off, we would like to say that this is not a benign change. It canít be a benign change when the Premier himself stands up on the other side and talks about the impact that this change will have on the ability to leverage substantial amounts of money from the private sector. It canít be a benign change when you talk about mortgaging the future of this territory, going into long-term debt with private industry. That cannot be considered a benign change. I donít think there is anybody in the Yukon Territory who would consider a benign change freeing up to $300 million. You canít have it both ways.
I would request that the Premier would be far clearer on this matter and recognize that this change is not benign. This is gutting the Taxpayer Protection Act. This is allowing the government a lot more flexibility in their ability to leverage monies from the private sector to build infrastructure, to run programs, to shift the territory from the situation that they are in today, which is one that is an envy of the Canadian Parliament, an envy of the provinces and territories, into one that reflects more the debt that they carry Outside. It doesnít make sense. It doesnít make sense whatsoever why we would want to take a situation that is an envy of the rest of Canada, when we talk about debt and when we talk about the finances, and shift it, take that away and move it into what could be considered greater debt, into agreements that are shifting what we have now ó public institutions, public roads, public jails, public bridges ó into private ownership.
Itís not just P3s that weíre talking about here, Mr. Chair. We are talking about the thin edge of the wedge, moving in with P3s. P3s almost invariably lead to privatization, almost invariably lead to delivery of services that have traditionally been in the public domain delivered by the public domain. Thatís proven time and time again around the world ó not just in Canada, not just in North America, but around the world.
If that is the direction that this government wants to take this territory in ó out of the public delivery and into public/private partnerships, into private ownership, into private delivery of services ó then letís have that debate. But letís have that debate not just in the Legislature; letís have that debate involving the public of the Yukon so all people of the Yukon have the opportunity to express their will, express their opinions about the future, the direction that weíre going in, the direction that the Yukon Party government wants to take us in.
So far we have not seen that openness; we on this side do not see the willingness of the Premier to take us into that kind of consultation, into that kind of debate, out there for the people of this territory. They have a right to have an opinion and to be able to have input in the direction that their government is going in or wanting to take them in. That is not happening today. Itís not happening on many, many fronts, Mr. Chair.
What is the government so scared of that they will not take this off the table and allow the people to be engaged in this? What are they so scared of? Are they scared of the very people who elected them? Are they scared of the people who didnít vote for them and who may have an opinion?
Thatís what I have to ask today: why not consult the people before you make this massive change in how we will be doing our business down the road, whether we will or will not be signing what can be considered extremely expensive and extremely massive debt down the road? Why not?
I believe that the people of this territory do have a right to have a say in any kind of change in this matter. This is not small; this is not benign. We have already asked the territorial government ó the Yukon Party government ó to put this out to a referendum. What has happened from that? We were ignored on that one ó nonsense. Why would we want to allow the public to have an opinion in this matter? That is the result of them ignoring us. We have asked, if this government is so bent on proceeding in this direction, without giving us all the facts, without telling us what discussions have happened in regard to this, without giving us information I feel is necessary to have an informed debate on this, we have asked them to have an election. Put it on the table; call an election on this one; letís do it.
I donít see the Yukon Party that eager to go into an election right now, and itís very understandable. Right now at this present time, they are constantly dealing with crises that arise on a daily basis through their ineptitude.
There are many, many people in this territory who would love to be engaged in an economic debate, would love to give their opinions about what direction this territory needs to go in to create employment, stimulate the economy, protect the environment, to enhance the arts culture, to develop tourism, to develop and enrich their lives within the communities that so many of them live in, to ensure that we have strong health care that continues to develop and grow, to give opinions on how we should be dealing with the issues that face the territorial government in dealing with the federal government on a daily basis. There are many issues there.
This government has the ability to develop a really strong consultative process that would give them direction for the future, and it would come from the people of this territory. My understanding today is that there have been no discussions with the economic round table that has been created around the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. I could be wrong. If there have been discussions, they have come after the fact.
Maybe the Premier, when he stands up, can enlighten us all on the discussion that he had with people from business, from industry, from labour, First Nations, from the NGOs, on making this change. Did he present the arguments to them? Did he present the idea to them to get input? Did the Premier do that? I would say, "No, he didnít."
How about the municipalities ó have they been consulted about changes in this manner? How about the First Nations ó have they been part of discussions to make this change? Are they not part of the economic engine of this territory? Then why are they not part of the discussion around whether or not we should be going forward with the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act ó going broader.
Has the Premier talked to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation? Obviously not, because weíve seen his comments in the paper and they sure havenít been in support of what the Premier and the rest of the Yukon Party crew want to do. How about former Finance ministers? Have they been included in this discussion? Were they asked for their advice? How about the architect of this act that is being brought in? The former leader of the Yukon Party ó has there been discussion with him and the people who actually were part of his team when they were in government from 1992-96? Has there been discussion with him on the history of the Taxpayer Protection Act, why it is in place and what its role is and where it goes? Has there been discussion about this change with the Yukon Party executive at their conventions? Because I can tell you right now that Iíve received a fair amount of calls from people who tell me they are Yukon Party supporters and are considering, at this present time with what has been going on, that they do not like this change. This is something they have been very, very proud of over the years. Have the members over there gone out to their constituents and talked to them about the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act?
The Member for Lake Laberge is nodding his head. I have to assume that he contacted his constituents in his riding and told them the proposed changes and what kind of impact they would have, pros and cons. I have to assume that, because he nodded his head saying that he did contact his constituents. You know what, Mr. Chair? I think Iím going to find out if he actually did do a mail-out, if he did inform the people.
Did he elicit response to it so he can take it into his caucus and bring forward their concerns or support, if thatís what he got? Itíll be very interesting to see if he has done that. Did anyone else in the Yukon Party caucus reach out to their constituents and ask them about this change? I doubt it very much, because I believe this is something that is being cooked up in the back rooms. Most ideas that are cooked up in the back rooms and do not have the opportunity for public scrutiny are often flawed. It is important to have public scrutiny of any kind of massive change along this line.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Thatís good because, earlier, I had mentioned the consultation within his own party. Iím trying to avoid saying the name of the former Premier.
It has been clarified that I actually can say Mr. Ostashekís name, and thatís nice, because itís good to acknowledge people on the floor who have spent time down here trying to represent their constituents and do the best for the Yukonís future.
We should do that more often, even if we didnít agree with them at the time. Thatís not the point. They did allow their names to stand and, in doing so, you give up the right to privacy in many areas.
So we are very concerned about the consultation. We are also very concerned about the direction that the Yukon Party government and the Premier are taking the territory.
I donít need to get into full accrual accounting and all that stuff. Itís just coming down to pretty simple direction: the Yukon Party government wishes to go into P3 deals. I have asked a multitude of questions, and I hope the Premier has been taking notes so that maybe he can address some of them ó usually he is pretty good at that.
But ultimately, going back to the consultative part of it ó what discussions has he had with private businesses in regard to what opportunities are available by having that money for leveraging their investment?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There is much material that the member opposite has put on the floor. In the context of having a constructive debate ó again I point out, "constructive debate" ó we have to get beyond the misunderstanding of what this really does. Thatís important, because there is so much more that is important here that we can discuss.
I am sure that the members opposite, for example, would have a great deal of input when it comes to public/private partnerships, considering the amount of work the New Democrats were doing on P3s when they were in government a few short years ago, between 1996 to 2000. So we can certainly engage in that discussion, but we have to get past some of the misconceptions and the misunderstandings of what this does.
First off, let me say that we are extremely proud of the Yukon Taxpayer Protection Act, not only as a party but as a government. Thatís why we maintained its integrity. We applaud the former Premier who brought this in and faced a tremendous amount of criticism from the opposition when that Premier did so. There was a huge hue and cry from the opposing benches on what a terrible thing this was, how bad this would be for the Yukon. There are quotes, for example, from the official opposition today when they were the official opposition in the 1990s, that this bill is a sloppy, ill-conceived piece of window dressing; itís more a piece of propaganda. That was the position then.
The third partyís colleague, in opposing vehemently the Taxpayer Protection Act when the former Premier, a Yukon Party leader, brought this bill forward, tabled it and passed it ó the opposition was extreme. Another comment from the third partyís colleague during that time ó "In my view, a competent government is the best protection that a taxpayer can get." Thatís a really important point here. Fiscal management, a competent government ó those are vital elements to this debate, but I think the question here is: when this bill was first tabled by a Yukon Party government and that vehement opposition was against this bill, we must fast-forward to today and determine where we are at ó now with this vehement opposition ó in changing or amending the bill in a very operational way. As I pointed out when I started, we are very proud of this legislation. We commend and applaud the former Premier for having the political will to bring this forward, debate it and pass it, and thatís why weíve maintained it as it was intended.
However, we have made some very small changes to the bill to allow other things to happen in this territory that are extremely positive. The member points out that there was no discussion on this. I must argue and submit to the member opposite that the discussion has gone on since 1996 to today on this bill. The punitive measures, for example, between 1996 and now have been discussed at great length. Many times the private sector has come forward to the government of the day with good ideas, with proposals and options on how to invest in this territoryís economy, and always the government of the day would say, "Great idea, but under the Taxpayer Protection Act we canít proceed with that great idea." Punitive measures, Mr. Chair.
We have to stop the debate and the argument ó which is simply not a sensible argument to try to make ó that this in any way, shape or form equates or relates to debt. It does not do that. The Taxpayer Protection Act doesnít do that; the amendments do not do that. They do not in any way direct or commit the Yukon government of the Yukon taxpayer to go into debt ó not whatsoever. I have to repeat myself. Hopefully as I keep repeating myself, the members opposite will begin to understand that any debt that this territory can incur is controlled by order-in-council with the federal government.
We should be able to move beyond that, and certainly I think that if we do, then we can get into the real elements of debate around these very small benign amendments that are taking place by removing the punitive measures of the act, maintaining the important facets of the act where we cannot go into an accumulated deficit and where we cannot raise taxes, such as income tax, without referendum.
I think those are vital to the act; they remain in the act, but because the Auditor General is making recommendations that we go to full accrual accounting ó on this point the member states that he doesnít want to debate full accrual accounting. Well, we have to, because that is the essence of what weíre doing. We are going to go to full accrual accounting. There are benefits in full accrual accounting that this territory can at least provide itself if we make these small changes.
If we donít make the changes, those benefits are going to be dramatically reduced ó diminished, if you will. So itís important that we recognize that not only does the Auditor General ó and, indeed, that representative of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation ó state that these moves toward full accrual accounting are the way to go. They make sense. The question is ó the Yukon is unique with respect to what it has for legislation that would impact and affect full accrual accounting.
So, having said that, when looking at this in its full context, the Auditor General also states that this makes sense, because it provides a much clearer financial picture of the territoryís finances, of where we are financially. That, I would submit, is a component of sound fiscal management. To be a sound fiscal manager, you must be able to relay to your taxpaying public exactly where you are financially. I find that to be an important part of this.
But, beyond that, we have today in the Yukon a great opportunity ahead of us by making these small amendments.
That opportunity is to increase the spending power in the territory, not by mortgaging the future, Mr. Chair. It is quite the contrary ó by building the future in a different way. The member talked about direction. Well, the past direction of this territory has been this: very focused on one thing ó dependence on the federal government and the southern taxpayer. That was the direction. We are changing that direction. We are changing the direction so we diminish dependence on the southern taxpayer and the federal government and start to increase the involvement of other governments and of the private sector in the Yukonís economy.
We talked earlier about how important cash flow or spending power is to any economy. It is the fuel that drives every economic engine, and this amendment provides us a number of very positive options to increase that fuel load, to increase that spending power in this territory, and not by government spending and dependence, but by private sector and other governmentsí investments in the Yukon.
There are many possibilities of how that can be done, and one of them is the discussion around P3s, public/private partnerships. Now, we would never enter into a public/private partnership until a clear, transparent policy is developed. We will do that in consultation. We will do that with stakeholders. We will do that with First Nation governments. We will do that so that, when we do proceed with a project, itís understood that it makes sense; the business case is valid and it is a good project for Yukon ó not only does it provide jobs and benefits in the immediate interim, it provides infrastructure, for example, for a much longer term, economic development, responsible development and, of course, a benefit for this territory.
I think that the member went on in a few areas about health care and such things as consultation and what weíre doing in Ottawa ó I believe it was in the context of the finances of this territory.
But let me begin on health care by saying that no one can dispute the fact of what has happened in the last 12 months when it comes to health care in the Yukon. We, as a government and in partnership with the N.W.T. and Nunavut, certainly made the case that when it comes to the delivery of health care, the citizens of our three territories should not be precluded from at least accessing a standard level of care that all Canadians are provided. Because of the situation we were facing in the territory of ever-increasing annual deficits when it comes to the health care budget and the pressures placed upon the system because of that, we made the case on why Ottawa should step in to help. $20 million in each territory was allocated over three years to do that. But it also did something else ó this is about the point that the member made of how we are dealing with Ottawa in other areas. Part of what we did during that time on health care was to get a commitment to review the inadequacies and the disincentives in the formula.
For the members oppositeís benefit, a tremendous amount of work has been done to date on what is called the business case to Ottawa in regard to the formula. That is important, because our approach and our direction, if you will, when it comes to this territory and its economy, is not a single plank like how the third party when in government addressed the economy. Their only plank was the Alaska Highway pipeline ó an initiative that they did not have any control over and an initiative that they didnít even understand. I think that the evidence of that speaks for itself, but because we are looking on many fronts at how weíre going to deal with the economy and change the direction that this territory has been going. 040a
The member talks about consultation. Well, itís this government that has recently signed a consultation protocol with First Nations ó a huge step forward in our relationship by defining how, when, on what, and why we will consult. Itís important because it commits two orders of government in this territory to work together on these issues in this manner and that certainly speaks volumes when it comes to the argument that we donít consult ó quite the contrary, quite the opposite. We do on all fronts.
For this particular amendment, the consultation really took place in the context of an election when we said we would maintain the Taxpayer Protection Act. We did. We havenít changed the intent of the act at all. But in conjunction with that, we said we would use the finances, the budgeting of this territory, to improve the economy. Thatís exactly what weíre doing here, Mr. Chair. To improve the economy we need to improve spending power. To do that we can no longer remain solely dependent on government and the southern taxpayer. We must provide ways and mechanisms to involve others like the private sector in investing in the territory and increasing cash flow. Much work is yet to be done on how we will proceed, whether it be P3s or, for instance, a partnership with another government. But it will be transparent and it will be inclusive and it will involve Yukoners and First Nation governments, but more importantly, the end result will be more jobs, more benefits and more spending power in this territory.
That is what this amendment does. It doesnít do the other things. It doesnít mortgage the future; it doesnít create debt; it doesnít gut the Taxpayer Protection Act; it does not, in any way, shape or form put the territory in a negative position at all. Quite the opposite, Mr. Chair: it dramatically improves the ability of this territory to advance in a positive manner.
I think, Mr. Chair, that this debate might carry on for days, at the rate the members opposite appear to be going and in their refusal to understand what this is. This is bookkeeping; this is following standard accounting procedures; this is obviously important. We can no longer continue to do things that result in qualified audits. Thatís not sound fiscal management, and that, frankly, is much of what the member opposite speaks to in hiding things from Yukoners. This cannot continue. We must present to the Yukon public the correct financial picture, and thatís certainly something that weíll be able to do with this amendment.
I think, for the most part, that Iíve tried to explain to the member in many types of approaches here what this amendment does, but Iím prepared to debate this for days on the virtues and reasons why, and the merits of this amendment. The members opposite have a problem in answering to the Yukon public on why it is theyíve changed their position so dramatically. We as the Yukon Party government fully support the Taxpayer Protection Act. Thatís why weíve maintained it and its intent, fully, but we are also very much committed to growing the economy in the territory and providing jobs and benefits for Yukoners and making the lives of Yukoners better across the spectrum.
Members opposite have to explain to the Yukon public why it is theyíve changed their mind on the Taxpayer Protection Act. What rationale is there that they can provide the public on why they changed their minds? If itís strictly for political gain, thatís a pretty self-serving interest, Mr. Chair. We are here to deal with the public interest. The public interest is paramount. Thatís what this government is doing; thatís why weíve amended the Taxpayer Protection Act; thatís why we are going to proceed with this amendment. Then weíre going to proceed with growing our economy, and that will include a bigger participation, a much more important participation, of the private sector.
I will close by saying that this has nothing to do with privatization of any public service ó none whatsoever. It has everything to do with improving our ability to provide services to the public.
Mr. Hardy: Well, well, here we go. The Premier is once again repeating the lines he repeated the other day. Of course, he has told us we canít understand anything over here. Our opinions are obviously based on fallacy and our ability to grasp the change is beyond our mental capacity, and only the Premier has the ability to make this great understanding, and itís only benign, and itís minor, and he rolls in the Auditor General and he rolls in all the other aspects, and he says that we have to talk about full accrual accounting. Absolutely. Letís talk about full accrual accounting and what it has to do with the Taxpayer Protection Act. Thank goodness the Premier finally did admit that it is to be able to utilize and take advantage of going to full accrual accounting. Those are basically his words.
We understand that. We understand that easily. Itís pretty simple stuff. But you know what, Mr. Chair? We actually have a different opinion. That is shocking to the Premier across the way. We actually have a different viewpoint on what is happening. That is shocking. Well, unfortunately, in the Legislature we do have debate; we do have different opinions. The public has differences of opinion. It is important that we have those opinions brought forward, because ultimately, in the end, I would believe that more acts, more bills, more actions of the government of the day would be better if they incorporated some of the concerns, some of the ideas that are expressed on this side of the floor ó incorporate it into what direction they are going, and the territory would benefit.
Because we have a difference of opinion on this and a different viewpoint on this, it obviously means that we canít seem to grasp it. Thatís quite dismissive, Mr. Chair, and it seems to be the attitude that the Premier is going to take in this whole debate.
Now, I have listened to the Premier talk about how they consulted on this matter. Obviously zero. There has been no consultation on the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. I would like the Premier to tell me today who was consulted on this change. If the Premier is going to talk about consultation, then he should be able to prove it. So today stand up and tell me who was consulted.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yukoners, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Hardy: I havenít seen any notices in the paper with regard to the Taxpayer Protection Act. I havenít seen any public meetings in regard to the Taxpayer Protection Act. I havenít heard any businesses, labour groups, First Nations, municipalities, NGOs mention that they were consulted on the Taxpayer Protection Act. So what Yukoners is he talking about?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yukoners in general, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Hardy: I still donít have a handle on the three or four Yukoners he has consulted. Maybe he wants to tell me or send me a note informing me of the three or four he actually talked to, these ones he calls "general" Yukoners. Iím not sure what category that is; Iíll have to pursue that.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This government did not rush downstairs below permafrost to discuss this with the opposition. I can certainly admit to that. The reason we didnít is because the members opposite did not support the Taxpayer Protection Act, so given that fact we saw no reason to discuss this with the members opposite. In fact, after due consideration, we came to the conclusion that theyíd be ecstatic about this amendment, because they didnít support it in the first place. Never. And up until this amendment was tabled, they have not supported it.
I want to delve into something here that I think is very important to this debate. I think we have to look back on what was going on in past governments. Why then, was so much work done on public/private partnerships? Why would that be taking place, Mr. Chair, when one can only conclude that, considering the punitive measures in the Taxpayer Protection Act and what was coming from the Auditor General in terms of full accrual accounting, a lot of thought was going into these things. Iíve had those discussions also, but itís not our place to start announcing names on the floor of the Legislature. Not at all. But given how quickly the member of the third party became quite upset about this amendment, it is clear that if, by some stroke of luck in the last election and the member would have been returned to government, I think we would have been dealing with this anyway. Thereís no question about it.
Weíre having a debate here that, quite frankly, is leading nowhere. I can assure the members opposite that, given how minimal these amendments are and how benign they are, thereís only a simple answer that can be provided. So if the members want to hear me repeat that answer over and over again, of course, as a government, in the spirit of cooperation, weíre willing to do that, but thatís the memberís choice. Thereís certainly much more to be discussed beyond this that is of importance to Yukoners, such as a $95.5-million supplementary budget of extensive expenditure in job creation and stimulus and on the social front. Thereís a lot to be discussed ó many good works evolving out of the supplementary budget. Iím sure the members opposite are mindful of that but they appear to be somewhat hung up on a benign, simple, operational amendment that relates to bookkeeping.
Mr. Hardy: Well, isnít that interesting, Mr. Chair. The Premier talks about cooperation, but he also admits that the people below permafrost really donít need to know about what theyíre doing, because theyíre going to vote against it anyway. Isnít that interesting? Whereís the cooperation? Where is the demonstration of cooperation? Obviously they didnít believe theyíd even need to consult us.
We know they donít consult us. They drop these things like bombshells in the Legislature and expect everybody to roll over and play dead and vote for them because, of course, we know the Yukon Party is fiscally responsible and would never do anything that would risk the future of this territory.
Interestingly enough, I actually truly feel like Iím being the more conservative one in here at this moment and the other ones are being far less fiscally responsible. When we talk about the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act ó most of us are reasonably conservative in our finances at home, anyway, or else we would probably have to make some adjustments.
The Premier, of course, doesnít really want to go into the "general" Yukoners he has obviously consulted. He doesnít want to send us the two or three names to tell us who the inner circle is who give him advice on the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. Frankly, most people in the Yukon know exactly whom he consults and how he comes up with his ideas. It is a very, very small group of people.
He is right; there are so many aspects. There really are so many aspects to the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. We are going to explore some of those aspects.
Now, it is really hard for me to stand here and listen to the Premier talk about how open and accountable this government is, how consultative this government is but have to honestly admit that he really hasnít consulted anybody on this change ó no one, other than a very small group of people whom, of course, he doesnít really want to name, and thatís perfectly fine.
I would much rather see the Premier pull this back, bring it forward in the spring, have discussion on whether the Taxpayer Protection Act has any validity in the future of this territory or not ó do we really, really need it? Thatís a good debate, because the Premier on the other side often asks, "Well, whatís our position?" We had this position back a long time ago and we, for some reason, have to explain ourselves.
I will remind the Premier that we are not the ones proposing the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. The proposals are coming from the Yukon Party government, coming from the Premier. Itís up to the Premier to explain why. Itís up to the Premier to engage the people of this territory, because it does have a pretty significant impact on how we will be conducting our finances, our business and our relationships in the future. I think the Premier can recognize that because he has begun talking about P3s, or public/private partnerships ó and we will get into that as well. There are a lot of aspects to that, as well as the idea of what discussions have gone on in that area as well. Have the people been involved in that?
However, I truly believe that our finances can be managed responsibly without sacrificing any social and economic future to long-term debt. Iím not sure that the direction that the Yukon Party government is going in deals with that statement. I havenít been convinced to a degree of trust that I would want to see this change to the Taxpayer Protection Act go forward. Part of that is because I really do not know what is being planned by the Yukon Party government. The public doesnít know because they havenít been consulted. They donít know what proposals are on the table for this.
The Minister of Health and Social Services has indicated that the bridge will be done public/private. That he has already said. Could the minister tell me what discussions have happened already in regard to the bridge in Dawson City and the deal that the Minister of Health and Social Services said is already in the works?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The comment again about long-term debt has no place in this debate because thatís not what this amendment will have the territory get into; we canít. Itís pretty simple. At the risk of being repetitive, we donít control or dictate our debt or getting into debt in the Yukon. Itís done by order-in-council, the federal government. Past governments have put us into a level of debt of some $86 million. That doesnít leave much room any more for us to borrow or create debt in the Yukon.
Thatís a needless part of the debate because itís not relevant. When it comes to the Taxpayer Protection Act, weíre talking about surplus and deficit, not debt.
Itís not about privatizing anything ó not whatsoever. The fear the member opposite has ó that this would result in privatizing programs and services of the government ó is a fear that I would like to try to quell. There is no need to have that fear. We understand the NDPís aversion to privatization; thatís their position. Not all governments necessarily take the same view but, when it comes to this Taxpayer Protection Act, it has absolutely nothing to do with privatizing government programs and services to the Yukon public.
It also provides the ability to partner with other governments ó for example, First Nation governments. Think of that. Weíre talking about our relationship with First Nations, formalizing and improving it, partnering, full partnerships. This is just another example of how we can do that. So in that aspect it is extremely positive.
As far as the bridge, I just mentioned moments ago that we would be proceeding with a very transparent, inclusive process to develop any policy that we would proceed with if we entered into a public/private partnership. Thatís going to happen before anything gets built or we commit to building anything. That process will be put out into the public and will be very much a part of how we proceed. Past governments have done a lot of work on P3s. They certainly havenít been out there in the public on it, but this government will be going out to the public with it.
So, on all the points itís clear that the memberís concerns are needless because those things are not happening.
Privatizing ó there have been no commitments to build anything with anyone. We are going to proceed with a very transparent and inclusive process for things like P3s. This does not preclude us from being able to partner with other governments like First Nations, further strengthening our relationship and partnership, and it will provide full financial disclosure to the Yukon public. That in itself is extremely important, because it will show a more correct and more understandable financial position for the public, further strengthening sound fiscal management and the inability of government to misuse such a tremendous opportunity to inject further cash flow in this territory.
So again the same answers will be coming forward, and we can be here for a long time if that is the memberís wish. But I think that the member ó when I talk about how there is much more beyond this ó this is the benign, simple, operational bookkeeping amendment. These types of processes and policies are the critical elements, and those are the ones we talk about being very transparent and inclusive.
Mr. Hardy: Well, I did ask the Premier a question and he went on his lines that he has rehearsed for a long time, and he can spill them out now.
I asked a question about the bridge. The Minister of Health and Social Services stood up and said that the bridge was going to be a public/private partnership ó thatís the direction they were going in. The Minister of Finance totally ignored that. What am I supposed to make of that? Are they not communicating to each other any more? Has the real split in the Yukon Party happened now and there is just absolutely no discussion whatsoever? Is the Minister of Health and Social Services now announcing infrastructure projects and is the Minister of Finance pretending that they donít exist? Those are lines of questions that I am sure can go everywhere.
I would like to assure the minister that we take this change very seriously, and we will be here for a long time and, no, itís not to neglect the supplementary budget that we have major issues about. This is such a massive change that it deserves proper debate in this Legislature, and we canít neglect it.
If the Minister of Finance ó the Premier in this case, for this question ó is so concerned about that and wants to ensure thereís proper debate, I would put to him that weíre quite willing to extend the time to more sitting days so we have an opportunity to debate until we feel our questions have been answered and our constituentsí questions have been answered.
We do not have to stay in this 24-day frame, and we would quite happily extend it and do our work in here until itís complete.
As we see right now with the direction the Yukon Party is going in, we need that extra time to deal with the changes that theyíre proposing. We need that extra time to have the proper debate around the supplementary budget, which we want, which we need, which the Yukon public needs to hear.
If this government shuts the House down on the 24th day, that would be an absolute shame, because we will be here, ready to continue working. We will have those questions, and we will want the answers.
Of course a lot of this can move forward very quickly if the Premier would agree to slow this down, hold this back a little bit, allow public input into the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act, bring it forward in the spring ó itís only a few months away ó the spring sitting that is; I donít think spring is a few months away. I think weíre here for awhile ó bring it forward, maybe allow the Public Accounts Committee to take a look at it. That would be a suggestion that would carry some interest and may give some knowledge to the Premier that he so desperately needs.
There are so many aspects of this that need to be discussed but Iím going to bring them up later. Iím going to allow some of my other colleagues to enter this debate and Iím expecting that weíre going to have a nice long session.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Let me lay aside the fears of the member opposite or the concerns that there are some inconsistencies here. On announcing the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act, I pointed out as an example the bridge in Dawson as a good candidate for a public/private partnership. And I gave reasons for that.
First off, we are expending approximately $1 million a year on the cost of a ferry. Thatís number one item. Number two: the ferry will, in time, be time-expired. We will have to lay out capital dollars to replace the ferry ó a further cost. So when you take all that into consideration, this bridge in Dawson is a great candidate for a public/private partnership. That is exactly why we put that out there as a possibility. But you have to qualify that with what has been said not only today but in the past ó that we will produce a policy around P3s that are important, a policy that is inclusive and transparent. That is something that is going to happen.
The work that has been done on P3s is quite extensive but none of that has been done in the public. One can only wonder why past governments didnít take it out to the public, but weíre going to. We will take it out to the public. You can rest assured, Mr. Chair, that that will happen. I think itís important at this juncture to point out that there were some other blunders by the most recent past government ó a big one, for example, that relates to the one-stop shop and this very extensive rental agreement that that member committed the Yukon public to have to deal with.
If the member had used a public/private partnership or had exercised any sound fiscal management during that memberís term in office, we may have seen a much more acceptable situation with that particular initiative for the Yukon taxpayer. As it is, it will cost us a great deal of money, far beyond what the building itself is worth, and we still wonít own it at the end of the term.
If a P3 had been implemented in that particular initiative, we probably would have experienced a lot less cost to the Yukon taxpayer and ownership of that facility. These are just a couple of examples, Mr. Chair.
Now, the member threw on the floor the issue of extending the sitting. The government brings forward the business of the House. Itís up to the members opposite to manage their time. To extend at great length the debate on such a benign, simple, bookkeeping, operational change to the Taxpayer Protection Act is of their own choosing, but I would suggest thatís a poor management of time and that is something that they will have to explain to the public in the context of conducting the publicís business in this House.
We the government are here, prepared, ready and willing to debate the publicís business in a productive, constructive, expeditious manner, as it is our responsibility to do. The members opposite, of course, have their own view, obviously, in how they have conducted themselves to date. That particular obligation seems to be much in question.
So itís the same answer: we are proceeding. We have a number of items left to debate in this Legislature. We have, as required, put on the table all the business of this House for this sitting. Itís now up to the members opposite to manage their time to conclude that business for this sitting.
Ms. Duncan: Iím pleased to enter into the debate this afternoon with the Premier on the amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
The Premier has often asked that we all engage in constructive debate, and I know heís very fond of yes-or-no answers, so Iím going to try to engage in that debate with some very straightforward questions to which Iíd appreciate straightforward responses.
In general debate on this bill, Iíd just like to go through some of the arguments for the bill, as presented by the government. Itís not my wish to replow old ground, but I would like to have on the record a number of responses to the governmentís arguments.
The Yukon Party and the government have advanced the argument that the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act are required by the Auditor General and Public Sector Accounting Board and Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants recommendations that we move to full accrual accounting or the capitalization of assets.
Iíd just like the Premier and Finance minister to make clear two points: first of all, that it is in fact those three bodies ó the Auditor General, the CICA and the Public Sector Accounting Board ó that made the recommendations, the date of the recommendations and the precise recommendation. If he has officials present, I wonder if that could be sent over ó the precise recommendation.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The recommendation comes from PSAB. Obviously the Auditor General would follow up with that recommendation by the public service accounting board. And this has not just started. Weíre one of the last jurisdictions. It has been going on for quite some time. I think we all would probably agree with the Auditor General that the difference between full accrual accounting and cash accounting is significant and that going to a full accrual accounting system is more business-like and makes more sense and provides an easier picture of the finances of any jurisdiction, given the fact that full accrual accounting covers all the bases.
I think the member opposite was well aware of it, because it wasnít something that just happened when this government took office. The change to this type of accounting in the country has been going on for some time. The Yukon is one of the last jurisdictions. So I know that the member opposite knew all about it. The member opposite knew all about the qualified audit that the Yukon received in 2002, because we capped liability. So who makes the recommendations, why they make them and why we have qualified audits should not be foreign to the member opposite.
Ms. Duncan: No, Mr. Chair, itís not foreign. I would just like to have clearly stated for the record ó I am asking the Premier reasonable questions in the interest of constructive debate. I asked for the precise date of the recommendations of the Public Sector Accounting Board. Also, there has been reference made to the CICA ó the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants ó recommendation.
Now, the AGís recommendation ó it might be in the report on other matters. They are several years overdue. I am just looking for the date of the recommendation. I understand that we are one of the last jurisdictions to go to the full accrual accounting method.
The other question that the Premier didnít answer ó well, perhaps I will let him answer about the date of the actual recommendation, if he could answer that question, please.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, in the interest of constructive debate, the member opposite knew that the public service accounting board was a sub-group, if you will, of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. So obviously the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, and its sub-group, the public service accounting board ó or PSAB ó who made this recommendation, were well aware of what each other was doing. I think that is an important factor.
This work has been slowly going on in government for some time now. Itís not a question of date. The date goes back for some time. The work was already in progress. Period. So I think the member opposite understands that. Itís not something that just fell out of the sky on any given date in the last 12 months. It has been ongoing for quite some time.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that and just for the interest of Hansard, my understanding is the correct reference is "Public Sector Accounting Board". Is that correct? I see the Premier saying that yes, the reference is "Public Sector Accounting Board".
The Premier has not provided a date. He has not also answered the question about full accrual accounting. Another method of description would be "capitalization of assets". Thatís my understanding. Is it the Premierís understanding as well? Another way to speak of full accrual accounting method would be the capitalization of assets ó that is, recording on our books what the buildings we own are worth. Is that a correct interpretation?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is Public Sector Accounting Board. Full accrual accounting ó the capitalization of assets is merely one component of that and correctly reporting the liabilities of the government would be another aspect. So there are a number of elements to full accrual accounting, capitalization being one of them.
Ms. Duncan: Letís just focus then with the full accrual accounting on the capitalization of assets aspect. The Premier has said that the work has been ongoing for some time, and I would agree with him. My understanding is that the Yukon government officials have been working for some time toward listing how much our schools are worth and our hospital, the major infrastructure that the government owns.
There are two parts to this question: is the figure calculated to date ó $300 million ó and does it include everything but the bridges and highways?
I can put that question a simpler way, if the minister wishes. In terms of capitalization of our assets, what have we accounted for to date ó because the work has been going on for some time ó and how much is it worth right now, before the depreciation?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As I stated, this work has already been in progress within government. To come to a determination on the total value of the assets, it would be directed by standard accounting procedures. We donít just invent the number; we have to follow those stringent guidelines. So, to get to that number, I would say to the member opposite that I think the best approach for this is to have officials go over this for the member and provide an updated capital position of the assets.
The member also asked if it also includes or excludes highways and bridges. Does it "include" or "exclude"?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Okay. The amounts do not include values of transportation infrastructure such as roads, bridges and airstrips. Okay?
So, just to wrap up, accounting for government is a complex ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member said that we are not wrapping up, but I meant in my statements or comments at this point in time.
Accounting for government, as we all know from listening to prior debates ó ongoing debates about the deficit and the surplus and where itís at and what are they, projections and actuals and all the things that happen. I think there is a statement by the Auditor General that really, really makes sense in this debate and should always be part of it. I will just quote, with the membersí indulgence, if I may.
The Auditor General, the primary accountant of the country, states: "Itís the standard" ó and this is referring to full accrual accounting ó "and the basis of accounting that is used by the private sector and has been used by the private sector for decades. I quite frankly think if they can do it, governments can do it. I think the main advantage is it gives a more complete picture, as I mentioned, of the governmentís financial situation so people can clearly see the assets that it owns. It also, in some cases, will bring on more liabilities or more amounts potentially owing" ó full disclosure, Mr. Chair.
I put that on the record because the Auditor General has made a significant point in regard to full accrual accounting, and I think that is an important part of this debate.
Ms. Duncan: Absolutely itís a very important part of the debate, and the full accrual accounting method, the minister himself noted, also includes a discussion of liabilities. Weíll get to that in a minute.
Right now, weíre focusing on the assets, the capitalization of the assets. The question I asked ó and the work has been going on for some time. Long before I was in government, long before I was a member of this House, officials in the Department of Finance have been working on this and keeping track of it. The question I asked the minister was: okay, in accounting for the assets, what have they accounted to date? His answer was that they have not yet capitalized, accounted for, the roads, the bridges and the airstrips. That was the ministerís response.
What the minister didnít indicate was the approximate value we have in those assets. I understand itís about $300 million. I would just like the minister to verify that. So, are our assets about $300 million without the roads, bridges and airstrips?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: At the risk of being mischievous, we as sound fiscal managers donít deal with "about" numbers, approximate numbers. Weíre very conscious of dealing with realities, but, to go to the memberís point, we could certainly discuss it in terms of approximately or around $300 million. Thereís still work that has to be done. There has to be work done on infrastructure like roads, bridges and airstrips. To give a full accounting of the value as directed by standard accounting procedures of the assets of the government, that has yet to be concluded or completed. But if the member wants to debate in approximates in the context of constructive debate, weíre at about $300 million today.
Ms. Duncan: In the interest of sound fiscal management and at the risk of engaging in the mischievous practices of the member opposite, weíre going to have to table a figure when this act comes into place and when the full accrual accounting method is implemented. Itís an important question to have asked the minister. What figure are we looking at? Approximately $300 million. I appreciate the answer.
Iíd like to go for just a brief period of time into the issue around full accrual accounting. The member has spent a great deal of time on the assets end or the asset side of the balance sheet. Iíd like to ask him about the liabilities side. The Auditor General, in the report on other matters, has also strongly recommended that the Government of Yukon record environmental liabilities. How much work has been done on that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Okay, Mr. Chair. Obviously a tremendous amount of environmental liability that exists today in the Yukon Territory is Type II mine sites. That is a given. The member should know that, because the negotiations in devolution were very difficult in this area on the past liability. One of the flaws in the devolution agreement was coming up with a number on that past liability, which is certainly something that is going to have to be dealt with as quickly as possible, because not only has the Auditor General recommended that governments go to full accrual accounting, the Auditor General has been very clear that the federal government had better book their environmental liability, so thatís an important issue ó and obviously so should every other government.
There is also an issue around the money that we received from the federal government. Itís a one-off, a one-time only, and I think that was $20 million under the devolution agreement ó another $20 million outside of Type II sites, to address liabilities in the Yukon. So we donít know the full liability of Type II sites, and we shouldnít be booking it anyway because itís the federal governmentís problem. We do have the $20 million to deal with other matters. Of course the liabilities in that regard outside of those things are obviously a work in progress. I canít even give the member opposite an approximate number today, and I would point out to the member opposite that this whole initiative does not come into force and effect until April 1, 2004. So I am sure that in the spring sitting the member will be on her feet at great length going over these liabilities, but at least at that time that work in progress will have got us to the point when, on April 1, 2004, we put this initiative into force and effect for our accounting, and those values will become much clearer.
The other point here is that every indication from the 2003 annual audit results is that the Office of the Auditor General is satisfied with the governmentís effort and progress made in this area, referring to environmental liability. So I think the Yukon is in good standing and in good stead with the Auditor General on this matter, but the important thing is the date in the future, and that is April 1, 2004, when this comes into force and effect.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has just made the argument that the Yukon will move to full accrual accounting and that this is necessary and important. He has also pointed out that full accrual accounting is not only the capitalization of assets; itís also the recording of liabilities. That includes environmental liabilities.
Now, the minister has a very clear approximation of how much the assets are worth. He doesnít have the same clear indication of what the liabilities are, and I would put to the minister that there are far more environmental liabilities than just Type II mine sites. The Auditor General has reported satisfactory progress because the Government of Yukon, as they were working on the capitalization and recording of assets, was working on recording the environmental liabilities too.
One of the problems with the environmental liabilities is that there isnít nearly as clear a methodology or way of reporting the environmental liabilities. Thereís an acceptance that, yes, thereís an environmental liability; thereís not necessarily as clear a consensus on how it should be recorded.
Yukoners need to be aware, in this move to full accrual accounting, that itís not just about what we own; itís also about what we owe. The minister has said thatís the point, itís full disclosure. It is.
That being the case, we have an approximation for our capital assets. Whatís the approximation for the environmental and other liabilities ó letís just stick with the environmental. Whatís the approximation for the environmental liabilities? Have we done as much work? I think not, but Iíll let the minister answer.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Of course there has been a lot of work done in this area, but it includes what the liability is on Type II sites, it includes what happened in devolution, it includes what we must do beyond that. But I can tell you right now that it does not preclude us from proceeding in this territory and growing our economy, creating jobs and benefits for Yukoners. Itís something that has to be addressed, but the important issue is that it is no longer being hidden as other liabilities have in the past by past governments because of certain issues they were faced with ó and I wonít even get into that.
It is going to provide full disclosure and, as the Auditor General said, a clear picture of where the finances of this territory are at, as any other jurisdiction. So that work in progress must be ongoing and continue to get to that value.
But if the federal government in all these years hasnít even come up with a value of past liabilities in Type II mine sites, I am sure that the member can understand that there are some obvious issues with that. We as a government would have much preferred to see in the devolution transfer agreement a set amount committed to by the federal government on their responsibility on their liabilities. Our purpose here is to go forward from April 1, 2004 to address what ours are. But let us not forget that liabilities will continue on into the future, but it is not to say that it is the governmentís or the taxpayersí liabilities. Thatís what responsible development is all about, that we ensure ó through responsible development and all mechanisms available to us to create an environment of responsible development ó that future liabilities do not rest with the taxpayer but rest with the entity that created them.
Then we must also factor in that the mitigating aspect of any liability in any jurisdiction is as important as determining the exact amount, because no matter what we do ó if we build a road ó we will leave a footprint.
There are already roads in the territory. There is a footprint. Is that a liability that is going to accrue for the taxpaying public in the Yukon? No, itís mitigated. There are reasons why that road had to be built, so any liability or any environmental issue that happened as a result of that particular project had to be mitigated. Thatís part of the equation too.
The member has to understand that liabilities are part of full accrual accounting, just as capitalizing assets are, and thatís part of what weíre doing: full disclosure, a much clearer picture of the finances of the territory.
Ms. Duncan: Just to be absolutely clear then, the minister intends, as of April 1, 2004, to book about, approximately ó he seems to prefer that word ó $300 million in assets and how much in liabilities? He hasnít given me an answer.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member will get the answer in April 2004, and if the federal government, after decades, has not booked a liability and what they are responsible for, the Yukon government is not saying it will do things that way. I think what I am pointing to is the difficulty the federal government is having with it. We are working on that liability.
So if the member would exercise patience, on April 1, 2004 weíll see where that work has go to in the liabilities, but itís certainly not going to stop us from implementing full accrual accounting.
Ms. Duncan: Members on this side ó I donít have CGA after my name or CMA after my name, but I have done and have had exposure to bookkeeping and to business. I understand how to read a financial statement and a balance sheet. So the balance sheet ó the member opposite, in full accrual accounting, is talking about putting approximately $300 million on one side of the ledger. All I am asking is: give the public, in this pledge to full accrual accounting and open and full disclosure ó April 1 is coming fairly rapidly ó give the public an approximation of what the other side of the ledger is going to look like, an approximation. Just as we have an approximation for $300 million on one side, in the interest of full accrual and full disclosure, whatís the approximation for the figure on the other side?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the first place, Mr. Chair, we are going to provide full disclosure, and when we have a reasonable estimate we will provide that. I said itís a work in progress to get to that reasonable estimate, and we will continue that work in progress.
The member opposite will certainly find that out April 1, 2004. Thatís when this all takes effect. To use the number of $300 million, we discussed moments ago that, if the member wishes to use that approximation, thatís her choice, but weíll see what that looks like in 2004. The real point is that itís full disclosure, financially ó whether it be assets or liability.
Ms. Duncan: The real point is itís full disclosure. All Iím asking for is the other side of the equation. The $300-million figure came from the government side. If we know approximately what weíre looking at on one side, as Finance minister he must have an idea. I wonít challenge him as much as I have on some of his other commitments that have been broken. I would like some kind of an approximation in the interest of full disclosure for the public. What does the other side of the ledger look like ó approximately?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, I think I have to respond on the commitment comment, which is frankly not very productive and has nothing to do with what has happened in the last 12 months in this territory, considering the amount of work this government has carried out and undertaken and delivered on.
As far as this liability, when I say to the member opposite that this is a work in progress, thatís what it is. When we determine, even in approximate terms what that liability will be, we will provide that. We are also working on the federal government to give us a determination what the biggest liability of this territory is ó Type II mine sites. The member would have been well-served to take that up during the devolution transfer negotiations.
If that agreement included the total value of what the federal government liability was, we would be further ahead in this territory. Itís one of the biggest impediments and flaws we got in devolution. The Auditor General has pointed out that Ottawa has to book that liability because they are responsible for it.
So, for the member opposite, we are going to provide the assets and the liabilities. As the member will probably, or hopefully, understand, those will be forever evolving and changing because that is what happens in budgeting. Thatís called progress. Thatís called evolution ó whatever term you want to put on it. So, to talk numbers today of what they may be April 1, 2004, is actually not time well-spent.
We talked about $300 million for the member opposite ó thatís what she wanted to do ó but I canít confirm that thatís what it will be April 1, 2004. There is still work being done on the assets. So, whatís the point of this discussion, other than the fact that full accrual accounting is coming across the land and we are one of the last jurisdictions?
Maybe the member should phone another jurisdiction and see what their numbers are. That might help her sleep better at night.
Ms. Duncan: It truly amazes me that whenever it gets into an area that the Premier doesnít particularly want to answer, itís somehow not a relevant question.
The fact is that the Finance minister has said that we are going to full disclosure ó full accrual accounting. We are going to do this. I am only asking the Finance minister for a sense of what both sides of the numbers are going to look like. He has promised full disclosure.
Perhaps he could answer this question. We have all heard that it is a work in progress. Are we going to have both sides of the equation presented to us on April 1, 2004? Are we going to see both sides or are we just going to see one side?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Ridiculous question, Mr. Chair. Now weíll see the front side, the back side, one side, the other side ó letís get serious.
April 1, 2004, this comes into force and effect. Work-in-progress is happening on the assets, the liabilities and everything in between. This is a pointless discussion, so if the member wants to continue it, the answer will be the same. We will provide exactly the information available to us April 1, 2004.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, itís unfortunate, because the people who arenít receiving the full picture are the public, the taxpayers of the Yukon. The taxpayers of the Yukon have heard the Premier say this government is going to full disclosure, to full accrual accounting, that there are two sides to the full accrual accounting. Itís not just about the capitalization, but itís also about the full recording of the liability. Theyíve also heard the sound fiscal managers the Yukon Party purports to be ó and I checked "purport"; itís all right in Beauchesneís. The government has an idea of one side, but will not, in this most public of forums, provide the other half of that full disclosure. The government has refused to answer that question, even an idea of that amount.
What weíve established so far this afternoon is that the Auditor General, the CICA and their subset, the Public Sector Accounting Board, have recommended the government go to full accrual accounting, that this is taking place across the country, that full accrual accounting includes the capitalization and the recording of liabilities. In this case, weíve discussed environmental liabilities.
What weíve also established is that, in going to this full disclosure, the government has an idea of the assets ó approximately $300 million ó but the Finance minister, the sound fiscal manager, refuses to state what kind of number that environmental liability will be. In the capitalization of assets, the work in progress is not yet complete on the bridges, highways and airstrips.
We have no number whatsoever on the other side of the equation and the minister refuses to provide one.
The government also says that the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act are benign. So I would like to ask the Finance minister a couple of questions related to that. Currently the budget documents that are presented in the House are ó and Iím using his own example of the budget address in 2003-04. Those budget documents show, in the long-term plan projections, income and surplus/deficit for the year. In going to this full disclosure, full accrual method of accounting, can the Finance minister explain for the public how the capitalization of the assets and the liabilities will show? How will these figures change and how will the long-term financial plan be presented to the public? Explain how that will show.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, well, Mr. Chair, nothing ever changes.
The member opposite is now alluding to the fact that suddenly a discussion that weíve had ó and itís all recorded in Hansard ó that I committed to deal with the member opposite on the approximate number on the assets of $300 million. But that is a work still in progress. Thatís not what we would see unless, by some quirk, thatís how the arithmetic works out and the accounting works out ó that the asset base will be that number. We were talking approximates. Suddenly the member has somehow transcended from that into the liabilities.
Well, we know that there are a number of liabilities that are pretty simple to figure out. Environmental liability is not so. Thatís going to take a lot accounting and effort to do that ó ask the federal government.
When it comes to assets, there is a standard accounting procedure, not to mention that there has been a booked expenditure when we buy an asset. Thatís not difficult. Again, itís simple arithmetic. I want to point out to the member opposite that the member has absolutely no position to stand on the floor of this House and talk about full financial disclosure, considering what has gone on in the finances of the government under that memberís watch. Qualified audits by the Auditor General are the evidence and the testimony that that was not happening. The member opposite was not booking the true or the correct liability of the Yukon. Thatís a statement that is critical to the argument that is on the floor of this Legislature.
The member is talking on the one hand of approximates and what might happen or might be the values of either asset or liabilities come April 1, 2004. But we already know by evidence, by a critique of our books by the Auditor General, that that memberís government did not fully disclose the liabilities of the Yukon Territory. So how can the member even attempt to make the argument that this side of the House is not committed to full disclosure because the value, the correct value of something has not been determined yet? That does not correlate in any way, shape or form to an issue with full disclosure.
Frankly, on the other question, now that the member is ragging the puck when it comes to the format of a budget document, there are a number of options that are going to have to be reviewed on what works best for the Yukon in its particular framework of finances.
Itís not just one format. There are a number of formats that may become an option for the territorial government to utilize. I put my trust and faith in some very capable, talented people in the Department of Finance to continue to do that good work. Itís certainly not something I lose sleep over at night, nor would I even bother talking about it on the floor of this Legislature. It has no relevance to the Taxpayer Protection Act amendments.
Ms. Duncan: In the interest of constructive debate, Iím not going to get into an argument with the member opposite on the Auditor Generalís reports. We can talk about those later. Iíd like to systematically work through the arguments presented by the government. There were arguments presented about the move to full disclosure, full accrual accounting.
What the Finance minister has outlined is that the government is not prepared on both sides. Itís a work in progress. They can give an approximate number for one side but not the other. Thatís concerns me.
My question, which the minister failed to answer ó Yukoners have seen for a number of years, thanks to the Taxpayer Protection Act, a long-term financial plan. The Taxpayer Protection Act says that a government canít take the territory into an accumulated deficit position without calling an election. The long-term financial plan at the back of the budget address book shows that long-term financial plan.
Now, "these changes are benign", so the Minister of Finance tells us. All weíre doing is going to full accrual accounting and this full disclosure. How is this long-term financial plan going to look different? Thatís all Iím asking. How is it going to be different? How are we going to show the full accrual accounting in relation to the surplus and the deficit? How is it going to show?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, we are going to use disappearing ink. Thatís what we will create the budget with: disappearing ink. I mean, letís get serious, Mr. Chair. We have a number of options, as I stated on the floor. That member stands up and says that the question hasnít been answered. The government side has answered the question by saying that there are a number of options on format that can be implemented for this particular accounting system. The minister responsible ó myself ó has every faith in the ability of the Department of Finance and its officials to pick the one that works for the territory in the best interest of the public. This is a simple matter.
The member is ragging the puck. Fine with me, because on this point the answer will continue to be the same, and pretty soon I will just get a copy of Hansard and start to read it out.
So, what the member is saying, quite frankly, are nonsensical arguments. There is nothing to them. They donít make any sense because we are talking about something that comes into force and effect months from now. What the member should be doing is debating the clauses that have been amended in the Taxpayer Protection Act and come up with some sensible arguments around that.
The issue of full accrual accounting is not the issue for the member opposite in the debate on the Taxpayer Protection Act. Thatís something that the Auditor General has recommended, whether it be the Public Sector Accounting Board or the CICA or whoever ó the Yukon, as a jurisdiction, is one of the last to move to that system. The Auditor General has made statements that are very much a part of why the recommendations have been made ó a much clearer, easier to understand budget and financial position for the public.
Thatís the simple matter here. What the amendments do is get rid of what was one of the problems and continuing to result in qualified audits ó and that is the ability to book the full and correct financial picture ó but it also removes the punitive areas that will allow a full accrual accounting system to benefit the territory by creating room under the surplus/deficit cap and, in doing so, allowing us to engage with First Nation governments and the private sector to increase the spending power of the territory. We cannot go into an accumulated deficit, no matter what. The amendments do not change that fact.
We cannot go into an accumulated deficit. What is the difficulty for the member opposite in understanding that? It cannot happen, regardless of full accrual accounting, cash accounting or keeping it under a mattress ó the money, that is. We still canít go, by law, into an accumulated deficit in this territory. The members have tried to argue that itís debt.
Well, sorry, it has nothing to do with debt. Debt is not directed, dictated, controlled by the Yukon government itself. We, by order-in-council by the federal government, have a level of debt that we can incur, and thatís it. As I stated earlier, past governments have put this territory into a debt load of $86 million plus. Thatís the debt we already have.
This member is trying to argue finances with this government and stood on the floor and said that we donít have any debt, the Yukon Territory is not in debt, thatís one of the luxuries we have. Well, we are in debt, and you know whatís really scary and concerns me, Mr. Chair? Itís that thatís the same member who was, a short while ago, the Minister of Finance. To not know this territory was in debt very much concerns me.
When the Minister of Finance does not know that, I say thereís a problem with fiscal management. To make the arguments that deficit and debt are somehow connected or the same thing is another problem and concern because it shows an inability to understand finances, and that spells trouble when it comes to fiscal management.
We can see that clearly on what transpired over two plus years of that memberís government: dramatic increases in government expenditure, a dramatic reduction in the surplus, which we have corrected as a government by the good works of officials, as Iíve put on the floor many times ó no question about it. The member opposite didnít get the $20 million in health care spread out over three years. This government did. The member opposite did not make the case, make the argument that the census was wrong, the undercount was an issue, and that resulted in what? $23 million more into the surplus. The member opposite didnít do that. It was this government, this government and its officials. Its hardworking public servants did that. That member did not dissolve the Yukon permanent fund or collapse the trust funds that resulted in another $11.5 million being put back into the surplus.
Add it all up: itís $49.5 million when you include the $15 million of census contingency monies that were booked because the undercount was not dealt with by that memberís government. It was taken back to 1996. Why would not that member, as Minister of Finance, at least have had a discussion with the officials of Finance on whatís going on with the census and the undercount, when you have to book $15 million in reserve for that eventuality and, when you do the work, it turns out to be not only a needless booking of $15 million, we get an extra $23 million. Add it all up: weíve put $49.5 million back into the surplus.
Now, we are going to use a very operational, benign amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act to further increase our options and ability to increase the spending power in this territory. Thatís the debate. Thatís what this is about. Not what a format in a future budget might look like, not in some hypothetical numbers that we discussed today, when all these works are in progress and this takes force and effect April 1, 2004. In fact, there are numbers in the budget before you that are projections that will change before this fiscal year-end closes out. We just passed a supplementary, closing out the prior fiscal year, where the projected numbers that that member put on the floor of this Legislature in the mains under her tenure, were changed considerably.
So what are we debating here? We are debating issues on behalf of the member opposite that are simply filling the pages of Hansard with ó one can only wonder what with ó but filling the pages of Hansard with debate that does not reflect whatís going on with this amendment. It doesnít even reflect what is going on in this territory. Itís a sad state of affairs.
We have $95.5 million in a supplementary tabled here ó $95.5 million. That raises the budget for this fiscal year in the Yukon to some $630 million. I think thatís a pretty important area of debate. The supplementary ó it is critical that we debate it.
The members opposite want to rag the puck on this very simple amendment. Thatís up to them, but let us not forget why we are here. We are here to conduct the publicís business within the allotted time ó the required timelines. The government side has tabled all the public business to be dealt with in this sitting. The members opposite must manage their time in accordance with dealing with that business on behalf of the public.
Iíd submit to the member opposite that this debate today is certainly not reflecting the public interest in any way, shape or form. Itís reflecting a self-serving interest, and thatís something we should not entertain in this ó
Chair:Order please. The Chair is very uncomfortable with the member suggesting that actions were taken in a self-serving interest. Members are encouraged to remember that we are all honourable members in this Assembly and represent the views of all our constituents, and I would ask the member to retract that statement, please.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie:I will, Mr. Chair. Matters of a political interest versus the public interest.
Chair: Iím not comfortable that that solves the matter, and I would ask the member to retract the statement, please.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I will retract both those statements and replace them with "matters that have no relevance to the debate on the amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act."
Chair: Order please. The time being 4:00, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll sit in recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue on with general debate on Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Ms. Duncan: In the previous speech by the Minister of Finance, I was accused of "ragging the puck", and we spent days on that phrase in this Legislature in December 1996, ironically. I would suggest to the minister that he has his sports confused. Iím not ragging the puck; heís moving the goalposts. Thatís the problem. He doesnít like the rules, so heís changing the rules.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Touchdown ó thatís what the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin is saying. Well, thatís what weíre endeavouring to deal with.
The fact is that members of the Yukon public, who are deeply concerned about this act, are used to their government presenting to them ó because in the past governments have presented them ó a long-term financial plan. That long-term financial plan shows the surplus and shows the deficit for the year.
The governmentís own surplus and deficit projections in the supplementary ó pardon me, not in the supplementary which, incidentally, is the House leaderís responsibility to bring for debate and he has yet to do so. The budget address for 2003-04 shows the surplus at end of year to be $17,800,000 in 2003-04, $1,300,000 in 2003-04, down to $600,000 in 2004-05, $4 million in 2005-06, and $16,100,000 in 2006-07 ó well after the life of this government. My point, Mr. Chair, is that financial plans and financial information that has been presented in this House has always shown that there is a surplus because the Taxpayer Protection Act says that we cannot go into an accumulated deficit position.
Every Finance minister and every Yukoner knows that and every Yukoner is very proud of that fact. The problem with the amendments is that the minister isnít changing the fact that we cannot go into an accumulated deficit. What heís changing is what we show in the surplus.
Thatís the problem. By going to full accrual accounting on this sheet, weíre going to show we have tremendous assets ó approximately $300-million worth. He wonít tell us what the approximation is for liabilities, but weíre going to go to full disclosure, full accrual accounting. And he wonít tell the public, because I asked him just under an hour ago. These amendments are so benign and weíre going to continue to have this protection of the Taxpayer Protection Act that shows we canít go into an accumulated deficit. How is the Yukon public going to see a different sheet? Theyíre going to see different sheets and different financial projections because theyíre going to see $300-million worth of assets, plus the surplus, and we donít know how much yet in liabilities. Heís moving the goalposts and thatís the problem with the amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Theyíre changing. No one has a problem with going to full accrual accounting. We want to keep the two sets of books and it can be done; it should be done. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has recommended it. Why would we make the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act? Why would we change, assuring Yukoners that $61 million ó or whatever the surplus happens to be ó will still be there?
Currently, when the Government of Yukon tables a budget, they show the deficit for the year and they show the amount remaining in the surplus. The long-term plans, generally tabled with the budget address, show the deficit for the coming years ó theyíre all projections ó and the balance remaining in the accumulated surplus.
The figures that are shown to the people and which have been tabled to date in this House do not include the assets and the liabilities, not in these figures. When we book, when we buy a building, we do it at value. We donít show in the projections. We show the revenue, we show the O&M. The solution is two sets of books.
Itís not difficult. Itís the way other governments were headed under the capitalization.
Mr. Chair, the problem is that the Finance minister is saying these amendments are benign. The territory still canít go into an accumulated deficit.
Granted, the territory still canít go into an accumulated deficit, but the Finance minister is changing the way the surplus will show. Heís changing that, and he wonít share that with the public. He steadfastly refuses to say ó this full accrual accounting, how will it show? I think his flippant answer ó his answer in jest ó was, "Well, weíll write it in disappearing ink." The problem is that the assets and the surplus of the territory, and the protection in the Taxpayer Protection Act, are disappearing under this minister. Thatís the heart of the problem.
Taxpayers have been protected because governments canít show an accumulated deficit. What the Finance minister is going to do with full accrual accounting is show this tremendous number of assets, plus the surplus, and then heís going to spend it. You wonít show an accumulated deficit if your surplus goes from being shown as $61 million to the surplus, plus the assets, at $361 million. One would hope, anyway, that you wouldnít spend $361 million in a year, in several years, or project spending it. Thatís the heart of the problem. And that is the part that is not being fully shared with the public. Thatís the difference. Itís the way the information is going to be shown and the fact that this government will be able to spend against the assets. Thatís the difficulty.
And much as the Finance minister loves to suggest others are ragging the puck, or are being unreasonable for asking the questions, we have a right to ask these questions and share these concerns.
They are concerns. It is a legitimate question, and it directly relates to the amendments the Finance minister is proposing to the Taxpayer Protection Act. Full accrual accounting ó how will Yukoners see the surplus, the capitalization of assets, the recording of the liability and the yearly deficit? How will they see it in the long-term projections? Will the minister now explain that or, alternatively, in the spirit of absolute cooperation, maybe he is going to commit that the problem is that he wonít answer that question. His alternative ó and I would love to hear it ó will be that Yukoners will see two sets of books. On April 1, 2004, he will come in and show the books as we have always seen them and separately show the books with the assets and liabilities recorded.
If he has no fear that perhaps the government ó you know, itís fine to spend all that money, to borrow against it and spent it ó then he would have no difficulty in presenting both sets of books. But he is going to spend it, and thatís the problem that Yukoners have.
Will the Premier ó the Finance minister ó now outline for Yukoners very clearly how we will see the surplus, the deficit, the accumulated deficit, how we will see the recording in the full accrual method of accounting and how they will be separated out? Will he keep two sets of books or will it all be rolled into one?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I did mention ó and I hope Iím not infringing on the memberís ability to debate as she sees fit. But I did mention that there are a number of options in terms of format on how this will be presented. The issue here is that we have no problem presenting the full financial picture ó the correct financial picture and one set of books ó on the budget, tabled here in the Legislature ó very public. We donít need to keep two and three sets of books like past governments have. Thereís not a problem with presenting it to Yukoners in its entirety. Thatís why the Auditor General is saying thatís the way to go. And if I have to read into the record the Auditor Generalís comments again, Iíll do so, but there is a reason the Auditor General is saying that. We have no problem going ahead with that. The member said thatís the problem when we talk about the amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act. The member is wrong. Itís the solution. Thatís what it is. Itís the solution to allow us to be able to advance options and partnerships in this territory that create jobs and benefits for Yukoners by removing the punitive sections of the Taxpayer Protection Act that were restricting this territoryís ability. Thatís what Yukoners have been saying.
We have the political will to make the change. We are going to proceed with the amendment and now weíre going to proceed with getting private sector investment into the Yukon economy to create jobs and benefits for Yukoners.
I say to you, Mr. Chair, that thatís exactly what this government committed to do during the election. Yukoners agreed and voted us in. We said we would create jobs and benefits, we would address the economy as the highest priority, we would maintain the Taxpayer Protection Act ó weíve done that, we are maintaining the very fundamental integrity of the act, so we canít go into an accumulated deficit, protecting the taxpayer ó and that we would use budgeting and government expenditure to advance the economic fortunes of Yukoners.
What has really happened in the past is that governments have been relegating Yukoners to dependence on the southern taxpayers. Weíre going to change that, Mr. Chair, change it so we are not so dependent on the southern taxpayer, so that we are growing our economy, developing our potential and reducing that dependency through self-sufficiency, through jobs and benefits, through the creation of wealth and the growing of an economy. We are now becoming contributors to this country, not the reverse, where we are at today.
Thatís what weíre doing here, Mr. Chair. Thereís nothing complicated about it. The format of what it will look like is being worked on. The value of the liabilities is being worked on; the value of the assets is being worked on. All these things are works-in-progress.
So, with that statement, if the member wants to continue that particular line of questioning and debate, the answer will always be as I have just stated. We are going to bring this forward when it comes into force and effect April 1, 2004. Thereís nothing really complicated or sinister about this.
I guess Iíll just wait to see what the member has in terms of debating the actual amendments. Maybe the member would want to read the clauses that are being amended or the clauses that arenít being amended. That might be helpful.
Mr. Hardy: Well, itís interesting debate on one side. The issues that are being raised on this side are very legitimate. The questions have validity and the questions being asked by the third party, as well as ourselves, deserve an answer so that we can understand what is being planned, the impact, how it will be reported, what the statements will look like, if there will be two separate sets of books. Iíve actually heard that there will be two separate sets of books anyway, contrary to what the Premier continually says ó that the reason to do this is to have one set of books and everything is perfectly above board and clear.
So the questions we ask deserve to be answered. The Premier seems not to like to answer any questions that are asked. Instead, he likes to go back into his little shell, bounce around inside there and say the same thing over and over and over again. Iím hoping that if he says it enough, heíll actually convince himself that what heís saying is correct and is good for the territory.
He loves to use the reference that weíre dependent upon the taxpayers to the south. Thatís kind of a nice way to put the way people are up here ó like weíre just dependants. We live up here and we just live off the people of the south. He seems to like to paint the taxpayers and workers of this territory as dependants. I really donít like to look at the citizens of the Yukon in that light. Yes, we may get transfer payments that exceed the amount of monies we raise, but we do contribute to the well-being of Canada. We do have a role to play in Canada, just like so many other regions and provinces in Canada.
To have a Premier who continually paints the people of this territory in that kind of light does not speak well to the kind of impression he has of the people of this territory.
But so be it; if thatís the way he wants to paint Yukon people, thatís his choice.
Now, he talks about getting off that dependency, and every government from as far back as I can remember has said this. There is no government that wants to have to continually live off unequal transfer payments and support. Governments have contributed in the past to move in that direction. The NDP was very, very successful in developing many of the industries or assisting many of the industries to grow. We can talk about the film industry ó thatís an NDP initiative. A tremendous amount of work was done in that area with a lot of support. I think back ó it was originally $385,000 to buy grip equipment. If you look into the past, lots of governments have done a lot of good work to move along in this direction.
Itís interesting ó he talks about the great initiatives on the other side. Just in the last day he was saying that they created the Economic Development department. Well, I would like to correct the minister across the way. No, they didnít create the Economic Development department, they re-established it. He really should get more organized around his language. He seems to spin it every different which way.
If you look at the Economic Development department and at all the initiatives in there to help stimulate the economy, to assist in many of the sectors, 90 percent of them are NDP initiatives. But you know what? All he can do is find fault with the NDP. Maybe he should really look at what he is copying and what is actually being brought forward by the Yukon Party. I donít see much.
Going back to the Taxpayer Protection Act ó because this definitely is an initiative of this government; contrary to what they said when they were questioned about making any changes to it, this is definitely an initiative. I think he is starting to explain himself enough that we get a picture of where heís going with this. However, he hasnít justified it very well ó other than when you connect it to the larger context of what has been said on the other side, such as selling the Yukon, branding the Yukon and all that stuff, you then kind of get a picture of how they view what we call home, what we call our place.
When you look at the ads in the paper, on the little tour the Premier is going on ó which Iím sure will not contain the Taxpayer Protection Act in their discussions, unless itís going to change all of a sudden ó thereís a dollar sign in that ad, and itís a massive dollar sign overshadowing the Yukon.
People can take that in many different ways. You could take it in a positive light; you could take it in a negative light; but the debate around the Taxpayer Protection Act is a change, itís where the territory is going; itís the surplus that will be created to leverage; itís the accounting aspect of it, and demands an opportunity for witnesses to be heard in this regard.
As Iíve said earlier, it also demands public input. This is being denied. My question is: what is being hidden here? Why will they not take this to the public? Why will the Yukon Party government not put this change out to the public? They did not run on it during the election; they do not have the mandate to make this change; they donít want to go to a referendum on it; they donít want to go to an election on it. Fine. Then at least delay this and allow the public to be engaged in a debate around this.
Then they can move forward.
I have a motion I would like to bring forward. Itís a witness motion, Mr. Chair. I have talked to the Clerk about being able to bring it forward and itís perfectly acceptable. Mr. Chair, I know youíre seeking advice but I have done that. Go ahead anyway.
Motion re appearance of witnesses
Mr. Hardy:I move
THAT prior to the Committee of the Whole reporting Bill No. 36, entitled Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, the following persons or their designates will be requested to appear before Committee of the Whole to discuss matters relating to Bill No. 36:
(1) Sheila Fraser, Auditor General of Canada;
(2) Walter Robinson, Canadian Taxpayers Federation;
(3) Charles Sanderson, former Deputy Minister of Finance, Government of Yukon;
(4) John Ostashek, former Minister of Finance, Government of Yukon.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Hardy, MLA for Whitehorse Centre
THAT prior to the Committee of the Whole reporting Bill No. 36, entitled Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, the following persons or their designates will be requested to appear before Committee of the Whole to discuss matters relating to Bill No. 36:
(1) Sheila Fraser, Auditor General of Canada;
(2) Walter Robinson, Canadian Taxpayers Federation;
(3) Charles Sanderson, former Deputy Minister of Finance, Government of Yukon;
(4) John Ostashek, former Minister of Finance, Government of Yukon.
We will now enter into debate on this motion. The members have 20 minutes.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Chair, I wonít take 20 minutes. I am really quite interested to hear the responses to the motion that has been brought forward. I know that they have been kibitzing on the other side, throwing out names of who else could be added. As I said back to them, if they wish they had other names but they will support this motion, I would be very happy to add any names and happy to support it. If they are willing to do as the wording says, giving us a chance to hear witnesses who can contribute something to a debate in this Legislature, giving us an opportunity to get opinions about the changes being proposed by the Yukon Party government, and we could have outside experts who can lend their expertise to this debate, we would welcome it, instead of being lectured by the Premier on the way it is and us responding with our concerns. I am really hoping that what we will see here is an agreement by the Yukon Party to open up this debate, broaden it, bring in experts.
Itís not hard to see why some of these names are supplied. Mr. Ostashek is the former Minister of Finance. He was the one who led the drafting and implementation of the Taxpayer Protection Act. He does have a very strong opinion in that regard, and I believe that he would bring a lot of knowledge and advice in this area. Of course, Mr. Sanderson was the Deputy Minister of Finance at that time and can bring some historical information as well as some advice in that area. Sheila Fraser, of course, is the Auditor General of Canada. I donít think we can get much higher in regard to seeking some direction, advice, and input on the benign changes being proposed by the Yukon Party government ó so-called benign changes, that is.
Of course, Walter Robinson, who is the head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation would, I believe, bring out quite a broad view based upon tax changes and the Taxpayer Protection Act. He has already waded into the debate, of course, as he was interviewed by the papers and stated his opinions. But to have him on the floor here and be able to question him with respect to this change would be of benefit to all members in this Legislature in order to make an informed decision about what to do. With that, Iíll sit down.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to rise in support of the motion and ask all members of the government to give this suggestion fair and thorough consideration. A bill is brought forward in this Legislature and amendments are proposed to the bill. Iím not denigrating the importance of other legislation, but the Taxpayer Protection Act is a fundamental cornerstone of Yukonís finances and how we govern ourselves as a territory.
This is a very important bill and an important amendment to that act. The government side is arguing that itís benign, and that it doesnít make any difference ó it doesnít take the protection out of it. This side of the House is arguing that it does. The public is left wondering whoís right. It just starts to sound like so much political spin. And they trust us to do the right thing. They trust us to make the right decisions ó to either vote in support or vote against a piece of legislation; to support the government or to vote their conscience or constituents or whatever rules apply in the Yukon Party caucus, whether itís a free vote or not.
In any event, what the leader of the official opposition is saying here is that, in the heartfelt and free-flowing discussion we have in Committee of the Whole, letís hear from the independent folks.
With the specific amendment in front of us, with the territoryís finances in front of us, letís hear from these people on this issue. I would like to follow up on the suggestion that we add names that were kibitzed across the floor, and I would like to suggest that we add Mr. Sandersonís predecessor, Mr. Frank Fingland, if available on this continent, to that list. I wonít propose it as an amendment yet; Iím just putting it out for debate, Mr. Chair.
I honestly believe this motion is worthy of full and fair consideration. Why not? Whatís the problem? We might have to pay an airfare for some of these individuals, and perhaps provide them with accommodation, but it is indeed a small price to pay for the facts being on the table.
If the government has absolutely nothing to be concerned about ó although "hide" is parliamentary; I checked ó if they have nothing to hide and nothing to be afraid of, if they believe in these amendments, then we can be convinced; certainly I can be convinced.
If Sheila Fraser, Walter Robinson and Charles Sanderson told me these amendments were necessary, you bet I could be convinced. Iíd like to hear from them. Iíd like to hear first-hand.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I do believe the opportunity was for everybody to be heard in a manner of respect in this House, and all Iím asking is members opposite, rather than simply dismissing it because it didnít come from their side ó thereís nothing wrong with having third-party validation of your legislation on the floor of this House. Weíve seen it tabled in the statistics act, we see it refused to be tabled in the Health Professions Act. This is about the third parties. The Auditor General will have a look at the legislation anyway and be looking at the books anyway. Why not give all members of the House an opportunity to ask her or her designate about this particular act, which is the cornerstone of our territoryís finances? Why not? Itís worth ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The usual kibitzing across the floor.
The fact is that all of these individuals ó there is agreement that they are worthy certainly of being heard. Weíve heard the Minister of Finance go on at great length quoting from the Auditor General. Why not give us the opportunity to ask her directly?
Mr. McRobb: I stand in support of this motion today. I think this is a very valid motion and it will serve to clear the air.
The four people identified have experience and expertise in the area of question and potentially have a lot to offer to the debate. The debate to date has become quite clouded and Iím not sure if anyone has a clear picture of what the truth is, especially with all the different angles that have been provided to the public in relation to this act.
Having these people appear before Committee of the Whole to discuss these matters is a way to get to the truth, to clearly establish acts on record, to avoid the he said/she said scenario that we seem to have locked our horns over in this Legislature in recent days.
As the previous speaker indicated, if these individuals are prepared to put on record their support for this act, then so am I. I think the answer here is quite clear. Weíve seen a poker game in effect take place over this act. Now the stakes have been raised. The stakes have been raised in order to try to get to the bottom of the information, to find out how this act will affect the territory.
And if the government doesnít ante up, then we know that it is bluffing Yukoners into what it wants them to believe about this act. Thatís not right. I believe in fair process, and the process so far has not been fair because the government side has refused to answer questions that certainly are legitimate.
I find that its approach on this particular issue is not much different than what it is on a number of other issues. Question Period today is one example of how the approach used by this government is one of not answering questions, itís one that is not accountable, itís not open, itís not fair, and the whole purpose of this Legislature is deteriorating rapidly, Mr. Chair. We need to put the brakes on this type of a declination in our Legislature and find a way out for the benefit of Yukoners and future Yukoners.
So the motion put forward is a very reasonable approach, where these four people with vast experience, knowledge and expertise would appear before us to answer questions. There would be no hiding of any particular information because the information would flow. The four people presumably would appear before us and answer questions without a particular bias or political point of view.
They would respond just purely on the basis of their experience and knowledge, and thatís why they are identified here. Thatís what this Legislature needs: some experience and knowledge to cut through the smoke and mirrors and get to the truth on this matter.
This Taxpayer Protection Act amendment will potentially have far-reaching consequences for generations in the territory. This is a very important matter.
I know itís unusual to call in witnesses on a particular bill but, Mr. Chair, I donít recall ever debating a bill of such import as this Taxpayer Protection Act, given the considerable consequences that could result from its passage.
So if ever thereís an exception to be made, this has to be the time. I see some members nodding in agreement, so I would presume thereís some hope we might receive some support from the government side. The people vote with their hearts.
I see the Member for Lake Laberge. He thinks this is funny, but I can assure you, Mr. Chair, his constituents donít think this is funny, and they wonít think itís funny should this bill pass in its present form without the truth being brought to the fore, without us debating the facts ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Pursuant to Standing Order 19(g), the Member for Kluane is imputing false and unavowed motives.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: In Committee of the Whole, you can speak from any place in the Legislature. Itís only when the Speaker is in the Chair, Mr. Chair, that weíre not allowed liberty and flexibility as to where we can speak from, and Iíd encourage the members in the opposition ranks to read the Standing Orders.
Chair: Would the member please repeat the statement he found objectionable?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The reference is "tell the truth."
Mr. McRobb: Perhaps I can be of assistance. What I said was not what the government House leader purported. Rather, it was, "We need to get to the truth on this matter." Therefore, there is a considerable difference. Iím not pointing the finger at any individual; Iím merely speaking to the issue.
Chair:At this time, the Chair finds there is no point of order; however, the Chair will review the Blues, and if an alternative decision is necessary, that will be made Monday during Committee.
Mr. McRobb: Iíll look forward to your ruling, Mr. Chair.
Anyway, I can certainly understand the Member for Klondikeís objection to the word "truth" in this Legislature. I think he should put aside his personal preferences and look at the bigger picture ó think of the Yukon, think of what it might mean.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair:Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: The Member for Kluane just cast the aspersion that the Member for Klondike doesnít like the truth, and that is in contravention of Standing Order 19(i). Mr. Chair, I would urge that you ask the Member for Kluane and the opposition House leader to read the Standing Orders and retract that comment.
Chair:There is no point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Obviously, some members on the other side are rather sensitive today, and I would encourage them to be a little more sensitive when it comes time to vote on this amendment, because that in itself would be much more productive than directing their energies toward these frivolous points of order and interrupting my comments this afternoon.
Anyway, the point has been made that these four individuals would have something to offer that is very constructive to the debate. It seems that the parties in this Legislature have locked horns on this matter and this is a way out. I believe that Yukon people support this motion.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair:I would ask all members to show the respect that members in this House deserve and to remain quiet while members are speaking.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, again, Mr. Chair. You know, again, if the Member for Klondike would redirect his energies into thinking how he is going to vote on this motion ó as a matter of fact, Mr. Chair, I think we should call for a recorded vote on this motion, just so the record can speak for itself and Yukoners can find out how the Member for Klondike voted, how the Member for Lake Laberge voted, and all the rest of them; find out how they all voted on this.
This act, basically, Mr. Chair, does not have to be passed today or Monday. For the governmentís needs, all that it has to do is be dealt with by the end of the day on December 16. The way the Standing Orders are currently worded, if this matter is not resolved by 5:00 p.m. on that day, then the guillotine clause takes effect and it moves to a vote.
If there is no resolution, the bill will be passed if the government side uses its majority to pass the bill. So thereís the process. The government really doesnít have anything to lose in terms of its agenda during this sitting.
Furthermore, it wonít be at any extra cost to taxpayers in regard to extension of the sitting. We will find time within the current legislative schedule to allow sufficient time to deal with these witnesses. In fact, it may end up saving time because, while the horns remained locked, the hands of time do not stand still. Quite predictably, this may go on for some time yet. We all know we have a huge supplementary budget to deal with as well. So in terms of being constructive and efficient with our time ó and I speak collectively when I use the word "our" ó I would suggest we support this motion and then agree to set this bill aside until these witnesses can appear and we can direct our attention toward the supplementary budget and, come December 16, weíll see what comes of this bill. This Legislature will still be closing at 6 p.m. on that day.
This is what we on this side recommend. The government, one year ago in its election campaign, promised Yukoners it would try to work with all MLAs in this Legislature, to try to ó Iím not quite sure what the language was ó make a better Yukon ó something to that effect. Hereís a good example for it to show that it was serious about what it said to get elected.
I wonít go into the numerous examples that disprove that promise, because I think this afternoon we should take the high road and do whatís right. The government has the opportunity to do that by voting with us on this motion so we can get to the bottom of this bill and leave sufficient time to review the supplementary budget.
Iíll be looking forward to hearing from the other side.
Mr. Cardiff: I rise today in support of this motion. I think this is a good idea. This is an opportunity. We may not have lots of audience in the gallery, but we do have an audience in the public. We have people listening on the radio; people do read the Blues and the Hansard document and listen to what we say.
The Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act is a very important piece of legislation. The public is asking questions about this and the ramifications this could have on into the future.
The one thing Iíve heard the Premier say is that members on this side of the House spoke against the original Taxpayer Protection Act. Iíd like to remind the Premier and members on that side of the House that, to the best of my knowledge, when the Taxpayer Protection Act was tabled, not one person, with the exception of the Table Officers, were in this Legislature when the original act was passed.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: Okay, I stand corrected. There was the one Table Officer. So consequently, what was said then ó that was then, this is now. This is the matter of concern now. The matter of concern at that time was a whole different matter. I think that itís important. I think that the public does want to have complete information on this.
We know that the Premier doesnít want to discuss this motion. Nobody on the other side seems to want to discuss the motion. They obviously donít feel that itís worthwhile to ó the Premier says that he has consulted Yukoners in general ó or maybe it was "generals", Iím not sure. It could have been Yukon Party generals for all I know.
But we know that the Premier is not interested. He folded the motion up and ripped it up and threw it in the garbage. So he is not interested in the public having this forum to have these people ó well-qualified people, some of them probably more qualified to speak knowledgeably about the impacts of this than possibly anybody in here.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: My colleague from Kluane mentioned ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: No, no ó well, you see, nobody knew what I was going to say. I was speaking about my colleague from Kluane, who spoke earlier in Question Period today about how the type of answers we got were non-answers ó answers that were basically excuses.
They shifted the blame for the shortcomings of the government, to deal with important things like the wages of emergency firefighters ó shift the blame.
Thatís a matter of importance to Yukoners too, but the Taxpayer Protection Act is a big matter of importance. This could have long-term ramifications for our children in the future. Weíre talking about public/private partnerships. Thatís one of the rationales behind the Taxpayer Protection Act.
The Member for Klondike canít wait to get out of here. He wants us to vote on this and ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: Well, that could be. He obviously has somewhere to be.
In public/private partnerships, hopefully, some of these people could shed some light on the ramifications of making large public expenditures, entering into these partnerships in the rush to improve infrastructure, create jobs and create what could be a huge boom and an even greater bust. The Yukon is very familiar with the boom-and-bust economy, and this could be one of the biggest booms the Yukon has ever seen. It could also be the biggest bust the Yukon has ever seen.
The Yukon Party campaigned on consultation on matters of importance to all Yukoners, including legislation. Well, this is just a continuation of that consultation. These people would be here, in this House, to answer the questions that people are asking ó that citizens are asking us about the ramifications of changing this legislation.
I think that we owe it to the public to get full and complete answers to those questions. I would like to encourage the members opposite, all of the members opposite, to vote in favour of this and I would also encourage them to get up, if they canít support this, to say why. Tell the Yukon public why you donít think that itís important to have these people give full and complete answers that the government canít deliver, that the Premier and Minister of Finance does not want to give. He doesnít want to talk about the liabilities into the future. Heís perfectly willing to talk about how to create a surplus and how to do the accounting but he doesnít want to talk about the liabilities that could be created into the future for our future governments, future citizens, our children, our grandchildren and people who want to come and make their homes here. So I would urge them to get on their feet and give the rationale why they wouldnít support this. I encourage them to support it.
Mrs. Peter: I stand in support of this motion and this amendment to this motion thatís before us today. I have listened with great interest again to the information, some of the information that was being debated back and forth. To tell you the truth, I still need to ó thereís a whole lot that I need to understand about this act.
I have lots of questions. There are people in my community who have been somewhat informed about this, and there are lots of outstanding questions.
First of all, weíre putting forward a suggestion to the government. One of their commitments, as one of my colleagues said earlier, was to be more supportive to both sides of the House in this environment, when and if they were elected. That was well over a year ago.
Yes, weíve come to some agreement on some motions that were put on this floor. They were good motions and we all agree to them. This is another area where weíre looking for that support from the government of the day.
This government also said they would be open and accountable to the people of the Yukon. By putting forward this amendment to the government, weíre asking that they help us help some of our constituents come to some understanding of this act. By bringing before this House four people who are very knowledgeable in this area, who have a lot of experience in their field ó and I believe they can offer us some expert advice.
That, Mr. Chair, I believe can help the Yukon people understand more what this act before us really, really means. The Yukon government says that this is a great act and this will do wonders for the Yukon Territory. If that is the case, let us work together. If itís that great for the Yukon public, help us to help our constituents and the Yukon public understand what is before us.
I look at this document and hear the people speaking to it and try to understand so that I can explain it to the people in my riding. I have to vote on this on their behalf. If the information that is being brought out in the debate is true, I am very concerned. I have many questions that go unanswered.
How is this act going to affect the First Nation governments in the territory? How is it going to affect our communities? I havenít heard those questions being answered in here.
I see lots of chuckles and lots of discussions happening on the other side as my colleagues on this side ask questions ó valid, valid questions. Is it a laughing matter? I think not. How am I going to explain to the people in my riding that I voted on this act thatís before us right now with very little understanding of it? We made a suggestion but the government of the day is not going to listen, so we will just ram it through the House. Itís going to affect the future of the territory. Itís going to affect the future of our children in the communities. Itís going to provide for big industries to come and maybe provide us with jobs for a little while and then again, in a year or two, leave the territory, leave us standing there holding a brown paper bag full of I donít know what. I donít know what, but it sure smells bad.
How many times have I heard members from across the way say that they are an open and accountable government?
I would like to see and witness this government help us to make some progress for the people in the Yukon to address this very serious issue, to address this act thatís before us and thatís going to mean serious changes for this territory. We need to have some accountability.
The Member for Klondike is chattering over there, and I wasnít sure what he said. But thatís what we get here. We make some really positive suggestions and they fall on deaf ears. We try to make some progress on behalf of our constituents, and it goes nowhere. We ask for answers. We stand here on behalf of our constituents.
I have a question for the Member for McIntyre-Takhini. I heard him chattering over there in that corner. Can he answer these questions from people from his riding? How does it affect First Nation people in governments in this territory? That is a question that I would like to know the answer to. They talk about consultation. There was a memorandum of understanding or protocol signed to that effect a few weeks ago, or a month ago.
Do they know what this act really entails or what it is asking of them? I am sure they do. I am sure they do.
This amendment that we brought forward is very important. It will answer a lot of questions for the Yukon public. I am asking the members opposite for some cooperation and Iím asking them to put on record what their thoughts are on this act or on this amendment so that I can go back to my community and say, "Yes, we made some suggestions. We needed more time. We needed more expert advice. We put forward a suggestion that four people come before this House to answer some of our questions and share some of their knowledge in this area."
But, no, they will not even speak to this motion. There is definitely the impact and effect that itís going to have ó especially when weíre talking about public/private partnerships. The cost of those kinds of initiatives is high. It might look good at the beginning ó there is a lot of smokescreen that can be used ó but the cost in the end to whomever ó who is going to own this infrastructure that is going to be proposed?
Who is going to pay for the overruns on the projects, the high cost for these projects? Those are the kinds of questions my constituents need to know the answers to. We have a vision of our future. Our community is growing, and if this is the way this government is going to take us, they owe us that much to answer some questions. They owe us that much.
I guess if itís not going to happen, then thatís a message we have to pass on. I guess they donít pay what they owe now, so I guess we canít expect much more than that.
This is going to take us down a road of no return. "It might be prosperity," says the Member for Klondike ó for a little while, but we only know ó and weíve experienced the boom-and-bust experiences of the past in resource developments, and what can happen with that, and the effects and social impacts it has on people. Those are questions that are brought forward by people who are concerned, Mr. Chair.
I would encourage this government to consider this amendment, to speak to it, to speak to this motion and put on record for the Yukon people how itís going to really affect them, how itís going to impact their lives. And would they consider adjourning to give this motion proper consideration?
With that, Mr. Chair, I thank you for your time.
Mr. Hardy: I would be closing debate if I spoke.
Chair: As per the rules of Committee of the Whole, members may speak for up to 20 minutes and they may speak as many times as they wish.
Mr. Hardy: On the motion ó so we can continue. Thatís excellent. We have much to discuss, and I know other members have been listening to the debate ó the one-sided debate, of course ó on this motion that has been brought in and, as theyíve listened to it, theyíve thought of other reasons and other concerns for why they would love to see this motion considered in a manner that shows the respect and dignity in which it was brought forward.
The Yukon Party government and the Minister of Finance have indicated that they are not going to speak to it. They feel that itís not even worthy of consideration, of a response, and thatís becoming very common with this group of people. Itís very difficult for us to sit in the House and try to engage the Yukon Party government in a debate when they refuse to even acknowledge that our ideas, our positions, may have some merit ó at least enough merit to respond to.
This is the same kind of attitude that is being demonstrated to the general public. Theyíre not being given the opportunity to have a say in this matter.
This motion, as it stands, does allow a broadening of the debate thatís so essential to come forward with ó to strengthen an idea, to come forward with a better act. It has not been allowed by the people on the other side. Most discouraging, of course, is that they wonít even engage in responding to it. Thatís an arrogance of an extreme level that we havenít seen in this Legislature for many, many years. Unfortunately, we have to put up with possibly a few more years of this level increasing, and that doesnít bode well for democracy in the Yukon. It doesnít bode well for the opportunity to have informed and engaged debate ó something our democracy is built on ó when one side refuses to participate because they disagree with a motion thatís being brought forward. I think the onus is on the side opposite to at least engage a little bit and give us their perspective and viewpoint on this motion.
Mr. Chair, why do they find this motion a difficulty? What is the problem with it? What do they suggest? We are at loggerheads, Mr. Chair. Itís very legitimate to disagree in this Legislature, but itís also very legitimate, and the onus is upon us to engage in debate ó to try to move beyond the disagreement and try to find common ground so that we can come forward with a better act, or one that will ensure that the goals the Yukon Party government is trying to achieve can be added to by our considerations, concerns and recommendations. Thatís being denied, and thatís quite a disappointment.
I believe that the Yukon Party government has gotten themselves into a problem, just like they have with many of the other issues that pop up. In regard to the loans ó they got themselves in a corner and boxed themselves in, because they are not forthcoming about what they are planning to do with it. Itís just the same situation that is existing with the computer use investigation. They got themselves boxed into a corner and they donít know how to get out of it.
What weíre trying to do here is to allow them to try to save face. I think thatís an onus on our part, to offer a way out of a situation that they feel themselves boxed into. We are doing that. This is a motion that allows the government to take some action that we support, and I believe the Yukon public will support ó especially when we send out the press release in regard to this, they will support it ó and have informative and knowledgeable debate on many of the aspects around the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Now, when we first read this into the record, the members from the government side suggested some more names. It might have been a little tongue-in-cheek, but we are not opposed to broadening it, if they are sincere about their suggestions. My suspicion is that they were just rabble-rousing, which is a shame. We want to debate this motion. They donít want to debate it. Why? Because they donít want to bring experts in who may give an opinion that they canít agree with. They cannot control everything.
This motion allows for experts to come forward and give a perspective on the floor, answer questions from the members of this Legislature, in order to see if this is a good move or not.
Why will the Yukon Party not bring this forward and support the motion? Why will they not debate it? Iíll tell you why, Mr. Chair. Itís because this is a government that lives in the shadows. Many issues that we discuss on this floor do not get answered. Very legitimate questions we ask in Question Period are ignored, or else the questions we direct to certain ministers are often not answered by that minister, but somebody else stands up and trots out some party line theyíve created in a back room somewhere, in the deep, dark chambers of their supporters.
I believe that this motion is a progressive motion. I would really like to hear why they donít think so.
Dead silence, Mr. Chair ó because they have no ability to respond to this motion.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: The Premier just yelled across the floor that if I sit down, heíll get up and tell us why this motion is no good, and I look forward to that. Heíll get up and tell us why bringing in experts and bringing in other people to allow a broadening of the debate and allow some other input is completely contrary to what the Yukon Party wants in this debate. Heíll tell us why he wants to keep this as controlled as possible within the Legislature among the members here. Heíll tell us why he has a majority and heíll ram this through, whether we have a concern or not, and heíll tell us how open and accountable he is.
I look forward to that. Iíll sit down and listen to him.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have just listened to a lot of discussion that is predominantly spawned out of political action. Filibustering is not uncommon to any legislative assembly anywhere in the British parliamentary system or our neighbours to the south. It is not an unusual tactic by any opposition to employ to try to block, stall, impede the publicís business because the opposition is trying to raise the profile of the opposition benches in the face of very little public reaction to something the government is doing.
Letís first go into the content of the motion itself. The government side never has a problem with the opposition bringing forward a motion. I think now we have some seven to nine unanimous motions passed in this House working very cooperatively with the members opposite. I think thatís self-explanatory; however, I can assure the members opposite that we will proceed amending the Taxpayer Protection Act in the context that we have.
We have to make sure that the members opposite have an opportunity to debate the amendment, but the members opposite do not want to do that without the involvement of people they seem to require to provide them with the necessary information. I want to delve into this one because we, first off, provided them with an in-depth and detailed briefing on this amendment.
We did that to allow the members opposite to be able to understand what the amendment really was. That was provided to them in the context of cooperation and allowing them to have the ability to come in here and debate this amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Obviously that briefing was not enough. That briefing did not provide them the necessary detail, though I would submit and argue that it certainly did. Political gamesmanship is at play here. Is this a reasonable request?
Well, if we were amending or tabling a piece of legislation that our Department of Finance had absolutely no idea what it would do or what it would mean, that is one point. If the rest of the government corporate entities, the structure itself, and everything involved in it did not understand or know what this would do, that is another point again to be made. If the duly elected government had absolutely no idea what this was going to do, that is another point being made.
However, letís get serious. The business world, the business community, has employed this type of accounting for years. Itís not an unusual thing. Itís a well-known practice, and itís certainly a cut above cash accounting ó a cut above. Obviously the members opposite have no intention of referring to the comments that the Auditor General has already made, and Iím going to bring them up shortly.
But the members opposite talk about the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Those comments are already on the public record. For what purpose would we fly this gentleman from who knows where to come to the Yukon to be a witness in this House on something as simple as a bookkeeping amendment?
His comments are clear, but if you really look at them in context, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation doesnít really have a problem with what weíre doing. Do you know why? They understand that it is the business of the government and the Yukon public. Secondly, we already know what the former Minister of Finance said. Thatís fine. Everybody is entitled to an opinion. We, the government side, encourage that debate and that opinion.
Now, letís go to the Auditor General. And this is something that obviously points to what is really at play here ó this attempt at filibustering. I will start commenting for the membersí benefit on what the Auditor General said. Even in the light of questions, the Auditor General ó who knew that the questions were out of context of what this really meant ó makes these points. Itís actually the standard and the basis of accounting that is used by the private sector. We have pointed that out before. It has been around a long, long time and it really has no complication in its implementation for government ó none whatsoever. The leader of the third party went on at great length about what will the format look like, what will the liabilities be, what will the amount of the assets be, and did not accept the fact that these things are works-in-progress ó and so they should be. Thatís exactly what is going on in government.
The calculation and determination of what the assets are for the government has been going on for a number of years internally in the government. This is not a secret. It shouldnít be to the leader of the third party. It may be to the official opposition.
But look what else the Auditor General points out here and how simple this really is. If you buy a building it could be used for up to 20 or 30 years. And rather than showing the whole expense under cash accounting in the year that you bought it, the cost is amortized, or a portion of those costs are charged to the operations each year. Hereís what the lead accountant in the country says about that: so it can give a better reflection of the actual costs of services as well ó alluding to and pointing to the fact that this is a much more useful form of accounting because it provides the whole picture, the full equation for all to see, including the public.
The Auditor General also goes on to state that it doesnít change the underlying financial situation of government. Itís just a different way of reflecting it.
Now why would we go through this arduous process on this matter when these statements are already very public? It points to why this is such a simple process. Itís not unusual. The private sector and the business world have been doing this for years. Maybe the members opposite only use cash accounting. I donít know, but if theyíve ever been in business, cash accounting is a big problem. Cash accounting does not work in the business world and there are many reasons for it. If youíre just running your household out of a chequebook and using cheque stubs ó understandable. But when you have assets and liabilities and expenses and revenues and employees and all that goes with it, full accrual accounting is there to make your accounting practices cleaner, fuller and more useful for any business, as it should be for a government.
I have to put this on the floor, too, Mr. Chair. Itís high time governments started operating more like a business. Itís up to us to deliver a product on behalf of the taxpayer. Itís up to us to represent and protect the public interest in a much more business-like fashion. And I would suggest that if we went back in history and followed it through to this point in time, we would see the folly of the ways of past governments, and why that was not going to work.
We were elected as a government to change the direction of this territory. The trend, the direction this territory was going in was unacceptable to the Yukon public. That is why they sought a change ó unacceptable. And we are here to make sure that what the public wants and what it seeks is going to be delivered. Above all, the public wants this territory to grow again. They want this territory to have a vibrant and diverse economy. They want this territory to have a sustainable economy.
The members opposite allude to boom and bust. Well, frankly, that is more of a social democratic principle ó boom and bust.
Thatís how social democracy really works. The members alluded to loans. Where did those loans start? Where were they created? Under a New Democratic government. It was like carpet bombing the Yukon Territory with money under the guise of a loan. In that case, why are we having such difficulty in collecting huge amounts of these loans? Because itís the boom-and-bust approach of social democracy. Thatís not what we are going to do here.
This amendment has no effect on the future of our children, other than building them a future ó a brighter future, a prosperous future, a future to look forward to, a future that has some hope and reason to stay in the Yukon. Thatís exactly what weíre doing with this amendment.
All the rhetoric coming from the other side has no benefit to this debate. It has no benefit whatsoever. What itís doing is creating a mockery of this institution. If the members were doing their jobs, they would be out there in the public soliciting and seeking opinion. There is no need to bring witnesses to this House. Get out there and deal with the public.
In this case, we have made an amendment that the public is looking forward to. This amendment will create more options for the public to be able to see their economy begin to grow, for the public to be able to participate and benefit from increased spending power in the territory ó not from the taxpayers, not from the government, but from the private sector. Thatís an important point here, Mr. Chair.
When talking about this motion, the member made mention of the government saying that we are dependants. Well, I want to put something on the public record. We are dependants in this territory. If we do not receive the massive allocation of funds to this territory from the federal government, what would be happening here?
I assure you, when you factor in part of the equation, when it comes to cash flow ó when over 80 percent of the cash flow in this territory is coming out of the governmentís coffers, that is a problem. That speaks to dependence. Thatís what weíre trying to change.
We and Yukoners do not want to be dependent. They want to develop self-sufficiencies. They want to maximize their potential. There are all kinds of opportunity in this territory and, on one front and one level, it has been restricted and held back by punitive measures in the Taxpayer Protection Act that diminished our ability to engage especially the private sector to invest in this territory.
I can tell you that the territory has for a long time cried out for financial fiscal leadership and it is here today and it is represented on this side of the House by a Yukon Party government.
There is no argument that the members have the opportunity to provide input to and debate this amendment. Letís debate factual information. Letís talk about what these options could be. What have the members opposite to offer in how we can engage the private sector? The New Democrats in government were already working on P3s. What was that going to be? The third party, when in government, certainly worked on public/private partnerships, and we have the material floating around the offices and departments of government to show that.
We have said over and over that when we proceed with initiatives like public/private partnerships they will be transparent and inclusive. Thatís exactly what we should be debating. How do we do that? What is the membersí input into that area? This, although at some point on some other issue, may become relevant, but this motion today is for filibustering and political gamesmanship, and it is doing a disservice to this territory and its citizens.
The people out there in the Yukon Territory want action from their government. That action must be in the economic sector. That action must be in jobs and benefits. That action must provide them a future, a better and brighter future. That is exactly what we intend to do ó not just by the Taxpayer Protection Act amendment, but a broad front of initiatives that we are undertaking.
It is the First Nation relationship and full economic partnerships that provide incentives to grow our economy. It is by increasing the surplus to provide more options, more opportunity to stimulate the economy. It is by recognizing where the strategic direction for economic development must go, whether it be in the resource sector, whether it be in building infrastructure, whether it be with the arts and cultural community, tourism, the film industry ó the list goes on and on and on.
This is not a one-dimensional government. This is a diverse, talented government that has rolled up its sleeves and gone to work on behalf of the Yukon public to make something happen in this territory for a change. That, Mr. Chair, is what Yukoners seek.
Chair: The time being 6:00 p.m., the Chair will report progress.
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. Rouble:Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: Youíve heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Speaker:Before the House adjourns for the day, the Chair wishes to further address the matter of notices of motion.
During today's Daily Routine, the Chair provided the House with a statement respecting notices of motion. The Chair explained the need for the wording of motions to conform to the rules of this House. In particular, a motion should not contain argument respecting the proposal being made.
Members will be aware that the Speaker has authority to modify motions with respect to form. A good example of the utilization of this authority appears in today's Notice Paper. On November 26, 2003, members gave notice of 10 motions that began with a preamble introduced by the expression "That it is the opinion of this House that".
In each of those motions the final paragraph provided the distinct proposition for which the member was requesting the approval of the House. Those motions were easily brought into conformity with the rules by dropping the paragraphs carrying arguments respecting the proposition contained in the final paragraph. Members will note that is what has been done in respect to the motions on the Notice Paper of today's date, November 27, 2003.
Nine of the motions given notice today contain preambles. The Chair recognizes that the members who gave notice of motion today would have prepared the text of those motions prior to hearing the Speaker's statement.
The Chair, therefore, has given direction in respect to eight of those motions that the preamble be dropped and, along with needed editorial changes in two cases, the final paragraph be approved as the text of the motion to appear on the Notice Paper for Monday, December 1.
In one other instance, that being the motion of the Member for Kluane respecting a security release policy for Type II mine sites, the motion contained seven statements and then concluded with a paragraph stating "That this House urges the Yukon government to adopt the preceding items." The Chair found that it was not possible to modify the motion in the straightforward fashion used in respect to the other motions and, therefore, due to its irregularity, has given direction that it not be placed on the Notice Paper.
The Chair thanks all members for their attention.
The time being 6:00 p.m., the House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 6:03 p.m.