Tuesday, December 2, 2003 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call this House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker:We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) under the contract between the Department of Education, the University of Regina, and Yukon College an evaluation of the Yukon native teacher education program is required every five years;
(2) neither of the two evaluations of the YNTE program done in the 14 years since its inception has been acceptable to the parties; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to fund a competent and thorough evaluation of the YNTE program before deciding its future, including whether or not to open it up to non-First Nation students.
Mr. Hassard: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to improve training and upgrade the equipment of volunteer ambulance services in rural Yukon.
Speaker: Any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Psychological counselling for victim
Mr. Hardy: Yesterday I began a line of questioning on behalf of my constituent, the victim in this matter. The lack of answers caused a great deal of distress for her and also for the people who were in the gallery supporting her. Iíll try again though.
My question is for the Minister of Justice. And Iíll repeat that: it is for the Minister of Justice and not the Minister of Health and Social Services. On February 19, 2002, the Chief Judge of the Territorial Court released his reasons for sentence in the brutal rape case I raised in the House yesterday. The ministerís colleague, in a letter to me on November 21, said that his department and the Department of Justice have met to review the suggestions made by the judge.
I will ask the Minister of Justice the same question I put to her colleague yesterday. What specific steps has her department taken to address the nine recommendations the former Chief Judge made in his reasons for sentence?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I thank the member opposite for this question. It is a very serious matter. The matter that the member opposite speaks of indeed was a tragedy that happened well over two years ago. While the victim survived the assault, the trauma that came as a result has, in no doubt, changed her life in ways that I, and all of us, cannot even begin to comprehend.
There are a number of problems systemic in our society today, each of which require our governmentís attention as well as the attention of other previous governments over the number of years. As a government, it is our job to ensure that our laws are adhered to and that the appropriate policies and programs are in place to meet the needs of all Yukoners. In response to the memberís specific questions surrounding the recommendations that took place during the trial ó and with respect to Judge Stuartís recommendations, I should add ó I can report that an investigation did take place soon after the assault took place over two years ago, and the appropriate actions resulting from that investigation have been in the works. We always continue to strive to improve these.
Mr. Hardy: I didnít get an answer to the specific steps that have been taken in regard to the nine recommendations, but Iíll move on from that.
In his letter to me, the Justice ministerís colleague went on to say that the departments will continue to work to strengthen partnerships with each other and with other justice organizations. Mr. Speaker, that statement is as empty, hollow and meaningless as the ridiculous answers weíve been getting in this House. Itís an insult to this House, to the Yukon people and especially to my constituent, who endured the terror of this brutal episode.
Let me ask the Minister of Justice another question, and I put it to her colleague yesterday. Will the minister agree to pick up half the cost of the 20 additional therapy sessions my constituentís psychologist has recommended? It would cost her department a pittance, about $1,000. Will she do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This issue that is before the House today ó it is a very inappropriate place to deal with this individual who was victimized. In fact, all the official opposition is going to do as a consequence of this is revictimize this individual. Let me assure the House that a number of treatments have been specified for this individual, and the Department of Health and Social Services will incur whatever expenses are necessary after it has been determined by health care professionals what level of additional care this individual requires or needs. Whether it be counselling or care, the department will ensure that that level of care is provided.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I find that absolutely astounding that that minister would talk about my constituent and indicate that she is being revictimized without even talking to her ó that he would make this assumption, Mr. Speaker. When she was in the stands yesterday, when she directed me to ask these questions, she finds this liberating; she is finding this as assisting her in her situation ó and he would make this assumption on her part.
This government can find a few hundred thousand dollars, Mr. Speaker, to buy a house in the Justice ministerís riding that has a flooded basement. This minister, the Justice minister, has all the time in the world to rescue tow trucks from impounded yards, yet when it comes to helping an innocent victim get the help she needs, all we get is stonewalling and denial.
Speaker: Order. Would the member ask the question please.
Mr. Hardy: Will the minister stop hiding behind her bureaucracy, and the other minister, and start doing what is right for my constituent and other crime victims who need ongoing help. Will she do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, what the department is currently doing in conjunction with the Department of Justice is providing counselling to this individual. As I laid out earlier, the department is very concerned. Whatever this individual requires by way of counselling or additional assistance, the department will be providing that to this individual.
Mr. Speaker, I also offered the Member for Whitehorse Centre a full and complete briefing on this issue in order to take it out of this forum, because what is happening is that this individual will be revictimized as a consequence of this being all over the front pages of the press. Thatís not fair to this individual. What we have to look at is fair and reasonable treatment of this individual so that she can deal with the trauma that she was a victim of.
Question re: Psychological counselling for victim
Mr. Hardy:I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services, but let me just refer to that full and complete briefing he offered. He offered it if I would stop asking questions, when I said I had to ask these questions on behalf of my constituent. This is what she has directed me to do, but I would like that full and complete briefing ó he denied it then. He said, "There are only deals here."
I have a question for this minister. Shortly after my constituent was brutally assaulted in her own home on July 4, 2001, she was advised to seek help from the mental health services branch. When she did so, she was told she would be put on the end of a three-month waiting period. She then contacted a social worker with the ministerís department and was told the workerís supervisor might approve interim professional counselling and that she would have to provide three different price quotations.
Does the minister consider this an appropriate response to someone who has recently endured such a brutal and degrading assault?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: That we would deal with this matter on the floor of this Legislature is certainly appalling. Mr. Speaker, the individual in question was provided assistance ó 10 sessions with a local psychologist, and she hasnít concluded those sessions. Iím not going to make the determination of what additional assistance this individual needs. Itíll be done by the health care professionals. Thatís who will be doing it, and I can assure this House ó and specifically the member opposite ó the department will go the extra mile to ensure this individual, who was so brutally victimized, will be treated fairly and be provided with assistance in whatever form the health care professionals determine is necessary.
I canít make it more specific. What we donít want to do is revictimize this individual, Mr. Speaker. We want to assist and help this individual to the best possible level we can.
Mr. Hardy: Unbelievable ó unbelievable thumping over that.
This is a case where the minister wants to sweep violence against women under the rug once again, where it has been for many, many years. People have fought to bring it out in the open. This person ó my constituent ó wants it out in the open.
My constituent informed me that she eventually did receive an apology for the delay in getting her the help that she needed. She later did attend several sessions with the mental health services counsellor but found out that it was not meeting her needs and was only adding to her distress.
Because of the nature of the crime against her, my constituent did not feel able to work with the only psychiatrist serving the Yukon ó who was a male. What she needed and what she asked for was professional counselling specifically related to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Why did the ministerís department arbitrarily decide to reject the professional psychologistís advice that this woman should receive another 20 treatment sessions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: No one has rejected anything as far as treatment is concerned. What the member is doing is speculating about various forms of treatment for this individual in an area that he is probably as well-qualified as I am ó and Iím not qualified at all to make a determination regarding level of assistance. We have professionals who deal with those matters.
All that is being done here today on the floor of this House is an appalling display by the leader of the NDP caucus to re-victimize this individual. Shame.
Let the health professionals provide the assistance and care that this individual needs. She has gone through a very traumatic experience and she needs help. The department is providing that help and will continue to provide that help.
Mr. Hardy: This minister is not listening to what I am saying on this side of the House. Heís not listening to what my constituent is asking for. Once again, he's casting judgement on this.
Yesterday the minister blathered on about how well my constituent is being treated by this government. He also said that that the determination of the level of care that this individual needs is being determined by the medical profession ó the ministerís exact words, Mr. Speaker. Yet on October 11, the professional psychologist wrote to the ministerís department and to the Department of Justice recommending 20 more treatment sessions. The psychologist also stated that the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are becoming more ingrained and serious the longer they are left untreated. Will the minister now direct his department to take the advice of the medical professional and allow my constituent the ongoing treatment she needs? This is what she is asking for.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The ongoing treatment that the member opposite alleges that this individual is not receiving is totally and patently incorrect. There are two individuals providing care and dealing on a professional level with this individual, and if more assistance is needed, the department will provide more assistance to this individual.
Iím just very, very uncomfortable dealing with this matter out in the public forum because all it is going to serve to do is re-victimize this individual and I really donít think thatís in the best interest of this individual. Let the health care professionals address the needs of this individual. Allow them to do their work. Weíre here to support her. Weíre here to support the department in dealing with this matter, and if she needs more treatments, more treatments will be provided.
Question re: Versluce Meadows, subdividing of
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I asked the Minister of Environment and the MLA for Porter Creek North about a letter he wrote to the City of Whitehorse this summer, asking the city not to subdivide a property near his residence. The letter made representations about his own property and suggested some environmental concerns regarding the adjacent Versluce Meadows. The minister, when asked for this correspondence with the Conflicts Commissioner a month ago, said a number of things. He said the matter has been presented to and resolved by the Conflicts Commissioner. He said weíre still in some discussion with him on some collateral issues. He said the matter is well in hand. The matter has been discussed and ruled on by the Conflicts Commissioner, who sees no conflict. He said that thereís some ongoing correspondence, and he would certainly be happy to table it at that point.
The minister may have forgotten that he had publicly committed to releasing this exchange of correspondence with the Conflicts Commissioner over a month ago, but Yukoners have not. Will the minister now ó today ó release all correspondence, whether itís in progress or not, and any transcripts or notes taken during phone calls with the Conflicts Commissioner.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: When the member opposite refers to making comments about my property, she fails to note that it was to divulge the fact that I had property on that side. What she failed to note, of course, was the fact that it was on MLA letterhead and signed off as the MLA giving the address, so the origin of that was very much apparent to city council. So again, the member opposite continues to look at part of a story but sort of ignores the rest of the story.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, what the member opposite is failing to recognize is that thatís the whole problem: he wrote on his MLA letterhead. I have asked for this correspondence with the Conflicts Commissioner. I asked that he provide the "all-clear" from the Conflicts Commissioner. He committed to doing so in the House, and he has failed to do so. Will the minister now ó today ó he publicly committed to doing it ó release his exchange of correspondence with the Conflicts Commissioner on this issue? Will he release the information?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: As the member so graciously has joined in the Porter Creek Community Association in trying to retain the character of the Versluce Meadows ó something that she seems to find fault with my doing but she does appear to attend meetings and support that initiative.
The Meadows has a very unique characteristic for people in Porter Creek South, Porter Creek Centre, and Porter Creek North. The fact that Porter Creek residents also attend those meetings and have also contacted me concerning the preservation of those meadows, and utilize those meadows ó it is very much a Porter Creek North issue.
Ms. Duncan: The facts are the MLA for Porter Creek North raised with the City of Whitehorse issues around the subdivision near his property. He wrote on MLA letterhead. I asked and he publicly committed to deal with the Conflicts Commissioner on that inappropriate action. He said that he would publicly release it. He has not done so.
I am glad, however, that he brought up the issue of the adjacent Versluce Meadows. It is owned by the Government of Yukon, and it is leased for light industrial use. The lease expires in 2005. The other member for Porter Creek, who has responsibility once the lease expires, has gone to the Porter Creek Community Association and said, "Letís make this a park." The Member for Porter Creek North also said publicly in the meeting that the Member for Porter Creek North has a conflict in this area. The Member for Porter Creek North will not ó
Speaker: Order please. Will the member please ask the question?
Ms. Duncan: Yes, I will ask the question. Will the minister, the Member for Porter Creek North, finally release his correspondence with the Conflicts Commissioner?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Certainly when that correspondence is complete, it will be put out there. It should be noted also ó again a fact that the member opposite refuses to acknowledge ó the fact that the Member for Porter Creek Centre, whose riding that was in at the time of the subdivision, was out of the country ó or at least out of the territory. Therefore, at the advice of city employees, it was necessary to get a letter in right away ó and with full divulgence of that.
But what this avoids is some of the real questions that Yukoners have to think about. For instance, when I applied for a government passport to travel on government business, I am told that the former Minister of Environment ó 13 months after the election ó had still retained his passport. Now, I still have to ask: didnít he notice that there was an election? Are there other passports out there? Did he use the passport? More importantly, why didnít the leader of the Liberal Party look after this simple housekeeping and leave one of her own Cabinet ministers out to dry?
I think that is of more importance to Yukoners today.
Question re: White River First Nation aboriginal rights and title
Mr. McRobb:I think I hear a shuffle coming.
Speaker:Order please. It is inappropriate to comment on previous questions.
Please ask your question.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, but I believe that I was not commenting on a previous question.
Speaker:Order please. Order.
Please respect the rulings of the Chair. It is not open for debate. The Chair made a ruling; I would ask that the member respect it.
Carry on with your question, please.
Mr. McRobb: I was starting afresh from what I heard.
I have a constituency question for the Premier. On November 24, the Chief and Council of the White River First Nation wrote to both the federal and territorial governments with concerns about infringements on their aboriginal rights and title. I will send over a copy of the letter to him as well as table a copy.
What has the Premier done to straighten out this serious situation since he received that letter?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, we have received the letter. Itís certainly being looked into. The government is not aware of infringements in this case. What we are aware of is that weíre proceeding through the MOU process that was signed by White River, the federal government and the Yukon territorial government. They are in the ratification process, which would conclude a land claim for the White River First Nation. I would certainly like to hear from the First Nation on specifics of such infringements, if there are any, and we would open up discussions with the First Nation on that matter.
But I think itís important to recognize that we also must follow due process when we do something in any traditional territory, in terms of the consultation process that we are obligated to undertake. So in this case, without knowing what the infringements are, itís fairly difficult to comment on how to deal with them.
Mr. McRobb: I wonder what the Premier heard when he met with the White River First Nation, which I believe was just a few days before this letter was penned. So obviously the Premier is not listening to their concerns.
Well, he makes much of this governmentís relationships with First Nations. He even appointed a $200,000-a-year consultant to develop those relationships, yet a First Nation in my riding is clearly not very happy. Let me quote from the letter, "Your bureaucrats have failed to consult with and accommodate us in respect of our existing aboriginal rights and entitlement when considering applications for mining explorations, water, road construction, oil and gas pipelines and other land resource uses and so forth."
Can the Premier tell us if and when his gold-plated consultant last met with the Chief and Council of the White River First Nation?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In the first place, the consultant we have hired has specific duties in formalizing our government-to-government relationships and working on full economic partnerships. The issue of aboriginal rights, titles and interests being referred to here could go back a long way. The Alaska Highway, for example, has been there a long time. The corridor for the pipeline is entrenched. Itís third-party interest protected.
Without knowing what specific issues are to be addressed here itís very difficult to comment but, in my meeting with the White River First Nation, we talked openly about pursuing and proceeding with the ratification process, allowing their citizens to make the decision and pass judgement on the claim before them. We talked openly about the willingness of the government to pursue the extra 50 square miles of land base for the White River First Nation. We talked openly about how we can assist in the community in stimulating some development, not only for the First Nation but for the community of Beaver Creek. In fact, it was a very positive meeting. The member opposite, in trying to make political hay here, is not putting on the floor of the Legislature specific infringements and I think thatís a requirement.
Mr. McRobb: There is no requirement other than the Premier reaching out and discussing matters with the First Nation, especially when he just met with the First Nation a few days before this letter was authored. White River has clearly spelled out what steps that it expects this government to follow in the future. "We require that in the future youíd notify us and provide us with a package of all relevant information pertinent to an application for tenure and use of any land or resource within our territory. We will then set a date for a meeting in which to enter into meaningful negotiations regarding accommodation of our rights and compensation where we deem applicable."
Has the Premier given his ministers and deputy ministers clear directions to proceed in the manner set out by the chief and council in this letter and, if not, why not?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, right now the focus by the First Nation and, of course, governments is the memorandum of understanding ratification process. Should that not be successful and the citizens of the White River First Nation decide that they do not want to accept the land claim, then we as a government, along with the federal government, which has the fiduciary responsibility, must deal with the White River First Nation as an Indian Act band. I also stated at my recent meeting with the First Nation, should that be the case, our government would be very interested in sitting down and negotiating a bilateral agreement with another Indian Act band in the Yukon, as we have with the Kaska Nation, which has no land claim and no mandate to negotiate one. But this is up to the citizens of White River. If they ratify their land claim, then they have a final agreement and a self-government agreement that clearly spells out how we the government must conduct ourselves with another order of government here in the territory ó in this case, the White River First Nation.
Question re: ANWR, oil and gas exploration
Mrs. Peter:Mr. Speaker, my question today is for the Premier. Yesterday, during his address to the local Chamber of Commerce, the Governor of Alaska made some interesting statements regarding the Gwichin people and the oil and gas development on Alaskaís North Slope.
For the record, Mr. Speaker, these are his words: "I would encourage the Gwichins to go and visit the area, particularly to see the benefits that the Prudhoe Bayís development has provided the Eskimo people up in Barrow and other areas, and unfortunately the environmental community has used its influence to ensure that the Gwichin people not visit the area." Does the Premier agree with the Governor of Alaskaís statements about the Gwichin people being influenced in such a way by the environmental community?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think the important fact here is what the Yukon governmentís position is when it comes to the issue of the Gwichin people and the Porcupine caribou herd and the protection of the critical habitat. Our position is clear: it has been public; in fact, it was stated yesterday right in front of the Governor of Alaska. The Yukon government will continue to support the Gwichin people in their efforts to protect the Porcupine caribou herd, as past governments have. We will do this as requested by a government, the Vuntut Gwitchin government, that they be the lead agency, that they take the lead on this matter. We are there to support and assist; we will not deviate from that commitment, regardless of what a Governor of the State of Alaska says.
Mrs. Peter: I was pleased to note that the Premier made it clear to Governor Murkowski that Yukon people do not support oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This is not the issue. The issue is that the governor made statements on Yukon soil about the Gwichin people that many people found insulting. The Grand Chief of CYFN took immediate steps to distance himself from the Governor of Alaskaís position.
As MLA for the Gwichin riding in the Yukon, I appreciated that. Will the Premier now undertake, Mr. Speaker, to convey politely to the governor that his public comments about the Gwichin people were not appreciated?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I will state this, that I will convey to the government exactly what I did yesterday publicly, that we will continue to support the Gwichin people in their efforts to protect the Porcupine caribou herd.
In regard to the governorís statements, itís another level of state. This is the government of the State of Alaska. They have particular views. I do not, nor does this government, always share the same views, but I can tell you that we will maintain our position. Itís a consistent position, and itís one of support, along with the Gwichin people, to protect that herd.
The State of Alaska may have different views, but they are also a different jurisdiction. In the Yukonís case, nothing has changed.
Mrs. Peter: The governor was here as the Premierís guest. Certainly the Premier canít be held accountable for the governorís attitudes, which are quite well-known. However, the Premier could help to address some of the concerns that this has caused for people.
Will the Premier undertake to write a letter to Chief and Council of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, making it clear that this government does not hold the same views as the governor about the relationship between the Gwichin people and the environmental community?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have made it clear by stating publicly yesterday with the governor here and present, by stating it publicly in an oil and gas forum in Calgary, by stating it publicly to the government of the Vuntut Gwitchin, by working with the Premier of the Northwest Territories to collaborate on support for the Gwichin people. Nothing could be more public. Nothing could be more supportive. Nothing could be more clear on this governmentís position when it comes to the Porcupine caribou herd and the Gwichin people.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of opposition private membersí business
Mr. McRobb:Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the official opposition to be called on Wednesday, December 3, 2003. They are Motion No. 105, standing in the name of the Member for Whitehorse Centre, and ó for the first time ever in this House, I believe ó Motion No. 15, which is a motion for the production of papers, standing in the name of the Member for Kluane.
Ms. Duncan: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the item standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, December 3, 2003. It is Motion for the Production of Papers No. 18.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
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.
Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, and general debate.
Bill No. 36 ó Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act ó continued
Hon. Mr. Fentie:As we were debating yesterday on the Taxpayer Protection Act amendments, we were discussing the issues around what it is exactly that is going to be required here, and the member of the third party is interested in the format, what are the liabilities and the assets that would be booked. I must point out that this will not come into force and effect until April 1, 2004. There are a number of options for format that we will be critiquing and making a decision on ó which is going to be the best for presenting the budget and the financial picture for Yukon? Also, though we have approximations on assets, itís still a work-in-progress and so are the exact liabilities.
These values must be determined. There are many months of work ahead of us. This is just the first step. We also will be coming forward to the public with a public/private partnership consultative process on policy as one other element of what we intend to proceed with, and of course ensuring that, as sound fiscal managers, the public will clearly understand that what we are doing is not, in any way, shape or form, going to create any problems fiscally. In fact, quite the contrary. It will remove this issue where past governments had circumvented the Taxpayer Protection Act in many forms, by even putting this territory into debt, Mr. Chair ó a debt that does not show on the financial statements released to the public, a debt that is clearly a huge one: some $15 million of the immigrant investor fund, a huge $6-million rental/lease agreement by the third party when in government.
In total, youíre looking at $21 million of debt committed to by past governments, committing the taxpayer to that debt by past governments. So we are taking the steps to clearly and correctly show the true financial picture of the Yukon with this amendment and also provide more options for us to partner with other governments and the private sector to increase the spending power in the territory by private sector investment.
Ms. Duncan: Iím pleased to rise in general debate to address this issue of the Taxpayer Protection Act. When we closed debate on this last evening, the Finance minister made quite a lengthy series of remarks about the Taxpayer Protection Act and what it would mean to Yukoners and the behaviour of previous governments. Iíd like to address some of that ó first of all, what the Taxpayer Protection Act amendments are all about. The Yukon Party has said and implied in their media releases that the Auditor General and some chief accountants somewhere are dictating that the territory must amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, and thatís not the case.
The recommendation of the Auditor General and the Public Sector Accounting Board is that the government move to full accrual accounting ó the capitalization of assets. The Finance minister and I agreed that there was no requirement to change the Taxpayer Protection Act; thereís a requirement to move to this type of accounting. Previous governments of Yukon have worked very hard on this and our assets are fairly well-accounted for, with the exception of bridges, highways and airstrips. We know that there are approximately $300 million in assets.
The recommendation has also been made, and is slowly but surely coming to agreement across the country, that we also start to record our environment liabilities. The Finance minister canít tell us what that side of the ledger ó even an approximation ó is going to show. Yet this is coming into force April 1, 2004. We should be seeing both sides of the equation. We have not.
The minister stood on his feet a moment ago and said that previous governments have circumvented the Taxpayer Protection Act. I disagree with him. The amount owing on a previous public/private partnership entered into by a government of which he was a part ó namely the Connect Yukon project óhas clearly shown in the long-term financial plans of other governments. It has been clearly stated that this is the amount due and to be paid.
With respect to the rental agreement previously entered into by our previous government, I would caution the Finance minister if heís going to decry and suggest that expenditure shouldnít have been made, where was he when the previous government entered into a very similar arrangement for the Health and Social Services buildings? The fact is the Government of Yukon does not own, but leases, many buildings in Whitehorse and will not own them at the end of those leases. Itís very true.
Not only that, but is the member suggesting that a previous government ó which entered into such a lease arrangement entirely on the fair-bid system, entirely within Management Board guidelines ó should not have done so? I beg to differ. It has been a long-standing practice, and it is much supported by the private sector as well. Is the Minister of Finance saying that the new Government of Yukon ó supposedly the party of private business ó is going to get out of all lease arrangements with the private sector on all government buildings in Whitehorse? I think not.
Those leases are entirely within Management Board guidelines and so was the lease for the one-stop shop.
And to suggest it was done with anything less than entirely within Management Board guidelines is quite incorrect and must not be allowed to stand on the record. With respect to the Taxpayer Protection Act, the government says that the Taxpayer Protection Act amendments are benign. Itís not going to change anything. What it changes is, in the very simplest of terms ó it is moving the goalposts. Previously the Government of Yukon showed the deficit ó and we can get into a discussion, and we will later this afternoon about the Finance ministerís commitment to a balanced budget. But it showed the deficit for the year and the amount remaining in surplus. Thatís what Yukoners used to see. With this benign amendment, what Yukoners are going to see is a substantially enhanced surplus. He has moved the goalposts.
The Finance minister often says, "Well, weíve removed the punitive measures." Theyíve removed the protection, the measure that said to call an election when you trip the wire of an accumulated deficit. He has changed the goalposts. Members on this side ó I speak for myself at this point and I have spoken yesterday in support of the members of the NDP caucus on a motion that said, "Bring forward the witnesses, prove your case." Members of the public are deeply concerned about this act, deeply concerned about the amendments that the Yukon Party is suggesting are benign, which we on this side believe are not benign. They are taking the protection out of the Taxpayer Protection Act and Yukoners are deeply concerned.
The government was presented with an opportunity. People want to see their politicians hard at work. They want to see them asking reasonable questions, and they want to see those reasonable questions answered. "Letís call in the experts" was the motion; letís call in people who have spoken on this. And the Member for Klondike referred to that suggestion as worthless. Mr. Chair, Iím concerned about that. I donít believe that the opinions of the esteemed public servants, the former politicians, the Auditor General or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation are worthless. I believe they mean a lot to the people of the Yukon, and I believe we should have had an opportunity to hear from them. We have not. The government has refused that.
There are a number of issues with regard to the Taxpayer Protection Act amendments. As Iíve stated, they are not required by this move to full accrual accounting. They are not benign. What they do is move the goalposts. We are now going to look at a substantially enhanced surplus; and I also believe, and members opposite believe, the government intends to spend down that surplus ó spend it down significantly ó but because theyíve changed the Taxpayer Protection Act, where it would have triggered an election, now it will not. Those amendments are not benign.
There has been much discussion about the argument that the government presents that this will free up the economy; this will stimulate the economy, it will enhance private sector investment. Amazingly enough when they were on this side of the House, they said ó and what the business community said over and over ó was that what would stimulate the economy and attract investment to the territory was certainty.
Certainty comes with devolution. It comes with settled land claim agreements. This government has operated in reaching special arrangements outside of the land claim agreement, and they are now, by changing the act, going to be acting without the protection of the Taxpayer Protection Act. Taxpayers will not have that protection.
There was a discussion that public/private partnerships are the answer. The minister has said, "Well, previous governments have looked at this, so it must be the answer." Well, there are a number of points that the Minister of Finance hasnít made with respect to the previous governmentís work on public/private partnerships. Number one, it has been done before within the Taxpayer Protection Act. Connect Yukon, which was done when the current Finance minister was a member of the NDP government ó he now seems to be against it, although he supported it at the time. The fact is Connect Yukon is a public/private partnership. It has enhanced the infrastructure in this territory. It was done without triggering the Taxpayer Protection Act. It achieved the end result. Although it may not be the way that other governments would have subsequently negotiated, it was a good thing for the Yukon.
The film and video industry ó the purchase of light and grip equipment was a public/private partnership entered into by our government. It worked.
No, the Government of Yukon wonít own the equipment at the end. It will be owned by the industry. It works. Itís a public/private partnership that works.
Leasing buildings ó it has worked for a very long time, in particular in the City of Whitehorse, but it has also worked elsewhere in the territory.
We donít always have to own the asset at the end. It isnít necessarily the way to go.
The point about public/private partnerships and the point that has been made to every single government in the analysis that they do on them ó and I am not just referring to the Yukon government, but every government outside of the government as well ó is that P3s need very, very, very careful analysis.
Other Finance ministers and I have had several discussions about the public/private partnerships and some of the successes across the country and some of the failures. The new highway in Ontario is not a stellar success. The Nova Scotia schools are not proving to be a stellar success ó the Confederation Bridge.
There are those who are saying that, yes, public/private partnerships work, and no, they donít. The point is that if any government is to enter into public/private partnerships, they deserve very full, thorough, careful consideration by the public, and a thorough debate on the floor of this Legislature.
Unfortunately, we have seen commitment after commitment after commitment broken by the government, including a commitment that there would be public consultation on legislation that is proposed and of a concern. The amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act, which we are speaking about today are a very clear example of where the government has not engaged in public consultation on this issue. There has not been a thorough and full consideration and a public discussion with the proposed legislation.
We have enabled there to be some discussion on the floor of this House, but a full public discussion with experts in attendance outside of government who can speak to the legislation, government wonít allow it, although they committed to full public consultation.
The government also committed in their election platform to maintaining the Taxpayer Protection Act. Theyíre taking the teeth out of it. Interestingly enough, the Finance minister committed on April 8, 2003, on the floor of this Legislature, that he would not be changing the Taxpayer Protection Act and yet he has done so. He also committed that the government would reach a balanced budget in 2005-06 and I would like to ask him about the commitment in a moment.
The issue for Yukoners who have listened to their politicians engage in debate on this, who have read many articles in the newspapers about it and have listened to the other media interviews, the radio interviews ó the issue for the public is: why are we doing this? Weíve established that the Auditor General is not recommending changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act, and the government says that the changes are benign but theyíre doing them to entice private investment. The changes are not benign because what the government is doing with this amendment is they are moving the goalposts. The surplus will now show differently and the protection that is an election call when there is an accumulated deficit ó how are you going to show an accumulated deficit when youíve changed the surplus to being $300 million plus.
The government has been asked to hear from witnesses. And Iíve asked the Finance minister why in particular a former leader of his party has come out very strongly indicating that he is opposed to these changes.
There is a way that the government could do this, and the government has refused to answer those questions ó refused to engage in that full and public debate. If these amendments are so benign, what is the government truly avoiding with a full public discussion?
The other issue is, is there another way for the government to do this full accrual accounting and still live within the Taxpayer Protection Act and not bring forward the amendments? Yes, there is, and previous governments had contemplated it. The way to do that is to keep two sets of books, to show the capitalization of the assets as has been suggested, but also to maintain the discipline of the Taxpayer Protection Act and live within our means, live within that surplus, continue to show that to Yukoners. Donít remove the protection of the Taxpayer Protection Act; donít remove that discipline that many previous governments have lived within.
Thereís a way to do that, but the government is refusing. The other argument theyíre putting forward is that it will attract investment in these public/private partnerships. Other governments have done public/private partnerships and attracted investment and lived within the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Buying that lighting and grip equipment was a request to work with the film and video industry. It worked well, and it has worked and it has generated work for Yukoners. Our film and video industry is a strong and growing element of our economy. Many Yukoners got work this winter in Dawson City ó many young people ó in filming the hockey commercials for Home Depot.
Being able to have that equipment here was a public/private partnership that worked. It was done within the Taxpayer Protection Act, and it worked. We didnít need to change the act to attract that investment, to grow that industry, as the industry requested it grow.
Another discussion that Iíve had at length with the Finance minister is about debt and deficit and the differences between the two ó the amount of debt that we actually have in the territory, and whether or not the government, which has said that getting in the loans business is a bad idea and weíll continue with the very worthwhile policy objectives of the Yukon Housing Corporation, which also loans money and qualifies people for mortgages, and we carry a substantial amount of debt. The Premier has said yes, they will continue with that. I was pleased to hear that.
The other discussion we got into ó just to refresh the Finance ministerís memory on this ó was in respect to the discussion around debt. The Premier has stated over and over again that the amount of debt of the territory is controlled by an order-in-council of the Government of Canada. That is well known. It is also well known that our colleagues and neighbours to the east in the Northwest TerritoriesÖ
Chair: The member has two minutes.
Ms. Duncan: Ö are continually asking the Government of Canada to increase their level of debt. The Premier went on at great length. I believe that he committed that he would not, as Finance minister ó or any Finance minister of this government ó be seeking an increase to the limit on our debt that is imposed by the Government of Canada.
I would just like for the Finance minister, when he gets on his feet, to address two points. Will he again commit on the floor of this House that the Yukon Party government will not seek an increase to the order-in-council that limits the amount of debt the territory can hold? And will he, on the subject of public/private partnership, commit that any public/private partnership discussion entered into by the Government of Yukon, will be subjected to an independent board for analysis prior to it being engaged in by the Government of Yukon? Will he commit to those two things?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair. The member has made a number of statements, some of them obviously very constructive that certainly bear merit; others, though, questionable. I want to begin by saying that I find it of concern how quickly the leader of the third party dismisses the experts within the Yukon governmentís Department of Finance, considering the detailed and full briefing provided the opposition by experts, by officials who have to live within the confines of their professional obligations. Certainly that warrants some mention.
When the member opposite makes the claim that there was no information, no expertise, no ability for the opposition to understand what the amendments were all about, I beg to differ. A tremendous amount of effort from experts was provided the members opposite, so we can only come to one conclusion, given the fact that the members opposite never did support the Taxpayer Protection Act ó period. Regardless of what it looked like, what it was doing, they never supported it, never supported it at all. Now, suddenly, they take great issue with an amendment that removes the restrictive areas of the Taxpayer Protection Act, which allows government to fully benefit from a full accrual accounting system.
So I would hope that the member opposite doesnít have that low an opinion of our officials in the Department of Finance, because that is of concern, and I think itís important that the member make sure that, when relaying to the public the position of the third party, it should include the fact that the expertise was provided in a very detailed accounting and briefing of the amendments presented to the opposition, which surely should give them ample material, should have informed them to the point where a debate could have taken place versus some political manoeuvring.
However, we will continue on with due process as the days go by, with some $95.5 million left to debate in a supplementary budget, with millions toward job creation in the territory, and millions more injected into our social fabric.
The member also makes the statement that past governments lived within the Taxpayer Protection Act. No, thatís incorrect. Past governments did not live within the Taxpayer Protection Act. They found many ways to work outside of it. They did not ó and this member opposite who was just on her feet ó live within the Taxpayer Protection Act and, furthermore, did not report the correct liabilities, and that is why, as a Finance minister, the books produced by the member opposite received a qualified audited statement, because the member, in not living within the Taxpayer Protection Act, was capping and uncapping the post-employment benefits of our employees. That is why the top accountant in the land qualified the books for the Yukon Territory. It was a qualified audit, Mr. Chair. I find that of concern, also, that the member would put on the public record those kinds of statements when the Auditor General was clearly not happy and clearly disgruntled with how the Yukon Territory was presenting its financial accounting.
As far as public/private partnerships, I find, with interest, how a public/private partnership in the memberís mind is one that produces a project where the taxpayer ó at the end of it all, after millions are expended by the taxpayer ó would not even own the project. It does have a problem in that type of thinking.
One would question the fiscal management area of the member opposite in terms of how that focus is brought to bear when it comes to sound fiscal management, because it only stands to reason that if youíre going to enter into a public/private partnership, one of the values that you should be determining is ownership at the end, so that the taxpayer has something at the end of it all.
Then we look at the memberís comparison to a 10-year lease of the highest rent known ó at least in my time in terms of what the taxpayer is paying for a rental arrangement. Itís for 10 years and the taxpayer ó we ó will not own the facility at the end of the 10 years. Itís probably double the cost of the building itself. The building may have cost somewhere over $3 million. Weíll be paying somewhere over $6 million just in rent and wonít own it. Then the member makes comparisons to Health and Social Services buildings. Well, frankly, Mr. Chair, those rental agreements were much lower in their cost per monthly or yearly rent, and they were only for three to five years. Quite a difference. The member opposite has made arguments on the public record that certainly bear some scrutiny by the public. I donít want to spend great amounts of time here exposing all those errors and all those statements that are incorrect; I just merely want to allude to them so that the public may want to delve into them themselves at some point.
On public/private partnerships, Mr. Chair, our approach will be one of engaging the public and First Nation governments and municipalities on a public/private partnership policy to ensure that the business case ó when we proceed with any project with this type of mechanism ó can be made and that itís solid, to ensure that the policy that we proceed with is in the best interest of the Yukon taxpayer. What we want to achieve is a cooperative venture between the public and the private sectors, built on the expertise of each partner, which is important.
That expertise is clearly something that we require in the Yukon. Capacity ó we need to build capacity in the Yukon that best meets the clearly defined public needs, which is why we are going out on a very stringent and detailed consultative process on this policy. Those needs are met through the appropriate allocation of resources, not setting up numbered companies off the balance sheet, not doing all kinds of wonderful wrinkles that deal with expenditure of taxpayersí money and, of course, the return to the taxpayer is critical.
All these things are work to be done. The amendment here is merely the first step in establishing a change in how the Yukon government will be operating in the future. That change is toward partnerships with the private sector. That change will result in our ability to build infrastructure in this territory that will promote, in many cases, responsible and sustainable development in the Yukon. The infrastructure is critical to putting in place the foundation, the building blocks, for economic development in the Yukon. Bringing in that private sector expertise and capacity is critical to helping to grow our economy further.
These are not sinister things by any stretch of the imagination. They are not even political. They are fairly easy to determine. They are based on arithmetic. The sole purpose here is to improve the situation that the Yukon Territory is in and diminish that dependence on government. The dependence on government has shown clearly that that is creating a problem in this territory. We are shrinking, yet government costs and expenses go up. The territory shrinks. That shouldnít be too difficult to understand. The shrinkage is in the private sector. That is a serious problem.
We are making moves here to change that, turn it around, and get the private sector back into the territory, and instead of shrinking, growing.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there are a number of points which were just made in the Finance ministerís response. I would like to start with the first point, the public employees leave liability account. He has several times now chided for capping and uncapping, namely our government. Will he commit on the floor of this House today ó although we have seen what has happened to previous commitments ó that he will never cap the leave liability account, as long as he is in government? Will he commit that and state that, unequivocally on the floor of this House, that he will not cap the leave liability account?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am crushed, Mr. Chair. The member opposite is questioning my integrity. The member opposite actually implies that this government has broken commitments. That is an outrage, considering that we have never broken a commitment.
In fact, we have delivered, in one short year, on a number of commitments, unlike the member opposite who launched the Yukon Territoryís ship with no rudder, and we crashed on the rocks in two and a half years ó the rocks of desperation, and we have turned that situation around. I am hurt, and I am devastated that the member opposite would question our integrity. However, with full accrual accounting, to get to the memberís question, we have to book the liability, the true, correct liability.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím truly saddened that the minister did not answer my question. Iíve tried so hard and asked him so nicely if he would please just make that straightforward commitment on the floor of the House. And it is not an issue around recording capitalization of assets. I understand the liabilities. He has not yet stated what the environmental liabilities, for example, are.
But we have just also transferred ó and, thankfully, many have come over from the federal government to work for the Government of Yukon. And our employee leave liability account stands to be enhanced even further after an actuarial valuation with the addition of these employees. He has committed already to actuarial evaluations; and with the budget figures, the leave liability account will now be in excess of $42 million. This is a liability of which $3 million is only paid out every year. That is the most that has been paid out, according to the figures. Now, maybe officials can stand to correct me, but my understanding from those same officials in this full and thorough briefing indicated that thatís the most that has ever been paid out.
So will the minister say ó in all seriousness, will he stand on the floor and say ó that, as Finance minister or the government, the Yukon Party government, will not, during their term in office, however long we have to endure it, cap the leave liability account? He will not cap the leave liability account ó thatís what I want him to say on the floor of the House. Will he say it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Iím prone to say a lot of things on the floor of the House, Mr. Chair, so let me begin. The member opposite is making an argument that because we only pay out on an annual basis ó and Iíll use the memberís number of $3 million for the post-employee benefits ó that means the rest of it isnít a liability?
The memberís argument is incorrect and ó Iíll rest my case here, Mr. Chair ó that is why we get qualified audits in capping the liability. When we cap the post-employment benefit liability, we get qualified, because itís not following standard, correct and acceptable accounting procedures ó period.
So the answer to the memberís question is, "Read the amendment." The amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act removes that problem of continuing to get qualified audits. We are now legally bound to fully accrue the liabilities for the Yukon Territory, which means that we will not be capping and uncapping the liability, because we canít.
Ms. Duncan: Will the Finance minister go even further and state that, under his watch ó because he likes to use that word ó the Government of Yukon will never receive a qualified audit?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Now weíre getting silly, Mr. Chair. I canít stand here on the floor of the Legislature and say that. In the massive amount of bookkeeping done by the Yukon government, once the Auditor Generalís office has done their work, they may find something that does not fit within the definition of "standard accounting procedures" as they see it, and we may then get a qualified statement.
I certainly canít stand on the floor and prejudge today what the Auditor Generalís office may do tomorrow or years from now. To prejudge the Auditor Generalís findings would not be prudent of me ó not at all.
Weíre certainly, though, after consultation with the Auditor General, taking the steps to solve what is a serious problem in the Auditor Generalís mind of how we do our bookkeeping. Weíve solved that with this amendment.
Ms. Duncan: The argument that the Finance minister has made is that, "Oh my goodness; the previous governments were absolutely terrible. They were awful. They capped and uncapped the leave liability account and, oh my goodness, weíve got a qualified statement and this is just awful." The notification of whether or not a statement is going to be qualified is well known to Management Board, well known to Finance; itís a conscious decision to the Finance minister ó itís a conscious decision. Itís an understood, whatís coming, so itís not a surprise. But the Finance minister has said, "Not us; we wonít cap or uncap the leave liability account, because thatís what qualified the statements."
So make the next logical leap ó commit on the floor of the House then that the Finance minister, the Yukon Party government, wonít get qualified statements. Because, Mr. Chair, it happened before. The statements were qualified in 1994, because the Yukon Party government overexpended a vote by $1.7 million, and the government made two loans without the authority of an act. Qualified audited statements have happened before, non-qualified audited statements saying they were perfect have also happened before, under our watch as well as the qualification.
For the minister to say, "Well, we have to make this change because we donít want a qualified audited statement" and yet will not make the commitment that he will never bring forward a qualified audited statement ó his arguments donít hold water. He has no reason for making these changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act. He doesnít have the strength of argument, and he doesnít have the strength of political persuasion, because he wonít allow full and thorough debate on the subject with the experts. And that is not decrying the experts or saying anything against the officials in the Department of Finance who are employees of the government.
We are talking about individuals ó one of whom is still an employee of the government, who has not been able to speak in this particular forum because that minister wonít let him speak. He wonít let Yukoners ask questions. Why not? Why not?
In the openness and accountability and the suggestion that we improve decorum in this Legislature, that we work with the opposition, that we work with good ideas wherever they come ó not unless they happen to be the Yukon Partyís good ideas.
The minister will not make the commitment that he will never bring forward a qualified audit. He wonít make the commitment that they may cap the leave liability account.
I would like to move on to the issues around public/private partnerships. I know that the leader of the official opposition wants to enter into this discussion as well.
Public/private partnerships ó there are some, at least 12 different types of public/private partnerships. They talk about value for money. They talk about the protection of public interest. These are two considerations that have to be made.
Now, the Finance minister talks about the private sector. Thatís who owns the Health and Social Services building. Thatís who owns the Burns Road building. Thatís who owns the building where Energy, Mines and Resources used to be located, and are in part, and health services are located. That just names three in the City of Whitehorse ó there are many outside ó where we will not at the end of our lease arrangements own the building, where we will not own the assets, where we have stimulated the private sector, which has made substantial investments in these buildings and will continue to do so. There are arguments for both sides. There are arguments for leasing property. There are arguments for owning buildings in the market, and the fair market and fair tendering process determines the rent.
I have asked before ó and Iíd like a clear statement from the minister. In the examination of public/private partnerships by the Government of Yukon, what process do they intend to use for examining those public/private partnerships? He has said publicly that P3s will not be used for health care buildings, for the jail ó the Whitehorse Correctional Centre ó or for schools. Will he say again for the public record of Hansard and of this Legislature: what does he intend to use the public/private partnerships for, and by what process will the Government of Yukon engage in a public/private partnership? By what process? Will it be a tender? Will there be a public debate? Will he consent ó and another constructive idea, not just from the opposition benches but employed by other governments, such as the Government of Alberta. Will he submit the examination of any public/private partnership to an independent board for full analysis?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, in the first place, I want to point out that Iím not here to argue at all with the member opposite. That being the case, we certainly wouldnít do it here. We could go somewhere else and argue, because Iím sure the member argues quite a bit. It appears the member is very practised at it.
Iím here to debate what we have done as a government in amending the Taxpayer Protection Act. Weíve stated countless times now why weíre doing it. Weíve stated countless times what it does. Iíve also stated ó and Iíll correct the member opposite ó that we would not use public/private partnerships for jails, hospitals or schools ó jails, hospitals or schools. Thatís what we said.
Beyond that, the member is asking a question Iíve already answered. I said we will go forward with a process to determine what policy will be used for public/private partnerships. What is the government going to do in proceeding with that particular mechanism? Thatís the work that has yet to be done: what format the budget will take on and all those things. This is something that we are working on.
The member may want an answer today, but thatís unfortunate because the member wonít get an answer today. Weíre going to allow the public to participate in that answer, something the member opposite doesnít really understand, as was evidenced in recent history.
However, Mr. Chair, I think whatís at stake here is the oppositionís ability to debate the $95.5 million of expenditure in the budget. They seem to feel that this is their issue, though they have a serious problem, considering that they never supported in the first place ó and they probably still donít ó the Taxpayer Protection Act at all. Unless they have come up with some rationale for what has changed their position ó we donít know that, but they do have a problem. So all the debate, as it rages on, relates to what? What is the purpose? What are we getting out of this, really? The members say they need experts to come in and bear witness when we provided them as much expertise as you could possibly provide them and, I think, gave them every bit of detail necessary to have an informed debate.
If we read Hansard, we can see that much of the debate is not informed or constructive at all ó in fact, far from it. Considering the detail that was provided them in the briefing, they havenít even touched on that.
We have a long list of questions ó of matters that they brought up in the briefing ó that certainly havenít materialized here on the floor of the House. So we will continue on with the debate, at the membersí choice. We have presented the business of the House within the confines of the rules of this House, and we are here prepared to debate it on behalf of the public. The rest is up to the members opposite to manage their time.
Ms. Duncan: The member opposite has suggested that the opposition has an inability to debate the $95-million supplementary budget. I would just remind the Finance minister ó in his previous experience as a House leader, he will recognize that the order for debate by the government is determined by the government House leader. The government House leader has steadfastly refused to call that for debate. Thatís not an inability of the opposition; itís an inability of the government House leader.
But we have asked for change there before and that performance evaluation just doesnít seem to hit home with the Finance minister ó speaking of inability to listen to the public.
The other suggestion is that the Finance minister has said that any debate coming from this side of the House is not informed, not constructive. His House leader used the term "worthless". Well, the questions I asked in the briefing by officials were questions around format. The minister has steadfastly refused to answer them. There were questions around environmental liability; the Finance minister refuses to answer them. There was a question around how much will be the capitalization of assets. The Finance minister did answer that question.
What the Finance minister refuses to hear or recognize is that there are other individuals who could also provide expert assistance, who do not have to speak in support of their employer. They have the ability, given precedence; they have the ability, given their stature and knowledge, to speak on this particular issue.
The Finance minister has so little belief in his bill and his governmentís ability that he refuses to let us hear from them.
The minister has not answered the question. He said that in public/private partnerships the government has ruled out the use of P3s for hospitals, jails and schools. One could conclude from that answer, reasonably, given the memberís comments made at other times in the House, that public/private partnership are being considered by the government for the two-tier health care facilities they are proposing in Watson Lake and Dawson City and for the bridge in Dawson City, given the comments from the Minister of Health.
Will the minister confirm that thatís what the public/private partnerships are being examined for? And he said weíll use a public process. What process? The fair tendering process? A process whereby the government brings forward a partnership or a bill and then insists that any questions from the opposition are worthless, or any ideas or amendments are worthless? What kind of a process does he anticipate for engaging in that activity of tremendous significance to Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iíve never ever pointed to the members opposite as worthless and I think thatís a big stretch by the third party. It has no place on the floor of this Legislature; in fact, itís irrelevant to the debate. As far as process, I donít know how many times I have to repeat it. Maybe I should chisel it in granite and present it to the member opposite in the form of the tablets. I could bring them down from the mountain in the form of tablets, present them to the member opposite on the fact that we are going to design a public/private partnership policy with the public.
Entertaining anything beyond that today is not the prudent course a government of our beliefs and commitments to the public would take. We are going to go out and, with the public, ensure that we design a public/private partnership policy that makes sense for Yukon. There has been no discussion with any private sector company, individual ó you name it ó on any project. We are talking about policy, first step. Along with what we have done with the amendment, we are advancing this whole process. The member opposite seems to think that this debate is getting us somewhere. The answer is the same: policy first.
Ms. Duncan: How does the minister intend to develop that policy? Is it simply going to be done within the Department of Finance? Or does he intend that there be a public process of some kind? If so, what public process? How is an average citizen going to have input into the development of the structure around public/private partnerships?
The minister has yet to answer the question if he will subject any evaluation of a proposed public/private partnership to an independent board. Will he do that, so that someone from outside government ó without a vested interest, not employed by the government ó can take a thorough look at what is proposed? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I think that what we are dealing with here is a failure to communicate. That is the problem: it is a failure to communicate. I am not sure that we will ever get beyond that. This failure to communicate has obviously got motivation. I say to the member opposite, did the member opposite consult an independent board when the member opposite committed the Yukon taxpayer to some $6 million of rent over the next decade? Not that I know of.
I have stated again for the record that we will proceed with a policy with the public, with stakeholders. There are so many positives in whatís happening here that I am just totally sorry for the member opposite being so mired in the negativity, so overcome by the negative aspects of some misguided vision of where this territory is and where itís going. Thatís truly unfortunate, but thatís the quagmire the member opposite is stuck in.
Weíre much more focused on accentuating the positives here: what we can do for this territory, how we can build in hope and a more positive attitude ó which, by the way, is being reflected to some degree now, but we want to continue to build on that ó how we can grow the economy for the territory, how we can build a future, how we can engage our citizens, our businesses and the private sector. This government is about ensuring that the private sector has a role to play and an environment within which to work. Weíre a positive force. Weíre a positive government. We come to work every day with a positive attitude. The member opposite is stuck in the quagmire of negativity ó and that, Mr. Chair, Iíve come to the conclusion, is why we have a failure to communicate.
Mr. Hardy: Well, isnít that interesting. We get a lecture on failure to communicate, and what it is is just a verbal attack upon us on this side, particularly the member from the third party. Isnít that fascinating that the Minister of Finance doesnít actually look at his own words and recognize what heís doing?
Part of the problem in here, Mr. Chair, is that weíre not getting answers to a lot of our questions, and I would also say thereís a degree of distrust that exists within the Legislative Assembly at this present time. It could be distrust from this particular perspective, based on the perceived treatment weíve received from members on the other side when we have asked questions, whether in Question Period or not, and the kind of answers we get, whether itís some of the history of the last year and what the Yukon Party leader has said in the past and what heís doing now, which raises some serious doubt on our part.
But possibly it also exists on the other side as well, Mr. Chair, and we have to recognize that. Iíve had the fortune ó actually myself, the leader of the third party, the member across the way, the three who are in debate right now, have all had the advantage, I guess, of being in government and being in opposition, and because of that, our perspective should be broader and more aware of both sides and what it takes to make things work.
Definitely one way it doesnít work is when itís a verbal attack for responses to questions that are asked. All that does is entrench people into their positions. Often what it demonstrates is frustration on the personís part and why theyíre just verbally attacking, and the fact that they really donít want to engage in any meaningful direction or way, which is fine.
Now, from our perspective, it seems like the Yukon Party has found a loophole to advance their own agenda, and the loophole, of course, is the Taxpayer Protection Act, because thereís really nothing that has been proven in the arguments to date to indicate this has to be changed. But Iím not going to go back and re-argue those points.
I think that where a lot of the discussion has shifted today, and where it is probably going to continue to shift, is into what the government is planning to do with the changes that they are making. We have heard the Minister of Finance indicate that jails will not be part of public/private partnerships, schools will not be part of public/private partnerships, and hospitals will not be part of public/private partnerships.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Thatís fine, Mr. Premier. I think that I can say it as well, to repeat your words.
Hospitals also will not be part of public/private partnerships.
This is refreshing ó a new face to look at in the Chair. Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Hassard.
Thatís good to know. The debate going around on the privatization or public/private partnerships ó all the angles and twists and turns that it can take ó is something that I hope we are going to explore over the next while.
But a question that I have to ask ó and I have to ask this in regard to something that happened in a previous government. That was their decision to try to privatize certain aspects of hospital delivery. I think that most people are very conscious of that move ó that was the CT scanner, Mr. Deputy Chair ó and the backlash that was felt among the people of this territory. That was a move, again, that wasnít done in a manner that I find acceptable, which is that if you are going to make a fundamental shift in the delivery of programs and services offered and buildings and how you have done it in the past, then I believe that you owe it to the public to engage them in debate.
Now when that happened under the Liberal government, when they tried to move into private delivery in some aspects of the hospital care and then the CT scanner, there was definitely a reaction from the public. But it was a reaction from the public because they werenít part of the debate in the initial stages and also because they completely disagree with seeing privatization of the delivery of health care.
From looking at a little bit of the past history and positions that have been put forward by the Liberals when they were in power, I canít see them having too many problems moving into public/private partnerships and even moving into services being offered. We know that about the Liberals back then, because they did indicate where they were going at times, even though they failed in some of those areas. My question to the Premier: when we talk about the buildings, as seems to be the talk here, can he also assure us that there will not also be services delivered under this model in those areas?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: What the member opposite refers to is privatization. That is not something that we are pursuing at all with this initiative. We are pursuing projects of infrastructure that build the territory, not privatization of programs and services. I want to lay aside the memberís fears about privatization. Thatís not what we are doing here at all. I would hope the member understands that. First we go out to get this policy so that the public clearly understands what it is we are pursuing and the stakeholders clearly understand what it is we are pursuing with a public/private partnership.
I want to point something else out. Thereís a question out here about the governmentís ability to borrow money, and weíve gotten into that debate a couple of times. We have no intention of going out to borrow money. Our debt is regulated, dictated by the federal government, and going into debt is probably not the best thing to do. But if the government was to borrow money on a capital project of infrastructure, for example, the financing costs are just one component of a capital project. But the flip side of this is the really important element ó the total cost over the life cycle of a project is a much better indicator of the overall cost to taxpayers than simply the cost of borrowing. In a public/private partnership, Mr. Chair, the efficiencies of the private sector and the benefits of risk transferred often result in greater savings to the government than any lower cost of borrowing. So obviously the purpose here is to design the appropriate policy that will capture that very element of what it is we want to achieve with a public/private partnership.
I urge the member opposite to understand that weíre not like a bull in a china shop here. We are taking this one, logical, methodical step at a time. Weíve solved the problem with qualified audited statements. We believe that in the best interest of our employees we should be fully booking the liability of post-employment benefits. And I think the member will understand that, as we evolve into the future over the next few years, in the not-too-distant future, we will experience a lot of retirement increasing the annual cost. Itís important that our employees are comforted that we have fully booked what is owed to them in post-employment.
Now we are going to move on to another phase of developing a process for public/private partnerships that will give us this benefit of efficiencies and risk transfers and greater savings to the taxpayer and, at the same time, create jobs and benefit and infrastructure to help build the future of this territory.
Mr. Hardy: That is going to be a very interesting debate ó the point that he made that there are efficiencies in going into public/private partnerships ó because the jury is still out on that one. There is absolutely no question whatsoever that many governments across this country are cancelling or trying to get out of public/private partnerships. They are trying to get out because of the extra burden of cost and control and quality. Every single province that has ventured down this road has tried to break those deals or has cancelled projects going in that direction. Thatís a debate that we are going to be entering into. There is no question about it.
It will be very interesting to see where this government goes with it, how they present their arguments and how much they allow the people of this territory to be part of that debate. It would be a shame to see them moving forward on a project without that proper analysis and consideration.
Itís not good enough just to stand up and read something that says there is greater efficiency and it costs less. That doesnít cut it. What we need to do is have an engaged and informed debate on this subject. I would like to know ó with respect ó if the minister could outline how he plans to engage the territory in that kind of debate once they start moving in that direction ó if he could give me an outline and tell me what kind of model they plan to use. What does he envision in the consultative process? Does he plan to engage experts in this field from all aspects? Is he willing to do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There is good reason why we have already stated publicly, right at the initial stages of this debate, that public/private partnerships in jails and schools were not something that we were going to do. Because the member spoke of problems and those appear to be areas where there were problems. We are not going down that road.
Of course, when it comes to developing the policy for a public/private partnership, expertise is required. But first the government has to flush out all the data and information that it has, design a process that is relevant to the public and meaningful for the public so that their input is a part of the equation. Do we bring up expertise to go over the policy of public/private partnerships? That is certainly a preferred option that we are looking at already. But for the debate here on the amendment, I am trying to get to the point where we understand that this is just one step. There are many steps and many safeguards to come. That is the work that we will be undertaking in the coming weeks and months.
This does not come into force and effect until April 2004, and the members opposite are more than welcome to participate in what is going to transpire over the next while as we advance this territoryís ability to solicit private sector investment and help build a future for the territory.
Mr. Hardy: I agree with the Premierís previous comments. He had suggested that this is a major move and I totally agree with him. Any kind of move of this magnitude does demand a very thorough, thoughtful analysis, as well as consideration of long-term impact.
Iím not willing to just stop my line of thinking at the first-step scenario. I would much rather enter in and discuss the broader context and the longer term impacts. To me, in some ways, weíre already engaged in this debate. Itís going to happen; itís happening on the floor today, and there are many, many reasons why we have concerns.
The minister has indicated that he favours bringing in outside experts to discuss this. Is the minister willing to bring up those from both sides of the equation, the ones that are huge promoters of public/private partnerships as well as those that have some very strong concerns in it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I mentioned that thatís an option, but we havenít got to that step yet. We are going out with policy in this area. You know, we could probably speculate here for days on what may be, but thatís why we as a government donít speculate. We do things in a manner that there is clear understanding of what it is that must transpire. The first step has been taken, and itís a very limited one. Itís merely amending a couple of provisions in the Taxpayer Protection Act and maintaining the overall integrity of the act. Now weíre going to work on a policy that could be an asset to go along with this amendment, which is public/private partnerships, and we will ensure that that work is inclusive.
Mr. Hardy: Well, I didnít get the commitment that I was looking for, so I have to assume that the minister hasnít been considering the fact that there might be some experts out there who have concerns about this direction that governments are going in and who have a different perspective.
Well, I hope that when and if they consider bringing in experts in these fields that they bring in experts from all aspects and all sides with difference perspectives and not just a one-sided angle. Thatís what I would hope for so that we can have really informed strong debate around this. We have a lot of concerns about public/private partnerships because a lot of them end up leading to privatization. We donít have a great deal of faith in the direction the government has gone in so far, so we do have that concern that always rests in the back of our mind, that this government, once again, has a bigger plan of where theyíre going; however, we have to debate whatís going on.
One of the models that has been proposed ó and actually itís probably beyond proposal because the Member for Klondike has indicated that the bridge will be built by public/private partnership. Can the Minister of Finance inform me what work has already been done along that line and if there has been any kind of investigation about the impact it has, the cost and that? Would he be willing to supply me with that kind of information?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Just before I get to that question, I want to point out to the member opposite that I did state on the floor that this is not about privatization. This is about partnering with investment so that there is ownership for the public and/or others. When I say others, not only is this model usable with the private sector, but now we have more options to partner with First Nation governments on the building of infrastructure. I think we all understand that, in First Nation communities, there are requirements there that are needs and infrastructure, and there are other examples. It brings in those options in partnering with First Nation governments and also the possibility of partnering with municipalities. So itís not in the privatization mode at all, Mr. Chair.
As far as the bridge in Dawson, the statements are that this is an example that makes sense. As far as any work on the bridge itself, in terms of a P3 ó no, that hasnít been done. I know that in the past there has been work on the abutments and all the rest of it ó and I am sure that the Member for Klondike would probably confirm this, but there has probably been some environmental work done on assessing the crossing. But beyond that, we have not engaged with any company, person or entity on a P3 for the bridge. But it makes sense, and I will go over why it makes sense.
We are, on behalf of the taxpayer, committing $1 million a year to operate a ferry. We also will, in coming years, when the ferry itself is time-expired, have to replace that ferry. So the cost of that replacement is also in the millions. If we were to take that and allocate those monies toward the construction of a bridge, thatís why it makes sense, because in the fullness of time, it will save money for the taxpayer.
Thatís about all I can provide the member opposite on the bridge in Dawson. We have not talked to any company about a P3. There has been work done on the environmental issues, the abutments and the crossing. Beyond that, we are just dealing with the debate that the member is putting on the floor.
Mr. Hardy: Well, P3s can take a variety of forms, but there really are two main approaches on how they are done. The first approach, of course, is for the private sector to design, build, own and finance assets that previously would have been built, owned and financed by the government. I get the impression that this government is looking at that.
The private sector then leases these assets back to the government in what are usually long-term arrangements. Now, the government across the way is saying itís not a lease-back, itís a purchase-back; but the second approach involves the private sector being given a budget by the public sector to take over and operate public sector operations. And both those models can be combined quite nicely. Then you can use P3s for just about anything, doing any kind of work, going in any different direction, and adjusting those models.
Now, there are some models out there ó around the bridges out there ó and theyíre quite interesting, because in almost every case, where P3s have been used to build a bridge, it has been looked at and calculated that it has cost the taxpayers a substantial amount more money with going in that direction from the Confederation Bridge. I think the estimate for the Confederation Bridge is something like $45 million more, to go with a P3 model.
Now, both the Minister of Finance and ó Iím not totally sure about the Member for Klondike, but the Minister of Finance has indicated that tolls might be a part of the bridge in Dawson City. If he is considering that already, then he must have had some thought around the bridge in Dawson City. The government, I suspect, must have done some work in regard to the bridge in Dawson City, if they put that out as part of their backgrounder when they were proposing the changes to the Taxpayer Protection Act in the Legislature. So obviously they have advanced some work in that area. Itís not just something they havenít even considered other than thatís a project thatís looming. So I donít really buy the story that there hasnít been any work done or very little work done in looking at using P3 models.
The question is: does the Premier envision that tolls will be part of that bridge?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite isnít buying a story because this side of the House is not selling one. Itís not a story at all. We simply use the bridge as an example of where a public/private partnership would make sense. Beyond that, the only work that has been done is on the environmental issues, and on the abutments and the crossing. There certainly hasnít been any work done on anything else, be it toll or whatever.
This is simply an example that was used, because it is a sensible example and the arithmetic is very simple. It clearly shows that a bridge can be a cost-saving for the taxpayer if you factor in the cost of the ferry ó not only its operation and maintenance, but its replacement costs.
Mr. Hardy: We are trying to get an idea of what the government is doing, and it is very difficult when they deny that they are even thinking over there. We are looking at the projections, estimates of impact and the changes things like this would have over 10, 20 or 30 years. There must have been some consideration when the Premier brings this idea forward and continually talks about P3s, and the benefits and about engaging the private sector and all that jazz. There must be contemplation on what kind of impact this will have over 10, 20 or 50 years. There must have been some analysis, wouldnít you think? Can the Premier stand up and tell me what analysis has been done on P3s to date, and what impact it will have on the territory?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think we should take this back to what it is that we are debating. Weíre debating an amendment on the Taxpayer Protection Act. Because of the fact that we are going to go to full accrual accounting, we are going to make an amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act so that we get the benefit of full accrual accounting by creating the options in this territory to engage other governments like First Nations, possibly municipalities and the private sector to increase the spending power in the Yukon and, in doing so, focus on infrastructure projects as one example.
Then we brought forward the example of the bridge because it makes sense. Itís a cost saver. No matter how you account for this at the end of the day, a bridge in Dawson versus the ferry will be a cost saver for the taxpayer. Period. There are no issues here that the member should be concerned about. Weíve stated weíd go out to the public, a very transparent process, to develop the policy. Past governments have done a lot of work on P3s and thatís certainly something they didnít do in the public, but we are going to do it in the public. I think in the context of trying to move this debate along, maybe the members opposite have some suggestions on what would be a good candidate for a public/private partnership in the Yukon.
Mr. Hardy: I really look forward to that debate when he is actually willing to talk to the public about this instead of trying to shift the questions. Itís interesting, when we started to explore P3s, it went right back to, oh, no, no, weíre just talking about a minor change in the Taxpayer Protection Act. Yet for the last few days everything is about the Taxpayer Protection Act being changed so that we can maximize the benefits and the leverage so we can do P3s. Itís a moving target here depending on the questions that you ask.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, I had asked a question on whether the members opposite had any ideas on what they would deem to be a good candidate for a P3 project. Let us go to the issue at hand.
Nobody has ever said that we couldnít partner with anybody today, but it certainly is on a very limited basis. But I think that the members opposite may have some good ideas on what public/private partnerships could do for the Yukon and what would be good candidates.
Mr. Hardy: Well, thank you very much. I really like the vote of confidence that I received from the Premier, and I definitely do have some ideas, but they might not necessarily sit that well with the Premier. But we will get into that discussion when it is time to talk about even the benefits of public/private partnerships.
Thatís actually where I am at right now, is the benefits of them. I think you need a really good analysis of the direction you are going and the perceived benefits ó if they are real and if they are long-term ó before you start to pick subjects or projects. I would recommend that that is the format that should be used, to engage in that debate at that level first before you start to decide what will become the public/private partnerships that this government is so bent on having.
Going back to my questions, one of my questions is: what analysis has been done? I will accept this ó if the Premier says that they have done nothing whatsoever in regard to analyzing the impact that P3s will have, the long-term costs on any project whatsoever, I will accept that. If there has actually been no thought, or very, very little thought, if the departments havenít been given any direction whatsoever, other than just changing the Taxpayer Protection Act, I will accept the fact that this government over here has done no work whatsoever on P3s. Is that the situation?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Past governments have done work on P3s. Obviously weíre looking at that and fleshing that out, but the memberís point, I must say, has to reflect the fact that itís project-specific. You must be able to make the business case, and the member also made another point that relates back to the Taxpayer Protection Act, and I think we have to put on the record that, currently without the amendment, in any given year the Yukon is restricted to a very narrow definition of surplus, because it does not reflect the true asset base.
That in itself has certainly diminished our response to the economy in this territory, or our ability to respond to it. But as far as this debate about a P3, weíve said that past governments have looked into it, we are fleshing out the material, we are going to go forward with a very public process ó transparent ó to decide and design a policy for P3s.
We donít see P3s in the context of jails, hospitals and schools ó jails, hospitals and schools as the candidates for public/private partnerships. We see them in other areas as being positive, having a positive impact. Weíve given the example of the bridge in Dawson. We give the rationale why ó itís because of the cost of the ferry O&M and replacement value can be allocated or transferred to the cost of a bridge so, in the long run, it saves money for the taxpayer.
Sound fiscal management, to a great degree, is about saving money for the taxpayer.
Mr. Hardy: Can the Premier assure me that hydro is not part of this list as well?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I stated hospitals, jails and schools.
Mr. Hardy: Can the member assure me, as well, that care facilities are not part of this model?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I said hospitals, jails and schools.
Mr. Hardy: I have a long list here, but I think I get the message of the limitations that have been put on it by the Premier, and thatís good to know. One thing we do know where they have actually admitted to go to is roads to resources. What roads would they be looking at?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Of course, Mr. Chair, roads to resources are an important component of infrastructure to help attract investment and provide economic growth. Again, roads to resources, though, must make sense. There must be a business case. Thatís important because, when you consider an example of a road to resources, you must also factor in that there is a royalty to the resource, and the sensible approach for any road to resource has to factor in what return is being provided to the taxpayer by putting in the expenditure for that access to a resource. That is something that requires an in-depth assessment in making the business case. So we are committed to roads to resources. Itís a possible candidate because itís not a jail, itís not a school and itís not a hospital.
Mr. Hardy: Actually, I am really enjoying this line of questioning, Mr. Chair. This is a lot of fun. How about government buildings? I know there has been a lot of discussion in regard to leases and bad leases and even worse leases and who signed those agreements ó well, every government has in the past. Of course, we do know one thatís the predominant one in the discussions today, and it is pretty grim. However, I get the feeling, listening to this discussion, that the government could possibly be considering down the road a public/private partnership for the building of a new government building when the need arises. Is that a possibility?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, what weíre considering now in this one particular area of public/private partnership is designing and developing a policy.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís not the question I asked and the Premier has actually been very forthcoming in the last couple of minutes. I thought Iíd take advantage of it. I thought we had a little roll going on here but he went back into his shell. Weíll try one more time.
This question is asked in all good faith and with all due respect, Mr. Chair. Is it one of the considerations that when there is a need identified for a necessary government building or to consolidate some departments or to try to lower some costs of the leases or running out and this government wants to take a different direction than past governments, to consider a public/private partnership in this area?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Here is what has been done to date. Weíve made this very operational, benign amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act. We are going to full accrual accounting. We have stated that this amendment provides more options by correctly reporting the asset base to respond to the economic needs of the territory. One of the mechanisms for that is public/private partnerships. Weíve listed an example of what would make sense in a public/private partnership; thatís the bridge in Dawson because of the cost of the ferry. We have stated publicly that we will not utilize public/private partnerships for hospitals, jails or schools. We are going to embark on this transparent process and I hope the members opposite get involved ó nothing else, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Hardy: Exploring more of this ó we know that roads to resources is part of the equation, because the member has indicated that. How about maintenance on those roads ó would that be a consideration?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Roads to resources is something that we are committed to. It has to make sense. There has to be a business case. The full equation, which is the return to the taxpayer, is paramount. What resources are being accessed? What is the cost to get to them? What are we getting in return for allowing access and extraction of the resource? There are many factors, but a road to resources is an important element of growing an economy, because itís a way to work with the investment community to open up what is another asset, and that is a resource that may be marketable.
Mr. Hardy: To shift off the road a little bit, we will just use highways. Is highway maintenance a consideration? Would grader stations and new buildings like that be considered as public/private partnerships?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have already stated that we have no intention of privatization.
Mr. Hardy: It doesnít always fall under the title of "privatization". Often, it can be maintenance contracts tied in with the public/private partnerships in the building of the road and during the lifetime of the agreement on the building of the road, the maintenance is part of the package. Would that be the direction that this government is going in? Would they consider, even in a public/private partnership, including maintenance during that period of money owed?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is one thing to talk about a highway ó whether it be primary or secondary roads in the Yukon. It is another thing to talk about roads to resources. It may be only winter access. It may be a simple tote road. There is a big stretch here from the maintenance that I know the member opposite is referring to, which is maintenance on primary and secondary roads, versus what kind of maintenance would be required on a road to resources.
I think, once we determine if and when a road to resources gets built, then you address that issue, depending on what youíre dealing with. And if itís just winter access, thatís one thing. If itís year-round access, thatís another. Are there bridges? There are all kinds of issues here, Mr. Chair. But today we have no intention of privatizing highway maintenance through public/private partnerships on primary or secondary roads and the existing infrastructure. A road to resources, though, is something that is quite different. Its design is related solely to one purpose ó the extraction of a resource or the access to it.
Mr. Hardy: Well, I donít think thatís what I was pointing toward. The Premier has indicated that, yes, the building of a road would be considered in the public/private partnership as a model that they would be using. There are many different parts of an agreement. One part of the agreement is ó let me back up for a second, Mr. Chair.
In the agreement, it can be considered that as long as the government owes money on that road, the road is not actually owned by the government but is owned by the private company. Many of these companies that build these roads are not content just to build it. Thatís not where they want to go; thatís not what they want; thatís not where they make a lot of their money, although they do make a substantial amount. What they are more interested in ó and what they really want to get their hands on, of course ó is the maintenance of the road and the cost of maintaining that road during that period. Now, the argument can be made that, because they are a private company, they do own the road until it has been bought by the government, that they have the first right to deliver the maintenance on that road. Is that what the minister is indicating when he talks about building a new road? Would that be part of it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I want to point out that when we access, for instance, forest resources, the private sector is already building roads and maintaining the roads themselves at their own costs. Those are very suspect, because weíre seeing a patchwork of road accesses off main highways, going in each and every direction. That is something that, being environmentally conscious, this government is going to address. There has to be a focused approach to access to resources, not a piecemeal, shotgun approach which the federal government was conducting for years here in the territory.
The other item is that it is not necessarily the case in a public/private partnership that the private sector actually owns anything ó depending on the policy and what the form of the partnership is. That is why I keep pointing out to the member opposite that our next step is to design this policy. What is the Yukon government and the Yukon Territory going to commit to if it entertains public/private partnerships? What is the framework within which we will work?
This includes First Nation governments. The option there is a positive one also. We are dealing with some speculative issues here; they are hard to answer. The government tends not to get involved in speculative debate. The facts are as we have presented them. We have no intention to use public/private partnerships for jails, for schools, for hospitals. We certainly made the case that a bridge in Dawson is a sensible approach. It makes sense. It is going to save the taxpayer money in the long run. That is an easy one.
We talked about roads to resources. There is a possibility there, but there is much work to be done. I said a number of times now that we must take the full equation into account. What is the return to the taxpayer? What is the resource that we are accessing? What are we getting in return for allowing access? What is the return to the taxpayer in the cost of the road? Can it be a royalty charge? A fee on royalties that pay back for the cost of the road? There are many variables, but we are committed to roads to resources, where they make sense.
Mr. Hardy: This is very interesting because weíve realized now that when the Premier says schools, hospitals and jails ó that there wonít be public/private partnerships in those areas ó that it actually doesnít really mean that. Itís not that defined. When we brought up the care facilities, there was no answer. When we brought up government buildings, there was no answer. When we brought up hydro, there was no answer, no very definitive position being taken in that area. We brought up maintenance on roads ó avoid the answer. I just touched on a few of them. I can imagine how many loopholes there are in this area, and itís going to be interesting once again to try to find out exactly what is going on over there.
Because contrary to what the Premier said, he hasnít made the case that going public/private partnership for the bridge in Dawson City is the right way to go. There has been no case made on this floor yet. There have been no figures brought out. There has been no analysis done on it. He has indicated on the other side that he has made the case. Well, where is the case? Where is his argument that this is the right way to go? Zero. He has even admitted in this Legislature that they donít involve themselves in speculative debate or speculative thinking, that thatís not what the government should do.
I put it to him that thatís what this whole thing is about. Heís speculating but heís not giving us any concrete information, any studies. Has he directed any departments to look at the ramifications of going to a public/private partnership on the jail? Absolutely not.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Not the jail. That was a Freudian slip. I think that, deep down, I actually believe they are going to find a way to do a public/private partnership around the jail and theyíre going to try a smokescreen to do it. However, weíre talking about the bridge, since he says he has made the case. Excuse me, but some people on this side of the House havenít heard a single figure. We havenít heard a single study. There is nothing. Zero.
Thatís what he calls "making a case"? Well, excuse me, but I think the people of this territory deserve a little bit better from a Finance minister.
Now there are a lot of concerns about jails. I will give you an example: the Charleswood Bridge in Winnipeg is a very clear example of greater costs. The company that financed the bridge-building project paid a higher interest rate than would the city ó in this case, it was the agreement with the city. Thatís what would happen with the bridge in Dawson City. It would be estimated in this case to cost taxpayers an additional $1.2 million. Itís not like $10,000 or $100,000 ó we are talking big money here.
Also, the city normally repays loans over a 20-year period while the company chose a 30-year period, which increased costs and incurred debt for an additional 10 years that they have to carry. Furthermore, the lease payments made by the city on the bridge are considered financial liabilities, so the cityís financial status is not improved by the P3 project. That is one example.
We could use the Confederation Bridge where the studies have proven that it is going to cost $45 million more for that bridge by going P3. There is example after example after example.
I would encourage the Premier, since he has indicated already that he hasnít done any kind of thinking along this line ó no speculative thinking, no analysis at all ó that he actually take a serious look at what some of the other governments in Canada have encountered with the cost overruns, with the overbuilt facilities and with the long-term deals and how difficult it is to get out of them, and who actually owns it, and toll bridges, and the list goes on and on and on.
We have some very, very strong concerns. We havenít even touched on quality of construction and access to that building.
I will give you an example with schools. He says there are going to be no schools, but I am sure that there is a way to get around that one as well. They have managed to get around a lot of things they have said already. How about access? Who actually owns the school while you are paying on it? Who actually has use of the school after hours, or do you have to pay more for that as well?
How about quality control? How about janitorial services? How about maintenance? How about safety in the schools? But letís move off schools. Letís put safety on the bridge. Letís put jobs and building it. What guarantees are there that the business incentive policy would be part of this? None. What guarantees that there would be Yukon people working on these jobs? Zero. Weíve already seen this government very, very reluctant to enforce the business incentive policy with the city. Fortunately, and I take my hat off to them, they finally did see the light, as one of their favourite sayings is, they saw the light and indicated that the business incentive policy would be part of the infrastructure for the Canada Winter Games ó thank goodness, under a tremendous amount of pressure from the public.
Working conditions, wages ó what guarantees that there would be fair wages on this? What guarantees there would be benefits, long-term benefits to working people? What guarantees are there that local contractors ó small local contractors ó would have an opportunity to do the work on these buildings? What guarantees are there that any local contractors would get an opportunity, or would there just be a token effort?
How about taxpayers? These projects invariably cost more. There are huge profits made by the private sector in a lot of these areas ó not all, but in a lot of these areas, huge profits because thatís what theyíre driven by, to make profit. So of course youíre going to see that. And often we see this slipping into essential services being offered.
The other thing thatís a big concern is private monopolies. This is what can happen, and this is just a warning for the Premier. There are only a few companies that have the size and financing available to deliver these projects. What youíre creating is a private monopoly for one or two companies to be able to do a substantial amount of development in this territory.
Does that serve the general public? Does that serve our contractors? No, it doesnít. Thereís also the avoidance of taxes. Thereís the ability by these companies to avoid taxes on this. These are all questions that need to be answered before the minister tells us theyíve made their case on the bridge. We would like to have a response on that.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I must say Iíve just experienced witnessing a vapour lock in a cranium. Iíve never seen it before, Mr. Chair. We said we are going to go out to develop a policy.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Chair:Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Point of order, Mr. Chair. What weíve just heard is insulting language. If you would like me to cite the Standing Order, I will require some time to do that.
Chair: The Chair concurs that the term "vapour lock in a cranium" is an insulting and derogatory term and Iíd ask the member to retract the statement, please.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie:Certainly Iíll retract the statement, Mr. Chair, but we are seeming to not get the point. We are going to go out and design a policy that reflects the needs and benefits of Yukoners. A lot of speculation has been put on the floor of the Legislature by the member opposite in this rant about public/private partnerships.
Now, we all know how the members opposite ó the official opposition, the New Democratic Party of this territory ó oppose the private sector. They want to eradicate the private sector completely. They have no use for the private sector. Oh, and "profit" is a bad word. Profit is no good. Let us never make a profit; thatís not good; that will destroy the territory. Profit simply has no place in the doctrine of the members opposite.
The members are talking about all kinds of speculation in jails and schools and buildings and this and that ó ridiculous. Weíre talking policy. Weíre talking policy first to ensure that the issues the members opposite are speculating on are being managed properly. The members opposite also brought up the BIP issue. Thatís an interesting one. When we can assure the public and the House that the government was very clear with the city ó you show us how you're going to maximize the return to the Yukon public on this very large project, and when you can make that case, then we will consider not proceeding with BIP. The city failed to make the case and we implemented the business incentive policy ó as simple as that.
Frankly, nothing that the member has just put on the floor has added to the debate at all.
But I can tell you that the public is aware of this anti-private sector sentiment from the New Democrats, even though we as a government partner with First Nations like the Vuntut Gwitchin to ensure that a private sector company and the Vuntut Gwitchin can join forces to provide work and benefits for the people of Old Crow, to do bank restabilization, to do a number of things out there that are required. Thatís an issue out there in the public because of this anti-private sector sentiment coming from the members opposite.
The members opposite can debate this for the next 10 years if they want. This government is going to proceed in turning this territory around, in partnering with the private sector and First Nation governments, in building a future for the people of this territory. I challenge the members opposite to come forward with logical, meaningful, constructive suggestions on what they would do besides continuing our dependence on the southern taxpayer.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I listened with interest to the discussion that the Finance minister had with the leader of the NDP in the Legislature, and he talked about the surplus and how the surplus will be reflected and changed as a result of the capitalization of assets. The surplus will be increased. Will he tell us what the surplus is today?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, if the member would take the time to open up the budget she has just received, Iím sure that will provide her the information sheís asking for. Beyond that, I donít know how else I can help that member. The information should be on her desk. If not, it probably could be sent in from our office.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the surplus is tabled at Management Board. Itís item number two on the agenda. The Finance minister has also clearly stated in this House that the surplus ó the figure ó changes as more information becomes available. He wouldnít tell me, for example, when they first learned of the undercounts, of what that figure was, how much it would increase the surplus. He wouldnít tell us when Management Board made the decision to release the $15 million held in reserve. That changed the figure in the surplus. I asked him a simple, straightforward question that, as an open and accountable government, he should be prepared to share with all Yukoners. After all, these are just benign amendments to the Taxpayer Protection Act, where the government is happy to share with the public how much the surplus is. So I know very well what the surplus figure is that is shown in the budget supplementary tabled in the House, and Iím perfectly capable ó contrary to what the member likes to put on the record ó of reading that. Iíd like to know what the surplus is today. He has steadfastly refused to tell this House, and I see him reaching for the supplementary budget. Why doesnít he just stand in the House and say heís not going to tell the taxpayers of the Yukon what the surplus is today?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, well, well, here we go again.
Thanks to the good work of the government increasing the surplus almost $50 million, we show a forecasted accumulated surplus at March 31, 2004, of $61,112,000. Itís the very same number that the member opposite has in her budget document. Now, the issue that the member is grappling with is one of being void of any substantive debate here. The number is right there before her and itís obvious that itís the same example of being void of any direction or plan when leading this territory.
So, what can I say? $61,112,000 ó there it is in black and white, written on the pages of the budget document that was made public weeks ago.
Ms. Duncan: I find it incredibly fascinating that every time the government and the members opposite donít want to answer a question or donít deem it important enough to be answered, the response is one of a personal attack ó of a personal nature. How sad that thatís what the government seems to feel is the answer to a legitimately asked question.
The member opposite says, "Well, so long as she is not personally attacked." Well, I have been and the witness is the last answer. I have asked a legitimate question: what is the surplus today? The Finance minister is presented with that information each time Management Board meets. The last order-in-council I checked, the Finance minister is still the chair of Management Board. Itís a legitimate question. Itís a legitimate question that the Finance minister refuses to answer to me on the floor of this House, he refuses to answer to Yukoners through the media, and he refuses to answer to Yukoners. Itís their money.
Mr. Chair, will the Finance minister ó given that he is changing what the financial statements will show in the surplus ó tell us what he considers an appropriate surplus to be maintained by the Government of Yukon? What does he consider an appropriate number for the surplus to be maintained at by the Government of Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: After that lecture, Mr. Chair, Iím totally humbled. In fact, Iím speechless.
The surplus is there on paper. Whatever the member opposite might think on what the surplus may be today, tomorrow or last week is frankly irrelevant to this debate. The surplus is, as always, forecasted, and thatís what weíre dealing with.
As far as the issue of surplus and what we consider it to be, thatís obviously within the law. We canít go into an accumulated deficit; we must have an accumulated surplus.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the surplus, as has been previously noted in documents filed in this House, is the second item on Management Board. It changes.
He was sitting beside his colleague, the former Member for Faro, when a Management Board document was tabled in this House that indicated what the surplus is. It was fine when he sat in opposition to demand that the government state what the surplus is on any given day. Itís amazing that itís not fine to share that information with Yukoners when heís on that side of the House.
Mr. Chair, the surplus has ranged significantly under most administrations. Is the Finance minister saying today that the surplus figure should be around $61 million? Should it be the $42 million thatís usually recommended by the Department of Finance, by such esteemed individuals as the former Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr. Fingland? Should it be $42 million? Should it be $61 million? What does he consider? Heís the Minister of Finance. What is an appropriate level of surplus to be maintained by the Government of Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: When it comes to appropriate levels of surplus, that was lost on that member when in government because that memberís approach to surplus was to spend it down to almost nothing. This government, on the other hand, had to increase the surplus, which we did, which now has taken us from our mains of this spring, which showed a mere $1 million left for an accumulated surplus. Through the good works of that stats branch and officials of Finance, weíve increased the surplus considerably, and also by dissolving some of the misguided funds and trust accounts that the member opposite squirreled away money in ó for what purpose, no one will ever know, but we dissolved those funds.
In our short tenure of a year ó in fact, I think we were sworn in December 2; well, itís one year ago today ó hallelujah, one year. And in one year, less than a year, we have increased the surplus by $49,500,000 for this fiscal year. And the forecast shows that we will end the fiscal year at $61,112,000. Thatís the surplus, accumulated. The member opposite also knows that thatís an ever-changing figure depending on what happens in government, and those expenditures or possible increased revenues can take place at a momentís notice. The member knows that too.
The member is simply being antagonistic in debate. I say to the member opposite that we have a law in this country or this territory, and itís called the Taxpayer Protection Act and, unlike the member opposite, weíre not going to work outside it. It states that we cannot go into an accumulated deficit and thatís exactly what we intend to do.
It states, now, with our amendment, that we must report correctly the liabilities of the government, unlike that member opposite, who hid the liabilities, and thatís why they got a qualified audit from the Auditor General. It clearly shows what weíre all about, with sound fiscal management and full disclosure to the Yukon public. I certainly canít say that for the member opposite. And who knows? If the territory were unfortunate enough to still have that member as the Minister of Finance, one can only wonder where that surplus would be today, considering the trajectory of spending going on without even trying to increase the level of surplus for this territory. I think all in all, Mr. Chair, the debate has deteriorated to nothingness, and the answer remains the same. The member opposite can ask the question 10,000 times.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I thank the member opposite for that lecture and his version of history and his version of the work of our government, which I just might remind him generated $42 million for the government in resolution of outstanding factors around the formula, that hundreds of Yukoners put forward their opinions on such items as the Yukon permanent fund, which the member opposite completely dismissed without a thought, without consideration of the good work that was done by other governments. Iím not going to get into an argument with the member opposite. I will advise the member opposite, however, that when our government left office, I stated what the Auditor General would come out with as the territoryís surplus and, lo and behold, we were right.
And that his suggestion, among a number of other suggestions, that he was left with a bare cupboard ó quite frankly, itís typical Yukon Party rhetoric that simply doesnít wash with the Yukon public.
The debate has not deteriorated into nothingness. The Finance minister has once again refused to answer legitimate questions of Yukoners. Itís a sad day when the Finance minister wonít share with Yukoners what the surplus is or what he considers an appropriate surplus to be in the bank. However, he has admitted in that harangue that the listening public also just endured that the government canít go into an accumulated deficit. No, but thanks to the Yukon Party, they are changing the law so that there is no protection in the Taxpayer Protection Act. That is a sad fact. The member opposite has moved the goalposts, has taken the protection out of the Taxpayer Protection Act. However much he likes to stand and say that his government is doing such a wonderful job, he wonít commit that they will never receive a qualified audit.
Unfortunately, the Minister of Financeís responses in this general debate, his comments to the opposition that arenít answers, that arenít forthcoming, that donít truly justify any changes because they are not required ó these changes are not required to go to full accrual accounting.
Itís unfortunate that the member doesnít see fit to provide members opposite on this side of the House, who are also duly elected Yukoners, with some answers to these very important issues.
Chair: Order please. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll recess for 15 minutes.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act. We will continue. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I find it a little bit disappointing in listening to the member for the third party talk about personal attacks. That has no place in this House, considering the history there from that member.
But we always try to provide answers, and we have been providing the answers. It seems that the opposition just doesnít like the answers. Theyíre not the answers they want. Therefore, they, then, make the case that weíre not answering. But we have been providing answers, Mr. Chair. There is a lot of speculation going on here ó a lot of speculation, and though we on the government side are listening intently, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, if you will, Mr. Chair, so that we can respond in a constructive way, we seem not to be getting anywhere.
Iím not so sure what it is the members are trying to achieve other than the fact that they are chewing up time. Theyíve made the same statements over and over and over. As far as the government side is concerned, weíve been very clear all along on what weíre doing, what the amendment does, why weíre making the amendment, and what weíre not going to do with such things as public/private partnerships. Weíve made the statement clearly: hospitals, jails and schools are not good candidates. Weíve stayed out of that particular avenue but we also stated that we are going to embark now on designing a policy.
Finance will continue to flesh out the formats for the budget and what that will look like. We will continue to work on what exactly the liabilities include and what the assets include. This is all work-in-progress. Weíre very comfortable on the government side allowing our Finance department and its officials to do that work. Theyíre very capable; thatís why we provided them for briefings for the opposition, to provide the opposition detail. Iís obvious that, given the questions that were asked, there was a thorough briefing, and now the members opposite are off on a totally different track here.
But thatís their choice. The answers remain the same. I am ready for any further debate.
Mr. Hardy: I am not actually sure what the point was of that rambling discourse from the Premier was.
But I do have a pointed question, and I think we can move on.
The Premier has mentioned the previous studies by former governments in regard to P3s. Could he endeavour to supply us with those studies that have been done?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are merely looking at what past governments have done around P3s. There have obviously been discussions by past governments. We are going to proceed with a policy and that policy is going to be constructed in a transparent way with stakeholders and the public.
So there is not much that I can provide to the member opposite. Maybe if he turns to his colleague, the third party might be able to provide some more detail because apparently that is something that the third party was very interested in.
Mr. Hardy: Excuse me. Iím sorry, Mr. Chair. I missed the last bit of the ministerís response. Did he indicate that there were no studies done, or just discussions, and therefore there is nothing in writing, or was there something in writing that he would be able to supply the opposition members with so that we can enter into a policy debate that has some background on what other governments have worked on ó previous governments in this Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, there is not much we can supply because we havenít commenced with our policy. We are looking internally to see what has been done, if anything. There has been some work, obviously, in discussion. It goes back a number of years, but weíre going to embark on a process to construct a policy for public/private partnerships in the territory, and the member can certainly get involved in a very meaningful way with that process.
Mr. Hardy: Am I to take it that all the references back to all the studies that have been made by other governments and how they were looking at it and all that stuff donít actually exist?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Not at all. It does exist. Past governments were looking at P3s. We debated P3s on the floor of this Legislature in previous sessions. Itís not a big secret. Thereís a lot of material floating around the country on P3s. In fact, the member just has to go into his office and go to the Internet and download all kinds of information on P3s, but we prefer to develop a Yukon policy and thatís what we intend to do.
Mr. Hardy: Iím not interested at this present time in what is on the Internet. I am interested in what the Premier has been talking about in regard to the work that has been done by past governments. Heís the one who brought it up; heís the one who keeps mentioning it. Well, then, put it on the table so we can take a look at it. If thereís nothing there, then I want to know why he keeps bringing it up, instead of just a motion that was brought forward.
There are thousands and thousands of motions.
Does or does not the government have work, studies, papers or documents in regard to past governments so we can take a look at them and see what was being proposed or what analysis has been done in the past? Do they or do they not? If they donít have it, fine, weíll move on.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I said that past governments have been looking at it. As far as putting together a policy document or a document for the public or anything else, thatís not something Iím aware of, other than the fact that past governments have looked at it. We as a government are going to embark on a policy ó the structure of a policy to ensure that, if we enter into public/private partnerships, we are reflecting the best interests of the public, and a return to the public is vital in that process.
Mr. Hardy: Are there any discussion papers on this by past governments?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This government has not created any discussion papers at all. That will happen as we proceed with this process. I am not going to speak for past governments. We are looking into what past governments have done.
All I know is that past governments have looked at this. First, we will flesh it all out and see what we do have internally in government, but thatís not the priority for our government. We know where we are going with this. We want to structure a policy that reflects the direction in which we want to take the territory in conjunction with public/private partnerships, or partnerships with First Nations in this area.
Itís about building a future. Itís about looking at the infrastructure. Itís about how we can get the private sector investing here ó all of those things.
Frankly, I think the member opposite should be more concerned about getting involved in the structure of a policy for this territory, which doesnít have one.
Mr. Hardy: I can assure the Premier opposite that I am very concerned about getting involved in the structure of this policy ó which we donít have. I am very concerned about it. But itís interesting to note that the Premier has referenced past governmentsí involvement in P3s ó looking at it, studying it and other comments on it ó yet is refusing to produce anything whatsoever in that regard.
Let me put it a different way for him and make it a little bit easier. If he discovers any discussion papers or documents out there with regard to P3s from our illustrious past ó including other governments ó would he please make those papers available to the opposition members?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: If we discover anything of relevance to where this government is going, of course weíll make it available to the opposition. Weíre not too concerned about what past governments have done in this area. We know governments have looked at it. Weíre a new government. Weíre going to take our own approach. Why doesnít the member talk to his colleague? Maybe she can fill him in on what her government was doing with P3s.
Mr. Hardy: Actually, Iíd like to remind the Premier that he is actually the one that is proposing the P3s. He sometimes seems to forget that heís the one in charge over there. Iím not overly interested in the past Liberal government. I wasnít a supporter of them as Iím sure most people in the territory know. However, thatís not what Iím focused on. Iím focused on the direction of this government, and the question I asked was a pretty simple one. And I think in good faith the minister could give me the assurance that if there are any discussion papers or ó thereís nothing to hide. But if they are willing to find out what work has been done in the past by either the previous Liberal government or the previous NDP government or the previous Yukon Party government, as far back as they want to go, if theyíd be willing to pass that information on to the opposition members ó I think the member for the third party would like it as well, as she has indicated she would. If they would be willing to pass it on, we would appreciate that. Itís a very simple request.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As we go forward with developing our policy along with Yukoners, and if we discover anything relevant to the debate, we will make it available to the members opposite.
Mr. Hardy: Could the Premier allow the opposition the decision of whether itís relevant or not in what has been produced in the past is relevant or not and not make the judgement on what we can and canít have, what he will hide or not hide? Why is it so difficult? It has nothing to do with the Premier; it has nothing to do with anything that was produced by this group of people, as far as I can see. Itís just background stuff. Itís what other governments have looked at. I donít know why itís so difficult to say, "Yes, you can have it. Weíll make sure you get it."
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think thatís what Iíve been saying all along, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Hardy: So you agree to give it to us?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes. I said that, as we go forward with our policy and we invite the members opposite to participate in constructing a policy for public/private partnerships in the Yukon ó and all the information pertinent to that debate we will make available to the opposition.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Weíll then proceed with line-by-line.
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed
Title agreed to
Chair: That concludes Bill No. 36.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that Bill No. 36, entitled Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: The Committee will be continuing on with Bill No. 7, the supplementary budget.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: A brief recess has been requested.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order.
The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 7, Second Appropriation Act, 2003-04.
Bill No. 7 ó Second Appropriation Act, 2003-04 ó continued
Chair:We will continue on with general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It has been quite some time since we broke general debate on the supplementary budget for the fiscal year 2003-04, and I know that the members opposite have had ó well, theyíve had an embargoed copy, and briefings on the budget, obviously. I did make some statements earlier, and I think in the context of expediting the debate and a constructive, cooperative approach, I will sit down and allow the members opposite to engage on the supplementary budget.
Mr. Hardy: Well, it has been awhile since weíve had a chance to talk on the supplementary budget. I think it has been over two weeks. When we left off, we were still in general debate, but there are a lot of areas that raise questions.
I think one of the positions weíve taken from the beginning is that there was an opportunity for the supplementary budget to be a job creation supplementary budget, and we cannot seem to find the job creation that was necessary to assist a lot of small businesses and working people, definitely in the construction sector ó in the capital works area of the budget.
Itís not reflected in creating jobs. What weíve been finding since the supplementary budget has come out ó what Iíve been finding lately ó has been quite a reaction by people in, say, the construction sector. Just recently, I was at a fair ó one of the many fairs that are going on right now because we are coming up to Christmas. These fairs are a chance for many of the artisans to sell their wares and very beautiful stuff that they do have. However, while I was there, I was approached by a couple of contractors, and they informed me that this is the worst year in their history. This is the worst period that they have ever seen in 30 years of operating in the Yukon.
One contractor informed me that this summer he had approximately 19 employees. He can go up to 40 or 50 employees at a time quite comfortably, but he was running with 19 employees this year because there wasnít much activity. He was fortunate that he had more jobs than his competitors and he was able to keep these 19 people employed. He informed me that he was down to seven employees as of today and he would be bringing it down to three employees within a week. He was basically doing make-work projects within his own shop, within his own yard, in the hope that there would be projects coming out in the future. I think that he is looking toward, of course, some of the activity that the city will be doing in regard to the Canada Winter Games.
He is so worried about losing those employees and all the ones he lost in the summer ó many of them are serving apprenticeships and are in the middle of their apprenticeships, at the beginning of apprenticeships or are journeyman ó and he indicated to me that already three or four very good tradespeople are now taking jobs with far less pay out of the construction sector and will probably not be coming back into the construction sector when it picks up again because they were offered longer term jobs even though they have less pay.
He does not know how he is going to be able to find workers of that calibre who are trained and know the systems he works with, and who know the mode of operation. Itís a highly skilled trade. He does not believe the workers are out there at this present time. Many of them have been sent already, or have left or had the opportunity to work in the northern provinces from B.C. all the way to Manitoba. Theyíre across there working, and he canít see them coming back.
So heís really concerned that if the economy does pick up ó definitely if some of the projects go forward from the cityís initiative ó heís going to have a shortage of skilled workers. He had looked at the supplementary budget and found it wanting. He didnít find anything there that, in the past, other governments have been able to do, and that is to bridge the spaces between the projects to ensure there are enough jobs out there to keep a good and stable workforce going, so they can ride through the hard times.
What weíre witnessing right now are some very difficult times. I talked to another contractor. Again, he employs a substantial number of people in the Yukon, and he was laying off four people last week and indicated to me there are no jobs ó zero ó that he can see.
Another concern that was brought to me by another contractor who called me was the cancellation of jobs theyíre bidding on. Thatís a huge concern, and I believe there was a wash bay proposed for one of the government buildings, something along that line. This job came in over what was budgeted, and my understanding is that it has been cancelled.
Can the minister inform me if thatís true, if that job was actually cancelled?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First let me answer the last question. No, in fact the job is proceeding, equipment is being mobilized to the site and the wash bay will be built. We believe the start date is right now, at least in the next day or two, and is projected to go into the new year. But I want to engage with the member on a number of things. First off, this government is very concerned about our construction community, recognizing the difficulties that theyíve experienced in the past and how this territoryís economy has shrunk, but I must say that before I get into the budget itself there are a number of indicators here that are starting to show that our efforts are helping to turn the territory in the right direction.
When you look at retail sales, the value of real estate and the value of building permits, all are pointing upward. Of course there are huge projects on the horizon ó an example: Canada Winter Games. And with the business incentive policy we are going to be assured that as much local participation as possible will transpire.
Also, the membersí concerns are of such importance to the government that we have made some very tough political decisions ó no question about it ó in doing what weíve been doing. When you look at that I think weíll see that our amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act, for example, is intended to turn the situation around in another way. Weíre putting in place as many possible options as we can to try to get this territoryís economy growing again.
But letís look at the budget itself, Mr. Chair. There are millions of dollars going toward job creation, not to mention the fact that we have created a new Department of Economic Development about half the size of the original with some very interesting strategic focuses.
The film industry: we have injected money into the film industry through the film incentive fund. It is now around $1 million. The film industry is excited. We are excited, and we know that will bear fruit. Strategic industries development: thereís $200,000 for that. The Old Crow winter road is huge because of what it provides us in the future for jobs and benefits for the citizens of Old Crow, and it even goes further with federal participation in the airport itself.
Thereís $750,000 into auxiliary and casual for road maintenance this winter. The planning for the Tantalus school will help your construction friend or individual, because thatís just another project that they can look to. Thereís $200,000 to the Porter Creek Secondary School shop cafeteria expansion. Thereís a half a million dollars for engineering on the south Robert Campbell Highway to prepare for further construction to keep that construction community going; and further highway planning improvements, general, are a half a million dollars.
The work on the Roundhouse has contributed a quarter of a million dollars of stimulus into the economy. Rural electrification and telephone is $300,000 of stimulus; security renovations, $955,000; northern housing projects with First Nations is another $160,000. All these things are creating jobs and benefit and stimulus in the economy.
There is a quarter of a million dollars toward the Aboriginal Pipeline Group; forest renewal is a quarter of a million dollars. Thereís forest re-engineering, laying out timber in the southeast Yukon so that there is access to that resource finally. For a beetle-kill forestry study, thereís a quarter of a million dollars to see if we can get economic benefit out of the beetle kill in Haines Junction and, at the same time, reduce the risk of wildfire.
Weíre not forgetting our tourism and cultural industries: the Carcross cultural centre, a contribution there of $300,000; historic places initiative, $329,000; we have injected money into the Canada Winter Games, $4 million to be exact. The host society has $2 million. Thereís a revote of $1.6 million in this budget for the host society and then another $2 million for infrastructure.
We have also committed to the decade of sport and culture in conjunction with the Canada Winter Games and have put $320,000 toward that. The FireSmart and CDF programs continue to generate jobs and benefits in our communities. Examples of that are renovations to the old liquor store in Dawson, youth centre roof repairs in Haines Junction, the Old Crow Recreation Society, De Cho Trail interpretive plan and the Whitehorse Youth Centre, just to name a few.
Weíve expended money on training projects, and letís not forget what weíre doing on our social front. Our social fabric remains strong under this government: family service staffing, $210,000; autistic children family contribution of $133,000; child residential treatment, $502,000; group receiving homes, another $460,000; residence group home, another $298,000.
When it comes to health care, a $1.8-million increase for the hospital; $389,000 more for travel; a new ambulance for Ross River; repairs on the Thomson Centre roof; $500,000 for diagnostic equipment; tele-health, $316,000; Child Development Centre, $102,000; expansion of the chronic disease program, $1 million plus; the Womenís Directorate, undertaking a leadership role in violence against women in our aboriginal communities, $100,000 there; $675,000 increase to child care operating grants; relief for seniors through the pioneer utility grant; Canada Senior Games, $100,000; and the list goes on and on.
This is a very substantial, significant supplementary budget. Itís some $95,500,000. There are millions in job creation and millions toward our social programs, our social safety net, health care and education.
Mr. Hardy: Well, that was nice to list off where you spent $95.5 million. I would hope that there are some things that they spent money on. Thatís the largest supplementary budget ever brought in the Yukon. Interestingly enough, itís the largest supplementary budget ever brought into the Yukon but itís the worst budget that has ever been seen by the construction sector. That canít be argued because all you have to do is make a call in and talk to some of them, if this government would be willing to do that.
What I do want to do is thank the minister for assuring me that the wash bay was proceeding because it takes a fair amount of work for contractors to put these prices together. They are really, really hoping for some scrap of work that they can get in order to keep some of the crews that they have.
All you have to do is go out there, Mr. Chair, and walk through some of the shops, walk around, visit some of the sites and recognize that there are very, very few people in the trades who are employed right now.
All you have to do is look at the unemployment figure. That doesnít lie. It is the highest that weíve seen in years and it continues to go up. All we have to do is look at the fact that more and more of our skilled people are leaving the territory. You would only have to make a couple of phone calls to find out that. Those are the stark realities. Those are what people are living with today out in the workforce ó not standing there listing off where you spent a bunch of money and saying that that has turned the economy around.
I know that the minister often talks about how, under their watch, the economy has got better. Well, many economies are measured by how many people are employed and what the employment figures are.
Weíve seen an increase in those unemployment figures. I donít see the economy improving, but thereís one area that it talks about that says itís on the upswing ó oil and gas and mining. Yes, there does seem to be more investment ó absolutely. However, there isnít a person in this House who doesnít know that 99 percent of that is driven by the price of the minerals and the oil and gas. That is an absolute and utter fact. Thatís the way it works. Everybody on both sides of the House has said it in this House, at least one time or another, including the Premier, on many occasions. The industry says it. They just said it recently, last month, at the symposium, where they said that the increase in price has allowed the mining and oil and gas exploration companies to expand. If those oil and gas prices were to drop, we would see a shrinkage. We have seen it for the last hundred years. Itís a pattern we see all the time.
Laying credit to something like that is a disservice, and itís not something that governments should do. They should recognize that has a major impact on the future in those industries. What Iím concerned about is that when we debate and discuss this, we recognize the forces weíre dealing with and donít try to lay claim to them. We recognize the benefits and opportunities that we capitalize on, the work we do to stimulate or encourage investment and activity, but we donít try to say that because of us, the oil prices have gone up, and because of us, the mineral prices have gone up, therefore thereís more opportunity. We donít try to say, "The gem discoveries happened under our watch," because, of course, they didnít happen under this governmentís watch.
And no government should lay claim to the gem discoveries. Itís through the good work and exploration abilities of working people out there and these people who believe that there are minerals out there to be explored. Letís give credit where credit is due ó a humbling experience at times.
Retail sales, the Premier has mentioned retail sales. Well guess what? It is Christmas. Guess what? Retail sales do climb because spending is happening at this period of time. It happens every year, an increase in retail sales. Not only that, the second biggest retail sales market or period in the year happens to be Halloween, interestingly enough. I didnít know that. It was quite an interesting fact when I was doing some reading. Itís one of the areas that they market the most, retailers market the most and people seem to spend money for that period. And if you think about it, we go from Halloween, we go into other holidays, we go into Christmas, and of course people are spending the money and doing that, so itís expected that retail sales will go up. Well, thank goodness they do, otherwise many of these very small businesses would be in big difficulties.
We asked the government, the Premier, the Minister of Finance, to consider bringing in a second supplementary budget that would bring forward some projects this winter to assist the construction industry. We think that the government across the way has the ability. There are many projects on the books that can move forward immediately and there is definitely a surplus that would allow that to happen. I donít want to see more of my friends leave. I donít want to see more workers and more apprentices have to abandon the trades of their choice because the government didnít have the ability to bridge the gap between this period and the next, like other governments have done in the past.
Would the Premier consider bringing forward a second supplementary budget to assist this sector?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, again, a lot has been put forward in this debate. I want to address some of the issues. Weíre not laying claim to the turnaround in the mining industry solely through the efforts of this government. What weíre saying is the window of opportunity is opening, and we are doing things as a government to provide a more certain and positive investment climate. The cessation of a very flawed process, the Yukon protected areas strategy, has a lot to do with what the investment community views the Yukon as. A commitment to regulatory review is vital. We heard the members opposite berate the government and oppose the Kaska bilateral agreement when we were faced, coming into office, with no land claim and no mandate to negotiate a claim, leaving that uncertainty in an area of extreme interest for industry. And what did we get out of that already to date? Well, Teck Cominco has formed a partnership with the Ross River Dena Council. Teck Cominco, a major mining company, is coming into this territory. We know how the NDP opposes Teck Cominco in terms of speculative debate around their environmental track record. Some of this stuff is even in court. The point is, Teck Comincoís record in the Yukon is whatís critical to us, and their participation in the mining sector will only derive more benefits for the territory. We have ample regulatory processes, legislative processes, controls in place, to ensure that responsible development is the order of the day. And I must point out to the members opposite that mining has dramatically changed how it approaches development in every sector, in every region.
The member opposite made the comment that the economy is the unemployment rate. We have debated for days here that there is much more to an economy; there is much more that makes up an economy. The full equation is important and, of course, the main ingredient is the cash flow. Thatís the fuel that drives any economic engine.
The member opposite is on one hand accusing the government of going on a spending spree and then on the other hand demanding that we pour millions more into the economy. We are making moves here to open up the options available to government to ensure that construction projects can go ahead in a timely manner with private sector investment, not just the government being involved here.
But the members opposite are opposed to P3s. They have made that very plain. They are opposed to that bad word that they claim is bad profit. They donít like profit. They just want dependence on government. We are doing everything we can with this supplementary to help stimulate the economy, and we are going to do more. Thatís why we are entering into a new fiscal cycle, a new budget cycle. Our work is far from complete but we have started the territory turning in the right direction, from a direction that has brought us to the brink of full dependency on government. That is definitely changing and that is most certainly in the best interests of the territory and its citizens.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to ask the minister for some information. I had asked for details around the previous supplementary and some information from the department. I havenít yet received it. Could the minister please indicate when I might be receiving that? I had asked for it in a fairly short turnaround time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I can almost hear those officials in the Finance department busily rummaging through the papers, getting all those answers, and we will have that shortly for the member opposite ó maybe even by tomorrow.
Ms. Duncan: The minister had previously indicated that he would send it down forthwith. Itís unfortunate that he didnít live up to that.
Iíd just like to deal for a few minutes in the straight numbers around this budget. Itís a $95-million supplementary. The minister has said that on many occasions. The $95-million supplementary budget in expenditures, in the previous remarks ó I was just re-examining them as it has been some time since we debated. $45 million of it is devolution, as I understand it. And thereís $16 million in revotes. That leaves, by my calculations, about $31 million. Itís not tied to devolution; itís not tied to the revotes. $3 million of it is ó as looking through the budget documents ó a straight transfer from the federal government to the territorial government on health care.
There are other transfers from the federal government where itís a strict transfer of money. For example, there is money for líAssociation franco-yukonnaise daycare where itís listed in the capital side and then in the recoveries. Could the Finance minister outline the other $31 million?
Where Iím going with this is that I would like the Finance minister to indicate how much of it is actual spend-down of our pre-existing surplus and how much of it is straight transfer of different programs weíve entered into with the federal government ó of the $31 million, if he would give us greater detail on that.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I take it the member wants to know where the money is coming from, or where itís being spent.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Okay. Well, where itís coming from, outside of devolution, Northern Affairs, is the census ó$10,303,000. Then there is also a one-time for $15,166,000. Thereís an extra $624,000 of revenues. So there it is, $10,303,000, $15,166,000, and $624,000 ó and then the $44 million, which is the direct devolution transfer.
But I just listed off a long list of where money is going, Mr. Chair. That totals millions. I can round it out for the member opposite. Weíre looking at $10 million into social programs, $15 million into capital or job creation and other expenditures. So there is a detailed list. Some of it is small, like $100,000 for the Womenís Directorate; some of itís quite large, if you factor in the Canada Winter Games allocations of $2 million capital, $2 million O&M. Theyíre all in the budget document.
Ms. Duncan: I understand that theyíre in the budget document. What Iím trying to have the minister state clearly for the record is how much of this $95-million supplementary budget is an actual spend-down of the surplus of monies the government already had and how much of it is just straightforward boutique programs that we do for the federal government all the time? How much of it is just a straight transfer from the federal government to the territorial government on specific programs?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think first, again, the figures in the budget document ó how much is the spend-down of the surplus? Well, weíve determined, until we get the final accounting from the Auditor General, that year-end March 31 ó oh, weíve already got that accounting, right? Yes, the amount is $69 million. We are showing a forecasted accumulated surplus for March 2004 of $61 million. So, if you add it up, youíre talking an $8 million spend-down of the surplus.
The other list I read out ó I can go over it again for the member opposite. Itís a long one. This isnít boutique programs; these are direct expenditures out of this budget. If she wants me to read it again, Iíll do it. It certainly isnít boutique programs. Itís a long list of short-term job creation, achieving a better quality of life in social expenditures, and even education. Thereís $1 million for a needs assessment, $60,000 more for councils ó oh, $649,000 here for the Yukon Teachers Association agreement; increases for teachers and EAs of $456,000; another $100,000 for indexing the student grant ó hardly boutique ó $198,000 for FAS teacher training ó and then the list I read before.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd encourage the Finance minister to ó I know he doesnít like to listen to the questions, but if he could just hear me out on the question, Iíd appreciate it.
What I was looking for was an outline, or a figure, of how much, aside from devolution, were straight transfers on specific programming. So, I cited, for example, líAssociation franco-yukonnaise daycare. Thereís a straight recovery and thereís a straight amount. Iím just wondering how many programs like that ó whatís the dollar figure in there? Thereís $154,000 ó I think it is ó for that specific program. We quite often do agriculture programs like this. There are a number of them that the territorial government essentially undertakes on behalf of the federal government.
There is the transfer from Canada in terms of income of an additional, and there is the Northern Health Accord, the health reform transfer, the CHST ó those are separate. These are the smaller programs and smaller amounts. Is it $1 million? Is it $500,000? It flows through our books, and I am just wondering what that amount is.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is in the budget book.
Let me proceed by reading into the record recoveries: Community Services, $839,000; Energy, Mines and Resources ó thatís in this supplementary ó $1.4 million; Environment, $18,000; Health and Social Services, $1,068,000; Highways and Public Works, $49,000; Tourism and Culture, $342,000. Thatís all in the budget document on page S-7; thatís recoveries.
Here are some O&M recoveries, on page S-5 of the budget document: Executive Council Office, $563,000; Community Services, $16,000; Economic Development, $92,000; Education, $184,000; Energy, Mines and Resources, $5.4 million; Environment, $54,000; for Health and Social Services there is actually a reduction in the recovery of $356,000; Highways and Public Works, an actual reduction in O&M recovery of $6,000; Yukon Housing Corporation in O&M recoveries is plus $207,000. Totalling it all up and looking into page S-2, the total recoveries are $10,420,000 ó all here in the pages of the budget.
Ms. Duncan: And all of that is over and above and separate from any devolution money. I understood from the briefing that some of that Energy, Mines and Resources money was connected to the transfer. Now what Iím hearing the minister say is, no, this $10 million is well outside of the devolution agreement. Thatís just what Iím trying to determine for the general public. The $10 million that he has just cited ó and Iím not trying to be difficult; Iím just asking a question that Iíd like the answer to. Is that separate from the devolution money, or is there still some devolution money rolled in that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We will find that for the member opposite. We do know that $44.94 million is directly related to devolution, but now thereís a question for Energy, Mines and Resources specifically, and itís a one-time.
Part of the $10 million, which would include capital and O&M, is recoveries and Iíll read them off: Tough report funding, $800,000; reduction of agricultural food innovation, $71,000; Tough report again ó and this would be one-time funding ó $300,000; Type II mine sites, $4.284 million; Geological Survey of Canada to do with northern geoscience, 100-percent recoverable, $179,000. And thatís part of the $10 million that we just listed.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I understand that itís part of the $10 million, but I understood you could also say that part of the Type II mine sites transfer is part of the devolution; could you not? I mean, itís just ó Iíll move on.
I was trying to sort out with the minister ó thereís $44 million thatís devolution, thereís $10 million in other programming that is a recovery from Canada. I was trying to figure out what that figure is. He says itís $10 million in the budget book. Fair enough. And itís all separate from devolution. Thatís what theyíre saying. Fair enough. That was all I was asking.
I was just seeking clarification for the record.
Mr. Chair, on the issues around the drawing down of the surplus, the minister has also said it has been drawn down by $8 million. Why doesnít he get the tablets?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I will confirm on page S-2 that we started the accumulated surplus March 2003, $69,695,000, and we forecast an accumulated surplus March 31, 2004 of $61,112,000, so thatís $8 million and changeó $8,500,000, somewhere in there.
Ms. Duncan: Thereís no long-term financial plan tabled with this document. That doesnít normally happen with a supplementary. We also donít normally receive $44 million in devolution funding.
Will the Premier provide the House, given the size of this supplementary ó he wonít tell us what the surplus is today. Will he tell us what the long-term financial plan is ó the surplus as of the Management Board meeting, if itís still scheduled on Wednesday, December 3?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: At the risk of being repetitive, our forecast to the accumulated surplus today, fiscal year-end March 31, 2004, is $61,112,000.
Ms. Duncan: The surplus they started out with ó $69,695,000, substantially close to the surplus they started with December 2, I might add, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, Management Board meets December 3. The Finance minister wonít tell us what the surplus is. The Finance minister has tabled a $95-million supplementary budget that draws down the surplus by $8 million. He will not tell the Yukon public what the surplus is today. He wonít table a long-term plan.
He wonít provide the details that he was asked for over a week ago and which he committed to provide.
The request has been made many times in this Legislature for a breakdown of the community expenditures. Itís done as a matter of course. The Finance computer programs are well capable of providing a breakdown by community. Will he provide that information for these supplementary expenditures?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: You know, Mr. Chair, I think we have to delve into this issue. This member is famous for bringing incorrect information to the floor of this Legislature. She does it on a continuous basis ó
Chair:Order please. The member well knows that it is inappropriate to make a statement such as was just made óaccusing another member of knowingly bringing false information to this Legislature. I would strongly ask the member to retract that statement.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie:Iíll retract "knowingly". The member has put incorrect information on the floor, and thereís no other way to ó
Chair:Order. Ms. Duncan.
Ms. Duncan: That is not a retraction and the member has an onus to indicate what I have said that is incorrect if heís going to insist upon it.
Chair: The Chair concurs. I would ask the member to retract the statement.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie:I retract "knowingly bringing incorrect information to the floor". The member has just stated some things that are incorrect and that is what I am going to debate, Mr. Chair. The member has stated that the $69-million surplus was the exact same as last December ó absolutely not. The member opposite conveniently ignores the census adjustment values and all that goes with it. The surplus last December was not $69 million. Letís give another example: the member opposite has made the claim that a contractor has a $76,000 travel expense when it is only $8,400. These are the types of things Iím pointing out.
Furthermore, the member opposite, in debating backward, is making claims that simply are not relevant to this budget debate or document because they are wrong.
So, having said that, the $69-million surplus was created by re-injecting the $15-million contingency census adjustment figure and what we got in doing the undercount. Thatís how the $69-million surplus got created. Itís not something that was there last December at all.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite is making another claim that bears no response.
So, we have pointed out already that we have spent down the surplus from a year ago by $8 million. That is the accumulated surplus of today. We have pointed out to the member opposite where the recoveries are. We have pointed out that the $44 million is due to the devolution transfer. Itís also housed in the budget under transfer from Canada. We have pointed out everything possible, including a lot of the information that is here in the pages of the budget document.
I would like to debate with the member opposite some of the merits and values of what this budget is doing out there and the millions of dollars that are flowing into stimulating the Yukonís spending power and dealing with the social fabric of this territory.
Ms. Duncan: Does Management Board meet on Wednesday, and is the Finance minister still the chair of Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: For the public record, Management Board still meets on Wednesday, when required and, yes, the Finance minister is still the chair.
Ms. Duncan: Is the amount of the surplus the second item on the Management Board meeting agenda?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, we donít bore ourselves with numbers that change every hour. Our surplus for this year, as forecasted, is $61,112,000.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I do apologize if the Finance minister is bored with these questions and bored with his job. However, I did ask a question. Is the amount of the surplus the second item on the Management Board agenda that meets on Wednesday?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is current ó the number Iíve been putting the floor countless times, all this changes based on variance reports. Thatís how it works. The member should know that.
Ms. Duncan: Is the amount of the surplus, as of that date, the second item on the Management Board agenda?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The amount of the surplus, as of today, Mr. Chair, is $61,112,000.
Ms. Duncan: Thatís not the question I asked. I asked if itís the second item on the Management Board agenda.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, as Iíve stated earlier, the surplus is an ever-moving target. Our forecast is $61 million. We donít spend every day in Management Board worrying about whatís coming with a variance report for next month. We focus on the issues important to Yukoners; thatís what we do. Weíre very comfortable with the forecasted amount, and today the forecasted amount, the surplus of today, is $61,112,000.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the issue pertinent to Yukoners is, among other things, how the government is spending the money, how the government is making public expenditures on behalf of the public.
It has been well-documented throughout the country that Finance ministers make statements perhaps four times a year, quarterly, on the amount of the nationís surplus, the amount of deficit and what the expenditures are. The government made much upon taking office of having a bare cupboard and have managed to take endless credit for the dissolution of a number of funds ó money that was prudently set aside, in case the census undercounts had gone another way. It could have happened, so it was set aside.
The fact remains that the Minister of Finance has said over and over again that the surplus changes on a regular basis. That it does. He is informed, as the Minister of Finance, on a regular basis. He is choosing not to inform the Yukon taxpayers, other than once a year ó and a projection at that ó where weíre at financially. I personally find that less than open and less than accountable to the public.
The minister has not answered the question: will he provide a community breakdown? Itís also standard for a government to indicate the amount of job creation. That estimate is also prepared by the Department of Finance ó the estimate of the amount of job creation, either in supplementary or a budget.
This is the largest ever. Itís an unusual supplementary. Will the minister provide that information? A yes or no would suffice.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That was a lot of information, and Iím not quite sure what it is that we are supposed to provide. The member talked about quarterly reports. We brought forward a report partway through a fiscal year. Itís a supplementary budget updating the finances of the territory, clearly reflecting where the accumulated surplus is today ó $61 million. The member says that $69 million was the number from last December but fails to recognize that $49.5 million of that was created this year but was retroactive. If we looked at the memberís logic, the surplus would have been, at the end of March 2003, $20 million. Thatís what we are dealing with, Mr. Chair.
Normally, in supplementaries, we donít provide community breakdowns; thatís in the mains. We are here to debate a budget that has $95.5 million in expenditures. Almost half of that ó letís call it $45 million ó is due to devolution, because we did not know what the figure would be until post-April 1, when devolution came into force and effect. Thatís why we brought forward a special warrant to be able to pay the employees. There is no question that this is a fairly simple budget to debate, given the large values, such as the $45 million for devolution, the $10 million in recoveries, Northern Health Accord of $6.6 million ó there are some huge chunks here.
The member wants to get into finite detail and break down smaller elements of the budget. A lot of that information is on the preceding pages. Then the member could easily flesh out this information department by department where the ministers responsible will have the details. We are in general debate.
Ms. Duncan: Weíre in general debate, and members of the opposition, including me, have asked for some information. Will the minister provide that information? No, it is not standard to provide a community breakdown with a supplementary, and I recognize that fact. I also indicated that this is not your normal supplementary budget; itís $95 million. If the minister is not prepared to provide that information, as heís not prepared to provide a number of pieces of information, he simply has to say so.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, Iíd much prefer to have our Finance officials working on whatís coming in the next fiscal year, which theyíre doing now. The member would know that. The budget cycle is commencing, and for what purpose the member would need this community breakdown Iím not so sure, but we can certainly flesh out some information during debate. But that would mean weíd have to get into department by department, where the ministers responsible have the detail.
Ms. Duncan: I do apologize that the Minister of Finance finds it so tedious to deal with questions from the opposition. Unfortunately, thatís his job. There are a number of grants that the government dispenses, and there are also a number of tax breaks the government has available. I note with interest that all, save two of these, seem to be under the purview of the Minister of Finance. He has responsibility over the tax issues. The community development fund has been moved to the Premierís control. The film funds have been moved to the Premierís control; the Womenís Directorate all of a sudden has a $100,000 fund. They all seem to be within one member of Cabinet. Perhaps the Premier would like to explain, other than the decade of sports and culture and the kids recreation fund ó the childrenís recreation fund, eminently more than deserving of a portion of this $95-million surplus, doesnít appear to have an increase. The Minister of Health can explain that when we get into that debate, Iím sure. The Minister of Tourism, Iím sure, is looking forward to explaining about the decade of sports and culture, the $200,000.
FireSmart may still be with the Minister of Community Services, thatís hard to say, but would the minister care to explain why the vast majority of the granting mechanisms, as well as the tax mechanisms, all are residing within his control? Or perhaps heíd like to share with us news of a Cabinet shuffle or the addition of a Cabinet member.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Iím at a loss because Iím not quite sure what point the member is trying to make. First off, when it comes to taxes, thatís the Department of Finance and I just happen to be the minister responsible for the Department of Finance. There, weíve put that one aside.
Community development fund and the film industry are in the Department of Economic Development and the Minister of Economic Development.
I take exception to the memberís point on the Womenís Directorate. We made the commitment to re-establish the Womenís Directorate in this government and in this territory and give it the authority necessary for it to carry out its work, and the fact that we put $100,000 into the Womenís Directorate to address a terrible scourge in our society, especially when it comes to aboriginal women, who are three times more likely to experience violence in the home ó I think the member opposite is debating down the wrong road here. That is a very good expenditure.
The Womenís Directorate is taking the lead, along with the other territories and working with the federal government to address issues like on-reserve, off-reserve policies that lead to negative impacts in this area, and weíre trying to find ways that we can bring forward solutions to help those in need. The fact that Iím the minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate speaks volumes to what we, this government, believe the Women's Directorateís role should be. We have placed it in the Premierís office. Thatís a statement, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: My question was: why is the vast majority of the financial control and the granting mechanisms, the leeway where a department or a minister has the ability to recommend for projects and so on ó theyíre all centred in one individual. The question was not about how the $100,000 in the Womenís Directorate is going to be expended. The question was: doesnít the Finance minister have any confidence in his other ministers ó he only gives them the financial control over their legislated responsibilities?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This is turning into a joke. Letís look at one of my departments, the Executive Council Office ó $1.8 million in this supplementary. Letís look at the Community Services department. The Member for Riverdale South is responsible for this department. His responsibility in this budget debate is $13.2 million. Letís look at Energy, Mines and Resources ó $2.1 million; Education ó $1.16 million. And this is just capital. Health and Social Services ó $2.289 million; Highways and Public Works ó $2.114 million. None of these are in my purview. Tourism and Culture ó $727,000.
Letís look at O&M. Community Services ó another $14.417 million. Thatís another minister. Energy, Mines and Resources ó $22,225,000. Thatís the Minister for Porter Creek Centre. Health and Social Services ó the Member for Klondike is the minister responsible for $8.5 million. Highways and Public Works ó again, the Member for Riverdale South ó $4.892 million. The Public Service Commission ó the Member for McIntyre-Takhini ó $3.9 million.
Multi-millions of dollars of this budget in the control and responsibility of other ministers ó what is the member talking about?
Ms. Duncan: Shouting a response doesnít make it any different, Mr. Chair.
What I was making reference to was that other ministers have legislated responsibilities. For example, Health has legislated responsibilities that they have to pay for. The majority of the separate funding mechanisms all rest with the Minister of Finance. I was merely pointing that out for the Yukon public. I donít know why the minister is so defensive about it. Itís just a lack of confidence in his backbenchers or his Cabinet colleagues.
The mineral exploration tax credit is also difficult to ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Under revenues and expenses.
Itís an extremely worthwhile tax credit and itís a solid policy that was introduced and enhanced. It also causes difficulty for the Finance minister because the amount that is spent on any given exploration season ó itís like projections around the surplus and projections around the revenues and the taxation. We had a very good exploration season. Many Yukoners are very glad to see that, as I was. It did exactly what the mineral exploration tax credit was supposed to do: it encouraged people to go out there and explore. It also has a cost to the government. Like the variables around the surplus and deficit and variance reports, it can give the Finance minister some grey hair ó whoever the Finance minister is. Does the Finance minister, in this supplementary budget ó is there any reflection around different projections around the mineral exploration tax credit or are they some ways down the road?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think this is a fabulous problem to have. Number one, the government agrees wholeheartedly that the mineral exploration tax credit is a good incentive for us in the Yukon. One could only wish that the federal government would contribute more in enticing the mining industry to explore in this country. Why? Because exploring is a prerequisite for any mining development to take place. We need exploration.
But itís a great problem to have, and although the final accounting is not in ó because I believe we still have exploration going on right now in this territory. But I think weíre already over $2 million with what has come in, which would be part of our rebate under the mineral exploration tax credit. Weíll have to determine the final figures once we know when the exploration season has ended and we can do the final accounting.
Ms. Duncan: So the figures in the supplementary budget we have before us are not reflective of the current summer season then, because weíre still awaiting those figures, as I understand the response. I do appreciate the Finance minister putting on record the support of all the previous governments for this mineral exploration tax credit and the recognition of our governmentís efforts, in particular, in working with the feds on the flow-through shares or some similar program.
The point is that these figures are not reflective of the current exploration season. Those figures will be reflected in next yearís supplementary and show a decrease in revenues, or theyíll show on the revenues and expenditures page.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Weíre estimating right now but we will reflect it for the 2000 calendar year when we have the final accounting.
Ms. Duncan: Just to confirm for the record before we get into the specific departmentals, the details Iíve asked for and have not yet received on the last supplementary I may get this week are: that long-term financial plans were not tabled with this supplementary, although itís a very unusual supplementary and we wonít receive them; that the forecast and the current surplus as of today, as of Management Board meeting December 3 ó the forecasted accumulated surplus is $61,112,000, and as of March 31, 2004 that remains the same and the Finance minister will not tell us the state of the surplus today; that the community breakdown normally provided with the major budget presented in the spring, ó although, again, this is an unusual supplementary budget with $95,505,000 in expenditures ó will not be provided.
The Premier, in relation to that, has made much of job creation of this budget; however, he wonít provide those statistics either that are normally provided with the budget. Will he give a more detailed listing than of the major capital projects ó other than the budget rhetoric. I mean, we can get into it and debate it line by line, but major capital projects, the flagship ó I canít see that there is one. Have I missed some part of the Premierís rhetoric?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, what first comes to mind is our contribution to the multiplex for the Canada Winter Games. Thatís not a tent that we are putting up. But there is the ability to do this department by department. There are millions here that are going into stimulating the economy ó whether it be through O&M expenditures or capital ó and also millions into the social fabric. I read a whole list of capital that is involved here. I will do it again.
The Executive Council Office ó thatís not something that we would worry about in terms of job creation, but Community Services has $13.2 million; Energy, Mines and Resources, $2.1 million; Public Works, $2.14 million ó there are some examples right there. That is in capital.
The member can certainly flesh all this out department by department. I think I would urge the member to do that. She might find that the ministers that she has discredited somewhat today by making mention that it appears that I donít involve them in the finances of this government ó they may surprise her.
Ms. Duncan: I didnít discredit the ministers. I merely pointed out the fact that the Finance minister has retained control ó absolute and complete ó and given his ministers very, very little flexibility beyond their legislative responsibilities.
I asked for a major capital project and what flagship the minister would have to point to. There isnít one. There is a revote of the Canada Winter Games, which was an initiative of previous governments ó itís a revote of finances. There is no new major road construction. There is no badly needed, well-overdue, past-its-best-before-date reconstruction of the Correctional Centre.
The health care centres promised for Watson Lake and Dawson arenít here, and in spite of spending $95.5 million, the government has failed miserably in putting people to work.
The supplementary budget and work could have been done ó as opposed to amending and gutting the Taxpayer Protection Act ó by bringing forward a reduction in tax for small business to take effect next year. They didnít do it. All the funding, with the exception of the childrenís recreation fund, the decade of sports and culture and FireSmart, are all within the purview of the Finance minister.
Iíve asked a number of questions, and the minister has either indicated he will not provide the information ó the openness and accountability that Yukoners have asked for ó or he has said that details weíve asked for in other budgets, in other information, will be forthcoming. That is instrumental to this debate, because it deals with the leave liability account and some information with respect to how much of the contributions are contained in this budget.
Hopefully we will indeed get the information, and Iíll leave those questions for the line-by-line debate on that department. Hopefully the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission will not pass the questions off to the Finance minister, and will be able to answer them.
I am prepared to move on at this point, but I understand there may be others who have questions in general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, thatís quite an experience, listening to that. First off, it is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance in government to ensure that the finances of the government are being expended appropriately. Maybe thatís what the member opposite is alluding to, although I donít know for sure.
The member opposite talks about highway construction in the supplementary budget. Well, the last time I looked, we were in the middle of winter, and itís very difficult to build a road, to compact the subgrade and to compact the surface when there are freezing temperatures out. It doesnít work.
So what weíve done is the most appropriate thing. We are preparing for road construction in the coming season by expending hundreds of thousands of dollars on engineering. Mr. Chair, unbelievable, not to mention the millions of dollars of capital expenditure in the mains already that the highway construction community was involved in this year, and weíre very pleased that it was the local contractors this year who did the lionís share of the work. And there is much more here, Mr. Chair.
I think this member opposite fails to recognize what these expenditures are doing. When we put forward $200,000 for a winter road into Old Crow, the purpose of that is to get equipment into that community to commence work in the coming season, work that is desperately needed ó work that will result in not only the bank restabilization but the production of granular in the community, which will also have us partner with the federal government in the airport itself, which could realize, if successful, another $3 million of expenditure from the federal government ó a lot of money injected into a community where itís desperately needed.
When we are planning for the Tantalus School in this supplementary budget, it is so we can commence construction in the coming years as the plans proceed, and thatís an important fact. When we are laying out timber ó half a million dollars in laying out timber in the southeast Yukon ó does the member not believe that might put somebody to work? We all know how that member shut the forest industry down in the southeast Yukon upon taking office, because nobody in Watson Lake wanted to vote in a Liberal government. That was a critical time for that community. We are now turning that around again. We have to work with what that member created in forestry in the southeast Yukon by entering into the MOU. We are working with that, and the $500,000 in forest engineering is laying out 128,000 cubic metres of wood for consumption this winter.
Weíre also focused on how to ensure local consumption, not by me, but by the leadership of the minister responsible in this area, Energy, Mines and Resources. We also put money toward a beetle-kill study in the Haines Junction area, that is to focus on how to derive some economic benefit from an area that is in a critical condition, given the fire risk, and that is also to lower the fire risk in the Haines Junction area.
Does the member not think that the film incentive fund creates something here? We just had the National Film Board of Canada here in the territory, in Whitehorse, excited about the potential of what we will be doing in our film industry.
Does the member not recognize that, in this budget, the creation of the Department of Economic Development is critical to the future of the economy of this territory? It was that member who dismantled the Department of Economic Development in an ever-shrinking economy.
We have turned that around and created a Department of Economic Development that is going to focus strategically on where we take this territory and its economy. We are focusing on trade and investment. We are focusing on strategic industries. We are focusing for the first time with a concerted agency within and focused agency within the department on regional economic development. Thatís all housed in this budget.
The member put a lot of things on the record that were critical but did not provide any rationale or substantive evidence of that criticism. The member makes much of the decade of sports and culture. Well, Iíll tell you something: that $320,000 is to help Yukoners prepare for such things as the Canada Winter Games. We are going to ensure that we make best efforts for our people, for our citizens, to enjoy and participate and be a major and meaningful part of what is going to be one of the biggest events this territory has ever experienced.
Letís talk about increases for teachers and EAs in our schools; almost a half a million dollars toward that. Letís talk about the needs assessment that the minister is undertaking with the Department of Education to go into our schools and our communities to find ways that we can improve and help where needed. Where there is a demonstrated need, we are acting. Is not FAS training for teachers supportive in our schools? Is that not important to this member, or is the member just totally bent on criticism with no substantive evidence? Does the member believe that just because the Canada Winter Games is a revote it has no reflection on whatís happening in the coming year? Does the member not recognize that a $28-million project in the City of Whitehorse is quite significant?
When it comes to strategic industries development, does the member not recognize how important strategic industries are to this territory and the fact that we have contributed resources to further that? Does the member not recognize the $750,000 extended to the Department of Highways and Public Works to be able to hire additional auxiliary and casual workers this winter? There is $750,000 toward that. That puts Yukoners to work.
Does the member not recognize a $200,000 expenditure in her riding in the Porter Creek Secondary School? Does that not create benefit, not only for somebody to go to work in doing that expansion and renovation but what it does for the environment in the school for the students? It makes it a better place.
Further highway planning improvements of another $500,000 preparing for road construction; rural electrification and telephone, $300,000 ó that creates benefits and jobs for Yukoners.
We also look forward ó the Aboriginal Pipeline Group ó in preparing the Yukon for the eventuality of the Alaska Highway pipeline. Itís an important expenditure. Itís our duty to be pipeline-prepared internally, border to border in the Yukon, and we have to do that with our First Nation people, not in spite of them; and the list goes on.
Does not a cultural centre in Carcross provide benefit in a community where benefit is needed? Is not a historical places initiative of a $329,000 expenditure providing benefit and assessments and purpose for this territory in what is a very important part of this Yukon of ours: its history?
Mr. Chair, it goes on. Education is very important, even down to humane services like the Mae Bachur Animal Shelterís core funding. This government recognizes needs where they are demonstrated. We recognize where there is a service being provided to the community, and we have acted. And the list can go on and on and on, Mr. Chair. I respect the official opposition because in general debate they certainly made attempts to add constructively, but when thereís nothing but criticism, with no substantive backup in detail, with no constructive option provided with just strictly a focus on criticism, that does not serve the public well. It does not provide an environment here for us to do our job as we are intended to do. I also want to touch on the medical side of what is happening in this supplementary budget. Is not a $1.8-million increase in health care in this territory providing a benefit and service to Yukon, to its citizens? Of course it is, Mr. Chair.
How did we manage to get that extra expenditure? We had to sit down with the federal government and negotiate a new and special fund for the territory, to be able to meet our needs in this territory. That also helped us with medical travel. Thereís an increase in the supplementary budget of $389,000. Is that not providing a service and benefit to the people of this territory? Itís in this supplementary budget.
The roof of the Thomson Centre was falling in. In this supplementary, thereís another $351,000. Does fixing that roof not provide a service to Yukon and ó more importantly ó also jobs and benefit? When we allocate half a million dollars in this supplementary for diagnostic and medical equipment, does that not provide a benefit, return and service to the Yukon public? Thatís in this supplementary budget. When we expand chronic disease programming by almost $1.1 million, is that not providing a service and a benefit to the people of this territory? Thatís in this supplementary budget.
When we look at the Child Development Centre, $132,000 ó thatís for children ó does that not provide a benefit and a service to this territory? The member opposite has made much in criticizing, but nowhere did the member bring forward any concrete suggestions on how we could help Yukoners improve their lives and advance their position in this territory. Tele-health, Mr. Chair, $316,000 ó is not tele-health providing a service and a benefit? And the Womenís Directorate ó the member made statements here on the floor of the Legislature that are very disturbing. The Womenís Directorate has been given full authority to act on behalf of the women in government and externally outside of government, and the Womenís Directorate is heading up a very important initiative with a $100,000 allocation toward addressing violence against women in our aboriginal communities, who experience some three times the level of violence than the other parts of our communities.
Child care operating grant, $675,000 ó does that not provide another service to Yukoners, not only for children but for the parents who must go to work. Relief for seniors ó the pioneer utility grant is $47,000 to help seniors stay in their homes by assisting them with heating.
The member also mentioned multi-level care in Watson Lake and Dawson City. I would submit to you, Mr. Chair, that weíve made a commitment to put those facilities in place, and we intend to do that. Thatís why we are now in another budget cycle ó another fiscal cycle where more will be done in this territory. The members have stood on the floor of this Legislature for days, arguing and debating with the government. Even though they never supported the Taxpayer Protection Act, they have come out swinging ó or so they think ó on what weíre doing. All we are doing is increasing the options for this territory to not only create jobs and benefits for Yukoners but to further address the social fabric in this territory.
I could go on at great length, but much has been done in the past year. Not only have we turned the finances of this territory around considerably by increasing the surplus by almost $50 million through the efforts of Finance and the stats branch in dealing with issues that are important to us and making the case in Ottawa that this territory was being unjustly treated through the census. The list goes on and on and on, Mr. Chair.
Itís the advent of devolution under this governmentís watch, which came into force and effect in April 2003 ó an important event for this territory and a tremendous opportunity for Yukon to make its own decisions, to be masters in its own house. We reflect that in this budget ó some $44 million plus that address the issues of devolution and us taking on management and control of federal programs and services here in the territory.
Thereís a tremendous amount of benefit in this budget.
Chair: Order please. The time now being 6:00 p.m., the Chair will report progress.
Speaker leaves 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. 7, Second Appropriation Act, 2003-04, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Additionally, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 36, Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act, and has directed me to report it without amendment.
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.
The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:02 p.m.
The following document was filed December 2, 2003:
Aboriginal Rights, infringement of; letter re: from Chief and Council White River First Nation to all Federal and Territorial Departments and Agencies (dated November 24, 2003) (McRobb)