Thursday, December 11, 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.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Cardiff: Mr. Speaker, Iíd like the House to help me in welcoming a person who is sitting in the Legislature today. Heís one of the most talented and accomplished musicians of his generation in this country. Heís widely acknowledged for his abilities as a saxophonist and a pianist and is also an arranger and a composer. He was featured at the International Piano Stars Festival in Latvia, playing his own music with a symphony orchestra. Here in Canada he has performed with all the top jazz musicians. In January of 2002, he was the musical director for the Saxophone Summit in Toronto. He has received many awards, including five Juno nominations and two Juno awards for the best jazz album. As well as that, Iím very proud to say that he is my cousin, Mr. Phil Dwyer.
Speaker: Is there any other introduction of visitors?
Are there returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Lang:I have a legislative return on Yukon Energy.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have for tabling today the Annual Report of the Yukon Advisory Council on Womenís Issues.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I have today for tabling the Annual Report of the Yukon Department of Educationís public schools branch.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I am tabling for the House today the Annual Report for Yukon Housing Corporation, 2002-03.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills for introduction?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Rouble:I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the State of Alaska to consider the potential impact of their predator control program on our shared visitor industries and to look at alternative solutions that may be more effective as well as more acceptable to the public at large.
Speaker: Is there a ministerial statement?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Business loans, outstanding
Mr. Hardy:I have a question for the Premier. Section 50 of the Municipal Act makes it clear that someone who owes more than $500 to the municipality, except for current taxes, cannot be elected to the municipal council. Now why has the Premier adopted a lower standard when it comes to ministers of the Crown?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The government has not adopted a lower standard whatsoever. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we as a government are going to bring forward closure and a solution to a long outstanding issue that many past governments have not acted on. Thatís not a lower standard; thatís a higher standard.
Mr. Hardy: I donít think the Premier understood the question. The double standard is very obvious, and you canít serve as a councillor or a mayor if you owe $500 to the municipality, but itís perfectly all right to be a Cabinet minister if you owe the territorial government hundreds of thousands of dollars. At least itís all right on that side of the House. But itís not all right on this side of this House and it is certainly not all right with Yukon people.
Will the Premier make a commitment right now that the so-called final solution he is about to bring forward will not involve forgiving the loans of his two Cabinet ministers who have enjoyed the benefits of this double standard for over a year.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I know that the member opposite ó the leader of the official opposition ó is trying to stake out ground on what is to come this afternoon in a very open and forthright manner.
The government side is presenting an opportunity for the members opposite to debate a solution on a long-outstanding issue, and I would urge the member to exercise some patience because the member will have a great opportunity to express to the Yukon public the views and the position of the official opposition on this matter.
Mr. Hardy: Iím hoping the minister will understand the final part of this question and assure me that this will be included in the final solution.
The Premier keeps going back to his old mantra about how he has done what no previous government has done, and weíve heard that many times in the Legislature. Weíre going to see how little he has done in about half an hour, and weíre all looking forward to it.
The Premier had a chance to make a positive difference last week. He and his colleagues could have supported a motion to amend the conflicts rules and prevent this kind of situation from ever occurring again. Instead, they chose to play silly politics and avoided doing the right thing last week.
Will the Premier now agree to bring forward an amendment to the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act so that someone who is in debt to the Yukon taxpayers for more than a year cannot become a Cabinet minister?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, silly politics is certainly not something this government engages in at all; however, I think the evidence is clear on who does in this House. I need not point any fingers.
Mr. Speaker, we are bringing forward a solution. The members opposite will have a great opportunity this afternoon to express themselves on behalf of the Yukon public on what their position is. There have been many accusations here over this issue. Frankly, past governments have faced this issue in a manner that did not accomplish a single thing, much less collect the money on the delinquent loans.
Therefore, we must look to this issue in a manner that will bring closure to it. Thatís what this government is going to do, and we will move on.
Question re: Dawson City financial position
Mr. Cardiff:I have a question for the Minister of Community Services that also deals with the Municipal Act. The preamble to the act says that the Yukon government recognizes municipalities as a responsible and accountable level of government. It also says that Yukon governments and municipal governments shall respect each otherís responsibilities to provide programs and services to the people of the Yukon.
Why has the minister created a situation in Dawson that contradicts those commitments in the preamble to the Municipal Act?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Let me make it clear for the member opposite. As minister responsible for Community Services, Iím responsible for all Yukon taxpayers to not be affected by the taxpaying situation of any municipality.
I would also like to remind the member opposite that the situation that weíre in today with the City of Dawson was there before we came into power. The supervisor was appointed in 2001.
Mr. Cardiff: Once again, double standards from this government. The act promises mutual respect and the ministerís action shows the opposite. Without providing any convincing reason, the minister has essentially declared Dawson City a colony of his office. His colonial administrator has essentially taken over the functions of the democratically elected council of Dawson City.
The ministerís disrespect for the community even goes so far as his references to the City of Dawson as a village. The minister claims his hired gun is acting in accordance with the Municipal Act. Why isnít the minister acting in accordance with the principles in the preamble of the act?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are following the instruction provided under the Municipal Act for the appointment of the supervisor.
Mr. Cardiff: But heís not living up to his part in the Municipal Act. The preamble also says that public participation is fundamentally good for local government. Unless the minister is referring to his Outside consultant bad-mouthing Dawson Cityís administration in public, the minister has squelched public participation in Dawsonís local government. The ministerís consultant has even put the council elected by the people of Dawson on the shelf. He didnít even consult them about the municipal budget for the next three years. He told them what it was going to be. Thatís not what a supervisor does. Thatís what a colonial governor does.
Why wonít the minister rein in the political, hired gun and start acting in accordance with the preamble in the Municipal Act?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As Iíve mentioned many times before in this House, the supervisor is in there reviewing the financial difficulties for the City of Dawson. It is something that has been there for a long time. Once his review is complete, we will bring forth recommendations from the supervisor to deal with the situation in Dawson. I indicated before that we will provide that, and we will.
Question re: Caucus travel expenses
Ms. Duncan: The Yukon Party government is a very secretive one. They hide the things they are embarrassed about. The government is hiding a report on childcare that was done by a defeated Yukon Party candidate. They wonít release the marching orders that have been given to the new Dawson City supervisor and why the contract was handed out to a friend of the MLA for Klondike without competition.
There is a legal case that the Minister of Justice says was the basis of her decision to spring an impounded tow truck. Thatís being kept from the public.
Mr. Speaker, I wrote to the Premier on October 14 and asked for an update on this governmentís extensive travel bill. Two months later, I still donít have an answer. Why is the government refusing to release their travel bills?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The government is not refusing to release it at all. There is a standard process that takes place by tradition, that the travel expenses of government are made public, and thatís what we will do. I know the member is extremely impatient and wants to find some way to cast aspersions, but thatís not what weíre here to do, Mr. Speaker. The information will certainly come forward in a very public way, as it always has.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I notice that the Premier didnít answer the question. This open and accountable government is refusing to tell the public how much money theyíre spending on travel ó how much of taxpayersí money. Mr. Speaker, thatís not the only thing. The list goes on. The MLA for Klondike and the MLA for Porter Creek North keep all their business interests in holding companies. The publicís not allowed to see what stocks they own or what companies they may be involved in. Who knows. They may own shares in a mining company. Every week, they sit in Cabinet and make decisions that they may benefit from. We donít know, Mr. Speaker, because there is not full disclosure. Why are these ministers hiding what they own from the public? Will they fully disclose what the contents are of their holding companies, and will the Premier insist upon this full disclosure?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I must say thatís a shameful display by the member opposite. She knows full well that the members ó
Speaker: Order, order, order. I would think that the term "shameful" could be argumentative, bordering on unparliamentary, and Iíd ask the member not to use it.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Fentie:I retract that, Mr. Speaker. I guess in the heat of the moment it was intended to be argumentative. I retract it.
Mr. Speaker, the issue here is the member has put much on the floor of the Legislature, pointing to individuals on this side of the House, knowing full well that the Conflicts Commissioner guided each and every member in Cabinet on what to do with their personal holdings, how they should be dealt with. Thatís not an impossibility to understand, Iím sure, for the leader of the third party.
Secondly, the third party has said we are refusing to provide information which, by law, we must. Thatís exactly what weíll do. The government side does not break the law; we have no intention to. Therefore, when we deal with things like travel expenses, they will be made public in accordance with the standards by which we do these types of things.
Ms. Duncan: Itís fairly standard to answer a polite letter in less than three months.
Iíve asked two questions today and received no answers. The government will not tell Yukoners how much money theyíve spent on travel, and two MLAs will not tell Yukoners fully what companies they may have financial interests in.
There are more than just these two examples of why Yukoners are saying the government lacks integrity.
Mr. Speaker, this is basic information that other governments have given out. Itís only the Yukon Party government thatís keeping information from the public.
Will the minister commit today to release the travel for the last year? Will he also tell his ministers to be fully open and accountable and show the public their complete financial picture?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think it best serves the public if we go about this in this manner. We have answered the question. We will and have committed to make the information public, and any other information that we are required to make public will be done by this government.
But I think we also have to look at the issue of why the Conflicts Commissioner is in place, what direction and guidance the Conflicts Commissioner gives members of Cabinet when it comes to their personal holdings. No member on this side of the House has contravened in any way, shape or form what the Conflicts Commissioner has recommended in regard to these items.
But thereís also an issue here of bringing questionable information to the floor of the Legislature, and I think thatís a critical area where we all have a responsibility and obligation to the Yukon public.
Let me give you an example, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the third party put on the floor of the Legislature that, through their good works, $42 million was made available back on the base funding for the Yukon government. In fact, that was incorrect and questionable, and why it was put on the floor, one can only wonder. The real issue is that it was a formula mechanism called the provincial/territorial local expenditure base.
I point this out, Mr. Speaker, because this certainly relates to the type of questioning from the third party.
Question re: Dawson City supervisor position
Mr. Cardiff:I know the Minister of Community Services is tired of talking about the mess he has created in Dawson City, but I need to go back to the minister one more time on this one. Yesterday the minister made a statement in this House about the previous Liberal government. These are his words out of the Blues. "When they were in power, they appointed a supervisor who put us in the situation weíre in today." Will the minister withdraw that unfounded and unwarranted attack on that individual, or is he prepared to repeat it outside the House?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Iím not sure what the member is asking me to do. If he really wants me to retract the statement that they didnít appoint the supervisor, I canít say that because they did appoint the supervisor. Iím not sure what heís trying to get at.
Mr. Cardiff: He also said that the supervisor put them in the situation that they are in today. The minister has tried very hard to find a scapegoat for what heís doing in Dawson City ó I should say what heís trying to do to Dawson City maybe. Blame the last government; blame the previous supervisor; blame the mayor and council. Thatís exactly what the Member for Klondike would like him to do.
Yesterday he tried to pin the blame for whatís going on right now on the staff of his department. Here is what he said in the Legislature yesterday: "The selection of the current supervisor was provided by YTG staff for this particular issue." Well, thatís a hard one to swallow considering the fact that this person left the Yukon years ago. Will the minister explain why the political decision was made to fire the previous supervisor and to hire this particular Outside consultant to replace him?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The individual in question was fired. It was a staff personnel issue. Okay? As far as weíre going, I mentioned in this House before that we were looking at a fresh approach for the City of Dawson. Theyíve been in a situation for a couple of years, and we need to look at what it is. They are in serious financial difficulties, and we have to have a good assessment of whatís in there. And we are trying to do that. As I mentioned before, once the supervisor is finished his report, we will provide it to the members opposite.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, the minister can wiggle and twist and try to avoid all the answering all he wants. The fact remains that this was a political firing and a political hiring. Discussions with the new supervisor began even before the previous supervisor was canned. It was a put-up job, prompted by the Member for Klondike, and the minister canít deny that.
There is even a reasonable suspicion that the Premierís error in judgement in turning over a document given to him in confidence may have played a role in the firing of the same individual from his staff job.
Will the minister now repair some of the damage that heís caused and get rid of the hired gun in Dawson City and restore the democratic process there?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will not fire the current supervisor. We will carry on with the process that we have and I plan to stay there. He has been appointed under the Municipal Act. He is acting under the Municipal Act and, as far as Iím concerned, he is doing the duties as per the Municipal Act. We will carry on with that duty until it is complete.
Question re: Political use of staff
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the Minister of Community Services. I am tabling an e-mail directing government personnel to compile the Yukon Party accomplishments over the last year for the Yukon Party caucus. It reads, "The deputy minister has directed departmental staff and staff of the corporations to compile a list of accomplishments for their areas since November 2002, when the government of Premier Fentie was elected. Please submit these accomplishments by Thursday, December 11, 2003. The accomplishments will be compiled and submitted to the deputy minister on December 12, to support the minister at a caucus meeting on December 13, 2003."
Why is the minister using public servants to do the work that should be done by his political staff?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Iím unaware of this particular e-mail that heís referring to.
Mr. Fairclough: What a cover-up, Mr. Speaker. The minister definitely knows. I guess a Cabinet shuffle is closer than we thought, maybe even this weekend, if the ministers are trying to collect some brownie points and defend themselves in caucus.
It doesnít make it right for the minister to use public servants to help them do their political apple-polishing. This e-mail was labelled high importance. How can the minister not know?
It goes on to tell the department staff that they should focus on the accomplishments that were identified by the priorities in the Yukon Party platform documents.
The political party platform is not the same as a government action plan, so let me ask the minister this: will he rescind this attempt to have public servants scrounge around for evidence to improve his political image inside caucus so they can concentrate on the excellent work they do for Yukon people?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The line of questioning here is a clear example of the problem with the members opposite ever achieving government status, because what theyíre missing is, when elected as a government, based on a platform and a list of commitments to the Yukon public, there must be a measurement ó an accountability ó by each and every department, no matter who the minister is. That measurement must be delivered, and the question here is that we, as a government, are going to direct and ensure that each department in this government is delivering on the publicís agenda, as we were elected to deliver on that agenda.
Question re: Old Crow airport
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, my question today is for the Minister of Community Services. A couple of days ago, I asked the minister about plans to replace the airport terminal in Old Crow. When I asked the minister to set aside some money now so that some of the necessary materials could go up on the winter road this year, the minister said this: "That is one of the intents of the road." Just to clarify this, is the minister making a commitment to start building a new airport terminal in Old Crow right away and, if so, when will the budget reflect that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are looking at building a new airport terminal in Old Crow.
Mrs. Peter: I really appreciate that honest answer; however, itís very strange that we havenít seen any money set aside for a new airport terminal ó not even for the design work. Mr. Speaker, my question for the minister: exactly when will a new airport terminal be built, and what will the minister do to ensure that Vuntut Gwitchin get the first choice for jobs?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Iíve had conversations with the member opposite on this particular issue in the past. We are going to be building a new airport terminal in Old Crow, and it isnít going to be in the schedule, and the design money will be the first aspect coming up, and we will be providing that in the next budget.
Question re: Farm produce, government purchase policy
Mr. McRobb:Mr. Speaker, Iím hoping to get an answer from the minister responsible for agriculture today. Iím also hoping heís aware of my question from Monday about the Yukon farmer of the year who declined the award to instead draw attention to the Yukon governmentís lack of support for Yukon farmers.
Opportunity is knocking, Mr. Speaker. The Yukon government needs to grab the bull by the horns with a buy-Yukon-first agriculture spending policy. Our farmers would see a major improvement with the application of this policy to government contracts, institutions, agencies and Crown corporations. So will the minister responsible for agriculture in the territory tell us now if he will develop a comprehensive government purchase policy that puts Yukon farmers first?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I am the minister responsible for agriculture. My job is to work with the agriculture branch and stakeholders in agriculture, and we are doing that on a yearly basis ó on a daily basis.
Mr. McRobb: The ministerís own words on the radio this morning failed to reassure Yukon farmers to expect any improvement in the situation. His words now arenít any better than that, Mr. Speaker. While the minister expressed some sympathy for the farmers, he said he has no control over other departments as he did now. Mr. Speaker, we can sympathize with the minister, because we know how tough it must be to arm wrestle anything away from his colleagues from Klondike and Watson Lake. That is why we are here to help him to do the right thing. Therefore, is there anything the minister would like for Christmas to help him improve his effectiveness at the Cabinet table?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Speaker, this has gone to an all-time low. Agriculture is an important part of the economic fabric of our community, Yukon. It is not to be played with lightly as the member opposite thinks; I think that we do a stellar job in the small department that we run. We have put together resources through the agricultural policy framework, leveraging $321,000 a year to the year 2008. We put together fertilizer storage bins in all the communities, so that the farmers have access to reasonably priced fertilizer.
We understand that this is not a joking matter; this is not a place for that kind of humour. This is a serious thing for a lot of people in the Yukon. The agriculture industry is fighting for survival in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker. It is not for us to sit in this House and belittle those people. It is a small group, but an important group to our community.
The member opposite, with his chuckles and cheap jokes, should think before he speaks. This is an important statement for that farmer to make at Crag Lake, to turn down that award. He is making a statement to us ó all Yukoners ó so when we are buying our product at Superstore because it is a lot cheaper, we should think. Mr. Speaker, this is very serious, and this government is taking it seriously. It is not something to be light with.
Mr. McRobb: So far weíve got the minister saying he canít do anything and then he says this is a serious situation, so what exactly is the minister doing? Today we had the resignation of the federal Minister of Agriculture. Maybe the minister should think locally on that matter too.
I can assure him that there is always room for improvement. He should not despair and lose hope because his arguments fall on deaf ears. The minister must think of the local farmers, the families whose livelihoods depend on the success of his persuasiveness with his colleagues. Iím sure we can both agree that such a positive change in the governmentís policy would make a difference. This policy must apply across the board to all departments, agencies, Crown corporations and contracts. So what will this minister do to help Yukon farmers in time for this Christmas?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The first thing I will do is take their situation seriously and I wonít make jest with it in this House.
Certainly we are working with the farmers on a basis of the incentives so that we can utilize their abattoir in Dawson City. We put money toward that so everybody could move their stock and everybody pays the same amount of money.
Certainly weíre working with the industry itself to write a new policy paper so we can replace the one that is archaic, the one that was finished in 1991 ó again, a serious move on this governmentís part to address the serious problem the agriculture industry in the Yukon. Not only do they have to deal with the small population in the Yukon and a fledgling industry, they also have to deal with seven months a year of winter.
So I say to you, this whole House, that the agriculture industry has some questions out there. I myself as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources am going to talk to them about those situations, which I do on a monthly, weekly basis, and certainly will not make fun of a situation that a small part of our community is going through today. We are going to do everything we can to make sure the agricultural industry is a viable industry for Yukon to look forward to in the future.
Question re: Drug searches in schools
Ms. Duncan:The principal of Porter Creek High School, with the full support of parents, the community, and his school council, brought in the RCMP drug-sniffing dog to school. Rather than express their unequivocal support for the principal, the Department of Education muzzled him. Itís important to note that Porter Creek school was clean. On the news last night it was revealed that more than 20 minors were busted at a Quebec high school for drug offences. Yukoners know ó many parents have sat down with me and approached me about this particular issue. Quebec is not alone. Yukon, too, has a problem. The question is, what are we as a community going to do about it?
I would like to ask the Minister of Education today to state unequivocally that the principal of Porter Creek High School and any principal and school council have his full support ó who ask for a similar support from the RCMP ó for a visit from one of the drug-sniffing dogs. Do these principals have his full and unequivocal support, as they do with their school councils?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe that if I have said it once, I have said it 20 times on the floor of this Legislature: this government does respect and appreciate the work that all staff does for this government. I can say today personally that I really appreciate the principal and school council for taking the bull by the horns and dealing with this situation in their school.
Ms. Duncan: I am sure that the school council and the principal appreciate the ministerís full and unequivocal support.
If any student is caught with drugs, he or she is suspended for a period of time. We also have the situation in our Education Act that every child has the right to an education, so following a suspension they are back in school. There are a number of issues here. What happens to the child during the time of suspension from school? Where do they go? Every child has a right to an education, as Iíve said, but how do we cope with repeat suspensions? What support system do we offer the schools? Most important, what support systems are there in place for families who are coping with the availability of these drugs? How do parents cope? The Department of Education has a responsibility to ensure that the tools are in place for administrators and teachers. They, after all, are spending more time with our young people than many parents are able to. What is the Department of Education doing to work with the RCMP, the school administration and the Department of Health and Social Services to help Yukon families cope with this issue?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that this issue has been discussed several times on this floor, and I could keep repeating the importance of the staff and the principals, school councils, parents, addressing this issue. I think theyíre doing an excellent job at it, and I commend them for doing that.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister didnít answer the question.
In order to cope with this issue, drugs have to become just as unacceptable as smoking in the hallways of this or any other government building, as unacceptable as drinking and driving. On the one hand, the government mouths platitudes about supporting our youth, about supporting employees. However, thereís very little real, demonstrated support. This was, after all, the government that, as one of their first actions, was to dismantle the alcohol and drug secretariat.
All of us recognize the importance of youth, and all of us recognize as a community that we have to deal with this issue. I ask the minister again to clearly state exactly what is the government going to do or what is it doing to help Yukoners, Yukon families, school administrators, the other departments. How are we going to cope with this?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, this government offers several programs that deal with youth, drugs and alcohol issues. The Department of Health and Social Services, alcohol and drug services, has a youth addictions counsellor who regularly visits all three Whitehorse high schools and tours the other Yukon schools. As well, the department offers treatment programs for youth. The RCMP can deliver DARE, a program that is designed to help students recognize and resist pressures to do drugs, join gangs and engage in violence. It is presently running in Watson Lake Elementary and Selkirk School. Justice is involved in a community partnership called SASSY, the Substance Abuse Strategy Solutions for Yukon, an initiative to tackle substance abuse problems. They are working on a number of projects, including the recently produced handout booklet called Youth Drug Free.
Mr. Speaker, this Department of Education will also partner to deliver services such as presentations and programs on bullying, diet, healthy lifestyles, career counselling and decision making. There are 15 drug and alcohol programs offered.
Speaker: Order please. Would the minister conclude his answer please?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, weíre not sitting idle.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Fairclough: Iíd like all members of the House to help me welcome Robert Hagar, whoís sitting in the gallery with us today. Heís a councillor for Na Cho Nyäk Dun.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Clerk:Motion No. 186, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Fentie.
Motion No. 186
Speaker:It has been moved by the hon. Premier
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to present to the Legislative Assembly a permanent resolution to the outstanding government loans issue.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to advise this House, this Assembly and the public on exactly what this government intends to do to bring closure and to bring a solution to a long-standing issue in this territory ó the issue of government loans.
First, I would like to briefly go back in history on this matter. The Government of Yukon has been directly involved in the loans business since the 1980s, and during that period the government has issued approximately 1,500 loans. I think thatís a significant number, Mr. Speaker. Out of this 1,500, 1,300 loans have now been repaid. Iíll be the first to categorically state here that we, the government side, applaud and commend all those companies and entities that came forward and repaid their loans, as they should.
Thereís no question about that. But we also have to get to the crux of the problems here because there is much more to this portfolio and the issues surrounding it, the intricacies and the complexities of what has gone on here that lead us to where we are today and that is why, as a government, we are going to bring closure once and for all to this issue.
Currently, Mr. Speaker, there are 83 outstanding loans totalling some $5.6 million: $4.4 million in principal and $1.2 million in interest accrued. Out of these 83 outstanding loans, there are 16 loans in good standing, 67 loans are delinquent. Therein lies one of the major problems: the delinquencies and the many issues surrounding delinquencies in this portfolio. The 67 delinquent loans total $4.3 million, of which $3.1 million is principal and $1.2 million is interest accrued. These are the values of where weíre at with this particular area of the portfolio.
Itís important to recognize that during the time that government, being involved in the lending business when it should not be, also wrote off 108 loans ó 108 loans of this portfolio have already been written off, totalling some $2.5 million. Now thatís significant because write-offs in this area were deemed ó or the decision was based on the existing loans or those particular loans being not collectable. And it was done by successive governments ó a very significant point here. Some have already been given this advantage of write-offs.
I have stated several times in this House that the government should not be in the loans business. The aforementioned is a small sampling of why that is. Government is not a lending institution. Government has never been a lending institution and government should not be a lending institution. Government should be, instead, providing the necessary environment for the private sector to go through the appropriate lending institutions to invest their money in the Yukon Territory or in any other jurisdiction that provides that positive and secure investment climate.
Mr. Speaker, the single biggest factor inhibiting a resolution of the delinquent loans is the difficulty that government has as a lending institution because it is a public body. In acting proactively on a business-case basis to aggressively collect bad debts while at the same time being perceived as treating all Yukon citizens in an equitable manner is the crux of the problem. Governments do not do well in aggressively collecting loans for a myriad of reasons, not to mention political baggage, political down-side and also the issue that I mentioned, that we must treat all citizens ó again I stress all citizens, all corporate entities in this area ó in an equitable manner.
Many of the loans were issued for economic development purposes and it is difficult for a government charged with improving the economy to take collection actions against businesses that might result in bankruptcies or foreclosures. There, again, is another huge impediment for a government to be in the lending business, because it is influenced and, in many cases, hesitant to do what is necessary in the collection of monies owed.
The loans were issued, and here again we get into an area of the differences and the discrepancies and the myriad of problems that were created with this portfolio because governments simply do not make good lending institutions. The loans were issued under a number of different programs that add to the complexity of how to deal with this portfolio. Loans were issued under the business development fund, for example, known as BDF; under the economic development agreement, known as the EDA; under saving energy action loans, known as SEAL; and, of course, the Yukon energy alternatives program, or YEAP. This is a list of the areas and programs and mechanisms and vehicles that government used to lend money out to the various entities in the territory.
Thereís another issue here, when it comes to equitable and fair addressing of the loans and the portfolio. Interest rates, for example, vary from zero percent to as high as 13.6 percent. So what government is trying to do with all these variances, in trying to treat the Yukon public and these entities fairly, is grappling with the issues of some having no interest, some as high as 13.6 percent, and in between. These variances make it extremely difficult for the government to apply policy in a fair and equitable manner.
For example ó and this is another very important issue ó a number of loans were issued under economic development subagreements that were federally initiated programs that provided interest-free loans. So some got interest-free loans because of a certain program, others did not. And these issues crop up continually in trying to deal with the matter.
And let us not forget that after 15 years plus, the stage weíre at with this portfolio is a stage where the delinquencies are the big issue; and we must ask ourselves, considering all the aforementioned and whatís to follow, when it comes to the discrepancies and the problems with this portfolio, how much longer does government expend time and resources in an area where many of the loans in the portfolio are under the extreme question of collectibility itself?
Mr. Speaker, loans given under the saving energy assistance loan program are also in another area of difference and discrepancy and are also non-interest bearing but do carry ó and hereís another issue ó a penalty clause for non-payment, which, if triggered, provides an inducement to make scheduled payments. We have to ask ourselves what has happened with this particular section. Again, I think it gets to governmentís problem of dealing with this portfolio fairly and equitably.
Under some of the programs, the government issued loans as the lender of last resort ó another discrepancy ó to promote economic activity and create jobs and, as a result, many high-risk projects ó and this is extremely important, Mr. Speaker, when you consider government as a lending agency ó that would not have secured conventional financing were undertaken and no security ó I stress, no security ó was taken on the loan. This is not a very good example of any lending agencyís involvement in this matter, and thatís the governmentís problem: no security was taken.
On the question of collectability, few of the businesses that now have delinquent loans have positive cash flow and most have little prospect of improvement concerning the circumstances in the near term. Those that do have positive cash flow generally give first priority to paying off bank loans ó of course, banks and lending institutions collect aggressively ó or other interest-bearing loans with the Yukon government. This portfolio obviously falls to the bottom of the list.
Another problem concerns loans to NGOs ó non-government organizations. In this area, eight NGOs have repaid their loans. Two have been written off and four are outstanding ó two of which are delinquent. Of these four loans, two are interest free and two have loan repayment schedules well in excess of 15 years ó another question considering time, resources and attention spent on something of this matter.
This is the loans mess. I call it a "mess" because the issue of government being a lending institution is what has created this problem. I have touched on many discrepancies, many variances, many areas where the portfolio was not applied in a consistent manner, leading to many problems.
Mr. Speaker, we as a government did not create this issue. We are committed, as a government, to resolving it once and for all. Thatís something that I can stand on the floor of the Legislature and say without any hesitation that no other government has attempted to do. The members opposite will stress that this is something that, in the last 12 months, we brought forward and it took all that time. I would argue that in 15 years plus,, nothing has happened. Here, in 12 short months, this government is bringing forward a solution to the problem.
Our plan of action follows and it is in three steps. The first step will be when it comes to NGOs ó let me point out that non-government organizations by definition are non-profit societies. We will forgive the NGO portion of the portfolio. Step two will be to implement a mechanism that will involve the use of section 5.1 of the business assistance loans and loan guarantees regulations. I will get into further detail on the steps, but first I want to lay out the three steps as they are.
Step three will be to involve the Department of Finance in issuing a request for proposals from financial institutions and lending institutions that have the capacity to deal with collection.
Now letís go into some detail on the steps. The first step, when it comes to the NGOs, is simply that we will forgive the total amount owing by the outstanding parts of the portfolio in dealing with these NGOs. Loans that will be forgiven will include the Great Northern Ski Society, Mount Sima, and the amount will be $395,000 of forgiveness; the Yukon Rodeo Association, $44,974 of forgiveness; Yukon Quest International Association (Canada), $29,400 of forgiveness; and, the Northern Lights School of Dance Society, $15,472 of forgiveness. The total is less than $500,000.
I say to you, Mr. Speaker, in our deliberations and our decision in this area, we reflected a great deal on the good works that non-government organizations do in this territory, and we must measure those good works in value. This government has no qualms whatsoever of forgiving these loans. That is step one.
Step two will be to involve the use ó as I said ó of section 5.1 of the business assistance loans and loan guarantee regulations, wherein the Management Board will enable borrowers to decrease ó I say decrease ó the interest rate of their loans to the current rate established by the Bank of Canada and waiving the interest rates or the interest on these loans for three years, as the regulations stipulate. Now I say here the whole purpose of the exercise is to get to a fair and equitable approach so all involved in this portfolio on the delinquency side are treated in the same manner.
Borrowers, Mr. Speaker, will have 180 days under this step, starting January 1, 2004, to avail themselves of this opportunity. Currently there are approximately 63 loans that have interest rates higher than the current Bank of Canada rate.
I must stress this next point. This loan restructuring offer will not, Mr. Speaker, be made available to companies, corporate entities in which any member of the Cabinet is involved. Those will remain as they are today in full.
Step three, Mr. Speaker, will involve the Department of Finance issuing a request for proposal from financial or financial institutions for the purpose of the entire loan portfolio. This is to purchase the entire portfolio and put it into the private sector, removing it from government and therein providing closure to the issue for government. This includes any restructured loans after the 180 day loan restructuring period offer has expired.
When I stated previously in this House that government should not be in the loans business, I meant it. The three-step action plan bears this out. The government will sell the loan portfolio to the financial institution that provides the best financial return to taxpayers, while minimizing the risk of business foreclosures and impact on borrowers ó a fair approach, Mr. Speaker.
We on this side of the House appreciate that there is no magic solution; obviously the last two decades have shown that clearly. There is no magic solution to this complex, intricate, and long-standing problem that has plagued ó and I say "plagued" ó successive governments and that is something that we must end.
Several members on the opposite benches have been members in those governments and they failed to deal with the issue. They failed in successive governments over a long period of time and, in 12 short months, we have brought to the floor of this House a solution to bring closure.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the comments from the members opposite. This is their opportunity to provide input, to be involved, to express their positions on these matters; but the governmentís position is clear. Weíre getting out of the lending business, and we are going to do so in a fair manner with the delinquencies so that all are treated the same. Thank you.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I have two requests to make. Firstly, the Premier was reading from a document. I would request the document be tabled and distributed to all members in this House. Secondly, I request unanimous consent for a 15-minute break, in which we can review the document.
Speaker: Hon. Premier, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This document is a speech. The members opposite not only have been briefed a number of times on this portfolio, but have access to the information, as any other Yukoner would. It has been made public.
Speaker: Leader of the third party, on the point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, on the point of order, with respect to the tabling of the document that is being read that is a speech, even that written material is useful to us as there are specific references made to other documents that are publicly available.
With respect to the request ó well put by the Member for Kluane ó for a 15-minute recess, it requires unanimous consent, and that, if the Premier truly wishes to have full and thorough debate ó an opportunity to examine a document that has not been made available to us, despite repeated requests, and the information that has not been made available to us ó would allow us an opportunity to look at it and then allow for full and thorough debate in this House. A 15-minute recess is not unreasonable, and I would urge members opposite to support it.
Speaker: Hon. Premier, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: My intention is to be helpful and assist in this matter, but I must make a statement. The members opposite now claim they need time, which we on this side of the House certainly have no problem in providing, but the point must be made that, for months, the members opposite had lots to say on this issue. The members opposite filled the public domain with all kinds of speculation. Obviously theyíve had a great deal of time and theyíve expended a great deal of attention and focus on this issue, Mr. Speaker. That must be put on the public record.
But I can say to the members opposite that, in the context and spirit of cooperation and expediting the publicís business in this Assembly, we on this side of the House will concur and agree that a recess can be provided.
Speaker:Firstly, let me rule on the points of order. On the first point of order, there are no procedural requirements in this House for any speaker to table their speaking notes.
On the second point of order, the 15-minute recess, the Chair has to have unanimous consent to move forward the second point of order.
Speaker:Do we have unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: The House now stands in recess for 15 minutes.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Mr. Hardy: Well, it is a long-awaited day. We have been discussing this outstanding-loans issue and, of course, attached to that as well are the two Cabinet ministers who have owed a substantial amount of money ó hundreds of thousands of dollars ó to the territorial government yet are collecting paycheques over that course of time. This is a debate that has gone on from the moment the Yukon Party was elected back in November.
Now, there was a promise made by the Premier that this issue was going to be dealt with. He seems to take a great deal of delight in pointing out that he is the only one who has ever tried to tackle this issue and this was going to be a permanent solution. We definitely have some concerns with regard to what has been laid out. We also have to recognize, quite happily, some of the good parts that have been presented.
One of the more difficult problems we do have, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that we have not been briefed on this, and we have not been given the information and the details that are so necessary to have in order for us to have a really informed debate. This has not been given. Contrary to what the Premier said, this is the first that we have heard of the Yukon Partyís solution to the outstanding loans. That in itself creates a problem for us in opposition, because we can stand here and debate what few words the minister shared with us and try to comment on that and try to get an understanding of the position that this government is taking, but we do not have the details. Without the details, it is difficult for us to fully debate this. I want to go back on some points that were made.
Now, between 1986 and 1997, the Yukon government made loans to businesses and non-profit societies under six programs, and 44 loans under those programs remain more than 90 days in arrears as of September. The Premier had mentioned that approximately 1,500 loans were handed out. Letís not forget that itís not all just territorial money that weíre talking about here. A substantial amount of that money was federal. Heís right; there were varying degrees of interest charged. Many of them have zero interest rates on them, so all the businesses that borrowed the money would have not had to pay any interest whatsoever and just have to pay on principal. Now, thatís a very nice type of loan.
Interestingly enough, one of the Cabinet ministers had one of those amounts, and it was to Ballard Management. It was for the sum of $69,079.38, and there was no outstanding interest to be paid on that.
There has been a small payment on it since this was put out but he still basically owes the same amount, which indicates there wasnít a great deal of intent to make those payments. But in other cases there have been very, very high interest rates. Pretty well the highest I can see here is about 13.6 percent, all the way from zero percent, and that is questionable whether that is fair. We have to look at the last 15 years and recognize that there were 1,500 loans that went into the community we call the Yukon, and 1,300 of those loans were repaid. That is a pretty impressive figure. We must take our hats off to all those businesses and individuals that honoured their loans, made their payments and have moved on in their lives, whether itís a business side or personal. Thatís a very, very good record.
Now, that is something that the Premier acknowledged, but he seems to find other ways to say that there should never, ever be loans in any way, shape or form done by government.
I have to disagree with that. I disagree with it, even looking at those figures ó 1,500 loans issued, 1,300 repaid. Thatís a pretty good record, but why do we hand out loans? Why does a government enter into the loans business, whether itís federal, municipal, territorial or whether it be the First Nations, if they do it with their people? Why? Often it is for social good; often itís for social programs; often itís to assist NGOs deliver programs that are of benefit to the community; often it is to assist businesses that canít get the loan but you know they will work hard to achieve the goals if they can get a helping hand in that regard.
Of course there will be people who abuse that; thatís recognized. But in this case, and with those numbers that were given, what we are hearing is that the majority of people in the Yukon are very honourable and do acknowledge and pay their loans.
Now, the term "deadbeat" has been used. It has been used to apply to two Cabinet ministers who never paid their loans. Thatís a pretty heavy term, but itís a term that seems to be accepted in our society and maybe itís said to try to stimulate people who do not honour what is owed to the government to make them come clean.
That has been one of the biggest central issues we have faced in this Legislature. It is not the fact that there are outstanding loans; itís the fact that two Cabinet ministers sat in here and owed money to the government and, for the last 13 months, have refused to make payments, other than one incident where $6,000 and $6,000 were paid out of two accounts on a loan. Another Cabinet minister refused to make any payments whatsoever. That is what has been really bothering the people of this territory. Yes, people donít like to see businesses skip out and not make any payments whatsoever.
But they find it absolutely horrendous that people can be elected in leadership positions, people can be in charge of departments that have over $100 million in their budgets and owe the government money and refuse to make any payments ó dating back 15 years. That is what has bothered people most.
The forgiveness of the NGOs ó I would like to applaud the Yukon Party government for doing that. That is something that we have always said should be done. Itís something that we totally agree with. The NGOs serve the people of this territory in a manner that is not meant to increase their own personal wealth. They are often self-serving. Many NGOs are run with volunteers and the money was used in most cases very obviously to benefit the well-being of the people of this territory, whether it was in health issues, whether it was in sport, whether it was in arts ó it all contributed to making this a better community. We continue to see those kinds of benefits.
My understanding in this regard is that the minister has said that there will never be ó as long as they are government ó another loan given out to NGOs. That is what I understand is the position that the Premier is taking. Based on that, there will never, ever be another loan given out in this regard.
That could create a certain amount of problems. It definitely could create some problems with NGOs that would not necessarily want a grant, but would actually like to be able to borrow the money and pay it back.
There are many ways in which the government can assist. What I am hearing here today is that this government has eliminated one way of assistance to NGOs and to many other areas.
But you know it is interesting, in thinking about the statement that this government, under this watch, will never be in the loans business ó what does that mean when we talk about Yukon Housing, Mr. Speaker, and the loans that are given out for house repair, renovation, stuff like that? Is the minister now informing the people of this territory that that program is going to be shut down? How about partnering with federal programs ó anything along those lines? If there is a loan program that is set up in certain areas that has federal money to match it or is a federal initiative and wants a territorial or if it is a municipal and wants territorial involved, will that never happen again? Because we are talking about loans and he has been very, very clear. The Premier has been exceptionally clear: this government will not go into the loans business in any way, shape or form. Letís make sure: is that the position that is being taken here?
Again, we donít have the details. We have to stand here and ask the questions. Unfortunately it is not the type of debate where I can ask a question, the Premier can get up and give me an answer or non-answer or whatever he prefers, and I can get up and ask another question. So what I have to do, as best I can right now, is lay out the concerns that we have been able to identify with extremely short notice on what the solution is going to be.
What about the microloan program in Economic Development? Has the minister now indicated that that program shall be cancelled? And is the solution of grants the only way the government wants to operate now, when they do this?
Itís the only way. Or do we have to also add the other part of this puzzle, which is the debate that weíve had, quite an extensive debate, around the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Now, listening in that regard, is the Premier saying that there will be no more loans, but there is going to be debt? The Premier is quite willing to sign away the future under the Taxpayer Protection Act to enter into agreements in which we, the taxpayers, and our government will owe money to private business, but weíre not going to have private business owe us money? Weíre not going to be the ones that have money owed to us; we want to be in the position where we owe money somewhere else. Well, I can tell you from my perspective, Mr. Speaker, I would much rather be in the position of having people owe me money than me owing people money ó by far. I donít like to owe money, and I think thatís a sentiment that could be shared by many, many people. I would much rather have people owe me money than the other way around.
Well, the reasoning ó what Iím seeing here ó is that this government would rather be owing money, being in debt, than having people owe money. Well, fine.
The loans issue has been a very difficult issue; we acknowledge that. We do not believe, other than a few parts of it, from what we can see, that it is the correct model that we would have liked to have seen. Iíll give you a couple of reasons.
Iíve already talked about some of the loan programs that the government is involved in, and Iím sure there are a few more that Iím probably missing. But one of the questions I have is: are those going to be cancelled? If theyíre not going to be cancelled, then theyíre still in the loans business.
So this is not going to be a permanent resolution, so maybe the Premier, when he has an opportunity, will be able to clear that up.
Another area that Iím really, really concerned about, and going back to what Iíve said before, what has bothered people most about the loans is the two Cabinet ministers. We have heard this from one end of the Yukon to the other. Why was the Premier not able to get his two Cabinet ministers to pay their loans off? Thatís the question that has been asked for 13 months. Why do they still not pay their loans off? Why will they not have to pay their loans off for the next six months? If their loans are going to be transferred to a collection agency ó and weíre going to get to that point in a bit ó how much are they going to be able to walk away from paying, from owing the taxpayers of the territory? Because frankly, Mr. Speaker, they are elected, they are leaders, they are responsible in Cabinet positions, they lead by example, and they have not, in this case.
Many, many of the other businesses and NGOs have watched this, and those who have made the payments still expect these two Cabinet ministers to pay this in full. Those who owe money and are struggling expect the Cabinet ministers to pay this in full. Those who have fallen behind and are not able to make payments still expect ó or maybe are waiting for some leadership from that side ó to pay those loans, and then maybe theyíll step forward. And we didnít get it.
The question is, how much are they getting away with? This is not a final solution. If they walk away and are able to write down their loans a substantial amount, which they borrowed from the taxpayers of this territory ó never mind the collection agency and what happens there ó then they got away. Theyíre still Cabinet ministers; theyíre still collecting a salary; theyíre still being paid by the taxpayers; and they still owe money; and theyíre thumbing their noses at the taxpayers of the Yukon. Theyíre thumbing their noses at the people of this territory. And the Premier has been part of that. In 13 months, weíve seen what? Two payments? Thatís not acceptable.
Letís talk about the collection agency part. Actually, Iím going to back up a second. There was a comment made by the Premier that businesses owing money will be able to restructure their interest rates and that. Well, thatís a nice statement, but my understanding is, under the loan legislation, people with loans could, at any time, approach the government to negotiate a better interest rate and loan term. That has always been in place. There was nothing stopping that from happening in the past; thereís nothing stopping it from happening now. This has nothing to do with the announcement.
I talked about the federal government. There were six programs where loans were taken from. Five of those loan programs were cost shared with the federal government. So when we talk about the territorial government, itís not just the territorial government in this matter.
Iíd like to know, Mr. Speaker, some real concrete figures. We had 1,500 loans handed out, and 1,300 were paid back ó overall, did the government lose money in this?
I would like to see that number crunched. Has there been an actual loss in this?
If the Premier would agree to get that information for me, I would really appreciate it. I donít see a nod on the other side, so Iíll have to pass on that one. Maybe I will have to try to dig it out or have to do what many, many people in this territory are finding that they have to do when they want to get information and that is to go through the process of ATIPPing.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: My House leader from Kluane has informed me that he had a very brief meeting with the acting House leader and the acting House leader said that he would respond to any questions that are put out to him immediately. So I look forward to responses to some of the questions that I put out. One of them is: what are the amounts of loans that have been leant out, and what has been the return and the money that has been brought in? Have we lost money? That would be interesting to see.
The Premier has talked about the cost of collecting and how the government should get out of the loans business. I would like to see what has been the cost of collecting.
We have a concern about the collection agency idea ó farming that out or selling it. It could be 20 cents on the dollar or 25 cents on the dollar. I believe that the Premier would entertain proposals or offers, and I am sure that they would take the best one that was offered as long as they respect the renegotiated interest rates and loan terms that would happen over the next few months.
The problem I have with farming it out is that there are businesses ó I have the list in front of me, and there are quite a few of them ó 19 of them off the top right here. There are 19 out of 57 that I have on this list in front of me that are making their payments.
Some are a little bit behind. The majority of them are actually, from what I can see, on schedule.
Then there are a lot of them that havenít made payments for awhile. Some of these are trying to honour their loans; theyíre struggling. What happens to them when it goes to a collection agency? Did the government consider sitting down and working with these businesses to ensure that theyíre not forced out of their family business, theyíre not forced out of their homes through a collection process? Did they not try to find a way to assist them in collecting the money but still allow them some dignity? Collection agencies can be very brutal; thereís no question about it. My fear is that there are some very, very honourable businesses and people here who are going to be hard hit, and we could see some bankruptcies from this action. We have a strong concern about that ó many of the communities, where youíre going to see this happen.
Now, did the government approach all these businesses and ask them what the situation was, where theyíre at? Thatís another question I have. And if so, Iíd like to know what kind of response was given back. Was a collection agency idea floated with them? Iíve said this before ó we had approximately five or six guidelines that we offered to the government in good faith to work around the loan repayments, and Iím going to read them again.
The first point is that all debtors shall repay all money they owe to government. This is a very plain, simple statement.
Two, no debtor shall be forced into bankruptcy by the terms of their loan repayment. And this goes to what I just talked about in regard to selling the loans to a collection agency. I am very, very worried about that.
Three, the government shall be entitled to charge a fair market interest rate on all outstanding loans.
Now, in this case, thatís very good. What Iíve heard from the minister is that he has acknowledged that some have been in existence under the policy for many, many years. Itís maybe just a matter of communicating that to the businesses and people that owe the money, that they could have gone in and renegotiated a better interest rate on loans.
Four, the terms of repayment shall be determined by the debtorís ability to pay.
That has extremely important to us. We believe that, given a chance, in most cases ó not in all, because we have a couple of examples in this House ó people honour their debts and do try to pay them back.
Five, any delinquent debtor not able to make immediate payment in full of all monies owed shall be required to provide the government with a full disclosure of their financial situation.
This is something that weíve asked for before when the argument has been used that they havenít made any money, and thatís been used by one of the Cabinet ministers, that they havenít made profit in a multitude of years and thatís why they havenít had to make any payments. Well, if thatís the position youíre taking to take to avoid making a payment, then you should also be willing to back that up with hard evidence. So a full disclosure of that financial situation would be appreciated.
Number six is one that we feel is extremely important, and weíve heard it time and time again. I know my colleague from Kluane has heard it and many other people, and that is that there be a sense of fairness in this. It has to be fair to the people who have paid in the past, it has to be fair to the people that are making payments now and it has to be fair to the people that may not be able to make the payments, havenít been able to make the payments ó but letís not bankrupt them. It has to be seen by the taxpayers of this territory as fair. So, in some ways, the proposal that has been brought forward, the final resolution in this matter, has raised some concerns for us; in other areas it has pleased us.
We see the NGOs, we strongly support that, the part two, the renegotiating of the rates, which is already available to all the loans. It is not really a part two; from my understanding, it is basically saying what is already available for them. Absolutely; that is a good thing to promote. But the collection part does have some worries for us, as well as the other part that this government will never consider being in the loan business again in any way, shape or form.
As I have said earlier, what about all the other loan programs that have not been mentioned in this? Does that mean those are going to be cancelled now? What about future needs and a loan program that may be able to address some of them, such as the microloan and what it does? Such as Yukon Housingís loan program for upgrading renovations, which creates jobs in communities and does bring money back in. There are other programs out there. I am sure if I asked the Premier he would tell me all loan programs that exist today with the government, and I hope he does when he stands up. Thatís another concern of ours, one we feel very strongly about. Iím hoping that I will be able to get the information back when the Premier stands up.
Actually, there is a collection policy that already exists and that collection policy works especially in the area of people who may find themselves short of cash ó what we often call the working poor. Christmas comes along, school starts and they are very tight in their budget, they have possibly had assistance through social assistance through Health and Social Services, and they are able to come in and get assistance, which is given out as a loan, to help them in their budgeting through that period ó and which they do pay back.
Is the minister now also saying that that will be cancelled and wonít exist any more? If he is, on almost the poorest of the poor in this territory, on those who are struggling, on the working poor, that will create a tremendous hardship, especially when theyíre trying to do their best.
Like I say, Iím sure there are even more programs, and Iím hoping the Premier will supply us with all this information. With that, Iíll sit down.
Sorry, Mr. Speaker, I do have an amendment to make.
Mr. Hardy: I have for tabling the following amendment to the motion:
THAT Motion No. 186 be amended by adding after the words "loans issue" the following phrase: "that does not allow sitting Cabinet ministers to avoid repaying all or any portion of their outstanding government loans, and that will not result in any Yukon-owned business being forced into bankruptcy."
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the official opposition:
THAT Motion No. 186 be amended by adding after the words "loans issue" the following phrase: "that does not allow sitting Cabinet ministers to avoid repaying all or any portion of their outstanding government loans, and that will not result in any Yukon-owned business being forced into bankruptcy."
Leader of the official opposition, you have 20 minutes.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Our belief is that this clarifies the motion a little bit better. It also speaks to the concerns that we have heard throughout the Yukon in regard to these loans. As I said before, the number one issue and concern was around the Cabinet ministers. So we put that up front in the amendment to Motion No. 186.
As it says, that does not allow sitting Cabinet ministers to avoid repaying all or any portion of their outstanding government loans. We believe that without this part in the motion, there is a very good chance that these Cabinet ministers, who have thumbed their noses at the taxpayers of this Yukon for up to the last 15 years, are going to be able to walk away without paying a substantial amount, if anything, on their loans.
We are not, on this side of the House, assured that they will honour what is owed to the government and, through the government, of course, the taxpayers of the Yukon.
And without an amendment like this, without this in there, there are no assurances. We do not know what is going to happen in the next six months. We do not know what is going to happen when itís shuffled off to collection agencies, so the government doesnít have to deal with it any more. Thereís no more embarrassment on their part ó the fact that they have Cabinet ministers who have refused to make any payments. We do not know that. Frankly, we do need to know. The people of this territory need to know what their Cabinet ministers are going to do in regard to these loans. It does not need to be shuffled off and hidden away somewhere and dealt with by somebody else. We had expected, at some point in the announcement today, in the speech by the Premier, that he would stand and make a very clear statement about his Cabinet ministers. Iíll tell you why we expect that, Mr. Speaker. Last spring, the Premier said ó and Iím going to quote: "I for one think itís a serious issue. I for one have paid my bills. Past experience has been that, many times, it was very difficult to do so. However, Iíve done that, and I will hold the members on this side of the House to that standard."
If that statement ó which I fully agree with the Premier on ó holds today, then the standard we would have seen today would have seen those loans paid off, because they have the means to pay these loans. There is no question about it ó no more arguments about them not having made any profits in the last 10 years, or "donít want to disclose my financial statements," or "Iím moving money into numbered companies that you canít access to find out what is actually owned or owed."
No excuses. These two Cabinet ministers could have paid their loans. Our fear, on this side of the House ó I wonít speak for the member of the third party, but at least from the NDP ó is that this will allow these two Cabinet ministers with the Yukon Party to skirt out of their loan payments and what they owe the taxpayers of the territory, and that is not fair.
You lead by example. When you get elected, people put a great deal of trust in you, and then they watch. What we have seen over the last year is a disgusting display by these two members in not honouring what is owed and not clearing up those debts, and the Premier allowing that to happen. I have no faith whatsoever in this being a final solution to this matter. If anything, I think this has been done in a manner that will allow those two Cabinet ministers to escape paying what is owed to the people of this territory.
If the outstanding money is sold to a collection agency ó and weíre talking a substantial amount of money; weíre talking $321,000, or probably even more than that as this is a little outdated. There is one at $204,000, another at $117,000. If weíre talking about selling to a collection agency for 20 cents on the dollar, weíre talking a substantial loss for the people of this territory when they know full well that those ministers can pay it.
So weíre allowing them to walk away from paying the money back to the people. Then who knows what happens with the collection agencies? I havenít a clue. Iíve never had to deal with one myself, Mr. Speaker.
But I do know they can be quite ruthless. I have no idea what their process is. And I do know that maybe they will only be able to collect 35 cents on the dollar and they would consider that a profit. Well, Iíll tell you, that means these Cabinet ministers did get away from paying what is owed to the taxpayers, and it has been a wonderful Christmas gift to those two.
The second part of this amendment to Motion No. 186 is that it will not result in any Yukon-owned business being forced into bankruptcy. I have already talked a little bit about that, but that itís a fear we have. Weíve always said that it should not force family-owned businesses into bankruptcy if it can be helped. We must work with these people who owe the money, we must work with these businesses that owe the money, and if they can prove it through taking a look at their financial situation ó they open up the books ó and if the government can sit down with them and come up with a payment plan and work with them in a way that allows them to continue making a living, then thatís the way we should go. But my fear is that if it goes to these collection agencies, they could, in order to collect, try to force very small, struggling businesses out of existence.
So those are the two areas and problems we have with this. I have talked about other loan programs that are out there, and Iím hoping that Iíll hear about some of them and if they are all going to be cancelled or not.
My understanding is that the government is going to get out of the loans business. I didnít put it into the amendment, Mr. Speaker, but it may have to be something that we might have to clarify later in this debate if we donít get the answers from the other side. There are quite a few other programs out there that people do rely on. They are very good programs, and they do have a good success rate of people paying back the loans so that they can continue functioning.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the amendment, as well as the motion, but my focus will be on the amendment.
The leader of the official opposition, the Member for Whitehorse Centre, has amended the motion to address the detail of not allowing sitting Cabinet ministers to avoid repaying all or any portion of their outstanding government loans. I believe ó and I am not attributing motive to the Member for Whitehorse Centre ó the reason for bringing forward this amendment is that the Premierís speechó and unfortunately it has become a habit ó is missing a few salient details with respect to this loan policy. For example, in the media release we were provided after we had requested the adjournment, it speaks to the issue of the Yukon government selling the loans. It says that the company that purchases the loans will respect the repayment arrangement in place at the time of the sale. It goes on to say that the company that provides the best return to taxpayers while minimizing the risk to businesses ó that doesnít state that these particular loans by these Cabinet ministers will be repaid in full.
Mr. Speaker, thereís an old expression about the devil is in the details. I think thatís permissible; itís an expression. The detail is what the amendment brings forward.
The Premierís speech, as I said, was missing that salient detail. He also noted that previous governments had not really taken any action, that previous governments had not really wrestled with this issue. They just hadnít taken the hard steps.
Well, with all due respect to the Premier, perhaps he would care to review the Yukon Legislative Assembly Conflicts Commission decision pursuant to section 17 of the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, November 29, 2001. The list of exhibits filed include application and report to Management Board, with submission to Management Board regarding delinquent loans, dated March 20, 2001; extract of minutes of Management Board, April 18, delinquent loans; Economic Development Management Board directive, as amended, uncollectable debts. Governments have wrestled extensively with this subject and have worked incredibly hard and, yes, offered solutions.
Another detail that was omitted ó there was a great lengthy description of the loans. Unfortunately, there was no mention made ó no equally as full and extensive mention made of the hundreds and hundreds of Yukon businesses that received similar loans, paid them back in full, continue to operate their businesses, continue to improve their businesses and borrow money and pay it back.
There are hundreds of these individuals ó another salient detail left out.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:The hon. Premier, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: To correct the record, as the member well knows, it was stated clearly that out of 1,500 loans, 1,300 were repaid. Thatís a detail that certainly wasnít left out and was put on the floor of the Legislature by this side of the House.
Speaker:Order please. Correcting the record is not a point of order, so there is no point of order.
So, there is no point of order. Please carry on.
Ms. Duncan: The unfortunate display by the Premier doesnít recognize that ó
Speaker:Order please. A member of the House can stand up on a point of order. The Chair may agree or disagree with that point of order. However, it is the memberís privilege to stand up on a point of order.
Please carry on.
Ms. Duncan: I quite recognize that, Mr. Speaker. I was referring to the continual standing up and turning of the back to the speaker addressing the Assembly, as the unfortunate display, and the laughter and kibitzing that goes on on the side, on which you call us to order, is disturbing when we are addressing a very serious issue. Unfortunately, I find it disrespectful.
The issue is that there is a lot of history and there is a great deal of detail about those 1,300 repaid loans that needed to be shared with Yukoners today as well.
The other point that the Premier made in his speech today, and which the amendment to the motion addresses, is with respect to the loans by government. The Premier noted that he has always maintained that the government should not be in the business of giving loans. Well, in fact, Mr. Speaker, I was continually, continually, continually berated by that member for not providing South Yukon Forest Corporation with a business loan ó continually. Itís amazing how the view changes.
And as has been mentioned earlier in this House, Yukon Housing Corporation does a very, very good job in approving Yukoners for subsequent mortgages by banks ó first-time borrowers, their first home, and dealing with loans. They do a very good job. And I, for one, as a member of this House and as a leader of a political party in the Yukon, would continue to support that, as will our party.
I would like the Premier, when he addresses the amendment and closes his remarks on the motion, to commit, if he is so adamant that government should not be in the business of giving loans, that there will be no loans to businesses during the entire Yukon Party term ó there will not be. There will not be loans to sawmills, as he suggested I do day after day after day in this House.
I would also strongly encourage the Finance minister and the Premier not to wear out his hand, patting himself on the back on this particular issue, because there has again not been full and complete detail provided on the motion, which is why we have an amendment. The amendment addresses the full and complete repayment by Cabinet ministers, something Yukoner after Yukoner after Yukoner stops us to talk about at social events during this festive season, earlier in the year during our fall walkabouts. Continually, wherever we are as members of this Legislature, Yukoners come up to us and literally, as belittling as it can be, wag their fingers and say, "Donít you let them forgive those loans."
On the forgiveness of loans to the non-government organizations, everyone in the Yukon will applaud the government for this action. Itís a good step.
Again, there is a detail that should be examined, because one of the issues with respect to loaning businesses money, from my days at the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce ó the concern of the business community is that money not be loaned to one business in competition with another. That was always a concern about economic development agreements. The issue around the non-government organizations and the loans being forgiven ó they have often used these to purchase assets. So a detail is: will there be any comment on the assets? I fully support the forgiveness of the loans; I agree with it. The assets such as those at Mount Sima are going to be needed for the Canada Winter Games. Itís a very good thing that they will have them in place and not have the debt hanging over their head.
The restructuring of the loans under the Business Development Assistance Act ó this is where it looks like the government can be very statesmanlike and the government is doing something. Again, the details. Itís only the BDF loans and only some of them that have interest. Again, fairness has to be applied.
The real crux of the issue of the motion brought forward and the reason for the amendment, the devil in the details, is the restructuring of the loans to the private company ó at what price to Yukoners, at what gift to the Cabinet ministers. Exactly what does that mean? If loans are sold to the collection agency, what does that mean? Are they sold at 20 cents on the dollar? Does the company have to repay in full or not? That has not been made clear. The absolute clear solution to all of this is to pay the bills ó except for the non-government organizations, to pay the bills. People need to work with the government and pay the loans.
Government was elected to govern. They promised consensus; they promised collaboration, and they promised a higher standard. Itís well overdue in terms of time to deliver. This is a very strange way of arguing a new government policy.
The government wishes to appear reasonable and statesmanlike, brings it forward for a vote, has us all discuss it, but when we offer concrete suggestions in other areas ó for example, the Taxpayer Protection Act ó absolutely no way.
So if the government wants members of the opposition to go on record discussing a policy on this very much-talked-about Yukon issue, they need to provide all the information. Their inability to do that resulted in this amendment. There has to be a commitment by the government that, even after loans are passed off to a private firm, those loans ó especially those we hold to a higher standard ó will be repaid in full. No one in business gets an early Christmas present, because that is completely unfair to the hundreds of Yukoners and hundreds of businesses that repaid their loans in full.
It makes sense to try to work out an arrangement on interest, because there is a varying interest. The government has kind of worked at a solution there. The problem is these details, this fundamental, salient detail.
Yukoners need to know. When these loans are sold to a private company, what will Yukoners taxpayers get? Will the loans, especially those owed by individuals who have sought public office, who have held themselves to a higher standard, be repaid in full? Yukoners are asking for that salient detail, and it has not been provided by the government ó hence the reason for the amendment. Yukoners need to know the answers, the answer to that fundamental detail.
When people are elected to govern, they receive all the information, they make a decision, and they defend that decision. They need to share the full information and the basis for that decision with Yukoners, and precisely what the ramifications of the decision are ó not just some of the information, all of the information. Itís incumbent upon all of us to have that when we speak on the floor of this House. The Finance minister needs to fully respond to the amendment and to the details around the selling of the loans.
Again, Mr. Speaker, I would close by saying that there are key points that I would reiterate for the Finance minister. He needs to share all the information on the floor and precisely what the sale of the loans means. What does he mean by "the best interest of taxpayers" and "the business interest"?
The best return to taxpayers in minimizing the risk to business ó what does that mean? Does it mean the loans will be repaid in full, or will we get 20 cents on the dollar and some Yukon businesses treated differently from others? We need all those details. We need to know exactly what he means when he says that government should not be in the business of giving loans. Does that mean the Yukon Party will not get in the business loans, but they will stay in the Yukon Housing Corporation loans ó that we will have energy efficiency loans? We need to know the details and we also need to recognize the work of the government in forgiving the non-government organizations the loans. Those four non-government organizations and the directors and volunteers who have served on those organizations, I am certain, will also recognize the governmentís work in this respect. I applaud the government for doing that.
I encourage them to make sure all the iís are dotted and tís are crossed ó all the details are looked after. We need all the details this afternoon. We need to ó there is an expression, but I fear it would be unparliamentary, Mr. Speaker, so I will leave it at that.
Again, I believe that the amendment has been brought forward because the Finance minister has not made it clear that those we hold to a higher standard will repay their loans in full and that the outstanding loans, when sold to a collection agency ó exactly what that means to Yukoners. Yukoners want to know the details. I look forward to the Finance ministerís response to the amendment and the motion.
Mr. McRobb: Obviously, the government side doesnít want to speak to this amendment. First of all, I want to comment on the process used to bring forward this motion because, as House leader for the official opposition, it is my job to track this sort of process. I am very disappointed with the process the government used in the case of bringing in this policy. I will just briefly outline some of the events that occurred.
First of all, the Yukon Party kept secret its proposal until the very moment it was read onto the record. The Yukon Party refused to give any sort of a briefing on this policy beforehand. We did ask the government House leader for a briefing a few days ago, once the Premier introduced his government notice of motion onto the record. The government refused to give any sort of a briefing. Yet, it stands up today and says the opposition parties had lots to say over the past year on this matter and so on and so forth. However, Mr. Speaker, when we get into the details and some of the mechanisms involved in various programs cited by the Premier earlier in his speech, it does become complicated. I will agree with him on that point.
Who better to ask questions of than departmental officials? In a briefing, that is who is present ó the departmental officials, as well as opposition party members. That is what briefings are for. Thatís who attends.
So the Yukon Party denied a briefing to the opposition members on this matter.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, we requested the document a bit in advance of when it was read today, and the government House leader also refused to oblige that request. In fact, even after the speech was read, I stood up on a point of order and requested a copy of the speech. I agree with your ruling that in fact there is no requirement for the member to provide the speech. However, in the spirit of cooperation and to expedite information flow, it is common practice in this House for members to provide other members with a document, and clearly the document was of import to us and to Yukoners and thatís why it was requested. But the point is the Premier denied that request. He denied that request. Obviously the government has something to hide in this proposal and we may have gotten to the bottom of it with this amendment, and Iíll get to that in a minute.
Just to wrap up my concerns with the process, Mr. Speaker ó finally, when I rose on a point of order after the Premier was done his speech, I requested 15 minutes in which to break and review this matter before we had to speak on it. And the Premier denied us that opportunity. It wasnít until a few minutes later, while the Speaker was deliberating, that he recognized how that appeared to the public and the media and he was shamed into reversing his position. He did agree to give us 15 minutes at least. Thank goodness for that because we as a caucus were able to review what we thought we heard in the absence of having the written document. It gave us a chance to receive the governmentís press release on this matter, which at least was something. And it gave us an opportunity to decide how weíre going to respond to this matter.
I can understand why the Premier wouldnít want us to do that, because the Premier wanted us to maybe commit ourselves the wrong way in responding to this, to maybe go along with what appeared on its face to be a good motion, a good proposal. However, as is the case quite frequently, given more attention and more circumspection, the cracks begin to show, and the cracks do show in this proposal. As I mentioned, I will be getting to that in a few minutes.
I want to respond to a few other points. The Premier has said repeatedly that previous governments have not done anything. This has been responded to by our leader and the leader of the third party. I want to also add a comment ó because I donít believe it has been put on the record ó that as far as I am aware, Mr. Speaker, the reason why the previous NDP government did not address the matter of the outstanding loans was because one of the people with outstanding loans was in the opposition benches. The Member for Klondike was quite a prominent member of the official opposition at the time, and we can only imagine the hue and cry about the governmentís heavy-handedness had the NDP government closed in to collect loans. If Iím correct, I believe when the Liberal government mentioned something to this effect, we saw signals immediately to the effect that there was a hue and cry, and perhaps thatís why the previous government backed off, as well.
But now that the Member for Klondike is on the government side, as well as another member with outstanding loans, itís a different story.
Itís up to the government to do the right thing and appear as if itís doing the right thing. As mentioned, it has taken a year for it to come forward with a proposal, and we are not sure that it is the right thing. I will be getting to why momentarily.
The primary issue in this whole debate has been the involvement of two Cabinet ministers. At no time has anybody, that I am aware of, raised the issue that some non-government organization owes money and that is wrong, and letís close in and seize their assets. I have not heard that from anyone. The issue here has been the two Cabinet ministers and the need for them to rise above the smoke and mirrors and do the right thing. That is the issue.
Cabinet members ó especially ministers ó must be examples ó and good examples. Why should the Cabinet ministers be allowed to collect a government paycheque while skipping payments on government loans? Well, I have not heard a good answer to that question, and I cannot imagine that there is a good answer to that question.
The third area is the question of government being in the loans business. This is probably quite a large debate that is better for another day, Mr. Speaker. But there are a few points that I want to put on the record at this time.
Firstly, itís common for right-wing governments to be opposed to the government being in the loans business. Thatís to be expected. Most of the loans that were given back in the era of the EDA and so on, about 15 years ago, were paid back. Some of the businesses that were started or expanded are still in operation and have benefited Yukon families and communities and the economy in general ever since. Weíre only talking about a small part of the entire loans.
In addition, Mr. Speaker, I recall from being a Yukoner at the time that there was a lot of confusion surrounding the loans, whether they were in fact grants or non-repayable loans. There were debates about the language "non-repayable loans" or "repayable loans"; did that mean grants and did the money have to be paid back, et cetera?
I believe it wasnít until about 1989 when a line was drawn that any subsequent loans must be repaid in full. So there was a lot of confusion around the program at the time.
Itís also important to recognize the federal government sponsored about 80 percent of the funds used in the EDA. I believe in the first tranche it was even more, possibly 90 percent.
So most of the money was federal. There was always a question of why we should put Yukoners into bankruptcy when 80 percent of what we recovered would go to the federal government. Thatís an issue I did not hear the Premier state in his speech, and it has always been a significant part of this whole matter.
Does the federal government even care? Itís almost two decades later ó does anybody there even know?
There are a lot of good programs that are sponsored by this government when it comes to loaning money, and the federal government has been mentioned about leveraging federal money. There was a program just announced a few months ago about insulating your house, that people could claim maybe $1,000 from a federal program that may require some partnering with the territorial government. Is this government saying that those types of partnerships should be banned in the Yukon?
Anyway, with these points to this matter, I think itís quite evident that there is a lot to this issue, and we donít wish this issue to dominate the discussion today because the focus really should be on the proposal at hand, especially with regard to the two Cabinet ministers and whether or not this proposal requires them to pay their outstanding loans.
On the amendment, there are two components that I wish to address. First of all, the fairness component ó I believe it is important for existing businesses and those who have paid back their loans, those who are paying back their loans and those who have good intentions to pay back their loans. It is fundamental to be fair to those businesses. I have one constituent ó a business up on the Alaska Highway, a highway lodge ó and the owner informed me back in August, I believe it was, that he sent post-dated cheques by the month until the end of this fiscal year, at the end of which he is now free and clear from his government loan, which stemmed from the late 1980s.
So there are people with good intentions who have paid or are continuing to pay, and any policy must be fair to those people.
The second aspect of this amendment ó and this is the one I really like, Mr. Speaker ó is I believe it closes a loophole that would allow the two Cabinet ministers to escape repaying their loans. And Iíll explain that.
The government press release says that this loan restructuring offer will not be available to companies in which any member of the Cabinet is involved. That means if there is a company with outstanding debts in which these two Cabinet ministers are currently involved, then they will not be accepted by this proposal.
I believe I have been made aware on previous occasions of some of the details surrounding the outstanding loans with the two Cabinet ministers. Iím trying to recollect some of those details but, just to summarize, I believe in at least one case the company that owes the loan is no longer in the name of the Cabinet minister. It may be in the name of a spouse or a former spouse, in which case those Cabinet ministers would be absolved of those debts, as spelled out in this Yukon Party proposal.
Our amendment seals that leak because the amendment is worded such that, and Iíll quote, "that does not allow sitting Cabinet ministers to avoid repaying all or any portion of their outstanding government loans."
Now, Mr. Speaker, that seals the language that is in the governmentís press release, in its policy, that I believe qualifies the requirement for the Cabinet ministers to repay their loans. And it brings about and simply does not allow them to avoid repaying any or all of their outstanding government loans. So really itís addressing any past loans, whatever form they may be in today, whether theyíre in their name or a member of their familyís name or whatever, maybe a different business name, whatever. We believe this amendment seals that crack in the government proposal.
So those are the points that I wanted to raise about the amendment, and of course Iíll be voting in favour of the amendment. It will be very interesting to see how the members opposite vote on this amendment, because if they donít vote in favour of this amendment, it obviously lends some credence to the skepticism about the governmentís proposal with respect to the Cabinet ministers avoiding repaying their outstanding loans because of whatever reason.
In addition, Mr. Speaker, I notice the Member for Riverdale South ó I watched him closely during the Premierís speech, because in a former position with the private sector, I understand his job was to collect government loans. I couldnít help but notice some obvious dissatisfaction on that person. Iíll be watching how he votes. I also paid close attention to the Member for Porter Creek Centre this afternoon during Question Period. Obviously, he was very edgy in the way he responded to my question. He had absolutely zero tolerance for any humour and was extremely on edge.
I think this speaks to some of the tension across the way on this matter.
Speaker: Order please.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: No. Sit down.
Speaker:I believe weíre going awfully close to 19(g). The member is interpreting emotions of people across the floor. I donít believe thatís in order and Iíd ask the member not to do it. And you have about eight seconds.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Iíll try to learn from that experience.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Frankly, Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that we on this side of the House are truly interested in what the members opposite have to say today. I point out again that they had much to say about this issue over the last 12 months and, when the member and the leader of the third party speaks to detail, we all on this side of the House and in the territory recognize that a great deal of detail was conveniently omitted in a direct target and attack on two individuals on this matter.
But I must say there are a number of points Iíll quickly get to, and then I have no problem with amendments coming forward on this motion at all, Mr. Speaker. The government side has no problem whatsoever, but we will focus in on detail and the substance because thatís exactly what must be dealt with and thatís what we have addressed with our three-point plan.
Let me go to the Member for Kluane. The Member for Kluane, in his speech in support of the amendment, has made the governmentís case. Iíll point out where that has taken place.
The member brought up the fact that past governments had actually begun looking into this issue and then backed off. Past governments backed off, I say to you, Mr. Speaker, for the obvious reason that we put out today on the floor of the Legislature: the inability to muster the political will to deliver a solution, afraid of the political fallout and, when it gets to the third partyís issue, we all know why the Conflicts Commissioner was also involved.
The Member for Kluane also stated something that makes the governmentís case. He said that back when these loans were first implemented, there was a great deal of confusion ó confusion on whether these were loans or grants or this or that. Again, it speaks volumes and itís testimony to the situation and the issue we have here today, some 15 plus years later, are dealing with. It makes the governmentís case, Mr. Speaker, for why we are making the move to put this not into a collection agency, but into a financial institution. There is a big difference. Collection agencies are nowhere close to what a financial institution is.
The other point ó and I find this troubling, Mr. Speaker ó the Member for Kluane said, "Why should we bother collecting these things when the biggest percentage of this is owed to the federal government?" Now, therein lies a very disturbing fact. The money comes from taxpayers. The dependency of this territory on the southern taxpayer is very evident.
Is the Member for Kluane saying, "Letís not worry about those southern taxpayers? Letís ignore that fact". Thatís a disdain for the taxpayer.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker:Member for Kluane, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if you will rule in my favour, but at least it will get on the record. The member is making it sound as if that was my point of view. I was merely raising the question that was asked at the time. It was not my point of view.
Speaker:I think your interpretation is exactly right; there is no point of order. I would ask the Premier to carry on.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
It is important that we rebut claims on the floor of the Legislature that have a huge impact on this Houseís ó and this institutionís ó station when it comes to dealing with the public ó and thatís not just the Yukon public. We have a duty and obligation to recognize that the Canadian public plays a major and meaningful role in this territory in the delivery of its programs and services. So I find it troubling that we would have that kind of view of the southern taxpayer, considering all they do for the Yukon Territory.
The point must be made, Mr. Speaker, that is why this government is turning the territory toward private sector involvement, reducing dependency on the southern taxpayer and government.
Now, Mr. Speaker, Iím sure the members want to hear some of the responses to the questions theyíve asked, and I think the main thread here is the issue about not being in the lending business. Frankly, Mr. Speaker, this issue we are dealing with today is a clear example of why government is not a good lending institution.
But the leader of the official opposition brings up the microloan program. I would point out to the member opposite that weíre talking apples and oranges here. The microloan program is booked at Dana Naye Ventures. Thatís a bank; thatís a lending institution. so a dramatic difference from what weíre dealing with.
Also, when it comes to the Housing Corporation, that is an armís-length corporation from government with very stringent, clear and concise terms and conditions for any mortgage they give out, and thereís a huge relationship with CMHC.
So I want to alleviate their fears. Weíre not talking about those things. Weíre talking about this type of initiative, where the government became a lending agency and the government could not, for many reasons, put in a consistent program or vehicle with which to lend money. That in itself contributed greatly to the problems we have today.
Now, the leader of the third party, again ó I want to correct the record ó stated in her approach to detail ó and Iím sure maybe it was just an oversight by the leader of the third party. But we did clearly articulate on the floor of the Legislature that 1,300 loans were repaid out of a total of approximately 1,500. And we stated clearly that the government side commends and applauds those individuals, those corporate entities that have done this.
What we are dealing with here is the long-standing issue of delinquency, and we laid out a number of issues that lead to that delinquency. So to get on with this debate and to provide clarity to the issue, we are gong to amend the amendment to keep the very intent of the amendment but to reflect what the members opposite say they need ó detail ó which I find a little ironic that on the one hand they berate the government for not providing them with detail and on the other hand, in the debate here this afternoon, they are immersed in the detail they have before them, and documents and other items on their desks that are clearly indicating that there is a great deal of detail in the hands of the members opposite. Again I point out, let us not forget that there has been much to say on this issue. There has been much speculative debate from the opposition benches on what we were going to do, and we know that detail on this portfolio is a matter of public consumption.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Getting on with this amendment, the government side will propose an amendment to this amendment that provides that detail and clarity and I will read as follows:
THAT the amendment to Motion No. 186 moved by the Leader of the Official Opposition be amended by deleting all the words after the word "repaying" and substituting for them the following:
"their outstanding government loans and, to the extent possible, will not result in any Yukon-owned business being forced into bankruptcy given full consideration of all the relevant factors including the issues of security and collectability."
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier:
THAT the amendment to Motion No. 186 moved by the Leader of the Official Opposition be amended by deleting all the words after the word "repaying" and substituting for them the following:
"their outstanding government loans and, to the extent possible, will not result in any Yukon-owned business being forced into bankruptcy given full consideration of all the relevant factors including the issues of security and collectability."
Is it the Houseís wish that I read the motion as subamended?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, again in the spirit of cooperation, I want this to go to the other side of the House, allow the members opposite to digest this and to respond to it. What it does is, in the attempt by the leader of the official opposition to strengthen the existing motion, this amendment, through detail and reflecting the main components of the issues we deal with, actually strengthens the amendment proposed by the official opposition.
So I think, in all fairness, the House is getting to the point where we can, I think, debate this in a way that we advance the issue and bring it to closure, as we intend to do with our three-point plan.
The other thing Iíd like to point out is that, I believe, if the members opposite really look at this in the context of what it means and then go to the points that were made in presenting the options ó the three steps ó to bring conclusion and closure to this long-standing issue, there is a reflection in this amendment that speaks to some of the main problems and issues that government has in this area.
Then the other point is, by engaging a lending institution, the net worth of this portfolio becomes evident. That is something else that must be reflected. That is, I think, one of the values of our plan ó is that the net worth will be established. I also must point out that we are receiving recommendations from the Auditor General around this portfolio and why it is on the books as it is, in most cases ó something of this nature, with this timeline of delinquency would not be admitted in the standard accounting practices, would not be on a balance sheet, if you will.
So we are trying to get to closure. We are very interested in what the members opposite have to say about what is a clear amendment to an amendment to provide the necessary detail that the members seek.
Mr. Hardy: Well, itís interesting to see an amendment to an amendment from a motion that was brought forward, which kind of indicates to us that a development of this policy ó which is a very, very important policy in regard to the loans ó is being developed on the fly. It is a concern in that regard.
Now, our amendment to the motion that we brought forward is, we feel, very, very clear. It says: "that does not allow sitting Cabinet ministers to avoid repaying all or any portion of their outstanding government loans, and that will not result in any Yukon-owned business being forced into bankruptcy."
Now, what is being proposed here after the repaying part is their outstanding government loans ó they are dropping the "or any portion of ", or any portion of their outstanding government loans, which is a substantial change because that actually indicates that the Cabinet ministers in this regard may be able to avoid making the payments, depending on how it shakes down when it goes to a private firm.
And the reason I say a private firm ó and it was pointed out to me by the leader of the third party, which is very interesting ó is that in the press release the Premier said, "I have always maintained governments should not be in the business of giving loans. Our plan is to sell the outstanding loans to a private firm. That provides the best return to taxpayers while minimizing the risk to businesses." Well, a private firm is a collection agency, is it not? Of course it is.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: The Minister of Environment said it could be a hardware store. Heís right. Is that whatís being planned? I donít think theyíre going to be able to collect much, unless theyíre one of these multinationals that have a tremendous collection policy already existing, because theyíre definitely in the loans business, too, and they set up accounts. Thereís nothing saying that they canít do it. Actually, as that minister pointed out, and I totally agree with him, a private firm can be anybody, could be anything. Thereís nothing specified ó nothing has been specified, as I understand it, that itís a financial institution specifically.
Now, the Premier has just indicated that itís a financial institution. Well, whatís the definition of a financial institution?
Itís not just a bank, I can assure you. It could be an insurance company. It could be many things. By the press release, by even that wording, yes, it could be a collection agency. They can be considered a financial institution and they can be considered a private firm. It still does go there. I donít see any reason for this amendment to the amendment because I think it waters our initial amendment down.
Now, there are a lot of qualifiers in it for the second part as well. That is, reading it, "their outstanding government loans and, to the extent possible, will not result in any YukonĖowned business being forced into bankruptcy," ó "to the extent possible" is open to interpretation as well.
It continues, "given full consideration of all the relevant factors including the issues of security and collectability." Well, that is not a very clear statement whatsoever. I have great difficulty with this one because I donít honestly know what that is supposed to actually mean. There are so many qualifiers on this amendment to the amendment that it basically makes the original amendment that we brought in null and void and it puts in something that has so many qualifiers that weíre right back to the same motion.
I donít see this as an improvement and what we would be looking for is an improvement upon the amendment we brought forward. Instead, I see itís a removal of some of the language that we have thatís a little bit stronger in regard to the Cabinet ministers and also far, far clearer in regard to Yukon-owned businesses and the fear that they could be forced into bankruptcy.
Speaker: Prior to the leader of the third party starting, is it the wish of the House that I read the motion, as amended, including the subamendment, or are you comfortable with just carrying on?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Iím asking the leader of the third party.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, Iím comfortable addressing the amendment to the amendment. That is what Iím supposed to do at this point.
Speaker: Please carry on.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to go through in terms of the amendment to the amendment and reflect on the motion itself.
The Premier brought forward a three-point plan to deal with the outstanding loans issue ó just to put it broadly. That three-point plan said, forgive the non-government organizations; hereís a solution with the loan interest, and he singled out the two Cabinet ministers in that policy.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Iím sorry, Mr. Speaker. There are a lot of Pats in the House. And lots of Pats in the House is a good thing, I should add.
The three-point plan said, number one, forgive the NGOs; number two, hereís a policy on the interest; and number three, weíre going to deal with the other outstanding loans after the interest has been renegotiated on all but two possibly ó weíre leaving the options open ó and those two were singled out, the two by the Cabinet ministers ó weíre going to sell them off.
The Finance minister has not been clear. The media release says, "Our plan is to sell the outstanding loans to a private firmÖ"; in this House, he said "financial institutions". Itís not clear and explicit.
Weíve seen the Finance minister before stand on the floor of this House and say, "Weíre not going to amend the Taxpayer Protection Act," and then do it, so what is meant by "private firm"?
What is meant by "financial institution"? Is it the highest bidder? Is it a tendering process? Is it a sole-source? What is it? A private firm can mean many things.
That being said, the effect of selling off the outstanding loans to a private firm or financial institution ó and the Finance minister has even said this, if one listens very carefully to his words. He has said that the government will not recover the full amount. So there was an amendment brought forward by the leader of the official opposition, the Member for Whitehorse Centre, to say, "Look, the two Cabinet ministersí loans have to be paid in full ó no 20 cents on the dollar once the loans are sold for those two."
The subamendment takes that important qualifier of those particular loans being paid in full and waters it down completely. It says "their outstanding loans". Weíre back to 20 cents on the dollar, maybe 50 cents on the dollar; we donít know. Itís not necessarily the full amount. Thatís the problem with the subamendment ó it waters down the amendment.
The amendment had the Cabinet ministers repaying all or any portion of their outstanding government loans ó pardon me, to avoid repaying all or any portion. This simply says "their outstanding government loans". So once theyíre sold, only a portion of them could be repaid if this subamendment were allowed to pass.
Thatís what Yukoners are mad about. If the government wants to sell off, and is willing to offer all businesses except the two ó theyíre going to hold two to a higher standard ó then continue to hold them to that higher standard. When the loans are sold off, those two have to be paid in full.
They held them to a higher standard in point two, Mr. Speaker. Point two of their three-point plan was that those two loans would not have the option of renegotiating their interest. They said that. Point three, theyíre going to sell off the loans ó to we donít know what kind of entity. Once theyíre sold off, government is not necessarily going to recover the full amount. The Finance minister has said that.
So the amendment said, keeping with the theme of those two that we hold to a higher standard, these two have to be paid in full. Unfortunately, the subamendment waters it down, does not continue to hold the two to a higher standard. And thatís the problem with it. Itís unfortunate, because with the amount of time the government has had to work on this policy and the way they brought it forward, it should have been far clearer. It shouldnít require amendments or amendments to the amendment on the floor of this House. It should be clear and, if it were, it would have either received the full support or been roundly denounced and been dealt with. This amendment to amendments muddies the waters and, in this case, it waters down completely the high standard that we are expecting all members of the Legislature to live up to.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: Iím opposed to this subamendment for the very simple reason that it opens the closure to the loophole that was introduced in our amendment to the motion.
The Member for Lake Laberge is indicating that he is getting dizzy again. I can understand that but we need to focus on what we are doing here and be clear about what weíre doing because there may not be another opportunity to ever address this matter again. What is decided here in this Legislature will have long-term implications and will impact businesses as well as determine whether or not these Cabinet ministers repay their loans.
Now, I spoke at length to the amendment about why I felt the amendment was necessary. Just to quickly summarize: the amendment sealed a crack in the motion ó or in the governmentís policy, to be exact, because the policy is different from the motion. But it sealed a crack that would possibly allow either or both Cabinet ministers to escape without repaying their loans. The reason is because the wording is geared strictly to present ownership of any companies related to those loans. As I supported previously, those loans could be to companies that are no longer in the ministersí names. They could be in the names of spouses or former spouses or numbered companies owned by others, for instance.
Now, if this government truly wants those ministers to repay their loans, why is it trying to erase the amendment that closed that loophole, that sealed that crack? And it clearly does that.
This subamendment completely excludes that major component of the amendment. It only speaks to the other issue, which is fairness to Yukon business. It completely erases the reference we introduced, which would seal the loophole out of which either Cabinet minister could escape without paying the loans. Itís clear that the government does have something to hide. This does lend credence to suspicions about the governmentís policy. I pointed out earlier that it would be interesting to see how the members across the way vote on this amendment, and if they didnít support the amendment, then obviously there was something about to validate our concerns about the possible loophole in the policy. We closed the loophole. The government introduced another amendment that reopens the loophole. Well, obviously a loophole exists if there is this much attention being paid to it. Why didnít the government introduce language that was clear regarding either Cabinet minister ó and concise language that would clearly state they would repay their former loans?
There is real concern here about how the government is manoeuvring around this important issue. I wonít bother asking why, because itís quite clear.
Is it the right thing to do? Does it respond to concerns weíve heard from Yukoners? Will it require either or both Cabinet ministers to repay loans that might be in the name of a spouse or former spouse or numbered company?
The answer to those questions is no, and thatís how I will be voting ó if we get to a vote on this subamendment ó because I am not going to support any policy that allows either of the Cabinet ministers to evade their responsibility to repay those loans. As mentioned, that really is the crux of the whole loans debate.
Earlier, the Premier referred to this crux and that crux, but the real crux, Mr. Speaker, is whether or not the two Cabinet ministers will repay their loans.
This government keeps shuffling the cards, Mr. Speaker. Itís avoiding language that would spell that out clearly and thatís what this subamendment is all about.
So, just to be clear, Mr. Speaker, Iím voting against this subamendment if it gets to a vote. I think itís wrong. The loophole is obviously a sensitive issue with the government. If it really wants everyone to come together and agree on something today, then letís close the loophole and make sure there is a requirement for those Cabinet ministers to repay their loans.
Mr. Fairclough: I would also like to briefly speak to this amendment to the amendment that was moved by the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
It is certainly taking away from the original amendment in that the original amendment was focused to a certain degree on having the two Cabinet ministers repay all or any portion of their loans to government. What the Premier has done is effectively taken those words out of the amendment and brought it right back to almost the original.
I also have some concerns about some of the wording that has been used in his amendment: for example, giving full consideration to all relevant factors. Even those words are hard to swallow. What we have said is that we donít want businesses to be forced into bankruptcy, and it has been watered down by these words. I believe that itís not in the best interest of the members opposite, so why put the wording in here?
I am also quite surprised that the Premier would come forward with an amendment to an amendment so quickly, seeing as how they had all this time in the sitting, since the sitting started, to draft up a motion. They drafted it up and their motion was two lines. The solutions were nowhere to be seen and now weíve got them. My concern is having businesses go under because of the type of wording that is being used by the Premier.
With that, Mr. Speaker, letís try to make some improvements again ó one more time to the members opposite. Hopefully they would look at this carefully, consider it and pass it. Therefore, I would like to move an amendment to the amendment to the amendment, which is ó and itís an amendment to the amendment to Motion No. 186.
Speaker:Give the Chair a moment please. Itís not in order to move an amendment to a subamendment. The subamendment must be dealt with prior to any other amendments being dealt with. So the Chair cannot allow you to propose an amendment to a subamendment.
Mr. Fairclough: Itís unfortunate that we are unable to do this because whatís going to happen here is the government side, with their numbers, is going to force us into this. The Premier said he would like some constructive debate on this. I would think that they said they had all kinds of time to deal with this matter so that businesses facing bankruptcy were considered in the amendment to the amendment. Thatís my problem right now. Of course I canít move an amendment to the subamendment. I thought that was possible because I believed it was done before. And after considering this, I donít know how much more we can debate on this.
The other matter that was brought forward by the members opposite in their solutions, in their government press release, is that they would be selling these loans to a private firm. I believe the phones of the Premier and the members opposite should be ringing off the hook from businesses that could possibly face bankruptcy early, considering the fact that interest has built up over the number of years. And I know there is a six-month plan here to try to get them renegotiated, but even at that point, when you consider a business, say, in my riding ó in Mayo, for example ó that, if itís a tourism business and they have a loan thatís outstanding ó well, thereís not a whole lot of transaction of dollars that takes place there. And itís very tough for even them to repay a lot of this loan back, but they have a business thatís employing them and feeding them and so on. That type of business, I would say, would be ready for bankruptcy with this government bringing forward this solution ó or what they say is a permanent resolution, but I donít believe it is either, because this government says they have a tough time dealing with loans.
But the fact is, Mr. Speaker, we do have the government loans, even after this. Say, if the firm bought out every loan that there was out there, we still do have loans in government, and thatís through the corporations. Theyíve been very successful in collecting loans. I know at one point, and it should have happened by now, the expertise there was to be brought over to the government side to look at how best to deal with the collection of loans.
Itís unfortunate that that didnít happen. It seems like this resolution just popped up quickly. They didnít want to force it into the final day. A resolution was drafted by the Premier in his office ó a two-liner, which we probably wonít even have problems with, because the resolution itself is urging the government to present to the Legislative Assembly a permanent resolution to the outstanding government loans. Even with the Premierís release ó their news release about their announcement for the outstanding loans ó that still has to happen. In other words, the Premier and the Yukon Party government have a lot of work to do other than what they released to the public.
Being heavy-handed with some businesses and lenient with the others, like perhaps the ones under the ministerís watch ó thatís a concern that has already been raised to us on this side of the House. If we are not able to make an amendment to this, I believe government will just vote this through. Itís an amendment to our amendment, and I think the whole thing is Mickey Mouse. It was not well-thought-out right from the beginning. It was brought in very quickly.
Speaker:Order. Please sit down.
We had made reference a couple of days ago to Disney-esque references. I would ask the Member for Mayo-Tatchun to respect that ruling and not use those references.
Also, as he could tell by looking at me, the member was getting very, very close to imputing motives and I would ask him not to do that.
Mr. Fairclough: I was close to the line. I wasnít over, I thought, Mr. Speaker.
I will try to avoid those, but how else do you describe it? Itís a common saying and thatís why people use those words.
I thought that this government would have brought forward a very well-thought-out resolution for this House to deal with, something that doesnít need an amendment. We could have some debate. And the concerns that we raised on this side of the House in regard to outstanding loans was particularly directed towards ministers under the Premierís watch. What do we have for our resolution? Nothing that is really hard or tough for these two ministers. So it makes it difficult for us to really believe that government is sincere in what they would like and say that they are offering to the public.
I would think that this matter is far from over, and if the members opposite think that it is the final resolution, itís not. I can just think of examples: if people think, for example, that they are in good standing and they are paying their loan and they are paying it for the next six months, and they miss a deadline, what happens? It goes into this private firm, which is a collection agency, and they take them through the courts or whatever. It goes through a court process. I can think of some loans that, for example, have been in good standing, even though members on that side of the House announced them as not ó in the public, so thatís public knowledge.
And Iíll give an example: the Salmon-Little Carmacks First Nation has a loan. They have faithfully been paying on that loan. If they, for example, feel that they are in good standing and have been paying their loans, and by whatever happens here ó if they miss a six-month opportunity here, it goes boom, right into this firm. And it could involve many sections of their corporation or perhaps government departments.
To me, I donít believe the Yukon Party government really thought out clearly how it could affect them. They say that thereís no team in place; this is how it is. This is the heavy-handedness in regard to the NGOs and forgiveness of their loans. Well, that has been taking place for awhile now, and thatís nothing new.
Where we really wanted to see the Premier deal fairly in this matter is with his own ministers who have outstanding loans and who refuse to pay them and are collecting money from government, not just as a wage but by other means, whether itís through their businesses and so on.
That is troubling to us on this side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I canít say much more, but I would like to see this motion amended, and if we have to go through the motions of voting for this and bringing forward an amendment again, then thatís what we will do. Itís unfortunate thatís the process we have to use, but we want the Premier to be accountable, and we want this Yukon Party to do something about the ministersí outstanding loans instead of letting them off the hook, which they could be because the wording is just not clear enough in the ministerís news release and his amendment.
So therefore, Mr. Speaker, I am not in favour of this amendment that has been put forward by the Premier. I think that a lot more thought should have gone into the original motion, and perhaps a solution should have been part of the motion, and then we could have debated that. Instead, what we have is a small motion on the floor and a news release. So the news release doesnít ó because this is already done, Mr. Speaker, weíre still urging ó thatís what weíre going to get back to: the original motion ó weíll still be urging the government to do something and to look at the loans presently.
So, how far are we in progressing down this road? The Premier said, "This is a permanent solution." But I think, by far, it is not, and it does hurt a lot of people. I think they should look at this a little more seriously and, when it comes back to the original motion, weíll vote for it because we want the government to do something ó more than what they presented in their news release.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question on the subamendment?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker:Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, please poll the House. Division has been called on the amendment to the amendment.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Arntzen: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Cathers: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Disagree.
Mr. McRobb: Disagree.
Mr. Fairclough: Disagree.
Mr. Cardiff: Disagree.
Mrs. Peter: Disagree.
Ms. Duncan: Disagree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are eight yea, six nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the subamendment carried.
Subamendment to Motion No. 186 agreed to
Speaker: Is there any further debate on the amendment as amended?
Mr. Fairclough: The Premier has brought forward and changed the Member for Whitehorse Centreís amendment to his motion. I think that government is not putting a lot of thought into this. There were a number of points raised by both the Member for Whitehorse Centre and the Member for Kluane about the effects that this press release has on people. We are coming forward to try the best we can to reflect some of those concerns in an amendment to a motion that was put forward by the Premier.
We have to follow proper procedures here and we, of course, are concerned about a number of different points. Iíve listed them already; for example, outstanding loans being sold off to a private firm. And even the rest of the wording in the press release put forward by the Premier: "Ö a private firm that provides the best return to taxpayers while minimizing the risk to businesses." What does that really mean? Can the Premier elaborate on that? Does it mean the fact that weíll see interest rates, or a higher amount, for example, through the private firm versus how governments would be doing this?
That is a concern that people and the businesses have in possibly facing bankruptcy if they donít abide by this heavy-handed move put forward by the Premier in his announcement in the news today.
So letís try this again. I would like to have some direction focused on the ministers and the ministers paying back their loans in this motion. I would like to ensure that at least some businesses that are facing tough times be recognized in the motion.
Mr. Fairclough: So, therefore, I would like to move
THAT the amendment to Motion No. 186 as amended be amended by the following:
(a) inserting the words "to the Government of Yukon" between the word "repaying" and the word "their"; and
(b) inserting the words "in full" after the words "outstanding government loans"; and
(c) by deleting all the words after the phrase "forced into bankruptcy".
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun that the amendment to Motion No. 186, as amended, be amended by the following:
(a) inserting the words "to the Government of Yukon" between the word "repaying" and the word "their"; and
(b) inserting the words "in full" after the words "outstanding government loans; and
(c) by deleting all the words after the phrase "forced into bankruptcy".
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I believe what this amendment does is focus us back to all the concerns that have been raised on this side of the House in regard to the two outstanding loans that the ministers have with government. Thatís where the main issue started, and because of the news release that was already sent out today, Mr. Speaker, we want to ensure that businesses are not forced into bankruptcy. By having the type of wording that was presented to the House by the Premier with the subamendment, it takes that away. It is, I think, consistent with how we felt this Yukon Party government would handle the loans of the ministers.
That is taking away from the original. For example, the original amendment to the motion did say, "to avoid repaying all or any portion of their outstanding loans". Then the Premier came back and pulled that out completely and basically gutted the original amendment. He took all that out. He also didnít really have any encouraging or comforting words for businesses that are having a tough time paying their loan back to government. For example, putting in the words "full consideration of all relevant factors, including issues of security and collectability". If you go from that wording back to the plan that the government has, which is very much out there, that doesnít give too much comfort to businesses.
So the Premier says, "Let us work together in this House." He says that everybody had a lot of time to think about this, which is really not the case, I believe. For example, the motion just popped out into the House. It was very quickly done, I believe, and there was not a lot of thought put into it. And then a news release was done up about the governmentís action plan on unpaid loans. They said that they wanted a permanent resolution to this. That was the whole reasoning behind the motion that was originally put forward.
Thatís not happening because a big portion of it, for example, has been left out, and that is the corporations, which are under this government and directed by this government, as to how they should operate and so on. As a matter of fact, the corporations are moving the other way. Theyíre moving into the loans business. Green mortgages, for example, are of much interest to many people who want to have an energy efficient home. Theyíre moving toward that.
What does that mean? If we went back to the original motion, if we all agreed to it, then is the government going to address that later down the road ó the corporations, for example? How is that going to be dealt with? Will they be facing the same line of action as presented to those who have loans with government and are not in the corporations? Are they going to be forced to refinance or restructure their loan and see how best to pay it back? If not, will they be forced into having their loans and their businesses fall apart because theyíre being sold off to a private firm?
We havenít heard the Premier say very much about that at all. Thatís the other thing: what does he have in mind for a private firm? What does it really mean to those who have loans?
He didnít say much in his speech to give much comfort to those who are having a tough time. He did not address the fact that some businesses are up and running and basically providing a wage for themselves and having a tough time even addressing their loan issue. What happens with them?
If the Premier really sees that the territory is going to boom once again, why is he so worried about this? Why is he forcing businesses to come close to bankruptcy sooner than they would ever dream of it happening to them?
So thatís the concern we have, and Iím hoping that the Premier can get on his feet, speak to that very issue and give some comfort here because his amendment does not give any comfort to those businesses.
So thatís why we said ó in trying to compromise, if you look at the amendments to the motion, weíre trying to compromise here ó somewhere. Letís meet in the middle.
We understand there are possibly some good things that are coming out of the announcement. Really, itís nothing new with respect to, for example, forgiving the loans of non-government organizations. If theyíre having a tough time paying it back, then why not move in that direction? But the others are a concern to me and, Iím sure, to many businesses with outstanding loans.
So thatís why we say the Premierís ministers should continue to pay these loans back to the Government of Yukon because ó letís face it, the way the systems are set up right now, will they even have to pay any of this back to a private firm? That includes interest rates. Itís a forgiveness, and I would have liked to have seen the two ministers, who have avoided the motion altogether today, speak to this.
I know they might lend some insight. I know it has been pretty tough for them to hear questions in the House about the loans. It has been so long since this Premier has dealt with the issue, and itís frustrating, because now weíre forced down to a day where ó we thought the minister and the Premier wanted to move ahead and debate the supplementary budget. We heard them time and time again ó "Bring it forward."
But we waited for the government House leader to do that. Yesterday they gave up their motion day, and we made some progress ó very little, I would say, because of the tough time the Minister of Education had in answering questions, a very tough time.
We made a little progress, but we were moving ahead. And today, government wants to deal with what they thought was an urgent and pressing matter. The Premier wanted to urge himself and his government to put a final resolution to the outstanding loan. He wanted to do that. He wanted to say that to the public. It should have been a directive that they followed, Mr. Speaker, rather than even bringing it forward, because the motion just urges them to do something. Before the motion is passed they have already put out a press release. So, really, is the motion out of order? If it has already been done, is the motion out of order? Maybe, though, it could be an amendment to have it focused a little bit. Thatís what we are trying to do here. Letís not have the Premier try to wash this away, take the focus off and away from his own ministers owing government money.
So these amendments do that, I think. They also speak to ó and Iím surprised that nobody else is speaking to it on that side of the House, first of all. Is this a high priority or not? Is there an interest by members opposite or not? Well, I believe that the Premier wants to speak to it and perhaps control some of the debate on his side of the House. We, on this side of the House, feel that there is much to be introduced and much to be looked at. Why did the Premier take out the words "forced into bankruptcy" and put in "full consideration"?
I mean, those words themselves are a concern to us, because itís not solid. Itís just something. Itís just like the words "may" versus "shall." I would think that the Premier does not want these businesses to go into bankruptcy. I think the whole focus was, letís get something done here. Weíve got to put it together quickly. We donít want to make it look like we donít know what weíre doing by introducing it on the final day of the sitting. So itís forced here on the floor of the Legislature, and I would think the Premierís team, the Yukon Party, is unprepared to debate it. But the Premier is. Itís introduced by the Premier, so this is where weíre going with it.
We also wanted to ensure that some words are included in the motion, like inserting the words "in full" after the words "outstanding government loans". Now, whatís wrong with that? Why did the Premier take that out? That raises a lot of questions with us on this side of the House. Why did he take those words out? Why not have them in there, that "in full," Mr. Chair? We had originally, in the amendments, some stronger words than that. We had repaying "all or any portion of the outstanding government loans that Cabinet ministers had". Those were the words. They were strong. Weíve gone from that, and it has been watered down.
This attempt to amend the amendment to Motion No. 186 is to try to bring some little stronger language and some better direction for government to take and to ensure that they are focused again on the loans, they are focused again on the ministersí loans from government, and their focus on the impact of this motion and this government direction is on businesses. So thatís our attempt to put these words back into the motion, and hopefully members on that side of the House ó I know the Member for Lake Laberge likes to talk so hopefully he can get up and say good words about how he likes the words that have been introduced to change the amended motion.
In wrapping up here, I would like to hear from the Premier; I would like to hear what his thoughts are of his amendments versus the wording that has been brought forward through this amendment that I have presented to the House. I would like to hear his rationale for the words he has put into the amendments, why he has chosen the words, because we havenít heard it and also, we would like to know clearly how they felt about the impacts of their news release on businesses.
And so far, that hasnít happened and, hopefully, we can get some clear understanding of that because people are listening to this news release, they are going to be asking questions, they are concerned about their business and they are concerned about even wages generated from their business to themselves.
So thereís a lot at stake here, and hopefully weíll get some cooperation from the government side in looking at this in a more serious manner, Mr. Speaker.
Iím urging all members on that side of the House to be in favour of this amendment. Itís good for businesses and it focuses a lot of the attention on the two ministers who have outstanding loans with government.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: I was standing up to speak.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. The Chair, along with some members of the House, was a little confused here. The member could stand up and, presumably, she stood up to participate in the debate, so Iíll allow her to proceed.
Leader of the third party.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I apologize for any confusion. I do appreciate the opportunity to speak to the amendment brought forward by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun.
It has been a long afternoon and there has been a great deal of discussion. What members on this side have tried to put forward, myself included, are arguments to the government that the policy, as brought forward ó the news release, the motion as brought forward ó is simply not far enough in its scope. Itís not enough; itís not clear enough that the government intends to fully collect on outstanding government loans, as witnessed by the amendment that says "in full" after the words "outstanding government loans".
Itís not far enough in recognizing the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has spoken on behalf of constituents and said that we have to recognize that there are businesses on this list who are clearly trying to make efforts to deal with their outstanding loans, and where selling them off to a firm would not be the appropriate course of action.
The real problem in all of this is that the government side ó there seems to be an unwillingness in the House to recognize that this is an important issue to Yukoners and has to be clearly, as the government proposes, a final solution. It has to be clear to the public that thatís what it is, and itís not. The selling off to a firm ó itís not clear what the firm is, itís not clear that it would be full repayment, and itís not clear that there would be recognition of businesses being forced into bankruptcy. Thatís why these amendments keep coming forward ó and amendments to the amendments.
Theyíve been brought forward in good faith, trying to ensure this is the best it could be for Yukoners ó that itís clear. There has to be a note made of the fact that ó I wonder why this wasnít all dealt with beforehand. We worked together as a House to deal with the placer mining motion, and it was unanimously supported. The government wanted full and complete support for this motion and their solution ó they needed to be more forthcoming with it.
We needed to be in a better position than having to bring forward amendments to amended motions. Weíre in the position. I think the amendment brought forward does strengthen the motion, does focus, and it does clearly articulate the words "in full". Thatís what Yukoners are looking for. Theyíre not looking for 20 cents on the dollar; theyíre looking for repayment in full.
I support the amendment to the amendment. Most of all what I support is, perhaps in 2004, the government coming forward with a renewed interest in working with this side on what truly would be solutions for Yukoners.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McRobb: Of course Iím speaking in favour of this amendment to the amended motion, because I think what it does is it seals up the crack to the loophole again, because the loophole was brought back to life by the Premierís amendment to our amendment. We, of course, donít agree with that. We donít believe there should be any qualifying language to allow the Cabinet ministers to escape full responsibility for repaying their loans. We felt the loophole, just for those who may have missed it, existed because if any company that had the outstanding loans was not in the ministerís name, then obviously the minister would be let off the hook. Mr. Speaker, itís a pretty simple transaction nowadays just to put a company in a spouseís name ó maybe in a former spouseís name, as the case may be ó or possibly even a numbered company. There was an editorial in a local paper just last week that revealed how holdings of at least one of the Cabinet ministers was locked up in a black box through the means of a numbered company ó or even the disclosure form, if that individual did not reveal the holdings.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think there is some reason to be suspicious as to motivation or the rationale ó I will replace "motivation" with "rationale" ó for continuing to try to erase the firmer language that would plug this loophole.
Speaker:The Member for Kluane is getting very, very close to imputing false or unavowed motives, and I would ask you to be very careful. I understand that youíre dealing with this issue with a great deal of passion but I, as the Chair, would urge you to be very, very careful that you do not impute motives.
Please carry on.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I do agree that there is a fine line here. I am trying to stay on the good side of it. If I donít always do that, then, certainly, I thank you for your ruling.
There was a way to avoid this type of debate this afternoon and it was pointed out by some previous speakers. We had a great model from earlier this year when all parties in the Legislature got together and agreed on the motion dealing with the Yukon placer authorization. That model worked and it was one that all parties were proud of. I suppose the question is: why didnít the government follow that same process, which may have led to a similar conclusion?
As he indicated earlier and was echoed from this side of the House, we are gradually moving to something that we hopefully can agree on.
All of this could have been avoided just through parties getting together outside of this House and ironing out the language ó instead of dealing with it at $1,000 an hour for Hansard and, perhaps more importantly, consuming one of the three days remaining to deal with the supplementary budget and all the departments still not dealt with.
I do want to touch on that because when the government House leader informed the House on Tuesday afternoon that they would not be calling a motion on Wednesday afternoon, he appeared to be quite generous in his actions, almost like Santa Claus. But in calling this government motion today, on the day when the opposition parties had scheduled debate on the budget, itís like Grinch: it takes the gift back. We have a situation where the government appeared to be generous, giving up its motion day.
Speaker:Please. The Chair does not know whether the Grinch is Disney-esque or not, but I would ask that the member not refer to cartoon characters. Please carry on.
Mr. McRobb: The bottom line is that the government appeared generous in giving up its motion day on Wednesday, but it took away what it gave today by insisting this House debate a government motion, which we all know takes precedence over other regular business that may be on the Order Paper or agreed to at House leaders meetings in the morning. We understood weíd be up with the Department of Health and then Finance and ECO and so on and so forth through the departments and the budget. But the government decided that it is going to dictate the business of the day and bring in this government motion.
This is something the opposition parties had not seen before. This policy is of such import, Mr. Speaker, that itís not something that should be just brushed aside. It has to be examined and considered for all ramifications, because it will have long-lasting impact. And then positions are brought forward. As weíve seen today, weíve seen a few amendments to the motion. Itís a living document; itís adapting to concerns as presented through the amendments. It has changed already. However, weíve seen the government use its majority to insist on certain language in the motion. Thatís fine, but itís all coming down to this amendment that is on the floor currently, because we believe that it plugs the loophole that is of great concern to us, and also it provides some more consideration and fairness about the impact to existing Yukon businesses. After all, Mr. Speaker, I suppose there is a point ó why should existing Yukon businesses be punished because of this whole matter brought about because of the two Cabinet ministers and the issue of their outstanding loans.
So a point was made by my colleague for Mayo-Tatchun when he said that he thought the two Cabinet ministers should be in here speaking to the motion. Iíve given that some thought. My previous thought was, no, they would be in a conflict of interest. But I think they may have brought some worthwhile information to this debate today because, unlike what the Premier said earlier about all the facts to this matter being known, there are several facts that remain unknown.
What I would like to know is exactly the information that can explain the debt still owed by the two Cabinet ministers. I would like to see where that exists, who owns it and how it is or is not linked to each Cabinet minister today. I think that is very relevant to the debate because we seem to be at loggerheads over this loophole.
And really, when you think about it, weíre really talking about hypotheticals here because nobody, on this side at least, is aware of exactly how that debt is connected to both of those Cabinet ministers. For instance, is the debt currently under a company name that is owned by either minister? Is the company name under the name of a spouse, a former spouse, or a numbered company? Those are just a few of the options.
In each situation, there would be a different result, according to the language in this motion today, and we believe it would allow the ministers to escape without having to repay their loans, unless this loophole is plugged. The ministers would have shed some light on these points had they spoken to it today. Unfortunately, they are not here.
However, the acting government House leader, the Member for Lake Laberge, did undertake to provide us with some information, as requested, on the fly this afternoon. I would like to make the request of him to provide us with the information Iíve just outlined as soon as he can.
Because I would like to see how the outstanding debts owed by both Cabinet ministers are connected to their present holdings in order that I may determine whether the language of the motion will allow them to escape or will catch them in the net and they would have to repay the loan. I think this is a very critical point. So if the ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker:The Member for Lake Laberge, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: I would like to correct the record and remind the opposition House leader that, during our brief House leaders meeting today, the actual commitment made by me is that I would receive any requests for information and take that up with caucus. We deal with things in a collaborative manner on this side of the floor, and we certainly will make ó weíve proven in many areas that we make attempts to disclose any information that is reasonably necessary.
Speaker: There is no point of order. As members full well know, the Chair has no jurisdiction over anything that goes on outside of these Chambers. Member for Kluane, please carry on.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. If the member from across the way would just provide us with the information requested, I suppose it may be unrealistic to expect that information in the next half an hour. Thatís fine. He can get it to us tomorrow. That would be perfectly all right.
Mr. Speaker, I really think we would not be looked upon very well by Yukoners if we approve something in here that allowed the two Cabinet ministers to escape without having to pay their debts to the government. As mentioned, that really is the crux of the whole debate: how their situation is handled. The language in the governmentís proposal was heavily qualified in that regard.
To briefly encapsulate the history this afternoon, our leader brought in an amendment that plugged the loophole that de-qualified the language of the motion, and we were comfortable with that.
The government side brought in an amendment to that motion that brought the loophole back to life. When it came to a vote, the government side used its majority to approve its amendment. So the loophole is still alive and well.
The Member for Mayo-Tatchun introduced an amendment to the main motion, which had been amended by the government and which brought the loophole back to life. The Member for Mayo-Tatchun has introduced another amendment that would close that loophole, and thatís what weíre speaking to now. Presumably this will be getting to a vote this afternoon.
It will be very interesting to see how the government side responds to this matter. Will the government agree that the change weíre proposing is quite subtle? Really, all it does is close the loophole for those two Cabinet ministers and provides for more fairness for existing Yukon business owners. Thatís all it does.
Iím going to make an attempt at reading the motion as it would exist if this amendment passes, because a lot of different proposals have been made this afternoon.
As I understand it, if this amendment is approved, it would read: that this House urges the Government of Yukon to present to the Legislative Assembly a permanent solution to the outstanding government loans issue that does not allow sitting Cabinet ministers to avoid repaying to the Government of Yukon their outstanding government loans in full.
I apologize for the disjointed summary but Iím dealing with at least four different documents here in trying to paste this one together.
So, basically itís a pretty simple motion once you understand how itís all put together. And maybe it is something we can all agree with here and move on.
Mr. Hardy: Well, I believe that this is a good amendment to the amendment to the motion. Once again, it goes to addressing the concerns that have been expressed from the opposition side.
There is a great degree of concern that the amendment to the motion and the motion itself, as the Member for Kluane has read, without the last part, allows the two Cabinet ministers to be able to avoid paying what is owed to the taxpayers of the Yukon. That is the most important thing in the changes that are being proposed at this time as part of the amendment to the amendment to the motion.
I would say that there is a great degree of skepticism that exists on this side of the House, and within the public, that the Cabinet ministers are going to pay up what is owed. Itís based on fact. Itís based on the fact that 13 months have gone by and it hasnít been paid yet. So why would anybody believe that this solution is now going to ensure that the money that is owed by these Cabinet ministers will flow back into the territorial coffers? Nothing. There is definitely nothing in the motion as we have before this amendment that would ensure that this is going to happen. I donít see anything that indicates that this will be taken care of and that the money will come back to the people of this territory.
Itís very important that the messages being sent out by the government across the way ó that their elected members lead by example and lead with principles the public wants to see reflected in their leaders. This is not the case in this matter, and I truly believe that if these two ministers would have addressed this issue in the beginning, especially when it became quite a story in the newspapers and public, that it would have been put to rest and the issues around the loans could have been dealt with in a different manner ó definitely one that doesnít entail their names around every single debate you get into with respect to loans.
I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that when the loans issue comes up ó and it comes up on a regular basis wherever I go ó itís never because the people are angry that some business will owe $7,500 here or another business owes $30,000 here and has fallen a few months or a year behind in its payments. What always ó always ó comes up is the fact of the outstanding amount of the Cabinet ministers, which is quite substantial, and that is whatís bothering people.
Now, if this government feels that theyíre addressing that concern in the public, theyíre going to be very, very disappointed because people are going to see this, once again, as two elected leaders who have possibly been able to influence ó maybe not directly, but just by their presence ó the direction on the settlement of the loans in a manner that is not acceptable to the people of this territory.
And that is not acceptable. This matter ó
Speaker:Order please. The Chair is once again uncomfortable with the flow here, in terms of imputing false or unavowed motives. The leader of the official opposition made reference to members influencing for their own interests. I donít believe you wanted to go there, and I would prefer that we kept the debate on a little bit of a higher plane.
Leader of the official opposition, please carry on.
Mr. Hardy: I agree with the Speaker, itís always important to keep it on a higher plane. One of the more difficult problems is that we try to keep it on a higher plane, but often, sometimes, the subject matter is not on a higher plane.
In regard to debt and whatís owed and people not paying their debts, Iím not pointing to anyone in particular, but thatís the issue. That is not a higher plane debate. That is a very base debate that involves gut reactions by people. Thatís a position that the Yukon Party government has to deal with. Itís very, very difficult for the situation that theyíre in, when people react ó itís a gut reaction on their part when they look at the outstanding loans that exist, and there is a substantial amount of them.
But in comparison, the Premier has mentioned that there were 1,500 loans and 1,300 have been paid. That is very, very honourable. Thatís very, very good. Weíre looking at a small section of loans here. Weíre looking at ó I donít have the figure in front of me any more, but, say, a little over 80 loans, and of the 80 loans, some of them are being paid. Some of them are paid on a regular basis. These businesses and individuals have not fallen behind on their payments.
Theyíve been made from many years ago and they continue to make payments. They continue to indicate to the government that they are honouring the loans that they took out. Some of them are making payments but have fallen behind in some areas.
And then there is a group, the larger group ó say 57 of them ó that have outstanding loans. We donít know when they stopped making payments. I donít have the figure in front of me of when the last payments were made. Actually, that would be a nice piece of information, if we could get that.
They could quite easily have stopped making payments when this issue became such a public concern at the election of the Yukon Party and when they saw that the Cabinet ministers who have been named were not making payments. Some of them could have said, well, until my leaders, the Cabinet ministers, make a payment, I donít think Iím going to have to make a payment. Iíll wait and see what they are going to do and see what happens there. I donít know if thatís true. I would really like to see if thatís how some people reacted on the payments of their loans. Some of them are outstanding by a few years; some of them are not so bad.
But what I think this amendment to the amendment to the motion does is clear up once again the situation around the Cabinet ministers, and it makes it very clear to the general public ó the single most talked about issue in the public today is the Cabinet ministers and what is owed ó that they are going to pay their outstanding loans back to the territorial government and through that, of course, back to the people.
I donít think there is anything wrong with that. I think thatís very fair. I think that would show leadership. I think that would show responsibility and I think it would be fair. I think that that cheque could probably in both cases be written tomorrow by both Cabinet ministers ó personally, I believe that. I believe that most people in this territory believe that as well. I donít think itís fair that another six months are going to go by where the Cabinet ministers do not have to make a payment, and then after that they will walk away from paying the territorial government anything. I donít think thatís fair and I donít think the people in this territory are going to accept that. Itís going to be very interesting to see how this government is going to be able to defend the fact that they are allowing these two ministers a chance to walk away from paying what is owed and yet still be in positions of authority, positions of responsibility, positions of leadership, and still be in positions in which they talk about loans within their own departments, in which they talk about grants within their own departments, in which they talk about tax relief in their own departments.
There is a gap there that the public is going to have a hard time with. They have had a hard time with it for the last year and, unfortunately, I donít think the permanent resolution that the Premier was very clear about bringing forward today is a permanent solution. A permanent solution in this matter would be the payment of the loans by the Cabinet ministers to the Yukon government. That is a permanent solution in that matter ó the single biggest issue in the territory today that is surrounding this new government.
If that were done, that issue would be permanent. It would be over with. With respect to the other outstanding loans, we have already made it very clear that we believe a fair system should be put in place. And Iím going to say that what is being proposed with the collection agencies, or whoever ends up being the one to collect them, because there are different names out there ó they are private companies in the press release, and then we hear "financial institutions" from the Premier on the floor today.
One of the ministers said "a hardware store," and I donít disagree with that. They have collection policies too, and they collect money. Theyíre big enough. They can buy up the loans and try to collect 35 cents on the dollar or whatever they want and make a quick buck if they force some companies into bankruptcy and drive a hard bargain.
But thatís not where we think this should go, and we have some serious problems around that. Ultimately, there are not a lot of companies left that owe money in this area, when you really think about it. When you take the 19 that are making payments already, then you know thereís good intent there. You take that out of the 80 or so that are left, and youíre down to 60-some. Does that merit going to a collection agency?
Iím going to say this ó and Iím very curious about what the Premier will say in this regard: why is the Premier sending all the loans to a collection agency, financial institution, private company, private firm, hardware store ó those are all the terms that have been used ó when 19 of them are making payments today and when 16 are in good standing?
Why are they being punished when theyíve been making their payments? Theyíve honoured their loans. Why are they being shuffled off? Should they not be excluded from this instead of being lumped in with the ones that have fallen behind, the ones that havenít paid and the ones that wonít pay? Was that considered?
You know, I think itís a legitimate question, because they definitely do not need that on their credit records. They have a good credit record ó they should have. Theyíve kept their payments up; theyíre paying their loans down. But the government actually, by this action, is going to put on their record a blemish for taking out a loan and honouring it; theyíre going to have a blemish. So is that fair?
The other concern, of course, is the bankruptcies that could happen. And very easily they can happen. When the government abdicates its responsibility in this matter by handing it over to some private firm, theyíve lost that control, theyíve lost the ability to work out terms, to resolve these last few outstanding loans. Because if you put it in the perspective of numbers, 1,500 loans, there are around 80 loans ó I should have that figure but I donít have it in front of me ó and thatís a pretty small percentage left. Some of the figures, when you look at them, are not that large. If you took out a lot of the small ones, youíd be down to a fairly small group of businesses that owe an outstanding amount.
Some of them that are also listed here are no longer even ó from just looking at it, I would say they were no longer even in business and donít even own their own businesses any more. That would have to be taken a look at. Those ones might never be able to be collected on. So then you end up with a smaller number. Then there are the ones that are very, very blatantly refusing to pay their loans. Those are the ones that this government has to deal with in a manner that they best see able to get taxpayersí money back. If that became the case ó where itís absolutely impossible to get the money ó maybe then, finally, the last resort would be the private firm idea of collecting it.
But I believe that looking at numbers, crunching them down, seeing whatís left, there is not that much. There is not that much. I am looking at some of these loans ó $5,900, $1,057, $2,620, $596 left on one loan, $3,700, $2,900, $4,200, $7,000, $3,000, $924. So there is a group of loans here that are small enough they probably could be dealt with fairly well. Probably working with the government agencies, these businesses probably would be able to find a way to pay them back over the next year or two ó even possibly many of them in the next six months.
Then, of course, as I said, there is another group and there are different classifications, obviously. There are some pretty substantial loans ó some of them we may never collect, some of them where the people who borrowed the money are just flaunting it.
I donít think anyone in this territory wants to see that. They should be dealt with in whatever manner it needs to be dealt with, as long as it doesnít bankrupt people or put them in hardship. But in some cases they may never be able to pay and maybe the government needs to take some different action in that regard. So I donít see the rationale or the justification for going in the direction that this government is going in in this area, nor do I see that they are assuring the Yukon people that the Cabinet ministers are going to be paying back the people of the Yukon Territory the money that they are owed. If that assurance isnít there, this issue is not going away.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, the debate has clearly shown what the members opposite are focusing on, and let me begin by saying that we do have 67 delinquent loans right now in this portfolio. The members opposite have focused on two of them, demanding in all their righteous indignation that these loans be paid immediately, and on the other hand stating, as the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has said, that there are those out there who are struggling and who cannot pay, we should leave them alone.
I would point out that all individuals here, all corporate entities, all companies should be treated fairly. Letís look at exactly what is happening here. Itís evident from the long period of time that the government has been unable to collect the delinquent loans for various reasons, as we pointed out.
It could be because of the structure of the loan itself. It could be because of the lack of security. It could be because commitments from past governments said, "Oh, but you donít have to pay it if you havenít got a profit," or "You donít have to pay it if certain things arenít happening in your business." There are so many variances and inconsistencies that the time has come to make a decision to bring closure to the issue on behalf of the taxpaying public.
So, we, as a government, have done that. Unlike past governments ó and the Member for Kluane pointed it out clearly ó even though they looked at it, they backed off. They wouldnít touch it ó would not touch it. Well, we have and, more importantly, we are not allowing any member of this government in Cabinet, who may have companies or corporate entities that owe money, to be able to avail themselves of restructuring. Theirs will go forward in full, and I think that speaks volumes about the position the government has taken.
Now, the members opposite speculate a great deal ó painting doom and gloom and all these things that are going to happen because, six months from now, a financial institution will have taken over the portfolio. There is a long way to go here and much to be done, where every one of these delinquencies can come in, sit down ó except for, as I pointed out earlier, anyone in Cabinet ó and restructure and address the inconsistencies, issues of interest and a way on a "go forward" basis to be able to manage this particular debt, or indebtedness, to the Yukon government.
We as a government are getting this out of our structure and the machinery of government, because after 15 long years plus ó and the same delinquencies are still there ó itís time to conclude, bring closure, and move on. That means net worth becomes an issue here, collectability becomes an issue here. Have the members opposite ever considered this point? How many of these delinquencies are actually collectable, and is that not the reason why theyíre not being paid? How many of these delinquencies, based on the lack of security or questionable security, arenít stepping forward because of those issues?
This was badly managed ó no question about it. It shows why government shouldnít be in the loans business at all. It was managed in a way that, frankly, Mr. Speaker, under the governmentís watch that distributed these funds, the decision making was politically motivated. There was no focus on solid terms and conditions. There was no focus on, in many cases, repayment. Through political motivation, money was spread throughout the territory. Thatís what this was all about.
The intention here may very well have been a good one, but obviously it was misspent in a number of areas, and there are millions of dollars outstanding ó millions, Mr. Speaker.
One can only wonder, given that fact of exactly why the governments in the past tried to deal with this because it was outstanding ó backed off. Much of it has to do with political motivation, not wanting to face the inevitable, the possible fallout politically, not wanting to exercise the political will and do the right thing and clear this mess ó because it is a mess ó up.
I have stated clearly on many occasions that we respect and honour those who have paid their debt. We applaud them. We commend them. But that does not solve the outstanding issue of the delinquencies, Mr. Speaker. Thatís what we are dealing with here.
I have listened all afternoon to the members opposite, and in many instances I do not disagree with many things they have stated, nor does the government side disagree. They have made much about the amendment we put forward. Well, the amendment does exactly the same thing as the members opposite wanted but it includes the much sought-after detail, because those particular areas of detail are quite important to this issue, to this portfolio and the delinquencies within this portfolio. There is nothing sinister here whatsoever, Mr. Speaker. This is a decision-making process, a government making a decision. We will, no matter what, at the end of six months, ensure that the impacts on Yukon businesses are limited. We are not here seeking insolvency in any way, shape or form. Thatís why we are going to go through this process. The rationale and the fundamental principle behind that is that the engagement of the private sector through a financial institution will determine net worth.
Is it sound fiscal management to show receivables on a balance sheet in this manner if net worth is dramatically different? How can that be sound fiscal management? And if we revert to the issues of security, of the spreads and interests, of the separate conditions and agreements and commitments made on profitability, and the issues of collectability, and the issues of the statute of limitations, and the list goes on and on and on, how can we be expressing to the public any validity in this area if what we are presenting to them in total is not correct? Thatís what weíre going to determine through this exercise. There are three steps ó very important. And to say, as the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has stated repeatedly as he ran out of things to say, that this was a hurried decision, I can tell you that it certainly was not. Considering the complexity and the variances and all the difficult issues attached to this portfolio, a great deal of work has been done. The Member for Kluane and others have admitted it. Even the third party, in standing up to defend the lack of will to deal with the issue when in office, made mention of all the work that had been done on this portfolio.
The Member for Kluane made our case in his arguments for why we are taking these steps. And make no mistake about it ó there is going to be a measurement here, and letís begin with NGOs.
In forgiving the non-government organizations, we are taking a step here that will cost money ó will cost money ó but weíre prepared to do that because the measurement is the good works, the value and the contribution that non-government organizations make to this territory. This is a fair and, we believe, appropriate decision in this area ó step one.
There is, without a doubt, a requirement here to level the playing field, if you will, and to bring into context all of these loans so they are consistent. That is what we are doing with the business assistance loans and loan guarantees regulations. We are allowing a timeline of 180 days for all to come forward, except members of Cabinet, to restructure, sit down and deal with the government through this available mechanism to be able to put into a manageable position this particular issue for them ó as it relates to them specifically.
Mr. Speaker, I would also point out that in doing this we are addressing what may have been one of the most fundamental problems with the portfolio, the inconsistencies. And letís not forget that 108 loans have already been written off ó 108 loans have not been paid; theyíve been written off. Why have they been written off? Well, because they werenít collectable, and successive governments have done that. We as a government are now moving this to a different threshold, a different level. We are going to take this portfolio and, once concluded over the 188 days, pass it on through determining net worth to the private sector, a financial institution. And there are many, many ways to be able to address the concerns of the members opposite, and that is why the amendment and the motion as amended does exactly what the members opposite have spent all afternoon demanding that the government do ó thatís exactly what it does, and it includes other relevant factors. How can we stand here and debate this in a constructive, substantive way, in a debate of substance and conveniently omit the relevant factors? Thatís not possible.
Itís not possible at all, and I say to the members opposite that there is motivation here that speaks volumes of what they are determining. They have singled out two particular individuals. Thatís unfair. They have singled them out because of the fact that, after being elected to this Legislature, with this a matter of public knowledge for years, this has been put into the public ó they have still been elected ó the members opposite have singled two individuals out. I repeat: that is not fair.
What we have done, after great deliberation and reviewing this portfolio in-depth and in detail, is come up with a plan to bring closure to the issue. That is the sign of a government ó not only of political will, but the ability to make decisions and stick by them. And in the next 180 days, once all the rest of the work has been completed, we will then be dealing with the private sector.
And we are moving on to the items that are really, really important to Yukoners. That is our economy, that is changing the direction this territory is going in, and the two individuals who have been singled out today and previously by the members opposite are contributing a tremendous amount to the success of changing the direction of this territory and creating a better life for Yukoners. Thatís what this is about.
Speaker: The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
Debate on Motion No. 186 accordingly adjourned
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled December 11, 2003:
Yukon Advisory Council on Womenís Issues 2002-03 Annual Report (Fentie)
Education, Department of: Public Schools Branch 2002-03 School Year Annual Report (Edzerza)
Yukon Housing Corporation 2002-03 Annual Report (Hart)
The following Legislative Return was tabled December 11, 2003:
Yukon Development Corporation: responses to questions asked on April 28, 2003 to witnesses (Lang)
Oral, Hansard, p. 988-997
The following document was filed December 11, 2003:
Government accomplishments, email re (dated December 10, 2003) (Fairclough)