††††††† Whitehorse, Yukon
††††††† Thursday, November 18, 2004 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Withdrawal of motion
Speaker: † The Chair wishes to inform the House of a change that has been made to the Order Paper. Motion No. 90, standing in the name of the Member for Southern Lakes, has been removed from the Order Paper, as it is similar in intent to Motion No. 335 that passed this House on November 10, 2004.
††††††† Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of National Child Day
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I rise today to ask my colleagues in this House to join me in recognizing National Child Day, which takes place this Saturday, November 20.
National Child Day recognizes the ratification of two landmark documents: the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Adopted by 191 countries worldwide, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely accepted human rights document in history. It recognizes the special rights of children under the age of 18 and outlines the responsibilities of governments, families and caregivers to safeguard children.
National Child Day encourages us all to remember the rights of children. These include the right to health and well-being, safety in school and at home and access to special education. It also includes the right to have a voice in matters that affect children, the right to play and the right to rest. It is a day when we need to think about the rights of children everywhere, not just here in the Yukon.
We are fortunate here but others are less so. We have a responsibility to provide these rights to our children to create a society that will protect them and provide them with the opportunities they need to grow, to learn, to work and to succeed. I believe that this government does all of these things. We recognize the potential in all of our children.
Mr. McRobb: † I rise with pleasure on behalf of the official opposition in tribute to National Child Day, which is celebrated this year on Saturday, November 20.
National Child Day was declared by Canada in 1993 in response to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention was signed and ratified by 191 countries and it is based on several principles. These principles include considering the best interests of the child when taking actions that affect the child and recognizing all childrenís rights without discrimination or exception.
These rights include access to special education, care, play and rest, health and special protection.
Parents and families have a key role in the lives of children and young people. We all have a responsibility as individuals to uphold childrenís welfare. We must recognize the importance of children and their value to society, both now and in the future.
Around the world, the most disadvantaged group of children by all social indicators are the indigenous peoples. Sadly, this is also true in Canada, where we value our contributions to the welfare of all. Fifty-eight percent of our aboriginal children live in low-income families and suffer from the social and health problems in impoverished conditions.
Infant mortality rates in aboriginal communities are totally unacceptable. Some types of health problems, such as injuries, disabilities and respiratory diseases, contribute to the appalling state of health in our aboriginal communities.
National Child Day represents a commitment to treat children with dignity and respect. Let us commit ourselves to implement ways to alleviate the unfortunate situation of some children by upholding all childrenís rights to education, health care and economic opportunity.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus to join with other members in this Legislature in paying tribute to National Child Day, this Saturday, when we will celebrate the future.
As parents and as community members we have a responsibility to build a secure society so that our children have the opportunity to grow, to learn, to work and to succeed. There are many, many, many organizations throughout the Yukon that support our children, parents and our community. Members of this Legislature ó all members ó have been proud to support additional funding, for example, for the kids recreation fund and the Child Development Centre.
I note that on Saturday, in conjunction with National Child Day, the Child Development Centre have invited the Yukon community to help celebrate their 25th anniversary this Saturday at the Gold Rush Inn, so I invite all members of the Yukon community to join in that celebration of National Child Day and the 25th anniversary of the Child Development Centre.
Speaker: Are there further tributes?
In recognition of 32nd Annual Yukon Geoscience Forum
Hon. Mr. Lang: I rise today to ask my colleagues in this House to join me in recognizing the 32nd Annual Yukon Geoscience Forum. The latest in technology, exploration and research as well as industry information will be showcased at this annual forum opening in Whitehorse on November 21 and wrapping up on November 24. The forum, hosted by the Yukon Chamber of Mines, is an information exchange among industry, government and academia on the latest exploration and fieldwork findings for mineral, oil and gas.
The Yukon government continues to play a large role in the Geoscience Forum. The results of our Yukon geological survey field work and associated research are key components of the forum. The survey plays a role in collecting, compiling and distributing top-quality geoscience information to the industry. About 300 participants from across Canada attend the annual event, including geologists, scientists, service and supply companies, investors, prospectors, various levels of governments and mining and oil and gas companies.
Exploration and mining today is done in a responsible way to safeguard our environment. It is a very high-tech industry that uses modern, efficient technology and reclamation practices. As well, the Yukon government has strong regulatory and environmental standards that ensure mining is conducted in a safe and responsible manner.
In addition to the many technical talks, poster displays and trade show are other highlights of this yearís Yukon geological forum. There is going to be a one-day workshop on gold vein deposits presented by Dr. Richard Goldfarb of the United States Geological Survey. This workshop will provide prospectors and exploration companies with additional information about the potentially rich deposit type thought to be the main contributor to the 50 million plus ounces of Klondike Placer gold since the gold rush.
There was a joint chamber luncheon at the Gold Rush Inn with guest speaker Tom Irwin, Alaska Commissioner of Natural Resources. Dr. Ed Spooner of the University of Toronto will give the Al Kulan public lecture this year. He will present a virtual geological tour of Chile covering the Pacific coastline to the Andes Mountains.
Yukon First Nations economic development workshop will be held on the last day of the forum. This workshop will focus on project updates, case studies, mineral exploration and training, public financing and regional business development.
One of the highlights of the forum is the Robert E. Leckie awards for outstanding mining reclamation practices. This award is attributed to Robert E. Leckie, a Mayo mining inspector and innovator who promoted planned reclamation, research and cooperation that benefit both government and industry.
Mr. Speaker, awards are presented to one hard rock operator and one placer mining operator for reclamation and site restoration efforts that are exceptional. This includes reclaiming land for which there is no obligation to rehabilitate, adding features to the land that enhance the area and local community, returning mining land to a condition that is not only structurally sound but visually pleasing.
The nominations are evaluated by a committee that includes the Yukon government, Klondike Placer Miners Association and the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
I, along with representatives from industry, will be presenting the Robert E. Leckie award to the recipients at a banquet on November 22. The Yukon government is pleased to be maintaining a tradition to award the best reclamation efforts annually at the Geoscience Forum. I ask the hon. Members of this House to join me in acknowledging the great efforts by mining companies, operators and others who go above and beyond the normal call of duty and responsible mining and reclamation. They are ambassadors for this industry.
Ms. Duncan: I also rise to pay tribute to the Geoscience Forum, and in particular Iíd like to recognize the Yukon Geological Survey. The quality of the work done by the individuals is very well-recognized and appreciated by all Yukoners, internationally and by industry as well.
Iíd also like to welcome back those attending the Yukon Geoscience Forum ó the geologists and prospectors who, since the season closed, have been assessing the results of their summer work, and a warm Yukon welcome to the visitors who will be attending to give the guest lectures, as noted by the minister. Welcome to the Yukon Geoscience Forum. Congratulations. Iím sure this will be another successful forum, and I wish them well in their deliberations.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
†Speaker: Under the introduction of visitors, it is the Speakerís rare privilege to actually get to introduce somebody: the ex-Hon. John DeVries.
John was the Speaker of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and itís a pleasure to have you back in your old haunt, John.
Speaker: Are there any further introductions of visitors?
Are there returns or documents for tabling?
Reports of committees.
Notices of motion.
Are there any petitions?
Petition No. 5
Mrs. Peter: I have for tabling a petition containing 1,589 signatures that states the following: ďTo the Yukon Legislative Assembly: This petition of the undersigned shows that the Yukon government used bait to snare and kill 10 wolves in the Whitehorse area during the winter of 2003-04. Therefore, the undersigned ask that the Yukon Legislative Assembly urge the Yukon government to (1) review its wildlife/human conflict policy prior to the winter of 2004-05, and (2) consult the public in any decision-making process that pertains to wildlife/human conflict in residential or rural areas.Ē
Speaker: Are there any further petitions?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† ATIPP implementation
†Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation. Will the minister explain how he learned that a member of my staff had filed a request for information under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act? Who gave him that information?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: That is a very easy one to answer. It has been common knowledge for some time that requests such as this through ATIPP are done by the opposition ó and I direct the member to Hansard, which uses a small ďoĒ in that ó opposition being the other side.
It seemed obvious at the time that the request had actually come from the Liberal Party, because the Member for Porter Creek South has asked the most questions on that. Imagine my shock when the member opposite asked the question, got up and identified himself.
Mr. Hardy: There is no shock on that side. This minister had information he should not have had, and heís trying to cover his tracks on this. This is a very serious matter involving a breach of confidentiality and potentially an abuse of power. The minister has told the media, in his words, ďIt has been common knowledge even on the street. It was nothing Iíve gained through this office.Ē
Iíd like the minister to think very carefully about what he is suggesting. Does he run the corporationsí affairs based on street rumours? I certainly hope he doesnít.
I can assure the minister that no one in my office put that information out on the street, so let me ask this: is the minister implying that someone in the Liquor Corporation or someone in the ATIPP office put this information on the street? Is that what he is implying?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I draw the Speakerís attention to the member oppositeís comment ďtrying to cover.Ē† I wonít rise on a point of order on that, but I do believe that that is beginning to impinge on implying motives.
I wish I knew where street rumours come from. We hear rumours all the time over here from members opposite of all political stripes of things that are happening, and we have no idea where they come from. I have no idea coming from this. I had no prior knowledge. I have no involvement in the handling of that, nor will I in the future. Itís being handled through normal channels.
Again, Mr. Speaker, perhaps I am better at fishing than the member opposite. I made an assumption in a totally different direction, and the member himself identified his party as the origin.
Mr. Hardy: That is such a weak defence, itís almost embarrassing to hear it in this Legislature. This minister will not take responsibility for his own words. Perhaps this minister doesnít realize the seriousness of this issue.
The information request from my office was filed on September 28. Letís take a look at what he said. If we can believe what the minister told the media, he has known for over a year that there were ATIPP requests involving the Liquor Corporation. Surprise, surprise, I donít remember this. I donít remember making those requests.
Given the culture of secrecy that this Yukon Party government has created, both in the House and in the communities around the Yukon, itís no wonder people are turning to the access to information act for help. I would suspect that there has been an increase. But people have the right to expect that their identity is going to be kept confidential. If the minister knew who filed the request from my office, does he also know the identities of other people who have filed access to information requests? If so, how did he get that confidential information?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Itís interesting to hear the member opposite certainly seem to imply that all rumours are therefore true. This has been a rumour on the street for a long time. Obviously it wasnít true until the request was made in September. Again, Mr. Speaker, itís the member opposite who identified himself on this floor, not me.
A response to the ATIPP request will be provided within the time limit specified in the normal channels. Iíve had nothing to do with that request, nor will I in the future. Itís the member opposite who identified himself and I thank him very much for doing that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. I remind members of Standing Order 6(6): when a member is speaking, no member shall interrupt except to raise a point of order or a question of privilege.
Question re: First Nations, government relations with
†Mrs. Peter: Yesterday I referred to some letters addressed to the Minister of Environment from the Na Cho Nyšk Dun First Nation. One of those letters clearly states that the First Nation has met its legislative requirements regarding establishment of the Big Island and the Devilís Elbow habitat protection areas. For over a year, Na Cho Nyšk Dun has been waiting for the government to get on with its review of the guidelines. This sounds very familiar ó another review by this government that never seems to end.
What specific measures is the minister taking to ensure that the First Nation is properly consulted and that the review will be completed without any more unnecessary delay?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Mayo Renewable Resource Council has advanced these two habitat protected area initiatives. They are being carefully considered by all parties in complete consultation with the Mayo Renewable Resource Council. The last meeting on this initiative in Mayo took place on, I believe, October 4, Mr. Speaker.
†Mrs. Peter: This morning the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed the need for governments to consult with First Nations over disputed issues. Na Cho Nyšk Dun is only one of many First Nations that feel short-changed by this government when it comes to consultation. Land use, education, housing, collaborative governance ó the concerns cover many, many issues.
Yesterday the Premier proudly boasted that his government has established the Tombstone Park, but apparently this government did such a poor job of consulting that the TríondŽk HwŽchíin First Nation has taken them to court again. When is this culture of secrecy going to end, Mr. Speaker?
Given todayís ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, what is the Premier doing to ensure that proper consultation takes place even after a land claim is settled?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is a great opportunity for us on the government side to again expand on the tremendous work that the government does in consulting with First Nations and indeed building partnerships with First Nations.
The member spoke of land use. Letís take a particular example in the Na Cho Nyšk Dun traditional territory, a land disposition under the oil and gas branch. Through that consultation, not only was the majority of the Turner wetlands removed from that disposition, so too was the Snake and the Bonnet Plume removed from the land disposition ó clear testimony and evidence of comprehensive consultation.
Letís look at the Childrenís Act review. Itís more than consultation; itís a partnership. The First Nations are the architects of amendments to the Childrenís Act.
Letís deal with Tombstone Park. Itís a well-known fact that, since the 1990s, consultations have been ongoing for the establishment of Tombstone Park. The government has advanced that park in the nature of providing the necessary orders-in-council that are completely in keeping with the final agreement with the TríondŽk HwŽchíin to establish Tombstone Park. We are now ready to advance the management plan. We have done our work, especially when it comes to consulting.
Question re: Carcross hotel for sale
Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources regarding his phone call to the owner of the Carcross hotel. This is a call he made, according to his colleagues outside of this Legislature, months before the government was about to announce a major investment in the town of Carcross.
On Tuesday I brought forward a motion, reminding the government that the public expects members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly to abide by the highest ethical standards. I also reminded the government that it promised Yukoners they would be open and accountable. The government must meet these objectives. The public perception created by this phone call is that the minister used insider information to help a friend.
Will the minister explain for the public ó
Speaker: Order please. If Iím understanding the question correctly, the member is implying a conflict of interest. We have mechanisms to deal with conflicts of interest. Iíve asked the member to be very careful in putting forth suggestions that there is a conflict of interest. All members are considered honourable and are taken at their word. Please carry on.
Ms. Duncan: I understand your ruling, Mr. Speaker. Iím asking the minister to explain on the floor of this House, for the public, his actions regarding this particular matter.
Will he explain the extent of his involvement in any discussions, including all phone calls and all meetings? Will the minister explain his actions?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The minister that the member opposite has brought into question has no need to respond to anything here. First Iíd like to point out that if you look at our Guidelines for Oral Question Period, and I refer to section 8, ďThe question must adhere to the proprieties of the House in that it must not contain inferences, impute motives or cast aspersions upon persons within the House or out of it.Ē
If this member, the member of the third party, has an accusation to make, get out of the immunity of this Legislative Assembly and make the accusation in the public. There is due process for this to be dealt with ó not in here. The member is out of order in asking this question.
††††††† Speaker: The Chair will decide when a member is out of order. Itís not up to the members to decide that. Thatís my job and Iíll do that accordingly. Your question.
††††††† Ms. Duncan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
††††††† The Premier is saying, ďFile with the Conflicts Commissioner.Ē As the minister knows, an investigation done by the Conflicts Commissioner costs thousands of dollars. We have the right, we have the responsibility, to ask questions on the floor of this House about statements that are made outside of the House and statements that are made in. What we need and what the public deserves is an explanation from the minister about exactly what happened.
††††††† When did the minister call the owner of the Caribou Hotel? What was discussed?
There is a substantial investment being made by the Government of Yukon into the community of Carcross by bringing in the train. Before there is any sort of investigation or any sort of discussion about that, the public deserves an explanation from the minister. Would he please provide an explanation to the public on the floor of the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member has chosen to ask a question that I refer back to Guidelines for Oral Question Period, and I will not repeat myself. The member is making an accusation that needs to be made through the due process.
††††††† Itís a well-known fact that this government, even in the last budget, has made investments in the community of Carcross. An example is the waterfront development initiative. Itís a well-known fact that as far back as November 2002, this government entered into an agreement with White Pass & Yukon Route to deal with the corridor as far as the train and its potential to come back into, not only Carcross, but Whitehorse.
The minister or any member in this House ó on this side of the House or that side of the House ó has the right to phone individuals. We are Yukoners. We do talk to other Yukoners. The implication being made here is that the member is in conflict. The member opposite, the leader of the third party, has a responsibility to make that accusation through the proper channels. That is where she should take this if the member has the evidence to bear out her inferences.
Ms. Duncan: I donít believe that the Premier has heard the questions. I have not accused the minister of anything. What I have asked for and what the public has asked for is ó it has been recognized on the floor of this Legislature and outside that the minister made a telephone call to a business interest. When he made that phone call, what happened? That is the question. The minister can quite clearly clear this matter up, and well he should. Itís important that the public know that public and private interests are being kept separate. The public wants to know. The minister in question, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, made a phone call to a business interest. Iím asking him what happened. Iím simply asking ó as the public is doing ó for an explanation from the minister. That is certainly well within our right, and it is not an accusation.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: In a very humble manner, I would point out that in the first part of this question the member was called to order for the accusations being made. Secondly, the minister in question made a call to someone the minister has known for decades. So what? The member opposite is making an accusation. Make it outside of this House. Letís get to the bottom of this through due process, Mr. Speaker. This is the challenge to the leader of the third party. If you have the burden of proof that there has been wrongdoing, then supply that burden of proof. Otherwise, letís get on with issues that really concern Yukoners, like the possibility of on an average of 3,600 passengers a day riding a train from Skagway to Carcross. Thatís a great thing to have happen in this territory.
Question re: Education reform
†Mr. Fairclough: My question is to the Minister of Education. The minister and the Premier have been boasting in this House about spending $468,000 on the education reform. Curiously enough, thereís no reference to this amount in either the main estimates or the supplementary budget. Instead all thatís mentioned under new line item, education reform, is $26,000. In the meantime, the minister refuses to do a proper review of the Education Act. Is the education reform the new code expression for Education Act review, which the minister appears to have abandoned?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe it has been stated on several occasions on the floor of this House where the Education Act is today. The education reform is a process that is underway and it will be a process that will, at the end of the day, bring something forward so that all citizens in the territory will be able to come to an understanding of where education will go in the territory.
Mr. Fairclough: Yesterday the Premier said that First Nations ďwill be architects to changes in our education system that will better reflect the needs of First NationsĒ. The Premier also says that we didnít just consult with them, we made them partners. Iím sure that this is news to First Nations involved in this so-called partnership. Weíre also advised that they have not been consulted on the education reform. They donít even know what itís about. Why has the minister not bothered to inform these partners that there is some kind of education reform in the works ó with a half-million dollar price tag attached?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Again, for the record, Iíll correct the record for the member opposite, who seems to be implying that no one was involved with this other than the Education department. I would advise the member opposite to go and sit down with the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations and find out for himself if there were any discussions.
Mr. Fairclough: I believe the minister himself is not informed and up to speed on the details.
Mr. Speaker, itís very interesting that the Association of School Councils is having its semi-annual conference starting today. They havenít been consulted on this so-called education reform. In fact, they donít know anything about it. This is some partnership.
First Nations all over the territory are considering drawing down their right to manage their own education and this is causing a great concern about what direction this government is heading in, not only for First Nations. The minister should break free from his governmentís culture of secrecy and start consulting with his partners in education.
So when the minister addresses the school councils tomorrow morning, will he make that part of a proper consultation process, beginning with letting them know the details of the $468,000 that seem to be a secret right now? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: It appears to me that the member opposite is the one who really needs to find out information rather than just talking from the top of his hat. This whole process is one that is underway. At this point in time, the guidelines have been agreed to by the Grand Chief and me as minister, with a lot of consultation for several months.
Mr. Speaker, this education review thatís going to happen ó at this point in time the government is waiting for the First Nations to appoint their representative to this working group. Itís a work in progress and I fully support it.
Question re: Ambulances
†Mr. McRobb: I want to follow up with the Health minister on his solo sole-sourcing sortie in the purchase of two ambulances for emergency medical services.
The other day we reviewed the sad chronicles of this ministerís meddling into what is normally a departmental decision based on expert opinion. This over-stepping of authority, combined with such regrettable results, is a classic case of the Peter principle in action.
The other day the minister was unable to confirm the parking of his white elephant ambulance, which paramedics have refused to use. However, shortly after Question Period, lo and behold, it was spotted driving the streets of downtown Whitehorse. Whatís going on here? Did the minister interfere again and order it back on the road or was he behind the wheel?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I would be very, very hopeful that the official opposition would take the time to be more constructive in their questioning here in the Legislature.
Mr. McRobb: Getting information out of this government and from this minister in particular has become a futile exercise. Not only is this government locked down in a culture of secrecy, it is punishing well-intentioned members of the public service who speak out in the public good. Now we have learned that it has disciplined paramedic Greg Daniels for speaking to CBC Radio on November 3. During that interview Mr. Daniels confirmed everything the opposition has been saying on this matter, including how B.C. is getting rid of its white elephants and how we could have instead bought four new Suburban-type units for the money wasted.
I want to ask the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission whether she ordered this disciplinary measure and if not, who did?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Any disciplinary action, as the member knows, comes through the Public Service Commission. This minister is not the minister who gets involved in the day-to-day activities or drives the ambulances up and down the street or disciplines someone for speaking out of line.
The type I ambulance is a standard in North America.
In fact, the Province of Alberta, where the statistics are readily available, has 40 of the type I ambulances in two-wheel-drive configuration, and I believe it has 10 in four-wheel-drive configuration. And in B.C. ó I havenít got a complete listing of the numbers of this same type of ambulance, but it is in excess of Albertaís. And further to that, they are virtually all the same supplier, which manufactures this type of ambulance in Saskatchewan, has distributors in Alberta as well as in the Lower Mainland and British Columbia.
Mr. McRobb: Well, if this minister canít answer, then why did he stand up? My question was directed to the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.† She is responsible and should know what is happening in her department, not the Health minister. Why did he stand up?
I would like the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission to respond to another personnel-related question: we have also learned that two more ambulance workers have been ordered not to speak to their MLAs about these matters. Why is the Public Service Commission minister ordering this crackdown, when clearly these professionals are acting in the public interest by wanting to express their concerns and their experiences to their elected representatives? Why is this happening?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the day-to-day management of the emergency medical services comes under the auspices of a director. That director is clearly responsible for the preparation of the budget, the day-to-day activities, the policies, recommendations on policies as to how theyíre going to operate and, as well through intermediaries, the scheduling of these individuals. Ultimately the human resources side oversees the administration of discipline should it be necessary.
Now, what I see here, Mr. Speaker, is a member opposite who has a line of questioning that is trying to raise an issue that really, for all intents and purposes, doesnít exist. Ours was the first government in a long time that invested $250,000 in new capital, another $200,000 in new equipment and honoraria increases. We have put over a half a million dollars into the emergency medical services, Mr. Speaker. That bodes well for what we have done as a government.
Question re: ATIPP implementation
†Mr. Hardy: Iíd like to go back to a question that I was discussing earlier. It will be interesting to read the Privacy Commissionerís next annual report to see what kind of increase there has been in access to information requests over the past two years. People are turning to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act because they canít get information they deserve from this very secretive government. What is the Premier doing to ensure that his ministers do not abuse the privacy rights of individuals who file requests under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The leader of the official opposition knows full well that the government is not involved in this particular area. There is an agency within government that handles all these types of requests, and thatís the way it will stay under this government. We have absolutely no involvement as ministers, as staff in the Cabinet offices; it has nothing to do with us. Itís set up under legislation and it will continue to operate as it has in the past, but there are specifics in the legislation, such as charges for the work necessary to provide information to the public. Thatís written into the law. I think the member opposite should have a good understanding of that also.
In regard to increases, we have no knowledge of that. Again, we donít get involved in it. It is the publicís right to access information through this mechanism and I urge them all, if they feel the need, to avail themselves of ATIPP for information if they feel itís necessary. I think thatís a good thing; the government supports it.
Mr. Hardy: After yesterdayís comments made by the minister on a question asked, I donít think the public has that confidence to go to access to information without fearing what may happen.
Now, letís look at the facts. This is a government that has adopted ó
Speaker: Order please. The Chair is getting uncomfortable with the approach that the leader of the official opposition is taking in indicating that thereís a fear. Iím not comfortable with that terminology. Iím not going to rule you out of order, but I would just ask the leader of the official opposition to consider his words. Please carry on.
Mr. Hardy: Letís look at the facts. This is a government that has adopted a policy of refusing to answer questions in the House; thatís a fact. Theyíve refused to answer questions they donít like from the media; thatís a fact. They make decisions in secret without proper consultation and without even informing the people who are being affected. We heard another example of that on the news this morning. What did we hear? We heard from the people of Carcross who were kept in the dark about this governmentís rail car scheme. That was on the news this morning.
Yet things that should be secret get blurted out by Cabinet ministers on the floor of this House. Thatís a fact. Weíve heard that.
Will the Premier ó
Speaker: Please get to the question.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, Mr. Speaker, Iím getting to it.
Will the Premier give his word that no citizen of the Yukon will face any negative repercussions for exercising their legal right to seek information through the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It must be said in responding that the preamble by the member opposite is not factual in nature at all. In fact, when we look at the issue of Carcross and the possible waterfront development and a company ó White Pass & Yukon ó bringing the train back into Carcross in the near future, that has been a well-known fact in the community. Even the MLA himself has had many discussions. At a recent public meeting the issue was broached, the initiative was broached. So itís not a question at all of people not knowing that this is a possibility.
As far as citizens of the Yukon Territory accessing information via the mechanism thatís in place today under legislation, we have no problem with citizens doing that whatsoever. In fact we urge them to do that. I think the law is clear and explicit on what must unfold in terms of process.
But this may be an interesting concept. Why doesnít the leader of the official opposition tell the Yukon public how many times theyíve used the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and compare it to Hansard and the number of questions theyíve asked and the answers they have gotten.
The problem here is not that the government side does not answer questions; the opposition doesnít like the answers.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís a court of opinion that will be decided fairly soon. There are obvious problems with how this government is treating the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. We have received numerous complaints, for example, from reporters who have hit road blocks in trying to get information that they should freely get. Theyíre not getting it. Opposition researchers often have to resort to ATIPP, because they canít get routine information that is on the public record without doing through the ministerís office. In many cases the cost of pursuing an ATIPP request is very prohibitive. Weíve already mentioned that the last one was $1,300. Now there are legitimate concerns about the privacy of the information and who has access to who is filing it.
Iím going to give a positive suggestion to the Premier. Is the Premier willing to work with the opposition to develop a public process for reviewing this act to see if it needs improvements in how it is written or how it is being implemented? Is the Premier willing to do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I think, when we look at this process, it is working. The member just stood on the floor and said that they constantly have to access the ATIPP legislation for information. Obviously they must be getting it, because they have time and time again relayed that to the public ó so-called information that they apparently received. We donít know, because weíre not involved. In fact, we have no direction whatsoever, as an elected arm of government, when it comes to access to information. There is due process and that due process is in place today as it was under past governments.
The question from the opposition ó if they want to sit down and discuss the overall concept of access to information, Iíd be more than willing to set up a meeting with the leader of the official opposition and the third party to listen to their views and their concerns, because as a government we believe strongly that the public should have access to information. Thatís why we make public so many of the things that we are doing as government ó to inform our public. The members opposite seem to have a problem with that, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 47: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 47, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 47, entitled Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Premier that Bill No. 47, entitled Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act establishes two revolving funds. The first is a wildland fire suppression revolving fund with the purpose of covering fire suppression costs in the Yukon. The second is the risk management revolving fund, and its purpose is to provide a means of funding property and liability losses as well as allow for the provision of risk management services.
The first set of amendments establishes the wildland fire suppression revolving fund. The wildland fire suppression revolving fund will bring greater financial certainty for the fire management efforts of the Yukonís wildfire management program in the years of extreme wildfires. As you know, we just experienced one of the worst forest fire seasons on record. Record breaking temperatures and a hot, dry summer resulted in more than 250 fires throughout the territory, burning close to two million hectares of forest.
Even though our crews and personnel have worked hard to manage the program in a cost-effective and efficient manner, the fire suppression costs for this fire season were in excess of $21 million.
Fire suppression activities were conducted in accordance with DIANDís former fire suppression management policies and initial attack zone sizes, as required, Mr. Speaker, by the devolution transfer agreement. We have met our objectives: minimizing personal injury and the loss of private property. This past fire season has confirmed that a $6.5 million annual suppression budget and the cost-sharing arrangement outlined under the devolution transfer agreement are clearly not sufficient for our government to effectively suppress extreme wildfire seasons in the years ahead.
We must expect to face extreme wildfire seasons in the future and plan accordingly. The wildfire suppression revolving fund will enable us to plan for future wildfire events and will establish greater certainty in terms of availability of needed funding to sustainably cover the governmentís share of costs associated with severe wildfire seasons.
The fund will allow wildfire management to draw upon a reserve fund to cover extra fire suppression costs in a severe year in the Yukon. The fund is set up to have a maximum balance of $30 million. The entire wildfire suppression budget would be transferred to the fund at the beginning of each fiscal year and all fire suppression expenses would be paid out of the fund.
In this way, when there is a relatively quiet wildfire season, the unused budget will remain in the reserve fund, available for when itís needed.
I hope we donít see an extreme fire season in the Yukon for many years to come, but the reality is that we live in a fire-dependent boreal forest and it would be irresponsible to be unprepared. I urge my colleagues and the members opposite to support this bill, which will help to create greater financial certainty for Yukon wildfire management in times of severe wildfire conditions and events.
At this juncture Iíd like to express our deepest appreciation for our crews in wildfire management. I think they did an exemplary job under the most difficult of conditions this summer and we should all be very thankful for their efforts.
I also urge my colleagues to support this bill to create a risk management revolving fund to lessen the Yukon governmentís insurance premium burden. As you know, property insurance premiums have skyrocketed since 2001. Todayís bill proposes the Yukon government save on insurance premiums by establishing a revolving risk management fund into which the government will make its property insurance contributions.
Essentially we will invest our payments into this fund and become self-insured. The Yukon risk management fund is primarily an internal funding mechanism that will reduce the governmentís reliance on costly commercial insurance. The proposed fund will not lapse from budget year to budget year and its maximum limit will be $5 million.
This fund will be used to pay for uninsured legal liabilities such as property damage and bodily injury and uninsured building losses. The government will increase the fund each year through department and corporation appropriations. The Department of Department of Highways and Public Works through the budget process will increase the fund annually by an amount equivalent to what would previously have been the governmentís insurance premiums. This year that amount is $1 million. We expect the fund to reach a maximum of $5 million limit over the next six to seven years.
Managing our risk is not new to the Government of Yukon. In 1986, because of an insurance crisis then, the government allowed its property insurance to lapse on everything other than schools. In 1996, when property insurance rates were very low, the government purchased more insurance and reduced our risk at affordable rates. Property insurance rates have been spiking since 2001, and the cost of premiums is eating away at departmental budgets. Departments are facing high insurance costs which mean less money for programs and service delivery.
This bill means more certainty for departments, and departments will be able to access the fund when facing a legal liability or uninsured building loss. Departments will not have to choose between cutting programs and facing a budget deficit.
Establishing this fund will also assist the government with its risk management services. The Department of Highways and Public Works is responsible for corporate risk management, and this fund is designed to provide a single source to track all Government of Yukon loss information ó information that will form the basis for an effective loss-prevention program and for revisions to our risk management strategy. This bill essentially advances our effective and efficient use of taxpayersí money.
The Yukon government insurance premiums were too high. Our calculations tell us we were spending too much money to cover a relatively low risk. The Government of Yukon, like many other organizations facing this scenario, is opting to become self-insured and to use its money more wisely.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to answering membersí questions and I respectfully ask them to support this bill and the Financial Administration Act and establish these two funds to better serve Yukon citizens.
Mr. Hardy: Itís good that the Premier has brought forward these two amendments to the Financial Administration Act. We definitely recognize some of the reasons.
Of course, this year with the phenomenal fire season and the exceptional costs that the government had to absorb, itís no wonder that the government had to take a look at ensuring that thereís a revolving fund in this regard. We do have some concerns and maybe the minister can answer those.
One of them that immediately jumps to my attention, of course, is: in setting up this wildland fire suppression revolving fund, will that have any effect upon negotiations or future negotiations with the federal government on the financing of fire suppression and management for the territory? Iím sure that the Finance department has looked at that and has considered it, but I would appreciate it if the minister can clarify that point as well.
We recognize the reality of what could be happening down the road in Yukon. Weíre all very aware, of course, of global warming and the climatic changes that are happening. They seem to be happening at a much more drastic rate than has been predicted in the past. That raises some serious concerns about the habitat, the fire suppression, especially around communities of course, and the impact that will have on safety as well as loss of property and the cost that would be incurred not only by the government but also by citizens themselves. We have to look at it in a larger picture ó all those situations. Hopefully this revolving fund will be able to address some of those concerns and make that funding available.
Now, $30 million being put aside is substantial, being recognized, and hopefully the departments look very closely at that being a realistic figure to be able to absorb any kind of ongoing high fire seasons, such as weíve seen this year. Possibly we could see it next year. The predictions Iíve heard is that we are in a cycle or period where we may see substantial fire threats and the reality is that Iíve seen a lot more fires because of the cycle that weíre in. So we do have that situation.
Looking at the second part of the amendment, which is the risk management revolving fund, well, that makes sense from my perspective, Mr. Speaker. I have heard over the last while some of the municipalities talking about having their own risk management fund ó putting money aside for self-insuring, I guess you would call it. They have been looking at that, and I know that has been across the country.
I have followed some of the discussions of the City of Whitehorse, for instance, talking about the substantial costs that they have to pay for insurance. I think itís a good move. I think there is a lot of benefit to it. The minister has indicated that this is something that the government has done at certain times in its past, and I believe that, with the continuing increases in insurance costs ó not just for governments but also for NGOs and individuals. There has to be some other way to deal with that, especially when a substantial portion of your funding is being absorbed in just insurance payments. That eventually will put you out of the league of being able to do it.
So by doing it now, by putting money aside now, I think it is a good move, and I support that. I donít have much more to say in this regard, Mr. Speaker, but I look forward to discussing it a little bit further when we get into the line-by-line debate and at this present time I feel that these are good moves.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the establishment of funds such as the fire suppression fund, the wildland fire suppression revolving fund and the risk management revolving fund as proposed in this legislation are not new to the Government of Yukon. We already have two other such funds. One is the equipment ó and I may not have the precise title. One is in the fleet vehicle agency, and there is also in Community Services the equipment reserve fund for highways. So for those funds money is set aside to replace vehicles that are used for government purposes and fleet vehicles. The equipment reserve fund money is used for replacing graders and equipment used on our highways and our roads.
Both of those funds are set at a certain amount and itís well laid out as to how money is dispersed. So I have no difficulty in adopting a similar concept for the wildland fire suppression revolving fund and the risk management revolving fund.
Being fiscally conservative, Iím cautious as to how much money we lock up. However, that being said, I believe these two funds are very important, particularly the wildland fire suppression revolving fund, because in this case ó and I of course hope it never happens but recognize the realities spelled out by my colleagues in the Legislature ó should we encounter a fire season such as we had this year, we need to have such a fund in place. We donít need to have ministers being called for Management Board because we need these additional resources. They need to be in place and be dispersed in ways that work for those who are fighting the fires and ensuring the safety of our Yukon.
The risk management revolving fund is also important ó I donít dispute it. In line-by-line and general debate, I would like the minister to provide some more detail with respect to the wildland fire suppression fund ó the actual transfer of funds. How will the money be appropriated in the budget, under what lines and how will the mechanics of that fund work?
With respect to the risk management revolving fund, I would like a sense ó they would have one by now ó of what property losses were suffered and how this risk management revolving fund will deal with those. Are we able to deal with recreational property owners and those individuals who have suffered losses?
Are we able to deal with them in a manner that is not onerous in that weíre not sending people back trying to document receipts for 10 and 15 years ago, and of course there are differences now in prices in materials and so on.
So I support the establishment of these two funds. I am a little bit cautious in terms of how much we lock these funds up. Iím also concerned about how weíre getting the money into the funds, how itís being appropriated by this Legislature, and the accounting for it. How will it come back to show legislators ó like, will it be as itís done in the fleet vehicle agency, just a report? We need the opportunity to question that report and review it and of course we need to publicly debate all appropriations in the Legislature and the mechanics of how the funds will work. I would like that information in general debate. The minister responsible has indicated that heís quite prepared and is going to provide this additional information, so Iím looking forward to that general discussion.
Point of order
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: † The Premier had to take a very important phone call and asked that Minister Hart close debate on this bill, please.
Speaker: The Minister of Community Services can be recognized but he will not close debate.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I thank the members opposite for their concerns and I hope that when we get to Committee of the Whole, we will address many of the questions they have brought forward to the House and look forward to going into that process.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 47 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Before Committee begins, the Chair would like to make a statement.
Chair: The Chair wishes to revisit an issue that came up in Committee of the Whole proceedings on November 16, 2004. The Chair would refer members to page 3198 and 3199 of the Blues for that day.
The Committee was continuing general debate on Bill No. 11, the Fourth Appropriation Act, 2003-04. During a speech by Mr. Fairclough, the Chair called Mr. Fairclough to order for using unparliamentary language. Following a brief exchange between Mr. Fairclough and the Chair, Mr. Fairclough said the following: ďThank you, Mr. Chair. Everybodyís on edge. I know the Minister of Education is and the Premier is for their conduct, and I think the heat is being felt by the Chair too because he is part of the team.Ē
Those remarks create a problem for the House because they convey the obvious accusation that the Chair is not impartial in his conduct of the business of the Committee.
If Mr. Fairclough has a concern in this regard, he is dealing with it in a way that is procedurally incorrect. It is not in order to reflect on the character or actions of a presiding officer during the course of debate. Such reflections could be ruled as being unparliamentary language. Further, the House may take them even more seriously. There are precedents where a House has found such reflections to be a breach of its privileges.
There are two options for Mr. Fairclough if he has a disagreement with the actions of the Chair. The first is found in Standing Order 42(3) which states, in part: ďThe Chair shall maintain order in the Committee of the Whole, deciding all questions of order subject to an appeal to the Speaker.Ē
This course of action is most likely to be followed if a member feels the Chair has erred in interpreting or applying the rules of the House.
The language used by Mr. Fairclough, however, indicates something far more serious. His statement that the Chair is ďpart of the teamĒ indicates a concern that the Chair is not impartial when in the Chair. The proper way to deal with this concern is to bring a substantive motion to the House, which would most likely have as its effect, if carried, an expression of non-confidence in the member in the Chair and the removal of the member from that position.
The Chair would invite Mr. Fairclough and indeed all members to familiarize themselves with the rules and practices in this regard. In particular, the Chair would wish members to avoid making casual remarks that reflect on the presiding officers of this House. Such remarks undoubtedly lower the publicís estimation of not only the presiding officer in question but of the Legislative Assembly itself.
The Chair thanks members for their attention to this statement.
The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 47, Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act. Before we begin, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Cathers: I would ask the House to join me in welcoming my father, Ned Cathers, to the visitors gallery.
Bill No. 47 ó Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act
Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 47, Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act. We will begin with general debate. †
Ms. Duncan: Is it the ministerís wish to provide some opening remarks in general debate or would he prefer to go into questions?
†Hon. Mr. Hart: I will provide a few comments. If the members opposite will forgive me, some of them will be repetition of the previous process. Itís fairly short so Iíll go from there.
The Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act establishes the two revolving accounts as has been previously indicated. The first is the wildland fire suppression revolving fund. The wildland fire suppression revolving fund will bring greater financial security for the fire management efforts for the Yukon wildland fire management program in the years of extreme wildfires.
As you know, we have just experienced the worst forest fire season on record. More than 280 fires were established last year ó a record at any one time. Even though our crews and personnel have worked hard to manage the program in a cost-efficient manner, the suppression costs this year exceeded a little over $21 million.
Fire suppression activities were conducted in accordance with DIANDís former fire suppression management policies as required by the devolution transfer agreement. This past fire season has a commitment of $6.5 million in the annual suppression budget and the cost-sharing arrangement outlined under the DTA clearly left us in a bit of deficit position for the government to operate this season ahead.
The establishment of this fund will allow wildland fire management to draw upon the reserve fund to cover extra fire suppression costs in severe years in the Yukon.
The fund is set up to a maximum of $30 million and the entire wildland fire suppression budget will be transferred to that fund at the beginning of each fiscal year. All fire suppression expenses will be paid from that fund. This way, when there is a relatively quiet fire season, as was previously indicated, the unused budget will remain in the reserve fund instead of going to the general fund.
Also, the second fund we are trying to establish is to create the risk management revolving fund, and that is to lessen the Yukon governmentís insurance premium burden. Today insurance costs are high on everybodyís list, both in interest as well as the premiums. We have looked at our insurance premiums carefully over the past year or so and have come to the decision that we believe that itís in our best interests to self-insure our process and use the funding we had set aside for premiums to build up a fund and to draw payments from that fund, should they be made on that process.
Historically weíve had a fairly low claim process against our insurance program and we feel itís in our best interest to take the premium fund that we have set aside on an annual basis and put it into the fund and move forward and get it established over the period of years to help us assist in getting it for a year when we do have a major catastrophe, such as a school or something along those lines.
Or, as recently was noted, this building here was fortunately saved or spared from a large expense. So we are fortunately still insured under that process. Weíre not assuming any loss on that particular one.
Anyway, I am prepared to take questions from the members opposite and we will go from there.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to address some questions in general debate on behalf of the members on this side of the House with respect to the establishment of these two funds. I would like to start, if we could, with the minister ó if he could forgive me for using the vernacular, but ďfollow the bouncing ballĒ of the expenditures.
We started out in April 1, 2003, with X amount of money for wildland fire suppression transferred from the Government of Canada. We spent a certain amount and then we received payments from them on a sliding scale for our actual costs. So if I could just have him outline briefly for me the expenditures: how much money was originally transferred and just how the money has flowed since devolution?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We received $6.5 million in the original transfer as per the DTA in the first year. Out of that first year we had approximately $4 million that was carried forward into this past season, which was basically left over from the previous year, as well as monies that we earned from our firefighters working in other jurisdictions such as B.C. and Alberta in the previous year. Of course that funding we had pulled over is now used in this yearís funding in addition to the claim that we have submitted to the federal government for their portion of the split under the agreement for the DTA on the amounts expended over $6.5 million.
Ms. Duncan: I just want to be clear on this. So at the start of fiscal 1, April 1, 2004, we had $4 million that would have been revoted in this Legislature, and the minister is nodding to that. So there was $4 million revoted and then we expended X amount ó and if he could tell us how much that was ó over the course of the 2004 fire season. Then we bill back the federal government for a percentage of that ó and I donít have the DTA in front of me ó so what did we bill them? What was the sum total of our expenditures, what did we bill them, and so what are we left with then?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Of course, when we pass the supplementary, weíll be bringing forth the money from the previous year, and once the fund is established, weíll be bringing the $4 million through. The split from the feds was 70/30, with regard to the devolution transfer agreement. The expenditures, the commitments, are just a little over $21 million. We have submitted an initial claim to the federal government for $10 million. We expect that claim to be $10.15 million over that particular aspect, so thatís where we are for this fiscal year.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím sorry. Iím not trying to be difficult. I donít understand how $10.15 million is 70 percent of $21 million. If the costs this year were $21 million and 70/30 ó I couldnít recall when I first asked the question if it was 70 or 75. So 70 percent of $21 million in costs, or is it that the minister took off of that $21 million the $6.5 million? The minister is nodding. So the devolution transfer agreement, as I recall it, is also very specific in spelling out that Canada has to pay this bill right away ó certainly before the end of the fiscal year, if my recollection serves me correctly. Is that correct? It is spelled out in the devolution transfer agreement, but perhaps the minister could share with the House what that is.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have billed the federal government for the $10 million but have yet to receive it. They have made us aware that they are cognizant of the claim and we can only assume weíll get it prior to year-end.
Ms. Duncan: It is spelled out in the devolution transfer agreement, at the back, when we receive that money so itís not going to be a question of this House having to pass a resolution to get the federal government to pay their bills. Itís very clearly spelled out. It was with that knowledge that I believe the devolution transfer agreement was negotiated.
In fact, then, with the $4 million carried over and the $6.5 million transferred and being able to bill them for $10.15 million, weíre not left with a lot of balance weíre having to find from the Yukon coffers and Yukon general revenue, although theoretically it should have been 30 percent because we were able to carry over some. In fact the minister has not been in the position of having to go to Management Board and ask for funding from general revenues because weíre going to collect it back.
Hon. Mr. Hart: The member opposite is reasonably correct in her assumption. We did have to go to Management Board for a warrant basically for cash flow and, as she stated, we anticipate that with the carry-over of the $4 million from the previous year, when we didnít have a very severe fire season, it will leave us with a small amount that we will have to look at. But, as was stated, we still havenít got a final total on what it is for this year. We still have a few outstanding payables but there will be a small amount anyway.
I think it demonstrates how this fund should work and I think it also demonstrates the importance of the fund when we do have a quiet year in the forest, despite the fact that itís not utilized. It could be utilized the following year, as it was in our case this past season.
Otherwise, if we had followed the previous procedure, the money would have just been eaten up in general revenue, and we would have to cough up all of that $4 million.
Ms. Duncan: And eaten up quite often by other departments. Could the minister please be a little more specific? He said that weíd be looking for a small amount. I know itís ballpark because there are still some outstanding payables and we have this $10.15 million receivable. Whatís the small amount that the minister is thinking is going to come out of general revenue ó a couple of million dollars, half a million dollars? Could he be a little bit more specific in terms of ďsmall amountĒ?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Weíre guessing roughly around $1 million.
Ms. Duncan: Weíve established that weíre going to get the receivable from the federal government and the small amount that would be needed. So weíll likely be making the vote for these monies ó when will we be making it? Thatís the first question. When will we be making our first appropriation into this fund in terms of, will it be out of the ó we have before us the 2004-05 supplementary. Is the first line vote for the wildland fire suppression fund in this supplementary or will we get it when we deal with the last accounting, or will it be in the 2005-06 mains?
Hon. Mr. Hart: It is in this supplementary, which is the $4 million. Thatís the first entry that is going through but, as was indicated, it is carried forward and weíre going through and, in the main budget, weíll probably be looking at identifying some money to put into the fund in order to give a little bit of, shall we say, some greenspan for this ensuing year.†
Ms. Duncan: I realize weíre not in the Supplementary Estimates No. 1 for 2004-05. Would the minister outline what department that $4 million vote is in because Iíve looked in Highways. It must be in Community Services if itís not in Highways. Would he just identify the department for me?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, we have it in the supplementary, and it is on page 7 and is included in Community Services under Vote 51 and itís included in the $15-million total.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that clarification. Thatís the initial $4 million. The limit on the fund is set at $30 million. So how are we going to grow this fund and how will additional appropriations be made? Will it strictly be on the savings if we have a quiet fire year, or is there some other method anticipated by Cabinet in which to grow this fund?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The anticipation was to grow the fund based on what we received from the federal government. However, given the situation we had this year, we will probably have to look at an alternative method to, as I mentioned, putting some money in the fund for this year to assist it, and then when we do get the $6.5 million this coming April 1 for this yearís run, then we will at least have some money in there to commence the season and then, hopefully, if we donít have a season similar to last year, we will be in a position that we can get through next season and, if need be, you know, we will look at putting additional funds in ensuing budgets.
Ms. Duncan: So the anticipation, then, just so weíre clear on the record, is the Supplementary Estimates No. 1 for 2004-05 is going to put the $4 million, more or less, that we have accumulated over the previous years to the wildland fire suppression fund and then, when we receive the annual contribution of $6.5 million from the federal government as part of the devolution transfer agreement on April 1, that money will be transferred directly into this fund?
If we spend less next year in 2005 then the fund will continue to grow because we anticipate receiving that $6.5-million transfer for several more years ó three more years. This $6.5 million contribution is before the federal government starts picking up 70 percent or 60 percent of the costs. Correct?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would just like to add that we would also look at adding to the fund if we were to make a sale of suppression-related assets. Also, as indicated, any amounts that we recover from other jurisdictions as a result of our firefighters fighting in, for example, British Columbia or Alberta, we do have a reciprocal agreement with those provinces and, if there is any money coming from them, that funding would be reimbursed into that fund also.
Those are the other additional items that would be added to the fund.
Ms. Duncan: That would include our reciprocal agreement with Alaska as well.
The fund does have the ability to grow and it would be a line item vote in Community Services.
Would the minister go through for the public record how the money is spent out of the revolving fund? Is it the ministerís signature that allows it to be spent?
Right now, if the department gets a certain vote authority and the money is spent by the department, over and above that, ministers have to go to their colleagues and Management Board and ask: ďPlease, may we have some more additional funding?Ē
Is this going to be like a department in that the fund can be spent as required for fire suppression?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Expenditures will be handled in compliance with the FAA. Expenditures out of the fund will be reported in the fire suppression and similar to expenditures that are handled through our fleet vehicle association, as well as our ERF, and we will present that to the House on an annual basis.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has anticipated my next question. Right now this is a line vote in Community Services for the wildland fire suppression fund. The fleet vehicle agency comes to us as a separate document and a report, so it doesnít get debated on the floor of this House unless we bring it up in Question Period. There really is no debate of those expenditures in or out of that fund. Itís not a line item necessarily, per se, in the budget. Itís a fleet vehicle special agency report thatís handed out to all members. I read it, looked at the financial statements, and noticed thereís quite an interesting amortization schedule. Itís information.
Is the wildland fire suppression fund going to come the same way? Is it going to be in a separate document, or are we going to have a vote? Weíll have a vote to put more money in, but the balance of the fund, and so on, how is that going to be reported and accounted to the Yukon public through the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The revolving fund will be a line item under Community Services, and it will be handled in a similar way. We have to bring it in, just like highways branch does for its equipment, so weíll have the budget item here. It will be a specific line item, and we will provide it that way and it will be debated here in the House.
Ms. Duncan: Thatís a specific line item to vote more money into the fund, but the fund as a separate accounting that says, ďHereís how much money weíve got, hereís what we spent, hereís the balanceĒ ó that isnít the same thing as a vote that says weíre going to put $4 million more. Iím talking about the overall accounting of the fund.
I donít have a fleet vehicle agency report in front of me ó I took mine out of the House ó but it very specifically comes back and details all of that money. Itís a separate balance sheet for that organization. Iím talking about the accounting for the fund as a whole, not just the vote appropriations. How do we account to the public for the whole fund?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We report as a line item as indicated previously. It will be handled similar to the road equipment fund, which is handled through the maintenance budget in highways and maintenance.
Ms. Duncan: † Iíd ask the minister to reconsider that answer. The reason Iím asking is that, for example, the recycling fund reports to this House annually. The Minister of Environment brings in a report and it says the expenditures in and out of the fund. Itís a full accounting.
As Iíve said, the fleet vehicle agency does this as well. We really donít get that kind of full accounting on the equipment reserve fund and expenditures in and out. The specific activities of that fund are not as clearly laid out.
The minister is asking for vote authority to set up the fund and I understand the reasons for it and support the vote authority. My concern is the future accountability to the Legislature, where there is a document, aside from what this yearís vote was, so they can see, ďHere is what the fund started with in 2004 when it was created in the House; here are the various line items that have gone into it; here are the expenditures; here is the balance of the wildland fire suppression revolving fund todayĒ ó a balance sheet for the House that records these funds.
Would the minister consider that point?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The expenditures will be reported, and from there they will go into the fire suppression line. Basically the balance in the fund will be reported under the consolidated statement at year-end.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I just want to go on record that I donít believe thatís enough accountability for the Yukon public. What we have seen, and as witnessed ó if the minister has had the opportunity to review the Public Accounts Committee meetings ó in the Yukon Housing Corporation, there are pots of money, envelopes of money, in various different line items that really donít end up being discussed on the floor of the House and a full accounting given to the Yukon public.
There are other funds that, unless there is a corporate memory in the Legislature to ask the questions ó another example is the immigrant investor fund. Theyíre in the public accounts, I agree, but theyíre in there in a way that is not as clear to the general public as specifically what the fund is, what the expenditures are and a full accounting of the fund.
I would encourage the minister, because this bill does not address this issue. The bill ó nowhere that Iíve seen does it say, ďand there shall be an annual accounting to the Legislature of the expenditure of the funds.Ē It says what revenues will be credited. It says what amounts are recoverable, but nowhere in here does it say that we will account to the Yukon public by tabling an annual report on the expenditures of these funds ó the income and the expenditures of the fund. Yukoners would appreciate the opportunity to look at ó weíre creating the fund to look at how money has been transferred into the fund over the years and how money has been expended.
It might come to light ó for example, if Yukoners were to examine that ó that we collect millions of dollars every year from other jurisdictions for the assistance and able talents of our wildland fire suppression crew. So why not consider the suggestion of providing an annual accounting?
I am not going to go to the extent of drafting an amendment to the bill because that would delay the establishment of this fund, and I have no wish to do this and I have no wish to debate this ad nauseum with the member. I would like a recognition of the point that Iím making, however, that I do believe there should be a full accounting to the public for this fund in its own right, as a distinct entity and not simply a line item in the department. Would the minister consider that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We on this side are having some difficulty as to the member oppositeís point but, regardless, I will review the Blues tomorrow and take it under advisement.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the ministerís cooperation and understanding.
As an example, I would just repeat that I am envisioning a report similar to the recycling fund report, the fleet vehicle management agency report ó the financial parts of those reports that are presented to the House annually. It is accounted for. It is simply a matter of production of the information.
I do appreciate the minister taking that under advisement. If he or officials wish to speak with me outside of the House, I would welcome that opportunity. Itís about accountability to the Yukon public.
With respect to the wildland fire suppression revolving fund, we have reviewed the money that will be in the fund, how money will be voted, and how it will be accounted for for the public.
My final questions deal with the risk management revolving fund. Could I just ask the minister to review? Is this strictly Government of Yukon assets, or does it cover the individual who has suffered a loss of a recreational property or a cabin because of forest fire? I know trappers have distinct methods for dealing with their compensation, but what about the others? Does this help these individuals?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The second fund is being set up strictly for governmental purposes on our buildings and equipment that we own.
Ms. Duncan: Would the minister just go through ó he did, I believe, in his opening comments ó the mechanics of this particular fund? My understanding was that Government of Yukon was self-insured. So, for instance, when we lost the Old Crow school, there was a certain amount we paid and we were covered. Would he just go through the mechanics of how this is going to operate?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We plan to operate the insurance fund similar to an insurance agency. The money we normally put into the fund as a premium will be put in as a line item. It will be stuck into the fund. If we get claims for our assets, they will be drawn from that fund as need be. As far as liability goes, we have liability over and above $2 million. Anything under that will have to be taken from our process, but in general we will operate as an insurance agency. I just wanted to double-check on a time. We commenced this liability issue way back in 1996, so we feel that we have had enough time to indicate that we can carry forth with this.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate what the government is doing. I would just like a little more historical information. As I said, we were self-insured for the longest time on our buildings and assets. Is part of the reasoning for this the capitalization of our assets in our accounting? Why are we deviating from that self-insured model to have an insurance agency fund? Iím just not clear on the why.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are not deviating from the previous process. Itís that we are centralizing the money in one spot so we are taking our insurance from that process instead of the individual departments and working from that view.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that explanation.
This fund will also follow the Financial Administration Act rules and procedures, as will the wildland fire suppression fund. Would the minister just outline how expenditures will be made? I assume these expenditures will likely be larger ones and would fall under the deputy head signing authority. Is that correct? Is it in some instances that the ministerial authority will have to be sought?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working on the pretence that we will operate it similar to the RER fund and deal with it that way. Determination on what size ó a large draw will have to be made, will have to be submitted to Management Board, and weíll have to go from whatever decision comes from them.
Ms. Duncan: Two things: not everybody talks in initials so would the minister just define RER for Hansard and for the rest of us, and is what the minister just said that Management Board will set the amounts for the signing authorities under the fund and that they have yet to do that? Is that what I just heard the minister say?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Itís just an acronym, which I am very guilty of using. It is the road equipment reserve fund that weíre dealing with.
With regard to the fund, as soon as we get into passing the bill, we will be submitting to the Management Board a request as to what level they want to get involved and a specific for the actual claim.
Ms. Duncan: I recall that is standard procedure for Management Board to set the signing authorities and I see the minister nodding.
I donít have too many other questions. I would just like to be clear on how much money is being set aside in the supplementary to establish the risk management revolving fund and how much is anticipated to be voted yearly into that fund ó and if the minister could also just give me the line item in the supplementary, please.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, we have approximately ó both of us have bad eyes over on this side ó a little over $1 million in the 2004-05 main that we havenít spent yet and is not in this supplementary. When this is passed, we will transfer that over into the fund.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, and the line item, is it in Community Services again, or where is the line item? Where should we look for it?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Itís under Department of Highways and Public Works.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I have no further questions in general debate. Did the minister have any additional information regarding the accounting for the funds or anything he wanted to share with me?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Just that these revolving funds are required and, in terms of reporting to the House, itís a general requirement. So I just want to reiterate that we will be bringing the accountability of these programs back to the House when theyíre established.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. And I appreciate the ministerís cooperation and answers this afternoon and would like to thank the officials who have been of assistance this afternoon and who provided the briefing on this legislation. It is very clear, and certainly by the comments made earlier, well supported by all members of the House in the recognition for these funds.
Not having any further debate, and having spoken with my colleagues on this side, Mr. Chair, I would respectfully request unanimous consent to deem all clauses in Bill No. 47 and the title read and carried as required.
Unanimous consent re clearing Bill No. 47
Chair: Prior to putting forward the motion, the Chair would seek to identify if there was any further general debate.
Hearing none, do I have unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all clauses and the title of Bill No. 47, Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, read and agreed to?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Clauses 1 to 4 deemed to have been read and agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Chair, I move that Bill No. 47, Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be reported without amendment.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Hart that Bill No. 47, Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be reported without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: The Chair understands that the next matter before the Committee is Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act.
Before we get to that, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 51 ó Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act ó continued
Chair: The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act. We will continue with general debate.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I wish to thank the members opposite for their comments last week and the continued exploration of the Motor Vehicles Act. Today I welcome the chance to continue discussing amendments in the House. I would like to briefly follow up on a couple of points that we discussed here last week.
The members opposite have explored the issue of ATVs, but I would like to stress again that the Motor Vehicles Act deals with the operation of vehicles on our highways and not the operation of vehicles off highways, which is primarily where ATVs are operated.
People who purchase ATVs do so primarily to use them off road. Obviously that is why they are called all-terrain vehicles. They can navigate difficult terrain where few other vehicles can travel. If an ATV does come into contact with a highway, itís merely incidental to off-road use. As we heard in this House last week, there are times when an ATV operator accesses the highway by crossing it or by travelling a short distance along it to get to another location.
It is at those times that the RCMP members use their discretion on whether or not to enforce the Motor Vehicles Act, and I would suggest they use their discretion well.
The state of operation of ATVs is an important concern, and it is certainly worthy of additional discussions in other forums. I would be pleased to see training courses become available and offer that as a suggestion for the improved safety of ATVs. I would also suggest that snowmobile users be offered it for the same purpose since safety is also an issue for these snowmobiles.
Safety was again in the news recently with respect to the use of snowmobiles. Last week the Canadian Paediatric Society said snowmobiling produces the highest rate of injuries for children of any winter sport. The society is recommending stricter snowmobile legislation across the country, saying children under 16 should not drive snowmobiles.
This is a very important issue in the north, Mr. Chair, given the number of residents who rely on their snowmobiles for transportation. In some instances itís their way of life.
I raise the issue because snowmobiles are in the same league as ATVs and are an important mode of transportation as we move into the winter season. Mr. Chair, regulations may be viewed as part of the answer, but providing people with information so they can regulate themselves is just as important. A regulation may put laws on the books, but it is the education of the rider of both snowmobiles and ATVs that will ultimately save lives and reduce injuries.
A law may help prevent something from happening if it is seen by a law enforcement officer, but tragically, in many cases it is too late. The accident will have taken place and the damage is done, especially with ATVs and snowmobiles.
When a snowmobile and an ATV are going to be used on the roads as they are in some of our communities, they must be properly registered. To do this, the owner must provide proof of valid insurance.
Unfortunately insurance policies only cover drivers who are properly licensed to drive, so that means that individuals as young as 15 with a valid driverís licence could be covered under the insurance policy. Why is this? Well, Mr. Chair, this requirement is in place for a very good reason. When ATVs and snowmobiles are driven on roads, they interact with other vehicles, pedestrians and other road users who are also using the road. Just like the drivers of cars and trucks, drivers of these recreational vehicles being used on the road need to know the rules of the road so they can safely operate and interact with other road users.
Insurance coverage allows innocent parties to seek compensation when they are involved in a collision or accident with a vehicle being operated on our roads. When these types of recreational vehicles are being operated off-road, those requirements do not apply because there are fewer vehicles operating on off-road trails.
Mr. Chair, donít misunderstand me. I am not saying that youth younger than 15 should be sent out on the trails to learn how to properly ride these machines. I am saying that everyone who operates an ATV or snowmobile should be educated on safe riding practices so they can enjoy the experience and not become an accident statistic.
I use these examples because of the concerns expressed by the members opposite. The amendments before the House are dealing with issues related to vehicles on the highways and related topics. I would like again to reiterate several points on the consultation and stress to members opposite that we have conducted a comprehensive canvass of Yukon opinions. We are confident of the results and confident that the decisions we have made reflect Yukonersí opinions.
Those opinions came from every Yukon community and gave us a broad cross-section of thoughts. Interesting, though, as members opposite were advised in briefings on this topic, opinions on the amendments before us were for the most part unequivocal.
Yukon residents were invited to speak their minds, and they did so in statistically strong and representative numbers. I believe that if we asked every Yukoner their views on these topics, the results would be very close to the same. At the end of the day, we wanted to survey a representative sample of residents in the Yukon, and we did that. Let me say again that this is about safety. Itís about making our roads safer. Itís about creating a more just, equitable and easy-to-understand process for impounded vehicles and their owners. We want to ensure our drivers and vehicle owners are treated fairly, and motorists who should not be on the road behind the wheel of a vehicle are not. Safety is what the amendments we are proposing are about. Itís safety on our highways, safety on our community streets, safety for our citizens, whether or not they are the drivers, vehicle owners, passengers or simply bystanders.
To this end, and as outlined by my Hon. colleague in the House last week, the Yukon government is a key partner in this yearís red ribbon campaign sponsored by† Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Impaired driving poses a risk to all Yukoners. An impaired driver is a risk to himself or herself, a risk to every other motorist on the road, and a risk to innocent bystanders. We have seen the tragedy that drinking and driving causes and we know the devastation that this crime can inflict. We are reaching the time of the year when we all enjoy the chance to socialize with others and celebrate the warmth and joy of the holiday season. Through the Tie One On for Safety campaign that is now underway, Mothers Against Drink Driving are offering a strong reminder to not drink and drive. By placing a red ribbon on their lapel or the antenna of their vehicle, supporters are showing their respect for those who have lost their lives or suffered injury as a result of alcohol-related vehicle crashes.
I mention this campaign because it is another initiative that we are supporting to strongly carry the anti-drinking-and-driving message to the public. Mothers Against Drunk Driving representatives were key partners on our advisory committee and were instrumental in our work on the Motor Vehicles Act amendments before this House. We share their commitment to get drunk drivers off the roads and, to that end, some of the amendments we have put forward that speak to the issue of impaired driving.
I would like to highlight one more time the key changes we are making and the benefits we are creating through the amendments.
This delivers these impoundments to impaired driving laws. Private and commercial vehicle owners and persons who have special needs to use a vehicle gain fair rules for the early release of their impounded vehicles.
Persons who drive without a valid driverís licence or a licence become liable for vehicle impoundment. Drivers who refuse a breath test for alcohol can have their vehicle impounded for double the usual impoundment period.
The Territorial Court and police may decide to release vehicles impounded because of an error. Proof of liability insurance must be shown before a vehicle may be released from impoundment. Matching the Motor Vehicles Act with the federal Criminal Code will make convicted and impaired drivers eligible for the Yukonís ignition interlock program sooner. This change should make some decide to enter the program rather than drive illegally and drink and drive.
Mr. Chair, I also want to once again state for the record that the proposed new mercy rules for owners who were not driving nor in the vehicle at the time it was impounded do not weaken the Yukonís impaired driving laws. Our laws continue to remove the drinking driver immediately from the road. Safety is our paramount concern, but we are also concerned, as was the advisory committee and the public, about fairness and equity. The revised mercy rules bring the fairness and equity to the law and address the gap in the current law. The amendments also deliver these act improvements: drivers must safely secure any loads carried on their vehicles; new Yukon residents gain fair rules for exchanging their out-of-territory licence for a Yukon driverís licence. Drivers who drive to escape the police receive a period of licence disqualification on conviction. There is a better legal process to notify an unsafe driver that their licence is invalid and people who drive the new type of bicycle with an electric motor just like a regular bicycle without needing a licence plate and a driverís licence.
The amendments also create several legal errors in the act, such as the error in the age to start operating a motorcycle and the error in the licence disqualification periods. I welcome the support of the members opposite to make the Yukon roads and highways a safer place for everyone.
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to pick up on one of the areas where the minister left off, actually, and thatís about highway safety. The minister is quite right: there are sections in here dealing with loads on vehicles, things to make the highways safer.
Earlier this year I raised an issue with the minister about highway safety, and I would like to draw the ministerís attention back to the occupational health and safety regulations, section C, general safety regulations. The Member for Klondike is familiar with all these regulations, according to what he was saying the other day. On page 10(8) in section C, ďwhere a project is on or adjacent to a public way, all machinery, equipment and material that might be a hazard to vehicular or pedestrian traffic shall be marked by flashing devicesĒ. This is basically law in the occupational health and safety regulations.
What Iím wondering is if the minister can tell me if there is a similar law or regulation ó I havenít been able to find one ó in the Motor Vehicles Act that would be enforceable by a law enforcement agency. It is my understanding that the occupational health and safety regulations are enforced by the occupational health and safety branch.
What Iím looking for are the ways and means to have this enforced in a more ó I just want to see it enforced without having to go to the occupational health and safety branch.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Iíll try to respond to this question to the best of my ability.
There is no specific section under the Motor Vehicles Act. We do have items of the Motor Vehicles Act that deal with oversized loads, appropriate signage, pilot cars in front and in the rear, depending on the size of the vehicle, and those are enforced under the Motor Vehicles Act.
In relation to vehicles that are in the construction zone and the right-of-way, there is nothing under the Motor Vehicles Act that specifically deals with the lighting aspect, which the member opposite is inquiring about. The only venue that we on this side know of at the moment is through the occupational health and safety branch, as he indicated ó the aspect he referred to in that specific section.
Mr. Cardiff: If we look at the process that was used to bring about the changes that weíve got to the Motor Vehicles Act, the changes are pretty limited. The consultation, according to what the minister was saying the other day, only took two or three months. It was a pretty small survey. This is an issue that I raised with the minister earlier this year. This is important to public safety and I think that itís something that needs to be addressed.
What Iím talking about is the issue recently, last spring, with the clearing that was being done alongside the highway. The contractor who was doing the clearing was leaving their equipment basically in the ditch. Now, if you look in the Motor Vehicles Act under ďdefinitionsĒ, ďhighwayĒ means any cul-de-sac, boulevard, thoroughfare, street, road, trail, avenue, parkway, driveway, viaduct, lane, alley, square, bridge, causeway, ice-road, trestle or other place whether publicly or privately owned, any part of which the public is ordinarily entitled or permitted to use for the passage or parking of vehicles, and includes ó and there is a whole list ó the ditch.
Now, it would make sense to me that, according to this definition, when you park your vehicle ó your skidder, your BobCat, your loader, whatever ó in the ditch, it is actually on the highway according to the Motor Vehicles Act.
According to the occupational health and safety regulations, all that is being asked is that it is marked with a flashing device.
Iím not sure where it is in the Motor Vehicles Act, but it seems to me that thatís why we have four-way flashers on our vehicles, so that when we have an emergency ó a flat tire or something ó or we have to leave our vehicle on the side of the road, you turn your four-way flashers on.
All Iím saying is that there needs to be some way of enforcing this. Thereís a big difference between leaving a small vehicle, a regular passenger vehicle, or leaving a 950 loader parked in the ditch or on the side of the road. What Iím saying is that, according to the Motor Vehicles Act, a trail or a ditch or the side of the road ó if you look at the full definition ó even when a highway right-of-way is not shown on a registered plan of survey or is not contained between fences or cut lines, all the land within 30 metres of the center line is a highway. So itís a public safety issue. What we had last spring was equipment that was parked on the side of the highway. By the definition of the Motor Vehicles Act, it was actually parked on the highway, and it wasnít marked properly.
Now earlier this fall, I had the pleasure of taking a few days off and travelling the southern portion of the Robert Campbell Highway, and made a trip up the Nahanni Range Road to do some hunting. I also had the pleasure of driving through a government construction project where there were lots of contractorsí vehicles parked on the side of the road. The government was responsible for the contract, and there were vehicles parked both on the project and off to the side in the ditches ó if you want to call them ditches, but according to the Motor Vehicles Act itís a highway. These vehicles were not appropriately marked with flashing beacons.
We took the time in the consultation ó the two or three months we took to do it ó to identify that there are problems with how people put loads on their vehicles and how they attach them to their vehicles and are they safe when theyíre going down the road.
You can have the safest load in the world, but if you run into that vehicle in the ditch that is not marked, itís not going to do you any good; itís not going to save anybodyís life. The reason that this regulation is in the occupational health and safety regulations is because it did cost somebodyís life.
I listened to the Member for Lake Laberge talking about our legislation that we brought forward. Weíve been talking about the Democratic Reform Act since the spring. We were helping the government keep its promise and the Member for Lake Laberge criticized us; he thought it was hastily thrown together in a couple of days, and he was wrong. All Iím saying is that the minister didnít ask the right questions and didnít look far enough. There are a whole bunch of things that could have been contained in the Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act. What Iím brining up is one that I think is probably the most important and that is the demarcation of vehicles that are parked in the ditch, specifically heavy construction equipment.
I donít know if the minister can do something to ó what Iím expecting is that, in the same way that the RCMP or the bylaw officer drives down the street and pulls over speeders, pulls you over if you have a tail light out and gives you a warning, pulls you over for any violation of the Motor Vehicles Act, theyíll drive down the highway, theyíll see a 950 loader or a skidder or a BobCat or something parked in the ditch and theyíll go, ďHey, thatís unsafe.Ē Feel free to give them a warning first; I think that there is a lot to be said for educating people about the law first and letting them know that they are breaking the law; giving them an opportunity to make it right. Iím not saying to lock them up and throw them away. What Iím saying is that we should educate them that so that they know that they have to have this equipment properly marked.
And I think it will go a long way to making our highways safer, which is what the minister was talking about when he was closing out his comments.
So Iíd like the minister to look into that and to find a way to include it somewhere. If he canít fit it into this bill that weíre dealing with now, then if he would at least consider looking at other changes to the Motor Vehicles Act, and if we have to deal with them in the spring, maybe weíll just hope that we can revisit this in the spring and hopefully no one will lose their life between now and then.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned earlier, there is nothing directly in the Motor Vehicles Act that would address the situation that he is dealing with for a vehicle that is parked in the ditch. In most cases with our highways, despite the fact of our right-of-way classification, we still have to deal with the actual thoroughfare traffic as our main fare, and we have to deal with it.
As far as the Motor Vehicles Act goes, we do have sections under the Motor Vehicles Act that deal with the actual highway itself, like when a flag person is there, and also we do have aspects that deal with anything that is unsafe. For example, if a vehicle was parked on the side of the road and providing an unsafe situation for the travelling public on that particular highway, we do have something that deals with that.
But specifically for the light on a vehicle that is parked in a ditch, there is nothing under the motor vehicle aspect. I will state for the member opposite that I recall this situation that he brought forward both this summer as well as earlier this year on this issue.
Unfortunately we canít cover off all of the issues under the Motor Vehicles Act. Iím sure that if we sat here for another month we would probably come up with a fairly large list.
As I indicated previously to the member of the third party, Iím hoping that unless itís an amendment coming forth from a federal requirement or a federal change in the Criminal Code, Iím hoping that the next time we bring forth a Motor Vehicles Act, we can bring forth the whole act. It has been amended several times. It has been amended this, that and the other thing, and I anticipate that if we get to that stage, then we will go toward that process. But, as I mentioned, as far as your safety issue goes, if we have an amendment thatís coming forth on that process, we can definitely consult with you and look at ways of trying to incorporate it in the change when it comes forth.
Mr. Cardiff: I actually think that we can. This Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act is basically ó thatís one reason why I can talk about it. Thereís nothing to prevent the minister from changing this.
I know we donít want to do it hastily, but we do have a few more weeks where he could bring something forward that would adequately address the situation. If there are provisions in the Motor Vehicles Act that provide for safety with regard to vehicles being parked on the side of the road or in the ditches, I would encourage the minister ó I mean, this isnít something that happens on a regular basis, but when it does happen, it presents a hazard to the public.
It can be a devastating experience for people. Especially given that we are in the winter now ó and Iíve raised other points about visibility along the highway with the minister as well ó and we are definitely getting into the dark season ó even though we have an extra hour of daylight in the morning, I find that itís still dark when I go to work and itís still dark when I go home, and Iím not sure where that extra hour of daylight in the morning went. What weíve got is people travelling to and from work in the dark and if there is equipment left on the sides of the road, it poses a hazard. It needs to be marked properly.
If there is something that the minister could do to encourage anything that is in the act that could be enforced by the RCMP or the authorities, I would encourage him to do that ó if the minister could answer that and give me some assurance that something is going to be done in the interim if possible, and hopefully we can get some changes to the Motor Vehicles Act in the near future.
Hon. Mr. Hart: The issue that he is discussing right now isnít in our amendments that we put forth and itís not in the amendments that were submitted to the advisory committee or what was submitted for consultation. However, as I indicated previously, it is an issue that I share his concern about and I will do what I can to try to come up with a solution or deal with the situation somehow, and we will work from there.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for bearing with me. Itís something that I feel is important, and I may be a little emotional about it at times but, when the lives of the travelling public are at stake, I think itís important.
I have one other thing Iíd like to go back to with the minister. I raised this on October 26 with the minister regarding the letter I had sent him on October 7 about vehicle suspensions that can only be appealed during the period that the suspension is in effect. The minister responded a couple of days later and said that the letter was being reviewed by the Department of Community Services and the Department of Justice, that privacy concerns prevented him from discussing the particular case in detail and that they would be providing answers to the memberís letter in a general concept.
When can I expect the answer? Itís November 18 today.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Iíve been advised that the correspondence is being worked on in the Department of Justice, and he will be receiving a letter on this issue directly from the Minister of Justice.
Mr. Cardiff: I understand the minister canít discuss the particular case and the details of it, but Iíd like to ó the minister has had an opportunity to read the letter, and one of the questions that I asked him was whether or not he thought it was fair. He didnít answer that question.
The situation is that weíve got the potential for a person who gets a 90-day suspension ó they get pulled over for whatever reason, they get their licence suspended, they get charged with an indictable offence. For whatever reason, the person is acquitted of the charges under the Criminal Code. Through the justice system and the length of time that it takes, the 90-day suspension remains there.
Iím not sure if itís something in the legislation, if itís something in the way that the Motor Vehicles Act is administered, because there are two things at play here. First of all there is a Criminal Code offence but the impoundment is under the Motor Vehicles Act so the minister is responsible for the impoundment. You can only appeal the suspension during the period when it is occurring. So if it is a 90-day suspension youíve got 90 days to appeal it. If itís a 60-day suspension, youíve got 60 days to appeal it. Thatís pretty straightforward.
So I donít know if itís the way that the ministerís department administers this, but it would seem to me that if youíre acquitted or found not guilty on the more severe offence, why would this remain, whether you appeal it or not? It doesnít seem fair to me. Maybe you should be able to come back and appeal that after you have dealt with the Criminal Code offence. Iíd like the minister to give me his thoughts on that.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, I will try to respond. I am not a lawyer, but I will try to give them what I think is the best process that I can until he gets his letter. There is a process where a person can review the 90-day suspension, but there is no connection. Once the 90-day suspension is put in, itís not related to the criminal act or anything like that. The suspension stays in place, whether itís 90 days or 24 hours. That particular issue stays in place. Itís not connected to the criminal aspect at all. But for the member opposite, there is a process to review a 90-day suspension.
Mr. Cardiff: I think where the problem comes in for the minister is that they were, in this particular ó but it could happen to anybody, I imagine ó there were suspensions and impoundments made for a reason, and for the same reason that those suspensions and impoundments were made, they were charged under the Criminal Code.
Now, you donít know until youíve gone through the Criminal Code process of going to court and all that stuff whether or not youíre going to be acquitted or found guilty or what is going to happen. So, as a result, the 90 days have long passed, and lo and behold it was found that there had been a miscarriage of justice. But what happens is that these impoundments and suspensions still appear on the driverís abstract. What it results in is essentially removing that person ó I mean, you might as well give them probably three years driving suspension because the insurance premium, when youíve got the suspension on your driverís abstract, is pretty pricey. In this case it was $5,000 a year, which is prohibitive for a lot of people to pay.
Like I said earlier, what Iím looking for, I guess, is that I think there needs to be ó this is another section that could have been looked at in the Motor Vehicles Act. Itís another vehicle impoundment issue. Itís another roadside licence suspension issue. These are all under the Motor Vehicles Act. This is another area where what weíre doing is raising flags where there could possibly be changes so that people arenít inconvenienced.
I mean, $5,000 a year ó I know I would have a hard time paying $5,000 a year. I canít imagine if it was a senior citizen or a single parent or somebody who was unemployed and, all of a sudden, they are saddled with a $5,000 a year insurance bill. That is basically telling them they are either hitchhiking to work or taking the bus. Depending on where they are living, they may not be able to get employment.
So, what I am trying to do is flag this. I know there is a particular case, but there are other people who could be affected by this and probably have been affected by this. We are trying to bring this matter to light so that it can be dealt with. If there are legislative changes that need to be made or could be made that would change this situation ó obviously we are not going to change this situation as it is now probably. In this particular case, the person is probably ó I am not sure, maybe there is a way, but with the legislation the way it is and the way things have been administered, maybe nothing can be done, but there is always the opportunity to make things better for the future.
Thatís what I am looking for again, as I was in my previous line of questioning about marking vehicles: to at least have a look at this, at how roadside suspensions are administered by Motor Vehicles ó take it as a test case. I just think that $5,000 a year for insurance is a little steep if you werenít guilty of the offence.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Iím struggling to try to get close to the point heís trying to get across. The issue is that, basically, the administrative law for the suspension is under the territorial act and the other act is a criminal act, and there is no connection between the two.
Iím not sure of the actual circumstances of the case heís talking about. Iíve advised them that something will be coming on that particular case shortly. Thatís the best I can do at the moment, as it relates to this specific case.
I will state that we are not the only jurisdiction that has this particular aspect. When it comes to this type, many jurisdictions use the same process: the suspension and the criminal are separate and there is a process for the 90-day to be reviewed.
As far as the cost, thatís not something we as a government impose. Thatís something the insurance company imposes. Itís not for me to dictate one way or the other, but as far as this particular case goes, until I see a response from Justice and get my thoughts around it, Iíll look at it. But for the member opposite, I would only ask he wait. As I mentioned earlier, I suspect heíll be getting something shortly on this issue and it will be coming from the Minister of Justice.
Mr. Cardiff: I eagerly await the response to my letter ó definitely. The minister is quite right: heís not responsible for the high price of insurance but what appears on your driverís abstract affects the cost of your insurance.
All I am trying to get across to the minister is that I feel that ó and I understand that there is no link between the Criminal Code and the other offences, so Iím getting some information and that has been helpful. I guess what Iím looking for ó I donít know if there can be a linkage or if there is something that could be done ó I donít know if it would be a change to the act ó to allow these to be appealed outside of the period of suspension. Basically, if there is proof and grounds that prove that the original reasons for the suspension werenít valid, that has to come from a higher court. So I guess all Iím saying is that maybe there could be some linkage that would allow that to happen.
The minister has indicated that he may be interested in looking at this after he looks at the case that comes back from Justice ó the letter responding to my letter ó and I thank him for saying that heíll look at that and I look forward to his response.
I have no further questions, I believe, with regard to the act at this time.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I do have a few questions on the act. I think a lot of them have been asked ó the ones that I wanted to ask ó but I still need some clarification on some of these.
The Member for Vuntut Gwitchin has asked a number of questions in regard to ATVs and the fact that, basically in the Motor Vehicles Act, under the age of 15 youíre just not allowed to drive an ATV on the roads in Old Crow. Given the definition of highways, anyway, itís basically anything right down to a trail. And that has become an issue with the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin and a lot of community people. It is in the act, but what the minister has said is that that portion of the act will not be enforced. I would like to know why that is not going to be enforced and whether there are other reasons for having that section in the act if itís not going to be enforced.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would like to maybe clarify a little bit for the member opposite. I indicated that the RCMP in Old Crow respond to any legal or safety concerns with regard to ATV operators on the highway, and they use their discretion. They have been using their discretion over the last couple of years on dealing with snow machines and ATVs that are being operated in Old Crow. They basically, as I mentioned, respond to any legal issue or complaint about an individual or individuals who are driving unsafely on the road, and they respond in that manner.
Mr. Fairclough: The minister also said, though, that basically that portion of the act will not be enforced. It was in regard to questions of young people driving ATVs, crossing the highways and so on. Theyíre not being charged and they would not be charged as far as the minister has said in this House. Thatís what Iím getting at.
Are there other reasons for having that? Weíre not going to push hard, I guess, to have that section of the act enforced, but there must be other reasons why it was laid out so clearly in the act. Is it in case, for example, municipalities would want to enforce that? Itís there in the Motor Vehicles Act for them to use to give direction to the RCMP.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I indicated previously on this issue, if an ATV crosses the road ó and, again, should the RCMP be in the vicinity when it crosses ó they use their discretion. As I mentioned earlier, itís the same situation when they cross the road. If in fact somebody complains that the individual is crossing two seconds in front of a vehicle or unsafely or causing other damages, then the RCMP will follow through with that process.
†Again, the discretion is used based on whether there is a legal or a safety issue being imposed on that particular aspect. That is the main reason. As far as the municipalities go, the municipalities have the right through bylaw to enact regulations as they relate to snowmobiles and ATVs. In fact, in many communities in Canada they have those specific bylaws as they relate to snowmobiles during the snow season.
Mr. Fairclough: I donít want to go into any detail on that. The concern that some have brought forward was that there are a lot of young people who drive ATVs along the highway in the ditches, but that is considered a highway ó so are trails and so are any public driveways, as listed by the Member for Mount Lorne.
I would like to know if all these laws and regulations that have been brought forward through this act are enforced anywhere in the Yukon Territory. Does that include First Nation lands?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The laws of general application apply unless a First Nation has a specific law that adjusts that particular process if it is on their land.
Mr. Fairclough: That would be different than, for example, municipal bylaws. If you take, for example, the community of Carmacks, the boundaries include the First Nation side but they are excluded from the municipality. In other words, the municipal bylaws do not apply on the First Nation lands. So is that similar or different than municipal bylaws?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The member opposite brings up a rather testy situation for us, but in essence, the general law of application would apply within the municipality, and it would be up to ó in that particular case ó the village and the First Nation to come to some sort of agreement on that particular issue in a bylaw if in fact they have some sort of differential on the process.
Chair: Order please. We have reached our normal time for a recess. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act. We will continue on with general debate.
Mr. Fairclough: I was meaning to comment on the ministerís response ó I just forgot where the heck it was, but I will move on.
The minister said that ATVs, of course, are designed to be off-road, mostly off the highways. Then we look at the definition of highways, and there are trails and so on. He said that the insurance only covers those who have a valid licence. Does that mean the driver and not the passengers, for example? Would insurance not cover those who are passengers on ATVs?
Hon. Mr. Hart: † To operate a snowmobile and/or ATV on the highway, the user must hold a valid driverís licence and take out and maintain proper insurance coverage and have the vehicle registered. Insurance companies ó that is the big issue that they deal with.
Mr. Fairclough: Are there many cases that have come forward in the Yukon where those who are underage and operating an ATV are in an accident where there is no insurance coverage? Has that come before the Yukon in any large numbers?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I think Iíll try to address this in a couple of ways. Some insurance companies look at a different insurance coverage rate for underage drivers and/or applying them as special recreational vehicle endorsements for users of the policy, but they usually have fairly strict terms and conditions. As I said, itís usually at a different rate and category.
As far as large numbers, we are not aware that there are a large number of uninsured ATVs involved in accidents; however, I will state to the member opposite that Iím not aware ó Iím not going to say there havenít been any; weíre just not aware of any large numbers.
Mr. Fairclough: Itís a bit of a concern, I guess. Maybe itís because I didnít know exactly whatís in the act with respect to this. I know there are probably many people around the territory who donít know what are in the different acts in the territory. Not enforcing portions of it just hides, I guess, whatís really in the act. I know of other departments that have sections in the act that later chose to enforce them. One example that could be used is the Liquor Act, with violations and so on. It has always been written in there but then they chose to enforce it.
I do have concerns with respect to whether or not a person is covered by insurance ó it was brought up by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin ó if an ATV is driven by a 14-year-old, for example, and they are driving an elderly person to the store in a small community like that.
In an accident, a person falls off and gets hurt. Is the minister saying thereís no coverage because the vehicle, the ATV, was operated illegally, I guess, by a person who doesnít have a driverís licence? Iím just wondering what kind of situations we could be facing in the small communities.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Basically, vehicles used on the road, including those in Old Crow, are required to be registered and insured. Drivers of these vehicles are required by law to hold a valid driverís licence. This means that a person would have to be at least 15 years of age because thatís the earliest age a person can acquire a learnerís licence. When vehicles are used on the road, it is important that the driver know the rules of the road so they can follow in with the other people on the highways.
With regard to insurance for those under the age of 15 ó as the member opposite indicated, for somebody 14 ó they would have to be, again, looking at obtaining insurance as a rider for underage people, otherwise a special recreation endorsement or driving under the parental guidance of the parent in that particular case. Those are the ways and means of getting insurance for that particular aspect.
The member opposite indicated a hypothetical case. I canít comment on that specifically, but in essence that is what is available to those people who utilize a snowmobile or ATV for that purpose.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. I think this is still very much a grey area with community people.
In regard to driverís licences, are learnerís licences ó say the person has a learnerís licence from Alberta or B.C., which are our closest neighbours, I guess ó valid in the territory? I know the difference with a driverís licence but what about the learnerís licence itself?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, a learnerís licence from any other jurisdiction is valid in the Yukon as long as they follow the requirements of a learnerís licence under the Yukon Motor Vehicles Act.
Mr. Fairclough: In the amendments there is a section on loads, and loads on pickup trucks and trailers being properly tied down or secured. This is not a new law. This is one that was just brought out from the Highways Act and is now in the Motor Vehicles Act. Is that my understanding?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The member opposite is correct. This was originally under the Highways Act in 2002 and, when the changes were made, it didnít get included and so it has just been brought in to address that particular issue.
Mr. Fairclough: I just wanted that clarified because the Premier got up and spoke on this particular issue as if it was something new that the Yukon Party was doing.
I asked the minister about impaired driving and whether or not the Yukon is addressing all impaired drivers, including those who are on drugs, illegal drugs and prescription drugs and so on, and the answer was that there is nothing in place yet, the federal government was working on something. But there are jurisdictions that are training police officers to identify impaired drivers who are on drugs. Is this something that the Yukon government is looking at entertaining and entering into soon, or are we waiting for the federal government or other jurisdictions first?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Chair, at the current time, the local RCMP are looking at dealing with substance abuse other than alcohol in a test. As I mentioned previously, the federal government is looking at legislation to deal with this particular matter also under the Criminal Code. Currently I believe we only have one local officer who is trained in this particular field, but we are looking at working with him closely on this particular issue.
As the member opposite indicated, there are some jurisdictions that are looking at training for their officers in detecting this. Currently Bill C-16 is in the House, the federal legislation, and once it is passed it will deal with a portion of dealing with substance abuse other than alcohol.
Mr. Fairclough: Then I would expect that Yukon will wait until that has been passed before perhaps entering into a larger crackdown on those who are impaired on illegal or prescription drugs.
The minister just said that currently the RCMP are interested in looking at ways to deal with impaired drivers on illegal drugs and that they are testing this. How are they doing it? Are any of the tests theyíre doing practical tests? Are they actually stopping people and evaluating or assessing the situation? I donít know what the tests really involve. Maybe the minister could elaborate a bit on that before I continue with more questions.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Currently, the local RCMP have the ability to ask someone to do a test, but they donít have the ability to demand a test in this particular process. As I mentioned, Bill C-16, under the federal code, will allow them to demand the test, so they will be able to put it into practice. But currently, local RCMP are using a training process to help and assist in this particular area and to basically get ready for the bill when it is passed through as federal legislation.
Mr. Fairclough: I thought perhaps they were doing a pilot project or testing the training that the RCMP ó the one particular officer that the member opposite said is in training and how it might work in the Yukon Territory. I would guess that Bill C-16 in the House of Commons right now ó we know that sometimes these things can take time, but does the minister anticipate it being passed, and if so, when? What kind of timelines can we look at for additional training of our police officers?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will try to go through the bill a little bit and give him a little bit of background. The federal government has recently tabled Bill C-16 in the House of Commons pertaining to drug-impaired driving. One of the amendments proposed in the bill would make it an offence for a person to refuse to perform a physical coordination test, known as a field sobriety test, without just cause. The bill makes it mandatory that a person comply with the lawful demand. The bill also requires those suspected of drug-impaired driving to surrender oral, urine or blood samples when the demand is made by the police. The federal government is proposing a fine of $600 for failure to comply with the request. The maximum penalty for drug-impaired driving would be five years while being convicted of drug-impaired driving causing death would warrant life imprisonment. The federal government has included with the bill an additional $6.9 million for law enforcement. These proposed amendments will provide police with the means to deal with drug-impaired drivers that is consistent with how the Criminal Code deals with alcohol-impaired drivers.
Hundreds of officers are being trained. As I mentioned, we have one in the Yukon currently in that process. Across the country, they become experts in recognizing physiological symptoms of drug impairment so they can conduct the roadside physical coordination tests.
Mr. Fairclough: I asked when the minister anticipates this to be passed through the House and when we can look at possibly addressing it again here in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As the member indicated, these things have a habit of taking time to get through. I donít want to propose a specific date but I am hoping they will get through by this spring.
Mr. Fairclough: Obviously the RCMP are quite interested in this; one officer is taking training. I know that police officers do have training to be able to see whether or not a person is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, and they are trained to see, I guess, physical expressions that individuals give. No doubt the Yukon government is interested in maybe pursuing this.
Has there been much thought in the government engaging in training officers here in the territory soon after this has been passed through the House of Commons?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Of course, once the law goes through, more of the local RCMP officers will obtain additional training. In the meantime, they will have to work with those who are trained and that may result in having to bring people into the office to do the field sobriety tests. I suspect that once the law gets processed, many of the officers will be trained to recognize this issue and to do a field test in the field.
Mr. Fairclough: † I thank the minister for that answer; it is one that we on this side of the House are very interested in also and we will be looking at this closely.
I only have a few more questions, depending on where they go. In regard to seat belts, there have been questions asked of the minister about seat belts. I donít have the Blues in front of me where the minister responded to this but I do recall, in regard to seat belts on school buses, that the minister did say that it was a federal responsibility to ensure that manufacturers put seat belts in school buses. If it was in the interest of the Yukon government to ensure that school buses, taxi cabs and so on, should have seat belts ó made it a law to have seat belts ó would that not force any company to ensure that the vehicles that they drive, whether they are school buses or motorhomes or taxi cabs, that they all have seat belts?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Currently, school buses donít require the use of seat belts. The passive safety system preferred for the use of seat belts is basically called compartmentalized. This system is used in the seats in the bus in the interior to form a protective compartment in case of collision. Again, these buses are designed under the Canadian certified CSA system. But as I mentioned previously to the member opposite ó Iím not quite sure whether it was the member opposite or it was the member of the third party ó I am aware that the department in Ontario is investigating seat belts for school buses. The difficulty at the moment is with the manufacturer, and the manufacturers are looking at this particular aspect and looking at the difficulty of installing the seat belts in a bus without reducing the integrity of the safety of the current bus system in its design.
Mr. Fairclough: So is the minister saying that other jurisdictions have it as law that school buses will have seat belts ó not just school buses, Iím talking also about taxi cabs and motorhomes and so on?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Many jurisdictions have exemptions for motorhomes. I will just clarify what I said about the school buses. I said the Province of Ontario is looking into it with the manufacturer. Seat belts are not law in Ontario or anywhere else in Canada at the moment ó and for that matter nowhere in the U.S., either.
This particular action is being looked at by the Government of Ontario, and itís going to take some time for them to go through. As I said, weíre dealing with the manufacturers in North America, so there will be lots of consultation and research work done before we get a bus that looks like it will have seat belts that will satisfy the safety requirements for our kids, as well as maintaining the safety of the bus itself.
With respect to taxis, I believe each jurisdiction has its own issues on whether the passenger has to wear the seat belt, or whether the driver does. In some jurisdictions, they both do; in other jurisdictions, itís up to the passenger and, in some jurisdictions, they all have to wear one.
Mr. Fairclough: But thatís not the case here in the territory. I had notes on the seat belt issue and the Ontario situation, but I donít have them with me here. But I was under the understanding that legislation has been passed, and basically thatís the law there. I donít know, but thatís the understanding I had from the information I got off the net. Iím hearing something different now from the minister, so maybe the minister can clarify that. If he doesnít have the answers now, maybe he could forward them through a legislative return.
Hon. Mr. Hart: You know, maybe the member opposite has information that I donít, but I met with the Minister of Transport in September and, as far as I know, that hadnít come through yet. So if there is something different, I will forward him the memo.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for those answers. I have to read the Blues to see what the minister had said about those members who have gone through the courts and have been charged but found not guilty on offences and it affecting their insurance rates and so on. I know there are a number of cases across Canada. People are not happy with that, seeing their insurance pop up even though they were found innocent of a charge against them.
I will leave that and I will read through the Blues. I have one simple question in regard to government vehicles, whether they are highway vehicles, dump trucks, loaders, that type of thing. Theyíre all equipped with a safety beeper. I donít know what youíd call it. Itís when theyíre backing up and so on. I hear that quite often with loaders working and so on.
There are a lot of concerns being raised, especially here in Whitehorse, that those vehicles ó and itís not just government vehicles, it could be any company, city vehicles and so ó are equipped with safety beepers, and quite often snow removal is done in the wee hours of the morning and if theyíre around apartment buildings and so on, you can quite often hear the beeping of these safety devices throughout the night, and it keeps people up.
Are there regulations that are used all the time the vehicles are being operated or are there exceptions for when they can be turned off, say at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning when they are busy around a residential area?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As far as we are led to believe here, we donít believe there is a specific law that requires the beeper to be on but I would like to bring up a situation to the member opposite that one of his colleagues brought up to me just today. If youíre talking about the safety issue of the vehicles, if we were to have an accident with one of those vehicles ó for example ó if they decided to shut down their noisemaker at 3:00 in the morning and somebody ran into them, you can imagine that the inquest would be very, shall we say, vociferous.
I would say that the noise that we get at 3:00 in the morning if they are snowplowing is going to be a lot less than the noise they get when they wake up at 6:00 and the road isnít plowed. I believe, in the interest of safety, as the member indicated, I personally have had ó I shouldnít say that ó not in the last three years anyway because the city hasnít cleaned my street. But I do remember, when they used to clean my street, that they would come by at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, but you know what, I was very helpful. Sorry ó I didnít mind the one nightís sleep that I missed or the two days that I had to drive around the other side of the street while the snow sat in the middle of my street.
But I think in the interest of safety, I can tell you right now that the additional blinkers that we put on our trucks ó all of our vehicles on the highway ó have resulted in a huge reduction in accidents with our snowplows and with all our equipment on the highway and in the city.
Iím sure youíll find in talking with the City of Whitehorse that they have experienced the same issues. I think itís for safety reasons that these things are on, and letís face it, early in the morning if you donít hear that noise, you donít see that flashing light, youíre bound to be a little sleepy and drive right through. I think itís just a good thing that you have the flashing lights and the noise to wake the person up who is going around at that time of the day. We can work with that. I believe it is much safer to be a little on the over exuberant side, shall we say, when youíre dealing with what the member opposite considers excessive noise with the backup or the flashing lights ó I think itís a lot safer to be that way than it is to have somebody run into that vehicle.
Ms. Duncan: While we are on the subject of road safety I would like to just ask the minister to take an issue under advisement.
Before I get into that issue I would like say that I appreciate the ministerís comments about the flashing strobes on the highway vehicles. They do make it safer. You can see them. Having had the opportunity to recently drive the Alaska Highway quite late and during fog, itís quite noticeable when YTG comes along with their strobes ó† and I do believe that idea came out of the better ideas program some years ago, so hats off to the employee that brought that forward.
The safety issue that I would just like to put on the record and ask the minister to take under advisement has also been raised with him by the Member for Porter Creek North. Itís the issue of the Alaska Highway within city limits from Rabbitís Foot Canyon to just past Crestview. There is a major safety issue that has been brought up at two school council meetings, Holy Family and Jack Holland schools. Holy Family in particular takes its students across the highway at that intersection or that stretch of the highway to attend the church services.
There was a near miss because there is not an appropriate crosswalk ó and not just one, there should be two. We also encourage our students in the walk to school for a day program. The students from Crestview and the students from that side, Birch and Alder, who go to Holy Family and Jack Hulland ó their parents have a major issue with the crosswalks. There are not adequate crosswalks for children crossing the Alaska Highway over to those schools. So the issue is children crossing the highway from Holy Family to go to Our Lady of Victory Church on the Alaska Highway and students from Crestview and that small area of Porter Creek, 17th and so on, crossing the Alaska Highway to walk to school. They are entitled to a school bus because they live near a major highway. However, most of those students ó and we encourage students ó would like to walk to school, but they canít. There are not adequate crosswalks, and it is not a City of Whitehorse responsibility; itís a YTG responsibility because itís the Alaska Highway.
The school council intends to write the minister. I understand the Member for Porter Creek North has written. Itís my intention to write the minister and lobby for adequate crosswalks. There arenít the flashing lights. There is a small crosswalk sign. Itís not well lit and itís a real safety issue. Weíve had a very close call and we need to deal with this soon. The government has installed rumble strips. It is not enough.
So, given that we are discussing highway in the act at this point, I wanted to put that on the record and ask if the minister would take it under advisement and endeavour to get back to me as soon as possible so I can also report back to the parents who have expressed concern and the school councils.
Hon. Mr. Hart: To the member opposite, duly noted.
Mr. Fairclough: I would like to thank the minister for his answers. I had to ask the safety beepers one. Whitehorse residents have come forward and asked about it. I donít have to listen to that. I live in a pretty quiet area in Riverdale and, like the minister said, our roads donít get plowed all that often. Perhaps we ought to write a letter together to the city. Wouldnít that be something, if the minister actually signed a letter with us on this side of the House.
In regard to the loads being tied down or covered up, that also applies to government vehicles, I would assume. If youíve got a load of garbage, for example, youíve got to have netting or whatever to ensure that the garbage isnít flying out. The city enforces that too. The one example that I see that has a bit of a safety concern is with dump trucks and loads of snow or dirt or whatever being followed by vehicles. Thereís no requirement there to have any type of covering to ensure none of that flies out, for example. I see that there are areas of the city that have been dug up and that have contaminated soils and so on. I havenít seen any covers on any of those dump trucks. Iím just wondering if that applies also to all forms of loads that are being taken by YTG. Another example could be their dump trucks with calcium. I donít think thatís a big deal. Itís being spread on the highways, but Iím just wondering what the response is from the minister.
Hon. Mr. Hart: While the Motor Vehicles Act applies to all drivers, the transportation industry is also required to properly secure their loads to the standards specified in the National Safety Code. The National Safety Code standard provides detailed instructions on how loads are to be secured in vehicles, and what devices can be used for securing these loads.
Itís necessary to have these more detailed rules in place for the larger loads, which can pose significant risk to the road users if they become unsecured. The member opposite, I believe, discussed the issue of dump trucks with snow not being covered. Most of those are city vehicles, and they are usually used to enhance the main thoroughfares throughout the city and to get the snow away from the road and access.† Snow doesnít have a huge impact on it, but if there is unsafe ó for example, if the snow is piled way, way too high or, for example, if you have the packed snow and itís hanging precariously over the end, obviously those vehicles would be pulled over and assessed a fine.
All emergency vehicles on the highway are exempt, i.e. sand trucks.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for that answer. Concerns have been raised about this matter in the past. I know it has been basically a law through the highways and so on, with people like woodcutters and so on, who are cutting wood in blocked chunks and itís piled ó theyíre not strapped down.
Well, according to them, it could be a load that they feel isnít going to fall off, but they could still be pulled over and asked to have that load secured. Is there any argument or movement on behalf of the operator of the vehicle to stay this case there?
I donít see this as being a fairly big issue. I havenít heard about a whole lot of people being stopped because of this. I have seen a lot of debris fall off, say, smaller vehicles that are not equipped to pack big loads, especially when theyíre packing things like brush, which tends to catch the wind and fall on the road.
Hon. Mr. Hart: With regard to his specific issue with regard to the wood truck, if the driver of the vehicle feels that he has done what is necessary to ensure his load is secure, he has that ability to discuss it with the RCMP. The RCMP, if he is pulled over, have the discretion to deal with the situation with him, and he can plead his case at that particular time.
Also, when this was under the Highways Act, we only had a small number of cases where we actually pulled people over and they were charged under this particular act. So itís not something for which the RCMP are pulling people over on the side of the road, left, right and centre ó because a bag flew out of the back of a pickup, for example. What they have done is in areas, for example, where a pickup or a person has lots of, say, tree limbs from their yard and theyíre piled high on the back of a pickup, and if it looks like itís precarious, yes, theyíve been pulled over. Because if one of those should fall over ó I mean, itís going to fly straight back into the person who is driving behind. But in essence, it usually is basically down to common sense. If a person is just sort of driving without due care and attention with his load, that is when theyíre usually hauled over.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the minister for his answers. I have no further questions for general debate.
Chair: †† Is there any further general debate? Hearing none, we will now proceed with line-by-line.
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
On Clause 4
Ms. Duncan: On clause 4, I just want to be clear with the minister that we are entirely ó I donít want to use the words ďin lineĒ but I canít ó copacetic with other jurisdictions, that weíre not out of sync with other jurisdictions and weíre not losing any of our ability to deal with the Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders Act as mentioned in subclause (c) of this. Could the minister just give an explanation, please, of this particular line? I just want to make sure that we havenít stepped out of sync with other provinces.
Hon. Mr. Hart: This was done in dealing with other jurisdictions so I believe we are totally in sync with other jurisdictions.
Clause 4 agreed to
On Clause 5
Ms. Duncan: Clause 5(3)(b) is forward-thinking. So that the minister doesnít have to come back to the House, we have put in the option of using electronic communication vis-ŗ-vis the Electronic Commerce Act and others. But it is still the departmentís intention to communicate with people as per normal channels ó is that correct?
I am on clause 5: subsection 23(3) of the act is repealed and the following subsection is substituted for it ó it is clause 3(b), ďelectronically,Ē that I am discussing. Am I on the wrong clause, Mr. Chair? The minister is ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: No, okay. My concern is that we have the electronic communication in here for the future. I want to be sure that the department in practical terms is still using methods of communication that perhaps our seniors are more used to: letter and documented telephone call.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I indicated earlier when she asked this question, and I believe I came back and responded, it is for the future; we have a process that goes through a much more ďhumane approachĒ, I guess, will be the phrase in this particular aspect.
We still do the phone call approach. This ďelectronicallyĒ is just for the future and to assist us when we get to that stage.
Clause 5 agreed to
On Clause 6
Ms. Duncan: There has been a discussion about this issue of individuals driving with an unsecured load on the back of their vehicle. My concern with this section was that prior to it being tabled in the House, there had been not a lot ó if any ó consultation with the City of Whitehorse bylaw department. This is an issue for people travelling to the Whitehorse landfill site. Thatís a major area of cleanup every spring, and I see unsecured loads daily on that particular road.
So my concern is: has the department now worked with the RCMP, City of Whitehorse bylaw department? Are the City of Whitehorse bylaw officers going to be able to enforce this section on that part of the Alaska Highway near the Whitehorse landfill? Are the RCMP well aware? Have we worked with them that this enforcement provision is intended to be in place sooner rather than later?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Yes, we have been in consultation with the City of Whitehorse. Yes, the bylaw officers will have the authority under the ordinance to enforce this act on that portion of the highway.
Clause 6 agreed to
On Clause 7
Clause 7 agreed to
On Clause 8
Ms. Duncan: This is the section of the act that causes difficulty for a number of individuals, the issue being, of course, that snowmobiles are a mode of transportation. There are many young people who do not possess a driverís licence or a learnerís permit and who operate a snowmobile. I understand that theyíre not to operate this snowmobile on a highway, but the definition of a highway is very large and includes all roadways.
I understand the ministerís argument that it is up to the RCMP officerís discretion, but Iím very concerned that there are young people who do operate these vehicles and, in essence, theyíre outside the law and yet they provide necessary transportation in some communities. It is also a recreational vehicle.
What weíre doing is saying, ďNo, you shall not operate that.Ē
Iím concerned about this particular section, and I wonder if the minister has any greater clarification or if there is some other method, some other issue that weíre trying to deal with here and weíre trying to hit a fly with a sledgehammer, in essence. Because what youíve done is say, by this act, no one under the age of 16, unless they hold a valid learnerís permit, shall operate snowmobiles ó and, for example, some snowmobiles are designed for children under 15. And there are a number of these machines that are sold that were in the Close to our Hearts campaign. There was a beautiful Christmas tree that had a wonderful Kiddie Kat snowmobile, which is designed for those under 15 to drive. What youíre saying with this section of the act is that the RCMP officer has the right to go up anywhere and say, ďYou will not drive that.Ē How do we answer to those constituents? Granted, theyíre not of voting age, but that doesnít make them any less important and how do we answer to them on this?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The reason for this change is that the current act states that no person under the age of 16 years of age shall operate a motorcycle, moped or snowmobile on the highway. Thatís what it currently states.
All we are doing under this particular act is a minor change, and we made the change under this particular section to deal with the moped issue.
In addition, I had a bit of a discussion with, I believe, the leader of the opposition the last time we were up on this issue. I think the issue is that these things are generally used for off-road, and as I indicated at that time, I share his concern with respect to young people on, not just snowmobiles or ATVs, but in boats. At that time, I also stressed high-powered boats being operated by people under 16.
I also believe there is a responsibility of the parent in this particular case. I donít think this fact should be lost sight of. I think I even explained at that time my own personal situation with respect to a snowmachine. In other words, at that particular time ó just for the member of the third party ó my son asked me if he could use my snowmachine. I said, ďWhen you can turn it around, you can use it.Ē
So, four months into the winter, he came in, all exasperated, and said, ďI can turn it around.Ē I said, ďWhen you can dig it out of the snow, then you can take it.Ē It took another year. It was a 250 Bravo. It took him two years to get it so he could get it out of the snow and take it. When he could do that ó you know, he could take it out in the back of our place, and weíd let him drive it, and I had to be there with him to get there.
But I still think thatís an issue that everybody has to take into consideration ó all parents do. As I indicated, when itís an issue of when we see whatever mode of transportation being driven in an unsafe or callous manner, then there has to be a venue through which the RCMP can act, and this allows that to take place.
I think that, as the member opposite indicated, highways is a large process but the Yukon is a big expansive area and it has a lot of outdoor recreational aspects. As I said, in this particular session all we are doing is a correction and we havenít changed anything in this piece of the act.
I go home and Iím wondering if Iím sort of beating people off the recreational vehicles and thatís not what Iím doing. Iím dealing with the issue on our main thoroughfares that weíre looking at. I think, to be fair, our RCMP are doing the same thing ó i.e. Old Crow, a small person driving safely across the road in that particular aspect. I think itís an important aspect.
I share the memberís concern with regard to small children on the high-powered machines, but I believe also that the responsibility is with the parent. I think they are responsible also. I think itís up to them to show some responsibility and to ensure that their vehicle ó to give you an example, I would say there are some teenagers who know how to operate a snow machine much better than adults. There are teenagers who have been on a snow machine since they were young enough to be on one and they know how to operate it better than some young adult. I mean, what is right and what is wrong? Who knows?
What weíre looking at is trying to deal with these vehicles on our actual highways, our secondary roads, and that stuff. I think what we have to do is be a little bit reasonable and realistic when it relates to being off-road and allowing some flexibility for this to take place.
Ms. Duncan: I donít disagree with what the minister is saying. I could relate a number of personal examples. Iím not talking about children on high-powered machines; Iím talking about the smaller machines that are designed for smaller children to operate. I agree, absolutely, that thereís a parental, grandparent ó thereís a community ó responsibility to make sure that that child is safely riding a machine that was designed for their age group. Sometimes they go snowmobiling with their grandparents and cross the highway on that small machine, and go. I understand that weíre not trying to go home and say to our children, ďGuess what we did at work today. We passed a law that says, no, you shouldnít be driving your snowmobile.Ē I understand thatís not what weíre trying to do here.
What weíre trying to do here is provide a law that is enforceable and gives the RCMP the tools to deal with the issue theyíre dealing with. Iím not sure weíve done it properly, and thatís my concern. I understand that this is just correcting a problem with the way the original act was. That original act had problems because it allows people to ride around in the back of pickup trucks, which I disagree with. So letís fix that and, if weíre going to deal with these issues, then letís deal with them. I think weíre using a very large tool to deal with whatís probably a smaller percentage of the problem. If the problem is to make sure the parents are responsible if thereís a smaller child driving a small machine that is designed for them, then letís deal with that problem. Letís not say, no, you canít do that.
I would hope that, should this ever proceed to a court or something, they would certainly look at the debate and what was the Legislatureís intent in this case. I also think we have a responsibility to make sure our laws are right and that the legislation we pass is doing what it was intended to do. Iím just concerned here that we have used a sledgehammer when we didnít need it and that we should have drafted it in some other way to, as the minister himself has said, make sure that the parent or grandparent guardian of the child, while theyíre operating that machine, is held responsible for their actions. Maybe thatís the way it should be worded just to allow for this activity, which we all freely recognize goes on. I mean, there are many young Yukoners who drive the much smaller machines that are designed for them and theyíre engaging in outdoor recreation, and, yes, sometimes theyíre crossing a major highway; 99 percent of them are doing it safely, but theyíre also doing it outside the law.
There is also a whole issue that is in the news of the Canadian Paediatrics Society saying that no one under the age of 16 should drive a snowmobile. So there is that issue as well. I am not going to wander into that debate. I am just concerned that what we are doing is right and that weíre doing the best job we can on this particular section. I think perhaps we should look at it in a Yukon context and perhaps come up with different wording. Perhaps the minister will consider that suggestion.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I thank the Member for Kluane for that also. Iím struggling with the response here. The change is being made to correct an issue that was 16 and is now 15. That is so that the person with the learnerís fits in with the rest of the Motor Vehicles Act, and that is the major concept that was done with the change.
Ms. Duncan: I recognize this. I would just ask the minister to also recognize the point that the original act had some problems and this is one of them. This section of the act does not take into account the reality of many young Yukoners lives. It doesnít deal with the issue, which is that if youíre going to operate a snowmobile and you donít have a learnerís permit and youíre not of age, then there has to be a responsible adult with you; itís not, ďNo, you cannot operate it.Ē
Letís deal with the issue and correct the original part of the act. I was just saying to some of the members that the original Motor Vehicles Act that made these changes had a number of other problems. It doesnít mean just rewording this section. If weíre just going to reword it to deal with ďunder the age of 16,Ē letís reword it properly so that weíve dealt with the issue. If the issue is that there are children under the age of 16 operating a snowmobile or moped on a major highway, and they shouldnít be, is the real problem that they shouldnít be doing it without a parent, if itís a snowmobile, an ATV or moped? If thatís the issue, then letís deal with that, not just reword it so that it re-numbers the section.
I would just ask the minister to consider the point Iíve made. If he would just recognize that there is a point ó I believe he has ó and say he would take it under consideration, I would appreciate that.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have mentioned several times in the House my concern with this issue. As I mentioned, Iím hoping that with the next change that comes through here, other than the amendment for, say, Bill C-16, weíll come through with a full-fledged deal and weíll be able to deal with all of these issues, not just this one. Because if I make the change here, we have to look at what are the changes to the rest of the act, and the rest of the act has many pitfalls, as the members opposite have showed me through these debates so far already of all these issues.
And I really think itís imperative that weíre going to have to go out on the whole thing and bring it up, modernize it so that we deal with the issues that youíve talked about: the issues of the driver so we can satisfy the issues the Member for Old Crow brought up; and those situations that are unusual and try to deal with them. I donít believe in just stating that nothing under 16, i.e., in Ontario works. Theoretically, I guess, we could argue thatís the same as what I have here. But when we made the change, I was making the change for the correction, not looking at the particular aspect of the issue that the member opposite brought up.
But I recognize the point. I think itís an issue. Iím not trying to shirk that at all. But, as I mentioned, our advisory committee came up with the amendments that we felt were there. We consulted on the amendments that the advisory committee indicated. For example, on changes to this we havenít consulted on. There could be other issues that will be brought up by other people, maybe to the contrary ó for example, helmets on skidoos, that you have to have them or else; or on an ATV when itís being used off-road. So thereís another issue. There are several people in the community who say you should have a helmet on in order for them to operate.
Yet there is the Yukoner in me who says, ďI want to be in the outdoors yet I donít want to wear a helmet until I fall on my head.Ē But thatís an issue I will have to deal with. I will have to cluck it all off and weíll go from there. But I think thatís an issue we will have to go with.
I recognize the member oppositeís opinion. As I mentioned on several occasions, hopefully when we bring this forth it will be the entire act next time and then we can deal with everything at once and Iíll go from there.
Seeing the time, Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Hart that Committee of the Whole now report progress on Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act. Are you agreed?
Motion agreed to
Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 51, Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has also considered Bill No. 47, Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, and has directed me to report it without amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. Cathers: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: The House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.