††††††† Whitehorse, Yukon
††††††† Tuesday, April 5, 2005 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Withdrawal of written question
Speaker: Before we proceed to the Order Paper, the Chair wishes to inform the House that the Written Question No. 4, standing in the name of the Member for Mount Lorne, has been dropped from the Order Paper, as the document being requested in that written question has been tabled.
Speaker: † We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of National Oral Health Month
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to National Oral Health Month. The Canadian Dental Association has organized a month-long oral health education campaign to promote the importance of regular dental checkups and good oral hygiene. This yearís slogan is ďOral health: good for lifeĒ, which emphasizes the importance of a healthy mouth as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Research shows that there may be links between oral disease and other significant health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, as well as pre-term and low birth-weight babies. In order to increase awareness, the 2005 campaign includes oral health newspaper supplements, print and radio publicity, news releases, public survey results, education fact sheets, quizzes, posters and activities for adults and children.
Mr. Speaker, National Oral Health Month originated in 1957 as Dental Health Week, and evolved to Dental Health Month in the 1970s as part of the dental professionís commitment to promote oral health to all Canadians. Good oral hygiene, like healthy eating, active living and tobacco reduction are areas in which Yukoners are taking steps to protect their health and improve the quality of their lives. This month is also a time when we recognize the contribution of our dental professionals, our dentists, dental therapists, dental hygienists, dental assistants and denturists, who contribute to the protection and restoration of oral health.
Mr. McRobb: I rise on behalf of the official opposition to also pay tribute to National Oral Health Month. Without oral health, we cannot truly be healthy. Many Canadians have a false sense of security about their health. Ninety percent of respondents in a recent Canadian Dental Health Association survey believed their dental health was good or better; however, the association reports that checkups prove that about one-third of Canadians have gum disease, a common reason for tooth loss in adults.
Infection settles in teeth, but can later end up in the bloodstream and create serious problems. A regular checkup and treatment is extremely important. To ensure that our teeth remain healthy, we should eat well, exercise regularly and avoid tobacco products.
We are very lucky in the Yukon to have had the Yukon childrenís dental program operating for many years. It provides preventive work early in the lives of our children and avoids later problems.
Itís not easy becoming a dental therapist. They require an extensive amount of knowledge and skills, must be able to work independently, set work priorities, deal with stressful work and travel extensively to schools throughout the Yukon. It is a challenging but rewarding profession.
Before they can diagnose and treat patients, they need a diploma in dental therapy, which requires one to three years of training. Unfortunately, our dental therapist wages are falling behind other professionals in Canada, and this has led to a shortage of workers in this profession.
If we are to continue to have excellence in this service, these working conditions need to be reviewed. We salute the dental therapists in National Oral Health Month and thank them for their continuing professional skills and commitment to our schoolchildrenís health.
Ms. Duncan: I also rise to join with my colleagues in the Legislature in offering a tribute to National Oral Health Month. On behalf of the Liberal caucus, I offer my heartfelt thanks to those engaged in the dentistry profession, be they the dental therapists who serve our schools, hygienists who keep our pearly whites white and the dentists who keep us pain-free and in good dental health.
In recognition of Jason Small
Ms. Duncan: On behalf of the Liberal caucus, past and present, I would also like to recognize today and bid a fond farewell to our senior legislative reporter, Jason Small from the Whitehorse Star, whose last day in the media gallery is intended to be today.
We politicians have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the media on occasion. We are both, however, engaged in service to the Yukon public.
Thank you, Mr. Small, for your service to Yukoners. We in this House, like your colleagues in the media scrums, will miss your reporting skills. Moose Jaw is lucky to have you. Good luck and Godspeed.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hassard: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal government, in consultation with the Yukon and First Nation governments, to assist Yukoners to achieve and maintain healthier lifestyles by educating them about and supporting those with diabetes through ongoing lifestyle and wellness information and educational campaigns.
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to make the Yukon Legislative Assembly more relevant by requiring ministers to provide the terms of reference for any government contract upon request, to do so within three sitting days or one calendar week, whichever is sooner, and to empower the Speaker of the House to enforce this requirement.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
†Speaker: †Prior to proceeding with Question Period, the Chair wishes to return to the point of order raised yesterday during the time that a question of privilege raised by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun was being discussed.
The question of privilege brought forward by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun pertained to the use of the expression ďbeating his drumĒ by the Premier on the previous sitting day.
As the Chair explained to the House yesterday, the use of such language, if found offensive by a member, should be raised as a point of order and not under the rubric of privilege. The Chair also noted that the Premierís statement that ďif the member found some comment like this or any comment that I have made toward the member offensive in any way, I apologize publicly.Ē Given the fact that this matter should have been raised as a point of order and given the nature of the Premierís initial remarks, the Chair informed the House that it should not expect an expanded ruling on the question of privilege raised by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun.
However, the Chair would like to clarify the Speakerís role as regards questions of privilege. In his presentation yesterday, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun asked me to direct the Premier to withdraw the offensive remarks and offer an apology to the member and to all Yukon First Nations persons who were insulted by them. It should be understood that the Chair does take seriously the issue raised by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun ó and I emphasize ďdoes take seriouslyĒ. However, the Speaker cannot do what the member asked me to do with regard to a question of privilege. Only the Assembly as a whole can remedy a breach of privilege. The most that the Speaker can do is find that there is an apparent breach of privilege and set aside the normal business of the House so the issue can be dealt with. In other words, the Chair can rule on a point of order, but only the House can rule on a question of privilege.
If the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is not satisfied with the Chairís ruling, he does have another avenue open to him. The member may choose to bring the matter before the House by way of a substantive motion. Notice of such motion can be given to the House in the usual way and called for debate on the opposition private membersí day.
The Chair will now turn to the point of order raised during the course of the Premierís subsequent remarks on the question of privilege. The role of the Speaker is to determine whether, on the face of it, a breach of privilege has occurred. Members raising a question of privilege and those addressing the issue of whether a breach of privilege has occurred should restrict themselves to that specific issue. Remarks by members made on a question of privilege should only pertain to facts that may affect privilege. The official opposition House leader, therefore, did have a point of order in reference to the latter portion of the Premierís remarks beginning with the statement, ďFurther, if we want to deal with the real issues in this Legislative Assembly, like First Nations relations, then let us debate them.Ē The Chair does not wish to suggest that those issues should not be debated by the Assembly. Rather, it must be understood that the consideration of a question of privilege is not the appropriate time for such a debate.
In future, the Chair would ask that both members raising questions of privilege and those contributing to their consideration restrict themselves to whether there is an issue regarding privilege and not enter into debate on matters of public policy at that time.
The Chair thanks members for their attention.
The House will now proceed to Question Period.
Question re: Land claims, outstanding
†Mr. Hardy: The Government of Canada has now officially closed up its land claims shop in the Yukon. There is no mandate to negotiate land claims with Yukon First Nations, except for the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, which will soon be voting on ratification of its claim. That leaves three Yukon First Nations with no final agreements.
Will the Premier explain how this situation will affect his promise to resource developers to create economic certainty in the Yukon by resolving outstanding land claims?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The Yukon is actually a leader in Canada when it comes to the settlement of our aboriginal claims, not only the final agreements themselves, but the self-government agreements that have been achieved here, and weíre very proud of that. To date, 10 of 14 Yukon First Nations have concluded their land claims and have embarked on the journey of self-government.
With respect to the remaining First Nations that donít have a land claim, we are a third party at the table. Our position to Canada has been that we should conclude the settlement of all claims; however, without a federal mandate, that may be difficult to do. I think weíve demonstrated as a government that in the absence of settled claims, we are prepared to do innovative things, like the Kaska bilateral, to provide certainty for industry and all Yukoners.
The evidence is clear; we have made progress. The results are mutual benefit, not only for First Nations, but for all Yukoners.
Mr. Hardy: I would like to remind the Premier that this isnít just another bump in the road and that he hasnít solved all the issues in regard to this by his little agreements that he making on the side.
The Premier has to deal with very separate realities regarding First Nations that have final agreements and those that donít, and he has to take that seriously. We have warned the Premier about this from the beginning of his term.
The Premierís deal with the Kaska, which he mentioned and heralded as being outside the land claims box, is now clearly outside the box. Not only that, but the agreement is about to expire. Does the Premier intend to extend his deal with the Kaska with no progress on land claims in that area? If so, how does that provide certainty either to investors or to Yukon First Nations that have final agreements in place?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think itís important to recognize that the focus now for the Yukon government is, for the most part, on the implementation for land claims and self-government agreements. That is critical to certainty.
When it comes to areas of unsettled claims, we will continue to work with the First Nations on ensuring certainty for all concerned.
As far as the bilateral, one of the main commitments in the bilateral was to conclude the land claim, and we are, with the termination of the bilateralís timeline, going to review the issues with the Kaska First Nation and determine where we go from here. But we will not work outside of what our obligations are when it comes to addressing issues with Yukon aboriginal people. We will continue to focus our efforts within those confines of common law and our obligations that are laid out therein.
†Mr. Hardy: Iím sure the Premier must have thought about what would happen when Ottawa said there were no more land claims negotiations. For one thing, it means that the Supreme Court ruling on Delgamuukw v. British Columbia can be called into play in the Yukon. In a nutshell, that means that disputes regarding lands and resources in First Nation traditional territory can now be resolved in court instead of at the land claims table.
That process could be very slow and very expensive, Mr. Speaker. Among other things, it could seriously affect some of the Premierís favourite megaprojects like the Alaska Highway pipeline or the railroad from Alaska to British Columbia ó thereís no question about that.
How is the Premier dealing with Ottawaís decision to end land claims talks? Is he lobbying the federal minister to change his mind or should Yukoners prepare for acrimonious court disputes and more bilateral deals coming out of the corner office upstairs?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I think it would be beneficial if the member opposite were to ask his colleague from the third party why, when in government, they agreed to the federal cessation of a land claim mandate in the Yukon. That actually happened in March 2003.
We as a government inherited that very decision and weíve managed to work with it. The former Liberal government agreed to the MOUs that were in place, the Kaska First Nation did not sign on, and we have dealt with it. I think the evidence is clear: what this government has done has contributed to certainty. We have more mining exploration; we have oil and gas drilling; we have growth in tourism; we have advanced this territory in the absence of all claims being settled. The evidence is clear: weíll continue to advance the territory.
At the end of the day, the ultimate goal is the settlement of all claims. It takes a third party ó it takes Canada ó to be involved.
Question re: Education reform
Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the Minister of Education. In his Budget Address, the Premier says that one of the most important initiatives his government has undertaken is education reform. We had faith that the Education Act review would have been completed long before this and there would be no need for another process. However, it appears that $794,000 in the budget for education reform does away with this hope. Is the education reform only the latest effort to delude us into thinking that this minister is actually reviewing the education system, or what is it?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: All I can say in response to the member oppositeís question is that education reform is a necessary step. I believe that that process is far more favourable than reviewing the Education Act.
Mr. Fairclough: The government has an obligation to do a review after 10 years and they havenít done that yet in their term in government.
The text of the governmentís Budget Address states: ďWhile self-governing First Nations have the legislative authority to draw down education to serve the citizens, our government believes that the public government system, through education reform, can be adapted to meet their needs as well as serve the needs of other Yukoners.Ē So my question is: will the minister clarify this statement for the First Nations that are fulfilling their legal rights to draw down education, and do First Nations agree with this statement?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I think that the best interest of all Yukon citizens in this territory is to have one education system. I believe that was also stated by several of the First Nations. This government agrees with that. Again, one thing that was negotiated in land claims agreements was education, so that right is still there. When the time comes to deal with it, then whether itís this government or another government, somebody will.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, this might be a surprise for the minister, but the time to deal with it is already here. Now, maybe the minister wasnít paying attention at the time, Mr. Speaker. Section 17.2 of the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation self-government agreement states that notice of intent to draw down a service must be given by March 31 of each year. Mr. Speaker, this has been done by Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation. The minister is not allowing the First Nation to follow chapter 17 of the self-government agreement. He believes that the education reform replaces the self-government agreement. How does this heavy-handed decision improve relations between his government and First Nations, and how do they show respect to self-government agreements, which are the law of the land?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, notification for a self-government agreement specific initiative, such as PSTAs, rests with the lead by the land claim and implementation secretariat. Any formal notification to draw down education by any self-governing First Nation will be honoured, and we as a government, along with Canada, will commence negotiation with a specific First Nation that informs formally that they wish to take down education. This will not, in any way, shape or form, preclude the Yukon government from continuing on with the public education system.
As far as the matter goes for the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, it is my understanding they have provided formal notification that they wish to take down education. We are now looking at responding and how we will proceed with those negotiations. That does not, though, stop us from building a new school in Carmacks, nor does it stop us from continuing to invest in the public education system, nor will it stop us from reforming our education system to better reflect First Nations culture and language.
Question re: Yukon Agricultural Association, outstanding loan
†Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. Last year, both the minister and the MLA for Lake Laberge attended the Yukon Agricultural Associationís 2004 annual meeting. One of the items up for discussion was the associationís outstanding loan from the Government of Yukon.
According to the minutes of the meeting, the loan is the result of the use of the education training and trust fund six years ago. The minutes conclude the following way ó there is a name used, but we canít use that, ďThe MLA for Lake Laberge said he could deal with the $14,000 and to come in and see him about it.Ē
Because of the fact that the MLA for Lake Laberge cannot answer questions in the Legislature ó he is not a member of Cabinet ó my question is for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, who is responsible for the association. Under whose authority did the MLA for Lake Laberge offer to deal with the loan?
Hon. Mr. Lang: For the information of the member opposite, the loan was a question. The association did talk to their MLA. We as a government did not forgive the loan. We had discussions on how best the Yukon Agricultural Association could address their issue. The loan is being paid, and we are moving forward. As far as the MLA for Lake Laberge having anything to do with it, it was just conversation.
Ms. Duncan: Unfortunately, the minister did not directly answer the question. We know that the minister attended the meeting. We know that the MLA for Lake Laberge attended the meeting. The minutes recorded a speech by the minister, and the minutes also recorded the comment from the MLA for Lake Laberge. According to the minutes, the quote is saying that he could deal with the $14,000 and to come in and see him about it.
My specific question to the minister responsible, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, is: under whose authority did the MLA for Lake Laberge make the commitment? Did he discuss it with the member? Did he talk to the minister? Did he talk to the Minister of Finance? Whose authority?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think itís something that is very important that we in this House recognize the responsibilities and obligation of every MLA. I would urge and encourage every MLA on this side of the House, at least, to do their best for their constituents. I see nothing wrong with the MLA for Lake Laberge informing a constituent of his that he would go to work on their issue. Bravo to the MLA for Lake Laberge.
Ms. Duncan: I asked a very specific question. Under whose authority was the comment made by the Member for Lake Laberge? Was he flying solo, making commitments outside the Cabinet room? He is not a member of Cabinet.
The MLA did say the loan would be taken care of. Did the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources give him the authority to say that? Did the Minister of Finance give him the authority to say that? Have they actually resolved the issues?
The key question is: by whose authority was the MLA for Lake Laberge, who is not a Cabinet minister and not responsible for this area ó flying solo ó or did he have ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Theyíre eager to answer, Mr. Speaker. Who gave the MLA for Lake Laberge permission to go ahead and do this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member opposite knows well that a decision is not made in that manner. A government makes decisions on fiscal issues through Management Board and Cabinet. The MLA in question got his authority, which was duly invested in him, by being elected by the constituency of the riding of Lake Laberge. The member knows that.
The member also has a propensity to do things in this House that are very much in the area of speculation.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: The leader of the third party, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: Point of order: ď19(g) Öcannot cast aspersions on the motives of a memberĒ, and I was quoting from minutes. Thatís hardly speculation.
Speaker: On the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís just a dispute between members. There are no imputed false or unavowed motives to another member. The issue of speculation is a speculation issue.
Speaker: Actually, the leader of the third party made a point. She was quoting from minutes. One has to accept that those minutes are accurate as sheís quoting them, as she knows them. There is a point of order, and I would ask the Hon. Premier not to do that in the future.
Question re: Whistle-blower legislation
†Mr. Fairclough: My question is for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. In the last election, the Yukon Party promised to implement effective whistle-blower legislation, which protects the anonymity of public employees who report abuse within government. Iíve asked the minister repeatedly when this legislation was coming forward, and the answer that we always get is ďin due courseĒ. But now that the minister is temporarily back in this portfolio, letís try this again. Why has this government not taken action on this clear campaign commitment?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: This issue has been on the table for some time. The offer to the opposition was given, and to date we still have yet to hear back from the third party. Until we do have that dialogue with both opposition parties, I guess weíll continue to talk about how weíre going to proceed with this issue.
Mr. Fairclough: The bottom line is that it was a promise made and a promise broken. The official opposition gave the government a perfect opportunity to live up to its commitments by tabling amendments to the Public Service Act last spring. This minister chose to play games instead of dealing with the issues. So Iíll be offering him another chance.
When does the minister expect the whistle-blower legislation to be ready to come to this House ó this fall, this spring, or the fall of 2006?
Speaker: Before the minister answers, Iíd just like to refer the Member for Mayo-Tatchun back to a ruling earlier this week, in terms of your terminology ďpromise brokenĒ. We had talked about this before, and it was that the public interest is best served when members focus their comments on the issues before the House.
So Iím not going to correct the member. All Iím asking is that you use different terminology.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Well, the whistle-blower protection for public servants remains important to this government. The best interests of the employees have always been at the heart of this government, and we do respect all our employees.
For the record, we have approached both opposition parties with respect to establishing a select committee to examine issues and options. To date we have not had full cooperation from both parties.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, he didnít answer the question as to when it was coming forward to this Legislature. I know that the minister refers to setting up a select committee to look into this matter. He has the commitment from our leader in going along with that, providing there is proper consultation.
The public employees are very distrustful of this government. They have every reason to be. They can all remember how they were dealt with by this government during the computer-use investigation. Recent polls gave pretty clear evidence that they do not trust this government. So here is an opportunity for this minister to help reverse his partyís slide into oblivion. Will the minister make a commitment to stop dilly-dallying on this matter, set up the select committee, do the consultation to get the legislation drafted for presentation by next springís sitting? Will he make that commitment?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I would like to state for the record today that we are trying desperately to get involvement by all the opposition, and because this party does honour consultation and has a very high regard for it, we want their input, Mr. Speaker. What else can we do to bring them forward with this issue? We have written letters. I know that, for a fact. We have had verbal communication ó I know that.
The only thing is that it is an individual choice here that we are talking about. If the members opposite choose not to deal with this issue, then we will have to wait until we have their full cooperation so we donít get accused again of doing no consultation.
Question re: Electoral reform advisorís report
†Mr. Hardy: I have a question for the Premier. On the last page of the Premierís budget speech, the following statement appears: ďDuring this sitting, our government will be tabling the final report of the senior advisor on electoral reform.Ē Well, Mr. Speaker, Iím sure MLAs are quivering in anticipation of that momentous occasion, when we finally get to see just what $120,000 buys for this government.
Let me ask the Premier this: now that he has had a chance to read this magnificent document, when does he intend to honour his campaign promise to strike an independent commission of citizens to hold public consultation on electoral reform in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: You know, I can see why the leader of the official opposition is so fixated on electoral reform, considering the position they are in in this House. Mr. Speaker, we have lived up to a commitment. We have engaged a well-known Yukoner to conduct a process in conjunction with British Columbia, which is going through electoral reform. We will present that report in due course here in the Legislature and make our decisions based on the knowledge that we have gained and what is in the best interest of all Yukoners.
Mr. Hardy: Well, we on this side of the House are trying to figure out exactly what the Premier meant by his initial comments, but in the end we gave up. We realized that he was talking through his hat, I guess.
Now, the Premier promised to set up an independent commission ó
Speaker: The leader of the official opposition knows full well that thatís an inappropriate comment, and there is no point going through myriad points of order. Just donít use it again, please.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wonít use that term again.
The Premier promised to set up an independent commission upon formation of government two and a half years ago. This is when the promise was made. This was told to the people of this territory, but obviously it didnít happen. That was two and a half years ago. Another promise made, another promise ó well, anyway.
Maybe the Premier is still waiting to form a government. Maybe thatís whatís happening over there. He hasnít figured out heís in government yet and heís trying to get everybody to work together.
Judging by the skimpy legislative agenda and the complete lack of accountability from that side of the House, we donít seem to have one in place yet ó a government, that is.
Letís try again with this Premier and the question is: when the Premier finally tables the report from the so-called senior advisor, will we see some concrete action on electoral reform in this sitting? Itís a very simple question.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Letís talk about accountability. Letís look at the financial position of the Yukon today and letís discuss the accountability of this government. Weíve taken the financial position of the Yukon from having to debt-service cash flow requirements to deliver programs and services to Yukoners to projecting and showing in the budget tabled a surplus for year-end of some $29 million. Thatís being accountable to Yukoners when it comes to managing their finances.
Letís talk about accountability with the reversal of the exodus of the population. Yukonís population is growing. Thatís being accountable to Yukoners.
Letís talk about the unemployment rate; itís one of the lowest in the country. Thatís being accountable to Yukoners.
Letís talk about the Yukon Forum and formalizing our government-to-government relationship with First Nations. Thatís being accountable to Yukoners.
Letís talk about education reform and correctional reform. Thatís being accountable to Yukoners.
Frankly, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the priorities of this government, electoral reform is not topping the list. Yukonís future is topping the list ó a better and brighter future for all Yukoners.
Mr. Hardy: Well, letís talk about accountability, like answering questions. This Premier didnít answer the question. He avoided it. Now thatís your first accountable action that you can take ó answer a question thatís asked to you ó and this Premier doesnít want to do that.
At least five other Canadian jurisdictions are looking at some kind of electoral reform. In B.C., citizens will get a chance to vote on that issue just over a month from now. This Yukon Party government has no excuse for not living up to its commitment, and it was a promise that was made. The official opposition even did their work for them last fall by proposing a mechanism for consulting Yukon people on this question.
The public is getting very disillusioned with this government. People just donít believe what this government says, and weíre hearing that everywhere. In spite of thousands of dollars in political advertising being bought at taxpayersí expense that we read in the newspaper ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Yes, Iíll get to the question, and I will get to the question for you too. Will the Premier be establishing an independent citizensí commission on electoral reform during this sitting, or is that a promise heading for the scrap heap like so many other parts of the Yukon Party election platform? Itís a simple question again.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Not today are we going to strike a commission. This is a work in progress. Electoral reform is an issue that any government should certainly look into, and thatís exactly what weíre doing.
But I can tell you something that Yukoners donít believe. They donít believe the negative approach that the opposition benches are bringing to this House and to the territory, considering the evidence of what is going on in todayís Yukon. Let the opposition remain mired in that negativity, trying to reconstruct the past. We as a government will continue focusing on building the future. Now I know the NDP is somewhat bolstered by a recent poll, but I would point out to them that the poll included a 5.5-percent error margin. I think theyíd better rethink their approach.
Question re: Firefighter positions, pay and working conditions
†Mr. Cardiff: Since devolution about two years ago, emergency firefighters have been under this governmentís jurisdiction. Now, under the Umbrella Final Agreement and the First Nationsí final agreements ó the Premier stated today that heís really proud of them and really proud to be a part of that ó priority is given to First Nation members for emergency firefighting positions. These predominantly First Nation employees work long hours for low wages, and they are not eligible for overtime, vacation pay or benefits that would accrue to other employees. Itís a disgusting violation of workersí rights.
Iíve consistently brought up these concerns with the minister for some time now. Iíd like to know: does the minister still believe that these workers are being treated fairly by his government?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I have repeated in this House on many occasions, we are paying this type of worker a very competitive wage compared to all other jurisdictions in Canada and Alaska.
Mr. Cardiff: It may be competitive somewhere, but itís not competitive here, and itís not the same as what the workers who are working alongside of these people are making.
Now, there is another fire season around the corner. Weíve had this discussion so many times that the minister has to be well aware of the appalling rates of pay that are mandated by this government ó for the important jobs. We saw last year how important those jobs were.
Management Board approves the wage scale, and the rates havenít changed since April 2003. Will the minister admit that this is a situation that his government has created and that his government has the power to fix, and will he fix it?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As the member opposite has indicated, this is not our responsibility. As far as the wages being provided, on devolution these workers were transferred over to the Yukon and those people were considered as auxiliary to their staff, to the government. We are merely taking on the situation that was submitted to us through devolution, and we are continuing to look at ways to improve all our firefighting activities for this coming season.
I would also like to reiterate, as I have in the past, that I am very proud of the work that was done by our firefighters last year. Thatís all I would like to say right now.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister had better check the facts. Go look in the General Administration Manual. For at least five years prior to devolution, all casual employees were classified using the same evaluation system. They were all classified the same as regular employees. That was under policy 3.7 of the General Administration Manual.
Now, on April 23, this government was in power, and Management Board approved a policy ó they knowingly brought in a policy ó policy 3.58, that exempted emergency firefighters from the policy that would treat them the same as all other casual employees. This government created them as casual employees and surely Management Board must have known at the time that this policy discriminated against the predominantly First Nation workforce. They are given preference under the Umbrella Final Agreement and the final agreements, and the government is proud of that, and they are proud of the fact that they are being discriminated against.
Will the minister do the right thing, change or rescind policy 3.58 and start treating emergency firefighters the same as all other casual employees?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Like all other provinces and territories except for Nunavut, Yukon hires emergency firefighters for short-term, temporary employment to respond on a very short notice to threatening forest fire situations. The emergency firefighter program is open to all people. However, settled Yukon First Nations have negotiated priority right of hire in their settlement arrangements.
Emergency firefighters are not devolved employees. They are engaged as casuals, as the member opposite indicated, and their terms and conditions of employment are a matter of the Public Service Commission. Yukon government pays competitive wages to emergency firefighters at a rate higher than Canada offered pre-devolution and comparable to all other rates in Canada.
Community Services is working with the Public Service Commission to review emergency firefighter compensation and I expect to have the results sometime in the near future.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of government private membersí business
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the government private members, to be called on Wednesday, April 6, 2005. They are Motion No. 411, standing in the name of the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin, and Motion No. 419, standing in the name of the Member for Lake Laberge.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
†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
Deputy Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06. Before we continue, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: We will recess for 15 minutes.
Deputy Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 15 ó First Appropriation Act, 2005-06
Deputy Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06. We will now proceed with general debate.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am pleased to be able to introduce Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06, for general debate in Committee of the Whole. Our Budget Address, the second reading speech, went into some detail, Mr. Chair, by highlighting many of the most significant items contained in this fiscal budget. Accordingly, I will refrain from reiterating them in detail, as this introductory speech was quite detailed in its nature. However, I would like to touch on some of the highlights.
The budget documents you have before you introduce the operation and maintenance as well as the planned capital expenditures for the fiscal year 2005-06. These expenditures total over $784.4 million, or in excess of three-quarters of a billion dollars.
That is a great deal of money to be responsible for, and our government is very cognizant of that fact. Accordingly, I am proud to state that our government makes very prudent and well-thought-out decisions when it comes to the management of the funds Yukoners entrust us to administer on their behalf.
While O&M expenditures have not grown significantly from the 2004-05 expenditure forecast, these expenditures constitute the largest portion of this governmentís investment, at $577.6 million. On the capital side of the expenditure ledger, our government has made a conscious decision to try to increase capital expenditures in the short term without having to incur any debt. Consequently, these expenditures, for the first time in Yukon history, will exceed $200 million at the $206.4 million threshold.
I recognize that this level of capital expenditure is not sustainable over the longer term. If you examine our published long-term fiscal framework that is included with the budget, you will see that we recognize this reality, and capital expenditures in subsequent years, while remaining high on a net basis, will not reach the levels of this budget.
Although this budget will moderately draw down financial resources, I am still projecting net financial resources at year-end of over $64.3 million. Our accumulated surplus on a full accrual basis will increase by seven percent by the 2004-05 forecast to over $465.5 million.
On a long-term basis, if you examine the governmentís five-year projections, it is projected that the financial position of the Government of Yukon will continue to be very fiscally healthy. The projected net financial resources are maintained at a level of around $50 million over this period. The accumulated surplus continues to increase, Mr. Chair. That means, if these targets are maintained, the government can achieve its spending objectives on both capital and operation and maintenance without needing to borrow or incur debt. This statement is a strong demonstration of our governmentís sound and prudent fiscal management and is to the credit of the many officials in the Department of Finance who help guide governments in this effort.
Although we still remain highly dependent upon federal financial transfers, I would like to point out that territorial revenues in the form of taxation and other revenues are projected to increase by eight percent. Thatís over the 2004-05 forecast levels. This is a positive sign and a trend I believe will continue under our watch as the economy begins to turn around, unemployment levels decline to unprecedented low levels while employment levels increase in the territory.
As members in this Legislature know, in the fall of 2004, the federal government advised the provinces and territories of changes to equalization and the territorial formula financing arrangement, or TFF. These unilateral changes were subsequently introduced into federal legislation with Bill C-24. This legislative change essentially moves territorial funding from a formula-based mechanism to a system that establishes an arbitrary allocation for the annual grant. While this mechanism for calculating the TFF grant may be acceptable in the short term for the fiscal years 2004-05 and 2005-06, it is an area that the Department of Finance will be focusing a great deal of attention on over the next year.
The recent practice of the federal government policy of providing somewhat arbitrary transfers to various provinces and territories, such as the federal decision to change the territorial funding formula, is over the longer term potentially destabilizing the Yukon and perhaps the country as a whole. Our Finance department will be preparing papers and making presentations to the federal panel that has been established to review equalization and the TFF, and their administration beyond the fiscal year 2005-06. Our intention is to demonstrate to the panel that while the current territorial funding formula arrangement may not be the correct solution to determining our transfer, the principles upon which it is built are still sound and should be retained. Ensuring the integrity and sustainability of the TFF over the long term will be of critical importance to all Yukoners.
Mr. Deputy Chair, I thank you, and I am prepared to entertain any questions of a general nature as they pertain to this budget in expediting the debate on what is a very large budget tabled here in the House.
Mr. Fairclough: The Premier did give a two-hour Budget Address. It is definitely one that is different from the Speech from the Throne that we first heard. It is different from the budget address from last year and from the year before.
What we have seen the government do is tell Yukoners that the Yukon was broke, that they wanted to change the trajectory of government spending in the territory, and that small projects for different organizations around the Yukon did not get funded in the first year because this government cried poverty to them, even though the surplus in government was quite healthy at the time, contrary to what the Premier says now in this House.
We are fortunate to have increased federal government monies coming to the territory. That is great. The discussions took place many, many years ago, and probably when the Premier himself, when he was with another party, was part of those discussions. Yukon has moved a long way in having settled claims and devolution of programs that we wanted control over for many, many years, like oil and gas and forestry. It didnít happen under that party, but we are seeing the effects of it now.
I remember the Premier saying how much money was put away in trust funds, for example, when the Liberal government was in power. When taking over, those trust funds disappeared, and millions of dollars went back into general revenue with this government. We are now seeing the Yukon Party spend a lot of money, in some cases, good; in other cases, itís without consultation.
I know the Premier is going to get up and say that this budget is the result of extensive consultation. Well, weíll examine that and bring up issues raised by communities and why they were not reflected in this budget.
The Premier will say that the economy has turned around because this government was doing its job properly. If you talk to the mining community, thatís not the case, Mr. Chair. Iím sure youíre quite familiar with that. When they look at how to make money, itís the price of metals that have really attracted them back to the Yukon to start doing more exploration work. Thatís where the interest is now.
Iíll give you an example. The Premier knows this one because when he was in government with the New Democrats, this came up. This has to do with the Western Silver deposit near Carmacks. The only way it was going to go into production at the time was if the price of copper was above $1, or $1.01, and then they would have been making a profit. I believe the price was around 90 cents at the time. Now, the price of copper is up to around $1.55, so why do you think the interest is there right now? Is it because this government made the price of copper go up? I donít think so.
The interest is because, out there, those who are investing in companies like this are able to make money. Itís the same with Minto Resources. Discussions have taken place in the past about ensuring that adequate electricity is provided to them, and the government at the time engaged in some discussions with Western Copper on this matter.
I know the Premier is going to get up and say that itís because of the Yukon Party being in power and that all the improvements in the economy are a result of their work.
What about whatís going on in Whitehorse here? Letís have a look. What we have seen in the smaller communities is still a high unemployment rate, and we do need private investment in the communities. Iím hoping that maybe the minister can address that.
Letís have a look at the interest rates, for example, on mortgages through the banks here. Itís the lowest weíve seen interest rates in such a long time. Why do you think people are investing and building? Look at the businesses that provide supplies to developers building houses here in Whitehorse, and itís booming. Those businesses are booming. Go talk to people in Home Hardware. Well, if the interest rates were up around 18 percent, I would think that you would see that reversed, and this is a fortunate thing, I think, to see this type of boom across Canada, not only in the Yukon Territory. Iím hoping that the Premier doesnít take credit for whatís happening in the rest of Canada because of what theyíve been doing.
On the other hand, the Premier said he wanted to bring certainty to the territory. Weíre facing an uncomfortable position in having the federal government now say that thatís it for them for negotiations of land claims. That was one of the biggest issues raised by the Premier ó he wanted to bring certainty back to the territory and the best way to do that was negotiating a land claims agreement. Now weíre stuck in a position where one of the major parties is out of these discussions.
The questions in the House asked today were about what the Premier has done to ensure that the federal government continued. Where are all the trips to Ottawa and the phone calls that should have taken place? Did they just walk over and say thatís it, thereís no movement at the negotiation tables so all negotiations are off?
Itís frustrating to see that happen in so many years of negotiations, and Iím hoping that the Premier takes this seriously, goes back to the federal government, and opens this up again and at least has an avenue for First Nations to go ahead and negotiate should they choose to. I know the process is all run by them, and thatís just fine.
I looked at the Budget Address here. Let me just quickly go to it because I think itís important. I want to flip right to the long-term plans.
Now, this is a big budget. It has lots of spending. The community of Carmacks is receiving a fair amount of money. It is basically for projects that have been in the works since, I would say, before 1996 ó for example, the sewage system. Dawson City is in the same position. They are in violation of their water licence and something needed to be done. They had to improve the systems that they had. Well, I know that the Premier, when he was part of the New Democrats and the government in power, went to the community of Carmacks and met with them and said that we would like to act in some of the communities, build healthy communities and act on some of the projects that they have. Letís look at the priority list. This, of course, was at the top of their priority list, and monies have been identified for both Dawson and the community of Carmacks, and the work needed to be done. Unfortunately, a lot of work and time has gone by, and we should have had this project already happening. It should have been basically done.
It is not done, but Iím sure the community is very glad to see the money is there for the sewer system. There were problems in location, for example. It was something that the community had to settle and find a spot, so they did.
In regard to the school, well, this government can take credit for the fact that theyíve identified funding in the budget that will go toward rebuilding the school. They are in government, and thereís nobody else there right now. I would say, though, that it was on a priority list already made, and this priority list, as the Premier well knows, was not made by government. It was made by the chairs of school councils many years ago. They got together and they decided which capital projects were most needed, and they came up with a list. Old Crow was one of them; Ross River and Mayo; a school in Pelly Crossing for completion and a school in Carmacks. Those were the top five on that list.
Thank goodness the vision the school council had stood up to a number of different governments and has been followed. The Yukon Party is following that priority list, and thatís great.
I believe, throughout this debate, and when it comes to education, weíll be asking more questions in regard to other schools and the type of renovations that have taken place and have been identified in the budget and will take place throughout the year.
I guess one of the simple questions I wanted to ask the Premier about was the spending. Itís a large budget. Two years ago, the Yukon Party said that it was not sustainable, and every one of the members that got up to speak to that said the same thing: it was the trajectory and government cannot sustain the spending. Since then, weíve got an increase in funding from the federal government in health care and an increase in our block funding, and thatís fine. The other thing that we overlook sometimes in this whole thing is the fact that we have devolved federal programs to the territory, and of course that bumps up our bottom-line dollar amount. We had 250 employees come over. They do come over with quite a substantial amount of money, and thereís the responsibility for fire suppression and pre-suppression and that type of thing, and thatís reflected in this budget today.
I know how the formula works and I know that we are also getting additional dollars back with the amount of money we spend on the fires ó up to some 80 percent I believe for last year. So that was negotiated at the time and that was a good thing.
So I would like to ask the Premier whether he feels that this budget and the way government is spending now, with the large budget, is sustainable and †if we can keep this up in years to come.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I think itís important that we correct the record here on what actually has transpired. Three years ago, upon taking office, the Yukon government found itself in the position midway through a fiscal year where we had to debt-service cash flow requirements for the delivery of programs and services to Yukoners. In short, we were out of cash, and we were in a desperate financial situation. That situation dictated that the Yukon must act quickly and decisively.
In the winter of 2003, at the First Ministers meeting, when it became clear that Ottawa was going to ignore the needs of the three territories in health care and other matters, the three territories, as a collective, in a pan-northern approach, made a stand. We made a stand so that nationally it would be recognized that the citizens of the three territories, living on what comprises approximately one-third of Canadaís land mass, are not being treated to the same standard as every other Canadian.
The Prime Minister of the day openly stood on the floor of the House of Commons and admitted that the mechanisms that flow transfers to the territories through per capita measures simply do not work. The pan-northern approach by the three territories, through the efforts of finance officials from the three territories resulted in not only the establishment of the Northern Health Accord, increasing the investment from Canada in dealing with our healthcare needs, but Canada committed to accepting a business case on the situation we found ourselves in fiscally.
The results of us, the three territories, making that case, working collaboratively with officials and the three territories and Ottawa at the Finance level, working collaboratively with our respective MPs and senators, working with all provinces at the Council of Federation ó we managed to make the case that the three territories were not receiving their fair share of the national wealth.
Let us reflect on the fact that in 1995, when Canada attacked the national debt, they reduced transfers to the provinces on a per capita basis. Obviously, for the same reasons, transfers flowing to the territories on a per capita basis do not work, neither did any cuts for Canada to address the debt, from the territoryís perspective, and neither did per capita work. Therefore, the federal government of the day decreased the grant to the Yukon and to the Northwest Territories ó Nunavut wasnít even created then ó by five percent.
Subsequent to the cuts in 1995, a tremendous amount of Canadian taxpayersí investment to Canada paid down the debt, reducing deficits, creating surpluses. We in this territory, along with our neighbours to the east, contributed to paying down the debt, to reducing deficits and to creating surpluses. The simple fact is that we have achieved, in essence, a fair share of what should be distributed equally and fairly across the country.
That is how weíve got to where we are today. So the memberís comment about how the trajectory of spending in 2002-03 could not be maintained is factual ó thatís why the government said it. There was no money in the bank; we were debt-servicing cash flow requirements.
Since then, we have dramatically increased the financial position of the Yukon through the efforts of many, and that is what has resulted in our ability to table the largest budget in the history of the Yukon Territory. It didnít just happen. It took a lot of work and a lot of effort and, to the credit of the many people who committed themselves to this initiative, we were successful. The financial position of the Yukon today is very healthy, allowing us to invest in the many options we have with this budget, creating a better quality of life for Yukoners.
Now, the member goes on about metal prices ó because I want to touch on another topic. Obviously, by the memberís representation, the NDP believe that all it takes for the mining industry to invest in any jurisdiction is simply metal prices. Well, I want to point out to the member that thatís not the case. There are many variables and many elements of the equation that result in a decision made to invest in any particular jurisdiction.
Itís not only prices, but type of ore. Itís also regulatory certainty, markets or distance to markets, access to energy, infrastructure and a skilled labour force. Itís many things. In todayís Yukon, not only have metal prices improved, but we have been able to improve other areas, thereby soliciting further investment in the Yukon.
One of the measurements of this is the increase of exploration in the mining sector. I might add that exploration is a prerequisite to any further development of the mining industry and, hopefully in the future, mines going into production. The point is that the memberís dissertation is conveniently ignoring all the work required to, in conjunction with favourable prices, bring investment into this territory.
One of the major flaws in NDP policy is how they skewed the pendulum far to the environmental protection side versus a balanced approach to the economy and the environment, and there is no doubt that this government made a decision to remove a very flawed process, an impediment to investment when it comes to access to resources. That was the protected areas strategy. It was this government that made the decision to stand down on the protected areas strategy, and it was an important decision because it helped us resolve one of the major stumbling blocks that the Yukon faced in attracting investment.
The member starts talking about real estate values and the investment in real estate. Well, under the former governments there was an exodus of the population from this territory. There wasnít a real need for real estate growth. Todayís Yukon is experiencing population growth, increased real estate investment, and we intend to continue that trend.
The member made the point of land claims and that suddenly the federal government has ceased to negotiate, has ended their mandate. It would be important to again correct the record. This did not just happen. Minister Bob Nault in March 2002 ended the mandate from the federal government to negotiate land claims with the signing of a number of memorandums of understanding.
This government came into office in November of 2002. It was elected to office in November, months after the federal decision was made. We continue to work with those issues. Our focus obviously on a priority basis is the implementation of 10 settled claims, with the ultimate objective of concluding all. We as a government will do whatever it takes to provide certainty to industry and the investment community, to create ways to share benefit, to involve First Nation people in our economic growth and to build a better and brighter future for Yukoners in partnership with Yukon First Nations, in partnership with the public service, in partnership with the private sector.
Mr. Chair, the member opposite talks about projects like sewer in Carmacks. Well, we did not sign the municipal rural infrastructure fund agreement with Canada that is contributing a portion of those capital projects ó ďa portionĒ, I might add. Yukon governmentís money has been there for two years now. We finally signed the agreement in January of 2005 ó just a date the member opposite might be interested in to help correct the record.
The member is asking questions with regard to out-years or the projections beyond fiscal year 2005-06. That is why we provide a document such as this. Here in the budget highlight document the member will see the long-term projections for the financial position of the territory up to fiscal year 2008-09. I think if the member looked at that page in his budget document, he would clearly see what the fiscal planning is all about in future years for the Yukon.
I also would point out to the member the speech I recently delivered in opening general debate, which clearly articulated that the level of capital spending we are experiencing this year, in all possibility, cannot be maintained. If the member looked at capital expenditures in out-years, he would see that we have set the bar on a net basis from $129 million for this year to $105 million for following or subsequent years. So the information that the member seeks has already been provided to the member in writing within the budget documents.
The member talked about schools and other things. Well, I would point out that that is the responsibility of the Minister of Education and the Department of Education. I am certain that the minister responsible will engage in a thorough debate with the member opposite.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, itís easy for the Premier to say that now. Once we get into general debate and we go into lines, the minister will say we should have discussed that in general debate. So thatís unfortunate, but thatís where we are at now.
I have looked at the long-term plans. Next year in the surplus we have $1 million in the bank for a surplus. Thatís what is in there. I asked the Premier whether he felt that the spending is sustainable. He did not object to that. He said right in his speech here that for 2005-06, it will remain uncertain until the panel mentioned earlier provides a recommendation of how funding should be allocated among the three territories.
So here we go again, with the possibility of going into another, I guess, drastic change next year in the spending patterns of this government.
I know the member opposite has talked about mining and regulatory processes. Thatís always an issue with the mining industry, but the fact of the matter is that there are a number of outfits out there that are fully licensed and ready to go and have been for the longest time. So they were not investing, and they did not have that regulatory hurdle to get over. The Premier conveniently didnít mention that in his remarks.
Mr. Chair, the budget is put together in a way that perhaps funds some capital projects that are not mentioned. I would like to ask the Premier, then, when will we know when the rest of the capital projects will be coming? Iím particularly interested in the funds identified for the infrastructure funds and those projects that were not listed in the budget and the budget speech.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I think we have to point out to the member opposite that he is incorrectly reading the budget document. The member alludes to the fact that in the next fiscal year we will only have an accumulated surplus of $1 million. His inference is incorrect. If he would look at it closely, he would recognize that that monetary value reflects a surplus deficit position for the year. Now, in past years, the Yukon has experienced a deficit position at year-end for the fiscal year.
This government is projecting over the course of the next four years, including this year, to bring in and book year-end surpluses. If the member went farther down the page, he would see a line that says ďnet financial resources end of yearĒ. That would be before full accrual accounting bookkeeping was implemented in Yukon. That would be our accumulated surplus. For the fiscal year the member referred to, our actual projected surplus will be over $50 million. Itís important to debate the facts and keep the record straight. So for the memberís benefit, 2006-07, the projected accumulated, or net financial position, which would formerly have been our accumulated surplus, is $51,945,000.
Now given the benefits and the importance of full accrual accounting, we then move down to what is now our established accumulated surplus. In the corporate community this is labelled ďretained earningsĒ. For the fiscal year 2006-07, our actual accumulated surplus is $466,586,000. Through it all, the government is also fully disclosing its liabilities. Past governments did not correctly report such things as leave liability, did not correctly report lease arrangements, did not correctly book them. Clearly, the fiscal moves made through financial management by this government have allowed us to provide full disclosure to Yukoners.
With regard to capital projects now and into the future, each and every department that is responsible for any specific capital project would be the place to ask the question, and the ministers who head those departments will certainly engage with the member opposite in what I hope to be a constructive debate around capital projects ó ongoing, new ones for this year, and capital projects that may be coming in following years.
The important fact is that, Mr. Chair, in three budgets this government has managed to over double the capital investment in the Yukon, creating jobs and opportunities for Yukoners, investing in our infrastructure and improving it, building rec centres and community centres, building for Yukonís future.
Mr. Fairclough: The Premier didnít answer the question. I asked a question about capital projects that have not been listed in the budget and not mentioned in the budget speech. There are capital projects that are worth millions of dollars that are there. I would like to know what they are and why they havenít been mentioned.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, I did answer the question. The capital projects are reflected in line departments. Does the member have a specific question to a capital project in the Department of Finance? We may be buying some computers, some desks, some chairs; we certainly wonít be building any infrastructure, because thereís no need for the Department of Finance to have a road or a bridge or a school or anything like that.
But when it comes to capital projects, for the most part, they rest with line departments. Thatís where the debate should take place, and thatís the answer I previously gave to the member.
Mr. Fairclough: So the Premier would like us, on this side of the House, to wait until the Department of Education comes up, for example, at the end of the sitting, before we ask those questions. It could be a month and a half from now before weíre able to ask that question. Why doesnít the Premier know? And why is it such a secret to not say what they are? Iím not talking about the small things, like computer equipment, desks or furniture. Iím talking about the bigger capital projects that have not been mentioned. Why canít we get the answer from the member opposite?
I see heís opening up his black binder over there and going into some detail. We would like to look at the projects that have not been mentioned ó projects ó not computer equipment and furniture.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, as this is general debate, I will be general in nature in my comments. The gross capital investment for Beaver Creek is $341,000. The gross capital investment in this budget for Burwash Landing is $1.2 million. The gross capital investment for the community of Carcross is $619,000. The gross capital investment for Carmacks, the memberís own community, is $7,737,000. For Dawson City, itís $11,919,000; for Destruction Bay, itís $300,000; for Eagle Plains, itís $750,000; for Faro, itís $1 million; for Haines Junction, itís $483,000; for Marsh Lake, itís $378,000, for Old Crow, itís $4.628 million; for Pelly Crossing, itís $622,000; for Ross River, itís $1.16 million. There is $370,000 for Tagish; $4.122 million for Teslin; $7.359 million for Watson Lake. For Whitehorse ó the largest community in the Yukon ó there is $49,511,000.
In total, Mr. Chair, this government, in the fiscal year of 2005-06, is investing in excess of $206 million across this territory, in every community, to create a better quality of life. If the member wishes to go into great detail, project by project, the appropriate course of debate is with the line department responsible.
My responsibility is the money. As the Minister of Finance, it is my responsibility to find and commit the money. My job has been done. The ministers responsible for line departments will engage with the members opposite on a project-by-project specific basis, as it should be.
Mr. Fairclough: I guess the Premier could have made it really simple by saying that the information that was provided on that sheet is a detailed community breakdown. This is the Yukon Partyís detailed community breakdown that we asked for.
I can remember when the Premier was on this side of the House and asking for a detailed breakdown by community. Guess what? It is certainly not the kind of information that weíre getting now.
I would like to ask the Premier: was the capital dollar commitment on the big list that he gave the communities a result of public consultation with the communities?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, to the greatest degree possible, the budget was constructed based on input from communities. That is why weíre building a multi-level care facility for seniors in Watson Lake; that is why weíre building a multi-level care facility for seniors in Dawson City. That is why weíre investing in the waterfront in Whitehorse and in Carmacks. That is why we have increased highway investment for infrastructure throughout the territory by over 30 percent. That is why we are going to continue to invest in Mayo for the community centre and Ross River for the community centre. Itís because of public consultation. That is why we are proceeding with correctional reform, and that is why we are proceeding with educational reform. That is why we have invested in the public service with our five-part initiative. That is why we have invested to create a more representative workplace by increasing the investment for the First Nation Training Corps and also a work experience and training program for disabled people. That is why we are investing in these areas, and this is just a few that I have mentioned out of the many. That is why we are investing in them. It is because of consultation with Yukoners. Thatís how this government operates.
Mr. Fairclough: I would think that the public out there doesnít believe that, Mr. Chair. The Premier, when he first got elected in this House, said the people spoke when they voted them in, and then he forgot about the rest of the candidates who didnít get in and the kinds of issues that were raised to them at that time. The Premier says there was public consultation. Has he been to all these communities on this list and solicited them for their priorities for capital projects?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fairclough: This is already ó what is it, half an hour into the debate and the Premier is already not answering questions. Itís ridiculous. Where is the openness and accountability that the government has` talked about? Already the Premier is sealed up. I asked the Premier whether he visited all the communities for public consultation. Why canít he answer that? Did he visit all the communities? It wasnít answered. The member said it was through public consultation, but he didnít say it was a result of community visits. So I would like the Premier to answer the question.
Deputy Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Fairclough: Well, whatís wrong with debate in this House? What caught the Premier by surprise? Why canít he be open to the public, his own constituents, about public consultation? Whatís wrong with the Premier? Why is he hiding from the public again on this matter? He has to answer the question. Itís only right. He campaigned on being open and accountable and not confrontational. He campaigned on improving decorum in this House and he sits there and doesnít answer the question. This is worse than Question Period.
So I would like to ask the Premier again to get up and answer the question of whether or not he has been to the communities that are listed on the paper he provided and solicited them for their comments on their priorities on capital projects.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member is getting quite vexed. I responded earlier to the member by saying, to the greatest degree, the budget has been constructed vis-ŗ-vis input from Yukoners. As far as the list, the Premierís community tours visited every community, save and except Keno City and Eagle Plains. I donít know how else we can answer the question. We predominantly govern by consulting Yukoners, by engaging Yukoners, by doing the things that Yukoners deem important to them, and that is why the Yukon finds itself in the situation it is today.
Mr. Fairclough: I thank the Premier for getting up and answering the question. Weíre making some progress here, Mr. Chair. Maybe the Premier can tell us, in his community tour, how the turnout was. Were there a lot of people coming to these public consultation sessions that were held in the communities, or was there a low turnout? Did he meet separately with First Nations and municipal governments or was it strictly public meetings?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First off, all these things ó the dates, the times, who was meeting and where ó were published publicly in newspapers. We respect First Nation governments; we meet with them as a government. We respect other levels of government, the municipalities and villages, we meet with them as governments, and we conduct public meetings in communities. Turnouts always vary, but Iím pleased to say that, throughout the tours this government has conducted, meetings have been well-attended. The meetings have been well-attended and the input from Yukoners has been, I think, very constructive.
That is why again, I point out, the Yukon finds itself in the position it is in today. Itís thanks to Team Yukon: that includes government, public service, First Nations, other levels of government and Yukoners in general.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, maybe just to speed the process up, then, maybe the minister could table the kinds of things that have been raised in communities. We wonít have to go through the Premier reading off the list, if he could do that in his next response to my question.†
In regard to the MRIF that has been listed here, when would we expect to see the finalization of some of the projects identified that could be funded under that program?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would point out, when it comes to tabling, that we did table the results of the community tours. Itís the budget. It is tabled. The member has it.
As far as these projects, the Department of Finance and the Executive Council Office ó areas of my responsibility ó do not have any projects under the MRIF. Other departments do, however, and I am sure that when the member engages in debate with the ministers responsible for those line departments, he will get a good understanding of timelines and what projects are being invested in with the MRIF and other infrastructure funds that the Yukon government must partner in. Our investment must be involved for any of these projects to move ahead. But that is up to ministers responsible for line departments.
Mr. Fairclough: I think the Premier has a responsibility to release that information. There is nothing wrong with releasing that information right now. Why canít that information be released so I can take it back to my riding and say, that yes, this project has been identified and will be funded under this program?
I think the Premier is wrong, and he should be able to list some of those projects. He is saying the priorities of the communities have been listed and reflected in the budget, and it is a result of the community tour. Well, just one of them, for example ó Keno City ó mentioned that he wasnít there, but there is a $55,000 item for Keno City ó a $55,000 capital project out of $206 million.
This government is going to go back to their Tourism department and brag about the community of Keno, but somehow itís not reflected in their budget.
I can ask this of the Premier then, with respect to the MRIF thatís there. Itís a big pot of money that communities want to access. Would the Premier direct his ministers to pool the projects together and have it tabled in this House tomorrow? It canít be a hard thing to do. There canít be that many projects under this fund. Can he direct his ministers to do that and table it in this House, so that we can take that information back to the communities when we visit them?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, in terms of general debate, the member has a document labelled, Budget Address 2005-2006, and there is a section in it called ďBudget HighlightsĒ. The budget highlights contain a long list, department by department, of capital investment by the government. I think the member has probably looked at it.
Furthermore, when it comes to specific capital funds, like the MRIF, we are not the sole decision-maker. The Association of Yukon Communities, the federal government and First Nations are involved. There is a tremendous amount of synergy among orders of government that must take place. The line department responsible for any of those projects ó where the investment is being appropriated ó is the place for this debate to take place. It is specific in nature; it is not general. The member wants to discuss specific projects to take back to communities. I would point out that many of the projects under such funds as MRIF came out of the communities through an agreement with the Association of Yukon Communities.
So the memberís questions are specific in nature ó to specific projects in a line department. That is where the debate should take place.
In general terms, there is a long list, I believe four pages full, of capital projects in the document the member was given some days ago.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, when it is convenient for the Premier, he does list some of the projects. Weíve heard it in Question Period and when the camera is on and so on. For example, he talked about the sewage system in Carmacks, where it is funded by this government. Itís identified as $2 million. And he also mentioned the fact that the rest of it can come out of the MRIF. I think itís important. There is another project that was listed, and that is the recreation centre in the community of Mayo. It is not listed in the capital projects. I would assume that it falls under the $32-million MRIF over four years. So when are we able to get those capital projects? The communities want to know.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, the answer is the same. Wait until the line department, and we will list off all the projects.
Mr. Fairclough: I asked the Premier to direct his ministers to pool together these projects and have it tabled in the House. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with taking the information now and going to the communities? This is where you could possibly have your project funded. And I believe a lot of it is through the MRIF. Would the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the minister responsible for the line department where the appropriation for the MRIF is being allocated would be very pleased to provide the member a list of projects. I would respond again and repeat my answer previously that those projects are not the choice of this government. They are the choice of a collective of governments and others involved, such as the Association of Yukon Communities.
Now, in general terms, again, I point out there is a long list of capital projects in the budget documents. For detailed information on such things as infrastructure funds, the line department is the appropriate place to have the discussion and debate.
Mr. Fairclough: That would have been an easy thing for the minister to do ó to direct his officials, his ministers, to pool the projects together and have them tabled in the House. Perhaps he himself would be updated as to what these projects are, because obviously the Premier doesnít know them. Itís unfortunate. I was trying to help out the Premier. He wanted something constructive. He could have done that, tabled it in the House, and we would have moved on; but no, heís sticking hard-nosed to the fact that the different departments will debate this in detail. Itís an assumption that in fact they will do that.
Just go back, for example, to the last budget year and the last time we debated a budget in this House, asking the ministers questions in this House, and they did exactly what the Premier is doing now: they sat down and they didnít answer the question. So the Premier, in directing us to the departments, is wrong. He should engage in debate in general debate ó and thatís exactly what this is ó and should not be afraid to answer questions in the House.
Probably the calmest part of debate in the Legislature is in Committee of the Whole. The Premier does have an official from the department here to guide him through this debate and provide information. There are all kinds of books in front of him. There must be a good 5,000 pages or more of information in front of him. Why canít some of that information be provided to us on this side of the House so we can take the information back to our constituents? Thatís all weíre asking of the Premier. Itís obvious that the Premier wants to shuffle it off to the departments and make it even more difficult for the opposition to get answers in this House.
Iíd like to turn it over to my colleague, the leader of the official opposition, to ask a few questions.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Again, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun is making insinuations here that have nothing to do with general debate. The response to the member is a very genuine, sincere one. It only points out to the member that the appropriate place to have discussions when it comes to specific capital projects is in the line department where the appropriation has been allocated. The Department of Finance does not have specific detail on capital projects. The member has a budget document. In general terms, the budget allows for general debate in a number of areas. Weíre more than willing to go over those areas in general debate but, when it comes to specifics, the order of business must then revert to the line department responsible.
Now I see the member responsible for Community Services is here and Iím sure heíd be greatly pleased to list for the member opposite the many projects that this government is investing in through the infrastructure funds.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís interesting. I have heard the Premier three times now in three budgets try to tell the opposition how they should or should not debate a budget, how they should or should not direct their questions, what they should or should not ask. Itís quite presumptuous of him to be making those comments, but what is actually really quite interesting is when you compare them to the questions that he asked when he was in opposition and how frustrated he would get, when he would ask a very legitimate question, that he would expect the Premier to be able to answer, or the Finance minister ó we can call him that, in this case ó to be able to answer, especially when he has the Deputy Minister of Finance sitting right at his elbow to assist him on detail, how frustrated heíd get when he wouldnít get the answer he wanted.
I think this is the first time in Yukon history that weíve had a Finance minister who has been so adamant about avoiding answering just about any question that is asked and has been so persistent in telling the opposition what they can or cannot ask or what they can or cannot do. Thatís not the way democracy works.
We on this side of the House will set our agenda. We will set our own course of action and decide how we wish to ask those questions, just as when the Yukon Party is over here, they will do it as well. It should not be the role of the Premier or any of the ministers to tell the opposition how they should or should not behave or how they should or should not ask questions because they donít happen to like them.
When we were in government, which wasnít too long ago, we had to face a multitude of questions that went on for days and months. Ultimately, you have to answer them. There is a responsibility here. You are spending taxpayersí money. Itís incumbent upon you to be responsible to the other elected members of the Legislative Assembly, to answer why you are spending it, how much you are spending, where you are spending it, how you came to that conclusion, whom you consulted and where you are going with the taxpayersí money, and to debate the budget and debate the words that are spoken and debate the budget speech and the position that the government is taking and the vision that they have.
Democracy is not served when the Premier tells the opposition what they can or cannot ask and doesnít like it and refuses to stand up. That is dictatorship. I hope we are not drifting more and more into that role, because Iíll tell you that, from day one, that is the role that the Premier has taken. Frankly, this is the worst Iíve seen it. As my colleague mentioned earlier, we have only been in debate for about half an hour and this is the position that the Premier has taken, and that is that the opposition should not be asking him questions.
Soon enough, the Premier will be on the opposition side, and it will be very interesting to hear his line of questioning once heís back over here. I remember very clearly his line of questioning when he was on this side, and itís not much different from what weíre doing.
Now, we ask questions ó a lot of them are derived from our constituents, from our own analysis, from our staff work, from our own past history and from our own perspective. Those are legitimate questions and legitimate debate in this Legislative Assembly. To have the Premier attempt to stifle that debate is upsetting, to say the least, and does not bode well for any type of a constructive flow of information.
Now, I donít understand whatís going on with the Premier. I donít understand what his own personal problems are, but I wish that when he comes into this Chamber, he would put those aside and act in accordance with the rules and history of this Chamber. If he has problems, keep them out there. If he doesnít like questioning ó any type of questioning ó thatís brought into this Chamber, then maybe he should resign, but it is his role and responsibility to answer the questions that are put to him, just as it is with any of the ministers. You are not serving the people of this territory, democracy or the future of democracy well when you assume that your role is to sit over there and avoid answers or insult the opposition.
This is what itís becoming and it has become very obvious in Question Period but, most distressingly, weíre seeing more and more of it in Committee of the Whole in general debates. If the opposition so feels they wish to ask a multitude of questions in general debate, that is their choice. If they wish after that to move into line-by-line in a department and follow up on questions in more detail, so be it.
I remember not too long ago when I witnessed one of the ministers, when he was in opposition, spend day after day after week on one department, on very minute issues, very small items, going after a minister on that side. It was extremely frustrating, but you know what? That was his call. That was his choice. He made the judgement call to do that and have that kind of debate and there was time in the Legislative Assembly to do it, and the minister on that side, who happened to be a colleague of mine at that time ó the member who had just been asked questions ó had to put up with it, because that is our role, that is what weíre elected to do and, when we come into this Legislative Assembly, that is what weíre supposed to do. Itís not to have a dictatorship type of approach to politics in this territory where the Premier tells us on this side what we are allowed to ask or not ask. I frankly find it disgusting, Mr. Chair, that this is the role, this is the message, weíre hearing at the present time.
Many of the questions are not that hard. Why canít the Premier stand up and answer them? Many of them are not on detail, but even if they were, historically what did the ministers or the Premier do? Say, ďIíll get back to you on that.Ē The deputy minister would make a note of it, and guess what? Within an hour or two, or by the next day, the member on this side would have that information sent over to him if it wasnít available right away.
But I never hear that response, even, and that was pretty common. That, actually, was a very common response, especially to detail that you might not have at your fingertips ó that a minister might not have. So why is it different now? Why does the Yukon Party government insist upon supplying almost no information? And Iím going to make a slight caveat there. When I say that, there are certain ministers that do attempt to answer questions, but the leadership does not.
So a very simple question was asked, and I put this last week before, and that was: can we get some detailed breakdown on the spending in the communities? Can we have that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The member opposite does make a few points, but I have to correct him on a number of his suppositions. It is difficult to answer questions of little substance repeated over and over, asking for information that is publicly available, information that has been printed in the media, information that has been provided. It is difficult to give answers of substance when there are no questions of substance.
It is also a pattern, since we are talking historically here, certainly of the opposition over the previous two years that, every time there is something that they are confused about, something that they donít understand or something that they donít want, that doesnít fit their agenda, to call for the resignation of someone. Iím suspicious, if we go back through Hansard, that the member opposite and his colleague, the Liberal leader, have at one point or another asked for the resignation of everyone in the House ó although maybe, Mr. Chair, you have gotten around that. Iím suspicious that the next time weíre going to be hearing the member opposite calling for the resignation of the pages.
Perhaps if the member opposite got back to asking questions of substance ó otherwise let me be first in this sitting to equal the thing, and perhaps the member opposite would also tender his resignation and allow someone to actually ask questions of substance.
In this case, he points out that the responsibilities are to the Yukoners, to people we talk to at the door. So let me talk about some of the things that we heard about at the doors. Jobs, jobs, jobs ó the biggest thing ó members of the household working down south because there were no jobs, students in high school, Yukon College, wanting to stay in the territory with their training, wanting to take training in order to make a life in the Yukon, but they werenít because there were no jobs.
In this amount of time, in February 2005, weíll talk about what people wanted to talk about in community tours. In February 2005, our labour force rose to 17,000: employed 16,100, unemployed 900. Itís the fourth best record in Canada ó 5.3-percent unemployment. Itís better than 5.4 the month before, and 6.4 the month before that ó significantly higher than when we took government. We have significantly improved on that.
Yes, there are economic factors that have an effect on unemployment figures, on the economy, but we have grown from one of the worst jurisdictions to one of the best. We have grown outside of the parameters of the overall economy, and therefore, yes, I believe that we can take credit for that.
Now with the labour force growing and employing so many more, that unemployment figure, I have to point out, has gone down significantly while the employment number has gone up. We have not simply found jobs for the last survivors of the holocaust; we have certainly arranged for more people and put an economic regime in place so that people can come to the Yukon, establish themselves, return to the Yukon.
The labour force has been a big part of it. Over the last 13 years, the average unemployment rate has been 9.4 percent, but for February 2005, it stands at 5.3 percent. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have beaten us by a little bit, but weíre significantly ahead of Ontario, British Columbia, and quite a bit ahead of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador. Statistics arenít kept quite the same way for the Northwest Territories, so we lose a little bit. But we have had a significant increase in all these things. This is what we heard at the door. This is what we wanted to improve upon and utilize the resources at our fingertips to make life better in the Yukon.
In 2004, the number of self-employed was 2,100. In February 2005, it was 2,700 ó an increase of 600 individuals listed as self-employed.
In goods-producing industries in 2004, we had 1,200. In the same month in 2005, we went up to 1,600.
In service-producing industries in 2004, there were 12,800, which went up by 1,100 to 13,900 employed in service-producing industries ó a significant increase.
These are the things that we heard at the door. These are the things that we are dealing with, in general, in this territory. I look forward to speaking about many of the programs on a line-by-line basis through appropriate departments and appropriate ministers.
On a general basis, we have indexed student grants and given great support to our students ó at least this side of the House has done that.
$5.4 million has been allocated for the construction of the Tantalus School in Carmacks. The Member for Mayo-Tatchun says, ďShow me something that youíve done for my riding.Ē Weíre trying, Mr. Speaker. Weíre trying.
$2.65 million has been allocated for the Porter Creek Secondary School cafeteria expansion and the renovations there. $2.415 million has been designated for the Teslin School renovations and to begin construction of a new gymnasium in 2005. $800,000 has been assigned to complete the installation of a ground-source heat pump for Vanier Catholic Secondary School, and another $400,000 has been assigned to improve the ventilation system for Jack Hulland Elementary School.
These are things that we heard at the door and we heard in community tours. They are things that we are doing to improve the lives of all Yukoners. In a general way, we are happy to discuss these general concepts. I submit, Mr. Chair, that speaking on a line-by-line basis in individual departments is inappropriate at this point, but we do look forward to the members opposite becoming better organized and being able to ask the questions in the appropriate places. We look forward to the hard questioning. We have no difficulty with the hard questioning. As long as the questions are relevant, they will get a relevant answer. If they ask the same question over and over ó I guess this is maybe to see if the answer changes. I think we can assure the members opposite that the answers are not going to change. The answers are quite real.
Mr. Hardy: Well, wasnít that nice, Mr. Chair. I asked a very relevant question. What did I get? A long, rambling statement with numbers being spewed out about a few projects that are happening. I did ask a very relevant question; it was a request for information. It wasnít to have the Premier stand up and give me specifics right at this moment. If he wishes to do so, he can. But we have a minister jump up to defend him and say that we on this side are not doing a good job. Unless the questions fit their mode or their little box, they are just not going to play ball.
Well, thatís nice. Isnít that sweet? I noticed the public has been watching him not play ball for the last while.
Now, itís interesting: the economic figures have been read, the unemployment figures have been read, and there is no question there has definitely been an upswing in the economy. And that can be attributed to many sources, even some attributed to the massive spending of this government ó and it is massive, a $230-million increase in spending in the last couple of years. If that does not have some significant impact on 30,000 people, I donít know what will. But no government before has had access to that kind of funding and spending and still manage to create a tremendous amount of work and jobs, and it becomes a priority on how to utilize that. This government, from my perspective, has failed in that category.
You have an opportunity to spend an extra $230 million in the last couple of years, you should be able to do something, you should have an impact on the economy, whether itís your position or not, whether itís the position you took when you were elected, which was very clear. I heard it many times when the Yukon Party was first elected: it was you had to stimulate the private sector and you had to get off the reliance upon the federal transfer money and the federal funding coming into this territory. And guess what? This government, the Yukon Party government, has gone in the exact opposite direction. They are riding the federal governmentís funding into this territory ó $230 million more ó and of course theyíre patting themselves on the back. Well, much of that work did not start on November 4. Much of that work has many other governmentsí involvement in it.
The Canada Winter Games has an impact on the income and economic prosperity, and that was an initiative that was started over 15 years ago. A lot of Yukon people put in a lot of time to bring the Canada Winter Games to the territory.
The promises that were made were made by an NDP government. If they wish to really know, the first presentation outside the territory with Yukon people was done with an NDP government and an NDP minister to get the Canada Winter Games here.
Other governments have been part and parcel with that kind of work. Each government contributes, including this government ó not a problem. Thatís what itís about. Nothing turns around overnight. I can quote the Premierís words right back at him: turning around the economy is like turning around a supertanker. Thatís true. It takes a lot. Each government tries, each government works on it, each government benefits and builds on each other, and each government has used the federal government in many ways to access monies. Sometimes the federal government is responsive; sometimes itís not. It depends on whoís elected; it depends on a lot of factors and what the feelings are.
Now, I asked a very simple question and Iíll put the question on the table again. Will the Premier assure this side of the House that we will get a detailed breakdown on the monies being spent in the communities, instead of a summary report?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, of course the government will. We will do so when we get into line departments responsible for the investments that they have appropriated. Thatís the point of department-by-department debate. Thatís why we have line departments.
Suddenly something has just struck me. Now we know why the Canada Winter Games initiative, when it comes to the athletes village, was shy $18 million. The NDP was leading the charge those years ago when they budgeted $2.7 million for the athletes village. It turns out that the athletes village costs $20 million. I rest my case. Interestingly enough, we were wondering how it could be so underbudgeted; now we know.
After that bit of levity and fact, Iíd like to point something out to the member opposite, and it has to do with whatís happening in the Yukon. Our plan all along was to increase the stimulus in the territory, to stop the exodus of the population, to improve program and service delivery to Yukoners, to create jobs and opportunities in the territory. That required that we increase the financial position of the Yukon. This is not a dependence on the federal government, as much as it is getting our fair share of the distribution of the wealth in Canada. This money would have gone elsewhere. By our collaborative and cooperative approach, we have full support of every province in Canada to provide us an increased transfer to close the adequacy gap created by the 1995 cuts.
We had the full support of financial officials. This was an effort by many people, including our MP and our senator. We all recognize, based on the business case that was developed by the Department of Finance, that there was an unequal distribution of Canadaís wealth to the north. We have improved that situation, providing us this opportunity to increase the stimulus.
But what does the increased stimulus accomplish? Well, number one, more people are moving back into the Yukon, increasing the population. The interest in the Yukon from the investment community has increased. If you want to look at some mathematics around this, our transfer has increased this year by some five percent. Our own-source revenues have increased by some eight percent. If we use that as the litmus test, we can then determine that our dependence on the federal government and the southern taxpayer is actually decreasing because we are earning more of our own revenue.
In conjunction with that, there is increased mining exploration, increased activity in oil and gas, increased activity in the film and sound industry, increased activity in tourism ó growth in tourism ó increased activity in the arts and culture community, increased activity in the IT sector. All of these are contributing factors to reducing our dependence on the southern taxpayer and increasing our levels of self-sufficiency here in the Yukon.
We have set out on a mission to change the course and direction the territory was going. We are accomplishing that.
The member alludes to spending, and I would point out to the member that some governments spend, some governments invest. This government is very careful not to just spend, but to invest. Let us look at what past governments accomplished with their spending: people leaving the Yukon, double-digit unemployment, spending in areas that further reduced any interest in investment for the territory. With that changed, things are turning around for the positive.
So, Mr. Chair, we value these kinds of discussions in general debate but, if the members are interested in detail, thatís why we have line departments; thatís why we have ministers responsible for line departments; thatís why they have enormous amounts of material in their briefing books, ready and prepared to debate with the opposition, in great detail, the investments that this government is making with the largest budget in the history of the Yukon.
Mr. Hardy: Well, here we go again. The Premier has his pat response to any question we ask. I asked for a detailed community breakdown on the spending in each of the communities. Historically, every other government always gave those. It was never a problem. They would give it to the opposition; the opposition would be able to take a look at it and then, when they got into debate in the department, they would be able to debate with that information before them.
This government operates in a different manner. This Premier operates in a different manner; they donít give out information. Itís taxpayersí money, but guess what? Theyíre not going to give that information out, and theyíre definitely not going to give that information out ahead of time ó no details whatsoever.
Itís a very simple request. Why does the Premier have so many problems with it? Why canít they send over that typical document that every other government has been capable of doing, which was a detailed breakdown of the spending in each of the communities?
Whatís the problem with this Premier? Letís put it that way. The question is, once again, and I ask with all sincerity: will the Premier supply the opposition ó and I speak, Iím sure, on behalf of all opposition members ó with a detailed breakdown of the spending in the communities? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes. In fact, I will take it upon myself, here on the floor of the Legislature, to direct each and every minister, when their department comes up for debate, when it comes to community capital projects, to provide the opposition a detailed breakdown of those capital expenditures. Yes, we will do that, Mr. Chair. Each minister responsible will be more than happy to provide that information, and the reason we are doing it that way is it is not information that is of general debate; it is information specific to line items in a line department requiring line-by-line debate. Thatís what is going on here.
This is nothing untoward. Weíre trying to help the opposition. Let me point something out. Due to the inability of the opposition to effectively strategize how to debate in detail each and every line department and its expenditures, we have experienced here in this House on the last budget ó which was some $700 million ó where hundreds of millions of dollars were given passage in this Legislature without one sentence of discussion. Weíre merely trying to help the members opposite out. We want the members to debate in detail the governmentís expenditures. We cannot do that if we spend our time in endless discourse of general discussion that has nothing to do with the investments that this government is making.
We are being helpful and pointing out to the members opposite that the appropriate approach for this kind of debate, when you want specific detail on specific projects, is with the line department that has that appropriation. This is merely some friendly advice, hoping that we can assist the opposition to become part of the solution instead of remaining part of the problem.
Mr. McRobb: I was listening to the discussion about the community breakdowns, and I would like to put on record that I am quite disappointed by the position taken by this Premier in refusing to provide the opposition parties information that is considered essential, in order for us to do our job to hold this government accountable.
I recall the Premier, when in opposition, railing on the previous government about this very item, and he would not stop until he got his way. Now he is the Premier, he carries the same attitude but a completely different position. He refuses to provide information that we need ó apparently he has just detailed his position ó until the departments come up, and then he will provide the capital breakdown by community. Well, letís discuss that for a moment, shall we?
Departments will be coming up for the next month and half or so in this Legislature until the end of the sitting, depending on the number of days, which wonít be decided until perhaps tomorrow. There are a lot of departments and each community can be affected by several of those departments.
People in the communities are asking us whatís in the budget for them. Well, we donít have the information without the community breakdowns. The only information provided so far was a summary, not the breakdown of what makes up the total for each community.
So, the MLAs in the opposition benches donít have the information to hold the government accountable, nor do we have the information to respond to our constituents. But the government side has that privilege. Theyíre telling their constituents how much is in their communities, from which department, for whatever programs, but the governmentís withholding that information from us in opposition.
Thereís a fairness issue with that. Perhaps if this Yukon Party government ran on a platform that said, ďGovernment will get all the spoils and give the opposition the mushroom treatment,Ē then perhaps it would have a mandate to behave like it is. But this government ran on a much different platform. It ran on the four Cs. Remember: collaborative, consultative, cooperative, and whatever the fourth one was. Who cares? Those are meaningless words now because the government from day one did not intend to fulfill what it campaigned on doing when it was in government.
These community breakdowns have historically been an important tool for the opposition. As already mentioned, the Premier demanded that he be provided with this tool when he was in opposition. Weíre merely asking for the same courtesy from this government.†
So, why does the government hoard all the information, yet point the finger at the opposition? It has been quite critical of the opposition at times for various things and demanding solutions to problems it faces. Thatís not fair when there isnít a fair distribution of information. If we had all the information, then I would agree that the opposition does have a responsibility to contribute with suggestions on the issues, on how to spend the money, and so on.
But we arenít afforded that luxury. Weíre kept in the dark, and weíre provided very little in the way of information.
Iíve said before in this term of government under the Yukon Party that I have concerns about democracy in the Yukon, and this should not be taken lightly. I see the Member for Porter Creek Centre chuckling away. He is one of the key reasons why I am so concerned. It is that very member who refuses to answer questions in this House, whether weíre in budget debate, Question Period or whenever ó refuses to answer questions.
Iím not going to blame him; itís not his fault. He was trained that way from day one, when the Yukon Party hauled in the trainers to tutor the fresh troops. We know who some of them are ó the old Yukon Party cronies came in and taught them how to avoid answering questions, taught them how to hoard information, taught them all about keeping secrets and you name it ó all of the stuff the public detests.
None of that was in the platform.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Acting Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, pursuant to Standing Orders 19(g), the member opposite is imputing false or unavowed motives to this side, suggesting that we do not understand or comprehend our jobs and our responsibilities. It is completely out of order. Our side fully recognizes our responsibilities and has probably grasped them better than any other government in the history of the Yukon and is doing an excellent job of getting the information out to the public and addressing the needs here in the Yukon.
Acting Chair: Mr. McRobb, on the point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, there is no point of order. All we heard was a speech from the government House leader that was completely without merit and was simply another Yukon Party advertisement that should be ignored.
Acting Chairís ruling
Acting Chair: There is no point of order, merely a dispute between members.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Well, where was I before I was interrupted? I was talking about my concerns about democracy. The governmentís refusal to provide what the opposition deems to be essential information is part of my concern. Another part of my concern is the refusal by the government side to provide information during questioning.
For the past two House sitting days, I asked the Member for Porter Creek Centre some questions about the governmentís involvement with the Agricultural Association contracts, about other contracts they gave a person who is also chair of a Crown corporation. Mr. Chair, these were pinpointed questions, and the minister stands up, completely avoids answering the targeted question, he gloms on to some word that was mentioned in the preamble of the question and starts talking about all the glorious things the government has done with the Agricultural Association or with mining in the territory.
Well, Mr. Chair, I donít know the percentage of listeners, viewers or readers of Hansard who are able to really read into the situation and realize what is happening, but I hear from quite a few people who do. They are just as concerned as I am. I got a phone call last night about it, as a matter of fact. Itís a real problem. People in the territory demand more of their government than what this Yukon Party is giving, I can tell you that. As a matter of fact, in some cases they feel that the Speaker should demand that a question be answered, and if it isnít answered, the minister should be thrown out.
Now, that could be a pretty harsh treatment because we hardly see the Member for Porter Creek Centre now, given all the trips he takes during the sitting. If a harsh rule like this implemented, it is hard to say how many minutes he would log in during a session.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: The Premier asked me when I got out of the manhole. Well, I might have fallen into one, but I didnít crawl out of one. Letís leave it at that, shall we?
I think Iíve laid it out rather well. I know that the Premier was listening intently as he was chewing his fingernails. Iíve laid out why we need the community breakdowns. People are asking us. We need to examine this information in advance in order to develop our line of questioning. Even before the briefings, Mr. Chair ó never mind before we have the opportunity to question the minister ó we need this stuff in advance. What is the government hiding anyway? This is stuff that should be provided right at the get-go during the budget lock-ups.
As a matter of fact, on that point, there was some correspondence before the sitting started, asking for that information, and I would like to put on record that at the House leadersí meeting on the first day of this sitting, prior to the budget lock-up, the government House leader instructed the two opposition House leaders that the community breakdowns would be provided during the lock-up.
Here we are, nearly two weeks later arguing about that same information. This government ought to be ashamed of itself.
You know, itís so brazen at times. It doesnít always run from an issue. It comes out and boldly says something that contradicts what actually happens. I know some words are unparliamentary and we have to select our words carefully. If weíre outside in the parking lot they would flow a lot easier than this example, I can promise you that, but for the government House leader to instruct the opposition parties that that information would be provided in a matter of minutes, and then for the Premier and all the others to stand up and repeatedly argue about why that information shouldnít be provided is another serious problem. Itís indicative of how this Yukon Party has been from pretty well day one when it comes to divulging information and sharing information with the opposition. Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again now: how can we properly do our jobs unless we have the information we need to do it properly?
Now, the Premier knows that. He has been there and done that. He stood in the very spot where I am and argued the same thing. Maybe if this goes on a little more, weíll get into some of what he said back then because maybe this government has to be embarrassed before it will actually do what it should have done in the first place, like it told everybody it would do.
Where this situation stands is that the Premier said that theyíll be provided when the departments come up. Well, we canít wait six weeks for some of that information. We donít have control over which departments are called. The government House leader calls them and sometimes he doesnít even inform us which departments are called on the very day theyíre debated.
At other times, he informs us wrongly. We simply cannot take at face value what weíre told is coming up and what, in fact, does come up.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: †Mr. Jenkins, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite, pursuant to Standing Order 19(g), is imputing false or unavowed motives: ďcannot take at face value.Ē Thatís totally out of order.
Deputy Chair: Mr. McRobb, on the point of order.
Mr. McRobb: The key word ó I would draw your attention to ó is ďfalse.Ē What I was referring to is not false; it was true.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: I do not believe there is a point of order; however, I would caution the member that speaking of falsehoods is unparliamentary.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you for your ruling, Mr. Chair. Of course, we must all respect the Legislature and its Standing Orders. We all know that the Member for Klondike always speaks the truth, donít we? Letís leave that sleeping dog lie.
I want to ask the Premier about the community breakdowns. Why do we have to wait until the departments are called before getting these? This is completely unrealistic. Itís not something he would have ever compromised on. We need these now. Can the government provide it?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I find it amusing and amazing, the issues coming from the opposite side.
This government works very positively with all Yukoners and in this House, and we have an obligation to give information. All of us have obligations to look at that information and dissect it for the Yukon people.
I find this conversation with the member opposite over the community funding, the list and all this innuendo the member opposite is talking about is, in fact, just that. In fact, the biggest fear from the members opposite that I can see is the fact that they donít want the opportunity to go line by line, Mr. Speaker. This is the largest budget in the history of the Yukon. Weíre here, prepared to answer questions line by line, department by department, but that wouldnít be productive for the members opposite because of the volume of work that is involved in line-by-line discussions. There is a lot of work to be done. This House has an obligation. We have limited time to do our work here.
Last year, being a novice in the House and not having the background that the member opposite has in the House, I was amazed to see that we could run a government where the opposition would limit their line-by-line to the point where at the end of the day they were passing millions and millions of dollars without any input.
So in managing government, the opposition has an obligation, the opposition has a place in this House. The oppositionís place is to get down to business, and letís look at the budget, which they have in their possession. They have had that budget in their possession for a period of time. The Minister of Finance has stood up and read it to them. Now we have to go to work, and we have to do the job that Yukoners elected us to do.
The opposition was elected by their constituents, and the opposition has an obligation to all Yukoners to do a job, and the job is to get down to business, open up the books and talk about the finances of the Yukon. Thatís what weíre elected to do; letís move on with that.
I have a limited sort of task here, being Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. I want to remind the member opposite of what weíre doing as a government. Obviously in Energy, Mines and Resources, weíre moving ahead without the opposition. Weíre moving ahead as an elected government to make a positive investment in Yukon. What are we doing? Weíre encouraging the mining community to come back. I remind every sitting member here ó opposition and government ó that when we took over office, there was a limited investment climate in Yukon as far as mining was concerned.
Iíd like to say that thereís an announcement today that the Cantung mine will be opening in July. That employs 95 percent Yukoners. Then we go into north Yukon. We go to United Keno Hill. It will be in private hands by November. This government went to work on the issue of a type II mine with the federal government, with the local First Nation and us to make sure the mine can be sold and put into private hands, plus that the federal government will come to the mark and bear the responsibility of the environmental cleanup. We did that as a government, Mr. Chair.
Minto has been sold to a very credible corporation. Understand that Minto is a type II site; it is also permitted. Theyíre looking at probably a 12- to 18-month window of opportunity to open that mine. That was done in conjunction with this government.
And certainly we donít want to leave out the Klondike. Klondike has seen the biggest expansion of mineral exploration in the last 15 years. Weíve been working with firms up there, or corporations, to make sure they can get ahead, do their exploration, spend their money, and their money, of course, is very important to us in the community of Dawson City and north Yukon, but also to make sure the money for them is well-spent and, at the end of the day, we get some returns out of the exploration dollars. Again, our government is working in a positive frame of mind with industry in the Klondike area.
Of course, when we look at Yukon Zinc, weíre looking at a massive investment in southeast Yukon. Itís a huge mine thatís going to go there and weíve been working with that ó in our department, Energy, Mines and Resources ó on a weekly basis to make sure that their investment is well-spent and that theyíre working positively with the Kaska First Nation in that area where, of course, it is their traditional territory, so that is going to be a $10 million to $12 million expenditure this year in Yukon. That money is going to be spent in Yukon. That mine is going to employ Yukoners. So who has been doing that? Weíve been doing that.
Now, when we look at Teck Cominco, itís one of the largest mining companies, of course, in Canada, but probably one of the top 10 in the world. I know that they control about 18 or 20 percent of the worldís zinc market. Now that doesnít sound like a lot because ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, I know that the Standing Orders limit debate to the topic at hand. I asked the Yukon Government why it wouldnít provide community budget breakdowns and, once again, the Member for Porter Creek Centre has used it as an opportunity to go off and start rambling on about anything under the sun. This is a completely irrelevant discussion to the back-and-forth debate. I would ask you, Mr. Deputy Chair, to ensure the government responds to the question that was asked.
Deputy Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On the point of order. It is just the Member for Kluane rattling on. There was no Standing Order cited as having been broken. This is strictly the Member for Kluane seeking access to the floor.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: There is no point of order. The minister can choose to speak in general debate.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Democracy is alive and well in this House. In general debate, that is exactly what it is: general debate. This is general debate.
The general debate is on the finances and what we are doing as a government to make the Yukon a better place to live. That is what we are doing Mr. Chair. I would like to address the question: what are we doing? Thatís what I am asking. They are questioning whether we are doing anything. I am giving them an overview and in time, if they let us get into line-by-line debate, we will be able to do this line by line so they can go to their constituents better informed about how well this government is doing.
The communication in this House has to be a two-way street. We have to communicate with the members opposite; the members opposite have to communicate with us, and we have to get on the budget. The budget is the most important thing this government will do this year. Any governmentís budget is the most important thing; it affects all Yukoners.
I say to you, Mr. Chair, that they are not doing their jobs per se, because we are not talking line by line, department by department. We have ministers lined up here to do exactly that so they can inform the members opposite about what this budget means to all Yukoners.
The Member for Kluane has a copy. All of the opposition has a copy of our budget. For us to flesh it out, we have to get to line-by-line so we can answer all those questions ó 724 million questions.† But at the end of the day, if we never get to line-by-line, then Yukoners will be cheated out of that debate.
You know, going back to Energy, Mines and Resources óI know the Member for Kluane is very interested in an overview of Energy, Mines and Resources, and I know that heíll appreciate this. The oil and gas sector in the Yukon is alive and well. Weíve had $30 million spent in southeast Yukon. How many people did that employ? How many people in southeast Yukon? A solid workforce from that area.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Lang: Where is Devon? Devon at this moment is finishing up its drill program in north Yukon.
Deputy Chairís statement
Deputy Chair: Order please. As much as I enjoy the extraneous comments, I would like to ask all members to please respect the member who is speaking, and if you wish to join in the discussion, you will have to rise and be recognized.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Chair, I appreciate the fact that youíre easily amused, but the seriousness of this room dictates to me that what we do in this House is Yukonersí business, and weíre not doing that. Weíre listening to just exactly what you described ó banter from the opposition. We need more than banter, Mr. Chair; we need input. We need to get on the budget. We need to address education, environment, transportation, energy, mines and resources, and see where the money is being spent and have discussions in line-by-line ó $724-million questions.
Thatís whatís in the budget. Thatís what we should be debating. I think the banter is a cover-up for the fact that they donít want to debate line by line. They want to fill their days full of banter and, at the end of the day, theyíre going to pass millions and millions of dollarsí worth of money spent and not have a discussion. When that day arises, thatís the day opposition doesnít work.
They were not elected in their ridings to ignore the fact that the most important part of their job is to debate the budget of the territory. That is very important. To give up that responsibility is not what they were elected to do.
But as far as Energy, Mines and Resources and where Devon is, Devon is drilling in north Yukon, spending another $7 million to $10 million on the future of the gas industry in the Yukon. Thatís $30 million spent in a 12-month period in the Yukon. Itís in the ground in the Yukon ó Yukoners working for the gas industry. Thatís the first time that has happened in 30 years. Who did that? This government did that, without the help of the opposition, mind you ó never discussed it. They hid in the back room while we were making the deal that would put Yukoners to work.
Yet they stand up in this House and rant and rave about how weíre not working for Yukoners. At the end of the day, the Yukoners are going to work. We can see that by the statistics. How can the member opposite hold his head up? How can he go out there and say everything is doom and gloom when, at the end of the day, there are more people working in Yukon, more people making a decent living in the Yukon, less unemployment ó all those benchmarks out there.
Theyíre positive, and of course this is a member ó we cannot forget the fact that he can hardly get across the street without problems, and I donít want to bring those issues into the House, but at the end of the day weíre here to do a job. Weíre here to do the job and theyíre not willing to do the job. Theyíre not willing to meet the commitments that their constituents voted them in to do.
Mr. McRobb: Well, itís about time the member ended that routine. I think heís practising to be a stand-up comic back in Watson Lake, or something, but I donít know where heís coming from. He claims democracy is alive and well, but Iíd like to remind him that responsible government is turning in its grave. These are serious issues. The whole discussion this afternoon is focused on whether the government should provide community breakdowns to the opposition parties. Weíve requested the breakdowns prior to the reconvening of the Legislature. So did the third party. We were promised these breakdowns by the government House leader at the budget lock-up. Here we are two weeks later and weíre being told we have to wait another six weeks to get the full list of community breakdowns. We need that information to do our jobs.†
I think I heard the Premier say that it would take a lot of work to produce them. Well, you know what? Itís my understanding that those breakdowns have already been produced. Theyíre already in existence. All the Premier has to do is send them over. Thatís all that needs to be done.
Thatís the discussion this afternoon. We might have the odd laugh and joke, fun and games, but thereís a serious matter at stake. Itís rather ridiculous, when you think about it: hereís the Yukon Legislative Assembly bogged down and arguing about what should be a routine matter. This information should be provided at the outset, along with the budget materials.
The Member for Porter Creek Centre got up and raved on and chastised us on how we should be doing our jobs. Maybe he should learn to do his job first before giving anybody else advice on how they should do theirs. Thatís probably some good advice for that member.
We need that information before we clear general debate. We need that information before we even enter into budget debate and certainly line-by-line debate. There is no good reason why it should be withheld. I would like the Premier to think about a good reason why it should be withheld, because Iím going to ask him that question.
He can think back about what he demanded of the previous government when he was on this side and it tried to withhold the same information. I certainly recall, and it wasnít a very light debate at the time. Things got rather tense, and the government did end up providing that information to the opposition parties.
Iím merely asking him to extend the same courtesy that he was extended by the previous government, when he got up on his feet and made repeated demands of the previous government. I would go so far, Mr. Chair, as to say that any future Yukon government should provide that information automatically at the time of the budget lock-up.
It should be a standard part of the materials provided along with the budget binders, the budget speech, and anything else that is given to opposition members on budget day in the Yukon Territory. It shouldnít be something that allows the government to play hide and seek and other games with the opposition, to taunt the opposition or try to bait the opposition into advancing out of general debate. Thatís not proper democracy. That is not good procedure. That is not good government. That is bad government, and I guess our job is to get the message out to the people ó this is a bad government. Let the people decide.
If the people support that type of information being held secret, well, Mr. Chair, maybe they will want to vote for the Yukon Party again. But if the public feels differently, theyíve got two options and theyíre both on this side of the Legislature: the NDP or the Liberal Party. I canít speak for the third party, but I can speak as a member of this party. We would never do what this Yukon Party is doing by withholding this critical information.
So, Mr. Chair, I want to ask the Premier: what good reason does he have to withhold this information from the opposition?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, I canít give the member a reason, because weíre not intending to withhold anything. Weíve informed the opposition that we certainly will provide detailed information in general debate of this nature. I donít have the responsibility for departments like Community Services, which has a long list of capital projects. I donít have the responsibility for the Department of Highways and Public Works, which has a long list of capital projects.
I also want to point out that there is general debate for each department. There is ample time to provide the members opposite their detailed requests. We need not do it here in general debate on the overall budget.
Does the member have any questions pertinent to the financial situation of the Yukon today? Does the member have any questions about the overall approach of this government in where it is investing money? Does the opposition have any questions around relevant issues in achieving a balanced budget and building Yukonís financial future? Does the opposition have any questions in a general manner related to formalizing a government-to-government relationship and building partnerships with First Nations? Does the opposition have any questions or a desire to debate building a sustainable and competitive economy? Do the members of the opposition have any desire to debate building healthy communities, environment and a better quality of life for Yukoners? These are the items of general debate.
When the members want a list of specific projects that may be housed in Community Services, for example, there will be general debate in that department and this government will make all information available to the opposition.
As I pointed out earlier, we are merely trying to help the opposition so they donít get into the same position they did last spring when they passed hundreds of millions of dollars without one item of discussion. That is not their duty. That is not their obligation. They are not living up to their responsibility in that form of debate. We are trying to assist them to do the right thing, live up to their obligation as elected officials, and debate the budget in detail, as it should be, department by department and line by line.
Mr. McRobb: Well, itís a good thing this Yukon Party is becoming such an expert in the role of the opposition, because it just might need that knowledge in a year or so ó if any of them are left, that is.
Weíre still talking and weíre still debating about whether the community breakdowns will be provided to the opposition parties. The Premierís digging in his heels refusing to provide the information that only a couple of years before he demanded of the previous government. So whatís good enough for him in opposition is obviously not good enough for him now that heís the one in charge.
Where is the leadership over there? Whereís the leadership. I heard him say something to the effect that he has no control over the departments in how they might produce this information. Well, heís the Premier. Heís the boss of every one of those ministers. He can meet in private with each deputy minister. He is the one who can direct that that information be provided from the Finance department, which has the information for every department in the Yukon government. So what we heard from the Premier is absolutely worthless, worthless in terms of substance. Itís a complete evasion of leadership. There are a few other things he evades, but I want to stay on the good side of the House rules.
Now I know the Premier likes to pride himself on his associations with other leaders. He likes to hobnob with Ralph Klein and Gordon Campbell and Frank Murkowski and some of the others, but I ask you just to put in your mind for a moment whether Mr. Murkowski would be in the Alaska State Legislature digging in his heels like this Premier is, refusing to provide information of community breakdown capital spending to the opposition.
Would Mr. Murkowski do that? What about Mr. Klein? Would he do that? Well, you know, thereís a point where some of these gentlemen would say, ďThis is below me. I donít want to go there ó just give them what they want.Ē But not this Premier ó he digs in. Heís a real scrapper. He thinks heís still in opposition. Heís running the government as if heís leader of the opposition from the government bench, and heís arguing about everything.
It is in the public interest that this information be provided, and it should be provided. What about Gordon Campbell in B.C.? Can you envision him refusing this information to the opposition? Well, actually, maybe that case is a little different. Weíre talking about somebody there who even denied the only opposition party official opposition status in his Legislature. Maybe thatís where the Premier gets this from. Maybe heís been hobnobbing with Gordon Campbell a little too much, and when he comes back, he tries to emulate Mr. Campbellís way of trying to dismiss the oppositionís role in the Legislature ó because thatís really what this boils down to. Unless we on this side have information to scrutinize and hold the government accountable, how are we going to do it?
Now, this discussion is going to go on for awhile, unless the Premier stands up and does the right thing. I do want to say that during the budget lock-up, I had the opportunity to stay behind and ask some of the officials for some breakdowns in the Kluane riding.
The purpose of that, Mr. Chair, was to put out a newsletter within the next few days, the ensuing few days, to my constituents about how the budget broke down in their riding. I was successful in doing that. On the Sunday, I managed to e-mail a PDF file ó thatís ďportable document formatĒ ó that is easily opened in Adobe Acrobat to probably about 25 percent of my constituents. So I think thatís a pretty good service.
The extra information I got was actually delivered to quite a few of my constituents before the next working day after the budget was released. But there are a lot of blanks that werenít filled in. I wasnít able to give them the whole story because the officials were unable to give me the whole story. Only the Premier and maybe every one of his colleagues have the whole story, because they probably have the budget breakdowns themselves.
Mr. Chair, people in the communities want to know what projects theyíre going to be getting. Now, Mr. Chair, we know how this government also decreased the relevance of this Legislature by pre-announcing budget items ahead of when the Legislature was reconvened, and that is an issue in itself, how it brought in special warrants for massive amount of spending, how it held press releases, press conferences, you name it, to try to get media attention and to try to get their version of the story out in the media. It worked fairly well.
There is a big issue, however, about democracy in the Yukon and whether that approach should be allowed here, because it really does reduce the relevance of the Yukon Legislature. Well, so does withholding very straightforward information, as this Yukon Party is doing. That also reduces the relevance of this Legislature. I believe that having to spend a lot of time debating this sort of thing reduces the importance of this Legislature.
We, on the opposition side, can choose not to make an issue of this, as we have with several other matters. However, we have drawn a line and we just canít take it any more. We have to stand up and do what is right for Yukoners and for democracy, and insist on information that we should have. Thatís our position. We are not going to drop this one. We want the information that is requested.
The Premier has lectured us on how we can spend our time more efficiently and so have some of his other members. If they really believe what they are saying, then they could please hand over the information. Then they could witness a better use of time in this Legislature, as the opposition can then move on to the next step. But we are not going to take that next step until we know where it is leading. Thatís why we need some of the information from this government.
Now, we do have some time. I want to go back to something else that the Premier said. I heard him talk about all the money they spent in the communities, and they listed some of the communities. Well, I do have a complaint. This was identified in the newsletter I sent out on Easter Sunday. It compares spending in four Yukon communities. It compares spending in Watson Lake, Dawson City, Teslin and Haines Junction.
Mr. Chair, hereís a picture of the chart. On the top you see Haines Junction. Itís barely visible in terms of charting how much government money is spent there. Then we have Teslin, Dawson, Watson Lake ó massive spending in those communities.
Iíll give you what the amounts are: Haines Junction, $483,000 ó less than half a million dollars ó shame; Teslin, more than $4.1 million ó wow, thatís more than eight times as much; Dawson City, $11.9 million ó thatís 44 times as much; Watson Lake, $7.359 million ó thatís about 15 times as much. Yet this government says it responds to community wishes in the budget tours, it responds fairly across the territory. Mr. Chair, the budget speaks for itself.
We would like to know more about how these expenditures break down, but the government is hiding the information. It wonít tell us what the breakdown is for those expenditures.
Maybe thereís a good reason why theyíre hiding this information. Theyíd be embarrassed to provide it ó for good reason. This governmentís not fair. Itís not governing on behalf of people in the territory. This is the government that governs and spends according to the insiders and the small group of people within it.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: I believe itís out of order to impute that a member is representing someone other than their constituents in suggesting that members on this side are engaging in backroom deals with an insular group, as was implied by the Member for Kluane. That is clearly not only untrue but in contravention of that Standing Order.
Mr. McRobb: There is no point of order. The members on the government side are getting thin-skinned. They donít like this thrown back at them. I suggest that the best remedy therefore would be to provide the information they should have in the first place.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: I donít believe thereís a point of order, but as it is the customary time for a break, I would ask if members wish a short recess.
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: We will recess for 15 minutes.
Deputy Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order.
Mr. McRobb: Weíre resuming debate on community budget breakdowns. Isnít that sweet? Here we are, Members of the Legislative Assembly, arguing about something as simple as a few pieces of paper that have breakdowns for each community in the Yukon in regard to the expenditures in that community in the way of capital expenses. Yet the government wonít provide it. Until the government does provide it, I guess the debate will go on. So I would like to ensure the government knows what the situation is, starting off with that, and Iíd also like to give the situation an opportunity to cool off a bit and hopefully the documents weíre requesting will make their way over to this side of the Chamber and we can move on.
So to let things cool off, Mr. Chair, I thought I would share with the members opposite some information that was included in my special budget edition newsletter. Maybe some of them might in the future want to replicate this service that I have provided to my constituents, if they are provided an opportunity to send out another budget message, because there is some uncertainty in the air whether there will be an election before the next budget. But just in case any of them are around for another budget, they may wish to take some notes.
Upon request, if any of them would actually like a copy of the newsletter, Iíll gladly forward one over. We have no problem with information sharing on this side of the House.
So, Mr. Chair, this newsletter was sent out. It was a two-pager. It basically had an introduction, laying out what the newsletter was, and it also talked about how the information was received.
Most of the information for these expenditures was gathered from budget documents, discussions with Finance department officials and media reports. These expenditures were compared with a list of spending commitments made previously by this government and with other priorities I know have been identified by people in our region.
Mr. Chair, that comes as a result of direct contact and communication with people in the riding, whether itís an individual or a government, like one of the three First Nations or the municipal government, or non-profit organizations or by attending the Premierís budget meetings. I did attend ó there were at least two, I believe, one in Haines Junction and one in Destruction Bay.
So what I did at those opportunities was to take notes and compare what Iím aware is in this budget with the expectations.
Now, on the back page of the newsletter, there were three categories: the good news, the bad news, and no news.
I also pointed out how this budget has new spending records in the territory and my disappointment that it didnít provide very much for Haines Junction. A few moments ago, I gave the numbers for Haines Junction compared to a few other communities. By the way, the other three communities are in ridings held by the Yukon Party government.
Now, the article and chart on the first page compared how spending in Haines Junction compared to other communities. The most notable item in the budget is the absence of funds to start the construction of the seniors facility in Haines Junction. This was the top priority of the Kluane region. This is an issue thatís not new. It has been discussed here, and it was something I conveyed to the Premier-elect within two or three days of the election. It was something that was recognized by everybody.
Yet, is there anything in the budget to start construction of that facility in Haines Junction? You know, this is the third budget from this government. There was nothing in the first budget, and barely anything in the second. There was some money for a study. I think the actual costs of the study came in at about $8,000 or something. It wasnít too much. It was probably worthwhile for the Health minister ó it bought him time.
The real agenda of this government, of course, was the extravagant seniors facilities in both Dawson City and Watson Lake.
The Health minister has gone on ad nauseum about how their decisions are based on need. I would like to point out something to the Health minister and to this government. If you look at the latest statistics produced by the Yukon government itself, from December 2004, the number of people age 65 and up for Dawson City, Watson Lake, and the Kluane region, as well as Teslin, the winner is the Kluane region, with the most seniors, at 110. So, the governmentís choice isnít based on need; it is based on politics. Yet the Health minister has stood on his feet time and time again and said the opposite. There is a word for that, but it is unparliamentary.
The right thing to do would have been to launch three seniors facilities in the territory ó in Watson Lake, Dawson City and Kluane ó because they are all virtually at between 101 and 110 seniors. It would have been the right thing to do. Did the government do the right thing? The answer is no. Thatís a top issue in my riding about this budget and how it fails to serve my constituents.
More details will emerge as this sitting continues. Letís look a little more at some of the other budget requests from my riding. The reason I focus on my riding is quite simple: I am not apprised or aware of all the budget requests made in other ridings, nor really should I be. It is up to MLAs in those ridings to advance the interests of their constituents.
But I am aware of some projects that are in need of funding. For instance, what about preparing the economy in the Kluane region for the coming demise of all the road construction jobs? The Shakwak reconstruction highway project will expire in a couple of years. There will be dozens and dozens of workers out of work. This could cause several families to have to actually move. Already weíre seeing an exodus from the communities into Whitehorse where people are forced to take low-paying retail jobs just to make ends meet.
So the government is doing nothing to fill that void, and this is a situation that should be handled in a proactive manner, not a reactive manner as this government appears to be headed toward.
What about the new cultural centre for the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations? Last summer, it completed a feasibility study. This project needs about $5 million. Thereís a study, thereís a design, everything is waiting. This is another project for Haines Junction that was ignored by this Yukon Party government.
What about participation in the 2007 Canada Winter Games? There has been correspondence to this government to that effect in regard to upgrade of recreational facilities in town. Other submissions and appeals have been made to this government. How did the Yukon Party respond? It ignored and denied and refused those requests.
So apparently Haines Junction will be shut out of all the activity, the biggest sporting event probably north of 60 in history to a community barely an hour and a half away with great scenery and friendly people, as well as lots of volunteers ó we saw that in the Arctic Winter Games in 2000. The community wanted to participate but will have to sit on the sidelines.
I know the situation may be different in Teslin because Teslin had its recreation facilities upgraded. Perhaps Teslin will see some skating events, Mr. Chair. Iím sure that would please you. Well, what about the rest of us? The Yukon Party doesnít share the wealth beyond its own members very equitably, does it?
You know, historically Yukon people have rejected governments that spend the publicís money in a politically crass way. If a recent opinion poll is any indication, this governmentís days at the budget helm are numbered, and for good reason ó and itíll be good riddance too, I might add.
Mr. Chair, Iím going to continue to let things cool off about the community budget breakdowns. We still havenít seen any material provided yet. I do have some more time. I want to go over some of the good news thatís in the budget for the riding just to demonstrate that my perspective is fair and balanced.
Beaver Creek will get $120,000 for resurfacing the airport runway and $146,000 for the Chisana caribou project. That latter project was announced just the other day, as it commenced. It doesnít appear thereís any spending actually in the community of Beaver Creek itself, and that could be a concern.
Just outside of Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay, the sewage lagoon will receive a fair chunk of change this year, half of it thanks to the federal government. Now, I might add on that one that this project was supposed to be completed several years ago, but previous governments fumbled the ball, and not much happened in regard to this sewage lagoon.
I might also add that Iím not sure if the project will be completed this year because I do recall some qualifying language when it was first announced that indicated it wouldnít quite be finished. So that information will have to be confirmed later.
Now, what Haines Junction did get out of that $483,000, the total amount ó that includes $250,000 for lot development. Mr. Chair, that is for the development of lots near the airport road just north of Haines Junction. However, that is a recoverable expense. People who purchase the lots will be paying back the government that amount. So really, then, we should subtract $250,000 from the $483,000 figure, and weíre left with $233,000, or about a quarter of a million dollars, Mr. Chair, or about the same amount as that contract for the Agricultural Association director to oversee the fairground proposal.
Well, Mr. Chair, how pusillanimous can this government possibly get when it comes to being fair and equitable and sharing the wealth in other ridings and communities?
How pusillanimous can it possibly get, Mr. Chair? That is a question. The members look befuddled. They donít know how pusillanimous this government can get. But maybe if it is given another budget opportunity, it can get even more pusillanimous than it is now.
I will add that what was spent in Haines Junction, the central community in the Kluane riding, was very paltry. This government ought to be embarrassed. It really ought to be embarrassed at how much. It will get $40,000 for a mobile fire retardant base. Well, thatís not very much ó a mobile fire retardant base. How many other communities are getting that? Is this part of the devolution transfer agreement? Is this part of the federal gratuities? Should we thank the Premier for this or thank Mr. Martin for this? It is unclear at this point.
It will get $10,000 for a dock at the liquor store. Here we go. Here is the Yukon Party back on the liquor store bandwagon again. I recall from previous Yukon Party governments that they got hung up on liquor stores in Watson Lake and buying lots for a liquor store in Haines Junction that still isnít there. The lots were bought. Do you know what buying those lots actually achieved, Mr. Chair? It increased the personal property taxes for everybody living in Haines Junction. Thatís what it achieved. It artificially boosted their property taxes for the past eight or nine years now, or whenever that assessment was done ó probably eight years at least ó because the government paid top dollar for those lots. Those lots are still full of trees and nothing has been done. They have ďfor saleĒ signs on them.
As a matter of fact, NGOs, the local village government, and other people have requested the government to actually do something on those lots. So far it has refused, and apparently this budget continues this negative approach. Thereís nothing in it to provide for the development of those lots. So thatís it for Haines Junction. What an embarrassment. If I ever hear any member of that government again ever stand up and boast how theyíre fair to other communities and spend on behalf of all Yukoners, and so on, Iím going to have to stand up on a point of order because we know now what the truth is. We know the truth, so any deviation from that will obviously not be the truth.
Now, there is some Highways spending. Thereís $24.5 million on the Shakwak. However, we can thank Uncle Sam for that, because this Yukon Party government rode on the coattails of previous governments for a continuance of funds under that agreement.
There are some bridges being replaced at Beaver Creek and Donjek River and so on, but those are also under the Shakwak highway agreement, again thanks to Uncle Sam. So, really, any spending of any substance in the whole riding, you can see is tied to the federal government or the U.S. government. This Yukon Party government has actually very little to do with anything, despite the requests that were made by the public, the letters that came in, and all kinds of interaction. This government chose to ignore it.
My time is running out. I want to thank you for this opportunity and again ask the Premier for the budget community breakdowns.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Let me begin by saying how pleased, encouraged and proud we are of being able to distribute the wealth of the territory in a fair and equitable manner so all Yukoners will benefit. I would point out to the member opposite that in the riding of Kluane, over $2 million is being invested in areas of importance to the citizens of the riding of Kluane.
Now, weíre not doing anything in the memberís yard in Haines Junction or with his driveway, and weíre not going to enhance the memberís lifestyle. We are taking care of Yukoners ó their demonstrated needs and what is important to them. I would also point out that regardless of what we put into the community of Haines Junction, or any other community in the memberís riding, he has consistently voted against every single expenditure that has been brought forward on behalf of his communities. So the memberís arguments donít hold any water.
We will provide the information the members have asked for. If we look in the pages of Hansard ó in fact, if we could get Hansard to play back the tapes, we would hear the responses over and over and over again this afternoon from this side of the House committing to provide that information to the members opposite.
The members opposite fail to recognize that this is a situation best handled by departments. There is nothing wrong with having a minister responsible provide information to members opposite. It happens all the time. If the members want to go back in time as to what have been the standard processes ó itís up to individual ministers to decide if they want to provide certain information.
I think the Member for Kluaneís problem is that he doesnít want to delve into the budget document and start asking questions in a general manner, so that we can have a discussion in general debate on the overall budget.
The members try to be specific and focus in on certain departments at their convenience; thatís not general debate, and I would add that each department will require us to have general debate as we go forward. But it is important that we try and assist the opposition, because they have failed ó failed, Mr. Chair ó in their responsibilities to Yukoners by not debating hundreds of millions of dollars in this House and just simply passing. That is not why they were elected. So weíre merely trying to assist the opposition in living up to its responsibility, and try to direct them in a very sincere and positive manner.
Yes, we will provide detail for them. It is important that we also pass on to the member opposite that just outside of Haines Junction there is going to be over $10 million of highway reconstruction. That will benefit the citizens of Haines Junction, but the member opposite will vote against that also. If he opens up the mains, the big budget document, heíll find those kinds of expenditures in there.
So the government side is not holding anything back or withholding anything. The government is trying to help the opposition do their job. Maybe the members opposite should just join the government and get it over with, and then they could have all the information they think they need.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: The Premier is trying to lure us in all kinds of directions. Finally, he has peeked out, he has come out of the closet, and he said heís trying to lure us to join the government. Well, Mr. Chair, I want to go on record by saying that some of us will want to retain our principles and our scruples and why would we go to a sinking ship, Mr. Chair?
Deputy Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: That is totally uncalled for by the member opposite. He is certainly contravening section 19(g) of the Standing Orders, imputing false or unavowed motives to another member, to this side of the House. Mr. Chair, this is just a deplorable display of unparliamentary professionalism by the Member for Kluane.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: Order please. There is no point of order. It is merely a dispute between members.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are trying to be helpful and I would urge the member opposite to look at this budget. I listed a number of themes earlier this afternoon that the member may want to discuss. The member could ask questions like: how is it that we are investing in healthy communities for Yukon? How is it that we are investing in formalizing our relationship with First Nations at a government-to-government level? How is it that we are investing in building a sustainable and competitive economy?
These are items of debate that are general in nature and Iím sure the member would want to discuss how it is that this government has achieved a balance between the environment and the economy. These are important areas that would require debate of a general nature, and weíre prepared to do that. But if the members want to get into specific projects or line departments, then we move into that area of debate and allow the ministers who have that responsibility to engage with the members opposite and provide the detail necessary.
This is a pretty simple process. It appears the members opposite are not ready to debate the budget and would rather have just a discussion. Well, I guess we could talk about anything ó the weather, current events, anything they want to talk about. However, that will not do the members opposite much good when it comes to living up to their responsibilities.
So the Member for Kluane appears somewhat agitated and one can only wonder why. Things are actually improving in this territory considerably, not only in parts of the territory the member doesnít represent but in his own riding. I think maybe the member opposite is looking for a new station in his political career, because it appears that the New Democrats, the official opposition, arenít getting along that well.
That is unfortunate because it may diminish democracy in this territory, with an opposition that is dysfunctional in its collectivity and its approach. However, that is not our choice to make.
Does the member wish to move on, or are there some questions and discussion of a general nature that the member would like to debate?
†Mr. McRobb: Well, we are still waiting for the community breakdowns and, contrary to what the Premier said, that information cannot be located in the budget binder that we were provided.
There is one thing that the Premier said that I do place some value on. Apparently he alluded to somebody switching parties or something, some rumour that he might have picked up. Well, it should be beyond us to bring rumours into the Legislature. However, given the Premierís past, I would say that he has personal experience with switching parties in the Yukon Legislature, and maybe if he gives his opinion and relates his experiences, we should listen, because he has been there, he has done that, and obviously he has something constructive to say. That would be unlike his reference to finding the information we seek in the budget binders, which is wrong.
Something else that the Premier said that was wrong is how the highway spending outside of Haines Junction should be considered as part of the expenditures for that community. When I was filing some papers in my Whitehorse home office recently, I came across some information that directly pertains to that issue.
Back in the Premierís first term in this Legislature, he made some comment about how the expenditures in Watson Lake were at some astronomical figure. The Yukon Party leader of the day, Mr. Ostashek, challenged him on that point. Mr. Ostashek clearly spelled out how highway spending should not be lumped in with spending in a particular community. I agree with Mr. Ostashek, and he is my constituent.
There is a good principle at stake here. People in a community ó any community in the Yukon ó that is accessible by highway, which is virtually every one, with the exception perhaps of Old Crow, should not be deprived of their community needs because some government decides to upgrade the highway leading to or through their town. That type of improvement is considered a general Yukon improvement, and it should not displace spending that occurs in a nearby community. It should not be lumped in with spending in the community, like the Premier did back in his first term in government.
Now, letís talk about that highway spending because the Premier made a big issue out of it. Well, there is something he forgot to say, so I will enlighten the members who arenít aware of this. There probably arenít too many members who are aware of this information. Perhaps the Highways and Public Works minister is aware, and perhaps the former Premier is aware. Thatís probably about it.
Thereís such an instrument in the Yukon as the highway devolution agreement between the Government of Yukon and the federal government. That agreement provides an amount of money for capital spending each year. The last time I saw that agreement, that amount was in the neighbourhood of about $23 million. What the agreement requires is the Yukon government to spend $23 million each year to upgrade Yukon highways as part of the devolution transfer agreement.
Mr. Chair, the agreement identifies the top priority as the Alaska Highway. I remember a bit more about it ó I think itís actually $22.5 million. Anyway, the Alaska Highway is the top priority. That should be upgraded first before other highways.
So what we have is a situation where the only part of the entire Alaska Highway through the Yukon that has yet to be upgraded to modern highway standards happens to be just this side of Haines Junction. Thereís one other section along Kluane Lake; however, thatís part of the Shakwak highway that the United States is paying for.
So, Mr. Chair, after that small section out there is done, it can be said that the entire Alaska Highway through the Yukon has now been upgraded to modern highway standards. Sure, there are some sections that could stand to be reconstructed a little better. I know the section through Ibex Valley that I drive quite frequently and is in the Member for Lake Labergeís riding is an absolute disgrace, but heís not concerned about that. Heís too busy promising money to his friends in the Agricultural Association.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: † Mr. Chair, the Member for Kluane is imputing false or unavowed motives to me, in contravention of Standing Order 19(g), in suggesting that I had false motives in cutting backroom deals that he has invented in his mind. His comments with regard to suggesting that Iím not concerned about my constituents in the Ibex are also inaccurate.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: There is a point of order, and I would ask that the Member for Kluane recognize and respect the fact that the Member for Lake Laberge has sworn an oath to serve his constituents, the same as the Member for Kluane has. I would ask him to respect that.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you. I apologize if I broke the House rules. I know the Member for Lake Laberge has sworn, and for more information, just refer to Question Period from today. Itís all in Hansard. So, Mr. Chair, back to ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, itís hard to speak with all the members across the way becoming so excited.
So I want to continue on and complete what I set out to do, and that was to inform some of the uninformed members about the highway agreement. Basically, by the end of this summer, the entire Alaska Highway will be updated, except for a few sections. Now, those sections were some of the first sections that were upgraded and are the problem sections now, and no doubt they will be upgraded again. But they were paved and they were straightened out. So finally the Yukon will see an Alaska Highway that is completely paved and reconstructed, and that is something to behold.
That reminds me of another issue, the highway pullout kiosk this side of Haines Junction that this government has let sit in limbo for about a year now. It is red-taped on the side of the highway. Itís an embarrassment to Haines Junction and there hasnít been a decision made on what to do with it. I gave my view on what should be done. I think it was constructive input. I think we should resurrect the mile 1,000 pullout on the Alaska Highway ó itís of historical significance. Kluane National Park has agreed to contribute to the display signage at the site. It makes sense to do that.
The Alaska Highway is significant. We even hear some members across the way get up and say that. They should put their money where their mouths are and actually resurrect such an important site as the historic mile 1,000 pullout. That could replace the embarrassing kiosk that has been abandoned by the Yukon Party.
Before we leave the highway spending ó this Yukon Party didnít do it because the highway needed upgrading; this Yukon Party did it because its friends in the road construction business who supported it and helped it get elected were looking for work. This government, of course, certainly likes to help those out ó its backroom friends ó and that is why we have seen so much road construction in the past two Yukon Party budgets. I think last year was a record amount. This year, itís a bit less. Thatís because some of the money is being diverted to the bridge in Dawson City.
Thatís another issue, because the governmentís plan is starting to take hold. The major chunk of the spending for the Dawson bridge wonít be paid by this government; itís going to be paid by the next government.
It wonít be this Yukon Party government, and there probably wonít be another Yukon Party government, so this government will sign all the contracts and it will be up to the next government to actually pay the bills. We see that unfolding pretty clearly.
There are all kinds of questions about spending. You know, the Premier tried to make another point about how the community breakdown information isnít required to really analyze the budget. I want to make a point. We need to look at some communities holistically in terms of capital spending in order to assess whether the budget does the right thing for that community. Sometimes that spending is multi-departmental. We cannot go into lines or budget debate in any particular department and ask that question because thatís a general debate question. Weíre at general debate now, so when the Premier tries to direct us into the departments for that information, thatís a non-starter, that doesnít fly. Before we can ask those questions in general debate, we need to see the information on what is exactly being spent in each Yukon community. That brings us back to the need for the community breakdowns.
This government insists on hoarding and not providing it to the opposition. Why doesnít the Premier send a note upstairs and ask one of his dozens of staff members up there to bring down the pile that is probably in his closet, the one with the yellow sticky note that says ďfor the opposition eventuallyĒ and bring it down here and let us have it? Let us have the information. Itís starting to gather dust. Okay, letís divulge the information so we can move on. Why doesnít the Premier ask for the information to be sent down?
Mr. Cathers: It has been very entertaining in a somewhat disturbing fashion to listen to the Member for Kluane expounding on his view of the world. However, I cannot let his comments go uncorrected. The Member for Kluane has been trying to spin a tapestry, suggesting that this government is only spending in ridings held by members on this side. That is the furthest thing from the truth. I would urge the member to actually pick up a copy of the budget and read it.
Iíd like to go through a few examples of money being spent in other ridings by this government.
Before I start, Iíd like to note that it was glaringly obvious when the member opposite was referring to his newsletter that he had not included a graph for Carmacks or Mayo in his display of the spending because he would not have liked the picture that graph would have shown ó that being that this government is indeed spending in ridings held by opposition MLAs. We spend where need is noted; we do not spend based on who holds the riding.
Now, this government has, in this budget before us now ó if the member opposite would pick up a copy of it. He could even read the budget highlights to save him the work of going through it, department by department. I know the budget is a pretty ó
Deputy Chairís statement
Deputy Chair: I would ask that all members wait their turn or rise to be recognized before speaking. I would ask them to allow the member to continue on with his speaking.
Mr. Cathers: In this budget, summarized in the budget highlights to save the Member for Kluane the work of reading through the entire budget, thereís the following: $2 million for Carmacks sewage treatment; $1.2 million for a new multi-celled sewage lagoon just south of Burwash Landing to replace the existing facility in Destruction Bay; $250,000 to complete lot development in Haines Junction; and $5.4 million for the Tantalus School in Carmacks.
Mr. Chair, that school has needed replacing for a long time. Itís held by an NDP MLA, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun. When he was a minister, he failed to deliver a school. He failed to have that replaced for his constituents. It is being done by this government.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Deputy Chair, on a point of order, I think the House would be enlightened to know the Member for Mayo-Tatchun was not the Education minister, so he could not provide a school anywhere.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: There is no point of order.
Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for that quick ruling. Iíd like to note that there was certainly no reference in my comments to whether the Member for Mayo-Tatchun was the Minister of Education or not. He sat at Cabinet, he sat at Management Board, he was a member of the sitting government, and the Member for Mayo-Tatchun failed to deliver for his constituents. It is being dealt with by this government for that town. The Member for Mayo-Tatchun has done nothing except try to create an issue about this and try to derail the project, in my opinion.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: On a point of order, I believe it is not in the best interest of debate and is contrary to Standing Order 19(g) to stand on the floor of the House and insist that another member has done nothing for his riding. I do believe that has been ruled on, not once but several times by you, Mr. Deputy Chair, the Chair and the Speaker. Perhaps we could remind the Member for Lake Laberge of that ruling.
Deputy Chair: Mr. Kenyon, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, Standing Order 19(g), as cited, imputes false or unavowed motives to another member. Doing nothing does not constitute anything false or unavowed. It simply is doing nothing. There is no point of order; itís a statement of fact.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: There is a point of order, in the fact that the member is second-guessing what another member might have been doing at the time, and we do not do that. I would ask him to refrain from doing it in the future.
Mr. Cathers: Thank you for that ruling, Mr. Chair. It was certainly not my intent to say anything out of order. However, I would like to clarify what I was meaning, noting that the Member for Mayo-Tatchun did fail to deliver a replacement school while he was a sitting member of Cabinet. That is a fact. Whatever actions he attempted to take, I made no reference to. He did, however, fail to deliver a school.
Moving on to other items that this government is doing in ridings held by opposition MLAs, we are supporting the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, as they requested, in protecting the critical habitat of the Porcupine caribou herd. They have taken the lead, as per their request, and we have provided support, including funding.
Moving on ó $24.45 million for Shakwak projects. Now, the Member for Kluane appeared to be saying that that was nothing, that it shouldnít be counted, and that it is irrelevant. I would suggest that the people of his riding probably do not feel that $24.45 million is irrelevant. That money is being invested due to the hard work of the Minister of Highways and Public Works, due to the hard work of the Premier and other members in building a relationship with Alaska. We have succeeded in getting Shakwak funding extended past the original end, and there is $24.45 million in this yearís budget.
There is $1 million in this yearís budget for the Dempster Highway, $4 million for an airport terminal in Old Crow. That riding is clearly held by an NDP MLA. I would urge the Member for Kluane to pick up a copy of the budget and to read it.
Weíve seen in previous sittings that the opposition does not want to debate line by line. Weíve had lengthy general debate, which has focused largely on personal attacks against members of this side on attempts to see bogeymen in the closet where none exist. I hear the Member for Kluane talking about UFOs. Thatís very interesting. If the Member for Kluane has seen UFOs, I would urge him to report it and to perhaps consult medical help.
The members opposite do not want to debate line by line, or do not appear to, because they do not want to talk about all the positive things in this budget, all the positive line items, the positive investments that this government is making in communities and making in the Yukon as a whole. It seems they donít want to talk about mining exploration, how itís expected to be over $30 million in 2005. When we took office, mining exploration in 2002 was only $6.9 million. If exploration predictions for 2005 prove true, mining exploration under our governmentís watch will have more than quadrupled in a period of two years due to the fine work of the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, other members of this government and hardworking government employees in these departments.
The development of the integrated resource management process, involving project champions, has been a very positive initiative that the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources has seen come to fruition. It is working. It is helping industry move forward. It is helping business.
Letís talk about business. Letís talk about increased investment. It seems the Member for Kluane doesnít want to talk about business.
In October of last year, 2004, I attended the Yukon Chamber of Commerce AGM held in the memberís hometown of Haines Junction. There were other members there from the government side. The Liberal MLA was not there; there were no NDP MLAs there, although I understand the Member for Kluane was in fact in Haines Junction on that day, yet he didnít even do a buzz-through or walk through the room at the St. Elias Tourism and Convention Centre through one coffee party, through one buffet line, shake a few hands and say, ďThe NDP cares about business.Ē
The conclusion I draw from that is that the NDP does not care about business. They do not care what the Yukonís overarching business organization has to say about what their concerns are. They failed to send even a single member to hear what business was saying in a riding held by one of their MLAs, the Member for Kluane in his hometown of Haines Junction, and he was not there.
I find that just disgraceful.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, the Member for Lake Laberge is getting quite wound up. I would like to inform him that I was at an event at the St. Elias convention centre that took place during the Chamber of Commerceís AGM.
So obviously the member is wrong in the information heís trying to advance in this Legislature. Maybe he should try to focus on the central issue of debate this afternoon, which is why this Yukon Party government is refusing to provide important information on the budget to the opposition parties. Thatís the crucial point of debate.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: There is no point of order. Mr. Cathers, you have the floor.
Mr. Cathers: While I thank you for that quick ruling, I would note that if the Member for Kluane was indeed at the St. Elias Tourism and Convention Centre ó since I was there the entire time ó he must have been invisible.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Itís not very often that I receive a compliment like that.
I would like to refocus the debate back to the Premier. I want to ask the Premier if he would undertake to send us over some pages of information that weíve been requesting. It doesnít have to be today. Maybe he could get around to cleaning out his closet tomorrow, or even Thursday morning would be acceptable. Would the Premier undertake to do that for us in the opposition benches?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: This has been an invigorating debate, to be sure. Obviously, democracy is in good hands with the opposition.
We have never refused to provide the information, not once. I challenge the Member for Kluane to review Hansard tomorrow and find where this government has refused to provide the information that the member seeks. We have offered options on how that could be done, and the member seems to be ignoring what the answers were.
Now, let me point something out. The member previously went on at great length about not being able to find anywhere in the budget document the $10.3-million expenditure for the Alaska Highway outside of Haines Junction. I would refer the member to the budget highlights. He doesnít even have to go into the mains, where all the detail is. Right here in the budget highlights, under highways and public works ó let me see. Yup, there it is ó $10.3 million for upgrading of the north Alaska Highway, Whitehorse to Haines Junction. There it is in print. Why would the member ask this question, and why would the member say itís not in the budget?
Itís just the point that we are entering into this endless discourse again for no reason and itís counterproductive. What the opposition should be doing is contributing to what is the largest budget in the history of the Yukon Territory. This budget is investing in education, investing in our social fabric, investing in our health care system, investing in our infrastructure, investing in creating jobs and opportunities for Yukoners ó investing in the future.
Why canít the member stand up and explain where they would have invested $784 million? Would they have put it into shutting down the mining industry through needless regulatory quagmires? Would they have invested it in things that have absolutely no benefit to Yukoners, that would contribute to an increase in the unemployment factor and an exodus of the population? What would they do?
Take the issue of education. Would the members opposite build a school in Carmacks? Now, the school in Carmacks is needed. The children in the community of Carmacks are in unhealthy, unsafe and unacceptable conditions.
Thatís why weíre building the school. Would the member opposite invest in the Porter Creek expansion and renovation for a school in Whitehorse that has, as I understand it, the fastest growing school population? Would the member opposite invest $2.415 million in Teslin school renovations, another demonstrated need? What about the ventilation system in the Jack Hulland Elementary School? Mr. Chair, would the member invest in that? Would the member undertake education reform? Would the member opposite invest in that particular initiative?
Well, Mr. Chair, we know that the opposition doesnít support the student grant. They voted against it. But here in the budget is another $100,000 toward a student grant. Would the member invest another $1.5 million in the community training trust funds? Mr. Chair, these are important areas of discussion and debate. The member has not brought up any of these.
Would the Member for Kluane, when it comes to Community Services, invest in the upgrade of the Teslin arena and install an artificial ice plant and, if the member wouldnít do that, explain to the residents of Teslin why? Would the member complete the community hall in Ross River? What about stabilizing the Mayo dike? What about stabilizing the Porcupine River bank in Old Crow? What about a half-a-million-dollar investment for the arts community in Dawson City through KIAC? What about the sewage treatment plant or the sewage treatment initiative in Carmacks? What about lot development in Haines Junction? In the memberís own riding, would the member get on his feet here on the floor of the Legislature and disagree with a $250,000 investment for lot development in his own riding?
If so, give the rationale to his constituents on why.
What about the million dollars for the Marwell trunk upgrade? Would the member invest in that, or not? These are the types of discussions we should be having. Would the member invest in a Hamilton Boulevard pumphouse upgrade, or not? Would the member invest $680,000 in affordable housing, and if not, why not? This is the type of debate we should have.
Would the member invest in the rural economic development strategy? The member opposite is from a rural community, and if the member wouldnít support that kind of investment, why not? Explain it to rural Yukoners.
Would the member invest in the enterprise trade fund, $1 million? The members have voted against this, which is somewhat confusing because an enterprise trade fund is something that should be near and dear to the members opposite given their socialistic bent. We are helping people through taxpayer investment.
Would the member invest the $3.5 million in the CDF? We all know the community development fund was an initiative started by the New Democrats, yet they appear to oppose it these days, for what reason we donít know. Letís discuss that. Do the members opposite agree that $3.5 million in the community development fund is a reasonable investment to helping Yukoners?
Would the members opposite invest $700,000 plus in the film and sound industry? Now this is something thatís important to diversifying the Yukon economy.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, the Member for Kluane says ďwe would have done better.Ē Then, why arenít we discussing and debating how the member would have done better?
How about technology and innovation? Would the members invest in that? Would the members create, in partnership with Dana Naye Ventures, an access-to-capital fund, a loans fund? I think not, because they have a real problem with the private sector. It is not in their makeup to support small business or the corporate community whatsoever.
Would the members opposite invest $10.4 million on behalf of our seniors in communities like Watson Lake and Dawson City, in building multi-level care facilities in those two communities? Would the members opposite invest $100,000 for childcare service development? If not, why not? This is strengthening our social fabric.†
How about $800,000 plus for a new group home for high-risk adolescents? Would the members oppose that? Would the members support that? What would they do with high-risk adolescents?
What about new equipment for the hospital? $660,000 to improve our health care system and our ability to deliver health care for all Yukoners ó would the members oppose that? Is that something that the members find fault with ó improving the health care system for Yukon? What about purchasing new ambulances and equipment ó again, improving our ability to deliver health care? How about the coordination of a drug and alcohol abuse summit? This is something that the memberís leader, the leader of the official opposition, demanded that we do something about here in Whitehorse. Well, this government has listened to the members opposite, the leader of the official opposition. We are doing something and we are doing it in partnership with the opposition and others.
Does the Member for Kluane support that initiative or not? If not, why not? His own leader is promoting it. What about the focus on FASD? Does the member have a problem with investing in helping those who suffer from this particular problem? What about the $5.3 million dedicated to childcare? Does the member have a problem with that? Why canít we debate that? Why arenít we having that discussion? This has nothing to do with community breakdown. This has to do with investment in creating a better quality of life for Yukoners.
The Childrenís Act review, in partnership with First Nations ó does the member have a problem with that? Shouldnít we address the problems in the Childrenís Act? Thatís what weíre doing.
In general debate, why arenít we discussing on the floor of this House the $72 million for capital projects under highways and public works? If the members want to get into it on a specific basis ó line by line for any specific project ó we have the line departments and ministers responsible, ready and willing to discuss these items with the members opposite.
But in general terms, why arenít the members asking how it is that we have seen our way clear to increase the budget for highways and public works in this area by 30 percent plus? We have invested this kind of monies into this area because it creates jobs and opportunities for Yukoners. This is something that the previous ó I noticed this, having been on the dark side and having seen the light and crossed the floor to reality. The NDP are famous for cutting capital and then investing in areas that are very detrimental to the growth of any jurisdiction.
Ask Ontario; ask B.C. Look what happened to the Yukon in the 1990s.
Mr. Chair, what about $24.45 million in the Shakwak? This is in the memberís riding, improving the infrastructure for Yukoners in the memberís riding, and this is an investment from the Americans. The members opposite would stand on the floor of this House and berate the Americans for decisions they make in their government and not reflect on the fact that it is the Americans investing millions upon millions of dollars in improving Yukon infrastructure. Mr. Chair, the members opposite would compromise Yukonís future by opposing the pipeline and the possible rail link and use those initiatives as bargaining chips ó for what reason no one could ever figure out.
What about the upgrading of the Campbell Highway, the Dempster Highway, the Top of the World Highway, Tagish Road, Klondike Highway and the rural road program ó all investments in this budget, all areas of general debate, not one item of discussion. I think the problem for the opposition is that thereís too much good news here. There is too much of an investment in improving the quality of life for Yukoners, and the members opposite donít want to be caught criticizing these investments. They donít want to discuss them.
So we stickhandle around and around about nothing. We have committed numerous times this afternoon to provide the members opposite the information they have asked for, and we will follow through with that. Without a doubt, we will follow through with that. I think the opposition should reflect on what it is theyíre trying to accomplish.
In essence, I think the opposition would do a lot better by forgetting about general debate and moving into department debate so that they can contribute to the growth and the future of this territory instead of talking about nothing.
Considering the time, I move that you report progress.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Chair: Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, clearly thereís five minutes to go. There is no need to leave this Assembly early. I think the Premier is cutting it short. We need to respond to what the Premier has put on the record. A number of items need to be clarified and straightened out and we have five minutes. Letís make some good use of the time.
Deputy Chairís ruling
Deputy Chair: Order please. There is no point of order as the motion is in order. Mr. Fentie has moved that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Deputy Chair: Mr. Jenkins has 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 Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Deputy Chairís report
Mr. Hassard: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: The House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.