Monday, April 18, 2005 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: † We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: Under tabling returns and documents, I have for tabling the report of the Chief Electoral Officer on political contributions to the registered political parties during 2004.
Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the pan-territorial report on developing a new framework for sovereignty and security in the north.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT a special committee of the Yukon Legislative Assembly be appointed during the spring 2005 sitting of the Legislative Assembly to conduct a public review of the legislation, rules and practices that apply to the Yukon Legislative Assembly and its members;
THAT the committee consist of an equal number of members from each of the three recognized political parties in the Legislative Assembly, plus the Speaker, who shall act as neutral chair of the committee;
THAT, at any time that the Speaker is unable to attend the business of the committee, the Deputy Speaker shall substitute for the Speaker as chair of the committee;
THAT the remaining members of the committee shall be chosen by the recognized leaders in the Legislative Assembly and that each of their appointments be made effective upon the date of a letter from the recognized leader;
THAT the committee shall conduct public consultations throughout the territory, beginning no later than three months after this motion is agreed to, and shall report its findings and recommendations to the Legislative Assembly no later than nine months from the date this motion is agreed to;
THAT the scope of the public consultation shall include, but not be limited to, the following areas of consideration:
(a)†† establishing a code of ethical conduct for members within the Legislative Assembly Act,
(b)†† creation of an executive council act, including
††††††† (i)††† definitions of the terms ďPremierĒ and ďMinisterĒ and the principles pertaining to those roles; and
††††††† (ii)†† qualifications required of members to be appointed or, once appointed, to continue to serve as Cabinet ministers;
(c)†† options for increasing resources and support for membersí constituency responsibilities;
(d)†† measures to improve public awareness of proceedings of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and the legislative process and to encourage public participation in the decision-making process;
(e)†† amendment of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly respecting:
††††††† (i)††† fixed opening dates for legislative sittings;
††††††† (ii)†† composition and role of standing, special and select committees;
††††††† (iii)† mechanisms for the referral of reports from departments and agencies and for the review of government bills prior to second reading;
††††††† (iv)† suggested rules for tributes, ministerial statements and private membersí statements;
††††††† (v)†† proposals for the review of deputy head appointments and appointments to major boards and committees;
††††††† (vi)† measures to improve the accountability of ministers to the Legislative Assembly for the performance of the departments, Crown corporations or agencies for which they are responsible;
††††††† (vii) ways to increase public involvement in legislative decision making, such as allowing witnesses to appear before standing, special or select committees;
††††††† (viii) improving the ability of opposition members to exercise their legitimate roles of legislative review and government scrutiny;
††††††† (ix)†† proposals for greater access of private membersí business to the Order Paper;
(f)††† suggestions for periodic future review of legislative practices and procedures; and
(g)†† other matters the committee may deem appropriate for public review;
THAT, if the Legislative Assembly is not sitting at such time as the committee is prepared to report, the chair shall transmit the report to all members of the Assembly and table the report when the Assembly next sits;
THAT individual members of the special committee shall be free to table independent reports dissenting from the recommendations of the committee as a whole;
THAT the committee shall determine its own procedures for achieving the general mandate as outlined in this motion, including the form of public consultation to be used, subject to the approval of its budget by the Membersí Services Board;
THAT administrative and research support to the committee shall be provided through the office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly; and
THAT the Clerk shall assist in the preparation of the final report and recommendations of the committee to the Legislative Assembly and may advise on legislative amendments or other initiatives that may be required to bring effect to the committeeís recommendations.
Mr. Cardiff: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to end its practice of developing public infrastructure through public/private partnerships with no policy in place for such a practice, and not to adopt P3 models of design, building, financing, or operating public infrastructure without first providing Yukon people with complete and accurate information about the possible impacts on the public purse, and engaging them in a full and fair consultation process about the advantages and disadvantages of entering into such partnerships with the private sector.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
Speaker: †At this time, the Chair would like to rule on a point of order raised by the official opposition House leader during Question Period on Thursday, April 14.
The official opposition House leader raised the point of order in regard to comments by the Premier. The leader of the official opposition had asked the Premier a question regarding electoral reform. The Premier began his response with reference to the fiscal situation in Dawson City. The argument made by the official opposition House leader was that the Premierís comments were not in order, as they constituted a comment on a previous question. This would be in contravention of Guideline 9 of our Guidelines for Oral Question Period, which says, in part, that ďa reply to a question should be relevant to the question asked.Ē
The Chair finds that there is a point of order. The leader of the official opposition had asked a question on Dawson City earlier in that Question Period. It was not the question before the House at the time of the Premierís response. Ministers enjoy a broad latitude in responding to questions from members; however, the responses should be relevant, in that they address the subject matter of the question.
We will now proceed with Question Period.
Question re:† ††Budget contingency plans
Mr. Hardy: In his role as Finance minister, the Premier has tabled the biggest budget in Yukon history. This is a budget that has increased the Yukonís dependence on the federal government. As the Premier must know, the current government in Ottawa could fall any day now, even before the federal budget is passed. What contingency plans does the Premier have in place in the event that the federal government is defeated without his budget being passed?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I think itís very important that we recognize that this issue of dependence on the federal government is one that this government is tackling. I think the evidence is clear, with increases in private sector investment for the Yukon across the economic spectrum.
But I want to point out something else: itís our fair share, Mr. Speaker. The Yukon, N.W.T. and Nunavut were unfairly reduced back in 1995, and we are now just merely closing the adequacy gap in comparison to the rest of the country. Weíre doing our work based on our business case as was tabled in Ottawa.
When it comes to contingency, weíve gone from debt-servicing our cash flow requirements back in 2002, to tabling, in this budget ó the largest ever ó $29-million year-end surplus ó not a deficit ó and a $64-million net accumulated surplus at year-end.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís quite a different tune the Premier is saying now from what he said when he was first elected when he made it very, very clear that the Government of Yukon had to shift away from its dependency on the federal government. Instead, what weíve seen is a greater reliance by this Premier.
I understand that this was one of the issues that the Premier discussed with his colleagues from Nunavut and N.W.T. in Yellowknife this weekend. Curiously enough, thereís no reference to it in the communications that the Premier issued on Saturday. The Yukon is in a very vulnerable position. The members of this House are being asked to approve $784 millioní worth of spending for this fiscal year, but 72 percent of this governmentís revenue for this year is supposed to come directly from the federal government. What areas has the Premier identified for cutting if the federal budget doesnít pass? Will it be health, environment, education, municipal infrastructure? Whatís on the chopping block?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We should not get ahead of ourselves, because frankly thereís nothing on the chopping block. If the member had listened to my first answer, the member then would recognize that we have established a strong, healthy financial position for the Yukon with a $29-million year-end surplus ó not a deficit ó and an accumulated net fiscal financial position of $64 million at year-end. Itís also important to note that with our fair share now flowing to the territories, we have experienced a 5.3-percent increase in net transfer, which was due to us, but also with that a compatible increase in the private sector of eight percent growth in own-source revenues. Thereís the example of what this government is doing to engage the private sector and increase its involvement in Yukonís future.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís also directly contrary to what the Premier said before when he admitted that this budget is not sustainable. Now the Premier may not like to speculate, but he must realize that having so many eggs in the federal basket with a fragile minority government in place requires some shrewd planning on his part. The Premier has based a lot of his revenue assumptions on Ottawa coming through on some long-term commitments. For this year alone, there is $22.7 million for the Canadian health transfer; $6.7 million for the Northern Health Accord; $5.9 million for the northern health access fund; $9.5 million for the Canadian social transfer. Iíve also just heard that the federal Minister of Health cancelled his meetings with the territorial and provincial ministers in light of the scandals rocking the Liberal Party and the threat of a federal election. Weíre very vulnerable.
What direction has the Premier given his Finance officers about preparing for a possible change of government at the federal level when thereís no guarantee a new government would have the same priorities as the current one?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First letís be clear: the budget tabled by this government includes no investment, no booking of transfers from Canada that are not already provided spending authority through Parliament. Thatís the budget. We are not pre-booking something on speculation; we would never manage the finances of this territory on a speculative level. We have booked exactly what has been agreed to and has been provided spending authority in Parliament.
Furthermore, through a pan-territorial approach by the north making a stand in Ottawa, since 2003, weíve increased, overall, the flow of revenues into this territory by some $780 million. Thatís not dependence; itís whatís due us. We contributed to the lowering of the national debt and the surplus position in Canada by a five-percent cut to our base grant in 1995. We are now replenishing that as it should be, as every other province is experiencing per capital increases from the federal government.
They are sharing in the surplus position; so should the territories; thatís what the three territorial premiers have accomplished. We have a very healthy financial position.
Question re: Dawson City forensic audit
Mr. Cardiff: The Minister of Community Services has taken the position that it was his trustee in Dawson City who commissioned the forensic audit, which mushroomed from a $150,000 contract to an exercise that cost Yukon taxpayers nearly half a million dollars. The facts are that the trustee requested it after the minister had publicly said there would be a forensic audit. It was the minister and his deputy who actually commissioned the audit.
Last week the Acting Minister of Community Services stated that elections in Dawson City would be determined by the trustee. Why would the Minister of Community Services allow his trustee to be in breach of section 336(14) of the Municipal Act, which requires him to ďÖ make suitable provisions for an election of a new council to be held within one year of the trusteeís appointment.Ē
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have been awaiting the forensic audit, which took longer than we anticipated. However, we had intended to hold an election within that one-year period. It was obvious we were not going to make that time period, and as such we have extended the period of time in which an election could be held, as per the Municipal Act.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, Mr. Speaker, last week, the acting minister stated that the commitments were met and that Cabinet had extended the time for an election by an order-in-council. When we phoned the ministerís office to inquire about the order-in-council, we were promised it would arrive on Friday or maybe even today. For the record, as of this moment ó during the lunch hour, I talked with the ministerís assistant ó we still havenít got the order-in-council. So that would lead me to believe that this is a brand new order-in-council that was probably authorized last Thursday and signed by the Commissioner on Friday, and it is after the trusteeís one-year time limit had expired.
How and when did the minister become aware that Cabinet had to authorize an extension of the time limit, and why was the act not followed?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Speaker, the order-in-council addressing the Municipal Act for the extension was signed on April 15 by the Commissioner.
Mr. Cardiff: So the minister was late ó way late ó and the people in Dawson have been waiting for a year to get back their democratic rights, and now they have to wait even longer. Meanwhile the minister seems to be acting as if the Municipal Act doesnít apply to him or the government. So let me point out for the ministerís benefit that a returning officer is supposed to be in place for seven weeks before a municipal election takes place. Other mandatory requirements, such as designating places for nominations and for voting have to be in place six weeks before an election. To be in compliance with the act, the order-in-council extending the time period for an election needed to be signed by February 22. Why did the minister and his Cabinet colleagues put the Dawson City trustee in the position of acting contrary to the law, the Municipal Act?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I stated, the order-in-council has been signed by the Commissioner. He has obtained the advice sufficient for him to sign the document, and thatís it.
Question re: Electoral reform
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to follow up with the Premier on electoral reform. On January 15, 2004, the Premier announced the appointment of the senior advisor on electoral reform. The senior advisor was sole sourced a $120,000 contract.
We know terms of reference were provided to the senior advisor. Was there a mandate letter that outlined a consultation process to be followed? What were the written expectations of the government and the accountability process for this $120,000 contract?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I think itís important to note that when it comes to accountability, the tabling of the report is testimony to the priority this government places on accountability. Furthermore, the choice of this individual is based on credentials, knowledge, and his history in the territory. Thirdly, we have the luxury of observing another electoral reform process. That, by the way, cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $5 million, or $300,000 a page for this document out of British Columbia.
What our process evolved and developed into is the recognition that this territoryís electoral process is in good shape ó itís fair, itís balanced, and we are in a position of governance in this territory that would be the envy of other places.
Lastly, the real priority for Yukon is legislative renewal. Thatís why the government has moved quickly to focus on that area of the report. Our government intends to pursue legislative renewal. With the members opposite, we have the mechanism in place: the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges.
Ms. Duncan: † It has been noted that the senior advisorís report was delivered to the Assembly on Thursday and he didnít recommend a citizensí assembly to study electoral reform. Instead he wandered away from that mandate into legislative renewal.
He did note that he has received some representations from interested Yukoners. We know in fact there are many Yukoners who are passionate about this subject of electoral reform, who have studied the election results in the Yukon and the electoral system, yet there has been no formal consultation process with these individuals ó no way for the homework done by these citizens to be examined by the public, by us as legislators or by the government. Yet the Premier said on Thursday, ďWe consult, we collaborate and we work with Yukoners.Ē
How do the Yukoners who feel passionately about electoral reform, who have studied the election results, who have studied electoral reform systems, who have not been listened to ó how do they feel about this? Does the Premier know?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We respect all Yukonersí opinions and views, but obviously the situation in the Yukon ó the demographics that we have to deal with, the balance in this Assembly required so that rural Yukon is fairly represented ó is a priority for this government. Thatís why electoral reform is something that is not needed in todayís Yukon; legislative renewal certainly is. We need to make this House a more productive, constructive institution, and thatís what we intend to do, Mr. Speaker.
The member opposite is alluding to consultation. Last week we offered to assist the member opposite in consultation about the area around McIntyre Creek, for protection. We broadened her position by adding to it consultation with First Nation governments, with the city, with Yukon College, with Porter Creek residents and with all stakeholders, to review and ensure protection of that area.
The difference is that we do consult. The member opposite is a little bit of afraid of true consultation.
Ms. Duncan: Aside from the personal attack launched in my representation of my constituents, the facts are that if the government opposite would do their job, we could have a park in Porter Creek.
With respect to the question, the Premier, when he appointed the senior advisor, said, ďWe are committed to establishing our own commission to examine electoral reform in the Yukon, to ensure the way we elect MLAs provides for fair, equitable and effective representations.Ē He said that the senior advisor appointment was the first step in this process ó $120,000 step ó without a clear mandate letter, without any full public consultation of the views and the homework ó and it is significant ó done by a number of Yukoners on electoral reform. Instead weíre wandering into another area that we know needs to be done: legislative renewal. The government committed that this was just the first step. There has been a lot of homework done by Yukoners on this issue. Whatís step 2? Is the government going to take a second step and actually listen to Yukoners on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Actually, the steps weíve taken are based on listening to Yukoners. Itís clear from the assessment that our electoral processes in the Yukon are in good shape. Theyíre fair and theyíre balanced, so weíve moved on to the second step ó legislative renewal. Thatís the purpose here. Thatís where we can improve our governance in the territory. The evolution of responsible government in the Yukon has been improved step by step by step. This is just another step in many in terms of our evolution in responsible government ó our choice ó based on assessment of electoral processes in the Yukon: excellent shape. Legislative renewal required the government proceeding with that renewal process.
Question re: Mayo-Dawson transmission line project, cost overruns
Mr. McRobb: Today marks the start of the Yukon Utilities Board hearing into the 2005 revenue requirement for the Yukon Energy Corporation. The issue of most concern to all parties involved is how to handle the huge cost overrun from the Mayo-Dawson transmission line project.
In May 2003, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources hand-picked a chair to deal with the cost overruns. Then last fall, the minister promoted him to president of the corporation. This chair, along with his team of lawyers, accountants and consultants, is today arguing that all of the cost overrun should be paid by the territoryís electrical consumers.
Why does the minister agree with charging Yukon ratepayers for the cost overruns of approximately $10 million?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thatís why we have a utilities board and those decisions will come out of that Yukon Utilities Board.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I submit thatís ridiculous. Why waste hundreds of thousands of dollars and everybodyís time battling these engineers, lawyers and consultants if the minister has that approach?
He should be quite familiar with the Auditor Generalís report on this project, dated February 2005. In summary, the auditor said the project was not well managed by Yukon Energy Corporationís board and management. Consumers shouldnít have to pay the cost overruns associated with those failings. Bearing the financial burden of those cost overruns would affect power rates for years and increase costs of local services and products from the price of a loaf of bread on up.
The minister failed to protect consumers when he gave YECís application the thumbs up. Will he now act to protect consumers by ordering those overruns to be paid out of YECís retained earnings?
Hon. Mr. Lang: It would have been nice if the last government had taken this issue to the Utilities Board before they built a power line between Mayo and Dawson. They could have had a second sober thought on whether the project was viable. When this government took over, the project had already been 80-percent completed. The Utilities Board was not part and parcel of the decision-making process that they could have been.
Mr. McRobb: Obviously, Mr. Speaker, this minister has no solutions. Instead, he points the finger at governments from long ago. At last count, Yukon Energy Corporation had some $19 million sitting in its retained earnings account. If those funds arenít used to protect consumers from the cost overruns, this minister is just going to blow that money on some coal plant anyway. Letís return to what the Auditor General reported.
He identified shortcomings in defining the projectís scope and costs, substantial risks in using the chosen construction approach, weak project management, significant deficiencies in contracting, and inadequate financial management. Why should Joe Ratepayer have to pay for somebody elseís mistakes? After the smoke clears, each consumer will be charged more than $1,000.
Does the minister not have any plan to protect consumers, or is he perfectly satisfied with his taking-the-sheep-to-a-shearing approach?
Speaker: Before the honourable minister answers the question, the Chair is uncomfortable with some of the adjectives being used in asking the questions. I know that the Member for Kluane is an articulate individual; I would ask that he give it a second thought. Minister responsible, you have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Lang: When this government took over, the power line was already in a problem situation. We certainly triggered the audit to find out where we were and why we were in the situation we were in. The power line was 85-percent finished. Subcontractors hadnít been paid. It was an issue. It was a challenge that this government had to face up to.
We requested the audit. And I remind everybody in this House ó if you donít look backward on situations, how are we going to make decisions forward? So, in fact, we did the right thing. We acquired a challenge and weíve met the challenge. The Utilities Board has a place, and the taxpayers of Yukon should be protected from this kind of mismanagement. I agree 100 percent but remember: either we take the resources from the front pocket or the back pocket. This money in the Development Corporation is money that is owned by all the shareholders in the Yukon, Mr. Speaker.
Hopefully, the Yukon Utilities Board will do their job. They will decide what part and parcel of that contract will be qualified, but we certainly would have been more comfortable had the Yukon Utilities Board been involved up front of this project, instead of pulling the project after the fact.
Question re: Kyoto Protocol
Mrs. Peter: The Yukonís average annual winter temperatures have increased by three to four degrees in the last 50 years. Projections show an increase of up to seven degrees in the average annual temperature in the next 100 years. Last year was another record warm summer. Changes to the Yukon ecosystem are becoming more and more apparent.
The Minister of Environment has said that his department is monitoring the Kyoto Protocol. Will the minister tell us what the Yukon Party government is doing to meet the territoryís Kyoto Protocol responsibilities?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It must be pointed out that itís not the Yukon contributing to global warming. Because of the prevailing winds and their gravitation to the North Pole, we are experiencing the impacts of what is transpiring in other areas of this world.
Now, the federal Liberal government has announced a $10-billion Kyoto plan. The Department of Environment remains in that plan, and the Department of Environment here in the Yukon is a monitoring agency.
Mrs. Peter: Everybody contributes to global warming. We donít have heavy industry in the Yukon, but this government is actively pursuing an industry that is one of the leading causes of climate change. This government listed four items under the Environment budget highlights; none of these dealt with climate change.
According to the minister, the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is the Kyoto Protocol implementation agency. None of the departmentís budget highlights relate to climate change. Can the minister explain to the Yukon people why this global threat that is affecting us, more than anywhere else, is not on this governmentís agenda?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I pointed out earlier, the Kyoto initiative is a federal government initiative. The Department of Environment here in the Yukon remains responsible for monitoring the impacts. Thatís the way it will remain, save and except a change in the federal Liberal government and a change in their position.
Question re: Public/private partnerships
Mr. Fairclough: The Department of Highways and Public Works is currently running an ad seeking qualified sources for the design, build and operation of a waste water treatment plant for the Village of Carmacks. The people in Carmacks have not been consulted on the project that will turn over a public utility to a private company. The government constantly repeats that it is committed to developing a P3 policy, but it seems to be developing this policy in secret. Why is the minister pursuing the Carmacks water treatment plant as a P3 project when there is no policy in place?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will advise the member opposite that we are not considering a P3 project for the water works or any facility in Carmacks.
Mr. Fairclough: Then itís contrary to the ad in the paper. This government is dragging the Yukon people into P3 projects that will mortgage the future, and theyíre doing it without any public consultation. The Dawson bridge is supposed to be the pilot project for developing P3 policy, yet the government is still playing coy with whether or not this is a P3 project. How many other of these capital projects are candidates for this governmentís move toward public/private partnerships?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As Iíve previously stated in the House, as well as have many of my colleagues on this side, we are looking at the Dawson bridge as a pilot project for a P3 as the possible prospect for building that bridge in Dawson.
Mr. Fairclough: He didnít answer the question, Mr. Speaker. Yukoners are interested to know what the answer to that question is.
This government continues to hide behind a veil of secrecy. We asked the ministerís office for copies of the tender documents for the Dawson bridge. We were told they were privileged and confidential. We believe that Yukoners have a right to know what their money is being spent on.
Before implementing a P3 option, a detailed business case must be prepared to analyze the projectís life-cycle cost. What is in the Dawson Cityís request for proposals that this government doesnít want Yukon taxpayers to know?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are asking the proponents for the possibility of giving us their options on what and how they can build the bridge. Once we have a look at that, weíll determine whether weíre going to build it that way or not.
Question re: Adverse drug reactions
Mr. McRobb: Last week the Health minister and I discussed the problem of adverse drug reactions on our senior population in the Yukon. Iíve asked him several times now whether he could provide any statistics of how widespread the problem is here. He has given plenty of excuses and has avoided the question. Letís try again.
Why doesnít the minister have statistics compiled for Yukon users of prescription drugs who are adversely affected by those drugs?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What the member opposite was questioning the other day is why Yukon isnít in the national database in these areas. Now, that is very specific to Canada and Statistics Canada in their role. The facts are that the Yukon is such a small population base that a lot of the statistics gathered in other jurisdictions in Canada are not gathered here in the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: Every person in the Yukon counts, regardless of what the federal numbers are. Now several times Iíve asked the minister whether he would bring to the Yukon a successful tracking system for prescription drugs, such as the PharmaNet program used in B.C. Instead of answering the question, he likes to talk about his three-part system that divulges patient information to an Alberta firm and doesnít resolve several issues concerning the uncontrolled use of prescription drugs in the Yukon.
Last week, he said that I accused doctors of over-prescribing. What I did say was to repeat from Hansard that ministerís own comments, but letís get to the heart of the issue. How does the minister expect his pet system to address the tough issues found on the streets of Watson Lake, Whitehorse and other communities?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I mentioned earlier in the Legislature, we have a three-part form system for controlled drugs. That has been in place for quite a number of years. One copy goes to a tracking firm in Alberta, where they monitor the situation. The pharmacies here in the Yukon have a tracking system and, if something comes to their attention thatís out of order or out of line, they contact the prescribing physician immediately, if not sooner, before they even issue that prescription. So thereís another control put in place right here in the Yukon thatís working and working very well.
Now, the issue of off-the-shelf drugs that are not prescribed is one of the major areas of concern, and that is very difficult to control.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, there is no reason why the governmentís Bureau of Statistics or health branch canít keep the numbers for Yukon patients who suffer from this condition. Now, the ministerís approach to this issue raises several issues that concern us. Another concern with his pet system is how it would be applied in our smaller communities. His system involves follow-up between the pharmacy and the prescribing doctor, but how would this procedure be applied in a community such as Watson Lake where the pharmacy and the prescribing doctor may very well be the same person?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I am very uncomfortable with this line of questioning. The member opposite is questioning the ethics of our health care professionals and I find that completely out of order. Across the Yukon we have a very high ethical standard that our health care providers adhere to. The member opposite is certainly questioning that, and I take exception to it.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: ††††† On a point of order, the Member for Kluane.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, we can only take so much of that type of criticism from the member opposite. Standing Order 19(g) prevents him from imputing false or unavowed motives to another member. He is characterizing us as challenging a person and so on. We did not do that. We are challenging the minister on his policy with respect to prescription drugs in the Yukon.
Speaker: There is a point of order. However, the time for Question Period has now elapsed, so we will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06. I understand we are in general debate in the Department of Health and Social Services. Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 15 ó First Appropriation Act, 2005-06 ó continued
Chair: We will continue with Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06, with Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services.
Department of Health and Social Services ó continued
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, when we left general debate last Thursday, I was elaborating on a number of the areas where the Department of Health and Social Services has further enhanced the budget envelope for a number of our NGOs. One of the most significant ones is toward the tremendous efforts that are being done in our Child Development Centre. Their budget envelope shows an increase of $132,000 to $1.538 million for this next fiscal year.
Another one of our NGOs that is fulfilling a significant role here in the Yukon is Kausheeís Place, which will be provided with an increase of $113,000 this fiscal year. Their budget for the 2005-06 year will go to $677,000.
For Help and Hope for Families Society in Watson Lake, there is an increase of $6,000 to $201,800 per annum. The Dawson Shelter, an increase of $6,000 ó they go to $198,300. The Hospice Yukon Society is an organization that fills a much-needed role, and they approached the government last year with a very firm plan outlined as to what their role was and how they were fulfilling that role. By the time the government put together the necessary funding to meet the demands, it saw that organization with a $50,000 increase. Their total budget envelope goes to $195,700.
Yukon Council on Ageing goes to $41,200; Yukon Association for Community Living ó an increase of $18,200 to $60,200 per annum; Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon has a $1,500 increase to $51,500.
Challenge shows an increase of $74,800. Their total budget goes to just over half a million dollars, $502,800. Line of Life, $20,600 ó an increase of $6,600. Signpost Seniors, $1,200 increase ó they go to $41,200. TeegathaíOh Zheh, $75,200 ó they go to $383,200. The Yukon Family Services Association goes up by $24,000 to $878,000. Second Opinion Society goes up by $3,000 to $93,000. Blood Ties Four Directions goes up by $5,400 to $167,000, and the Yukon Council on Disabilities has an increase of $10,000 for new services and they go to $25,000. CNIB, which is new in our base, goes to $20,000.
FASSY, on the preventive side, and the assessments have shown an increase of $100,000 overall. Some of this funding is project-specific. Balsam Residence, a $22,000 increase; TeegathaíOh Zheh, $13,000; Balsam Residence goes up to $758,000 per annum; TeegathaíOh Zheh goes up to $445,000 per annum; Aspen House goes up by $8,000 to $285,000.
Our government would like to recognize and extend our appreciation to all these NGOs for the role they fulfill. The Department of Health and Social Services is cognizant of what their roles are and what theyíre undertaking. The resources weíve added in this area are quite significant.
The other area of concern is if the federal government falls or the budget is not passed in Ottawa and that we will have a shortfall of money coming to the Yukon. All the Yukon government has contained in the funding here is what we know for sure has been approved and what has passed the federal Parliament and what has been transferred to Yukon.
There are a lot of new initiatives underway. The $5 billion for childcare and early learning is one of these initiatives. That is dependent on it being approved by the federal Parliament. There is some other funding that is dependent on being approved by the federal funding, but I want to make it abundantly clear that none of the funding that we have contained in this budget envelope and none of the funding that we have on the floor for discussion here today is funding that may not come to the Yukon as a result of the federal Parliament losing confidence and a federal election being called.
Mr. Chair, if we look at the immunization fund, $406,000 has been placed in a trust fund by the federal government for Yukon to draw down over a three-year period at a time and rate that meets our needs, Mr. Chair. There are national criteria, and the Yukonís plans for this fund ó we havenít developed all the plans over the next three years, but we have a lot in place. $215,000 will be used to catch up on our immunization for all of our grade 12 students. Adacel is one of the vaccines, and it protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. Prevnar is another one of the routine immunization schedules, and it is a vaccine given to protect against strep. This is a type of bacteria that causes pneumonia, blood infections, sinusitis and ear infection in children under five. So hopefully with this new immunization fund ó and the federal government has gone more and more to putting the money into trust funds. That way, they can take the money in the budget envelope, set it into a trust fund, and it can be drawn down and doesnít have to go back and be voted annually by the federal Parliament. So it is all voted, it is all set aside, and it is funding that can be used by the respective provinces and territories.
The trust funds themselves are maybe the subject of some discussion by the federal Auditor General because it puts it out of the range of the scrutiny of the federal Parliament, but it does allow these funds to flow to the respective jurisdictions and it does provide certainty surrounding these funds flowing.
On the issue of some of the other funding initiatives we have flowing to the Yukon, given that theyíre quite significant, weíve moved a long way. The demands on the health care system remain very consistent with other years. Our costs for our medical professions are increasing. Our prescription drugs and our drug formulary are increasing. The drug area is increasing at an alarming rate because of a number of new drugs coming into the system that are very costly, and the costs have increased significantly for a lot of the other routine drugs, and weíre getting into a lot of the pharmaceuticals wanting to recoup their investments in research and development. But, at the end, these drugs go to help out those who need assistance and itís contingent upon the common drug review to approve them and to get them into the system as early as possible.
Currently weíre working on one of the new drugs. Itís an orphan drug and itís used in a small number of cases. We have young Mackenzie Olsen who is hopefully going to have that drug approved shortly for his use. There are always the jurisdictional disputes between the federal government and the respective province or territory on this matter. But the issue is to provide the highest possible level of care we are able to do for those in need of health care.
There are quite a number of other areas that we got into discussing last Thursday when we first got into debate in the Department of Health and Social Services. But thatís kind of the area we on this side would like to start with. Iím sure the official opposition will want to get into a lot of other areas.
The Department of Health and Social Services has traditionally been the largest budget of all the departments. It remains so to this date and, as a government, weíre pleased that we were able to put our fiscal house in order and fund the initiatives across the Yukon to the extent that we have.
That said, I look forward to general debate with the official opposition and the third party, and weíll move forward in this department.
Ms. Duncan: Iím pleased to rise and enter into general debate on the Department of Health and Social Services with the minister responsible.
The minister began his remarks this afternoon by recapping the portions of the budget with respect to funding of non-government organizations. What he didnít recap in his opening comments is that we started out with, and have had, an extensive discussion on the health debate on the services being provided to seniors.
One of the questions the Member for Kluane asked, very specifically, and that we have not yet heard an answer to is the standards of care that are adhered to by the Department of Health and Social Services. That is one particular question that was raised and discussed at length.
When I had the opportunity to enter into the debate, I had an extensive discussion with the Minister of Health and Social Services regarding not only the services at Copper Ridge Place and Macaulay, but also the two proposed facilities ó one in Watson Lake and one in Dawson. Dawson, of course, already has the McDonald Lodge ó so it would be the proposed expansion to McDonald Lodge and a new facility in Watson Lake.
My concern with respect to those particular proposals is that while there is quite a bit of information in terms of what is to be provided and a sense of the size of the facility, weíre also ensuring weíre planning for staffing, in terms of working with Yukon College and students who are taking training that is available there, as well as the issues around providing for O&M in future budgets.
The Member for Kluane quite appropriately has also raised the discussion of the needs of the seniors in his riding on the north highway, Haines Junction in particular. This is a particular concern of mine as well. I have a number of friends in the area, and I spend a great deal of time in that particular area. Representations had been made to me, as Finance minister and as Premier, about the need for a facility there ó by one senior in particular ó and Iíd very much like to see either assisted living for seniors or some kind of arrangement made in Haines Junction to serve the north highway.
The minister has indicated he intends to have a meeting in the riding, and I would encourage him to do so as soon as possible. I know the residents there and further up the highway are quite anxious for that meeting to take place and are quite interested in what services will be provided to them.
During general debate, the minister and I agreed that there is a real gap ó in Whitehorse in particular ó in assisted living situations for seniors. Thereís a continuum of care, with palliative care being the end-stage care, if you will, at one end, and home care at the other in terms of people being able to remain in their own home.
Yukon government policies ó over the years, not just to the credit of this government ó have made tremendous efforts to ensure that seniors are able to stay in their own homes and those who are infirm are able to stay in their own homes as long as possible, but particularly seniors.
The problem is thereís a real gap between being able to stay in your own home and being in a facility like Macaulay Lodge, Copper Ridge Place or McDonald Lodge in Dawson City. Thereís a real gap in there, and that need has to be addressed with some kind of an assisted living. Other governments over the years have done initiatives, such as the home and yard care maintenance program, which was started by our government. There have been increases to the pioneer utility grant. There have been all kinds of work done to keep seniors in their own home; however, there is still a gap in the Whitehorse area, and I would like to see the minister make some initiatives in that particular area.
Weíve also discussed funding at length, and there are various envelopes of money coming from Ottawa. Iíve asked the minister to provide additional details in terms of whether these are proposal-driven or whether the bills are submitted and we receive the appropriate funding. I would also like to put the minister on notice that I will be asking the current status of our health billings with Canada, and perhaps heíll be able to provide that when he stands on his feet.
This department, however, is about more than just health issues and health-related issues. It also incorporates, of course, the social services side. Later on in general debate Iím interested in getting into with the minister any initiatives with respect to social assistance and an examination of how we can address the very real and pressing need of poverty in the Yukon. There are also, of course, the children in care and social work issues that have been brought up in the House time and time again, and Iíll be looking for a progress report in general debate on how we are doing on those issues.
For the moment, Iíd just like to put the minister on notice about where I would like to go in general debate in the time that I have. I would like to begin, however, where we left off on Thursday.
At that time, we were discussing the $610,000 trust fund ó the reducing wait times trust fund. What has come to my attention over the weekend is that there are close to 300 individuals in the Yukon on a waiting list for hip replacement. I was not aware of that when I spoke with the minister.
The reason Iím using that figure is that an individual who is number 280 on the list and was advised of that has raised the issue of health with me. We were talking about it and I said, ďYou know, I asked the minister about that on Thursday in general debate, and he mentioned that the reducing wait times trust fund is going to address this very need of hip replacement surgery.Ē I had no idea the list was that long. Apparently it is.
The minister did say that there is a significant waiting list everywhere in the western region, specifically for hip replacements. The wait-time reduction trust fund is targeted at reducing the wait time for hip replacement in the Yukon this year. How and when is that going to happen? Could the minister give us some details about that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What I did mention last Thursday was that this trust fund is to be used to reduce wait times across the board for any medical procedure that has a waiting list.
What I did clearly indicate is that the longest wait time we seem to be experiencing here in the Yukon is for hip and knee replacements. Those procedures have quite a backlog. The Yukon is buying more capacity; at the same time, weíve encouraged the team for knee replacements to come to the Yukon and undertake a number of the replacement surgeries right here in the Yukon. That worked well and weíre hoping to see that continue.
Given the specialty of this field, thereís limited capacity in Canada and we have to buy capacity from other areas of Canada in this field. I donít have the details as to the total number of Yukoners waiting for this procedure, but I can say that, of all the issues that do cross my desk, this one area has the longest wait time of any of the medical procedures that Yukoners require.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps we can just follow up on that last comment by the minister. What is the estimated wait time for hip or knee replacement surgery at this time? He said this is the issue that crosses his desk most frequently. Does he have an idea what that wait time is? How does that compare?
I believe it was the Fraser Institute that recently did a study of a review of wait times. I donít have the document in front of me to properly credit the source. Yukon isnít generally included on those lists because, of course, weíre small for statistical sampling. How are we doing in terms of those key indicators that are generally assessed, such as wait time? How long is it in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: A number of other issues come into play with respect to wait time in this area, if you want to get into the actual replacement of knees or hips. The issue is the other health conditions the individual who requires the procedure may have. The doctors tend to move cautiously if there are issues of other health-related items, such as a problem with the individual carrying too much weight or the individual having a dependency on smoking. They want all these reduced before theyíll perform the procedure.
In a number of cases, the individual might be of the opinion that this procedure is warranted and the doctors will say theyíre too young for this procedure at this point. Thereís a certain time ó Iím given to understand a hip replacement is good for X number of years; letís use the figure 10. There are newer and newer materials being used all the time. Titanium is the latest that has come into favour, and it appears to have quite a longevity compared to some of the other materials that were previously used.
But there are a number of other factors, and the model for wait time that is being subscribed to ó and it appears to be implemented ó was developed in Saskatchewan. I donít have the details here with me today of how they determine wait time and how they factor in everything, but let me get a copy of that information for the member opposite, because it is a very interesting read in that it points out a lot of other areas that the common layperson would not be familiar with when determining the wait time factor.
Suffice it to say we do have a problem, and the longest wait times of any procedures here in the Yukon are knee and hip replacements. Our government is buying excess capacity, and weíve encouraged the knee replacement team to come to the Yukon, perform the procedure right here, and weíre encouraging the team to return.
So we are making advances in a number of ways, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: I will appreciate the additional information. The Health and Social Services minister said that we have made advances. Could he give a little bit more specific answer? He made a comment, ďWe have made advances.Ē In these initiatives, have we reduced the wait times for Yukoners by a couple of months? Thatís all Iím looking for. He said that weíve made progress, and Iím just looking for some more detail.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iíll see if we have any information as to how we contain or track these issues statistically and see what the department has in this area for the member opposite.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd appreciate that, and I will forward it to the Yukoner with whom I had a very fascinating discussion †about this.
Weíve gotten into the issue about the $610,000 reducing wait times. I started out that discussion by asking about all the different funds and transfers ó and there are many of them ó with respect to the Department of Health and Social Services, that come from Ottawa. With each of them, I was looking for some detail in terms of how that money is spent. As I asked in my opening remarks, is it spent by billings or do we pay the costs and Ottawa reimburses us? Are they specifically proposal-driven? I was just looking for some more information on those, and perhaps thatís still being compiled by the department. Weíve had a good discussion about the wait-time reduction trust and the immunization trust. There is a supplemental trust called the Canada social transfer supplemental trust, and thatís over and above the social transfer in excess of $9.5 million. According to the information weíve already received, that money is unconditional, so is it a case of telling Ottawa that we spent this money in social areas or social services? How is it intended that that money be spent? How is it intended that that money be received from Ottawa? What improvements have we made to our social services system as a result of this money?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let me start at the beginning for the member opposite. The only fund that I am aware of that is proposal-driven is the primary health care transition fund. We are currently in the last year of this fund. In 2005-06, $2.6 million is budgeted for Yukon. This includes initiatives related to healthy living, health information such as the health guide, addressing health issues such as ambulatory care, palliative care, alcohol and drug initiatives, chronic disease initiatives such as diabetes, information technology planning and systems development.
If we go to the other three territory-specific health funding arrangements, they are set up in trust funds. The diagnostic medical equipment fund is approximately $1 million, and weíre in the last year of that fund. Priorities are primary health care, catastrophic drug and home care. We have, of course, discussed the wait-time reduction fund.
The CHT, or Canada health transfer, increase to the base for general health care costs ó approximately $2 million will be received in 2005-06. Then, of course, there is the immunization fund that we discussed a little earlier, and that is also in a trust fund.
The other amount that the member referred to is in the Canada health transfer. Itís received and is right in the base of our health care funding.
Ms. Duncan: I made reference to a social transfer. Are the minister and I talking about the same thing? The Canadian social transfer is $9,593,000. Then we have the Canadian social transfer supplemental trust of $463,000. According to the notes weíve already received, the transfer of those funds is unconditional.
It is my understanding that they are in the social envelope then and not the health care envelope. Letís start with that.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: That is correct.
Ms. Duncan: According to the social union framework agreement and other interprovincial Canadian agreements, we provide a level of social assistance and social services. There are many issues in this regard: there is the option of a general increase to the social assistance rates; thereís also an option for examining some of the rules, if you will, for lack of a better word, around social assistance; thereís also the option of examining the overall method of assisting individuals in our community. When I say community, Iím referring to the whole of the Yukon.
Is the minister examining any of those three options, if you will? That is: an increase to social assistance rates, any changes to the rules, if you will, or eligibility criteria for social assistance, and/or an overall examination of the way social assistance is delivered in the territory.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: †† Mr. Chair, weíve examined a lot of these areas in detail. We have also asked our First Nations to examine these areas, and weíve received feedback from some First Nations in the area. For the Yukon itself, we have the highest level of social assistance payments in Canada, in the major category. We are incurring costs, and weíre the second highest in Canada, save and except Nunavut and Northwest Territories for a couple of the categories. Given our cost of living, we bode well in how weíre matching the rest of Canada. The one area that we are examining, and we hope to announce shortly, is an increase in social assistance for those who are handicapped. The number that weíre looking at is an additional $125 per month for those who are in a handicapped status with respect to that determination. After looking across the board in detail, we are feeling more comfortable that there is a demonstrated need in that one category, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to explore this issue with the minister. Regardless of what our social assistance level ó and I really wish there was a better term for it ó for individuals is, there is still an unacceptable level of poverty in the territory in particular, because that is what weíre discussing right now. It is unacceptable.
In some instances, itís ďthe systemĒ, as people refer to it. An example of this is the single parent whose child is old enough to work and who brings income into the family. Is it still the departmentís policy to claw that back and take that off the overall social assistance granted to the family for that month?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There are several initiatives that our government has moved forward on in this area. The child tax benefit is an initiative that the member opposite might recall. They did not move forward on it given that they felt it was a federal government initiative. The same holds true for the previous NDP government. The child tax benefit was increased under our watch. One of the other areas that we moved forward on with a regulation change was with respect to support payments for single parents. Where support payments were made, they were not to be taken into consideration for income calculations for rent should the individual reside in assisted housing, or social housing as itís called, where the rent-to-income is a percentage of the total income. We felt it was best if the support payments went totally to the parent who was looking after the child or children and was not taken into the calculations to determine the rents.
As to the clawback, when one is receiving social assistance, that is at the lowest possible level. Weíre providing at every opportunity an incentive for single individuals should they so wish to move back into the workforce.
I guess thatís clearly demonstrated by the current statistics with respect to unemployment and the fact that thereís virtually no unemployment in the female workforce. There probably is, but there appears to be reasonably full employment there, given the way that stats are kept here in the Yukon.
With respect to poverty, poverty is an issue that takes on different roles. We all recognize it where it exists and, in some cases, where there are statistics kept, the determination of a poverty line is one issue; where no stats are kept and where subsistence living plays a role, it is very hard to make a determination as to where the threshold is in these cases.
So we have to be somewhat cautious across the board but, during our watch, there have been many areas enhanced and improved on to the benefit of all classes of Yukoners and, specifically in this case, to those less fortunate or who have to rely on the social safety net here in the Yukon. Itís probably one of the best social safety nets existing anywhere in Canada.
Ms. Duncan: Much as I appreciate the ministerís long answer, it didnít answer the question. Has there been a specific rule change that addresses this issue of a single parent, whether male or female? They may have one child, or more than one child who is then going out to work, and that money is clawed back from the social assistance that single parent may or may not have received.
The issue of support payments and the child tax benefit have all been dealt with; the minister responded to that. Has that one rule I spoke of changed? Have there been any rule changes or system changes since the minister came to power, in dealing with social assistance?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I am not aware of any rule changes in the area. The only rule change that has been made, at the request of our government, is Yukon Housing Corporation, and Yukon Housing Corporation cannot take child support payments into consideration when calculating the income of an individual in social housing. A portion of the child support payments cannot be used for a rent component. It all must go to the child. That was done at the request of this government ó first time ever. Itís a very positive initiative that our government saw its way clear to ask that it be implemented. It is in place and itís working.
Ms. Duncan: Weíre talking about the social assistance system per se. Weíre also talking extensively about children at this point in time. The minister mentioned the child tax benefit.
One of the transfer payments ó it came about as a result of child tax benefit provisions and working with Ottawa ó was the institution of the kids recreation fund. The kids recreation fund is set at $60,000, and again in this budget itís a transfer payment of $60,000, although I have lobbied the minister to increase that amount.
I know, as a volunteer for one of the sports organizations in the territory, that it provides opportunities for children and that the kids recreation fund is oversubscribed. It provides wonderful opportunities for disadvantaged children and young adults everywhere in the territory, not only in sports but in arts and cultural organizations as well.
The minister didnít increase the budget for the transfer payment to the kids recreation fund. Although he said heíd look at it, there is no increase in this budget. Is there any possibility that there might be an increase to the kids recreation fund this year, perhaps in a supplementary?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, this is a very worthwhile fund. It is recognized, and there have been some fiscal periods where it has been oversubscribed. The other initiatives that we have taken are many, and let me cite one for the member opposite that I know the leader of the third party was involved in: it was a trip to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.
Its fees are set so that they are extremely low. In fact, they encourage visitation. So there are a lot of other initiatives, and I just cited one off the top of my head, for example, Mr. Chair, to encourage our youth, who are sometimes less fortunate ó and, at the same time, all our youth ó to get involved in initiatives across the Yukon. There are many other areas where we have enhanced healthy living and lifestyle choices that have gone into this area and assisted with providing additional opportunities for those in our population who are less fortunate.
So when we look at it overall, the basic fund is $60,000 again this budget cycle. We are hoping that will be completely expended. It is usually quite seasonal. We will have to see if there is a need but, if there is a demonstrated need after all these other initiatives come into place, our government will certainly look at that demonstrated need.
Ms. Duncan: There is demonstrated need, and I have asked the minister for two and a half years now to increase this fund, and he hasnít done it. Unfortunately, the answer I got last time was, ďAbsolutely weíll look at that; the member opposite raises a good point.Ē Now the minister is suggesting that fund is not subscribed. It is subscribed; itís oversubscribed every year, and there are many children who would appreciate the opportunity for dance lessons, piano, swimming, skiing, any of those sports organizations if the kids recreation fund were enhanced. Itís unfortunate that it has not been with this budget, particularly with a government that has access to such a number of funds.
Still on the subject of children, thereís the childrenís dental program operated through our schools. There are also the optical and drug programs for children. About the optical program in particular, I raised with the minister previously about working with his colleague, the Minister of Education. Right now parent volunteers go in and do the voluntary eye screening, and then refer the children. The note goes home to the parents, which suggests the children make an optometrist appointment. There isnít any assistance, though, for those parents who might require assistance with glasses or with the expense of the optometrist appointment; itís very limited. Is there any thought to increasing the assistance thatís available or providing some where itís not available?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The contrary is actually in place. When you look at the overall area, approximately one-third of Yukoners are covered by the uninsured health benefit program of INAC. For those employed in the various categories, there are health and optical programs such as the optical program the member opposite has. That covers a number of areas.
In addition to that, Mr. Chair, for those on social assistance, their costs in this area are also covered to a certain degree. So thereís a pretty comprehensive envelope. Admittedly, it doesnít cover everything all the time, but it goes a long way and it covers a lot more than what currently exists in most other Canadian jurisdictions.
Ms. Duncan: There are issues with the optical program thatís provided, particularly when it comes to children, and there are also those individuals who fall between the cracks. Let me compare this with the childrenís dental program.
In the childrenís dental program, for parents who have coverage such as the minister suggests, through a government or large private sector employee where thereís dental and optical coverage, there is the option of participating in the public health childrenís dental program operated in our schools or seeing a dentist.
The children of individuals employed by the private sector have the childrenís program thatís operated in the schools or they can pay for it themselves.
For children who need eyeglasses, itís the same situation, only they donít have the option of an eye health program in the schools.† What Iím saying to the minister is that the children who are not covered by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada or a government drug and optical plan have the burden of the cost. Unlike the dental program, there are no regular optician visits to the schools. There is no funding program for these individuals, and there are some who fall between the cracks.
My question for the minister: what can be done for these individuals, and is there a thought to expanding the childrenís drug and optical program to cover the optical visits for the children of the ó letís call them working poor or those who do not have access to either plans or the INAC program?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, the childrenís drug and optical program is designed to provide assistance with the cost of prescription drugs, eyeglasses and eye examinations for children of low income families whose benefits are not covered under other legislation or private insurance. If the member opposite is seeking universality for this area, I might remind the member opposite that the only one government that has ever suggested means tests, to the best of my knowledge, was the previous Liberal administration. We are not looking at implementing any means testing such as the Member for Kluane might suggest with respect to the travel subsidy and the travel assistance that is provided here in the Yukon.
Itís not based on household income. The travel subsidy is based on whoever needs to travel. They receive the full benefits that are in place here in the Yukon, unlike our neighbouring jurisdiction that the Member for Kluane has seen fit to compare us.
But the childrenís drug and optical program was designed to fill a void in the delivery of health care. Itís working, and itís working quite well. Itís working with the assistance of a lot of volunteers, and we are thankful for that assistance. But when you examine the areas in detail, and you factor in the coverage available through the uninsured health program, other legislation and private insurance carriers, this program will assist with the prescription drug costs, eye glasses and eye examination costs for children of low income families.
Ms. Duncan: If I might ó this is exactly what people are talking about when they ask for legislative renewal. The point I was trying to make with the minister is that there are people who, in spite of these programs ó for the sake of argument, weíll call them the working poor ó fall between the cracks. Perhaps the minister, in looking at this program, could examine some way for those not covered by a program, and who arenít necessarily defined as ďlow incomeĒ, to pay for that optical visit, as recommended by the volunteer screening. Thatís all Iím asking for.
Instead, the minister wandered into ďthe previous Liberal government did this, and the Member for Kluane did that.Ē Could we focus on the question and try to deal with these comments that we get from the public about legislative renewal?
People in business, where both parents are employed by the private sector, may not qualify as low income. When you factor in that they have several children and several of them have been recommended for optical visits after this volunteer screening ó it was a suggestion for the minister that we look at the childrenís drug and optical program. Perhaps we could cover the cost of the optician visit if itís not covered under some other plan. That was the suggestion.
Although there are many other areas of concern in this department, in particular with children, I would like to ask for a progress report on the Childrenís Act, which is covered under this particular department. Is there currently participation by all concerned? How are the reports and the consultation process going? When might we see product from this particular commission as struck by the minister?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Childrenís Act review panel is moving forward on this initiative. There has been a lot of product out of the initiatives so far. I sent over copies of a compilation of the results of a number of public meetings in and around the Yukon Territory in this field. I and the previous Grand Chief met regularly with the panel. The new Acting Grand Chief and I are planning to schedule a meeting to meet with the Childrenís Act review panel and the co-chairs and the balance of the membership.
Itís work in progress. To the best of my knowledge, itís proceeding quite well.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has outlined participation and discussions with the Acting Grand Chief of CYFN. Is Kwanlin Dun participating in the Childrenís Act review? What about the Liard and Ross River First Nations? Are they also participating?
I should clarify what I was referring to when I meant ďproductĒ. It was not the information on the consultation process, per se. I was referring to draft legislation. When is that anticipated?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The draft legislation will be done as soon as all the consultation is completed, and we move forward into that area. Itís not something that is going forward simultaneous to the consultation, although there are various areas that are being developed and worked on.
That said, we are in a process; the process has a wide acceptance. At the last meeting I attended with the previous Grand Chief, there was representation from Kwanlin Dun First Nation in attendance.
Ms. Duncan: And the Liard and Ross River First Nations? Are they participating through Council of Yukon First Nations, or is there additional participation?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I know there have been visits by the review panel to the respected communities. As to how they actually fit into the process, that detail I do not have, but I know theyíve been involved, are being consulted, and public meetings are being held in their traditional territories.
Ms. Duncan: Before we leave the issue of social assistance, we wandered into several areas of concern to children and youth. With respect to social assistance, the minister mentioned that there was anticipated increase ó and he made reference to handicapped. Would the minister indicate what constitutes the ďhandicappedĒ, or is there another phrase or term in use for those who are disabled and individuals receiving social assistance?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the member opposite is absolutely correct. ďDisabledĒ is the term I should have used. As to the actual definition of it, I donít have it here but it is established in the regulations.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in terms of those individuals with disabilities, would an individual who has been diagnosed with FASD qualify as disabled within the ministerís parameters, as he understands them right now?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I would not be the one who makes that determination, but I would be of the opinion that that would be certainly one of the root causes of a disabling affliction that would, depending on the severity of it, render the person to be determined to be disabled.
Ms. Duncan: † I understand that the minister wouldnít make that diagnosis, but the minister is passing the deals with the regulations that defines those with disabilities and indicated that the social assistance rates would go up. When will they go up? Did the minister give a figure? Iím not positive that he did ó Iíd have to examine the Blues. When will that increase take effect, and when will the definition be arrived at?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It would increase by $125 per month, $1,750 per year, by my calculations, and the definition is already in the regulations. There has been no request to change the definition.
Ms. Duncan: So I just have to go to the regulations, have a look and see what constitutes a person with a disability. A person with a disability who is currently receiving social assistance will receive a $125-a-month increase. This will be effective on what date?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The regulation change has yet to be approved. Itís anticipated to be moving through the system now. I canít give the member opposite a firm date.
Ms. Duncan: Can the minister give a ballpark date? If not July 15, how about, ďWe hope to see it before SeptemberĒ? This seems to have been talked about for quite a long time. I understand that it takes time, of course, to go through Cabinet; however, does the minister have any kind of an idea? Spring? Summer? Fall? In time for Christmas?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The issue is not so much the time it takes to go through Cabinet; itís the issue of the consultation process, and the consultation process and involvement and engaging with our First Nation partners to see where they stand on this issue. I would hope to see this in place as soon as possible. But other than those kinds of parameters around it, Iím not prepared to give a specific date.
Ms. Duncan: Is the Health and Social Services minister examining an increase solely to those with disabilities, or is there any examination of a restructuring of social assistance such as a guaranteed annual income suggestion?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The issue of a guaranteed annual income would be best dealt with on the federal level. Iíd encourage the member opposite to encourage her federal colleagues to move the funding over into that area, if they so wish, rather than some of the initiatives they have underway, which is causing them a great deal of concern as of late.
Ms. Duncan: The Minister of Health and Social Services could examine this. He has the ability. I only asked if he was, and he said no.
Before I turn the debate over for a time to the Member for Kluane, I would just like to ask the minister ó there is a tremendous amount of information and money as well in this health care budget being transferred to the Yukon Hospital Corporation ó in excess of $25 million. Now, the Yukon Hospital Corporation is an armís-length corporation ó for lack of a better term ó however, and they hold public meetings and mail out their annual report.
However, they also receive a vote authority in this Legislature. There are a number of questions related to what is overseen by the Hospital Corporation and related to this money that is being transferred.
Will the minister reconsider the answer he gave me in Question Period and allow the Chair of the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the CEO to come before Committee of the Whole this session to answer specific questions about the $25 million being transferred to the Hospital Corporation and other hospital-related issues that the minister is somewhat at armís length from in answering in this Legislature? Will he reconsider his refusal and allow that to happen?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite knows full well that she has had the full opportunity through the Public Accounts Committee, of which she is a member, to complete a thorough, in-depth analysis of the Yukon Hospital board and the Yukon Hospital Corporation. The CEO and other officials have appeared as witnesses before the Public Accounts Committee. As the member opposite has recognized, itís an armís-length entity from the Yukon government, funded by $25 million.
From my examination of the issues, itís probably one of the best small hospitals in Canada, if not the best.
Ms. Duncan: Iím more than well aware of what a fine hospital we have, and we Yukoners appreciate it as often as we are required to attend there or find ourselves visiting family members. I agree that the care that is offered is second to none.
And the minister, as he is so often fond of saying, is mixing, with respect to my request, apples and turnips. Appearing before this Legislature in Committee of the Whole to answer questions about the Hospital Corporation and the funding that is allotted to it in this budget year is entirely different than an appearance before the Public Accounts Committee ó entirely different.
Now, there is a significant sum of money being transferred to the Hospital Corporation. The minister, while it is a line item in the budget he is responsible for, has only some degree of control ó and it is quite limited ó as to how that money is spent. We as members of this Legislature have a responsibility to our constituents to ask some pretty detailed questions about it and about the direction of the hospital.
The Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board will appear before the Legislature in the fall. The Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy Corporation appear before this Legislature. Both of those have also appeared before Public Accounts Committee. The purpose of Public Accounts Committee was not to discuss the $25 million in this budget.
I for one would like the opportunity to discuss it with the Chair and the CEO of the Hospital Corporation. There is no harm in calling these individuals. In fact, I would suggest, given the professional, long-standing Yukoners that these individuals are, they would quite likely like to appear and give legislators the opportunity ó nay, Yukoners the opportunity ó to hear the questions that are asked. We could hear from their perspective, for example, about how well the transfer of the ambulance services is going or not.
They are the ones who, for example, negotiate and sign with health care workers at the hospital. We should have an opportunity to ask them questions. I fail to understand why the minister is refusing to accede to a very simple request when he is a member of the party that promised consensus, collaboration, working with Yukoners. Will the Minister of Health and Social Services consider working with this Yukoner, the Yukoner who is the Chair of the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the Yukoner who is the CEO of the hospital, on behalf of all Yukoners and allow us an opportunity to put some questions to him in Committee of the Whole in this session? Will he reconsider that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It would appear that the leader of the third party, who is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, is dissatisfied with the role that she may or may not have played in the examination of the Yukon Hospital Corporation.
That said, this entity is performing an excellent service to all Yukoners. The examination done by the Public Accounts Committee was, from the best of my recollection, quite thorough and detailed. Is the member suggesting that there is something in error or something wrong with the way the board of directors is providing policy to the administrative arm of the Yukon Hospital Corporation? Is that what is being suggested?
Ms. Duncan: Whatís being suggested is that the Minister of Health and Social Services is being exceedingly stubborn and less than open for no apparent reason other than it was me who made the request. Thatís what is openly apparent to anybody who has been listening. Because every time I have asked the minister questions on the Hospital Corporation, he has not provided adequate answers. Iím here to ask questions on behalf of the public, whether the member opposite likes it or not. The Chair of the Hospital Corporation is more than willing to answer questions. The Minister of Health and Social Services, who has indirect responsibility, is not allowing this to happen. Why?
Gee, just because the Member for Porter Creek South happened to ask; thatís the only reason the member opposite has given.
I have not for one minute ó not once ó criticized the Chair of the Hospital Corporation or the CEO of the hospital. They are spending, and are responsible for spending, in excess of $25 million of Yukon taxpayersí money, and Iím here to ask questions about it, and Iíd like the opportunity to do that.
No one is suggesting anything other than the opportunity to ask questions. So much for consensus; so much for collaboration; so much for working with Yukoners under the Yukon Party.
It is truly disappointing, and I would suggest that the Minister of Health and Social Services has some issue that he doesnít want discussed ó he must. Why is he not allowing this to happen? That is truly unfortunate.
The Member for Kluane has a number of questions heíd like to have answered, and I would turn it over to him for a time. I would appreciate the opportunity to come back in general debate. Perhaps the minister will reconsider his intransigence on this issue.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What is indeed unfortunate in respect to the Yukon Hospital Corporation is what has transpired over the last few years. I look upon the health care professionals as a very dedicated and capable group of individuals here in the Yukon.
Letís just back up a few years ago, when the NDP government was approached to purchase a CT scan and they committed to it. Our support in opposition for this initiative was given unequivocally.
Now, from there, there was a change of government, and the Liberals came into power. The first area dealing with the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the Whitehorse Hospital was, ďNo, weíre not going to provide all the capital funding they need to buy the CT scan. Weíre just going to give them part of it, and they can fundraise for the balance.Ē
Mr. Chair, the whole initiative was agreed to by a previous government and money was budgeted, but the Liberals chose not to move forward on this initiative. I guess, bowing to political pressure, they came to realize that this piece of diagnostic equipment was beneficial to Yukoners and they should fund part of the purchase. Eventually, after political pressure was exerted, that was done.
Now, the hospital is something that doesnít need a whole bunch of political pressures exerted on it, to have it pulled one way or the other for diagnostic equipment and things of this nature. We look at a hospital as fulfilling a very worthwhile and needed role. Other than the diligence of examining the requests for additional financial resources, the reasons for it and the benefits, if the Yukon Hospital Board can make the case, our government will try our level best to resource the initiative they have requested of us.
But letís look at the equation. They are the health care professionals. I donít believe any of us in this Legislature have the ability to make the determination about what piece of diagnostic equipment they should or should not be purchasing. The decision is made after careful examination by those in that field, and I donít want to politicize these areas. I donít want to put unneeded stress on the hospital board to inject another element into their deliberations. They are there to best represent the interests of Yukoners.
The health care professionals are there to provide the advice and initiatives. The exercise is to provide the best possible level of health care to all Yukoners that we possibly can and in as timely a manner as we possibly can. Weíve moved forward on that initiative, but Iím not prepared to politicize the equation. If the leader of the third party wants to examine whatís happening in the Yukon Hospital Corporation, they have the opportunity to call the Yukon Hospital Corporation before the Public Accounts Committee and examine what has transpired ó and theyíve done just that. I guess the member opposite was concerned that there wasnít anything unduly uncovered that would lead to controversy because these people are professionals ó theyíre health care professionals ó and theyíre doing a very capable job. Letís just let them do their job and not let us politicize the equation.
We have seen what happens when political interference happens in a situation. Sometimes itís necessary and sometimes itís unwarranted, but we only have to look at the Liberal governmentís involvement in the Mayo-Dawson transmission line, the Energy Solutions Centre, or the funding of the community of Dawson that allowed them to spend some $21-point-something million. The majority of all these three initiatives took place under the Liberal governmentís watch.
Weíre very proud of our health care professionals. Weíre very proud of the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the Whitehorse Hospital and the level of service it provides to Yukoners. We want to keep it that way.
Mr. McRobb: I do appreciate this opportunity to follow up on the general debate issues that were continued on Thursday, April 14 coming out of the discussion of Tuesday, April 12. Iíve had an opportunity to review the ministerís opening remarks from Thursday and note that he indicated that his department is enhancing the various programs and implementing new programs. This would be page 4029 of the Blues. He indicated some of those were being developed by the Whitehorse Hospital, by the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board. The Yukon Hospital Corporation Board has representatives from all over the Yukon. It examines programming and, in conjunction with the Yukon Medical Association and other bodies, it brings forward new initiatives.
Mr. Chair, I noticed quite a noticeable omission from that list, and that is the Yukon Registered Nurses Association. Can the minister indicate if theyíre involved, and to what extent are they involved in developing those new programs?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There are members of the YMA who sit on the board.
Mr. McRobb: Sit on what board, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yukon Hospital Corporation Board of Directors.
Mr. McRobb: Did the minister say there are members of the YRNA who sit on the board or the YMA? I didnít quite make the distinction.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There are members from both of those organizations, the YMA and the YRNA.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Mr. Chair. However, those board members would be expected to perform in their capacity as board members of the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board when giving their input and not perform in their capacity for their original associations. So it still seems there is an omission from the list. Why doesnít the minister consult the YRNA?
You know, I was at their annual general meeting on the weekend. I didnít see the minister there at all. Is he avoiding this association?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: That is not a reasonable, fair or accurate assessment. I meet on a regular basis with a body of which they are a member of ó the YRNA. It usually takes place up at Yukon College, and we have an open and frank dialogue on an ongoing basis with members of that organization.
Mr. McRobb: All right, if the minister figures thatís good enough, maybe it is good enough for this minister.
I want to talk about medevacs for a moment, because the minister has indicated that medevac numbers are decreasing, because his department will be bringing specialists to the territory. However, the numbers in the statistics indicate thereís no appreciable change between this fiscal year, last fiscal year and the one previous to that.
Can the minister indicate where the decreases are occurring?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There are two components: there are medevacs and medical travel. I would ask the member to have a look at the stats for both, because medevacs are usually associated with a pressing and urgent requirement to move an individual for medical attention because of a health condition or an accident. Medical travel is usually used to move a person to a centre in the south ó British Columbia or Alberta ó for medical attention and medical procedures that are not readily available here in the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: Yes, thatís fine, but the minister did indicate that bringing in more specialists would reduce the number of medevacs from the territory, and the statistics indicate the out-of-territory transfers by the medevac team are essentially 270 per year and are remaining constant.
Does the minister believe those numbers will decrease as a result of bringing in more specialists and, if so, how are those reductions factored into the statistics?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: What the statistics show and what the member opposite should look at is the number of hospital days for out-of-Yukon facilities, the number of hospital days used by Yukoners in facilities outside of the Yukon. That is showing a decrease. What is happening is that there has been an increase of in-territory travel for medical attention and medical needs, which supports the area that I outlined for the member opposite that we are doing more here in the Yukon for Yukoners with regard to health care. We still have many areas where we do not have the capacity here in the Yukon and we do have to buy those services, primarily in British Columbia and Alberta, and weíre doing exactly that. As to the number of medevacs, they are driven based on a health emergency and they have remained pretty consistent.
Mr. McRobb: I would presume that what the minister identified is one measurement of medevacs; however, the true measurement is the number of trips taken Outside, and we see no change to those numbers. Obviously the minister canít offer anything further and that might be something we follow up on.
Can he indicate if there are statistics kept for the number of medical outpatients in the territory? Iím looking through the section in the budget for this department. Could he direct me to where I might find that information?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Could the member opposite be specific as to what he is seeking? What information is he seeking in what area, please?
Mr. McRobb: Well, Iíll repeat what I requested. I think itís specific enough. Itís the number of outpatients on medical travel each year from the Yukon. The minister should be familiar with this. I direct him to Question Period from just about any day last week, when the issue was discussed.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Out of territory actual for 2003-04 for physician services was 34,103. Weíve estimated it at 35,000 for 2004-05 forecast, 35,500 for 2005-06 estimated. Physician services in Yukon, the 2003-04 actual was 192,020. The 2004-05 forecast is 195,000. The 2005-06 estimate is 200,000. So there is a three-percent increase, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: And are those statistics contained in the budget binder at all, Mr. Deputy Chair?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thatís exactly where they came from, Mr. Deputy Chair.
Mr. McRobb: And what page might they be found on?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I have 11-29, Mr. Chair, but let me just confirm that. I wouldnít want to provide the member opposite with inaccurate information. Itís a yellow copy. The stats are yellow.
The member opposite has located it. Heís found 11-29. Is there anything else I can help the member opposite with?
Mr. McRobb: Well, itís quite a switch to see the minister so eager to please. Maybe the weekend calmed his nerves a bit.
These numbers are quite interesting. At first glance, I guess it raises a question about why those numbers arenít decreasing, like the minister indicated they would. So Iíd like him to be as helpful as he was a moment ago and just explain why those numbers arenít decreasing due to bringing in the specialists that he was telling us about last week.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I guess what you have to overlay here is the increase in the Yukon population.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I see 2,000 more trips this fiscal year as opposed to last year. Based on the numbers, there are about one and a half trips per person living in the Yukon. So the minister is calculating in an increase of probably 1,200 to 1,500 people in the territory this fiscal year. Can he enlighten us? Just what type of population increase is he looking at?
I see on the top the number is only 500. Well, something is up here. Something doesnít correspond. Obviously this number isnít just based on population. It probably factors in the ageing population, which requires an increased number of trips. Nevertheless, after all we heard from the minister last week about how great his new plan is, itís rather startling to see an increase of 2,000 in outpatient visits in this fiscal year whereas the population increase doesnít really warrant that.
Why arenít the numbers decreasing, as the minister indicated last week they would?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I donít know where the member opposite is obtaining the information heís conveying in the House here. If we look at Whitehorse General Hospital, patient admissions, the 2003-04 actuals, weíre at 2,904; in the forecast for 2004-05, it was 3,200; and the estimate for 2005-06 is 3,300.
If we look at outpatient visits, emergency room, the actual in 2003-04 was 21,098; weíre forecast for 2004-05 as 23,000; and the estimate for 2005-06 is 23,700. I donít see any increases of several thousand outpatient visits. All other categories in the 2003-04 actuals is 39,699; the forecast for 2004-05 was 43,000; the estimate for 2005-06 is 45,000.
If we look at surgical cases in 2003-04 actuals at the Whitehorse General Hospital, it was 1,578; the forecast for 2004-05 was 1,600; and the estimate for 2005-06 is 1,600. For in-patients, the 2003-04 actuals was 718; the forecast for 2004-05 is 768; the estimate for 2005-06 is 780.
If we look at the Whitehorse General Hospital for the patient days, which excludes newborns, the 2003-04 actual was 13,164 patient days. The forecast for 2004-05 is 13,822, and the 2005-06 estimate ó which is an estimate ó is 14,000. I donít know from where the member opposite is coming up with this amazing increase of several thousand patient days, but I guess the most telling of the stats is the hospital days of care in out-of-Yukon facilities. In 2003-04, the actual was 5,709, and the 2004-05 forecast was 5,000 and the 2005-06 estimate is 5,500, and the average length of stay in days in out-of-Yukon facilities was 7.6 in the 2003-04 actual, forecasted to be 7.2 in 2004-05, and estimated to be 7.2 in 2005-06. So I donít know how the member opposite is drawing the conclusions that he is, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: Well, there is no need for the minister to read the whole page of statistics. It is right there in front of us, and every one of those numbers for the current fiscal year is larger than the corresponding numbers for this year or last year. All the numbers are increasing. That is the point, and that doesnít seem to jibe with what the minister was saying last week.
I want to ask him a few other questions about medevacs. What is the doctor on-call rate per day for medevacs? Can the minister give us that information?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It depends on the category of doctor, and it depends on the classification. There is a whole series of rates, depending on whether itís a field of specialty or if itís a general practitioner.
Mr. McRobb: Are statistics kept on the number of days when a doctor on call is actually called into service? Does the department keep those numbers?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The billing would reflect that because there is an on-call cost. There is also a fee-for-service cost, so it depends. And there is emergency at the Whitehorse Hospital. There are all sorts of categories. So, once again, the member is comparing a number of different factors in the equation. But everything is either covered off through a fee-for-service or an on-call cost.
So when the member opposite goes over the increase in the statistics for all the categories, what he fails to recognize is that the population of the Yukon is growing. It is increasing. That is one of the major drivers in the overall category. Now, if the population were shrinking and these numbers were going up, I think we should all have some concerns. But the fact is that the population of the Yukon is now increasing under this Yukon Party watch, and our costs of health care and health care delivery are also increasing accordingly.
Mr. McRobb: A couple of things ó first of all, I did acknowledge the statistics accounted for an increase in population of 500 people in the territory, so I donít know what the ministerís talking about. Of course, thatís just an assessment. Also he accused me of comparing these different classifications of doctors for the medevacs. Mr. Chair, you can check Hansard. I compared nothing. I merely asked a question, and the question was: does the minister keep the statistics on the number of in-call services?
I assume from the answer, which wasnít totally clear, that the department does keep statistics. In his previous answer, the minister indicated there are different types of classification of doctors, et cetera.
I would like to ask him for some written information. Can he provide for us a listing of the different types of classifications, along with the number of days the physicians were called into service, along with the rates for each type? It would be very helpful if he can do that.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iíll provide the information to the member opposite verbally.
Mr. McRobb: Well, all right, Mr. Chair. When might we expect that information? That could be quite a bit of information, considering there are different types of physicians and so on. That could take quite awhile. It would certainly help to expedite debate if the minister would just undertake to return with the information, and we wouldnít have to wait for several minutes for him to read it into the record. As well, we would like to rely on the numbers the minister provides. If theyíre just written on the back of an envelope in a hasty manner, then we wonít have too much confidence in those numbers.
So we would like some formal numbers from the minister. Would he provide us with that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I committed to the member opposite earlier ó I will just go over it once again ó I will commit to providing the member opposite with that information verbally.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís not totally satisfactory, but I guess if thatís all heís willing to do, weíll have to accept it. After all, we are the lowly opposition and the government can force its way on virtually everything just due to sheer numbers.
I would like the minister, when he gets on his feet again, to indicate when he might get that information on the record. Will it be today, next week, next year? When? I would also like to know whether the minister has considered any alternatives to reducing the cost of the medevac on-call service provided, and would he be able to answer that on his feet?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Yukon government has a three-year contract with the firm providing medevac services on behalf of Yukon, but all they provide is the aircraft equipped with a crew. The Yukon Department of Health and Social Services provides the attendants and/or the medical doctor and pays for them separately.
The opportunity to reduce costs in this area is very small given that thereís usually a requirement for two flight nurses or an ambulance attendant and a flight nurse, and a doctor. On other occasions when we bring in the medevac aircraft from Alberta or British Columbia, which is usually a specialized, dedicated team ó for example, in the event of a premature birth, they send in a specialized team. I believe there are four on board plus the air crew. It may only be three, but I was given to understand that, on one occasion, it was four. This is a highly specialized and dedicated team. Yukon buys service from the respective other jurisdiction and we pay whatever the going rate is. So the opportunity to negotiate a savings is something that just does not exist in this area, to the best of my knowledge.
Mr. McRobb: All right. We can accept that, Mr. Chair. I understand the usual rate for a doctor on call is about $500 a day. I suppose that would depend on the classification of the doctor. Iíll concede that. But the number I was told was $500 a day, and only very rarely are the doctors actually called into service.
So that would add up. At the end of a year, weíre looking at probably $150,000 for services that were never used. So I would like to ask the minister about CARS operators. As someone with a pilot licence, I would presume he is very familiar with the CARS operators throughout the territory. Their major issue is the lack of compensation as part of their contracts with Nav Canada. What theyíre required to do for purposes of medevacing patients in territory is remain on call essentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is no compensation for that requirement. But if they arenít on call, the medevacs simply donít fly in. These operators feel a great amount of pressure from within their community because the people in need of medical assistance are usually friends of theirs. They are usually aware of when somebody is getting to the point when they might need a flight. The requirement for them to remain on call seriously affects their personal plans and how they go about their lives when they arenít actively on duty at the airport.
This has been an issue for several years now, and since the minister has been the happy recipient of a large windfall from the federal government, we would expect this oversight in our pay system for services rendered to be resolved.
Can the minister indicate if thereís anything in this budget to fairly compensate these people for providing the very important service to their communities?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The overall question with respect to CARS and Nav Canada is a question that should be directed to the Minister of Community Services, who is responsible for aerodrome operation here in the Yukon.
I can confirm that, when the invoice is received, the Nav Canada surcharge on the invoice from the medevac service provider is in addition to the base amounts, because they vary. There also can be airport landing fees and parking fees that are in addition to the basic amounts that are charged by the medevac provider.
That said, the recent increase that has come to my attention is at the municipal airport right in downtown Edmonton, where the inbound medevac flights elect to land because of its close proximity to hospitals. There is a minimum fee that is assessed by the municipal airport that is passed on to the Department of Health and Social Services.
For the total gist of the memberís questioning, I would encourage him to ask the Minister of Community Services when he gets into that department.
Mr. McRobb: The Yukon Party ministers are good at passing the buck. When we get into Community Services, Iíll ask the minister again about this matter. But the answer is that there is a lack of funds in that department. Yukon airports fall within ó actually, Yukon airports fall under Highways and Public Works. Iím not exactly sure what Community Servicesí jurisdiction is with this issue.
Nevertheless, letís go back to this minister. There is nothing to prevent him from making a contribution to help resolve this problem. As a matter of fact, that could be what it takes to break the roadblock in this matter ó a contribution from the health care system for services rendered for our health care system.
Thatís what weíre talking about here ó fair compensation for people who have to remain on call around the clock and give weather reports and so on, in order for the medevacs to land. Without those services, the medevacs wonít land, and that means going right back to square one ó the doctor on call who gets $500. If the medevacs canít land, then thatís an easy $500 for somebody, I would presume. But there is nothing going on the other end ó to the operator who is relied on for the medevac in the first place.
So there is a total unfairness in the system. Iím aware of one operator in Beaver Creek who moved out about a year ago because of the stress associated with all of this and the unfairness of it all. That person raised the issue with Yukon government ministers several times, as well as with the MP. Nobody has a solution.
Weíre finally talking to the minister who can provide a solution just by allocating a reasonable amount of funds from within the department for this purpose. So Iíll have to ask him: what is the minister prepared to do? Is this something he will consider?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I stand corrected. It is Department of Highways and Public Works that is responsible for airports in the Yukon. Itís the same minister, the Minister of Community Services. That said, Iíd encourage the member opposite to examine this area with the minister responsible for the Department of Highways and Public Works. Again, this is an issue. Nav Canada is a federal entity, and CARS is a contract that is issued under Nav Canadaís auspices by Yukon within certain guidelines and parameters, and there are some CARS stations in the Yukon that operate 24/7. Some of them are seasonal, some of them have extended hours in the summer versus the winter. But the services that the CARS operator provides are all extremely beneficial and worthwhile. But this is an area that is under the Minister of Highways and Public Works, and it is not an issue for the Department of Health and Social Services.
The Department is charged a fee from Nav Canada on the related bills, and that is paid. Also there are landing fees and surcharges, parking fees on occasion, which are usually passed right on to the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb: Well, okay, not only is the minister short on information, heís also short on solutions. Letís move ahead.
On Thursday we were talking a bit about the seniors facilities in the territory, and he alluded to a facility that is in the planning stages in Whitehorse. This is probably the River View project, Mr. Chair, that, according to the information I have received, the Legion is involved with. From what I understand, the entire hotel will be renovated into apartments, probably one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.
There will be a kitchen downstairs providing meals. Apparently there are two meals per day ó lunch and supper are provided. Thatís built into the monthly rent. I understand thatís about $1,500 per month in some cases.
We havenít heard too much from the minister about this project. Can he provide us with any more details?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As this is an initiative of the Royal Canadian Legion, Iíd encourage the member opposite to contact them. The facilities that the Government of Yukon currently operates are Macaulay Lodge, Copper Ridge Place and McDonald Lodge in Dawson City. Weíll soon have a fourth facility in Watson Lake. Itís contained within this budget cycle.
Mr. McRobb: Is the minister saying the Yukon government isnít and wonít be involved with the Legion project at this premise?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The Department of Health and Social Services, in all probability, will not be. There may be an involvement through Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mr. McRobb: All right. I guess weíll have to wait for a few days until we hear from the Housing Corporation minister at the Friday luncheon. Maybe weíll be enlightened prior to that.
Iíve talked to some seniors who are investigating their options for living downtown. This is rather an interesting field. For those of us who plan to live out our lives in Whitehorse, weíll probably have to think about this at some stage ó where we want to live, and so on.
A lot of Yukoners, no doubt, are doing that now and have gone through that process. These people have identified some values they would like to have in their choice of residence, and they include having a nice suite near the waterfront with a view and no stairs and having a secure place with sufficient space and so on. Is there anything on the drawing board from this minister that would meet those criteria?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I certainly agree with the member opposite. There is a need for an apartment, assisted living complex in Whitehorse, and it would be an initiative that would not be done directly through the Department of Health and Social Services, but I am hopeful that this type of an initiative will come to fruition very soon under this governmentís watch.
Mr. McRobb: Now, we talked about the Legion proposal and how it might be a project under Yukon Housing. Iím also aware that Closeleigh Manor is basically a federal facility, operated by CMHC, I believe. Well, the minister says Yukon Housing, but it wasnít one of the places identified by him just a moment ago. These people also investigated the Closeleigh Manor situation, and they soon discovered an income ceiling and also a prohibition against owning any property within the Yukon Territory. Now, Mr. Chair, at first glance that might be seen to be reasonable; however, in a lot of cases, some seniors and elders will still be property owners and may still have an income above ó I think itís $35,000 a year, which is still a fairly reasonable amount. They would like to live in a nice place like Closeleigh Manor; however, theyíre prevented from doing so.
The minister has indicated they will be looking at some options. I would urge him to consider an option similar to the Closeleigh option. Not all seniors are going to want their meals prepared for them, such as in the case with the Legionís proposal. Some will, but there should be a variety and people do deserve to have a choice.
Obviously the waterfront area of Whitehorse will be changing quite drastically in the next few years and it could be very important for the Yukon government to act to acquire property, especially along the west side of First Avenue, before that property is redeveloped by others. Itís that type of property that would provide a good view and proximity to the waterfront.
Moving along, on Thursday I was asking the minister about addictions and how the department is evaluating its performance measures, and he wasnít able to answer that question. Now, he does mention how the government moved residential treatment back into the Sarah Steele Building. Can he give us an evaluation of how that is working out? Does he have any numbers?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Before we get into the issue of addictions and drug and alcohol services, letís just back up a minute to some of the areas that the member opposite was elaborating on, or rambling on about.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: If ďramblingĒ is out of order, I will withdraw the term ďramblingĒ, Mr. Chair.
The issue before us is Closeleigh Manor, which is funded by CMHC. The mortgage is held by CMHC, and it was built by the Yukon Housing Corporation, and they basically implement the federal program that sets the parameters and guidelines as to what the criteria are for admission to that facility.
Iíll agree with the member opposite that what is needed in the Whitehorse area, and specifically in the downtown area, or in close proximity to it, is an assisted living apartment, readily accessible to transit and other services. At the same time, there is also a need for apartments that are full-market rent, have more than just the basic facilities and are of a larger size.
So, all of these are in demand, but the fact of the matter is that Iíd encourage the member opposite to direct the majority of this questioning to the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.
With respect to drug and alcohol services, the detox admission, based on a capacity of 11 beds, or 1,000, the ballpark estimate for 2005-06 is 1,100.† So thatís where weíre at.
The live-in treatment ó total clients served, the 2004-05 forecast was 74; the 2005-06 estimate is 78. In addition to that, the actual for the departmentís outpatient counselling hours in 2003-04 was 2,198. The 2004-05 forecast is 3,555 hours, and the outpatient estimate for counselling is 3,700 hours for 2005-06.
So, this shows a definite commitment by our department in this area. It was under the NDP government that the live-in treatment centre was closed, and then the Liberal government was elected and chose to build a stovepipe of administration rather than addressing the actual needs in the community.
But we have a very serious problem with substance abuse here in the Yukon.
Itís not peculiar to any one specific area of the Yukon; itís across the board and itís something that we are concentrating on. The Premier will be convening a symposium on that ó Iíve forgotten the exact title of the undertaking. This initiative is an all-party initiative and I would encourage the Member for Kluane to get involved and get on board with this initiative and be part of it.
Mr. McRobb: I was at the last meeting hosted by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. I didnít see the Health and Social Services minister there, so I would encourage him to get on board as well.
I asked him how the residential treatment program was working at the Sarah Steele Building, and the question was answered with a number of statistics, which donít tell the whole story. I would appreciate it if he could give us a sentence, anyway, on how that program is faring, as well as indicate what type of programming is now available that wasnít before.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: † The program thatís available now that wasnít available before, delivered by the Government of Yukon, is a 28-day residential live-in treatment program.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Iíd still like the comment on how the residential treatment program is faring, which the minister avoided.
Can he demonstrate any improvement in services for addictions from the department? Whatís being done?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I just outlined the number of counselling hours that are being provided by the department. I just indicated the detox admissions that are being provided. I admitted readily that we have a real problem here in the Yukon with substance abuse. If the member opposite was at a number of meetings previously, he would have found out that the problems are far reaching just here in Whitehorse.
The department is doing its level best. Weíve reinstituted a 28-day residential live-in treatment program. Weíve increased the number of counsellors. Weíve increased our capacity to deal with the number of people so afflicted, and weíve increased the number of counselling hours across the board.
The number of community meetings and consultations has also increased significantly from a 2003-04 actual of 87 to a forecast this last year of 120, and we will be up to 145. So in all the areas where we have the responsibility, we have increased capacity, and we have increased services. There is a lot of working with our partners in this field from First Nation governments, but it is and remains the most serious problem we have right here in the Yukon ó substance abuse and its resultant impact on society.
Mr. McRobb: Iím well aware of the severity of the problem and have spoken about it several times in this Legislature. Iíve also attended several meetings in communities, as well as Whitehorse, about this matter so Iím not sure what the minister is getting at in his personal comments. I would like to ask him about the rate of relapse for clients who have been counselled and treated at alcohol and drug services branch. Are there any indications that this particular statistic is improving?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Overall we appear to be going backwards in many respects as to the difficulties being encountered by substance abuse and those so afflicted. Itís into our youth and our population. There are a number of new drugs readily available. Those new drugs are more addictive, faster and theyíre less expensive, so weíve got a really serious problem. Those tasked with the enforcement side recognize it. Those tasked with the treatment side recognize it. Itís a matter of building our resources and capacity to deal with it, and itís a matter of getting an educational program into the youth in our society, into our schools. Itís something thatís causing all sorts of downstream problems. The most easily preventable affliction is FASD. All one has to do to curtail this difficulty is to not drink when youíre going to become pregnant or you are pregnant. These are very simple initiatives for something thatís affecting our society to a tremendous degree.
We have individuals affected who are, through no fault of their own, a burden on their family members and on society in general. It is not the fault of these people who are born with this affliction. It tracks back to the parents and their substance abuse problem. So we have a serious problem in this area. As to the rate of relapse, there is a lot of recurrence of relapse in the substance abuse field. Success is one sober day at a time or one day at a time without a dependency on any substance.
Mr. McRobb: I would agree with the minister about the severity of the problem and urge any expecting mother and father, for that matter, to use extreme caution when consuming alcohol when a birth can be anticipated and expected.
The minister indicated the rate of relapse for clients undergoing counselling and treatment has taken a step backward. Can he indicate what he is planning to do to change the direction of that statistic? What will he do to try to ensure that clients donít relapse?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Weíve increased outpatient counselling hours significantly ó from 2,198 actual hours in 2003-04 to 3,700 hours estimated in 2005-06.
The community meetings and consultations have increased significantly from 2003-04 actual of 87 to 2005-06 estimated of 145.
Training events have gone from 62 in 2003-04 ó that was the actual. They are estimated at 75 in 2005-06.
Across the board, weíve increased our capacity in all these areas, and we still have problems. I donít have an immediate cure in this area, but itís a matter of meeting the task at hand as best as we can.
But as I said earlier, the issue of substance abuse right here in the Yukon is a very serious one.
Mr. McRobb: It would seem to me that this problem wonít get resolved by a number of statistics, such as the minister has put on record. It wonít get resolved by throwing money at the problem. We perhaps have to consider a different approach.
During the course of the past year, Iíve had the opportunity to review the four-pillar approach. Can the minister indicate if he has done the same, and what is his view on that approach?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It is a program, but the program delivery area that the department has in place has positively impacted. Itís very hard to track, given that thereís an ever-expanding group of those who are experimenting with drugs and become addicted. The age group that this problem is occurring in is becoming younger and younger.
That said, across the board there are various approaches. Weíre trying as many as possible that the department knows work. When it gets to the point where theyíre ready to go into a live-in residential treatment program, that is now available here in the Yukon.
But this is not an easy area and to quantify it and qualify it is extremely difficult. I point out the amount of counselling hours. I point out the amount of consultations and community meetings and training events. That can be quantified because we track those. As to our success, we still have a serious problem with substance abuse here in the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: How many crack houses would the minister estimate there are in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I know there are some. I do not know. I do not have the number.
Mr. McRobb: All right, thatís interesting. Maybe the minister should be in a little closer contact with people in the department who are dealing with these matters at a closer level than the minister who then might have better appreciation for some of the ways to resolve these matters. Because he is right, it is a growing problem in the territory and itís bound to get worse.
Just think about what problems we would be faced with right now if the pipeline was coming in a matter of months. If that were the case, you can easily predict a large number of drug traffickers and potential clients with the money to support that industry being active in the territory and in the communities. Imagine the impact they would have on our society and our culture, especially some of the smaller communities. We really must prepare for that eventuality to ensure we can protect our way of life and our people to an adequate degree.
Can the minister indicate how alcohol and drug services branch supports First Nations addictions services?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím not comfortable with where the member opposite left this issue of a project such as a pipeline or pipeline construction creating a whole series of social problems. Yes, there are always social problems associated with growth in any economy or any project. But what the member opposite should be aware of is the oil industry has a policy of zero tolerance ó zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol. In fact, their installation all along, if you want to look at the Alyeska pipeline up in Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay, alcohol is not permitted on-site, and there is random drug and alcohol testing of all employees there. Probably if that were to take place here in the Yukon, the member opposite would be the first one to stand up and say thatís an infringement on their rights. But, that said, these firms have very strict policies and a very strict adherence to zero tolerance, and that area is covered off and has been covered off fairly well.
There are a lot of other industries associated with large, major projects.
With respect to the member oppositeís question as to our involvement with our First Nation partners in alcohol and drug services, we provide trainers on a regular basis; we provide individuals to go out to the various First Nations, to their initiatives, and put on courses and we do our level best to provide services where we can for the First Nations.
Mr. McRobb: If the minister had been paying closer attention in the last few years, he would have recalled that when the Dakwakada sawmill was still operating in Haines Junction, it began a drug and alcohol testing program. As a matter of fact, one of the challengers in the past election was the first person to go through that particular testing program. There was no concern from the public that I was aware of about any such intrusiveness of that testing program.
So, in the case of a much larger project that involves a larger number of people from outside the territory, I would expect that random drug and alcohol testing would be a standard part of any such project.
As far as the ministerís comments about the zero tolerance, weíll leave that discussion for another day, but just because the industry has zero tolerance guidelines does not mean there are no drugs being used on the job and it doesnít mean there arenít more drugs circulating in communities affected by megaprojects.
If the minister wants to get into that discussion, Iíd invite him to bring forward a motion in this Assembly, and we can have a good discussion some Wednesday afternoon. I want to ask him what alcohol and drug services programs are available for communities. What about women in communities and youth in communities, in particular?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We have counsellors who circulate around the Yukon Territory, as required, on a regular basis.
Mr. McRobb: What kind of services does the department offer to treat addiction related to gambling?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The department doesnít have any program in that area in-house. There is a help line that anyone who is so affected can be and will be referred to.
Mr. McRobb: I seem to recall from a couple of weeks ago, there was a news flash that the Yukon Party was working on promoting increased gaming in the territory. If thatís the case, will the minister be considering an option to introduce a program to treat those who suffer from addiction to gambling?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite must have us confused with the Liberal Party who are advocating changing the Liquor Act making liquor more readily available and building a new and bigger jail.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I donít necessarily accept that answer as being too helpful, but letís move on. We seem to be making better progress than we were in the previous two days.
I want to ask the minister about his two-year plan to retain and recruit physicians. How is he monitoring the success of that program? Are there any statistics he can provide to support his belief that the program is working well?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The department recently negotiated a new four-year agreement with the YMA. That four-year agreement with the doctors provides for a retention bonus. Last year a $16,000 retention bonus was paid to all doctors that met the prescribed criteria. This year the bonus is not paid, but the following year the bonus is $32,000. So that retention bonus in itself is very much an incentive.
If we move into other areas, there is enhanced training and enhanced opportunity for advancing the skills of those in the medical profession. At the same time, the fee-for-service charges have been increased, as well as the various contract doctors around the Yukon Territory. They have seen an increase in their contract if itís a new contract that is negotiated. At the same time, they are also the recipient of the $16,000 per year retention bonus.
So overall we find the Yukon is in the position of having one of the best doctor-to-population ratios in Canada. That said, we still have issues of a number of Yukoners not being able to access a family physician or a family doctor.
There is work underway between the YMA and the Department of Health and Social Services to address this issue. Itís an ongoing concern, but our government has placed a high priority on the attraction, the recruitment and the retention of health care professionals ó not just doctors, but the entire range of health care providers.
The member opposite will probably try to make the case that we should open up a new service centre here staffed by nurse practitioners. Well, nurse practitioners, Mr. Chair, are in the same category as doctors. They are a very specialized group of individuals who are in demand, across all areas, and to take them from rural Yukon and move them into Whitehorse would detract from our ability to service the health care needs in a lot of the smaller rural Yukon communities.
So we have in place a very good recruitment and retention program. We are looking at every possibility of improving that as we move forward in the delivery of health care to all Yukoners, Mr. Chair.
Chair: As we have reached our normal time for a recess, do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will come to order, please. We will continue with general debate on Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb: I want to follow up where we left off about the ministerís two-year plan to retain and recruit physicians. He mentioned the $200 bonus scheme. Could he provide us with a breakdown of that scheme, including the total amount paid out? If he has statistics, such as the number of doctors benefited and by how much, that would be helpful as well.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The retention bonus is $16,000 for this last year.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The $200 retention bonus?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The $200 is for if a doctor takes on a new patient; itís a set-up fee. It encourages doctors to take on a new patient, but the actual retention bonus for a full year is $16,000. In this next year there wonít be anything paid to the doctor, but the following year it will be $32,000 paid, so thereís actually a retention bonus after the first year and after the third year.
Mr. McRobb: All right, the minister didnít comment on whether statistics were available. I would still like to know that.†
Moving on, how is the minister determining which specialists are needed in the territory? Is he working with the YMA on this? What about people in the communities? How is he going about this?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite was correct in the first instance. The YMA is one of the lead agencies, along with the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb: Letís talk about recruiting medical staff for a moment. Can the minister explain what efforts he or his department makes in recruiting physicians for the territory?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Actually, one of the best programs we have in place is our arrangement with the University of Calgary for those who are in the medical department. They have an opportunity to come to the Yukon and do their practicums here. That program is working quite well and weíre looking at enhancing that.
Thereís a lot of word-of-mouth involvement in this area and a lot of recruitment that goes on between the doctors resident here and the doctors who are either on their way through medical school or looking to another area of Canada to practise.
The Yukon is once again the land of opportunity under this Yukon Party governmentís watch.
Mr. McRobb: Iíd like to thank the minister for that unsolicited political advertisement, but it leaves a lot to be desired. The minister spoke about the University of Calgary practicum initiative but failed to identify anything else in terms of what actions he or the department is taking to recruit physicians to the territory. So I would like to give him another opportunity to respond in a fuller manner. Would he do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, Iíve elaborated on some of the departmentís initiatives, and theyíre working quite well, and I am prepared to entertain further questions that the member might have.
Mr. McRobb: I donít know why the minister is clamming up on this question. It isnít consistent with his past practice. Can the minister indicate what either he or his department is doing to recruit physicians from outside the territory? Are they going to some kind of convention or whatever? Iím aware that, in the past, efforts have been made in that area. I believe the previous Health and Social Services minister even showcased her presence at one such employment fair or something to that effect.
So can the minister respond to the question in that context? Are representatives from the territory seeking physician recruits through that method or something similar?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: All of the above and more.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I want to thank the minister for being succinct, to the point, and not going off and reading a bunch of old press releases as we experienced on Tuesday and Thursday of last week. However, we are seeing the ministerís approach go from one extreme to the other. Now his answer is so succinct that it doesnít really say much at all.
I would like him to elaborate a little more ó you know, bring himself back toward the centre a little more in terms of a reasonable answer. What is the department doing to recruit physicians to the territory?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iíve elaborated on that for the member oppositeís information.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I donít know if the minister expects us to take him seriously or if heís practising for a future career as a stand-up comedian. Either way, weíre not getting the information requested from this minister.
I want to ask him then: at the shows in southern cities, such as Vancouver, that are attended by personnel, whatís the usual success rate in terms of recruitment? I would expect the minister to give some number to that effect, such as the team that goes to the Vancouver trade show ó or whatever it is ó usually comes back with about one or two doctors every year and perhaps three or four registered nurses. If he can give some information like that, we really would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I would if I could, but we are talking here of health care professionals. The department visits a number of trade shows across Canada. Thereís a concerted and collaborative effort on the part of the Department of Health and Social Services and Yukon Hospital Corporation, as well as the private sector here in Yukon that are looking for various categories of health care professionals. Itís not something that we can quantify like going to a trade show and buying a box of widgets. These are highly skilled, in-demand health care professionals that we are seeking out, so to say our success rate is one or two ó the contacts that are made are very worthwhile and it usually takes some follow-up work and some additional information to attract individuals to viewing the Yukon as a good place to work, and then arrangements are made with the various entities.
Bear in mind that in the case of doctors, a lot of them are going to be attached to existing practices. A lot of them also, above and beyond, are specialists in specific fields.
If you look at the field of nurses, there is the OR nursing, nurse practitioners ó there is just an ongoing recruitment of all these categories, including all the technical categories. These people are in demand, and the Yukon offers a very good wage and benefit package and extremely good working conditions in a very choice location of Canada. Those are our selling features.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I didnít compare the recruits to widgets. Let the record show it was the minister who did that.
I donít think weíre getting the whole story. Iím sure when the minister asks his deputy this same question, he probably gets a breakdown of the number of physicians by category or nurses by category that are being recruited to the territory so the minister can evaluate the performance of the personnel who endeavour in those initiatives. But the minister is giving us nothing, so obviously he is not evaluating anything or he is not being very forthcoming with the information. It has to be one or the other. So if he is not evaluating the success rate of the recruitment, then why not?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Let the record show that the minister refused to stand on his feet and answer the question. So I will have to assume that weíre on the right path and he is ashamed to admit that he doesnít follow this situation very closely and doesnít have any answers.
Maybe thatís part of the reason why we have a shortage of physicians in the territory ó the minister isnít paying enough attention to the problem; heís not doing enough in his efforts to even understand the situation.
I would urge him to do so, because he is the person at the top of the ladder and a lot of people in the territory are depending on him. In some cases, lives are on the line. The minister should take this more seriously. He wonít give us any information so Iíll just urge him to take this matter more seriously.
In terms of federal funding, weíve gone over these issues a bit already. Can the minister indicate what progress has been made on the eight recommendations from the primary health care forum?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I donít have the details on that information at hand, but Iíll provide it to the member opposite verbally.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, itís standard practice in this Legislature for a minister, when a minister comes up empty for answers, to provide a legislative return. This providing stuff verbally isnít good enough. It lets the minister off the hook. We donít put much confidence in anything we hear. We want it down on paper.
Would the minister satisfy the deficiency to provide the information at hand by returning with a legislative return? Thatís standard practice.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I indicated earlier, I am quite willing and will be providing the information verbally to the member opposite.
Mr. McRobb: Iíve noticed that the Yukon Party seems to have a policy ó at least the ministers do ó to avoid, at practically any cost, ever committing to bringing in a legislative return.
I know the Health and Social Services minister is also the House leader over there. He takes pride in tutoring his colleagues on how to conduct themselves in budget debate. This is another such example.
Let me ask the minister this: does he find it acceptable for ministers not to provide legislative returns when they are requested?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I understand it, we are here to respond to questions from the members opposite. The form in which we agree to provide that information when itís not right at hand is a matter that can be determined. I clearly indicated that I will be providing the member opposite with the information and that it will be provided verbally.
Mr. McRobb: Iím sorry, but thatís not acceptable, because we donít know when or how. Weíre in this Legislature to provide some checks and balances, not play some kind of guessing game while letting the ministers off the hook.
Obviously there is a Yukon Party government policy to avoid issuing legislative returns. That is a mechanism that is standard, accepted practice in this Assembly. I recall that when that member was on this side ó which was only up until two and a half years ago ó he demanded legislative returns from previous ministers, both in the Liberal and the previous NDP governments. He demanded them. Whenever somebody tried to pull this off, saying ďWeíll tell the member,Ē he would just laugh at that and criticize them severely.
Now he expects us to accept that type of an approach. Well, this is another classic example of how something that wasnít good for him in opposition is now suddenly good enough for him now that heís sitting on the government side, and he expects the opposition side to swallow it.
Iíll tell you what. Iíve got a feeling that on Wednesday afternoon weíre going to be discussing legislative reform in here because I see some members across the way studying for their motion day, which is coming up on Wednesday, and we can expect a motion to be called to that effect to deal with Mr. McKinnonís report. I certainly am looking forward to an opportunity to speak on that matter and I hope to have time to make some notes about the several deficiencies introduced by this Yukon Party government into debate that should not be tolerated by any government ó none. Those deficiencies should die with this session, or perhaps even before. They should not be allowed to propagate and continue on to future governments because they are wrong. They totally conflict with what democracy is all about. Itís okay for some people to start reading books on how to fix Canadian democracy. Iíll tell you what: reading books is one thing, but practising the messages they contain is another thing. Thatís what Iím talking about. Anybody can read a book, but to practise what the books teach takes some backbone and initiative, and thatís what Iím talking about.
Now, having put that on the record, I think thatís a good way to introduce the leader of the third party to the debate.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I want to thank the member opposite for his comments. They will be given the consideration that they deserve, and I want to just reconfirm for the member opposite that the information requested will be forthcoming, and it will be provided to him verbally.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a few more questions in general debate, although I am quite anxious to get into discussing each of the line items in the budget in some detail. The minister mentioned at the opening of his remarks this afternoon that there had been increases in non-government organization funding under the Department of Health and Social Services. In the past, there have been three-year agreements with organizations with respect to these funding arrangements, rather than have the NGOs, as theyíre called, on a year-to-year basis, that itís a three-year funding arrangement.
Could I have the minister provide ó and Iím going to ask specifically by legislative return, as this is quite detailed information to get verbally ó what is the status of the current funding arrangements, for example, with Yukon Family Services Association? Are we in year 2 of a three-year funding arrangement? Are we in year 1 of all of these, and what sort of accountability and performance measures are built into these agreements? If the minister could provide us that information by legislative return, Iíd appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: All the contracts that the member opposite refers to are on the Web, if they are a two-year contract or a three-year contract or in the second or third year. The member opposite is correct: the majority of them are three-year contracts. Nothing has been changed in there, but additional sums have been added to the contract, as I indicated clearly on the floor of the House earlier. All these contracts are readily available on the Web site.
Ms. Duncan: I havenít myself specifically seen them there; I will go and look. In the additional money that has been provided, were there also additional requirements? For example, in providing additional money to Yukon family and childrenís services, did we ask that they provide additional parenting courses or something along those lines, or was it a straight increase in funding?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: In virtually all cases Iím aware of ó in fact, in all cases ó it was increased demands placed on the NGO, additional requests of them. That said, the next part of it is that FASSY has one new program that is funded separately, and that is diagnosis of those above the age of majority. That is a new program with new terms and conditions applied to it.
With respect to Kausheeís and all the other NGOs, they were all demand-driven. Intake is up and our partyís commitment is that, where there are increased demands and demonstrated need, we will meet that demonstrated need, and we have done so.
Ms. Duncan: Itís like a catch-up, keep-up factor in some respects, then.
Iíd like to speak in general debate about the issue of orphan patients, of which there are far too many. My concern is that we have seen a slight increase in individuals coming to the Yukon. If someone arrives in the Yukon with a pre-existing condition, such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis, where they require monitoring and medical care, what do they do? There are a number of orphan patients already, particularly in the Whitehorse area. What about those who move to the Yukon and have a pre-existing medical condition for which they would require ongoing monitoring?
This isnít a situation Iíve dreamed up. I know of an individual who was recruited for the private sector here, who was only able to move here because they were also able to locate a family doctor, but what about those who arenít so fortunate? What are we doing?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: There is an initiative between the YMA and the department that does its level best to help orphan patients. We are not successful all the time, but thereís an ongoing recruitment of doctors. Thereís an expansion of some of the practices; thereís a closing of others. We recently had a practice close that left a lot of orphan patients, and theyíre slowly being taken up by some of the other expanding practices, but itís a recurring, ongoing evolution. The YMA and the department are doing their level best to meet this challenge.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has had the phone calls from orphan patients. I know staff in Health and Social Services get them and the staff at the existing medical clinics have been subject to some verbal anxiety ó to put it politely ó from orphan patients. Certainly as an MLA, Iíve had the calls as well. The Member for Kluane is indicating that he has received calls as well. The minister has indicated he is working on this issue in writing to me; he has indicated verbally on the floor that he and the YMA are working on this issue. Is there some other suggestion than that the minister and the YMA are working on it that we can use to give some comfort to these individuals who call us, or an answer for the frontline staff, who are bearing the brunt of the anxiety of Yukoners over this issue? Is there something other than saying that the minister and the YMA are working on it ó even a phone number they can call? I know, for example, one elderly patient, who is not one of my constituents but is a Porter Creek resident, who was on the phone to every single clinic in Whitehorse without success. Where does that individual go next? I mean, this is not necessarily an elderly person, but an older person who requires a significant number of medications. Who are they going to call?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: If itís to that point, the option is emergency at the Whitehorse General Hospital.
Ms. Duncan: Emergency isnít an option for people who are on a number of different medications and need to be monitored. Unfortunately the walk-in clinic, in the view of some of my constituents who are orphaned patients, is not an acceptable alternative.
Iím just looking for the minister to give the public, through the Legislature and through this question, some assurances more than that the YMA and the minister are working on it. Is there a specific number? Is there someone in the Department of Health and Social Services who can at least take these calls and try to facilitate this situation? Is there something more that the government is doing?
I believe there is something they could do, even if, at a minimum, itís a number people can call ó that the YMA can start working through this with the existing and, the minister has said, expanding clinics. Is there something more that the minister has undertaken, other than consultation, and is there something he will consider?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Currently the department retains a database of those seeking the services of a physician, and that information is conveyed to the YMA. So there is a database, and Iíll provide the member tomorrow with the phone number of the individual in the department who assembles this information.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Chair, thatís very helpful, and I will pass that on to the constituents who have called and written to me.
The walk-in clinic has been operating for some time. I have had some feedback and some experience with it. As part of this discussion with the YMA ó and I would hope that the Hospital Corporation is also involved ó is there any discussion about adding services such as a walk-in clinic at the hospital to take the overflow from emergency? Is there a suggestion of ó in the overall health care reform field ó working with nurse practitioners in a somewhat different role? Iím thinking of working with doctors, nurse practitioners, where it is, say, relatively minor prescription renewal, if there is some other way to deal with it and ease the burden on the doctors and the health care system and make use of health care professionals. All these ideas have been talked about in health care reform. Iím just wondering if theyíre under discussion in the Yukon, between the YMA, YRNA, doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, Mr. Chair, there have been ongoing discussions involving all those issues. Yes, there is a walk-in clinic. Yes, itís working quite well. At the same time, there is emergency at Whitehorse General Hospital. If someone chooses not to want to attend at a walk-in clinic, the only other option is emergency at this juncture. The department, in conjunction with YMA and Yukon Hospital Corporation, is examining other models of service delivery and service provision, but we havenít come up with a definitive initiative that all parties are prepared to move forward on.
Ms. Duncan: The discussions are ongoing. Could the minister indicate if there is a time frame for these discussions and when we might see any changes? There have been a significant number of improvements over a number of years, as all Canadians have discussed health care reform. Is there a time frame attached to any of these initiatives or discussions by the minister?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As soon as thereís progress to report on a new initiative, itíll occur as soon as we can possibly have that new initiative begin or in place.
Ms. Duncan: Are the hospital and the YRNA involved in these discussions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Yes, there is some involvement, but I donít know to what extent. The issue of nurse practitioners is another one that has been explored but, the last time I asked a question as to how many licensed nurse practitioners there are practising, I believe the number I was quoted was three. Thereís not a high number of nurse practitioners who have the full accreditation.
Ms. Duncan: There are various levels of nursing, just as there are specialties with doctors, and nurse practitioner is one option. Some years ago we discussed at what level we needed an LPN and at what level we needed a BSc in nursing. This is sort of part of the health care reform discussions undertaken by both premiers and the Romanow commission and others.
What I hear the minister saying is that the role of nurse practitioners and nurses in general is part of overall, ongoing discussions between the YMA and the minister, and I do believe I heard him say the hospital as well the nurses, the YRNA, are involved in those sorts of ongoing discussions about health care and health care reform in the Yukon. Have I understood the minister correctly?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The one thing I can confirm for the member opposite is that Iím not qualified to make a determination as to the role of the various nurses and doctors and where they fit into the system. That is not for me to decide. If thereís a program or an initiative that has been developed by the health care providers and the department, through the departmentís involvement, and it is a workable arrangement and the budget envelope is put in place, I have the responsibility for the budget envelope and the service provided. But we are cognizant that we have a shortage of health care professionals here in the Yukon and we are working on it. We have enhanced the area of wages and benefits for the doctors and for the nurses who are in our domain. I am also aware that the Whitehorse General Hospital has reached a new agreement with the nurses. Overall, the Yukon offers a very good wage and benefit package in a very wonderful setting, in probably some of the best working conditions in Canada, in what I would suggest to the member opposite is one of the best places ó if not the best place ó in Canada to live.
Ms. Duncan: Thatís why we all still live here. We do agree that this is one of the best places to live in Canada. I also happen to believe that Yukon has, bar none, the best health care, in many respects, in the country ó bar none. Certainly our services to seniors are the best. The hospital is a credit to all who have been involved, including those involved in our health care legislation, of course, and the very foundation of our system.
The difficulty Iím having with the ministerís response is that there has been a significant debate around health care reform and ensuring that we maintain the best system here in the Yukon and, in dealing with this, a very real question of health care professionals.
The minister has said there is discussion. I would just like some more information about this. It sounds like itís the minister and the YMA having a general discussion and recognizing the need for health care professionals. My concern is: is that it to the discussions? Is there not a kind of working group of the minister, the YMA, the YRNA and the hospital asking, ďHow are we going to deal with this and the discussion about health care in the Yukon overall?Ē Other than the minister attending the annual general meetings, is there not a working group where they can discuss some of these very real and emerging issues on an ongoing basis and try to resolve them?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I confirm for the member opposite that there is a working arrangement between the YMA and the Department of Health and Social Services to address this very important issue.
Ms. Duncan: Well, that answer isnít particularly thorough; however, in the interests of debate, I am going to move on. With respect to some of the line items there are some detailed questions I have to ask, but before we get into those, could the minister outline the current status of the discussion of the transfer of the ambulance services with the hospital?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís still being examined.
Ms. Duncan: Do we have a time frame for that examination? Is it anticipated that that examination might conclude at some point and we might get on with the diagnosis?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Diagnosis is something that is best left to the health care professionals, so I canít comment on that. I can confirm for the member opposite that this year the department is purchasing two new ambulances, type III, and I donít even get to pick the colour.
Ms. Duncan: Isnít that interesting, Mr. Chair? This time the minister is going to stay out of the ordering of the ambulances. Iím sure that will be a comfort to all those ambulance attendants who are going to be operating the new pieces of equipment. Unfortunately, the minister once again did not answer the question. We may not have a diagnosis. I could pull out my dictionary and ask for a deadline, and Iíd have to check on the pronunciation before I used some of these other words that are coming to mind.
Does the minister have any sense of this discussion on the transfer of ambulance attendants? Is it a regular monthly item on the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board of Directorsí agenda? Are there people in a working group, working with the union now, and weíre anticipating a report from them? What is the current status of the discussions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I indicated earlier, the discussions are ongoing, but letís just back up to the purchase of these two new ambulances.
Last year the requirement was for four-wheel-drive ambulances. A four-wheel-drive ambulance, if you want to buy it from the factory, can only be acquired in a type I. If you want to go to other types, smaller types, you can acquire them in a four-wheel-drive or you have to retrofit an existing or a newly purchased van. That is not a way that appeared to be reasonable, given the timelines around it.
Delivery for new vehicles is quite extensive, but weíre very pleased the department is able to fund the purchase of two new type III ambulances for Whitehorse. The minister has the same involvement this year as he did last year ó purchase two new ambulances that are applicable to the responsibilities and the job at hand.
Ms. Duncan: Iím sure there are others who would like to enter into the discussion of ambulances. I would just like to conclude my general debate by asking the minister ó we had quite an extensive discussion about orphan patients in the Whitehorse area. I actually have two questions, and perhaps he may wish to defer one question to others responsible.
Is there a lineup now, or are there any outstanding licence applications for doctors or health professionals to practise in the Yukon? Licensing is done through a different department. He may wish to ask one of his colleagues to answer that question later in debate.
My last question: are there any anticipated changes to the medical staffing levels in any of the communities? For example, is anybody losing a nurse? Or, other than the standard rotations of people, are we short nurses or doctors in any communities? Are any positions going unfilled or is there a reduction of any positions?
†Hon. Mr. Jenkins: With respect to licensing, I sent over a letter to the appropriate department indicating that there was a shortage of doctors, which would trigger the licensing of individuals who are in the system and have the applicable endorsement of the Yukon Medical Council. At the same time, I believe there is one doctor who is licensed, or just licensed, as a consequence of that initiative.
With respect to staffing at all our health care facilities, in rural Yukon there has been no reduction whatsoever anywhere. If thereís a reduction, itís as a consequence of someone choosing to move on or accepting a posting somewhere else and there may be a vacancy. Thereís a vacancy here and there, but weíre endeavouring to fill them all as fast as possible. We do have a system of rotation and thatís working reasonably well.
Mr. McRobb: Just to follow up on the previous question, are there any positions that are not filled at nursing stations across the territory? I donít believe I heard the answer to that one.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The situation with respect to staffing and vacancy is fluid. It changes month to month, day to day. Right now I donít have an answer for the member opposite to the question that the member put on the floor of the House. Do I have the position right now, or yesterday? No, I do not. I know that thereís a vacancy rate and I know the department attempts and does its level best to fulfill vacancies as fast as they possibly can. We also have a rotational system throughout the Yukon for the nurses in rural Yukon, and from all reports that appears to be working quite well. At some times of the year thereís an increase in staffing, especially in the summer season, and thereís an increase in staffing at a number of the health care facilities as a consequence of the influx of visitors and industry to the Yukon.
We have a lot of returning individuals every year who staff up these positions. These individuals choose to work on a part-time basis ó six or eight months of the year ó and the rest of the time they choose to travel or do something else with their lives. We engage these people when they return. They fulfill a tremendous role in the delivery of health care, and we thank them for their involvement.
Chair: Is there any further general debate in the Department of Health and Social Services? Hearing none, we will continue on to line-by-line debate. For the membersí convenience, weíll start off at page 11-6 with Health and Social Services.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Policy, Planning and Administration
Mr. McRobb: If we can get a system down, it will save a lot of work for the Hansard people. We would like the minister to give a breakdown of each line item, without having to be prompted. If anybody on the opposition side has questions, they would follow thereafter.
On Deputy Ministerís Office
Ms. Duncan: May we have an explanation of the expenditure in this line, please?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It shows a decrease of $4,000. The following changes occurred: an increase of $47,000 due to the new collective agreement, merit increases and reclassification and changes in staff, resulting in higher salaries. There has been a decrease of $16,000 in miscellaneous contracts to us at higher salary costs, and there is a decrease of $30,000 due to a contribution to Vuntut Gwitchin, approved in the 2004-05 supplementary but not carried forward.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, is the minister saying that all that information is within the deputy ministerís office ó $1,035,000 expenditure?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Those are the changes in that area.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister has departed from his usual practice in this Legislature, in that normally when asked for a line explanation such as was just requested, we would have received in response that there is a $4,000 decrease in the Deputy Ministerís Office and the reason why in this particular instance.
The minister has also added in other information with respect to policy and program development; the next line item, human resources; and the final line item, which is finance, systems and administration. Could I ask the minister to just clearly outline the line explanation for the Deputy Ministerís Office, not the remaining three lines, as we clear them line by line. We would like this lineís explanation only.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This is strictly the deputy ministerís office salary and benefit for the wage and benefit packages for the applicable employees.
Deputy Ministerís Office in the amount of $1,035,000 agreed to
On Policy and Program Development
Mr. McRobb: Once again, weíd like to just establish procedure whereby the minister will rise and give a breakdown of each line item as itís introduced. That would be extremely helpful. Thereafter, if any opposition member has a question, it will be asked.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The purpose of this line item is to provide corporate policy and program development services.
Ms. Duncan: There has been a significant reduction in this particular line item. Is that due to the transfer? Earlier the minister mentioned a reduction in the payment to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. Why is that item reduced over the supplementary?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It is primarily as a consequence of two FTEs and $134,000 in ATIPP and record management resources transferred to finance and administration.
Policy and Program Development in the amount of $459,000 agreed to
On Human Resources
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The purpose of this line item is to provide human resource services for all of Health and Social Services, including job design, organizational planning, recruitment, pay and benefits, training and staff relations. The human resources unit increased $141,000 from 2004-05 forecast of $1.393 million. This is due to an increase of $155,000 to convert a clerk receptionist to full-time and a recruitment advisor transferred from community nursing, and $43,000 due to the collective agreement merit reclassification and miscellaneous increases.
Ms. Duncan: This is the HR section of the Department of Health and Social Services, so it doesnít deal with the issues of medical and health professionals. It does, however, deal with the social services professionals, as I understand it. My question is: what is our current level of vacancies in the social services field?
Weíve had quite a difficult time in recent years, particularly under the report done for the previous government, and this government was advised that the social services workers, particularly dealing with children-in-care, had far too high a caseload than was the average. This has been brought to the ministerís attention in the past.
This is the HR component of the budget. These are the people who would be recruiting social services workers and would be dealing with these sorts of issues. Have there been additional resources provided to the HR unit to ensure that our social workers, in particular, are able to deal with the tasks we assign them?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Part of the increase in the $141,000 includes one FTE and a $66,000 recruitment advisor, which was transferred from community nursing.
Ms. Duncan: So this recruitment advisor transferred from community nursing has been transferred to the overall Health and Social Services, or transferred to specifically focus his or her attention on the recruitment of social work professionals?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This is the overall human resources component. There are people in the department who specialize in specific areas, but overall weíve increased the human resources budget and weíve resourced it and increased the number of FTEs there also.
Ms. Duncan: So we have discussed the additional resources. Are we solving some of these outstanding issues? Are we making progress on them, and do we have any kind of measurement that can tell us that, yes, weíve reduced the caseload for our social workers and it is now within acceptable, professional levels, or is it still far too high? Are we assisting with the paperwork and file organization that social workers have to deal with?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Of the 10 positions that this government created in the department in this area, I believe the last time I had a briefing it was eight that were full and there was just somebody who terminated and there was an active and ongoing recruitment, as there is at all times, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: In terms of an active and ongoing recruitment, have there been any new initiatives in this area? Have we gone to any new universities or new trade fairs or embarked upon any new initiatives with Yukon College? Are we doing anything innovative in this particular area?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The department is always moving forward in an innovative manner, Mr. Chair. To suggest otherwise would be incorrect. That said, there is an ongoing recruitment in this area. The fact that our government expanded the department by 10 positions in this area clearly spells out where weíre focusing, and we have recognized the need and we have moved forward on resourcing it and recruiting and filling the majority of the positions. But given the number of staff in that department, there is always the issue of an ongoing recruitment and a vacancy rate. I think in any organization the size of the government, itís rare that you come up with a department that is 100-percent staffed all the time, especially in an area like this that has a high burnout rate and a lot of stress involved in the responsibilities of the positions.
Ms. Duncan: It is because of the high stress and high burnout of this particular field that I was looking for the minister to indicate that some initiatives had been undertaken in this particular area. We have increased the staff to help to deal with some of those issues. I was looking to hear if there were any additional initiatives; however, it sounds as though there are not.
Human Resources in the amount of $1,534,000 agreed to
On Finance, Systems and Administration
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The purpose of this line is to provide financial management and analysis, purchasing, accommodation and facilities management, network systems support, records management, libraries, ATIPP support for all branches of Health and Social Services.
This area shows an increase of $275,000, and this increase is due to two FTEs and $134,000 in records management and ATIPP resources transferred from policy and program development, one FTE and $82,000 in funding for additional ATIPP and records management resources, five FTEs and $31,000 transferring financial assistance from community health programs, and a $28,000 increase as a consequence of the new collective agreement.
Finance, Systems and Administration in the amount of $1,608,000 agreed to
Total Policy, Planning and Administration in the amount of $4,636,000 agreed to
On Family and Childrenís Services
On Program Management
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This includes program administration, the Childrenís Act review and contributions to NGOs. It shows an increase of $411,000 due to the following: personnel increase of $295,000, 5.5 FTEs, and funding for a new policy analyst and admin support. The resources are to support the implementation of the Childrenís Act review and recommendations of the Child Welfare League of Canada, offset by miscellaneous decreases. There has also been $160,000 to the Child Development Centre for additional work for FASD diagnostic team; $75,000 to NGOs ó the Child Development Centre. There was a one-time contract ó and I donít have the name of it ó that is no longer included here and shows a decrease of $60,000.
Ms. Duncan: Could I have a more precise figure as to what amount is being spent on the Childrenís Act review. The minister made reference to implementation, yet when we had this debate earlier in general debate, he indicated this was still in the review process. Are we developing legislation with part of this money or is this strictly continuing the consultation process? How much is it and what exactly are we doing with it?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We hope to have the legislation come forward, and it is being worked on but not by the same team as there. But all their input is being put to it, and there is a draft person in-house who is being used currently. Just how it has been changed around, Iím not fully aware of the details. But that said, there are also some other recommendations that are being worked on, in the issue of childcare, that are being dealt with in this funding increase.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would like to explore that further with the minister. Letís deal with the Childrenís Act review first, because that is contained in this line item. The Childrenís Act review is how much, again, of the $4,960,000? Itís a concurrent process, in that we have the consultation and we also have legislation being drafted in-house. If the legislation is being drafted in-house, that would be in the budget of Justice. It wouldnít be in here, unless weíve contracted. The legislative drafts people work for the Department of Justice, unless we are paying back a certain amount to them, and if that is the case, how much is that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This fiscal Childrenís Act review will expend $635,162.
Ms. Duncan: Iím sorry. Could I ask the minister to repeat that amount?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This year, the Childrenís Act review budget is $635,162.
Ms. Duncan: And that figure does or does not include the work thatís being done on legislative drafting?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: That is included.
Ms. Duncan: And the legislative drafting is being done in-house by the Department of Justice? Thatís what I thought I heard the minister say. And when might we see the legislation? Iím going to put that question another way: is the legislation going to go to the Childrenís Act Review Committee before it comes to the Legislature ó in terms of them having a look at it and saying, ďDoes this reflect what weíve heard in the review?Ē Or, might it be circulated as a white paper, for example?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It will come from the Childrenís Act review panel.
Ms. Duncan: Iím not trying to be obtuse. Will it come from the Childrenís Act review panel to here, to the Legislature? Is it being done in-house or contracted?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: It started off that it was being developed by contract and then the drafts person attached to this initiative is now in-house. The process will be that the legislation will be developed by the review panel and then it will come through the various procedures before it hits the floor of the Legislature. The member is probably very conversant with the in-house. Thereís LRC, the Legislative Review Committee, and of course Cabinet approval must be sought and then it has to be scheduled in.
Ms. Duncan: Given that this has been a very unique and, in the past, very contentious piece of legislation, is it possible that the minister and the Childrenís Act review committee might consider another method where the legislation might come here? I donít have the correct reference but, for example, colloquially the guardianship legislation that was passed in this Legislature ó there was an extensive public process. There was work done for a very long time and, as such, members of the Legislature were able to be quite reassured that it was legislation that would work. Is it possible that there will be a more extensive process other than the one that the minister has outlined?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I cannot think of a more extensive and thorough process for a legislative review of an area than what is currently underway with respect to the Childrenís Act review here in the Yukon. The same holds true for correctional reform, and the same holds true for what weíre doing in the educational field, Mr. Chair. When you look at all these areas, they engage our First Nation partners, and we examine in a full and complete consultation manner all the relevant issues. As soon as there is a report from the various areas coming toward us, Mr. Chair, we will certainly provide that information to the official opposition and the third party.
Seeing the time, Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress.
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 15, First Appropriation Act, 2005-06, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that 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 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 18, 2005:
Political Contributions, 2004:† Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Yukon (dated April 2005) (Speaker Staffen)
Sovereignty and Security in the North; Developing a New Framework for Sovereignty and Security in the North: A Discussion Paper prepared by the Governments of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut (April 2005) (Fentie)