††††††† Whitehorse, Yukon
††††††† Wednesday, April 27, 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.
In recognition of National Immunization Awareness Week
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I ask this House to recognize this week as National Immunization Awareness Week, a week that is supported by a wide variety of health organizations across the country that aim to demonstrate the importance of vaccinations for all ages.
Many diseases today are effectively and safely controlled by immunization. Infants, children, youth and adults are protected against a wide variety of serious diseases. Immunization is one of the most cost-beneficial health interventions that we can provide to the general public today. We know from experience that when immunization rates drop, the disease comes back. In Great Britain, for example, a drop in whooping cough vaccinations in 1974 was followed by an epidemic of more than 100,000 cases and 36 deaths in 1978.
About the same time in Japan, vaccination rates declined from about 75 percent to 25 percent, which led to an epidemic affecting more than 100,000, ultimately causing more than 100 deaths. It is important to remember that, even though the diseases are under control, the viruses and bacteria that cause them are still around. We need to maintain our vigilance.
We are healthy today for a variety of reasons: because of better sanitation, less crowded living conditions and scientific advances, like antibiotics. Research has also proven that immunization contributes to our health. In the Yukon, we have a wide variety of immunization programs for all ages, from tots to teens through to seniors.
Many Yukoners take advantage of these programs. Our immunization rate for infants and children is among the highest in the country, and our booster program for teens is also highly subscribed to. Last yearís influenza campaign saw the highest numbers ever for Yukoners.
We are fortunate to have a very active territorial advisory committee on immunization, which meets regularly to review new vaccines and make recommendations about how we can improve our levels of protection for all Yukoners. Mr. Speaker, weíre lucky to have such a dedicated group of individuals making sure we are all as well protected as we can be in this way. Immunization is one of our best protections.
Mr. McRobb: I rise today on behalf of the official opposition in tribute to National Immunization Awareness Week. This is part of Vaccination Week in the Americas. Throughout the hemisphere, health authorities are highlighting the need for routine vaccinations to help keep people healthy. A century ago, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death in Canada. Thanks in part to universal immunization programs, that rate has fallen to less than five percent. Immunization has proven to be a cost-effective and vital part of any health plan.
Ironically, success can breed complacency. Itís easy to take protection for granted and worry more about the side effects of vaccines than the diseases themselves. Some people even question the need to vaccinate at all. For example, fear of vaccination has threatened the final push for the eradication of polio and allowed it to flare up in a few hot spots around the world. According to Health Canada, immunization levels for such serious and often fatal diseases as diphtheria and whooping cough are low. Under-immunized children are at risk. All Yukoners should take full advantage of the territoryís immunization program.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to join with my colleagues in the Legislature on behalf of the Liberal caucus to pay tribute to Immunization Week.
Immunizations can protect each of us and our families from many communicable diseases in the modern day world. Getting a flu or influenza vaccine, for example, is the best way of staying healthy. Flu can spread very quickly and very easily from person to person and can cause serious illness, and even death, in infants and in seniors.
A yearly vaccination is the best way to lessen the severity of influenza and to protect your family. This vaccine protects about 70 percent of healthy adults and is free to all Yukoners.
Immunization shots are available for protection from a number of diseases. When we have small children, we are usually given a schedule or chart of the many shots or vaccinations that are needed for their health and development as they grow. As adults, we sometimes forget about ourselves. We forget to get booster shots and keep up with immunization shots.
Iíd like to pay tribute to all the health care workers and staff here in Whitehorse and throughout the communities who work so hard to remind us to get the protection we need to lead a healthy and protected life. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take the time and protect your health.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
In recognition of National Day of Mourning
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Tomorrow, April 28, is the annual Day of Mourning. This national day of remembrance is observed across Canada and around the world to pay tribute to workers who have died or been injured because of workplace-related accidents. Since 1993, 19 Yukon workers have died from work-related injury or disease. More than 5,600 have been injured seriously enough to miss work. In 2004, more than 800 workers across Canada died from workplace injury or disease. More than 300,000 were injured severely enough to miss work.
A death in the workplace touches us all, whether family, co-workers, friends, employers or members of the same community. The purpose of the Day of Mourning is to remind us of those who have died or been injured, to honour them and to strengthen our commitment to prevent work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses. We need to all work together to achieve this. Employers need to provide safe workplaces with proper equipment and sufficient training for all workers. Workers need to recognize that they have a right to a safe workplace. They need to be aware of safety issues and to speak up when conditions are not safe.
On the Day of Mourning, people are invited to show their support for the safety of workers. There is a black ribbon campaign already underway. As well, people can make gestures such as leaving porch lights on all night or displaying candles in their windows. Tomorrow, at noon hour, Mr. Speaker, thereís a gathering at Elijah Smith Building to recognize the day tomorrow.
I encourage all Yukoners to pay tribute in their own way. Also, tomorrow, I will seek your permission to allow the members gathered here to rise and remember workers and their families in a moment of silence.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Cardiff: It is my honour to rise on behalf of the official opposition in recognition of tomorrow, the National Day of Mourning for persons killed or injured in the workplace.† The federal government declared this day by an act of Parliament in response to representation from the Canadian Labour Congress. In 1991, April 28 was set aside in Canada as the official Day of Mourning to pause in remembrance of workers who, because of having to make a living, have been killed or injured in the workplace. There must be few things more cruel for a family to learn than that their breadwinner has suffered a serious injury or worse and wonít be coming home that night or ever.
The grieving never ends for some. Our profound sympathy goes out to those families across Canada who are dealing with such a terrible tragedy. Our hearts go out to the families in the Yukon. Two workers died in the workplace last year in the Yukon.
Although much has been done for the promotion of workplace safety and accident prevention, the numbers tell us that much more needs to be done. In 1984, 744 workers died because of workplace injuries in Canada. In 2003, that number was 963. So, we are not yet protecting our workers the way we should.
The Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board reports that there are approximately 1,000 workplace accidents in the Yukon every year. Some of these people are our youth who start work with little or no instruction on safety measures. Apart from the obvious impact that workplace injuries have on individuals and families, there is the fact of lost time. Half of those people hurt are injured badly enough to miss work. The average time away from work has risen from 35 days in 1992 to 100 days today. An unsafe workplace is therefore not something that employees should dismiss as not being relevant to their bottom line.
Our complex working environments make us much more aware of the illnesses that are caused by the workplace environment, such as air pollution, toxic waste and ergonomic injuries. One of the most controversial issues around the workplace is the fact that second-hand smoke causes as much harm as smoking itself. We give our hearty support to those who are fighting for the reduction and finally the elimination of this serious workplace hazard.
It is the hope of the official opposition that every one of us in the House and those employers listening will reflect on the grave facts that we need to take action on for the workers of the Yukon. It is our hope that the Day of Mourning could be a thing of the past.
Tomorrow at noon, the Yukon Federation of Labour and the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board will hold the annual ceremony in remembrance of workers lost in the workplace. It will be held at the Elijah Smith Building and we would urge everyone to attend.
Ms. Duncan: As the Member for Mount Lorne has just noted, tomorrow at noon at the Elijah Smith Building, there will be a National Day of Mourning ceremony held. I understand the Federation of Labour will be the guest speaker.
On this day, and every day, we ask that people show their support for establishing safer working conditions for all employees to eliminate needless injuries and preventable deaths.
In my tribute on behalf of the Liberal caucus, I would especially like to recognize the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and their commitments ó and the commitment by Yukon employers ó to the passport to safety program.
This passport to safety program highlights the need to reduce the rate of serious injury and death among young Canadian workers. Often our young workers feel that theyíre invincible, that it canít happen to them. I applaud all those employers who apply safe practices and training to their employees.
Itís also very important that, as legislators in this Yukon Legislative Assembly, we do our tasks and encourage that the new health and safety regulations are passed in the territory and that the Workersí Compensation Act review be completed for the protection of all employees and workers.
Tomorrow is about a day of mourning and itís about commitment to safer workplaces, as well as remembering workers who have been killed, injured or diseased on the job. As my colleagues have done, I would encourage all members of the House to join with us in the ceremony tomorrow at the Elijah Smith Building.
In recognition of National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I rise today to recognize National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week and to honour those individuals who have chosen to give the gift of life. Each one of us has the choice to be listed as an organ donor so in the case of death we can give life to another individual.
Canada has one of the lowest rates of organ donation among developed countries worldwide. In recent years, it has been falling even lower. The Canadian organ donation rate is 13.7 donors per million population, compared to, say, Spain which is 31.5 donors per million. Every year, approximately 150 Canadians die waiting for a transplant. Donating organs after death is one of the most generous and altruistic acts one person can perform for another. A 1999 Angus Reid survey of more than 1,500 Canadians showed that 80 percent support the idea of organ donation, but only 65 percent had ever discussed this matter with their families.
In the Yukon, almost 3,600 people have made this personal decision. That is more than 10 percent of Yukoners who have made that choice. Iíd like to thank them, Mr. Speaker, and encourage others to do the same. Presently, 3,500 Canadians are desperately waiting for transplants. For these people, an organ may mean a chance to live. To others, it may mean a chance at a better quality of life. To be healthy again is a precious gift, a second chance to really enjoy all that goes along with living, like being with our children or grandchildren, travelling, working, contributing to our communities.
There is one other way that this is possible. There are a few among us who have also been able to give the gift of an organ as a live donor. This is most common as a kidney donation, but it is also now possible for the liver and lungs. Just this year, I am familiar with a Yukoner who donated part of their liver to a relative, and I am also aware of a Yukoner who donated a kidney to her father. Both donors and recipients are doing very well, Mr. Speaker.
These two Yukoners are not alone. There are other Yukoners who have donated one of their kidneys to a loved one. Many of these transplant operations have taken place at St. Paulís Hospital in Vancouver. There they perform 150 kidney transplants per year, two-thirds of which come from live donors. The father who received the kidney this year from his daughter said that itís a miracle. He feels better now than he has felt in 20 years having suffered the effects of kidney disease most of his life. I hope that by talking about the issue publicly, we can encourage more individuals to become donors, and by doing so we can offer hope to those who are waiting.
Mr. McRobb: For the record, this tribute was done by the official opposition on Monday.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I would ask the indulgence of the House to turn our attention to the gallery and make welcome a councillor for the Liard First Nation Mr. David Dickson. Welcome, David.
Mr. Cathers: I would invite all members to make welcome Mr. Darren Butt.
Speaker: Are there any further introductions?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have for tabling today, with great pleasure, the northern strategy, Yukon chapter, as developed in collaboration with Yukon government and Yukon First Nation governments.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As committed to during debate on the Department of Health and Social Services, I have for tabling the Yukon Hospital Corporation financial statement for the fiscal period ending March 31, 2004, and also the Yukon Family Services Association financial statement for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2004.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I have for tabling today the Yukon Lottery Commission annual report, 2003-04.
Mr. McRobb: I have for tabling a bill from the Province of Manitoba, entitled Protection for Persons in Care Act.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
†Mr. Cathers: I rise in the House today to give notice of the following motion:
THAT the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges conduct public consultations on legislative renewal throughout the territory and report its findings to the Legislative Assembly;
THAT the scope of the public consultation shall include, but not be limited to, the following areas of consideration:
††††††† (1) establishing a code of conduct and decorum for Members of the Legislative Assembly;
††††††† (2) options for increasing resources and support for membersí constituency responsibilities;
††††††† (3) 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;
††††††† (4) review of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly respecting
††††††† (a) composition and role of standing, special and select committees;
††††††† (b) mechanisms for the referral of reports from departments and agencies and for the review of government bills prior to second reading;
††††††† (c) rules for tributes, ministerial statements and private membersí statements;
††††††† (d) proposals for the review of appointments to major boards and committees;
††††††† (e) measures to improve the accountability of ministers in the Legislative Assembly for the performance of the departments, Crown corporations or agencies for which they are responsible;
††††††† (f) ways to increase public involvement in legislative decision-making, such as giving members of the public the opportunity to appear before standing, special or select committees for the purpose of making presentations;
††††††† (g) improving the ability of all Members of the Legislative Assembly to exercise the legitimate roles of legislative review and government scrutiny;
††††††† (h) creating greater opportunity for private membersí business to be placed on the Order Paper;
††††††† (5) consideration of suggestions regarding periodic review of legislative practices and procedures;
††††††† (6) other matters that the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges deems appropriate for inclusion in this public review; and
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 Legislative Assembly and table the report when the Assembly next sits.
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon government should follow the lead of Manitoba and other provinces by introducing a bill of rights for nursing home residents who live in nursing homes in the Yukon built on meaningful consultation with the public and seniors groups in the territory.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the level of poverty in the Yukon, especially for families, is unacceptable;
(2) the number of families with children who are forced to make use of food programs that are provided by charities and churches has increased substantially;
(3) food programs for low-income families are not available throughout the Yukon; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to take immediate measures to assist in feeding low-income Yukon families by enhancing funding for existing food programs and to implement food programs where none exist throughout the Yukon.
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) there are youth at risk in the Yukon who are inneed of a safe place to stay;
(2) the question of youth who are homeless in the Yukon has not been addressed although it is a demonstrated need; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to immediately implement a funding program that will respond to the housing and social needs of homeless youth throughout the Yukon.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a ministerial statement?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† Seniors housing
Mr. Hardy: Yesterday, we heard the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation disparage a survey conducted by the Yukon Council on Aging because it only involved 300 questionnaires and 138 responses. A response rate of nearly 50 percent is exceptionally high, Mr. Speaker, but the minister said he wasnít comfortable giving total credit to the survey because it didnít involve about 2,500 people. Those are his words that we heard the other day.
The minister conveniently ignored the fact that almost every single person who responded said they wanted to live downtown or in Riverdale. Thatís what they want but the minister obviously wasnít listening. Will the minister apologize for the insulting way he dismissed the clear wishes of these people and the work the Yukon Council on Aging did in conducting this survey?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: If the member opposite had actually reviewed the survey ó of the 138 respondents, 35 said that they would prefer to live in Riverdale, 58 said downtown, but a further 22 wanted to live in Porter Creek ó I donít know if that is Porter Creek North, of course ó seven in Copper Ridge, three in Granger and nine in Takhini, and 10 made no selection or no preference as to where they wanted to live, and another 28 had a variety of places ó two in Dawson City, three in Haines Junction, two in Hillcrest, one in Lobird, Marsh Lake, one specified simply a rural setting, one in Tagish, 10 said either Whitehorse or Teslin, interestingly enough, and another 10 basically said outside of Whitehorse. To conclude that everyone wanted downtown is perhaps a rather simplistic view of the survey.
Mr. Hardy: Letís make sure itís on record that he absolutely refuses to apologize to the Council on Aging, which conducted this survey, and the people who responded to it.
Let me remind the minister that these are our senior citizens. They have paid their dues. Theyíve paid taxes and supported local businesses around them all their lives. Theyíve contributed to the society we live in today.
If the minister had announced the housing projects at the Council on Aging AGM last Friday, he would have heard first-hand what seniors want, but he didnít do it. He avoided announcing these projects at the Council on Aging AGM. Instead, he announced them the following work day, and he missed a golden opportunity to inform those people of what was in store and get feedback from them.
When will the minister listen?
My question is: when will the minister listen to the real needs of our seniors and introduce a housing program that our seniors can afford, because they cannot afford the proposals that have been introduced?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: For the record, if the member wants that repeated, thereís no need to apologize for anything. It was the Council on Aging that gave me this report, with a full briefing on it and its significance and detractions on that. Coming from them, with a lot of great help and everything, Iím very proud of the work theyíve done.
For the member oppositeís information, there are policies and procedures in dealing with our federal government, and we would have abrogated those federal policies in announcing it before the Monday morning we did. It would endanger the funding, had we announced it earlier.
Then again, if the member opposite wanted to go down this route or to endanger the funding, itís his prerogative to express his opinion in that way, but we were bound by federal policy for this timing.
Speaker: Before the leader of the official opposition asks the next question, the Chair is uncomfortable with the road the minister is going down, in the implication that the opposition side wanted to endanger the funding. The opposition leader had no knowledge of that. I would just ask you to stick more specifically to the issues, please.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
It is interesting that he dismissed this report the other day, and he refuses to apologize for the comments that he made, but now he is quoting from it. I would like to remind this minister that he canít hide behind CMHC rules. This government has had at least two years to negotiate a real affordable housing program that works for people. What we have instead is a program that works for the marketplace. It is a developerís dream, but for young families, for the working poor and for seniors who want a comfortable and affordable place to live ó of their choice ó it is truly a betrayal.
He says they are affordable because they are at or below the current market value, but the bottom line here, Mr. Speaker, is that they are not accessible to many, many Yukoners who need housing. They are not affordable to the seniors or for the people whom I have just mentioned. What is the minister doing to address the needs of seniors and other low-income Yukon people who cannot afford either of the projects he announced this week? When will we make truly affordable housing available to them?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Reading from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Yukon Territory affordable housing program agreement dated October 3, 2002, from the definitions, ďAffordable housing means housing which is modest in terms of floor area and amenities, based on household needs and community norms and is priced at or below average market housing rents or prices for comparable housing in community area.Ē
We are maintaining our commitments to the federal government; we are utilizing $1.4 of that $5.5 million to generate almost $23 million in economic activity in this territory. This will work in conjunction with the home ownership program; the owner-build program; the home repair program; upgrade and green mortgage program; home repair enhancement program; residential energy audit and EnerGuide; mobile home upgrade and all the various other things that we have done ó $60 million in the health care accord; $150 million in the health care access fund; $90 million in an economic development agreement; $120 million in the northern strategy. I think weíre doing a wide range of things. The member opposite, who looks at one very good program, is totally confused in terms of what that program is to do, and weíre utilizing, again, $1.4 million to generate $23 million of economic activity.
Question re: Housing
†Mr. Cardiff: The Housing Corporation received four proposals under the Canada-Yukon affordable housing initiative. Two of them were from other developers and two of them were from community organizations here in Whitehorse. The two proposals that were accepted will see taxpayersí money use to subsidize private developments to the tune of $25,000 a unit in some cases. A total of $1.4 million will be going into the hands of private developers. Is the minister absolutely satisfied that all four of these proposals received equal consideration?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Yes, I am. It was reviewed. All the proposals were reviewed by a technical review committee, and thatís all recorded in Hansard so I wonít go back to that. Six of them, to my knowledge, were determined to be technically meeting the program and were passed on to a project committee, also consisting of individuals like the Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services and the President of the Yukon Housing Corporation. It then went to the Yukon Housing Corporation Board, in conjunction with the Yukon Council on Aging and the Yukon Council on Disability, which screened all of the projects according to a very set list of definitions, and they awarded these two. Iím very confident in the ability of the Yukon Housing Corporation and its board.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, weíve heard the minister dismiss the survey and now heís quoting from it. He isnít listening to what seniors are saying about the clear preference that they have for living downtown or in Riverdale. Weíve heard the minister also admit to a considerable degree of personal information about one of the proponents who lives in the United States. He said the other day that he has a cabin in Haines. I wonder how he knows that.
Weíve heard him define affordability in terms of what the market will bear, not in terms of what people can afford. Weíve heard him suggest that his hands are tied because CMHC sets the rules, and weíve heard him promote something called capital democracy in preference to social democracy.
Will the minister now acknowledge that this program has some serious flaws in terms of how affordability is defined and how important social objectives are achieved?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let me help the member in the House understand the support that this government provides to seniors. We have the Yukon senior income supplement. There is $228,000 in this program. Itís a $100 supplement to seniors. In addition to that, we have the pioneer utility grant, which provides an annual contribution to those paying their own utilities.
Available are: the social assistance program and also the pharmacare program, $3.18 million; extended health care benefits program, $1.3 million; medical travel program. The government has recently passed legislation entitled Decision Making, Support and Protection to Adults Act. In addition to that, we have adult services. We provide counselling, assessment of care needs, referrals, and outreach services to those at risk. We also have a seniors worker who, in addition to providing direct client support, works with the various community groups. An example of this is the Council on Aging, which provides assistance where needed. We have funding in the amount of $20 million in the continuing care branch, which goes to operate the programs in the various facilities ó Copper Ridge Place, where its 83 beds currently are over $1 million per year. Therapeutic services, nursing services, home support, day programs, Meals on Wheels, respite programs, palliative care ó
Speaker: Thank you. Final supplementary.
Mr. Cardiff: I think the minister is confused. Heís talking about seniors and the services that are provided to them. Weíre talking about affordable housing for all Yukoners.
One of the community organizations that was rejected has a mandate to provide affordable housing for First Nation people. That group has a list of 285 clients waiting for housing. The proposal from the other community organization that was rejected responds to the clear wish of seniors to live downtown, closer to services, closer to their friends, closer to things like parks and the waterfront.
Both of these projects seemed to meet a demonstrated need, but both of them were rejected in favour of two projects aimed at the baby-boomer market and toward people with considerable means. We need an affordable housing program that meets the needs of seniors, young families, and people who are working for low wages.
Now, the minister responsible for housing says that he spent $1.4 million of the $5.5 million. How much of the $5.5-million program does the minister have left to set aside for truly affordable housing for Yukon people?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I will leave the mathematics to the member opposite, but 5.5 less 1.4 is a very easy calculation.
Again, the projects are chosen by a board with wide representation. If the member opposite is trying to, again, say that this government is secretive, we are so secretive we published it in the paper about every second day. We are so secretive that we put the Yukon Council on Aging as well as the Yukon Council on Disability on the committee that made the choice. They werenít just consulted; they were the ones who helped make that choice. Again, by the very definition of this program, ďaffordable housingĒ means ó I read it before and people can read it again ó further in the documentation on the thing, it says that ďhousingĒ means residential accommodation and facilities, common areas and services used directly by the residential accommodation. Housing does not include social support. Social support is a totally different program. We currently have an inventory of 503 social assisted living units in the Yukon. We have eight under repair in the City of Whitehorse. There is a waiting list of 58 with eight of those going to be reassigned fairly soon. There is always a reasonable waiting list. In the past, under previous governments, it has been as high as 100, and it has been down close to zero. But the two programs are totally different.
Question re: Alaska/Yukon railroad, feasibility study
†Ms. Duncan: I tried yesterday to get some information from the Yukon Party government about the Alaska-Canada rail link. I even used a famous childrenís character. The side opposite didnít get the Thomas the Tank Engine and I didnít get the information. Letís try our sharing skills today.
The memorandum of understanding has the Alaska-Canada Rail Advisory Committee established by May 20, the working group established by May 13, the terms of reference done by May 6 ó next week. All of these dates are in 2005. In less than a month everybody will be in place. Thatís lightning speed for any government, let alone two governments, to name a public body.
This train, overnight, has become a high-speed express. Clearly the Yukoners to serve on this committee have already been handpicked by the Yukon Party without any kind of public process. Who is being named to the working group and the advisory committee, and who from the Yukon has done up the terms of reference?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: We very much appreciate the compliments from the member opposite. It is a high-speed train and itís moving along very quickly. Meetings have been ongoing for some time. They are rapidly occurring and the meetings will continue in less than 48 hours here in Whitehorse, and those committees will be struck as we move along.
Again, the member is quite right: the train concept ó which has been around since 1942, I might add, Mr. Speaker; we have documentation going back to 1942, so we canít really say this is a rapid train but itís certainly starting to pick up speed.
Ms. Duncan: Thereís a voice in this process thatís being drowned out by the sound of the Yukon Party train whistle, and thatís the publicís voice. The Premier has committed in excess of $2 million of taxpayersí money without a line item in the budget weíre currently debating and without bringing a supplementary into this Legislature. The Yukon Party is spending the publicís money without thorough public discussion. There are no details on how the money is being spent. Those details should be publicly discussed in the Legislature.
Iíd like to ask the government this detail: what safeguards are there that any of this $2.5 million of taxpayersí money will be spent locally? How are Yukon businesses guaranteed that any of this study money will be earned by any of them? Will there be any kind of public process for tendering this work?
Shakwak money is required to be publicly tendered. Why isnít the same public safeguard in place in this memorandum of understanding?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: For the benefit of the Yukon public, we should make the point that you cannot compare the building of a highway ó the Shakwak project, in this case ó to a feasibility study on a conceptual idea of a rail link for the State of Alaska, through the Yukon, to railheads in southern Canada.
The member is asking what is involved here. The public will be very involved; itís a feasibility study. This study will determine the social and economic benefits and impacts. It will determine the feasibility of identified optimum corridors. When it comes down to the project management, it will have the project manager situated here in Whitehorse.
Mr. Speaker, how can we even talk about the things the member opposite is alluding to without concluding the feasibility study so we know what weíre talking about? Thatís why weíre investing the money; weíre doing our work and weíre showing that weíre a government that can make a decision. Weíre not bound up in needless discussion on things we donít know what to talk about.
Ms. Duncan: It amazes me that the Premier just stood on his feet and said that discussing issues and having input from the public is needless discussion. Thereís no public input on who is going to be on the working group, no public input on who is going to be on the advisory committee. There are no public details on how that money is going to be spent or what public safeguards are in place.
In the interest of the public and public information, letís try again. I asked the Minister of Economic Development yesterday if he had any commitments from British Columbia on this project. He refused to share any written correspondence, probably because he doesnít have any, although there has been two-and-a-half years in which to get this information.
Iíll share with the House by filing today my correspondence with the B.C. government Minister of Transport about this particular project. The B.C. government wanted considerably more information before they rushed in to commit taxpayersí money. The government committed $2.5 million this week. Theyíve already spent $130,000 on the feasibility studies with Charles River Associates. Will they share that information publicly?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are going to be very public. Thatís what the feasibility study is all about.
Furthermore, in conjunction with our obligations to First Nations, two seats have been made available for First Nation governments on the advisory committee. We will be public throughout the process.
We are investing some money with respect to an overall initiative that has a huge bearing on Yukonís future. This type of infrastructure can contribute to opening up the Yukon and contribute to economic growth. Thatís a wise investment because weíre doing our homework. Thatís important in these types of initiatives.
Furthermore, weíve invested $784 million more in this territory on behalf of Yukoners, so this is just another example of the Yukon Party governmentís vision and its plan for building a better and brighter future for the Yukon. To date, weíve already got a ceremonial spike driven outside of Faro. Thatís how important this initiative is to Yukoners. Itís great to see that the third party now is opposed to a railway. This government supports building Yukonís future.
Question re: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, both houses of the United States Congress are set to vote as early as tomorrow on the budget that includes provisions for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. The time has come for the Premier to take action for all Yukon people and not to wait until it is too late. Mr. Speaker ó too late for the Gwichíin people of Old Crow. Will the Premier pick up the phone, call the House and Senate leaders of both parties and make clear to them the importance Yukon people place on the refuge and the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It is always a pleasure to be afforded the opportunity to express to this House and the Yukon public how much effort and how much work this Yukon Party government is putting forward for the protection of the critical habitat of the Porcupine caribou herd. We have discussed this with our neighbours in Alaska, making our position clear. We have discussed this with the Prime Minister of Canada, making our position clear. We have discussed this in a face-to-face meeting with the President of the United States, making our position clear. We are supporting at this very moment the Vuntut Gwitchin government and its citizens in their efforts to protect the critical habitat for the herd, and we are now saying itís time for the national government to act on the agreement that they entered into with Washington in 1987, which speaks to the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd.
We are certainly doing our fair share, and I thank the member for offering this opportunity to express that to the House once again.
Mrs. Peter: The Premierís position on this whole issue has been extremely passive. The people in Old Crow are very concerned. The Premier was elected to speak on behalf of all Yukon people and he doesnít need anyoneís permission. Will the Premier at least pick up the phone, call the Chief and Council of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and offer his help?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Once again, throughout all our efforts, we continue to support the Vuntut Gwitchin and its government in their efforts to protect the Porcupine caribou herd. In fact, I was in a meeting today at the Council of Yukon First Nations with the Chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.
Furthermore, this is not about seeking permission; this is about giving respect to another order of government in this territory who have asked us to do certain things on their behalf. That is exactly what we are doing ó living up to our commitments and obligations. We are doing our part to the best of our ability. We represent all Yukoners on this issue. Protection of the critical habitat of the Porcupine caribou herd is our position, bar none.
Question re: Emergency medical services
†Mr. McRobb: It has been more than a year since the Health and Social Services minister announced he was negotiating the transfer of all emergency medical services to the Yukon Hospital Corporation but he has provided little in the way of information since then on how and when the transfer would be done. His indecisiveness has prolonged the stress and anxiety among the approximately 170 rural volunteer attendants and 41 Whitehorse staff whose employment will be affected.
Adding to the confusion, the minister has uttered three different and contradictory explanations of his plan including selling the service, transferring the service, and assumption of the service by the Yukon Hospital Corporation. The time has come for this Health and Social Services minister to finally level with Yukoners. What exactly are the ministerís plans to transfer emergency medical services?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The exercise is to provide the highest consistent level of service to Yukoners in this area, and we will continue to do that. Letís just have a look at what our government did in the last budget cycle.
The honoraria paid to the rural ambulance attendants hadnít been increased since the 1970s. We went ahead and increased the honoraria significantly. We provided more training; we provided clothing; $250,000 went into that area. At the same time, two new four-wheel-drive ambulances were purchased. This fiscal cycle, two new type 3 ambulances will be purchased to go to Whitehorse ó training, honoraria, a new collective agreement was entered into with the Whitehorse full-time emergency medical staff.
†Weíre moving forward in providing the best possible service to all Yukoners in this area.
Mr. McRobb: Let the record show the minister failed to answer the question. He shed no light on his plans regarding EMS.
I asked the minister about his plans during budget debate on April 21. The minister was specifically asked the following question: ďTo what extent is the minister involving the union in this transfer of EMS to the Yukon Hospital Corporation?Ē The ministerís response was: ďFully, Mr. Chair.Ē
Well, yesterdayís newsletter from the Yukon Employees Union ran a story about that exchange. The YEU said it has had no contact with the minister on this issue at all. Whom should Yukoners believe: the Yukon Employees Union or the minister?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the member oppositeís information, ministers do not get involved in the unions. The Public Service Commission is responsible for the hiring, and the Public Service Commission is the employer. If there is any involvement in any ongoing issue that involves our labour force, which is controlled and overseen by the Public Service Commission, the union is engaged fully. I stand on what I said the other day in debate in Health and Social Services.
Mr. McRobb: Weíre not getting light; weíre getting smoke. This matter is becoming more confused the more the minister speaks.
Letís go back to when the minister first announced his plan on March 2, 2004. He referred to an agreement in principle. The minister said his AIP would lay out the process for developing a transfer agreement and implementation plan for transferring emergency medical services over to the hospital. The minister also indicated that the AIP would be concluded shortly.
More than a year has passed since then. Will the minister table this AIP, and how soon might we expect him to do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I said earlier, the whole purpose of examining this area was to ensure that we maintain, enhance and provide the highest consistent level of service to Yukoners across the Yukon. Now, in rural Yukon the service is provided by volunteers. In the last fiscal cycle we enhanced that area. Over half a million dollars went into the area of rural ambulance attendants and the tremendous role they are fulfilling.
At the same time, we have enhanced what is provided here in Whitehorse, and there are also current issues underway, contained in this fiscal cycle. Weíll see the department purchasing two new type 3 ambulances for Whitehorse as well as upgrades to the ambulance station here in Whitehorse.
When you wrap it all up, it just shows our partyís commitment in this area: where there is a demonstrated need, weíll meet the demonstrated need and move forward.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERSí BUSINESS
motions other than government motions
Motion No. 427
Clerk: Motion No. 427, standing in the name of Mr. Hardy.
Speaker: It is moved by the leader of the official opposition:
THAT this House calls upon the Yukon government to assign top priority status to the development of an effective, comprehensive anti-poverty strategy that will, within a decade, eliminate the need for any Yukon person, regardless of age, gender, cultural background or employment status, to live in a condition of poverty.
Mr. Hardy: † I rise to speak to a motion that I feel very passionate about. Iíd like to start by looking at a couple of different segments of our society and how poverty affects them. Letís look at children. A lot of people would remember that on November 24, 1989 ó approximately 16 years ago ó Canadaís House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution brought forward by Ed Broadbent and the NDP that ďThis House seeks to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.Ē
We have failed. We have failed dramatically in that area. One in six children is poor. Canadaís child poverty rate of 15 percent is three times as high as the rates in Sweden, Norway or Finland, and this is an extremely rich country that we live in. Every month 777,000 people in Canada use food banks. Forty percent of those relying on food banks are children.
These are very serious statistics that I have just outlined. On the National Anti-Poverty Organizationís Web page, in looking at these statistics they point to a betrayal of Canadaís children.
They go on to say, ďWhat makes the persistence of child poverty all the more disturbing is that Canada is a rich country, a country that ranks fourth in the world on the 2004 UN human development index.Ē It goes on to say, ďBut in the midst of wealth, almost five million Canadians live in poverty. Poverty is increasing for youth and workers, young families, immigrants and visible minority groups. Poverty among aboriginal groups remains appallingly high, both on and off reserve. In fact, if the statistics for Canadian aboriginal people were viewed separately from those of the rest of the country, Canadaís aboriginal people would slip to 78 on the UN human development index, the rank currently held by Kazakhstan.Ē That is shameful for an extremely rich country.
Letís take a look at some of the other sectors, and I will go back a little bit in-depth. The poverty rate for seniors in Canada is at 17 percent. Of seniors living on low incomes, 71 percent were women and 29 percent were men. You can see the disparity of that. Almost twice as many women were living with a low income. Thatís a very, very serious situation.
I am going to delve into some other areas, but I started off with those two because in many cases when we talk about jobs and how jobs will help to eliminate poverty, it doesnít necessarily work that way, especially for the two groups I started with. Seniors who are no longer in the workforce are not necessary benefited by a job.
Itís where this country decides to allocate money that has a greater impact, or where a territory decides to allocate money. We have been asking questions in the House about housing in the last few days, about what can be considered as affordable housing. The Member for Mount Lorne has been very, very clear about affordability and has been challenging the minister on the other side in regard to that. So they have a different need in many areas. And, of course, children ó there is no question about it: this territory has the funds available to assist in decreasing the conditions of poverty in that area.
Mr. Speaker, I have already mentioned the very serious situation that many First Nations live in. I want to mention a report that was last updated on Monday, April 11, 2005. I am going to read from this, because I found it to be quite a strong statement: ďCanadaís highest ranking on the United Nations human development scale would dramatically drop if the country were judged solely on economic and social well-being of its First Nations.Ē I have already referenced that, but I want to go on a little bit more and emphasize this. If you average that in, Canada would drop down to 48 on the scale. The low position is a significant drop from Canadaís usual top 10 ranking on the U.N.ís human development scale. Canada came in seventh on the last report, but if the conditions of native people were the only qualifiers, of course ó as Iíve already mentioned ó it would be 78. Thatís how significant the poverty level is with First Nation people.
Poverty, infant mortality, unemployment, suicide, criminal detention, children on welfare, women victims of abuse, child prostitution are all much higher among aboriginal people than in any other sector of Canadian society, said the report issued by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. U.N. special investigator Rudolpho Stavenhagen researched the plight of Canadaís indigenous people on a visit to the country in May 2004, at the invitation of the Canadian government. Stavenhagen pored over statistics and commission reports and spoke with Inuit leaders.
Economic, social and human indicators of well-being, quality of life and development are lower among aboriginal people than any other Canadians, said Stavenhagen, who also warns that the housing, health and suicide situations are reaching crisis proportion.
He said the condition of aboriginal people in the country was the most pressing human rights issue facing Canada. Among the problems highlighted in the report were these: poverty affects 60 percent of aboriginal children; the annual income of aboriginal people is significantly lower than other Canadians; unemployment is very high among aboriginals; 20 percent of aboriginal people have inadequate water and sewer systems; aboriginals make up 4.4 percent of the Canadian population but account for 17 percent of the people in prison.
Cases of tuberculosis are six times higher than the rest of Canada, and life expectancy among the Inuit is 10 years lower than the rest of Canada.
Itís a very, very serious situation that has been identified by the United Nations.
What about the working poor? What about young families? Poverty has been increasing dramatically among young families. In 1981, the figure they come up with for a young family, in which the oldest adult is under the age of 25, is that they face a 21.7 percent chance of being poor. By 1997, this chance has more than doubled to 46.1 percent. Poverty rates among young families and the next oldest age group are higher as well. Among those aged 25 to 34 years, the rate of poverty increased from 12 percent in 1981 to 18.9 percent in 1997.
Itís very interesting, Mr. Speaker, when we talk about economic prosperity and economic boom that what we are also witnessing is greater poverty, more use of food kitchens, more children living in poverty, more seniors not being able to make ends meet and struggling. Yet, on the other side, we supposedly have an economic boom. Thereís a lot of debate around poverty and measuring poverty, and it comes to two different types of measurements. I donít want to get too deeply into that debate. Itís important to have a measurement, but itís also a red herring. Too much attention I feel can often be directed at that when all you have to do is look at your own figures, look at the salaries being paid, the needs, the costs within our society. Go on to the streets, go visit the seniors, be in contact with young families, our working poor. Look at the wages being paid. It doesnít take long to realize that we have a growing polarization of income in Canada, and thatís a serious matter.
Iíll get to that in a few minutes. The choice of poverty lines ranges from those providing for bare physical subsistence ó the absolute approach, they call it ó to those providing full inclusion in society, which is called the relative approach. There are many working definitions of poverty, but no real official version has been adopted.
All poverty lines are based on subjective factors, and their usage depends on their credibility and public acceptability. For over 30 years, the leading poverty line in Canada has been Statistics Canadaís low income cut-offs, or LICOs. These cut-offs are by far the most popular with the public analysts and organizations dealing with poverty income distribution issues, but they do have their legitimate criticisms. Often the criticism comes from those who would rather see a different type of poverty line, which would change that.
But like I said, I donít want to spend a lot of time on that and Iíve already laid out the reason why not. I think what I want to address and talk about are the realities that we often hear about or face as politicians, especially if weíre involved with our community, if weíre involved with organizations that are working on the front line. Many NGOs can give us data very quickly that is more reflective, instead of just a baseline. Itís more reflective of the difficulties and struggles that people are having when it comes to poverty.
Right now, I want to bring up the growing polarization of income in Canada. The 2001 census figures on income basically told us two very important stories. The first is that Canadian society is becoming increasingly polarized. The richest 10 percent of our population has seen its income grow by a whopping 14 percent. Now, thatís your richest 10 percent, while the bottom 10 percent has only seen a slight increase of one percent.
Moreover, the income of many working families has actually declined, and that is documented.
The second story is that we have been unable as a nation to tackle poverty in any meaningful way. The economic boom of the last part of the decade and the economic boom that we are experiencing in parts of Canada has clearly not benefited all Canadians, and it has failed to put any real dent in Canadian child poverty rates, despite the resolution that I read earlier on, in which there was a unanimous consent among the federal government and the parties there that this was a priority, and every single person in that House had voted for it. In other words, words are fine, but the actions tell a different story, and thatís a shame. It is very, very disturbing.
There are so many reasons why a government has to be involved ó has to be involved in the social fabric of a country, has to be involved provincially or territorially and not just looking toward increased economic activity as a solution to problems with poverty. It is on record; it is a fact, time and time again, that because the economy may be doing better does not necessarily mean that that money reaches those in need. It doesnít happen. The trickle-down effect, which I believe the member opposite indicated was the model that they liked, does not assist all people.
One of the governmentís roles is to try to distribute the wealth among all people of a country or a territory, and also to bring in programs that are beneficial to those who are struggling or are trying to make ends meet, to ensure there is assistance for families, the working poor, those who canít work for a multitude of reasons, whether they have some disability ó often theyíre very poor. Itís the role of government to be there; itís the role of government to take the wealth and distribute it to ensure that all people have a meaningful role in society, that they have the means and ability to live a comfortable or decent life and are not left behind.
Iíll get to some of the areas that have been suggested as ways to improve and address some of the poverty need. Some are in areas the government hasnít been addressing, but all this week weíve been talking about affordable housing as one of those areas. Iíll get to that, and I know some of my colleagues will be addressing that as well, because weíre very concerned about a program ó initially a federal program, managed and monitored by the government here ó that should not, from my perspective, be called affordable housing, if this is the way the money is being spent.
Iím very concerned that anybody would consider that a $160,000 house was affordable to someone who makes $7.20 an hour, and who has a child.
Iím very concerned about anybody who would even consider affordability as applying to somebody who is on fixed income, and predominantly a woman ó because Iíve always said those figures about the seniors ó on fixed income of approximately $11,000 to $16,000 a year, and they would actually be able to move into a place where the base cost is $1,800 a month. But do the math. Itís not hard. Itís already impossible for them. I know many seniors in that situation. I know many seniors who will never buy one of these places that are being called affordable, so I think the name is wrong, frankly. I think it should be called something else.
If the federal government wants to put money into having developers build houses for $160,000 and set up apartments for $1,700 to $1,800 a month with a couple of meals, so be it. But donít call it something it isnít because most of the seniors I know ó and I can assure you that I know many seniors, as the majority of seniors in the Yukon live in the riding that I represent and they keep me informed of their issues on a regular basis ó have called me and said that there is absolutely no way in the world this is affordable. They find it an insult that it would be considered affordable for seniors.
Some of the impacts that poverty has ó letís look at children and letís look at the statistics. Income levels and the well-being of Canadian children are linked. In 1991, the high school dropout rate for children from poor families was 2.5 times that for children from non-poor families. Thatís fairly obvious.
They use a lot of figures in this one. There was a study done in 1991. Iím sure theyíre applicable today; I canít see that changing.
In 1991, children in families with incomes in the bottom 20 percent of the population were 2.1 times more likely to be living in housing requiring major repairs than children in families with incomes in the top 20 percent, and 1.4 times more likely than children living in middle-income families.
We do know that the housing stock in the Yukon is dismal. We do know that. I know that because I had to gather up the figures when I was putting together the application for Habitat for Humanity. The national figures are very clear: Yukon is one of the worst in Canada for housing stock and the quality of housing, so we can imagine what many people in the Yukon are living in when they have very little money, and the quality of homes and rental units is very low.
Child mortality rate is twice as high among families at the lowest income level as it is among families at the highest level ó twice as high. So twice as many children die in those conditions. Drowning accidents are 3.4 times more common among boys of lower income families than they are among boys from other families. Why is that? Possibly there are a variety of reasons; possibly theyíve never had swimming lessons because they donít have the money to learn how to swim; they donít have access to facilities or training and may find themselves in a situation where they drown.
Six percent of all babies in Canada suffer from low birth weight, which has been identified as a major contributor to developmental disabilities. Low birth weight is inversely related to income status. It is 1.4 times more common among babies born in the poorest families than it is among babies born in the richer families.
Smoking, of course, is greater in people from poorer families.
Some other examples are that these babies are less healthy, have less access to skill-building activities, have more destructive habits and behaviours, live far more stressful lives, and are subject to more humiliation. In short, they have less stable, less secure existences and, as a result, are likely to be less secure as adults. Unfortunately, many times they find themselves in trouble and it becomes a problem for society as a whole.
Itís very difficult to raise a child, and there are many children in the Yukon living in poverty. Itís very difficult to raise a child in a family with a single mother ó many of whom are living in poverty, are the working poor, are those who are unable to work ó and give them the things that many of us take for granted. That causes physical and psychological stress and creates a tremendous amount of pressure, both on the parents and the child.
It makes a child feel inferior. I can remember very clearly kids not being able to go on trips that other kids could go on because their family just couldnít pay for it. It could be $40 or $20 to go on a trip, and they have to be left behind.
The money is not there. Many people have a hard time understanding that, because they have never faced that. Many, many people in our society canít understand poverty, because they have never faced it, theyíve never lived it. They donít understand the daily struggle that parents have to go through and the struggle the child has to go through while growing up. In a society as rich as ours, there is no excuse ó there truly isnít any excuse.
Seniors ó there has been a lot of talk about seniors. I would like to just touch on some of the issues around the seniors, because seniors, it has been recognized, are living longer and there are more ó what they call the baby-boomers ó becoming seniors. There will be more demands, more expectations, more expectations on services and more pressures on services that are offered. Many, many seniors are not going to have a great degree of disposable income. Contrary to possibly what people think, RRSPs are not taken up by everybody in Canada because they donít have the disposable cash to put into an RRSP. Many of them donít have pensions. That doesnít leave much money available to meet the requirements for living with dignity in your older years.
As I said earlier, many of them will be women. Many of them years ago stayed home and raised the children. They werenít able to build a pension plan, werenít able to contribute in that area. If they are single, if they are widowed or divorced, the chances are that they will be the ones most directly affected by poverty. Lots of men are in that category as well. I believe that itís something that any government has to consider and take seriously.
Now seniors who live in poverty ó and I think weíre recognizing this more and more ó are an especially vulnerable group. A gap in support services or an inability to access necessary supports can have a major impact on the lives of elderly persons living in poverty. Iím going to list some of the issues seniors in poverty may face.
Physical limitations: with increased age generally comes some degree of physical limitation. This can make it difficult for a person to get out to service areas and sites and get around.
Medical supports: the additional health supports that seniors may require are not always covered under government programs and benefits. A senior living in poverty must try to find the money within a limited income or do without. Thatís happening quite a bit now. Iím hearing a lot of it across the country, and Iím hearing it up here as well. There is not the disposable cash if something comes up that is not covered.
Social isolation: something that we may not think about often, but a number of community agencies that provide services to seniors identified social isolation as an important issue. Where an elderly person also has a physical or financial limitation, this can lead to the person becoming housebound. A senior living in social isolation may be less likely to be aware of supports in the community; they become isolated from that.
Generational attitudes: according to local officials who provide service to elderly persons, seniors often are reluctant to ask for help. That is very serious, because there might be help out there but they are very proud people. They donít want to ask for help. They would try to make do, but they are getting old and that help should be there for them.
Fixed incomes: now, persons 65 years of age and older generally have retired from the labour force, often as a result of mandatory retirement policies. When a senior wishes to participate in the labour force, their age can prove to be a barrier. In either case, seniors can be extremely limited in their ability to supplement their income.
So that kind of addresses a situation that I mentioned earlier I was going to come back to, and that is job creation, job creation that is only geared toward a certain age group or a variety of age groups but ignores the senior age. I donít often hear of programs for seniors who want to work, who want to supplement their income. I hear a lot of talk about jobs for youth, and that is very important ó absolutely. I hear a lot of talk about job creation for middle-age people; people coming into that area already have jobs. But here are very few initiatives for seniors. Something that we seem to forget about is that many seniors are still able to work. They have life experience. They have vast knowledge. They can continue and want to continue to contribute to our economy, to our society, but the government often overlooks that. Even in their hiring policies, seniors are not necessarily on top of the list as people you would want to hire because they may only be able to contribute for four or five years.
Should they be eliminated? Should they be discriminated against because of their age? It happens. They may need the money. In most cases they do need the money.
I came across a little story here that Iím going to read. There were a bunch of them, but I read this one and it struck home to me. Our story comes from a 79-year-old woman who has been widowed for eight years. She lives on her own in an apartment that does not have subsidized rent. She never worked outside the home so never paid into a pension plan. She has many physical constraints that add challenges to her life. She is in a wheelchair due to bad arthritis in her legs, knees, back and hips. Some people in here might now be experiencing some arthritis so they recognize how debilitating that could be.
Her limited monthly income consists of half of her husbandís CPP, OAS and a supplement. The total is $1,100 per month. I think everybody in here, if they want to think about it, can think of somebody like that.
Her expenses consist of rent, groceries, telephone, basic TV, hydro, and she donates to a church. This contribution is very important to her. She wants to give.
Because of her limited income, she cannot afford the cost of transportation on a regular basis, such as a cab or a project lift. Now that would apply to building these places out of town, of course. Therefore she cannot attend church, do her banking and grocery shopping regularly, and canít see her family and friends as much as she would like. Because of her limited income, she does not have a lot of money to spend on birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. She is a grandmother and a great-grandmother, and this is tough as she wishes she could give more ó as we all would want to give to our grandchildren.
She will ask for help from family and friends if she finds something physically difficult to do. She will not ask for financial help from anyone as she is very proud.
She feels fortunate to be able to live independently as long as she has. She attends the home support day program twice a week at a subsidized rate. If it were not for this financial assistance, she could not attend and would be isolated.
Physical ailments of aging require prescriptions that are often not covered by the health plan. Where is she to find the money for this, after Iíve just described her income and expenses? You can understand, Mr. Speaker, that she doesnít have that extra money. Many prescription drugs and assistance cost a lot.
What does she get by on? She gets by on her humour, because she wouldnít survive without it. When she is feeling low or discouraged, she thinks about people who are more disadvantaged than she is. Thatís a very generous person, Mr. Speaker. Thatís our seniors; thatís a lot of our seniors. Iím proud to know many of them. I believe very strongly that we should be ensuring that they are cared for in their later years, that we do everything possible, that we take what is possible, in terms of funding, and ensure that their quality of life is good.
Thatís probably why Iím upset about this affordable housing program, because it does not address this seniorís needs in any way, shape or form. She could not move into the proposed rental units; she could not do it; she doesnít have the money; they would never let her in there because she cannot pay the rent. It doesnít matter what they supply, she canít pay the rent; itís impossible.
She definitely could not buy a place. No bank would touch her, so where would she get the money to live in one of these places? The fact that itís out of the downtown core, where the services are located ó health clinics, grocery stores, coffee shops, and the ability to do her banking ó makes it out of her reach. Why? She cannot afford the public transportation. She canít do it.
I get frustrated. Iím dwelling on this a little bit, but I get frustrated when I hear people think they are bringing forward a program that is for seniors, and they call it affordable, and they donít recognize that the seniors who need it most cannot afford it. It is not affordable if they canít pay it. It doesnít matter what the marketplace says. Thatís not the point we should be working from. If we care about these people, itís not the point.
The point is: what can they afford? What do they really have for their income? That would be affordable, if you started from that point. I donít care what the Liberal government defines as affordable, and I donít believe the territorial government should accept that. I care what the senior, the working poor, the single parent, or the lower income person defines as affordable ó not what some government agency says is affordable.
A real affordable housing program would include them, and it doesnít. The members opposite can get up and criticize me because Iím speaking on the behalf of these people. Frankly, I think they should criticize the federal government for this program, if this is what itís called and this is what theyíre working under, because I am, and if theyíre part of it, Iíll criticize them. Because what Iíve heard this week ó this being an affordable program and itís all right ó I canít accept, not for the people I represent, not for the people I know. It doesnít help those who most need it.
Iím not talking about social housing. It isnít just social housing on this side and affordable housing on that side, and thereís this great divide. Thatís not the way it works. Affordable housing should be based on what people can afford and it should recognize the scales. A $160,000 home is not affordable for a large percentage of our population in the Yukon, and $1,700 or $1,800 a month is not affordable. Itís not affordable if you have to live out of the downtown core and you have only $100 left at the end of the month. You cannot get out of your own home. You cannot get around.
You know what a lot of people forget about? There are all the other surprise costs that we have to live with on a monthly basis, that we do not anticipate. We donít anticipate them and they pop up. They could be many things. Maybe you want to own a car. Maybe you have a car and it could break down. Thatís a surprise cost. You donít have the money. What bothers me so much and what Iím so concerned about is how we classify affordability. We donít look at it from the standpoint of the person who has only so much money and the things they have to be constantly giving up, and then the surprise costs.
It could be the single mother with a child, and the surprise costs are almost on a monthly basis because they come from school, where itís another $20 for this and $30 for that. My god, if you have a child, Mr. Speaker, you do not want to deny him or her, and it hurts when you have to say, ďWe canít afford it. Everybody else can go, but we canít. We canít do it. I just donít have the money. Or else, I will eat less, and I will find that money somehow. I will cut something out, but I am not going to let my child be stigmatized by poverty.Ē But they are, and it does happen.
It is easy for us in here who are not on a fixed income, who are not living in poverty, to assume money is available or programs are available or there are ways and means for them. One of the drawbacks of living in poverty is that you donít have access to that information or those programs. There has been an increase in the cost of living and it continues to increase. But in many cases, the wages donít go up for people who are out working ó the working poor, as they have been called.
What are the working poor? Well, most are families with children. Theyíre the fastest growing segment of the population in poverty.
Most adults over 25 who are earning the minimum wage ó a little bit around the minimum wage ó are women. Whatís the minimum wage? Does anybody in here know what the minimum wage in the Yukon is? Itís $7.20 an hour. Is that what our pages are paid? Shame on you, Yukon Legislative Assembly. What an example to set.
We can change that, Mr. Speaker. The minimum wage of $7.20 hasnít been changed since the NDP was in power last, since the NDP was the government. This is a government that has been in for two and half years, and it hasnít touched the minimum wage. Why not? Is $7.20 an hour acceptable? I donít think it is acceptable. I know working families who are getting paid $8 an hour, $7.20 an hour, both of them are working two or three jobs. Iíve already started listing some of them.
Minimum wage earners are three times more likely to work part-time than others. Many of them are underemployed. All the other costs have increased, but the minimum wage hasnít been touched since the NDP government was in. Guess what? This Yukon Party government likes to quote Alberta on a regular basis as an example. Alberta has just put out a press release that they have increased their minimum wage.
Now, itís not even up to the $7.20; itís $7 an hour. They had taken a jump from $5.90 to $7.00. Thatís a $1.10 jump that will be implemented on September 1, 2005, which should have some benefit for people living in Alberta, although I feel it falls far short of what is necessary.
At one time Yukon, which is an expensive place to live, had one of the highest minimum wages in Canada. The Liberal government had an opportunity to keep it there, and didnít. The Yukon Party government has had two and a half years and hasnít touched it either. My request to them is that they will look at this and increase the minimum wage because weíre no longer up at the top. British Columbia is 80 cents higher: theyíre at $8.00. Quebec is at $7.45, so theyíre higher. Ontario is at $7.45 ó theyíre higher. So, weíre now fourth or fifth ó somewhere around there ó yet supposedly there are a lot of jobs. The unemployment rates are down, which is good news. Thatís good news. A lot of factors have contributed to that. Weíre on an upswing. Some of the work of the Yukon Party has contributed to it.
But I think where they are missing the mark is that the Yukon Party hasnít recognized that if it is so good here, why isnít the minimum wage higher? Why havenít they looked at that? That would have a direct impact on people in poverty. There is no question about it. For those coming into the workforce, it would have a direct impact. As a matter of fact, it is one of the biggest recommendations made by NAPO, the National Anti-Poverty Organization, as well as the Anti-Poverty Coalition in the Yukon ó to raise the minimum wage.
We can do it and we should do it, and it should be indexed. It should adjust so that they donít fall behind again. Interestingly enough, the studies have shown that raising the minimum wage puts more money into the economy. It does benefit small businesses, families and children. It has a very positive impact. As a matter of fact, it has been recognized. I think one of the banking institutes made a recommendation. The Toronto Dominion Bank made a recommendation to the federal government to do just that. Toronto Dominion Bank felt that one of the fastest ways of stimulating the economy and to have a positive impact on the economy ó if you can believe it ó was for the federal government to set a minimum wage standard across the country. Now they word it slightly differently. They call it ďmarket incomesĒ at the lower end, but basically what theyíre talking about is the minimum wage, the lower end part ó get that up. Itís an interesting study, and I would recommend that the Yukon Party, especially the minister responsible for housing, take a look at that. This came out of a report that TD Bank Financial Group put out, and they call it Affordable Housing in Canada.
There are some very interesting recommendations in here, and many of them, I think, are very well-thought-out, and I would be quite willing to share this information with the members opposite, if they wish a copy of it. I think it would help them in some of their deliberations in regard to minimum wages and affordable housing and some of the impacts. It was directed toward the federal government. Unfortunately, the federal government didnít use the recommendations brought forward by this institute and ignored that suggestion. Thatís a shame. They should have done it.
Now, another area that needs to be addressed that would have a very positive impact that the Yukon Party government hasnít done is social assistance rates. This is a debate we have had in this House before, and I have heard the Minister of Health and Social Services make it very clear to us on this side that raising the social assistance rates would just attract undesirables into the territory. I have never in my life heard such a pile of baloney ó temperance, I must remember that.
You have to remember, Mr. Speaker, we had quite a heated debate a couple of sittings back in which the minister had indicated there had been this balloon of $1 million in SA costs that was caused by single, white males under the age of 40 ó it was something like that. I donít have the figures, but somewhere around that. It was single males around the age of 40 or under the age of 40 that caused this balloon of $1 million in the figures. At that time, I asked the minister to produce the documentation that supports that. That documentation was never produced. I have never, to this day, seen that minister back up those comments.
I have looked at the information that is available, and nowhere does it show that that was the group that caused the million-dollar balloon ó as a matter of fact, it proves the total opposite. If anything, I think it indicated there were eight people. I hope the SA rate for eight people is not a million dollars.
The minister was challenged on that and did not produce that statement. Interestingly, within a few months he made another comment about refugees and the cost to our system and how there had been this huge influx of refugees to the territory ó I think some 50 refugees were trying to relocate to the Yukon and become Canadian citizens ó and the huge impact that was having on SA rates and the fact that they did not work.
Again, we challenged the minister to give us proof of those comments and, again, the minister did not do it. That raises very serious concerns because it stereotypes people. It stereotypes immigrants. Interestingly enough, those refugees and immigrants who felt targeted by this government and this minister did show that the majority of them were working. They were in very low paying jobs, but they were working and were seeking work. They wanted to be a part of this community.
The good thing is the minister did have to back down on those comments when he was challenged by the people speaking on their behalf.
However, those are the kinds of comments that worry me, because they stigmatize people; they target people who are unable to defend themselves.
They often are the ones doing the low-paying jobs. We need people who are willing to work in many of the sectors that do not pay much. I cannot imagine ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The Minister of Education, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I believe the member opposite, by stating that this government targets people, is imputing false or unavowed motives according to Standing Order 19(g).
Speaker: Iíll have to review the Blues because it doesnít stick in my mind as a point of order, so if the minister would allow me to review the Blues, Iíll give a ruling at a later date.
Mr. Hardy: I am quite willing to retract that statement if the member opposite felt I was indicating that the government had targeted refugees, immigrants, single males under the age of 40 who are able to work. I will retract that if he felt I was implying that the government was targeting them. I was basically just referring to debates that have happened in the House earlier about some comments that were made.
Speaker: Hon. Minister, are you agreeable?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: There is no point of order.
Mr. Hardy: No problem. I have not brought forward this motion or entered this debate to create disharmony in the House. I think the motion that has been brought forward does not target or accuse the government of not doing something. It is a forward-looking motion and it would be a motion that I feel that every member of the House could accept, and it would be inherited. It would be a motion that could possibly be inherited by the next government.
It would be, again, one of those motions like the motion that I donít like to reference as an example because it has been a failure, but the motion of 1989 in which all parties came together and agreed to move forward on child poverty. Again, like I say, it was a failure because the governments of the day ó I think the government of the day at that time ó I could be wrong ó was the Mulroney government, a Conservative government. I see the member nodding his head. It was a Conservative government but it was unanimously accepted. The Liberal government following confirmed their support and commitment to it, and it was in many of their promises and red book promises that they like to put out during elections. However, it failed because we did not do it, whatever government did not do it.
I am hoping that this motion that was crafted is not viewed as an attack on the government. My comments have been pretty general, keeping that in mind, and a lot of it has looked at a Canadian side. I have been very disappointed in this government to date on some specifics, and I am touching on them as solutions for how to address some of this. Thatís where I was on the minimum wage, and now Iím moving to the SA rates.
However, I just want to go over the motion once again, because I want once again to remind people what we are talking about and not so much what my words are here ó but what the motion really stands for: THAT this House calls upon the Yukon government to assign top priority status to the development of an effective, comprehensive anti-poverty strategy that will, within a decade, eliminate the need for any Yukon person, regardless of age, gender, cultural background or employment status to live in a condition of poverty.
This is very similar to the activities and work I have been doing with all party leaders, NGOs and constituents with respect to the strategy for substance abuse prevention that the government is moving forward on. I believe June 6 and 7 are the dates that have been identified. Again, itís a positive move. I have some reservations about the strategy itself that I havenít addressed yet, but I will at a future date. However, it is still a move forward, and my reservations are tempered, because I can see some positive action from it.
This is a similar motion, in the sense that itís not directed at any one government and there is a length of time that every government would hopefully adopt and work toward. Iím not saying that any government can solve this, but maybe, over the course of 10 years, each government could make that commitment to target this area and try to address it as much as possible.
There are so many areas. With youth, homelessness is a huge problem. Many of them donít have places to go. They leave home ó it could be an abusive situation; it could be a situation they canít get along in; they could even have been thrown out ó and they have no place to go. Just today, another motion was brought forward about homelessness. Thatís a serious issue that we have to face.
I know there was an organization in Whitehorse that was trying to create a place for homeless youth. Unfortunately it wasnít successful, but that didnít mean that the issue went away. That problem still exists.
I shall see in my riding ó which is the gathering spot for many people living in poverty who are homeless to come, which is the downtown core, the downtown riding, Whitehorse Centre. I still see on the streets many children, many young people, and they donít have the support of their families any more. A lot of them canít get social assistance and they canít get help because theyíre at the wrong age. Theyíve fallen between the cracks. For instance, children in care left on their own after the age of 18 cannot get any assistance until 19. Thatís a serious age. A lot can happen that defines what kind of future that child, that young person, is going to have. Theyíre very vulnerable during that period and I will say this very clearly: there are many predators out there on many fronts. Whether itís drugs or sex, theyíre out there and theyíre taking advantage of young people when theyíre very vulnerable. Thatís an age where theyíre very vulnerable. As you know, Mr. Speaker; you work with the youth through your activities in boxing, and you know this.
Street level counselling is a very serious area that needs to be addressed. We have the Outreach van, which I think is now up and running for three days.
The Outreach van has gone from two to three days a week. They are extremely active and very involved. They know whatís happening on the street. There are very good people involved in it and I think there should be more support in that area because they are having a very positive impact. Itís direct, the people clearly know who theyíre dealing with, itís confidential, of course ó so confidential that, even if you ask them if you can go around with them to understand the situation, you canít, and itís understandable why.
Poverty for students: how many students do you know who carry a financial debt at the end of their post-secondary education? A substantial amount of them do. That used to be almost unheard of at one time in Canada, but times have changed. Tuition fees continue to climb; opportunities for the wages theyíre paid to make enough money to go back to school during the summer are often very low. Iíve already talked about the minimum wage and what I feel the government could do to address this, which is to raise it.
At the end of the day, at the end of a four-year or six-year degree, the students are carrying a substantial debt that puts them under a lot of pressure. Many of them donít get a job right away. Many of them have to go back to what they were doing during the summer, which is a lower paying job, and they also now have to pay the debt on their student loan. Many of them are now paying rent, paying for food and a vehicle, if they are able to afford a vehicle, and any other cost that has been mentioned already, plus a student loan.
Itís very difficult for them to get out of it, and I know people who have paid for 20 years to try to deal with this. That is another area that needs to be addressed.
These are young people starting their lives. As students, they went to school with the anticipation that they would be working in their chosen profession only to find that the jobs may not be available right away or even down the road, and they have a debt immediately.
The wonderful thing, of course, was the negotiations that happened in the last few days between the NDP and the Liberal government, in which Mr. Layton of the NDP was able to get an agreement from the Liberal government to add to the budget to address tuitions for students. It is long overdue, and I was very pleased to see, as well as many of the other initiatives, $1.6 billion included for affordable housing. I will be talking to him to get clarification on what affordable housing is and what is really meant by that, because the program that I think is available right now doesnít do it, as I think everybody in here is very aware.
I just want to go back here, because I just found a little note among my papers in regard to the TD Bank Financial Group recommendations. I had touched upon the fact that in our language we call it ďraising the minimum wageĒ; they use slightly different language. I just want to go through some of their points. They suggest boosting the supply of rental housing and providing more support for the homeless and renovating existing housing stock to promote business.
They suggest improving support for lower income individuals; addressing current housing supply and removing market imperfections that contribute to supply shortage.
Again, it starts off by suggesting support for lower income individuals; adjusting the design of federal and provincial benefit and tax systems by reducing the clawback rate on benefits for low-income households. A key goal must be to raise marketing ó come at the bottom end of the scale. We must complement these efforts with measures to boost income subsidies for vulnerable segments of the population.
These are very clear suggestions that were given to the federal government to address.
In Calgary, there is a living wage project thatís being worked on that focuses on promoting a living wage for workers through working with businesses who believe that poverty affects the whole economy adversely, not only those living in poverty. Thatís really positive stuff.
What we have locally, of course, is the Anti-Poverty Coalition, which has been very, very active in trying to address the poverty issues we face here. In 1998, the NDP government at the time did bring forward an anti-poverty strategy; however, it was only in the initial stages. What the Anti-Poverty Coalition in the Yukon has called for is another one. They have met with the minister, and they have brought forward some immediate suggestions they would like to see addressed. Unfortunately, they feel that those havenít been taken seriously enough. What they do want, and what I believe this motion does help to address, is a strategy to deal with the issues that are specifically facing the north.
There is a lot of tension and a lot of discussion on economic development and northern strategies, and all that stuff. Thatís all fine and good, but one doesnít necessarily solve the other. It has to be a very broad look and we have to look at all aspects of our society and how we deal with that. Addressing the minimum wage, addressing the SA rates and coming up with real affordable housing programs are things that would have an immediate impact if the government and everybody in this House was willing to move forward on this motion.
I feel very strongly that the time to do it is when you are in an economy that is doing better. Thatís the time when you move forward. Saying that, though, I do have some concerns about the economy. One of the areas that Iíve noticed in my travels and so on is that Whitehorse is doing quite well, but many of the outlying communities are still struggling. Again, as I mentioned earlier, one of the roles of government is the distribution of wealth. One of the roles of a budget, of course, is to distribute the wealth through all segments of our society, but also to all the communities as best we can and find ways to stimulate the economy and to stimulate those communities based on their input.
Every government, Iím sure, tries it. They try to do it through the capital works. They try to do it through other activities, but I am not seeing it have a long-term impact, which I think is necessary. I donít think anybody wants to see the continued influx of people moving from the communities into the Whitehorse area, but that has been happening and it is a concern for the communities. I know itís a concern across Canada about the massive migration from rural, small towns to big, urban centres. Thatís not to the health of the country and itís definitely not to the health of this territory in the long term.
Going back to the Anti-Poverty Coalition, they made some recommendations to the Minister of Health and Social Services ó I believe they also met with him ó and, interestingly enough, they brought forward some recommendations. Iíll just touch on three of them that I donít think have been acted on yet, which I think is a shame.
One is, of course, to increase the kids recreation fund, which is something that can be done quite easily by government. Itís at about $60,000 right now; I believe the group has indicated they could probably use twice that much and they have to rely on fundraising to meet that demand. That has a very positive impact for families with children that have very little money and who want their children to participate in activities and canít. I know because of my years and years of work with youth through the martial arts and hockey. Many kids have benefited from that, and I know your organization has as well.
Training for people on SA is a recommendation of the Anti-Poverty Coalition; they wanted to see more opportunities for training and education for people on social assistance that could help lead to real qualifications and therefore, hopefully, to good jobs to get them out of the lower pay, or almost non-job market. The Anti-Poverty Coalition felt very strongly about that and, of course, the SA rates, which have not been changed for 15 years.
Thatís a long time. The most difficult area there is for families, and that is something that needs to be addressed. I know the government has identified a very small segment of people on SA who will get an increase, but it is not families and it is not broad ó it is not across the board. I believe it is time, after 15 years with the cost of living continually going up.
Iím going to close here pretty soon so other people can speak.
In the Yukon, the gap between the top and bottom incomes is wider than any other jurisdiction, anywhere else in Canada. There was a report put out called the Timmermans report, which identifies poverty in the Yukon as a major determinant of community health. I think I have said some figures earlier on, but in the Yukon it was identified as a very serious point. Indicators of increased poverty, of course, include the fact that the use of food programs and soup kitchens has increased dramatically, and I think on a monthly basis ó actually, I shouldnít even quote those figures, but it has gone up substantially, and I can come back and supply those at the close of debate. But there has been a steady increase, and there has been a different usage. Where it used to be single people, there has been quite an increase in the number of families now using food programs and soup kitchens. That says a lot. The use of shelters has gone up, of course.
As I say, there are a lot of areas that we need to address ó a lot of areas. We can probably talk forever on this one, but I think we need to speak to this motion and vote on it. Iím looking forward to hearing the opinions of my colleagues in this Legislature and moving forward and passing this one.
Mr. Rouble: I would like to start the debate today by sincerely thanking the leader of the official opposition for bringing forward this motion and for so passionately speaking about it. Clearly this is an issue that is very close to his heart, head and soul. Itís one that he has given a lot of thought to and one that he cares very dearly about. Iíd like to add, too, that overcoming poverty, building wealth and creating a better quality of life for all citizens is probably the number one goal of every good government. As a responsible government, the Yukon Party government has implemented a strategy to do just that.
I share part of the frustration of the member opposite, in preparing for this debate, in finding the lack of Yukon statistics that we could apply to the situation. We have some national standards on this. I shouldnít even use the word ďstandardsĒ; national indicators, national numbers. As the member opposite discussed, there isnít a standard that everyone can agree to and say that is what it means to be living in a poverty situation. There is still a considerable amount of debate over where that line is drawn, how it is drawn and how it can change.
As I mentioned, the number one objective for all good governments typically is overcoming poverty, building wealth and creating a better quality of life, and itís certainly something that the Yukon Party government is working toward. The Yukon government is building a revitalized, diversified economy. Itís putting people and communities to work. The Yukon government is tackling a wide range of social and economic issues, ensuring that Yukoners can live and work in healthy, thriving communities. The Yukon government is creating meaningful and effective partnerships with First Nations and other governments to the benefit of everyone in the Yukon.
In conjunction with other parts of society, we are actively taking steps to satisfy the needs of all Yukoners, to help those who require assistance and to create opportunities for all Yukoners. In addition to supporting and enhancing our strong social programs, we want to eliminate poverty. One of the ways you eliminate poverty is by the creation of prosperity ó anti-poverty, I think, is the creation of prosperity.
How can we create a strategy to bring prosperity to all Yukoners? I think that strategy, in conjunction with our other strong social programs, will help to end poverty.
Those are the activities that the Yukon Party government is focusing on. In the time weíve been in office, weíve seen some very positive results, indicating that our actions are having the desired results. If I may, Iíll just put some facts on the floor about the state of the economy. Iíll just refer members to the March 2005 Yukon monthly statistical review.
I think itís important to put things into a Yukon context. We donít have a lot of statistics, but we do have some indicators and I think itís important to take a look at them.
The Yukonís population as of December 2004 was 31,127 people. One year ago, in December 2003, the population was less than that: 30,255. Weíve seen an increase of 872 individuals, worth three percent of the population. So the population is growing.
The number of people employed in the Yukon as of March 2005 was 15,800, seasonally adjusted. This figure is an increase of 1,000, or 6.8 percent, from the March 2004 figure of 14,800. Comparing March 2005 with March 2004, our labour force has increased 5.1 percent from 15,800 to 16,600, an increase of 800. In the month of March 2005, the Yukonís rate of unemployment, 4.8 percent, was two percentage points lower than the rate for Canada of 6.9 percent.
If we take a look at the average weekly earnings, comparing preliminary figures for January 2005 with January 2004, the following changes in average weekly earnings can be seen: the average weekly wage for the Yukon increased $35.26, or 4.6 percent. Goods-producing industry wages increased $140.13, or 18.6 percent. Construction industry wages increased $113.72, or 15.7 percent. Service-producing industry wages increased $28.60, or 3.7 percent.
Trade industry wages increased to $25.39 or 4.5 percent.† Public administration wages increased $6.66 or .7 percent. Transportation and warehousing wages increased $66.74, or 9.0 percent. And accommodation and food service wages increased $77.68 or 19.5 percent. So we see that the population is growing. The number of people employed in the territory is growing. The average weekly wages that they are being paid is also increasing. Employment insurance claims in the Yukon decreased three percent from November to December 2004.
All this happened while the annual rate of inflation in Whitehorse was 1.8 percent. This is .3 percent lower than the national average. According to the consumer price index, overall food prices in Whitehorse in February 2005 decreased .6 percent, compared with the previous month. So, Mr. Speaker, the summary of that is that there are more people here, more people working and more people earning more. I think thatís a great start toward eliminating poverty or reducing it.
Mr. Speaker, nothing in life is perfect, but things are looking very good. When you ask Yukoners if they are better off now than they were a few years ago, there is a resounding, ďYes.Ē Mr. Speaker, I believe life is better and that weíre making a positive difference.
Now, the leader of the official opposition has put forward a very interesting and important motion, and I agree with a lot of it.
I canít agree that poverty will be eliminated in a specific time period by the creation of a single strategy. The issue is much more complex than that. As Iíve heard with a lot of issues out there, there are 50 different problems and they require at least 50 different solutions.
Now, in doing my homework for this debate, I consulted with some of the experts and the think tanks in this area. If I may quote from Mr. Marc Lee and his document Snakes and Ladders, which was prepared for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, he wrote that: ďTruly addressing long-term poverty requires commitments to make investments in people. More resources are required up-front to alleviate longterm poverty through a variety of mechanisms from education to social housing to addiction services. Over time, such investments will save public money, since a well-conceived plan that succeeds in reducing the population of Ďchronic poorí would have a significant impact on poverty rates while shrinking the loss to society of wasted human resources.
Finnie notes that: [P]roactive programs are, in fact, more costly than traditional social assistance programs in the short run. However, they should be seen as investments that hold the promise of large long-run payoffs if individuals can be made less dependent on cash handouts and are able to move into the economic mainstream and gradually climb up the socio-economic ladder as their initial, supported footholds gradually lead to better jobs, higher earnings, and economic independence.Ē
Clearly, Mr. Speaker, in order to combat the issue of poverty, we need a very broad, very inclusive, very holistic approach.
This is a very broad issue that faces all of society. There are government responsibilities, societal responsibilities and personal responsibilities that affect the situation. Indeed, there are also national and international forces that must be factored in.
But here in our Assembly, we usually focus on things that the Yukon government has some control over. So before we say that we need to throw out what we are currently doing and develop a new policy, letís look at what the Yukon government is currently doing.
As I said, Mr. Speaker, when we took office we committed to building a sustainable economy, improving the health of Yukon communities and achieving a better quality of life for all Yukoners. Those were commitments made and commitments delivered on. We have approached governing the territory with a comprehensive, inclusive, compassionate, holistic attitude, and each and every department of the government is working toward these objectives.
The Yukon government is building a revitalized and diversified economy that is putting people and communities to work. The Yukon government is tackling a wide range of social and economic issues, ensuring that Yukoners can live and work in healthy, thriving communities, and the Yukon government is creating meaningful and effective partnerships with First Nations and other governments to the benefit of everyone in the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, this isnít election propaganda or strategic planning mumbo-jumbo; these are the actions the Government of Yukon is taking. There is a very long list of accomplishments. Itís about building upon the successes of past governments and adding to them.
This is an important issue to me, and itís one that I was quite familiar with. I thought I had a pretty good handle on all the activities that were going on.
In preparing for our debate, in our caucus meetings, we did a round table and asked what we are doing to address this issue, just to make sure that everyone was in the loop. One of the challenges with any government is getting the information out there and making sure that people actually know about what activities are being performed, what programs are in place and what actually is being accomplished.
I was amazed to find out all the accomplishments and activities to date that the government has undertaken in order to build on the objectives. In rebuilding the economy, the territorial government established the Department of Economic Development, which focuses on business development, trade and investment. Theyíve developed the strategic industries development program, which works with industry sectors to plan for and benchmark development and opportunities such as the IT sector focus study, the valuable wood product survey, the beetle-kill wood product assessment workplan. They developed the strategic industries investment fund, which has 11 client agreements already underway with an investment of $357,000. They developed the enterprise development fund with $1 million; that commenced operations in August 2004 and already 31 projects have been approved to date. The department is developing regional development programs to improve the health of Yukon communities where over $500,000 has been invested. The regional economic development branch continues to establish a network among Yukon First Nations and communities as it addresses its mandate of organizational capacity development and regional economic development planning. It will support a First Nations economic summit in March and has been working at the community level in enabling both organizational capacity development and regional economic planning initiatives.
The branch is also engaged in assisting the implementation review group, part of the land claims secretariat, in developing a workplan template to facilitate the implementation of provisions of chapter 22 and other economic development provisions. The branch is also serving as a secretariat to the parties signatory to the north Yukon economic development partnership agreement. They have developed a regional economic development fund, with $500,000. To date, the branch has approved five projects for funding under the regional economic development fund, totalling over $77,000. They have negotiated the pan-northern economic development agreement, with $90 million over five years identified in the federal budget. The northern development investment partnership common principles state $30 million for each territory.
They have signed the north Yukon economic partnership. They have increased the level of total independent film productions and expenditures in the Yukon. They are taking work to develop a sustainable economy for Yukon communities that creates opportunities for business development and employment. This includes a memorandum of understanding between the Government of Yukon, White Pass & Yukon Route and the Carcross-Tagish First Nation that was signed on January 6. The agreement is in recognition of the potential to develop Carcross as a tourism destination. All parties to the agreement share a collective vision of a sustainable economy and tourism industry in the region.
Mr. Speaker, Iíll come back to that one, because it is very important to the health and growth and prosperity of the community.
Mr. Speaker, weíve seen an extension of the mineral exploration tax credit. The Yukon mineral incentive program projects have been approved and funded.
Priorities have been established for the Kaska economic table. The government has worked with Teck Cominco on the R-15 mineral development, where an agreement was reached under the Kaska bilateral and mineral exploration will be conducted. The government has signed an agreement in principle with the Kaska in regard to forestry. Drilling licences have been issued in the territory.
Pipeline preparedness: steps have been taken to develop an overview of the NEB regulatory approval process for the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and general strategy to ensure access to market for Yukon natural gas.
Weíve supported the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition and are working with the coalition on a workplan to secure federal funding in order to work collaboratively with all Yukon First Nations and non-coalition First Nations.
The government has been working to maximize economic opportunities for Yukon people, arising from the care and maintenance and eventual reclamation and closure of orphaned or abandoned mines.
There has been the Yukon government apprenticeship program, where the transportation division of Highways and Public Works provided three mechanic apprenticeship positions in Whitehorse. Advanced education has provided two positions in Dawson and two in Whitehorse for mechanical apprentices.
There have been Highways and Public Works infrastructure improvements, which have resulted in job creation and economic stimuli. We only have to look at our budget debate to see all the different projects and investment in Yukon communities that that is making.
There has been enhancement of the Yukon craft strategy where $60,000 for training and marketing has been invested. Weíve ensured First Nation participation in buyer shows and held product development workshops. Thereís work being done on waterfront development. The Canadian strategic infrastructure fund is nationally allocating money in a 50/50 split for waterfront development in Whitehorse and Carcross. Tourism and Culture is promoting the establishment of a waterfront task force to ensure coordination of four governments in maximizing efficiencies and development efforts. These are all activities again investing in our community, in building the capacity of Yukoners and increasing the opportunities for Yukoners to prosper.
This government hasnít increased any taxes or fees. That has been an important step in leaving money in Yukonersí pockets. Weíve reinstated the FireSmart program with an annual budget of $1.5 million. These funds have employed about 160 people in communities throughout the Yukon. Weíre maxing the benefits for Yukoners under the federal funding programs. This includes things such as the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund.
Community training funds: $1.5 million is going to be allocated in the 2005-06 budget as part of this governmentís commitment to maintaining the community training trust fund. There has been a significant investment in Yukon schools all across the territory. The student grant has been indexed and $100,000 is allocated in the 2005-06 budget to index the student grant to the cost of living.
As the members opposite said, this is a very broad issue where there are many different factors at play and many different points to consider. In the memberís presentation, he discussed student loans and the impact that that had on the decision either to go to school, to stay in school, the length of the stay in school. Well, Mr. Speaker, this is a significant example of how this government is looking at and is addressing the issue. This is a specific concrete example about how some of the memberís concerns are being addressed ó well, 100,000 reasons how theyíre being addressed with student grant indexing.
Weíre going to see an investment in the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. There has been a significant expansion in alternative education and apprenticeship programs. The department has created and implemented three new apprenticeship categories: heavy equipment technician, off-road, motor transportation technician, truck-trailer technician. Piping trades programs were offered at Yukon College in the winter and spring. We are supporting efforts to train Yukoners for oil and gas jobs by offering entry-level petroleum industry training service certified courses at Yukon College that are underway. $200,000 has been invested for a youth employment program, which is up $75,000 from last year. There is $50,000 for high school students to access college programs. The fund promotions are underway. There is $35,000 to implement trades promotion.
The Individual Learning Centre and alternative learning school opened in February 2005 to encourage high school dropouts to return to school. Mr. Speaker, one of the contributing factors of individuals living in poverty is level of education. Itís not the only one. We all know there are many, but one of them is the level of education. The longer we can get our Yukoners to stay in school, the better ó the better for their opportunities. Iíd like to see every Yukoner have a high school graduation diploma. This is one more step to encourage people to stay in school ó one more way of assisting them, one more way of breaking the cycle of poverty.
As I mentioned, there has been $250,000 for O&M funding and $83,000 capital spent on the implementation of the alternative school. Apprenticeship programs have been updated.
The agreement with Canada Health Infoway ó $416,000: another significant contributing factor for individuals living in poverty is health. Investments we can make in health care will have a significant impact on those individualsí lives and, again, hopefully break the circle of poverty.
The primary health care transition fund ó weíve seen a significant increase in that. There has been the development of the Yukon HealthGuide and established access to the B.C.-Yukon health guide site.
The development of the chronic disease management program, electronic health record, drug, and client registry system planning is underway. A mental health system has been implemented, and a public health system pilot project is underway.
Work is being undertaken on multi-level care facilities, with conceptual design work completed on care facilities in Dawson City and Watson Lake. Feasibility studies have been completed for Teslin and Haines Junction.
Again, Mr. Speaker, we have the issues of seniors and the challenges that some seniors face, including living in poverty. Investing in multi-level care facilities is one way of addressing their needs and addressing the overall issue.
A five-step fetal alcohol syndrome disorder action plan has been implemented, with three more training workshops for professionals completed and ongoing. Weíve seen a counsellor seconded to Justice to deliver programming at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre for substance abuse. Enhancements were made to the Yukon child benefit in July 2004. Increases were made to the pioneer utility grant ó an increase of 25 percent, and then indexed against inflation was done in 2004, with an additional 10-percent increase to the base, effective October 2005.
There has been an expansion in seniors housing. The Yukon Housing Corporation partnered with private enterprise to develop seniors-friendly condo units in Takhini, and more were recently announced. I know they donít satisfy every individualís need all the time, but no program can do that. The projects that were announced in the previous couple of days by the minister responsible do satisfy a need of many seniors. Does it satisfy all of them? No, but then again, Mr. Speaker, we all recognize that there is no one magic solution. We have different solutions for different problems.
The minister responsible for the Housing Corporation can certainly elaborate on how this situation and this new housing will address the needs of many seniors.
Childcare, Mr. Speaker ó the government has responded to the strategic planning document, a four-year plan for Yukon early childhood education and care. They have responded by increasing the direct operating grant by $675,000, with funding split between wages and operating cost for childcare operators. Additional dollars have been provided to the supported childcare, and additional money has been provided to the public education campaign.
Mr. Speaker, earlier the member opposite also addressed the issue of smoking and the impact that has on individuals. Well, there has been a tobacco reduction strategy. In conjunction with federal funding, a mass media tobacco reduction campaign aimed at young adults was conducted.
The alcohol and drug addiction survey: $160,000 was negotiated with Health Canada to implement a survey in Yukon. Canada Winter Games ó well, Mr. Speaker, the issue of poverty is one that affects so many different aspects of our lives. Sometimes having a cultural activity or a sporting activity can be one of those objectives that we work toward, that we get involved with as a volunteer, that fires us up. It certainly will have an impact on the spirit and the feeling in the community, creating the feeling and the desire to work in a prosperous world.
Mr. Speaker, one of the other very exciting initiatives of this government was to establish the workplace diversity employment office. This office was set up to work with people with disabilities and people of Yukon aboriginal ancestry to find ways to increase their opportunities for employment within the Yukon government.
I think itís very important to include these groups ó include all Yukoners, for that matter ó in the Yukon workplace. Iím very happy to see that the government is working with people with disabilities to ensure that they have more access to opportunities within the Yukon government.
There has been an increased opportunity for young people within the Yukon government. Job experience programs are consolidated into one policy document to make it easier to access and make use of the different programs. We want to make it easier for our Yukon youth to come back and work in the Yukon once they have education. I think that will be another big step in combating youth unemployment and therefore youth poverty.
Weíve expanded the alternative education and apprenticeship programs, and initiated the resource exploration training course, which provides people in the communities with skills to work in the exploration field. We reinstated the Yukon excellence awards. This has been expanded to new areas ó math, science. It makes it exciting and interesting for the kids and youth and it rewards positive behaviour, which I think is another important point to make with our young people today.
Weíve seen sport and recreation improvements for Yukon communities with upgrades to the Beaver Creek community hall gymnasium underway. A new community hall is underway in Ross River, and recent recreation regulation amendments will increase annual grants for the outdoor pools, for community recreation programming, operation and maintenance, and for recreation staff salaries.
There have been Yukon Housing Corporation joint ventures with private enterprise, which have seen the support of 10 senior-friendly condo units in Takhini and an energy-efficient 12-plex of condos is under construction in downtown Whitehorse. Four of the units are for seniors.
There have been improvements to social housing and staff housing. The affordable housing program was launched in January. That program encourages industry to meet the need for energy-efficient, affordable, barrier-free housing.
This government has excluded child support payments in the calculation of tenantsí rents in Yukon Housing Corporationís social housing. Low-income parents in social housing are now able to retain more disposable income for use in meeting other needs of their children ó clearly another step at addressing the needs of those living in a poverty situation.
There has been a social housing evaluation completed, with the Yukon being the first jurisdiction in Canada to complete the review required by CMHC under the social housing agreement. This evaluation determined that the Yukon Housing Corporationís social housing program is consistent with its goals, objectives and priorities.
Priority housing has been worked on for women and children leaving Yukonís transition homes. The Womenís Directorate has been collaborating with Yukon Housing Corporation in recognizing this as a priority in social housing allocation and exploring policy options.
In March 2004 we saw the womenís forum, which brought 44 women together from across the territory to strategize on how to more effectively collaborate together.
We also saw the policy forum on womenís issues. In response to requests from aboriginal women, the Womenís Directorate worked with aboriginal womenís organizations to host a policy forum on women, leadership and self-governance, and 35 aboriginal women met to dialogue on social priorities within their communities.
Weíve seen an investment in leadership training and skills development for womenís initiatives under the self-advocacy training development program. This program worked with young women to develop self-advocacy training for low-income women and women who canít afford a lawyer and who cannot access legal aid.
Literacy strategy: again, one of the impediments to working in a chosen career path or progressing on a career path is the ability to read. Literacy is a very important issue and it is one that this government is investing in with $100,000 allocated to update the Yukon literacy strategy. Also, weíre seeing the expansion of full-day kindergarten. Full-day kindergarten will be expanded to all Whitehorse schools and some rural schools over a two-year period, beginning in September 2005.
At the Whitehorse Correctional Centre weíre seeing an enhanced offender program where group counselling programs for substance abuse are being conducted, where there are courses designed to help the individuals who are incarcerated to gain employment once they are released, in areas such as small engine repair and industrial first aid. Also, Yukon College courses and related programming are being offered.
This government enacted the Decision Making, Support and Protection to Adults Act. We debated that in this Assembly. The purpose of this legislation is to provide a legal framework and authority for supported and substitute decision-making and the appointment of guardians for people with reduced mental capacity to make decisions for them.
This affects elderly people with dementia, people with intellectual disabilities, people with mental illness and people with brain injuries. We have seen an expansion of mental health services.
Mr. Speaker, in the area of building partnerships, which are vital to rebuilding the Yukon economy, in working with all aspects of the population, especially the Yukon First Nations, we have established priorities for the Kaska economic table. There has been the Kaska-Yukon AIP on forestry. There has been a resource planning agreement for southeast Yukon. We supported First Nations on Alaska Highway pipeline issues. Another activity is the upcoming drug summit, which the member opposite discussed, where Justice is taking the lead on organizing the drug summit that will take place in the spring of 2005.
So, Mr. Speaker, what we have is a very, very long list of programs, initiatives and accomplishments designed to work with Yukoners and Yukon communities to address some of the issues surrounding poverty. Now, Mr. Speaker, again, no one solution can satisfy the entire issue all of the time. So there might be some debate as to whether or not each and every one of those issues directly resolves the problem. I donít think any one of those things does. But the important part is that each one is a step on the journey toward eliminating poverty.
Now, Mr. Speaker, one of the commitments that the Yukon Party government made was to work with communities. One of the recent accomplishments that I was very pleased to see was the recent Destination: Carcross summit.
This is the second summit, the second meeting of its kind. It came out of a memorandum of understanding between the White Pass & Yukon Route, the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and the Government of Yukon. Itís an agreement for these orders of government and a private corporation to work together on developing the economy and enhancing the life of people in the Carcross area. They created a vision for the area, that Carcross will become a sustainable, year-round tourism destination where we celebrate and share the beauty and richness of our land, First Nations culture and gold rush history. Weíre seeing an initiative where a private company and two orders of government are working together to address the needs of people in a community. It was a very positive meeting and it is very positive to see these different orders of government, different departments and different businesses working together toward the common goal. I was particularly gratified to see the involvement from the Yukon territorial government.
This is an issue where weíre looking at enhancing the economy of a specific community. I think you could reasonably expect to see the Department of Economic Development there, and they certainly were. So was the Department of Tourism. This government recognizes that there is more to building a sustainable economy in a community than just that. It has to have the involvement of other departments, so during these presentations we saw representation from Economic Development, Tourism and Culture, Community Services, Highways and Public Works, Education, advanced education branch and Yukon College.
All the different departments within the Yukon government were working together collaboratively to resolve the issue. Again, itís not a situation in which one solution will fit the bill. We have to have different solutions, and we have to draw upon the different parts of government to resolve this.
Now, Mr. Speaker, that is what the government is doing, and it is having the desired results, as we demonstrated by the results coming from Yukon statistics. As I mentioned earlier, this isnít an issue that affects just one department. We donít have a minister responsible for prosperity. All the different departments are involved. The specific departments also have their own refined focused mandates and programs. Whether itís the Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Education or Yukon Housing Corporation, we have many programs and projects that are designed to make individuals less dependent on cash handouts and assist them in moving into the economic mainstream and gradually climbing up the socio-economic ladder.
The Department of Health and Social Services has its own anti-poverty strategy, which was developed in 1998 and which I would like to tell all members is still in place. This is still the guiding document. It was prepared by a previous government, but it has some good stuff in it. So we didnít throw it out because it wasnít our idea ó no, we said, ďHey, thereís some good stuff in here.Ē A previous government made a good decision and implemented some good ideas. Weíre building upon that.
Now, the core strategies of this anti-poverty strategy are to improve the health status of low-income families. From the list that I presented earlier, we have definitely seen some strategies as to how that is being addressed.
Providing education and training and promoting attachment to the workforce: weíve seen a $1-million increase to the base grant for Yukon College. Weíve seen enhancements to the trades programs. Weíve seen enhancements to educational opportunities throughout the territory.
Supporting the creation of jobs and economic opportunities: this government reinstated the Department of Economic Development. Itís actively working with the federal government on a northern strategy. The Department of Economic Development is specifically working with Yukoners and Yukon communities on the programs that I listed earlier to create jobs and increase economic opportunities for all Yukoners.
The next core strategy is decreasing barriers to full social and economic participation in Yukon society due to discrimination based on gender, race, age, source of income, religion or disability. Discrimination in any form has no place in our society today. One of the things this government has actively done, as I discussed earlier, was the implementation of the workplace disability coordinator, which is working, again, to decrease barriers for individuals seeking employment with the territorial government and increasing opportunities for them. We have no place for discrimination based on gender, race, age, source of income, religion or disability. In fact, we are taking steps to assist those who have been discriminated against in the past to help them move forward.
Another core strategy is ensuring universal access to comprehensive health, education and social services. Indeed, this is being done. As I outlined earlier, the programs and services are being enhanced and expanded, ensuring that the basic needs of all people are met.
This is a strategy that was put forward by the past government and one that is still being worked on today.
Thatís in the Department of Health and Social Services, where they are responsible for many different programs and services that are designed to meet the needs of Yukoners. These include the Yukon child benefit, the childrenís drug and optical program, the kids recreation fund, the healthy families initiative and the food for learning program. These are all good initiatives that are designed ó well, we canít address, in one fell swoop, the whole problem, but we can address parts of it.
The member opposite also discussed some of the issues that seniors face. I can bring all members up to speed as to what programs, support and assistance are available to seniors. In the Yukon, we have the Yukon seniors income supplement. This program provides for an income supplement of up to $100 per month to seniors receiving the federal guaranteed income supplement. This supplement provides additional financial assistance to low-income seniors. We have the pioneer utility grant, where $920,000 was invested. Itís an annual grant to partially offset the cost of utilities for seniors who own or rent their homes. Funding in the amount of $750 per year per household is available. Effective the 2004-05 fiscal year, this amount will be indexed to the rate of inflation; so, Mr. Speaker, itís guaranteed to increase if inflation increases.
The territorial government provides social assistance, which provides seniors in need with allowances for items of basic and supplementary needs. We have the pharmacare program, which covers the cost of prescription drugs that are not covered by other legislation or private insurance. Mr. Speaker, there is no deductible for this program.
We have the extended health care benefits program, which provides seniors with financial assistance to help cover the cost of approved medical and surgical supplies, artificial limbs, hearing aids, medical equipment, dental care and optical care. We have the medical travel program, which provides the cost of travel and subsidies to eligible persons for medically necessary transportation, as certified by a Yukon medical practitioner and approved by the medical advisor of the program.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Rouble: The member opposite asks how much. In that debate, I think it would also be important to look at whether or not these programs are even offered in other jurisdictions. The members opposite constantly compare it to two other jurisdictions in Canada, but as we all know, Mr. Speaker, the rest of Canada includes much more than the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. What are other jurisdictions doing? Mr. Speaker, this is one important program that we have that provides assistance to seniors.
Mr. Speaker, funding in the amount of over $20 million is allocated to the continuing care branch. There might have been a typo in that, Mr. Speaker, so I will just say it is a significant amount. This includes funding for branch support services, home care and therapy services and all facility-based care.
Specific services provided through the community care branch include home and community care, which provides supports to clients in Whitehorse and rural Yukon communities such as home support, where the services include personal care and homemaking services. Additionally, there are therapy services and nursing services.
Yukon currently has three continuing care facilities: Copper Ridge Place is the new facility for high-level care, where there are 83 beds in operation; Macaulay Lodge is the home for 37 residents requiring intermediate care; and McDonald Lodge provides residential care services for Dawson City residents.
Other services provided through the continuing care branch include day programs, which provide hot meals, baths, social activities and outings for frail elderly persons and persons with early stage dementia. Thereís the meals-on-wheels program. Thereís the respite program. There is a palliative care program. The department integrates fall prevention programs into their home care services, day programs and facility-based care programs. The department provides financial assistance in the amount of $184,000 to the City of Whitehorse for the operation of the Handy Bus. This provides for persons with mobility restrictions who are unable to use regular public transportation in Whitehorse. Mr. Speaker, it is another way for seniors to get around if they have challenges. There is assistance provided to the Yukon Council on Aging and to Signpost Seniors.
With the Yukon Housing Corporation there is assistance provided in the accommodating home mortgage program. There is also the rent-geared-to-income social housing program. The Yukon Housing Corporation administers the Yukonís social housing program. This program works to assist those most in need of affordable, adequate and suitable housing to obtain such housing where it is not otherwise available on the private market. Rents charged for subsidized housing do not exceed 25 percent of gross household income. Also, we have the affordable housing agreement where the Yukon Housing Corporation has identified seniors housing as its top priority under an affordable housing agreement signed with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Throughout this program, the Yukon Housing Corporation and CMHC are exploring ways to maximize the benefit of the federal funding contribution to increase the Yukonís inventory of affordable housing stock.
Also, the Community Services department administers the seniors property tax deferment program. This allows seniors the option of deferring property taxes on homes they live in, which will increase their disposable income. We also have the seniors homeowners grant, which promotes home ownership among seniors and increases their disposable income by providing a grant equivalent to 75 percent of the general taxes to a maximum of $500 per household. Also, Mr. Speaker, there are numerous other associations and groups that assist and provide support for seniors, such as the Greenwood activity centre, the Golden Age Society, ElderActive Recreation Association, seniors recreation programs, Hospice Yukon Society, Grandparentsí Rights Association, the Yukon chronic condition self-management program, Alzheimer Support Group, diabetes education program, special flu clinics, foot clinics and blood pressure clinics. There are many different programs that this government and other organizations in the Yukon are working on to address the needs of seniors.
Weíve heard about what the Department of Health and Social Services is doing to address the issue of poverty. We also have the Department of Education.
The Department of Education is working on addressing the issue of poverty in the Yukon in a very proactive way. They do this with such programs as the community training funds. This year, $1.5 million is allocated in the budget for community training funds; $200,000 has been budgeted for the youth employment program; $50,000 has been allocated for high school students to access Yukon College programs to increase course options for Yukon high school students; an awareness campaign targeted to students, teachers and parents will continue to promote trades as a desirable career option; $100,000 is being allocated in the budget to keep the student grant index to the cost of living; and the wage rate for the student training and employment program has been increased.
The Department of Education is also working with Yukon College with community training trust funds. At Yukon College, they have established a training program that will assist students affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to successfully complete academic or vocational programs and enable them to make successful transitions into the labour market in their communities. This is another example of this governmentís commitment to working with those with disabilities to improve their educational opportunities to improve the number of opportunities that they have for employment and, ultimately, to lead a meaningful life down the road.
The Department of Education has also expanded apprentice programs. It has expanded alternative education. It is working with First Nation support in the school, where $30,000 was allocated to the elders in the schools program ó another very interesting program, not only increasing the cultural and learning components in our schools, but working to make a more inclusive school by bringing the elders from our communities into the schools.
Weíve seen the five-step fetal alcohol spectrum disorder action plan being implemented, where $132,000 has been identified for FASD training and support for teachers.
The base funding for Yukon College was increased by $1 million. That will have a very significant impact on the lives of the students there.
This government has initiated the resource exploration training course that has provided people in Dawson City, Haines Junction and Whitehorse with skills to work in the resource exploration field.
Mr. Speaker, the Department of Education is very involved with many different programs, from literacy to education programs at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and, again, to the indexing of the student grant. We believe that by having better educated Yukoners, those Yukoners will have more choices, more opportunities and the ability to make better decisions in their lives and ultimately lead a better, more successful life.
Another department that is also very involved in the anti-poverty strategy is the Yukon Housing Corporation. Its programs include the home ownership program, the owner-build program, the extended mortgage guarantee program, the accommodating home mortgage program, the mobile home equity exchange program, mobile home purchase assistance and mobile home relocation assistance. They have an affordable housing program. They have assistance with the home repair program and the energy audit program or the mobile home emergency repair program.
Yukon Housing Corporation is also very involved in social housing and in the joint venture program. We have heard announcements in the last couple of days of Yukon Housing Corporationís involvement in the affordable home program and in encouraging and working with private sector developers to increase the inventory in the Yukon for seniors of affordable, friendly housing: all great initiatives.
Clearly there are many, many programs underway and initiatives underway toward implementing this strategy. The government has a strategy, and it has been implementing it. Now, cutting everyone a cheque just for being a Yukoner will not eliminate poverty or eliminate the problems that cause it, and I donít believe that Yukoners want to live in a welfare state. Yukoners want to work, they want to contribute, they want to make a difference, and they want to be rewarded for their efforts.
Mr. Speaker, Yukoners want a hand up, not a handout.
This isnít a simple subject. There are many different facets to it. One of the issues that the member opposite brought up is the issue of minimum wage. Since finding out that the motion was being called, I had the opportunity to do a bit of research on this, which was by no means exhaustive. I found that the jury is still out as to whether or not the minimum wage is an effective tool for eliminating poverty. Mr. Speaker, according to a document, entitled The Economics of Minimum Wage, by Marc T. Law, which is available on-line, they do an analysis of the economics of minimum wage. Some of their conclusions are, and I quote, ďIncreases in the minimum wage are likely to reduce employment opportunities for young and unskilled workers. Most empirical studies estimate that a 10-percent increase in the minimum wage reduces the rate of employment among youth (ages 15-25) by 1 to 3 percent.Ē Number two: ďIncreases in the minimum wage have other adverse economic impacts. Empirical studies show that when minimum wages rise, employers offer fewer fringe benefits and reduce on-the-job training. Furthermore, high minimum wage rates are associated with higher school dropout rates, as the increase in the minimum wage induces teenage workers to leave school in search of employment.Ē
Mr. Speaker, they concluded by saying: ďHence, the consensus among economists about the impacts of the minimum wage and its efficacy in raising the incomes of the poor remain: higher minimum wages are unlikely to raise the incomes of the poor. Rather, they are likely to reduce employment opportunities for the unskilled and raise the incomes of certain low-wage workers who do not necessarily come from low-income families.Ē
I expanded my search a little bit and also found that the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had commented on this issue. If I can quote from their FastFacts document: ďFinally, it is important to recognize that at no time in our work have we suggested that increases in the minimum wage are the silver bullet that will resolve the poverty problem. On the contrary, our position is that minimum wage increases are but one piece of a broader strategy to reduce income inequities and poverty, a broader strategy that includes a more progressive income tax system, a restoration of unemployment insurance benefits to pre-Martin pre-Axworthy levels, universal and affordable daycare, an expansion in public and cooperative housing and enhanced training and educational opportunities.Ē
The federal government has responsibilities in a lot of those issues, but in the areas of increased access to daycare, the Yukon has the second best funded daycare system in Canada. Itís one that this government has worked very hard to improve and I think all members can agree that there have been significant improvements made to this system.
As for an expansion in public and cooperative housing, we are seeing the results of the affordable housing program. It is succeeding. Itís having the desired effect. The members opposite might not like some of the rental rates, but thatís the reality of the situation. As for advanced training and educational opportunities, I donít think members need me to read the list again of the million-dollar investment or increase in funding to Yukon College and the enhancement in the programs there, or the indexing of the student grants, but this is a government that is clearly dedicated to enhancing training and educational opportunities for Yukoners.
The jury is still out about whether or not raising the minimum wage will have the desired effect. It is certainly an area that needs more thought and research into it before a decision is made. I also understand that the Employment Standards Board, whose function it is to hear the appeals of certificates and other decisions made by the director of employment standards, also recommends the minimum wage and fair wage schedule rates to Cabinet and advises ministers on matters referred to it.
Mr. Speaker, I understand that we already have a board in place that is mandated with looking at the minimum wage. Perhaps thatís the area that we should be focusing on having this organization examine the issue and make recommendations.
Now, Mr. Speaker, by the continued efforts of this government, we are creating more opportunities for more Yukoners: more opportunities in education, more opportunities in housing, more opportunities in employment, more opportunities in business, and more opportunities will have a significant impact on the issue of poverty.
Mr. Speaker, this motion calls for the government to develop an effective, comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, but I suggest that we are well beyond the development stage. We are certainly in the implementation stage and the results monitoring stage. In fact, weíre still implementing the previous NDP strategy. The difference is we are taking concrete action and seeing specific results.
Now, I appreciate the oppositionís intent to be inclusive in who their motion should apply to, and their motion does state ďfor any Yukon person.Ē However, it goes on to qualify this as being ďregardless of age, gender, cultural background or employment status to live in a condition of povertyĒ.
Now, I find that by being specific, they have missed one very important point, and that is that the motion does not speak specifically to those Yukoners with a disability. I think thatís a very important point to consider in this matter and one that should be included. In order to address the anti-poverty situation, we need to address the concerns of those with a disability and those with chronic health problems. There are certainly individuals out there who need and deserve our assistance.
This government takes the issue of poverty, education, employment and health and welfare of Yukoners very seriously, and steps are being taken to address them. I agree that more can be done to work with all Yukoners on this situation and that we as a society need to constantly address it. The decision to act on this, and the strategy to implement action, has already begun.
Iím agreeing with the motion but I believe that it needs to be amended to reflect that. We need to give credit to the work that is done, to the strategy that a previous government has implemented and put in place, and we need to give credit to build upon the existing strategy and include those with a disability.
Mr. Rouble: I move
THAT Motion No. 427 be amended by:
(1) replacing the words ďthe developmentĒ with the words ďcontinuing the implementationĒ; and
(2) replacing the words ďthat will, within a decadeĒ with the words ďcentred on creating the conditions for sustained private sector economic growth, investing in providing skills training for Yukoners to facilitate opportunities for employment, working with employers to eliminate impediments to those with disabilities and maintaining the social safety net for those who are unable to work toĒ; and
(3) inserting the word ďdisabilityĒ between the phrase ďcultural backgroundĒ and the phrase ďor employment statusĒ.
Speaker: The amendment, as presented, is in order.
It has been moved by the Member for Southern Lakes:
THAT Motion No. 427 be amended by:
(1) replacing the words ďthe developmentĒ with the words ďcontinuing the implementationĒ; and
(2) replacing the words ďthat will, within a decadeĒ with the words ďcentred on creating the conditions for sustained private sector economic growth, investing in providing skills training for Yukoners to facilitate opportunities for employment, working with employers to eliminate impediments to those with disabilities and maintaining the social safety net for those who are unable to work toĒ; and
(3) inserting the word ďdisabilityĒ between the phrase ďcultural background,Ē and the phrase ďor employment statusĒ.
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, for the membersí convenience, if supported, the amended motion would now read:
THAT this House calls upon the Yukon government to assign top priority status to continuing the implementation of an effective comprehensive anti-poverty strategy centred on creating the conditions for sustained private sector economic growth, investing in providing skills training for Yukoners to facilitate opportunities for employment, working with employers to eliminate impediments to those with disabilities and maintaining the social safety net for those who are unable to work, to eliminate the need for any Yukon person, regardless of age, gender, cultural background, disability or employment status to live in a condition of poverty.
Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of different objectives in this friendly amendment. Number one is to identify and acknowledge that there has been a strategy in place, there have been efforts to date, and that steps are actively being taken to reduce poverty within our community. We have an existing strategy. We need to build on it and enhance it and to continue to implement it rather than just throw it out and start all over again.
The second objective is to put in some specific things that we can work on in order to accomplish the overall objective of eliminating poverty. The third thing is, while I recognize that the statement is for any Yukon person, I found that when it was qualified with additional modifiers ó Iím not suggesting it was done intentionally; in fact, I expect it was done unintentionally, but I felt that those individuals with disabilities werenít fully acknowledged.
The issue of those people with disabilities living in a condition of poverty is an important issue, and it is certainly one that needs to be addressed. I would personally like to see the motion have some specifics in it about addressing the needs of those individuals with a disability who are living in a situation of poverty.
The specifics in the motion are that the strategy be centred on creating the conditions for sustained private sector economic growth, which will provide employment opportunities for Yukoners, which will, of course, help build the level of prosperity in the community.
In (2), we will be investing and providing skills training for Yukoners to facilitate opportunities for employment. Investing in education is something I feel very strongly about and strongly support. I think itís a very concrete step we can take to create the long-term impact and changes that we all desire to see.
Number (3) has us working with employers to eliminate impediments to those with disabilities. Again, this addresses the specific needs that Yukoners with disabilities have. I think we need to take steps as a government, both within our government and within the private sector, to increase the number of opportunities for individuals, whether that be assistance with changing a physical layout, or assistance with programs to provide training, or assistance with other needs they might have. Iím certainly not an expert in all the solutions for this, but I think we need to find some.
This motion also speaks to maintaining the social safety net for those who are unable to work. I think we can all appreciate that there are many individuals in our society in need, and in need of assistance and support from the rest of us. We have situations that weíre all familiar with, and we need to improve the social safety net to effect some positive change for individuals who are unable to work.
I speak in support of the memberís motion. I think it just needed a little bit of fine-tuning. The big thing was recognizing the work that has already been undertaken. I donít think itís about creating a brand new strategy; indeed, a lot of work has been undertaken by this government, by previous governments, and by the previous NDP government to address the situation. I think all governments are interested in addressing the situation of poverty and want to take steps to alleviate it. I think all governments want to see communities in their area prosper, the individuals grow, the people to have opportunities ó opportunities for personal growth, personal development, personal change ó and the ability to go on and lead a happy and successful and enjoyable life.
I would ask all members to support whatís intended to be a very friendly amendment. Itís building upon and agreeing with many of the positions the member opposite has put forward, but again, it just recognizes the efforts of those who have gone before us. It provides some specific directions and it includes, or makes more inclusive, the different segments of our population that we want to see some specific attention paid to.
I would ask all members to support the amendment.
Mr. Hardy: I am going to be very brief.
I have to disagree with the amendment, because we believe it substantially changes our motion. Itís not a friendly amendment at all, in any way, shape or form.
We had to sit here and listen to an hour and one-half ó an hour and twenty minutes ó to a member in the back, the Member for Southern Lakes, read the budget book to us. He indicated to us that all the things in the budget and everything that has ever happened are because of that governmentís actions. I do understand his comments in the last few minutes, where he has indicated that this is in recognition of what has happened in the past, but, Iím sorry, this is definitely not a friendly amendment.
What are we asking for? Itís a very simple request ó very simple ó and with a timeline. What is so scary about a timeline? Without a timeline, without a deadline, without a goal, how are we going to get there? Will we just keep wandering around, bringing forward some good things and some bad, hoping that maybe weíll get the right ones? Instead, we could work together.
What did we ask for? We asked for the development of an effective, comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. What is so difficult about that? Why is the Yukon Party government so opposed to that request? It is a request that has come from the Anti-Poverty Coalition. They have made that request to this government. Itís a request we have brought forward. Why are they so opposed to it? I canít understand it. Why do they bring forward an amendment to totally gut it?
Continuing the implementation? What implementation?
Spending taxpayersí money on a budget that every government does ó we targeted something very specific. This just became very, very unfocused. To remove the words ďthat will, within a decadeĒ totally removes a goal ó totally. I canít believe that this was even accepted. The words ďcentred on creating the conditions for sustained private sector economic growth, investing in providing skills training for Yukoners to facilitate opportunities for employmentĒ ó this has been taken out of another pamphlet. Let that be developed by the people of this territory, let that be developed by the Anti-Poverty Coalition, along with all the other NGOs and people who are interested in that. Thatís what weíre asking for ó an effective, comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, with a goal and a timeline.
The only thing I can agree with in this whole amendment is the addition of disability because, yes, if weíre going to list all of them, it should be there. That was a mistaken on our part, and I totally agree with the member opposite. I thank him for pointing that out, because that was definitely not intended.
If this is a friendly amendment ó I will put it back to that member opposite ó withdraw everything but the reference to disability, and we can move forward. That is a friendly suggestion on this motion. If he doesnít, Iíll assume that this was not a friendly amendment, because there was no intention to even try to work in this direction.
I gave suggestions about some of the ideas that have been brought forward to this government, to this minister ó minimum wage increase, SA rate increases, real affordable housing, social housing, and a multitude of other ideas that are not listed in this friendly amendment but that would have a real, direct impact.
Suggestions have been brought forward by the Toronto Dominion economic think-tank from which you would not normally see these suggestions coming forward, from people who are very passionate about poverty in the Yukon ó the Anti-Poverty Coalition, that group, that very valuable group that gets so little support. Theyíre willing to volunteer a huge amount of their time to address something such as poverty. This is exactly what they want and this member opposite and this government opposite guts it. I find it an absolute insult. We brought this in with good faith. We tried to keep the discussions ó
Speaker: Order please. From the Chairís perspective, Iím not comfortable with the way the leader of the official opposition is heading in terms of calling it an insult. I would think that would be, if not unparliamentary, then sort of bordering on it, and I would just ask you to ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: If in fact I confused your terminology and it was you being insulted, I understand that. If itís the government insulting you, then I would take objection to that. So if in fact Iím wrong, I apologize, but I will review the Blues. You have the floor.
Mr. Hardy: Iím a little confused now too, but if you review the Blues, then we can talk about it. Thank you.
I am upset. I am upset about a change to the motion that we thought was a very non-political, attached to no party, motion. This is a government with members who stand up on a regular basis and talk about all the motions we have passed, and this one they could not do.
I find that disgraceful, from my position. There was an opportunity to pass this one. It doesnít point fingers at anybody ó not a soul in here. Why the problem? Do they feel they would not be able to live up to creating a strategy in 10 years; that they would not be able to work with the Anti-Poverty Coalition? Is that their problem ó because itís a group they donít want to work with? Is their problem that they might have to talk to people who live in poverty about real issues? Is that what theyíre scared of? Hearing opinions that differ from their own ó is that their challenge? This amendment is all about employment..
I already mentioned ó how does employment help a 75-year-old senior on a fixed income? How does it? Does it give him or her a job? I donít think so. I donít see anything in here that says, ďworking with employers to eliminate impediments to those with disabilities, including age.Ē I donít see that. How does a job fix that? I donít understand.
Our motion was broad enough and inclusive enough ó with the nice suggestion from the member opposite to put in ďdisabilityĒ, which is perfectly fine and acceptable. It makes it even better. Iíll tell you, Mr. Speaker, I know exactly what they were doing and exactly what is intended here. I am upset that this is gamesmanship around people who live in poverty ó who have so very little.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Lake Laberge, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, in suggesting that the motives of the government or the motives of the Member for Southern Lakes are gamesmanship, the Member for Whitehorse Centre is imputing false or unavowed motives, contrary to Standing Order 19(g).
Speaker: There is no point of order. Iím not done yet; Iím thinking about this.
This is a passionate, heartfelt debate on both sides of the floor. In this instance, I am allowing latitude that I would perhaps not allow in other debates. I would ask the members to work with me in terms of that. I will try to keep everyone within their parameters.
Mr. Hardy: I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, because I am going to be very blunt here.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: No, Iím not going to do anything, but I am willing to get thrown out of this House over this issue. If I have to say something that I feel so passionate about ó because many of these people do not have a voice in our society. There are just a few people willing to stand up and bring in a motion once in awhile and not see it changed like this. These people are not numbers. They are Yukon people and Yukon seniors. They have paid their dues. There are children who are living without; they are single mothers who are struggling; there are people with disabilities who, day in and day out, try to make it.
They are people with a multitude of issues, and they do not have a voice. I really, really resent this, because this motion is not a motion that needs to be changed. That is why I say that there is something happening here that I completely disagree with, and it is politics of the worst nature. Why is this so difficult to accept? Why does the Yukon Party have so much trouble with this?
Mr. Speaker, they do not know what poverty is about. Every day I walk through my riding and I see it ó every day. I married somebody who lived in poverty, and I hear the stories and I know the stories. And I mean real poverty, not fabricated poverty, not poverty that you see that has been coloured over, but poverty where you may not eat for four days and the mother has to go out and beg for food from the neighbours and hope she can get enough to feed her children. The children grow up like that with all the aspects of that kind of poverty and what it brings about and the lifestyle and the things that happen within a family. I go and I visit my seniors. I see some of the conditions that they live under, and they are very proud people.
If I showed them this motion and I take them this, I know exactly what they would say. I said I was going to be brief; I donít want to say any more. Iím very upset; Iím very disappointed that we could not get agreement on a simple motion that gave a little bit of a direction to work with people ó those who live in poverty and who work with them ó to try to come up with a strategy and do something over the next 10 years. How difficult for the Yukon Party and that Member for Southern Lakes ó unbelievable.
Hon. Mr. Lang: As a lifetime Yukoner and as an individual who has lived in the community ó in many outside of this riding or out of the City of Whitehorse ó I can say to the members opposite and also to this side of the House that there are some issues out there of poverty. There are issues in the outlying areas, as the member opposite reminds us. I happen to have lived in one of those areas for 25 years. There are issues of poverty.
When the member talks about life in Whitehorse 40 years ago, I lived that life in Whitehorse 40 years ago and there was poverty then. There was a certain standard of living that you and I couldnít comprehend today.
What have we done, as a government? What have we done as individuals? What has everybody in this House done individually to help?
Every week, every Wednesday night, I put together six bags of sandwiches. My wife and I do it before we play Scrabble. We put together six bags of sandwiches for the van. Weíve done that for probably a year and a half or two years. Iím happy to report that weíve gone from six bags to four and happy again that we were asked not to put lettuce in it so that they could keep the sandwiches, they could freeze the sandwiches, and utilize them. In other words, good news: we went from seven bags of sandwiches to four, so maybe the demand is shrinking with some of the things our society is doing to help that part of our society.
I donít think anybody in this House understands what goes on in the communities in the evening. I know I donít. Iím in bed by 10:00. I know there are issues out there, and the issues are about poverty. How can we help poverty? Well, you can read all sorts of statistics, like the member opposite did, about this growing epidemic of poverty and the issue about what we can do about poverty: can we buy ourselves out of poverty? What is the best avenue to improve the lot of our fellow citizens? Is it raising the minimum wage?
Iíve been in business my whole life. Nobody who was worth their salt was on minimum wage. Now out there ó I hear through the grapevine ó itís hard to hire anybody, so minimum wage isnít a question. Certainly itís an entrance fee. Itís a set where you bring people into the system, but certainly you donít base the economy of your business on a business plan thatís going to pay minimum wage.
I have been, as a member of this House and a member of this society, in many businesses in the Yukon that work with people in the service industry, whether in the store business, hotel business, outfitting business, garage business or convenience store business. Iíve done that and Iíve worked with that workforce.
I had 300 employees in the Yukon at one point. I was probably one of the largest employers in the Yukon, outside the government, from Old Crow to as far south as Watson Lake. I donít think there were 10 percent of those people on minimum wage, Mr. Speaker. I doubt that, and if that 10 percent ó that was the entrance level for coming into the system and doing a period of time.
So minimum wage ó now, thatís a question, but there are interesting statistics, because I guess whatever youíre looking for you can find. You can find all the figures on poverty you want out there. You can find the figures that show minimum wage geographically. In a 10-year period, in Canada, it has gone from nine percent of the workforce to six percent ó so weíre down three percent in 10 years. In Newfoundland, it actually went up. It was 11 percent 10 years ago, and now itís 11.5 percent. Prince Edward Island is doing better ó 14 percent 10 years ago; today it is 7.8 percent. Nova Scotia is even better. It was 11 percent 10 years ago, and it is now 6.3 percent. New Brunswick was 14 percent and is now 7.3. Quebec improved from 8 to 6.7. Ontario went from eight to five percent. Manitoba was at seven percent, but it went up to 8.3 percent. Saskatchewan is up to 9.5. British Columbia cut itself in half.
Those statistics show we are improving. If we want to say that these are written in stone, we are improving the minimum wage situation and the number of people who are on minimum wage.
I understand the position that people in two-income families have. We have those situations where we have both partners working in the workforce to create enough wealth in the family to live the standard they want to live. We also have people out there who work very hard and are going backwards. Money management and personal choices ó all of those things come into play that create a quagmire of problems out there in the general public.
But as the Member for Southern Lakes said, we canít be everything to everybody. What we can do in government is to highlight what we do, and what we do is education, social, justice ó in all these departments we have, we have to have a social conscience. What does that mean? We donít deny people education. What did this government do? We took education and enhanced it ó the tutorship program in our rural communities so that students had access to extra help. Yukon College ó we enhanced that so we could look at working with older students to build up their reading skills and their ability to go into the workforce.†
As far as our housing situation ó as the Member for Porter Creek North was saying, talking about what we are doing for that. Well, what are we doing for that social housing?
Seniors are another issue. Seniors are an issue that every government is very aware of. The member opposite brought to the floor the question about what the minister responsible for housing is doing on these two proposed projects, which are federally funded and federally controlled, per se, and that that is the only thing that this government is doing for seniors in housing and is not right.
We are looking at a mosaic of issues that seniors have in their lives every day. Housing is one of them ó hugely ó and the question of where to put housing is always out there. They do polls to see just what kind of interest is out there in the seniors groups about where they would like to live, and he certainly read that off today, but I understand fully that we have to address the issues about seniors in the downtown area. I would stand up at any meeting and say that this government is going to address that issue.
Now, that issue isnít the issue about the complex being built at Copper Ridge and the one in Takhini: those will cover a gamut of requests out there, but it is not the territorial government plan. Weíre going to go ahead and work with the seniors in the community and address their issues, which weíve done on a daily, monthly, yearly basis. Understand that weíve only been here for two and a half years. Thatís not a long time, as the member said, to get things going, but we are moving in the right direction.
Weíre enhancing our education. Weíre looking at justice reform. Weíre enhancing what weíre doing in the correctional institute, in training, in getting people so that, when they come out of the institution, they have an opportunity to go to work. Thatís very important. The one issue that I was so pleased to see in that complex was first aid. It sounds like a simple thing, your basic first aid training, but if you donít have it you canít work on a construction site.
Theyíre not eligible to apply for a job ó a labourerís job ó out there on the street. If they are, and have accreditation,† they are boosted up to the front of the line. I recommend every young person get his first aid ticket ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Lang: ó or her ó whomever. They need to get their accreditation for when they get into the workforce, because even in a supermarket situation, there has to be a first aid attendant. Someone must be trained, on shift, to ensure that, if an incident happens on shift, there is someone capable of knowing the process and what to do. It makes sense when you think of a store, which can be open at 10:00 p.m. There is staff, but it isnít just staff; there are also the customers. What happens if someone falls over? Someone has to take charge and know what to do to get that person to help as soon as possible. Those are all things we do in our society.
So, are we helping the poverty situation by training people? I donít think so. I think denying education to individuals just extends poverty.
The member opposite ó the leader of the official opposition ó is very adamant about this. How can we argue against it? In a perfect world, we wouldnít have poverty. That would be a perfect world. A perfect society does not want poverty, but how do we work to minimize the poverty situation? To think that, in 10 years, maybe we will eliminate poverty is wishful thinking.
In August 1998, the NDP government of the day had an anti-poverty strategy. It was brought in to eliminate poverty, work on poverty and foster healthy communities and, by the way, this policy paper is what we use in government now in Health and Social Services to guide what weíre doing.
This policy that came out of a previous government is something weíre working with as a template to see if we can answer as many questions as this document asks. How can we work with poverty to minimize the impact of poverty on our fellow citizens? A lot of our poverty among long-time Yukoners is due to health issues, physical issues. A lot of it is driven by ó I guess that statistically you would look at a generation gap. People have lacked the skills to become part of the overall fabric of our society. A lot of them have mental and physical issues, and those should be taken care of and those should be addressed. In other words, how do we as a government or as a society hope to address those individuals? If weíre not a caring society and if we canít take care of our own as a society ó in other words, if we canít take care of the weak, we, being the strong in this society ó then you canít really call us a society. That is a mark of how civilization works ó how can we take care of the ones in need and the ones who most need help?
So we have to address it, and I think that we address it through many ways, but it certainly, as the member was mentioning, is done through many departments. Energy, Mines and Resources ó how do we address the fact, how do we train people? Well, we start a training program. And how do we attract people to go through the training program? Well, we go out into the communities and work with the communities.
Weíve done that, and weíre going to do it again.
Last year, we took 36 individuals and put them through a training program where 100 percent of them at the end of the day had a job. One of them went to Africa. So, there we took individuals who lacked training, and they came out and went into a training program, which covered first aid, drilling, and working on an actual drill ó Iíd like to compliment Tagish Gold for offering their camp and facilities so we could do this training again. There was a need. A corporate citizen came forward and said, ďWeíre not using our camp. Weíre not using our facility.Ē So we took advantage of that and we put those people through the system. We have more than 20 trained individuals out there who are ready and willing to go to work, if theyíre not working today.
Thatís going to be an issue ó in Yukon today, where are we going to get the many hands itís going to take to do the many jobs that are out there to do? The Government of Yukon is working on that ó working with Yukon College, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources and the Department of Justice. All of this is about preparing our Yukoners to go to work.
Now, understand that in a perfect world, weíd all like to go to work. I donít deny that, but I understand the fact that there are some people out there who cannot participate in that kind of thing. So what are we going to do about that situation? Well, we have to address it, and we have to address it with social programs.
Our seniors are a prime example. When the member opposite asks what weíre going to do with our seniors, well, Iíll tell you what I did with the seniors in my communities ó in the City of Whitehorse and Watson Lake. I sat down and said to them, ďWhy donít you come to work? Why donít three of you take one job?Ē I had many people step up to the mark and say, ďMy buddy and I want to take that job.Ē So, guess what? Seniors had a bit of an income; they helped us, they are part of our society, and they had some revenue coming in.
Now, understand, work isnít just for people who need work, who are seniors. Work is a social thing. Work is part of their fabric because most of them spent their whole lives working. So the human factor is there too. The ones I hired were excited about getting back into the workforce because, guess what, they were having coffee at coffee break in the lunch room, they were talking to the young people, and they were involved in what was happening. That is how we can involve seniors in our society, and they shouldnít be put on a shelf. They donít have to be put on a shelf. They can contribute.
So I say to you, Mr. Speaker, this amendment works. The member opposite put his motion forward. We are all part and parcel of this House and, at the end of the day, we put this amendment in. The amendment works. We are working with this anti-poverty strategy and a big part of our $724-million budget is addressing these issues. These issues are being addressed by our government on a daily and a monthly basis. In closing, I agree with this amendment. I think this amendment works.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this amendment this afternoon. I would, first of all, like to thank the leader of the official opposition for bringing this issue forward today. Itís very timely, Mr. Speaker.
Those of us who are resident even on a part-time basis in Whitehorse all received the food drive brown bag that Maryhouse asks us to fill. That was residents of Whitehorse. Iím not sure that those outside the city limits got the brown bag. This is a brown grocery bag that is delivered, and there is a little note on the front that explains. I believe itís Maryhouse; I was checking with some of my colleagues about the correct reference. It is left for us, and then schoolchildren ó I believe from Vanier and Christ the King Elementary School ó come around and collect them. What we are asked to do is fill the grocery bag.
Dry goods ó a reminder that home-canning is not acceptable, but the recommendation is that we put dry goods in these bags, and canned goods that would help the family. The food drive is this week here within the City of Whitehorse, so this is a timely discussion as one of the issues, of course, for those living in poverty is food and life itself. Iíd like to thank the leader for bringing this forward. Since January we have had a representative once again of the National Anti-Poverty Organization visiting here in Whitehorse. That individual, as I understand it, took the opportunity to meet with all the parties. Certainly I appreciated the opportunity to meet with that individual.
The previous speaker on the amendment, the Member for Porter Creek Centre, raised a very good point at the opening of his remarks. He said that each of us has to ask ourselves, what have we done and what have each of us done as individuals? ó recognizing that there is poverty within our wonderful Yukon. There are families, there are elderly women, there are single mothers and there are children who are living in a state of poverty that is unacceptable to us as a society. The Member for Porter Creek Centre quite rightly asked, ďWell, what have each of us done?Ē I was very interested in his sharing with the House what he and his wife have contributed to dealing with these issues, and I applaud their efforts and thank him for sharing that with us.
I certainly asked myself the question, as he asked each of us. I can say that, personally, what Iíve done is not enough. I do appreciate the opportunity to do more, not the least of which is speaking to the motion today.
I can tell the member that what I have done, in addition to contributing to the annual drive and doing what I can in terms of working with the Salvation Army at Christmas in support of their cause, is as a government. Our government ó and the credit for this has to go to the former Member for Riverdale South, Mrs. Sue Edelman, who brought it to our caucus and worked with the Anti-Poverty Coalition ó brought about the $2 contributions that we see at the grocery till. They are little pink containers, though they started out as another colour, and they give us an opportunity at the grocery store to say, ďYes, we would like $2 added to my grocery bill.Ē The money goes to help deal with poverty here in Whitehorse. That was Sue, working with the Anti-Poverty Coalition, who made that happen when we were in government. I was proud to support that, and Iím glad itís there. When I go grocery shopping, itís a reminder. Itís there, and we can all make that contribution.
The Member for Porter Creek Centre asked what we have done. Thatís something that Iím proud to have been a part of and Iím proud to contribute when I do my grocery shopping here in Whitehorse.
The amendment itself is something I have a great deal of difficulty with. Iím very sympathetic to the leader of the official oppositionís frustration. Quite frankly, this is what is so frustrating about our Legislature today and being a member of this Legislature. One tries to bring forward a motion that one feels passionately about. Looking at the motion itself, it is absolutely non-partisan. There isnít a party name or a slam for any government in it. It simply asks the Yukon government, whomever they may be and of whatever political stripe, to create an effective, comprehensive anti-poverty strategy over the next 10 years.
The problem is that the amendment is defensive of the government. It focuses on continuing the implementation. There isnít an effective anti-poverty strategy that exists now. We havenít sat down and had a good, hard look at, for example, is the answer in raising the minimum wage? Is that the answer?
There are very interesting arguments on both sides of that question, and employment is certainly not the answer for the seniors who find themselves in poverty. Itís not the answer.
When an amendment comes forward that suggests continuing the implementation and is centred around creating conditions for sustained private sector economic growth, skills training and employment, and working with employers to eliminate impediments for those with disabilities, it doesnít focus on the issue that was brought forward to us, which is: Look, whoever is sitting on the benches opposite has to work with the Anti-Poverty Coalition and create an anti-poverty strategy that is going to deal with the fundamental issues in our society that are causing these problems in the first place, that are the root cause of poverty.
The amendment makes it a partisan debate, as opposed to a debate about an anti-poverty strategy. The anti-poverty strategy is what I heard, and I listened intently to the debate throughout this afternoon. There is a passion for an anti-poverty strategy, but the amendment changes it into a partisan debate. We canít get into the kind of debate in this Legislature where we stand and say, ďOkay, is changing the minimum wage going to deal with some of the poverty issues?Ē We canít have that kind of exchange and debate, and itís what makes being in this Legislature, and the way our Legislature is constructed, so frustrating for members on all sides.
On Wednesdays in particular, we end up in these partisan debates, and we donít move the actual issue forward, which is the creation of an anti-poverty strategy. Members bring issues forward, trying to get them on the public agenda ó trying to have a healthy exchange of debate, trying to be able to say how we could move this issue forward, how it should be on the radar screen, and talk about some of the ways we could tackle poverty and what the strategy could include.
Just to emphasize my point, people who are members, no matter where they are elected to, whether itís government or opposition ó itís what is so frustrating about the Legislature.
In terms of legislative renewal, which is a separate debate, Mr. Speaker, I think thatís something we have to consider. Because at the end of the day, when the clock reaches 6:00, regardless of where this amendment is and whether itís an amended motion that comes forward for debate or the motion itself, what will we have achieved on behalf of the taxpayers? How do we answer to the family, the seniors and the children who are living in poverty? How do we answer and work with the Anti-Poverty Coalition? I donít believe the amendment will enable us in any way to say to those individuals and as a group that, yes, weíve done this, weíve moved forward. I donít believe the amendment does move the issue forward. I believe the amendment changes this into a partisan debate and it doesnít talk about whatís needed in an anti-poverty strategy.
I do absolutely agree that we needed the phrase ďdisabilityĒ in the motion. I agree with that. Thatís a good suggestion. However, I donít believe the amendment, other than that disability part, moves the issue forward, and we have to do this. There are people far more learned than I in this Legislature who have provided us with research this afternoon and with information about the numbers of women, the numbers of single families, the conditions of poverty.
These are more than just numbers. These are far more than statistics. Weíre talking about Yukoners, and Yukoners are suffering. No matter what the party label or the particular philosophy of any member in here, we all came for the same reason, in that we wanted to help people and, as Canadians, I believe we all believe in a social safety net. We all believe that we as a society and as individuals need to care for the people beside us. As Yukoners, we donít want to see anyone without.
Now that being said as individuals, whatís the job of government? I believe the role of government ó and this is where I would venture our political philosophies probably differ ó is to do more than just deal with creating conditions for sustained private sector economic growth, as the amendment says. Government can do far more than investing in providing skills training for Yukoners to facilitate opportunities for employment, and they can do more than working with employers to eliminate impediments to those with disabilities, because an anti-poverty strategy is about more than that.
Yes, we should do those things. Yes, we should create an economic climate that encourages private sector investment. We do not do this at the expense of our environment or at the expense of displacing individuals or seniors, or without care and concern for the environment we live in ó by that I mean our whole environment.
We also have to ensure that government investments are mindful of the community. There are a number of ways that government can act to ensure greater support. Thereís the child tax benefit and thereís the kids recreation fund. There are many programs that government could and should do and which are not out of the realm of a partyís philosophy. I believe government should and could do more in dealing with the anti-poverty strategy to ensure itís effective and to ensure itís comprehensive.
The amendment solely focuses on the idea of the private sector and economic growth. It doesnít deal with such issues as how the contributions by the Department of Health and Social Services, like the kids recreation fund, make sure that every child is on a level playing field when they want to dance, swim or participate in an athletic club. Thatís what the kids recreation fund does: it ensures equality of opportunity for children who may be living in poverty.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Youíve advised me that I donít have a great deal of time. I realize that Iíve wandered in my remarks this afternoon. I want to say a couple of things in summary.
Thank you for bringing this forward. I believe discussion of an anti-poverty strategy for the Yukon is doable. Itís certainly within the realm of the possible and, most fundamentally, itís necessary. We need to do this and we need to do it right.
I would also thank the speakers who have gone before me for what they have shared with the Legislature this afternoon. It has been informative and enlightening and has caused us all to stop and think, which I appreciate.
In terms of the amendment itself, I donít support the amendment. I donít believe it enhances the motion. I believe it changes it into a partisan debate. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, that is a frustrating element of the Legislature, that an amendment like this doesnít move the motion forward and it doesnít move this issue forward, and it is not conducive to a healthy exchange between members or a healthy development and hard work by members ó in terms of rolling up our sleeves and saying, ďOkay, how do we develop an anti-poverty strategy?Ē ó and exchanging ideas.
For that reason, Iím not supporting the amendment. Unfortunately, I donít agree that it enhances the motion. I believe that it degenerates it into a partisan debate and, most fundamentally and importantly, it doesnít move us forward in the development of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy which, unfortunately, is sadly needed in the Yukon.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the members for their attention.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I enter this debate with great interest. I would like to start out by saying that I believe that the leader of the official opposition and the NDP probably would like the citizens of the territory to maybe believe they are the champions of the social issues. However, I believe that the members on this† side of the House are as concerned about the citizens in this territory as any party is.
I also believe that the word ďpovertyĒ is used very loosely. I have not really witnessed severe poverty in the Yukon Territory. When I look at programs like UNICEF and other organizations where children, young adults and babies have legs like toothpicks and every rib is sticking out, and there is no help whatsoever ó thatís poverty. I see poverty as something that no one in this world should ever have to experience.
As a First Nation person, I strongly believe that everyone has a difference of opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Itís unfortunate that the leader of the third party was willing to get kicked out of the House.
Speaker: Order please. I am sure you intended to refer to the leader of the official opposition and not the leader of the third party.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Sorry, Mr. Speaker. It was the leader of the official opposition who made that statement. I donít think anyone should go to that extreme. All you do is stress yourself out. We are not going to fix this tomorrow morning. I believe that there are a lot of things that can help minimize poverty.
As I see it, it would take a miracle to be able to correct poverty and how I view poverty. Some may view poverty as not being able to afford a new car.
Others may view poverty as not being able to afford steak and lobster once a week. Well, as a First Nation person, one of the things I believe very strongly in is that we should be thankful for what we are able to obtain in our life. We also have an individual responsibility to do the best we can so that we are healthy and that we do have the ability to feed our children and ourselves.
I think when we talk about poverty in the Yukon, I have a hard time believing that itís from a lack of programming or lack of work. I believe it probably has more to do with addictions and whatnot. To be able to make comments that all of the things this government has done and has put into the budget is irrelevant is not true ó totally not true. This government has taken into account the well-being of the people who are striving to find work to those who already have jobs. Collective agreements that this government signed support the people who already have work.
All of the different programs that this government has moved forward in the two and a half years, in my opinion, are quite phenomenal. Education alone ó a $13-million increase in the Education budget in two and a half years.†
Now, it would take a very good talker to convince me that that will not help address any of the issues that I know as poverty, because there are so many programs that this government saw would be of value to increasing the human resource development among every citizen in this territory.
The Individual Learning Centre, for example ó Iíve had more comments about that facility since it opened than anything else in the two and a half years. Why is that? For one thing, it targets the very young people who could be living in poverty. It targets the 15- to 21-year-olds who are unemployed. It targets those individuals who just canít seem to function in the society as we know it. They have their issues. It may be just that they donít feel like being at school at 8:00 in the morning. So this program does give them the ability to continue with education with dignity. Theyíre not branded about anything. Theyíre not criticized about not being in the classroom at exactly 8:00 or 9:00, or whatever the time may be.
The times are flexible. When you look at that one initiative by itself, it could be a very, very productive program to combat poverty. There is no doubt about it.
I know some would like the citizens at large to believe that this territory is just swamped with starving people, but if it is so, I donít see it. I believe that there probably are some people who are having a difficult time. As a First Nation person, I have opened my door many times to feed somebody who wanted to have a meal. They werenít starving. And Iíve known some who have phoned me and said, ďCan you spare any meat because we are having a tough time.Ē Well, I donít believe I have ever said no. I donít believe I have ever said no to anybody who has asked me for food.
I donít believe I am the only person around who is like that. I think there are lots of people in this Legislature who would gladly offer a meal to somebody if they were totally starving and in poverty, as one would like us to believe. Again, I think that also, when you talk about this issue, there is a real cultural clash. How do we see poverty versus others? Again, I say that, and it is my experience that most First Nations value money very differently from the non-native people.
Money is not the number one value to a First Nation person. I think a lot of First Nation people, if they were healthy ó you would never see them starve here, not in this country. When I drive home, I have seen moose, deer, bear, lots of rabbits and grouse ó you know it. A First Nation or non-native person in this country should never starve. It all depends on what we really view as poverty.
I know that there are some women who end up having to be single mothers because the father left or whatever. I know those are really difficult issues. My heart goes out to the women who are left to fend for their families by themselves. I would certainly never wish that on anyone. I think itís a very difficult thing for the individual and also very tough for the children.
Itís also important to say, with regard to comments from the member of the third party about people on this side of the House maybe not wanting to pass this motion, that I think, in politics, we have to understand that every person has a very different opinion. Thatís why we make the conscious decision as to which party we will support and for which party we would consider putting our names forward.
I know that our government does not promote welfare. In fact, we like to believe that we do our best to put programs in place to minimize the issues that would contribute to poverty. We canít go on and have the general public out there believe that if we continue to raise welfare and raise the minimum wage that some people wonít get attracted to it ó because they will. It may be even to a point where ó I certainly donít want to see a time in society when itís more beneficial to stay home and do nothing and live on welfare. I think the incentives have to be there. It has to be such that people will find ambition to go out and be productive in their own life and not bank very highly on welfare or minimum wage.
Having said that, I know the leader of the third party had some issue with the Member for Southern Lakes reciting all the things that this government has done in two and a half years to put a lot of options out there to reduce the number of people having to live in poverty.
The new initiatives this year in Education alone ó we have the community training funds at $1.5 million, and education improvements at Whitehorse Correctional Centre have gone up to between $90,000 and $95,000.
The youth employment strategy for $200,000: Mr. Speaker, that is put in place to try to get the younger generation interested in becoming tradespeople or making improvements in their own personal lives. The literacy strategy was $100,000. Again, literacy is very important for minimizing somebodyís chances of living in poverty.
The Yukon excellence awards ó again, rewarding youth for going ahead in their education, recognizing that they are trying to develop their intellectual levels. We have the student grant indexing of $100,000 ó again, to help the young people through their education. We have the FASD school-based on-site training and support for teachers at $117,000 ó again, trying to help those who really need help.
It hardly demonstrates that this government does not care about whether someone lives in poverty or whether they have opportunities for advancement. The Yukon College training for FASD students ó again, $133,000 ó supports that this government is very interested in every citizen in this territory. For the ones who need help, this government is going to try its best to ensure they get it. Full-day kindergarten at $300,000 ó again, ensuring that the very young people have opportunities before them to minimize their having to live in poverty as they get older.
I talked about the Individual Learning Centre already. Thatís coming in at $480,000 ó again, demonstrating that this government is very interested in what happens with young people.
Then we go into a lot of aboriginal issues in Education that this government has supported: the development of First Nation curriculum, $500,000 ó again, to ensure that the system attracts the interested First Nation people so they do continue to go to school.
Education reform, $794,000 ó again, a consultation process that is going to involve every Yukoner to ensure that education is available to everybody and will, once again, ensure that the people in this territory have lots of options so they donít have to live in poverty.
So, I believe this government is doing very well when it comes to trying to put a lot of programming in place that will minimize the number of people in this Yukon Territory having to live in poverty. I do support the proposed amendment to this motion.
Iíd like to close by thanking all the citizens in the Yukon Territory who do take the time to share and to give of some of their wealth to ones who are less fortunate.
Mr. McRobb: Well, here we are at the end of the day on another motion thatís going nowhere. Mr. Speaker, the cause of that is relatively easy to see. It was the amendment introduced by the Yukon Party that prevented this motion from coming to a vote.
The amendment that is currently on the table changes the intent of the motion substantially, in our opinion. The reason for that is pretty clear. The motion as amended would first focus on creating conditions for sustained private sector economic growth. That, to me, is the relevant part of the second clause in the amendment. For a lot of Yukoners, they simply cannot wait for what will likely take years ó it is a relatively nebulous end date, I might add ó for the territory ever actually achieving that stated goal. We must do something now to help the people in poverty, not continue to put them off for years to come.
Certainly there is no lack of funds in the Yukon government budget. We see there is approximately $800 million being spent this year, and additional monies from the federal government that arenít counted in that total. Thatís a lot of money for a territory with only 31,000 people.
If you think about it, we really shouldnít have poverty in this territory. Unfortunately, a lot of the public funds being spent are going to those who fall into the category of the rich rather than the poor. Mr. Speaker, that exacerbates the social dilemma we have in todayís society where we see the gap between the rich and poor continue to widen.†
I will point to a study that was done in August 2001 by the Centre for Urban and Community Studies. Itís entitled, A Tale of Two Canadas: Homeowners Getting Richer, Renters Getting Poorer. It analyzed Canada, especially the major urban centres, between the years 1984 and 1999. There are a number of interesting statistics and figures in this report that really draw the conclusion that if people are in the poor category, there is less of a chance of them breaking through into the rich category than ever before.
When we see this situation continue, obviously it is contrary to the goal of eliminating poverty. Itís not contrary to the Yukon Partyís goal of first creating the conditions for sustained private sector economic growth. I guess thatís a difference between the Yukon Party and the NDP. The Yukon Party wants to provide for greater affluence among people in society who already have money. The amendment before us now allows for that to take place.
There is a term that has been used in the past ó I believe it is parliamentary still ó and that is that, essentially, this motion has been hijacked. What I mean by that is the whole intent of the motion has been captured, has been seized and retranslated into something it was intended never to be in the first place. So unfortunately we wonít achieve today what we set out to do, and that is unfortunate because people were depending on us to come to an agreement. I think the motion as originally worded was something that could have been agreed to.
Another major flaw in this amendment is that it replaces the words ďthe developmentĒ in referring to a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy with the words ďcontinuing the implementationĒ. Well, I checked on the existence of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy and found there was none, so the amendment really and truly is out of order on that point alone. How can you continue the implementation of something that doesnít exist? Good question. Well, itís good enough for the Yukon Party. I guess it sounds like a waste of time for everybody else, but itís good enough for the Yukon Party to continue to implement something that doesnít exist. I am referring to a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, not the 1998 version that the Member for Southern Lakes is holding up. There is quite a difference. That old report is seven years old now, and it wasnít comprehensive.
Hence the importance of the original motion that was somewhat overlooked when it was changed through this amendment now before us. So, I think that is an excellent point that really questions the reason for the government side wanting to hijack this motion.
Before my time expires, I want to mention that the problem in the territoryís communities is a lot worse than what it is in Whitehorse, with respect to poverty. Itís probably, generally speaking, worse on practically every other front too.
What commonly happens for people who are looking for employment and who are immersed in poverty is that they are forced to move into Whitehorse to find employment. So, they pack their bags and move into Whitehorse, and probably find a mobile home to rent somewhere, and they take on a job or two at the big-box stores ó and really, their economic situation doesnít improve at all.
They really just shift their category from the unemployed and poverty-stricken to the working poor and poverty-stricken. The latter category has been recognized in recent years as a major problem for our country and the working poor.
Now, I know that the Yukon Party doesnít understand what that means, but there are millions of people in our country who fall into that category. Itís especially prevalent in the larger cities.
Whenever members are in Vancouver, for instance, get up a little earlier and check the bus stops in the morning. At any particular bus stop, there are likely to be dozens of people who fall into this undesirable category of the working poor. These are people who canít afford to break out of the rut they are in. They canít afford any changes. They are locked in. Perhaps we have talked to people in the past who say that they donít like where their life is going, but they are locked in and canít afford to do anything. This is usually due to broken families, families with disabilities or whatever. They canít afford to make ends meet even though they both work and possibly hold more than one job.
I was reading through this report, and it had some interesting statistics on the level of income that is attributable to rent.
This is rather an interesting statistic ó Iíll try to find it here. In the meantime, Iíll relate something I heard from my father, who reads the Vancouver Sun daily. He pointed out to me that, in Vancouver, the price of rent not long ago was equivalent to about 25 percent of a personís income. Nowadays, largely due to the skyrocketing real estate prices, that figure is now 50 percent. So in real terms of a personís income, the cost of rent has doubled. It now consumes one-half of the wages earned in a household. Thatís rather amazing.
Maybe the Yukon should think about marketing to places like Vancouver, just on this aspect alone, where it is possible for families to take up a lifestyle at a much more affordable rate than in some of the larger cities, and try to extend an opportunity to some of these people who are locked in. That could help give us a greater population in the territory.
Anyway, there are a lot of issues that were mentioned by previous speakers that I want to respond to in the next six minutes. One of them was mentioned by the Member for Porter Creek Centre, and essentially he said that people who work for minimum wage arenít worth their salt. I find that statement somewhat offensive.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Lake Laberge, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: The Member for Kluane was just imputing false or unavowed motives to the Member for Porter Creek Centre, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. Clearly, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources did not say that people were not worth their salt, and that suggestion by the Member for Kluane is not only offensive but is also contrary to Standing Order 19(g), and I would ask you to direct him to retract it. Thank you.
Speaker: Member for Mount Lorne, on the point of order.
Mr. Cardiff: On the point of order, I clearly heard the minister make that statement.
†Speaker: †There is no point of order. This is a dispute between members. However, when the Member for Kluane is quoting another member, if you cannot find the source, then please do not paraphrase. You have the floor.
Mr. McRobb: Itís pretty tough to quote, Mr. Speaker, when the Blues arenít available within half an hour, but I will try to do my best to recollect. Anyway ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: The Member for Kluane has the floor.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I noticed the members on the other side are a little livelier now than they were before.
I think it sends a signal that is not good for a lot of people who earn the minimum wage in the territory. Perhaps that will be an issue we take up when we do see the exact quote, once itís available.
The Member for Southern Lakes went on to say that Yukoners donít want a handout; they want a hand up. Then he went on to talk about the medical travel rates in the territory. He went so far as to say that we canít compare ourselves to the N.W.T. or Nunavut, but we should look more at the provinces where some do not have medical travel allowances.
Well, Mr. Speaker, think about that for a moment. Now, isnít the member aware of the Northern Accord and how it has allocated $75 million to the three northern territories over the next five years for this purpose? Obviously not. Is he not aware that the three northern premiers lobbied Ottawa and the former Prime Minister for more health care funds, largely to meet the higher costs of travel from the territory? Well, I guess not, otherwise why would he say something that is so inconsistent with those initiatives? I canít figure it out.
Now, the member also went on to mention a number of programs in the territory that he felt would help people in poverty, but thatís not the case, Mr. Speaker.
Thatís not the case, Mr. Speaker. For instance, does the pioneer utility grant apply to people who rent accommodation?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Yes, says the minister. Well, isnít that interesting. How about all the other government programs that simply do not help people below the poverty line? What about that? I donít hear any heckling about that, Mr. Speaker, so draw your own conclusions.
In a lot of the communities in the territory, social housing doesnít exist. It doesnít exist.
Speaker: The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
Debate on Motion No. 427 and proposed amendment accordingly adjourned
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 27, 2005:
Northern Strategy, Yukon Chapter†† (Fentie)
Yukon Family Services Association Financial Statements for the year ended March 31, 2004† (Jenkins)
Yukon Lottery Commission 2003-04 Annual Report† (Kenyon)
The following documents were filed April 27, 2005:
Protection for Persons in Care Act, The: Statute of the Province of Manitoba† (McRobb)
Rail Link, Alaska-Yukon-British Columbia; feasibility study for: Correspondence between Pat Duncan, MLA and Hon. Kevin Falcon, Minister of Transportation, Government of British Columbia† (Duncan)