Thursday, November 17, 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.
Are there any tributes?
In recognition of National Child Day
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the House to ask my colleagues to join me in recognizing November 20, 2005, as National Child Day.
National Child Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations in 1991. The convention spells out the basic human rights to which children under the age of 18 everywhere are entitled to. In 1993, the Government of Canada enacted Bill C-371, otherwise known as the Child Day Act, and designated November 20 of each year as National Day of the Child.
By ratifying this convention and enacting Bill C-371 in 1993, Canada made a commitment to ensure that all children are treated with dignity and respect and to ensure their rights. These rights include such things as the right to have a voice in matters that affect them, the right to special education and care, the right to health, the right to special protection and the right to play and rest.
This year, National Child Day celebrates the right to play. Early childhood educators and child development specialists will tell you how important it is that children are able to play and engage in recreational activities. We have recognized that importance with a recent major increased contribution to the kids recreation fund. Children throughout the Yukon will be able to participate in recreational activities, thanks to that additional contribution.
Sometimes, Mr. Speaker, I believe that we all need to play more. Play contributes to a happy and healthy childhood. It contributes to development and facilitates all types of learning. Play supports childrenís physical and mental development. Play is indeed very good.
Children also have the right to shelter. Over the coming weeks, this government will be reviewing the recent Whitehorse planning group home report on homelessness and will be meeting with our partners, both in government and in the community, to address this very important issue.
We are pleased to recognize National Child Day here in the Yukon and to celebrate the importance of our children.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Hart: Pursuant to section 3(3) of the Area Development Act, I have for tabling Order-in-Council 2005/175, entitled ďMayo Road area Development RegulationĒ.
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. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) poverty kills more than 50,000 people every day, worldwide;
(2) over a billion people around the world live in abject poverty;
(3) Canada has pledged to address poverty reduction both domestically and internationally but is failing to implement its promises; and
THAT this House urges the federal government to meet their pledge of raising development assistance by 15 percent annually through to 2015 to help make poverty history in the world.
I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the child tax benefit supplement is a federal program that targets families with low or modest incomes;
(2) the territorial Department of Health and Social Services claws back this supplement from the poorest Yukoners, those families living on social assistance;
(3) because of the clawback, our poorest families do not receive any increased income support, which would benefit their lives and;
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to immediately withdraw the policy of clawing back the child tax benefit supplement from families on social assistance.
I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is of the opinion of this House that
(1) poverty is the root cause of ill health, crime, family violence, substance abuse and illiteracy in the Yukon;
(2) this government has no plan with an overall vision to attack these social problems; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon Party government to immediately develop and implement a Yukon-wide anti-poverty strategy that is based on consultation with the Anti-Poverty Coalition and other organizations and individuals and families dealing with the effects of poverty.
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Yukonís poorest families cannot reasonably meet their financial obligations if they are on territorial social assistance;
(2) a raise in the rates of social assistance is long overdue and has been called for in this House previously;
(3) raising the rates for only the most severely disabled persons does not meet the general need; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to immediately increase social assistance rates for Yukon families in poverty.
Mrs. Peter: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) there are youth in the Yukon who are in need of shelter;
(2) an action plan from the Whitehorse Planning Group on Homelessness discusses core services that need to be provided to respond to their needs; and
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to immediately begin implementing the action plan from the Whitehorse Planning Group on Homelessness by funding emergency shelters, transitional and semi-permanent housing programs to provide permanent and affordable housing, and support services to help young people across the Yukon.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
Fair wage schedule
Hon. Mr. Hart: † Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform the members of the House that this government has made positive changes to the fair wage schedule.
First, I would like to thank all the members of the Employment Standards Board for their diligence and hard work. The Employment Standards Board recommended increases to the fair wage schedule to bring wage rates in line with the cost of living and also recommended annual adjustments to reflect changes in the consumer price index. The board, with the support of the labour services branch of consumer services and safety services, and the policy and planning branch of Economic Development, put in many hours researching and reviewing material to arrive at what I believe to be a sound and responsible recommendation.
During an extensive consultation that took place this past summer, we asked Yukoners to express their opinion on the Employment Standards Board recommendation to amend the fair wage schedule. During the consultation, we contacted all contractors that bid on government construction contracts, labour organizations, chambers of commerce, First Nations and the general public. Yukoners support the Employment Standards Board recommendations, Mr. Speaker. We listened, and weíre pleased to implement those recommendations.
As you know, the fair wage schedule protects Yukon interests by setting a minimum wage for workers who are employed on Yukon government construction projects. With the schedule in place, wages are no longer a major consideration in the bidding process. What this means, Mr. Speaker, is that Outside construction companies will not be able to undercut Yukon competitors by paying unreasonably low wages to their workers. The fair wage schedule increases the chance that Yukon contractors will win Yukon government contracts and that Yukon workers will be employed in those jobs.
In reality, Mr. Speaker, the cost of living here in the north is often higher than in southern jurisdictions. Yukon has experienced inflation of 10.9 percent since 1997, when the last fair wage schedule review was completed. Yukon workers earning the fair wage have seen their purchasing power shrink with the effects of inflation. This is why, after much research and after consulting with Yukoners ó as we promised we would do, Mr. Speaker ó we are adjusting the fair wage schedule to reflect inflation since the last review.
In addition to the one-time increase to bridge the inflation gap, weíll be implementing an annual cost-of-living adjustment. This annual adjustment will reflect changes in the consumer price index to ensure wages are keeping pace with inflation, and that Yukoners can maintain their standard of living.
Mr. Speaker, most Yukon contractors are already paying more than the fair wages rates. Additionally, any increases in wage costs are passed on to the Yukon government. Changes to the fair wage schedule will have little direct effect on an employerís net wage costs.
The initial 10.9-percent change to the fair wage schedule will come into effect on December 1, 2005, affecting all contracts awarded after that date.
Further, annual adjustments will be made each April 1, to reflect the previous yearís consumer price index.
By ensuring the fair wage schedule keeps up with the current rate of inflation, Yukon government is living up to our commitment to continue working to build a revitalized, diversified economy, and to putting our people and our communities to work.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I would like to note that the minister has finally responded to questions. Thatís something Iíve been raising here in the Legislature, both in Question Period and in budget debate, asking him to make changes to the fair wage schedule. I thank him for finally doing that. It has been a long time in coming.
Whether or not it has gone far enough remains to be seen, Mr. Speaker. The fair wage schedule ó just a little history lesson on the fair wage schedule ó is enshrined in the Employment Standards Act. The fair wage schedule was an initiative of an NDP government back in 1985-86.
The unfortunate thing is that it hasnít kept pace with the cost of living and the changes and increases to it over the years have been rather erratic. They havenít kept pace with the cost of living. Even though this appears to be a significant increase, if you go from its inception to now, and you look at the cost-of-living increases over that 20-year period, itís still far behind what the increases would have been if it had kept pace with the cost of living.
While I would congratulate the minister for finally doing something, after being urged for two years, I donít know that it has gone far enough.
There are some statements in here that I would like to just reflect on and return to. The minister talks about Outside construction companies not being able to undercut Yukon competitors by paying unreasonably low wages. That is a function of the labour relations group or labour standards office in the Department of Community Services. What is needed there are more resources and staffing in that department to ensure that there is enforcement, not only of the fair wage schedule, but of all labour standards legislation in the Yukon, so that working conditions for working people are good.
We have to remember that the fair wage schedule applies, in a large part, to the men and women who work in the construction industry. That work is seasonal. Those workers often have to supply their own tools. Their careers are often shortened by the severity of the work that they do. Itís not an easy job out there. In the end, a lot of them only work about five or six months of the year. A lot of them donít have the ability to save for pensions.
Another thing I would like to touch on is the fact that the minister, in his statement, says that any increases in wage costs are passed on to the Yukon government. I would just like the minister to clarify that a bit.
In construction you wouldnít find too many workers who, just because they were working on a government job and were making the fair wage schedule, and then they went to work on a job that was in the private sector for the same contractor and saw their wage go down ó they probably wouldnít be there, staying with that employer. So I think that the costs of the fair wage are actually borne by all sectors, not just the government, but by the private sector contractors on private sector jobs as well.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to open my response to the ministerial statement on behalf of the Liberal caucus by thanking all Yukoners who took the time to participate and to make representations to the Yukon Employment Standards Board. I would especially like to indicate our thanks to the Employment Standards Board; they have done a great deal of work over the summer months, a time when traditionally Yukoners are doing other things than being engaged in consultation. There has been extensive work done on this particular issue and I appreciate the work that the Employment Standards Board has done.
The ministerial statement is comprehensive and outlines the consultation that has taken place, and the Member for Mount Lorne has outlined some of the history of the fair wage schedule. There is one very salient point, however, that is missing from the ministerís statement and it has been touched on by the Member for Mount Lorne ó and that is the cost. The cost will be borne, not only by government but also by the private sector, because as has been pointed out, an individual working on a job doesnít get one wage because heís working on a government job and another because he is working on something else when he is working for the same contractor.
Nonetheless, the minister will have an idea of what the impact is on the capital budget of the Yukon Territory and on the jobs that are anticipated.
So perhaps in his response he could outline what the anticipated costs will be in that regard. That being said, Mr. Speaker, I do ó and our caucus does ó support the fair wage schedule, and again would like to thank the Employment Standards Board for their recommendation and their work on behalf of all Yukoners.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I thank the members opposite for their comments. Again, I, too, would like to thank the Employment Standards Board for their diligence and hard work. I would also like to thank the departments of Economic Development and Community Services for the support they provided to the board.
I would like to remind those listening that the increases to the fair wage schedule bring the wages in line with the cost of living and indexing changes to the consumer price index. The member opposite stated that these rates havenít been increased in some time. Well, they werenít increased when his party was in power, or the other party, in the process. So if you want to play with that, we can.
In essence, the last change was in 1997, and weíre working through that process. Additionally, the board came up with a recommendation to me in 2003. We asked them to go back to do some further work, because I felt the recommendation was not supported by the consultation. They did a great job, and I† am more than happy to defend their recommendations.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† †Substance abuse
†Mr. McRobb: Iím sure many Yukoners have been pleased to learn that this government has decided to fast-track its substance abuse action plan. I applaud the government for taking this step. I would like to thank the departmental officials, stakeholder groups and others who have contributed to this plan and will continue to do so. Our caucus is proud of the role we played in setting the stage for this plan, especially the initiative and leadership demonstrated by the leader of the official opposition.
But this is not about self-congratulation, Mr. Speaker. Itís about trying to make this framework document the basis for effective, ongoing action on some of the most difficult problems we face in the Yukon. Because many of the action items identified in the plan concern prevention and treatment, I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services. Can the minister outline what particular area of substance abuse prevention and treatment his department has identified for fast-tracking?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: With this term ďfast-trackingĒ ó I donít know where the member opposite received this information from. Our government is committed to implementing the substance abuse action plan with all the parties involved.
Mr. McRobb: I would have thought that the term ďfast-trackingĒ was self-explanatory.
While we support the action plan in general, there are areas in which we would like to see the government go further and faster. We would certainly like to see some financial commitment during this sitting. We would also like to see some timelines and some kind of workplan for how individuals, community organizations and other levels of government will have input into the implementation of the action plan.
Let me start with that last point: will the minister be providing a workplan for public consultation any time soon? If so, when can we expect to see it?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As I stand here, there are officials engaged in the workplan and consulting with all the parties involved with this initiative. There are many, Mr. Speaker; despite the member oppositeís insistence that the government go it alone, we insisted on it. It was the subject of a motion that was debated earlier this week. We insisted that all stakeholders be engaged in the consultation program that implements this action plan. That is underway.
Mr. McRobb: No times, no dates and no timelines ó thatís what the minister is saying.
At Tuesdayís town hall forum, there was a clear call for community-based treatment programs, especially for follow-up support for people who have gone through substance abuse treatment programs. We heard the same thing on the radio this morning. We also heard a very familiar concern by non-governmental organizations about how they are funded. Most of the funding these front-line groups rely on is project-by-project. This ties up limited human resources in writing funding proposals, when a lot of that time would be better spent actually delivering programs and services.
Before the next general budget is set, will this minister sit down with the non-governmental groups his department works with and develop a formula for stable, long-term funding that would allow these dedicated community workers to focus their efforts on service delivery rather than fundraising?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The strategic directions that come from the action plan are harm reduction, prevention and education, treatment and enforcement. The community is engaged in developing how weíre going to move forward ó all members of the community, whether they be municipalities, First Nations, the department, or the NGOs involved in this initiative. The issue the member mentions and questions is one component of this entire equation, and itís a major component of the equation, but itís alongside that of many others of equal presence in this whole substance abuse action plan.
Question re: Anti-poverty strategy
Mrs. Peter: Today a report was published on youth homelessness in the Yukon. It is completely unacceptable that, in the Yukon, we have young people who are facing such terrible lives. We not only have homeless youth, we have single parents without a decent wage, we have seniors without adequate housing, we have social assistance rates that havenít kept up with the cost of living, we have alcohol and drug addictions and family violence.
The root cause of this depressing picture is poverty.
What does the Minister of Health and Social Services plan to do about poverty in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Our government committed to a number of initiatives: helping single parents and low-income families; we have child support payments, exemptions and social housing, which was an initiative of our government; social housing rent supplement; a childcare system that is well funded. In fact, itís the second best funded childcare program in Canada. We have the kids recreation fund to keep children in sports ó $200,000, up from $60,000 when we came to office. We have an increase in job opportunities as our economy picks up.
Previously there was an exit of Yukoners seeking work. Our government turned that around, restored investor confidence, rebuilt the Yukon economy, and we have created optimism and opportunities for all. In addition to that, we have a child tax credit increase, and the income threshold has also been raised.
These are but a few of the examples, if you want to look at the initiatives we have undertaken.
Mrs. Peter: † In spite of the claims of this minister that heís doing all that is possible, we still have increasing poverty and crime. This is not a situation that will change by throwing money at one project or another. Poverty needs to be addressed with a broad social strategy, something that will work. Itís interesting that the Yukon Party economic platform had no mention of poverty. In this governmentís view, perhaps it doesnít exist. What is the vision of this government to make poverty history in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, very simply stated, itís to rebuild the Yukon economy, to provide support for our NGOs, where support is needed.
Weíve enhanced the single supplement for those who are disabled and for those on social assistance. Weíve increased that by $125 a month ó another $1,500 a year on top of the $3,000 a year, and thatís across the board. These are just but a number of other examples. Weíve increased funding to NGOs that deal with those inflicted with FASD ó NGOs such as FASSY. Their support has grown considerably under our governmentís watch, and there is more that we are going to undertake. We have been the first government to fund the NGOs from Health and Social Services; weíve indexed their funding at three percent for last year, and itíll be three percent for the next year. Those are but a few additional examples of what our government has done to address the issue of poverty.
Iím not comfortable with the member opposite connecting crime and poverty.
Mrs. Peter: Mr. Speaker, dealing with poverty doesnít come from some distant bureaucracy. It doesnít come from conferences or publications. It comes from the people who live in poverty. When the NDP were in government, we had a plan. We presented an anti-poverty strategy that was developed from the grassroots. Where is that plan now, I wonder? Will this minister commit immediately to developing and implementing a Yukon anti-poverty strategy?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We have, Mr. Speaker, and we have on many, many fronts, as Iíve outlined in answers to the main question and the supplementary question. Just look at the increase in social assistance that has come about under our government; look at the additional help for single parents; look at the subsidy for childcare, for social housing rent, exempting the child support payments for social housing ó these are but a number of the examples that address the issue of poverty. There is a demonstrated need there. Our government has come to full recognition of that, is addressing them, and will continue to address them, unlike the members opposite, who developed a program but didnít appear to implement it.
Question re: Contracts, sole-sourcing
†Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, all this week weíve heard about the governmentís questionable contracting practices. The contracting community is not impressed with how the government is bending rules. They are upset over the Canada Games athletes village, where $1.7 million has been given to an Alberta company with no chance for Yukon companies to bid. Theyíre upset over the way highway contracting rules have been changed in the Premierís riding, where hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to a company that regularly appears in the list of donors to the Premierís election campaign.
Mr. Speaker, thereís a new health centre being built in Watson Lake, the Premierís riding. This government is very fond of saying that special rules donít apply in the Premierís riding. Hereís their chance to prove it. All the contracts on the new building have been handed out so far with no competition. Will the minister do what the contracting community is asking for and publicly tender the balance of the contracts for the Watson Lake health centre?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thatís being done by invitational tender.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, invitational tendering is not public tendering. Itís working from an invitational list. Not everyone in the Yukon gets invited to bid. All the contracting community wants is for the Yukon Party government to quit dividing the business community by postal code, and fairly and openly tender it so that all Yukon companies have a chance to bid on this work. There is $3 million or $4 million worth of work left to be done on the new health centre in Watson Lake.
The government can prove that the rules are the same no matter where you live or do business in the Yukon by publicly tendering ó not invitational or sole-sourced ó the balance of the work on the health center in Watson Lake.
Will the minister today publicly commit that the balance of the work will be publicly tendered throughout the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: All the rules that are currently in place that existed under the Liberal government and the NDP government are being followed and adhered to with respect to this project and with respect to all projects that are currently underway in the Yukon. The member knows full well that that is the case. She knows full well that that is the case. There are no rules being broken, and there is full adherence to all the policies, all the tendering procedures and all our obligations as a government.
I am disappointed in the member opposite for trying to drive a wedge in the contracting community in light of such tremendous effort on our governmentís behalf to put over $200 million worth of work out there in the Yukon. It is the highest capital budget ever in the history of the Yukon Territory. The contracting community is challenged to meet what is going on, to meet the ongoing capital initiatives here. There is a capacity problem all across western Canada, and probably Canada as a whole, with respect to major construction initiatives, Mr. Speaker. Weíre not unique.
Ms. Duncan: Iím sure the contracting community will be thrilled to hear that the minister just referred to them as challenged. The only challenge the contracting community is faced with is trying to deal with this government and their bending of the rules when it comes to contracting. Nobody sole sources; no government in North America sole sources to the extent that this government has.
All Iíve asked the minister is a very simple request: will he do what every other government in North America does with respect to major construction projects, like the Watson Lake health centre? Iím asking about one specific project. He has already sole sourced a good portion of it. Will he publicly tender the balance so all Yukon contractors have a chance to bid? Thatís all Iím asking for, a simple commitment. He should be able to make that.
Speaker: Before the honourable member answers the question, the Chair is uncomfortable with the direction this is taking. One side says ďdriving a wedgeĒ, the other side says ďbending the rulesĒ. I would ask both sides of the House to please concentrate and focus on the questions, as opposed to making implications. Thatís all Iím asking.
You have the floor, Minister of Health and Social Services.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Once again, our government is committed to having a fair and balanced distribution of these projects across the Yukon Territory. There are demonstrated needs in communities for various projects, and theyíve been undertaken, whether it be a community centre in Mayo, a recreational complex in another community, or a community centre in Marsh Lake. Our government looks at the best method of delivering. We have done that, and thereís no breaking of any rules or any of the tendering procedures or any of the policies anywhere in any of these projects that have been undertaken by our government.
Question re: Minimum wage
Mr. Cardiff: We heard the Minister of Community Services say this afternoon that they were going to raise the fair wage schedule. Another thing that needs to be raised is the minimum wage, and that hasnít been raised since 1998 either. The last time it was raised there was an NDP government. The fact is that the rate is currently $7.20 an hour. The rate is lower than in B.C., Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario, and itís even lower than in Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The rate hasnít changed since 1998, and the evidence shows that raising the minimum wage does not affect job creation or lead to higher prices.
When is this government going to raise the minimum wage to better reflect the higher cost of living in the north?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, the Employment Standards Board is now looking into the minimum wage factor, once they have completed the fair wage schedule, which we just completed doing.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I asked the minister over a year ago to have them look at the minimum wage, and the minister dragged his feet on the fair wage schedule. Now heís dragging his feet on the minimum wage. The National Anti-Poverty Organization, which recognizes the cost of everything, from soup to nuts, has been raising alarm in recent years. It has been lobbying for a minimum wage of $10 an hour in Canada.
Will the minister now do his bit to help eradicate poverty, which is this countryís national disgrace, and immediately raise the minimum wage to at least $8.50 an hour, and thus make life a little bit easier for students and others struggling to make ends meet?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, as I stated, last year the Employment Standards Board was busy reviewing and doing a consultation on the fair wage schedule. They indicated to me they would not work on the minimum wage until that was done. We have completed that process. We are in the consultation stage now, working on the minimum wage. When they come forward with that recommendation ó which they have the power to do, I might add ó we will look at implementing that particular aspect.
Question re: Whole child program
Mr. Fairclough: At Tuesdayís forum on creating safe communities we heard that one of the keys to keeping our children from alcohol and drugs is to get them early, and the earlier the better, Mr. Speaker.
A downtown Whitehorse school is doing just that ó for about $100,000 a year, offering children and their parents a broad range of activities and services. Whitehorse Elementary Schoolís whole child program is recognized locally and nationally for the excellent work that it has been doing for the last five years. For just a few hours, one night a week, for example, the school opens its doors to children to play sports in the gym, surf the net, or get involved in classes and workshops on everything from cooking to making stained glass.
Will the minister commit to giving core funding to the whole child program at Whitehorse Elementary School so this excellent and innovative work can continue without interruption?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite for bringing the question forward. Mr. Speaker, this government has always said, from day one, that where there is a demonstrated need, we would surely look at that area. We have also stated over and over again that we will always work in the best interests of the children and will continue to do so.
Mr. Fairclough: The question was about providing core funding so that the programs would not be interrupted in the future, Mr. Speaker.
This type of program is an excellent example of addressing the root cause of social programs by taking preventive action. Whitehorse RCMP, the Whitehorse Boys and Girls Club Youth Centre, the healthy family parents and tots program, and the Big Brothers and Sisters Association are all among the many partners and supporters of this holistic and inclusive approach to learning and well-being. If this government is really serious about encouraging our young people to live healthier lifestyles and become more productive members of society, it would do more to support and promote this program.
So the minister has two questions to answer: will this government, which likes to boast that it is flush with cash, invest in our children by helping to expand the whole child program to other schools in the Yukon if asked by them to do so?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: The department really hasnít been asked that question yet, but when it comes, we definitely will have discussions on it.
I think that the government is always interested in improving a young personís life. Take, for example, literacy initiatives. Mr. Speaker, the government put $224,000 to Yukon Learn; Yukon Literacy Coalition, another $45,000; Learning Disabilities Association, $95,000; Literacy Action Committee, $130,000; Whitehorse Correctional Centre, another $87,000; home tutoring program, $375,000; reading recovery, $1.5 million. Mr. Speaker, of course this government has been working diligently to improve education among young people and will continue to do so.
Question re: Housing programs
Mr. Hardy: Now, for much of the past two sittings, we have been trying to get some plain answers from the other side about affordable housing. All weíre getting is condescending accusations that we donít know what affordable housing is, or the difference between affordable housing and social housing.
Let me assure the House that we do know exactly what we are talking about. Weíre talking about working families and single parents who donít make much money. Weíre talking about people living in poverty who deserve to live with dignity, and weíre talking about seniors without adequate housing, about youth without shelter in the winter, and theyíre all trying their best. Since we canít get anywhere with the minister responsible for the Housing Corporation, Iíd like to address my question to the minister responsible for social programs. What is this minister doing to make his colleague understand that there is a desperate need for housing that people with modest means can afford?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The community is currently underway in building more affordable housing. There are major projects here right in Whitehorse in that area, and the member knows that full well.
Mr. Hardy: The lack of understanding on that side of what is affordable is astounding to the people out there who canít afford the $150,000 or $180,000. They donít have the resources to pay that or even get a loan in that area.
That may be affordable for families with two earners who are each making a good salary, but for many Yukoners itís nowhere near their market.
Defining affordability just by looking at what existing houses are selling for is fundamentally and morally wrong, and thatís what the minister responsible for housing falls back on. In a heated market like Whitehorse, the gap simply gets wider and wider as the marketplace continues to drive the prices up.
Letís try the Premier on this one, because I know there are people in his riding who cannot afford this middle-class housing theyíre talking about. When will the Premier recognize the urgent need for affordable housing for lower income Yukoners and work with his colleagues at the federal level to get a proper plan in place for affordable housing, including social housing?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Those plans were initially put in place by the federal government. They have been devolved to the Yukon government and are being administered by Yukon Housing Corporation across the territory. Social housing here in Whitehorse ó there are some 200 units; in Watson Lake, Dawson and across the Yukon, thereís an extensive pool of social housing.
The member opposite and I agree on one thing: there is a need for affordable housing, and that need is being addressed and being met to the best degree possible in our ever-expanding marketplace by initiatives that are currently underway, and the member knows full well that is the case.
Question re: Anti-poverty strategy
†Mr. Hardy: The Premier is very fond of suggesting that people from one end of the territory to another are doing just fine in this economic utopia he has built. We know some communities are not benefiting that much. We know that the government is doing just fine. The vaults are bursting with cash and the Premier is spending it like there is no tomorrow. We all know that; thatís becoming obvious.
I would like the Premier to think about his rhetoric a little. Are people working for minimum wage doing just fine? No, they are not. Are seniors, who cannot afford what this government calls affordable housing, doing just fine? No, they are not. Are young people, who do not have a roof over their heads, doing just fine? No, they are not. Are kids who go to school hungry because their families are just scraping by doing just fine? No, they are not.
Why is the Premier ignoring the very real and growing problem of people on the margins who are not seeing any benefit from this governmentís economic fortunes?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, I think itís important that we point out that the issue that the member opposite is referring to is not a new issue. In fact, this government has inherited the very issues in society that we are dealing with today.
Mr. Speaker, furthermore, there is a tremendous amount of effort in this area. We do have, as the minister pointed out, a significant social housing inventory. We are, right now, working on a facility at Yukon College that will be affordable housing.
I ask this, Mr. Speaker: is not bringing in Yukoners ó rural Yukoners ó to attend college, along with their whole family to live in a facility on the college precincts at a reasonable rental rate so that they can go to college and advance their education, not affordable? What about the assisted living process and initiative that weíve undertaken with the seniors in Haines Junction?
Furthermore, we are working with the federal government on a national strategy that includes consideration of where some of the most desperate needs for housing are, which is in Yukon First Nation communities. What we are doing is trying to get the federal government to recognize the flaw in their on-reserve/off-reserve policy. We are doing a tremendous amount of work. I think that the only understanding that is missing in this whole equation is from the members opposite, who have failed to express how these people were in poverty even under an NDP government.
Mr. Hardy: Well, the Premier once again blames everybody else for the problems that he faces. Thatís a common theme with him. Iíd love the Premier to take a walk through my riding sometime and talk to some of the people there who are struggling very, very hard to make ends meet. Hundreds and hundreds of Yukoners in other communities are in the same boat. This government seems to forget that those people exist, and if he would have come out to the forum the other night, he would have heard it.
Let me give a few more examples. Students who are loaded down with debt are not doing fine. People on social assistance are not doing just fine like this Premier would like to point out. Mothers who are raising their kids on Kraft dinner, because they canít afford fresh fruit and vegetables, and struggling are not doing just fine. People who are hoping for well-paid pipeline jobs but canít even get the training, because this government is far from pipeline ready, are not doing just fine. Why is this government ignoring these people? Why are they invisible to this Premier?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, the facts are, Mr. Speaker, weíre not ignoring these people at all. The member talks about training. Itís this government that has significantly increased the training dollars available, not only through the college for trades and skilled labour, which is very much a part of being pipeline ready, but in our communities, with the community training trust funds. It is this government that has helped single moms by eradicating the clawback from support payments. It is this government that has increased the social safety net with millions of dollars. It is this government that has improved our daycare delivery so that single parents have a place to place their children so that they can go to work. It is this government that is now working on the minimum wage, as triggered by the increase in the fair wage schedule. It is this government that is distributing fairly and in a balanced manner the capital investment, community by community, across this territory to put said people to work. It is this government that cares, Mr. Speaker, and it is this government that will stack its social record up any day against that of the members opposite.
Mr. Hardy: Any day, call an election; letís do it.
Once again this afternoon, weíve heard the Premier trot out his laundry list of all the wonderful things heís doing to address the needs of people living below the economic comfort zone. Mr. Speaker, there are constantly mixed messages from this Premier. He tells everybody happy days are here again; he goes Outside in front of the national media and says that, in the Yukon, itís seven months of winter and mosquito- and fly-infested in the summer, and we have the president of the Canada Winter Games having to apologize very quickly and, of course, the N.W.T. Premier saying heís only talking about the Yukon, the N.W.T. is quite fine, thank you.
Constantly mixed messages from this Premier ó what is he portraying out there?
Will the Premier make a commitment right now to consult and work with Yukon people to develop a comprehensive, effective anti-poverty strategy that will move the Yukon closer and closer to the goal of making poverty history once and for all?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thatís exactly what the government is doing. The governmentís economic plan is about erasing poverty and making sure Yukoners have gainful employment. The governmentís increased investment in the social safety net is all about this. The governmentís assistance to seniors is all about that very point. The governmentís assistance to youth on the street ó itís this government that has increased the funding for front-line workers and NGOs that deal with our young people on the street. Itís this government, under the leadership of the Minister of Education, that has implemented the Individual Learning Centre, bringing young people back into the school system to be educated so they do not live in poverty. Itís this government thatís doing the work with Yukoners, with NGOs, and with First Nations.
Itís the members opposite who are sending the mixed message. Those are the facts.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 17 ó Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06 ó continued
Chair: We will now continue with general debate on Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I believe that we have been in general debate already, so we have already gone through our opening comments, and I will be very brief before I turn it back over to members opposite. I think they can see by the budget document itself that the financial position that the Yukon is in is a very healthy one. It shows that our surplus for the year-end is very positive ó $17 million plus. It shows our net financial resources for year-end at $23 million with an accumulated surplus for the year ending 2005-06 of over $430 million.
We have a positive cash position, Mr. Chair, and according to the net financial resources at year-end, we have positive numbers showing, so obviously there is no debt.
I look forward to what the members opposite have to offer constructively to general debate on the budget, and we will endeavour to answer their questions.
Mr. Hardy: I think the Premier knows full well where we left off. We were discussing the knee-jerk announcement regarding the school up in Copperbelt. The reason I say ďknee-jerkĒ is because we on this side of the House have not been shown any evidence that this is part of the planning process, nor were we shown any evidence that this was part of the direction the government was going in. There was no consultation with the public at all before the announcement was made. As a matter of fact, it became quite obvious that the announcement of a school in the Copperbelt area really came about because of a by-election. We are looking at the budget here, and we donít see any money allocated for it. Normally, there would be money allocated for pre-build planning work.
However, thereís none in there. In looking at it, what it looks like to us and what I think it looks like to the rest of the Yukon, of course, is a Finance minister who is making decisions based on political expediency in the matter of an election, which is not the way you should be spending taxpayersí money. Governments around Canada have been punished for doing that, and there are lots of examples.
But from our perspective, it even goes further. In looking at the comments in the Legislative Assembly by the Minister of Education, one of the comments he made was, ďWe recognize that new schools may need to be built, and we are monitoring the situation very closely.Ē Now, this is under questioning by the member for the third party, the MLA for Porter Creek South. But the Minister of Education also goes on to say, ďThe Department of Education, as I stated before, is carefully evaluating student enrolment and educational needs, and we are working on this issue. However, unlike the previous government, we will do it properly, and we will engage our stakeholders in a process that is inclusive so that decisions are made that will be in the best interests of everyone.Ē
What happens the next day is thereís an announcement ó not by the minister, but by the Acting Minister of Education and obviously from direction from the Premier ó of a school. That clearly contradicts the position that was being taken by the Minister of Education. It puts the Minister of Education in a very difficult situation. It also puts the candidate running for the Yukon Party in a very peculiar situation.
Again, weíre talking about finances and do not see anything in Bill No. 17 that indicates this was part of the plan. Obviously it wasnít. But, on the radio the other day, the candidate indicated that the Education minister had held off making this announcement so she could.
Thatís very serious. In this Legislative Assembly, we are supposed to be forthcoming with information. We are not supposed to be making statements that are misleading or inappropriate. We should not be ó and I agree with this very much ó attacking people, either ministers or MLAs personally. What we have here makes us wonder what was really going on and who is giving us the facts. Is it the candidate who is running for the Yukon Party government? Is it the Education minister, who didnít even make the announcement about the new school, and on record has made it very clear that it wasnít planned? He said that if it was going to be planned, they would do it properly and would engage the stakeholders in a process that is inclusive, so that decisions are made that would be in the best interests of everyone. He was obviously indicating that that had not begun yet and that no decision had even been made.
Add to that the comments made by the Premier, in which he singled out an employee in the Department of Education and accused that employee of making comments from a Liberal perspective.
Itís on record and in this Legislative Assembly I have asked the Premier to apologize for that, because that was incorrect. I can accept the Premier being mixed up in his analysis of that and standing up and apologizing in that area, because we now have this growing web of confusion around how the Finance minister comes up with a budget. If this is an indication of how a budget is formed under this government and under this Finance minister, we have a serious problem.
We are already seeing indications of some of these decisions that have been very irresponsible and unaccountable to the people, from our perspective. I could use the railway feasibility study ó $3 million pulled out of the air, it seems, practically on a whim. Weíll talk a lot more about that railway feasibility study, because there are some very interesting messages the Premier has put on record, dating back to his trips to Ottawa and the comments made from that. Thatís $3 million.
Thereís the bridge in Dawson City that money is still being spent on and which will obviously not be built. It definitely wonít be built during the Yukon Party mandate. Itís roughly $2 million. I will ask the minister for an update on the amount of money and where that project is.
However, I would still like an explanation. I would really like an explanation from this Premier of how he is forming budgets and how he makes decisions. A school is a good example of some inconsistencies in his messaging and what he actually does ó $5 million, $10 million, just like that. Is that because of the by-election, in contradiction to the Education minister, delivered by another person, attacking a public servant for making comments that were directed through him by the Education department? Itís a tangled web that weíre dealing with here, and unfortunately itís an example of what is happening on that side of the House, and it doesnít instill confidence in the people of this territory in regard to how this government is handling the affairs and financial accounts for the future.
We have a different perspective on that, Mr. Chair. We believe that the public needs to be involved in shaping budgets. Our history proves it. The NDP governments have always involved the public. We believe in tax round tables to look at and update the taxes and get direction in that area and in creating a round table that involves people. We believe in setting those up. None of that has been done under this government.
We believe in putting major decisions in the hands of the public, or at least allowing them to guide our decision, making them part of it, strengthening it and making it a better decision.
An example is empowering school councils. We believe in that. Thatís how we arrived at building schools in this territory without controversy or political motivation. It is a process we stand by; unfortunately the Liberals did not, and the Yukon Party absolutely does not believe in it. I can assure you, Mr. Chair, it worked well and was very effective. It empowered people, once again.
We believed that the money we were entrusted to manage is really the peopleís money. It wasnít ours, just because we happened to form the government, contrary to the members opposite.
We also recognize the dependence on public spending and the importance that public spending has on the health and welfare of this territory. We recognize also that the private sector is involved in a balance. Interestingly enough, as I said, the spending continues to go up in the public sector under this government and the reliance on that continues to grow, contrary to many of the other provinces across the country.
We have more examples, Mr. Chair, such as the athletes village. We have witnessed units being built that are $432,000 per unit. There is not a private sector builder out there that can build an apartment, rent it out and get a return for that. There are 72 units being built.
How did that come about? Our question is: where did the problem lie? The minister in charge has indicated that itís the host society that caused the problem. No, not when we talk to the host society, not when we talk to other people who are involved in it.†
Governments have known this has been coming for a long time. Governments have known that we were going to build something up at Yukon College, that there was going to be some model. There were other models presented. I remember talking over three years ago with the president of the Canada Winter Games and he indicated at that time four or five different models and had indicated that that information had been shared with the government. So, if there was a panic at the last moment to throw this together, why? What happened? Did this project sit on the Premierís desk for two years? No action and then all of a sudden, the panic happened?
So, now we have $31.5 million for 72 units. As my colleague from Mount Lorne says, do the math. Break it down any way you want, it is still extremely rich.
The housing minister has only put on the floor one other option; the option he indicated was that we had to ship trailers up here, house the athletes and then ship the trailers out and it would have cost a lot of money. Well, I put on record, Mr. Chair, thatís not the full story and he knows it. He did not put the full story on the floor.
There were many other options. He knew about them; I donít know why he only gave us one. I knew about them. Theyíre not reflected anywhere in his comments or in the budget. I know the Premier and all Yukon Party members knew of the other options, because I know people were lobbying them. They told me so. Now weíre told thatís affordable.
There are the changes to the affordable housing program that were done with consultation and input from this government that removed the ďaffordableĒ from it. That money was supposed to create affordable housing, social housing, low-income housing and housing for seniors. That has been abandoned.
That might be nice for those who have lots of money; they donít have to care ó move the money here, move the money there; who cares about the people who donít have much? But we on this side of the House do care, and if money is earmarked for those people, thatís where the money should stay.
The Premier said he would debate me any time, anywhere, on the social programs and the social agenda. I said, ďWell, letís do it the way the public wants. Call an election, then we can debate and they can make a decision.Ē We debate in here daily, but the public does want to have a say in the end.
†But I can tell you right now, there is a lot of spin happening around the finances by this Premier. That is perfectly legitimate everywhere. Spin is all right. A lot of interpretations are being put on the table. There is a lot of rhetoric coming out of the Premier on how great everything is. There is a lot of credit being taken when the public knows that the credit is not due to three years of Yukon Party government. We see where the money is coming from. Itís right there. Itís right there in front of us. If the Premier wants to read the financial summary and go through the departments, where the moneyís coming from is right there. Itís no mystery there. But ultimately that decision on whose vision of the Yukon and what direction the Yukonís going in will go back to the people, and they will have the final say. They will have the input into what vision they want and where weíre going. I think that people are waiting for that to happen as soon as possible.
So I want to go back to the question I asked. I want to know how long this government has been working on a school in Copper Ridge. If the Premier will produce the correspondence and the direction from Management Board to indicate the work that has been done, to show that it has been put on record, that this has been part of a long-range plan and this announcement wasnít a surprise, then we can move on.
Chair: Order please.
Before debate continues, the Chair is uncomfortable with some of the language and some of the statements that have been used in debate today. The members are well-versed in the Standing Orders, especially Standing Order 19(g) and 19(h) regarding imputing false or unavowed motives to others and also regarding charging another member with uttering falsehoods. It is my hope, and I believe the hope of all Members of the Legislative Assembly, that we can carry on debate here in accordance with our Standing Orders and in a manner the people of the Yukon would expect of us.
I would just like to give a note of caution that we need to adhere to our Standing Orders. The Chair will be listening very closely.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There was quite a litany of insinuations and suggestions from the member opposite. I will endeavour to respond as closely as I can in general debate with respect to some of the specifics. I want to begin by pointing out that it is highly irregular to suggest that anything we do in budgeting would contravene what the Auditor General and the Public Service Accounting Board guidelines require that we do. To suggest anything but the fact that we are budgeting in accordance with those guidelines and in accordance with the directions of the Auditor Generalís Office would be incorrect.
We simply cannot do that. Frankly, that would be illegal.
I just want to make that point and put it on the record because today, under this governmentís watch, the Yukon has now had three successive unqualified financial statements from the Auditor General. What that is saying is that the governmentís finances, how we conduct our fiscal processes and all that goes with them, are in good shape and are definitely following the regulation, law and policy we must follow.
The members opposite make some case that, because there is nothing in the budget with respect to a school and other things, it somehow is an issue to this whole question. First off, we all know that, in that area, the land for a new school has already been set aside. Therefore, itís only rational to consider that, having the land set aside, at some point in the future and given the growth of today and the projected growth over years in this particular area, school facilities will become an issue that must be addressed. From land set aside there has been a tremendous amount of input from the community, from that area.
The members opposite have made suggestions many times on the floor of this House that the riding was not being represented. Here again is factual evidence that it was because we all knew that, in the riding and in that area, one of the biggest issues for the residents was the issue of school facilities, and it also includes, Mr. Chair, by the way, the Hamilton Boulevard extension or second access.
But I would like to point a couple of things out for the member opposite. The issue of being in the budget or not in the budget and how that somehow has any effect on decisions governments must make as we go forward building the future of this territory ó Mr. Chair, the $10 million to assist the increased cost of the Whitehorse General Hospital was never in a budget until the Yukon Party took office, and then we put it in there. But why did we do that? Well, we had to address the issues for the hospital itself. $6 million for pharmacare and long-care disease programs ó that was never in a budget, anywhere until the Yukon Party came to office and we went to work on it. $1.1 million for specialized medical services ó the same holds true for that particular investment. The list goes on and on and on.
The question is, how do we budget? Well, as the member full well knows, there has been a very intensive community tour by this government, year in and year out. So, much of the budget that we create is the result of community input, public input, grassroots input, and thatís why so many projects are spread throughout the Yukon Territory, community by community, and thatís why many of the program increases and new programs that have come on have been the result of those budget consultations and the way we do our budgets. They always follow though, the FAA, the Financial Administration Act, the Public Sector Accounting Board guidelines, direction from the Auditor Generalís Office, ensuring that we maintain a healthy financial position, ensuring that we maintain a very strong, accumulated surplus, and ensuring that, unlike past governments, we keep cash in the bank.
Now, the member also implies that we would suggest in any way, or would make decisions in any way, for political expediency. No, we would not do that, because that again would not be following, through budgeting, the direction of the Auditor General and the guidelines we must follow.†
But when it comes to the issue of election time, I would hope that the member opposite doesnít want to engage in that debate, given past history under the NDP governments, Mr. Chair. That is something that I would hope the member doesnít want to debate. Thatís not constructive and has no bearing on where the Yukon is at today.
Now, letís go to the athletes village. Again, the suggestion that this is costing $400,000 a unit or something is simply information that is not even remotely connected to the project itself. The facts are: the project in its entirety is at a cost of $204 per square foot. Thatís how itís calculated. This is affordable housing, Mr. Chair. Yukon Housing is building an affordable housing apartment complex up at the college with 18 one-bedroom units and 30 two-bedroom units. The second part of the complex is a student family residence. Now, again, we didnít just dream that up, as the member opposite seems to point out ó that suddenly there was a panic to build a facility. This is something the college brought forward, Mr. Chair. The college has clearly articulated and demonstrated that this is an area from which, if we invest into it, we will get a long-term return by being able to bring in rural Yukoners, house them, house their families, and allow them to attend college, Mr. Chair. Whether theyíre single-parent or dual-parent families, the parents have a place to live while they attend college, furthering their education, increasing their skill sets. This is a good thing.
That is for 12 two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom apartments so, in total, we are talking of costs of $204 per square foot ó thatís the calculation. As calculated, plus project management costs and other fees that always go with any project like this, the total will be $31.4 million with a construction total of $28.5 million.
So, Mr. Chair, again the NDP ó the official opposition ó is bringing forward information that does not relate to the particular issue they have brought forward ó in this case, the investment in the college. Iím not sure what the information relates to that they are discussing here today, but itís certainly not the facilities at the college that will be used by the Canada Winter Games.
Furthermore, regarding the situation the member seems to keep going back to with respect to other proposals, the host society did conduct some processes and, as of November 23, 2004, none of the submissions as evaluated resolve the self-financing issue nor completely identified end-users for the facility following the conclusion of the games ó none of the proposals. It is after that time that the host society approached the Government of Yukon, proposing that the Yukon government may have some space needs that could be built, used temporarily as athlete accommodation and, after the games finished, be put to governmentís use. This came after these proposals the member opposite has alluded to, and that came after November 23, 2004.
Considering the complexity and size of a project like this, and the timeline crunches, I think the whole society ó the City of Whitehorse and the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Yukon government ó were able to quickly come together and conclude the end result, which would be an investment in the college.
The members opposite will recall that it was in February 2005 that the government ó represented by me ó and the mayor signed an agreement, providing the partnership framework for the respective governments and the financial contributions therein. The host society, on April 5, 2005, notified the proponents by letter that the request for proposals† ó I repeat for the member opposite that it was the host society ó was cancelled. None of the submitted proposals adequately addressed the key components required by the society for the project to proceed.
What weíre showing, Mr. Chair, is the disconnection between how the official opposition views the said project and what the facts bear out. From that point, at the end of April 2005, the design team presented preliminary floor plans, a site plan and an accommodation schedule to the village project committee, comprised of members of the Yukon government ó Community Services and Highways and Public Works in this case ó and the host society for review and comment. On May 17, 2005, we announced, at the college site, that the Yukon government would undertake the construction of two buildings that would temporarily serve as an athletes village for the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
The schedule of construction contracts to date has commenced from there. Mr. Chair, the issue of going modular was based on the time between the announcement of May ó I really pointed to the fact that this was late in the game when the host society came forward and finally cancelled the other request for proposals. The time crunch dictates that we have to find a way to be able to construct the square footage of this size and have it completed and ready for use before the games begin. I think weíve done very well to date on that. And I think, Mr. Chair, itís important that I list what has transpired to date, because much of what has gone on is critical, I think, to some of the debate that has been swirling around this.
Mr. Chair, Atco receives a $9.7-million tender for the modulars. But local companies ó Castle Rock did water and sewer, Dynamic Systems is doing electrical systems, clearing and stripping is done by Kearah & WERI General Environmental Contractors, Keith Plumbing and Heating, Ketza did foundation and concrete, Klondike Welding, the Truss Plant here, and Yukon Electrical is involved also. But Mr. Chair, these are all Yukon companies who contributed to this project. Some of them were invitational tender. Some were invitational tender, and, lo and behold, some were sole sourced, and some were public tenders. As weíve been stating all along, the government hasnít deviated from all the processes, regulations, policy, guidelines and law that we must work under.
So, I hope Iím clearing up the issue of the college investment for the member opposite because we could move on to other discussions. This particular debate is specific in nature and belongs, frankly, in the purview of the minister responsible, but in general debate we have a significant budget here with another increase, putting the financial expenditure of the territory over the $800-million mark. As reported, we have no debt and a very healthy year-end surplus. Members will note that the year-end surplus is a positive number, some $17 million. The members will note that our net financial resources, on the balance sheet, show a $23-million positive position and an extremely healthy accumulated surplus, albeit the result of full accrual accounting, but itís full disclosure to the Yukon public.
I can only respond to the comments about how we are budgeting by saying we follow the direction of the Auditor Generalís Office, the Public Sector Accounting Board guidelines, the Financial Administration Act, and we fully disclose the finances of the territory to the Yukon public via our debates in the House and the budget documents.
I would also caution the members opposite that when we go down the road of this type of debate, when we get into these types of discussions, weíre reflecting on all those officials who are charged with the responsibility of making sure that we are within those guidelines, rules and law that we must work within.
Itís not something that the government side wants to see happening on the floor of the Legislature. The issue is important. As we have shown all through this mandate, the government side simply does not ó in any way, shape or form ó diminish the role of our public service. In fact, we have done a lot of work to enhance their role. We see our public service as a very integral part of Team Yukon. We have ensured that, in our collective bargaining agreement, we put a very healthy package on the table. We want to ensure that we repay the employees for the tremendous effort and work they undertake. People do not even see a lot of what goes on here in the territory, but it is done through the efforts and dedication of the many public servants.
We also came forward with the investment in the public service initiative. We are looking at how to mentor and bring young people back into the territory, how to move people up through the chain of command through incentive and training. All these things are important in building a very strong and dedicated public service, even more so than we have today, because that is the whole objective of what we are trying to do with Team Yukon, with the public service being a part of it.
We could get back to a very constructive tone or we could continue to deal with these areas of debate that do not connect with the realities of today.
Mr. Hardy: Well, once again, my reality is not the same as the Premierís, obviously, which is not the same as that of the Member for Porter Creek South and not the same as that of anybody over here. The Premierís reality is quite unique, actually. I guess, listening closely, I got the impression that the Premier was saying that his attack on the public servant the other day is an indication of how he cares for public servants. I guess, listening to the Premier today, his computer-use investigation, in which all public servants were guilty and had to prove themselves innocent, was an indication of how much he really cares for them. I guess, listening closely today, that the comments made by the minister responsible for housing, the MLA for Porter Creek North, in regard to people that were employed in the Education department, and the very volatile and destructive comments made about their integrity are an indication of the Premierís thank you to the public servants. I guess I have to assume, based upon what the Premier said today about the employees, that they knew completely about the announcement of the school and they had obviously directed or given advice on making this type of announcement without any planning, without any budgeting, without any consultation. I am assuming that the Premier is, by his statements, saying that the officials are responsible for that fall-from-the-sky announcement that we witnessed around the school, and therefore that they are responsible for how it came about.
I can only assume that, because thatís what the Premier is indicating. So if that is how he shows his appreciation for the public servants, I think theyíve had enough. I think they would have liked a different type of approach of respect and inclusiveness and recognition.
Iíve actually heard MLAs from the Yukon Party side mention that a job within the public service is not a real job; real jobs are ones in the private sector. Iíve heard that in this Legislative Assembly ó I think it was the first year. I remember some of them saying that; Iíll have to look in the Hansard, because I do remember that being said by a couple of Yukon Party MLAs. Thatís a very interesting concept of how you look at someone who puts in many hours of work a day of their life, to actually say itís not a real job, that where the money is coming from doesnít match up right.
The analysis of the athletes village is an interesting one. As I said, weíve known there was a need for that; weíve all known for years and years that we would have to house the athletes as part of the package. Am I assuming the Yukon government gave a bunch of money to the host society and then sat on its hands? Is that what the Premier is indicating? That they just sat back with their hands underneath their legs and said, ďWe gave you money; now weíre not going to do anything until you come to us and tell us you need our help.Ē Did the government not say, ďLook, we want to work closely with you; weíre putting in a lot of money here; we want to see the athletes village move forward; we want to see it done in an expeditious fashion but also one that is economically feasible with some savings around it.Ē
Listening to the Premier, obviously they sat back and waited for ó what ó a crisis to occur? They knew full well that the clock was ticking and everyone in the territory knew it. Where was the Yukon Party government? What were they doing? Why didnít they get engaged a lot earlier?
The Premier did not really answer the question about the school. One of the more difficult things, of course, about debating with the Premier, is that he almost never answers anything.
The Premier has also indicated that there is a time crunch with regard to the athletes village. You know what? The Finance minister should realize that there is a time crunch for the seniors too. They wouldnít mind living in good, clean, affordable housing ó something that the program was developed for. It was robbed. The money was moved from that program into another one that does not address or serve the seniors. There is a time crunch for the youth who are couch surfing. They are struggling to find a place before they fall through the cracks. There is a time crunch for low-income families who are renting places that are disgusting. They are no places to raise children and are extremely unhealthy. There is mould on the walls and they are unsafe, with poor heating. Money was earmarked to address some of those needs. This government dropped the ball. They renegotiated that agreement and moved it into something else ó to the athletes village. They moved it over to higher end or middle-class housing. They did not say, ďLetís look at who needs it most.Ē
Instead, they worked on moving it out of that area. It was a conscious decision ó shame on this government for abandoning those people who need it most ó to feed some developer from Utah on their project. There was money to do other projects; he could have gotten it from other sources, but changing an agreement and taking money away from those who most need it is not ethical. Itís not correct.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Perhaps the Premier should listen, and then he would understand what isnít, instead of yelling across the floor, ďWhat isnít?Ē
Those are just examples of spending money on studies out of the blue, when there has already been an indication that thereís no appetite for it by the private sector and that the federal government has no appetite to put money into it. That money could have gone to help youth; that money could have gone to help those seniors. I was at the biannual meeting a couple of weeks ago, where the guest speaker was the Minister of Health and Social Services, who did not show up and address them. I was there. If he had shown up at the biannual meeting for the Council on Aging, he would have heard what they had to say about housing. He would have heard what the seniors had to say about what this government has done and not done and the promises that were made and are not being followed through with. I sure heard it; it was probably the biggest topic there.
But you know what? No one showed up from the Yukon Party government. Even the guest speaker wasnít present, so we know where the priorities lie.
We know the Premier likes to use the Auditor Generalís report a lot to justify everything thatís happening. I can assure you that the Auditor General would be very interested in looking at this decision to build a school ó where this money comes from, how it has been budgeted, how the planning happened. They would be very interested in taking a look at that, if asked. I know, contrary to what the Premier may think, thatís something that can happen. The Public Accounts Committee has a role to play and they work very closely with the Auditor Generalís staff, and if the Public Accounts Committee is so interested, they can take a look at the spending of the government and the decisions and how the government decides to spend money in one direction or another, and if that process was followed in a manner that is correct. Thatís the role of the Public Accounts Committee, which works very closely with the Auditor Generalís staff. I have to admit that they are actually quite a joy to work with, and the Public Accounts Committee ó I think I would be speaking on behalf of all of them ó is a tremendous asset for us and has made our work a lot easier and a lot more thorough and a lot more accurate over the years we have been in operation. It has been a pleasure to be a part of that and a pleasure to work with my colleagues on that.†
Iím hoping that after the next election that that work will continue in a productive and accountable fashion.
Just as an aside on that, Mr. Chair, it is, I think, a model for the other committees that arenít functioning to follow. Then maybe we would be able to work closer together in this Legislative Assembly and accomplish a lot more.
Unfortunately, it seems itís one of the few committees that takes on very significant tasks and accomplishes them and keeps them moving forward without a breakdown among the colleagues that are working together. So I would like to thank my colleagues that I have had an opportunity to work with over the last three years. It has been a joy. Their contributions and opinions have been well appreciated and quite insightful.
Now, the Premier made a promise about the northern strategy. There was a promise to consult with Yukoners and partner with First Nation governments to establish goals and objectives for the vision around this. Now, I know the Premier has met with some First Nations and the Council of Yukon First Nations and has been working on that side of it, but I do not see any consultation at all with Yukoners in regard to the northern strategy. Could the Premier give me an update on where thatís at?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, you know, itís very difficult to try to actually debate the budget when weíre talking about everything but. But past governments ó all governments ó have made announcements on what theyíre going to do. It doesnít necessarily mean that that announcement will be in a budget. It means it is work in progress or itís something that they will commence.
That said, I need not deal with that any further. As far as the northern strategy, the Yukon chapter, as designed, was inclusive. Every mailbox in the territory received a questionnaire, so there was a tremendous contact out there with respect to the northern strategy. Part of that process had to be the federal governmentís doing. This is one of our partners. We presented to Canada what we call the Yukon chapter of the northern strategy, and Canada is working to finalize the northern strategy overall for the three territories, and we will wait to see what the outcome will be.
Given the situation in Ottawa today, I canít say definitely on the floor of the House that Ottawa may finalize this decision between now and the possibility of the looming election. What is certain, though, is that the money attached to the northern strategy is safe, regardless of what happens to the incumbent federal Liberal government, because the money has been placed in trust, so we are not in danger of losing those resources. What is still outstanding is Canadaís concurrence with each territory on the way forward, and thatís all weíre waiting for.
Mr. Chair, Iím not sure how much further I can go with the member opposite, the leader of the official opposition, other than to say that many of the areas he expresses concern about are areas that are actually being worked on here in the territory, but there are some significant increases in options and what we have available to address some of these major challenges we face in todayís Yukon.
The government has taken a very balanced approach to the economic, environmental and social sides of the ledger. We are endeavouring to do the best we possibly can on all fronts, but itís all driven by and based on a plan and vision for the territory that is distinctly different from the members opposite, who have been in government recently and clearly were leading the territory in a different direction. That was their choice and the direction they were going, but it led to severe problems. I think we all recognize that. There was an exodus of the population. Our unemployment rate was way out of line with national standards across the country. Our investment community was shrinking. There was no investment confidence whatsoever in this territory; in fact, the Yukon was not even on the investment radar screen.
We worked hard to turn that around and itís starting to improve. That is encouraging, but we have never once taken all the credit, as the member opposite continues to imply. In fact, we have ó and this is recorded in Hansard and in media clips out there ó expressed our recognition to all those who have been working on turning the territoryís fortunes around.
One thing we will say, however, is that we did have a plan to do exactly that. We did have a vision to ensure that we could carry out that change for the better. We also did some things that I think are specific to our government in terms of making the case with Ottawa on the financial situation here in the territory. There was an inadequacy in how Ottawa was sharing the national wealth. We shouldnít be treated any differently from New Brunswick, which received huge injections of equalization money. We shouldnít be treated any differently from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Manitoba or Saskatchewan. All these provinces received a further share of the national wealth through equalization.
What we did on health care, for instance, which has helped the financial situation of the territory, is get the federal government to commit to the fact that per capita funding through the Canadian health transfer was not adequate or acceptable for the north, and weíve managed to change that over the short term and in five years out. Weíve also managed to get increases to our share of the national wealth, just like any other jurisdiction had been receiving and continues to receive today.
So it is something that we went to bat for. We had good evidence ó some of that evidence was produced by a team in our stats branch that made a tremendous contribution to our business case. Our Finance people and others were all involved, and we made the case with Canada. We did it in a pan-northern arrangement and the results are that the government has a better financial position, the government has been able to stimulate the Yukon economy and increase that stimulus considerably, but it has also increased investor confidence and it has increased private sector involvement.
The financial institutions in todayís Yukon are lending more money. This is factual information, Mr. Chair. If you talk to any bank, they will tell you that they have significantly increased the capital they loan out here in the Yukon. That was not the case three short years ago.
So we have tabled a supplementary this sitting that includes increases. Hereís where I get somewhat concerned, especially about the official opposition and the now Liberal leader, who is out there suggesting weíre on a spending spree. I have to say, is this the members oppositeís definition of spending or investing when we honour our pension liability?
Thatís in the supplementary. That is a requirement. This cannot be a spending spree by anybodyís definition. This is what we are obligated to do. Are the increases in delivery of health care to Yukoners something the members opposite define as a spending spree? They are entitled to that opinion, but the government side considers that an investment in delivering health care to Yukoners. These are examples of where the members opposite seem to be missing the point. You know, are small things like $150,000 in social housing renovation and rehabilitation ó we have a very significant inventory of social housing and we tend to keep it up and in good condition for those who need this type of housing ó affordable to boot ó and who can live in an environment of comfort and ensure that the dwelling is sufficient. These are all investments being made ó hardly a spending spree. Itís the same with the tourism initiatives and a decade of sport and culture. All these areas of increase in the supplementary over the mains for this year are investments in this territory, its future, its program and service delivery to Yukoners.
So I think the official opposition has missed the point. It is of great concern, considering how they have defined budgeting projects like the college project, which will be housing athletes for two weeks, how they define where our economy is at, how they define what would be our share of the national wealth, how they define the situation of todayís Yukon, socially, health-wise, education-wise ó all these things show clearly that the official opposition is not a good alternative for government.
The Yukon would be in a terrible situation under the leadership of the NDP, which is the official opposition in this House. Thatís not something that Yukoners want, at least from our governmentís perspective. Thatís not something we see Yukoners looking toward. They are not looking for change. I think Yukoners are saying that things are better now. Itís time for us to consider how we build on that and look to the future, and thatís what the government is focused on. We have no desire to try to reconstruct the past. What we are trying to do is fix what we can and move ahead, so that the Yukon Territory is a better place to live, where gainful employment is available, where those in need are being assisted and where our education system contributes to the future of our territory overall, not only socially but also economically, and where we can serve and protect the beauty that we have. Thatís all happening in todayís Yukon under the Yukon Party governmentís watch.
As far as our financial position is concerned, which allows us to add to what we can do here, weíre pleased that we have the fiscal situation we have today. We have every intention of maintaining that type of financial situation for this territory.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to enter into debate this afternoon after that fine campaign speech by the Premier. Interesting themes are being tried out on the general public. I can hear those fax machines whirring as we speak.
Iíd like to begin where we left off the last time the Premier and I were in general debate on the supplementary budget. We were talking about not only the proposed school in Copperbelt, but another sensitive subject, one that is distasteful to many Yukoners, and one that is coming up at every door in Copperbelt ó sometimes every other door, if weíre lucky. Certainly last week, in all my conversations with angry contractors, this was added to their question, and itís a question of leadership; itís a question of ethics. Itís a simple yes or no, and the Premier was very fond, when he was on this side of the House, of saying, ďItís a simple yes or no.Ē This is a simple yes or no question to the Premier. Has he asked the Deputy Premier, the Member for Klondike, to repay his loan?
Chair: Before we continue, the Chair must comment about members mimicking other memberís speech. Please, letís conduct the debate in this Legislative Assembly in the manner in which Yukoners expect us to act and behave.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, I think that this would be a good discussion between the member opposite and me. The member knows full well that there are delinquent loans in this particular file that date back many, many years. The member knows the process the government undertook ó a highly ethical process, by the way. We repatriated hundreds of thousands of dollars back to Canada where it belonged. There was no point in us carrying it on our books, and it was not our issue, per se, so why were we babysitting a federal issue? So, we repatriated, I think, in the neighbourhood of $600,000 to $800,000.
We also conducted a process ó we said to the proponents involved in this particular file that we have a process here, and should they want to follow it and get current, these are the things that can happen. Through that process, I believe, about $2-million worth of loans came forward and became current. We forgave the NGOsí loans. By definition, non-governmental organizations are non-profit; itís not even reasonable to consider they have the ability to repay a loan. Iím not even sure how past governments got NGOs into this, considering that, by definition, they are non-profit societies.
So we forgave that amount. The full amount just slips my mind at the moment ó I think it was some $400,000, or half a million dollars, give or take.
Once that process was concluded, there were remaining delinquent files, including that of the Member for Klondike. All those files are now in collection. In other words, unlike any past government, the delinquencies have been taken out of government, removing any of the possible perception of what might be going on, and have been handed to a financial institution to collect the outstanding amounts. That process is well underway.
We included another aspect of the process with the said financial institution whereby weíve created a risk capital program for small business in the territory, and part of the collections contributed to this program and fund. Because I think itís clear that one of the areas we need to continue to ensure is available to small business here in the territory is that they have access to risk capital. Thatís very important to the economic well-being of the territory. So in a small way weíve added to that, along with the venture loan guarantee program and the microloan guarantee program. But theyíre no longer in government. Theyíre outside of government. Financial institutions deal with these things. Financial institutions make the choice of whether the applicant is eligible for a loan or not. They make those kinds of decisions, not government, not politicians. So I think thatís important.
Now, Mr. Chair, including that of the Member for Klondike, all the remaining delinquent files are under collection and we intend to collect. But, right now, that is in the hands of a financial institution here in the territory that is undertaking this particular work. So itís in the process.
But I must say that itís this government, the first government in over a decade, that has actually taken this step, put it into the hands of an agency that, in the financial world, has all the tools and mechanisms for collection and will follow through with it. Past governments, as I understand it, although I donít have any of the details, in some cases had made some attempts and so on and so forth, but with very limited success. Given the history here, I think the evidence will bear that statement out. There have been delinquencies that go back many, many years, and those are the ones that we are now cleaning up as far as this file is concerned. Once completed, we have concluded the business with this particular arrangement that dates back to the 1980s, and we will move on.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there are a couple of points that I would like to follow up on with the Premier. We can get into them one at a time, because rather than having the entire speech, as in general debate, we tend to focus our comments. What I am going to do is ask a question of the Premier exactly as it was asked and stated to me by a constituent. We were talking about another subject to do with the Yukon Party government and it came up, as it does very often in Copperbelt and when weíre talking with constituents. The way this individual put it was, ďAnd what about the issue of the outstanding loan by the Member for Klondike? I can tell youĒ ó and this is a quote ó ďthat if that was an employee of mine, he would be hauled into the office and asked to repay the loan or to make an attempt.Ē All I am asking the Premier is just to answer that simple question. Granted, he may not consider himself the employer ó the people of the Klondike are the employer. I donít want a political speech about the people who voted for the member, and so on. It is an issue of leadership. I am asking him the way the constituent asked me.
If he likes, I will be happy to share the answer I gave the constituent. The answer I gave the constituent was, ďI donít know if the Premier has asked that question of his Deputy Premier. Why donít you ask him? Why donít you pick up the phone and ask him?Ē That was my suggestion and it was not in a negative sense. Itís just that I have asked him the question and I have not received an answer. Again, has the Premier, as a colleague, made the direct request? I understand the process of putting it outside of government. The Premier says he doesnít know all the details of past governments and so on. The details of the Management Board submission were publicly tabled in this Legislature and proposed dealing with this in the same manner.
Perhaps the Premier would like to look at that document. Iím asking the Premier the question as the constituent asked it of me: as a matter of leadership, has he asked the Deputy Premier to repay the outstanding loan?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: As a matter of leadership, weíre collecting the loan. The member opposite conveniently ignores the fact that this is a corporate loan ó companies owe us money. An individual may be involved in a company, but it is a corporate loan to a corporate entity, so we are collecting it. Thatís the process weíve embarked on.
Again, I say with the greatest of confidence that no other government has done that, not one. Not one has taken the step we have. As I said, in the past there have been some attempts within government, but this is the first government that has said, ďThatís it; we are cleaning this up; it has been 15 years or more and the time has come.Ē
And I listed what we did. With the highest of ethics and leadership, we forgave NGOs; we allowed time for people to come forward ó $2 million of the loans were brought current. We repatriated hundreds of thousands more back to Canada; the remaining delinquent files are under collection. Thatís leadership; thatís ethics.
Ms. Duncan: Will the Premier then ó we havenít had a detailed report, and one of the concerns that was expressed when this matter was turned over to Dana Naye Ventures is that the public would lose track of how much has been paid, whatís still outstanding, whatís the precise amount at the conclusion of the repatriated amount.
Will the Premier provide for the public record the current status of the situation with respect to all the outstanding loans, as Dana Naye must provide it to him, so we know precisely how much has been repatriated, how much is under collection; if it has gone to the lawyers, how much has gone to the lawyers; and if there are loans that are under renegotiation for issues around interest or repayment, could we have that information? And rather than read it into the record, would the Premier table it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Pardon my nasal sound, but I have a terrible cold happening. I hope Iím clear enough for the member opposite. The document I have before me, which lists all the outstanding economic loans and their status has, a matter of days ago, been turned over to the members opposite. Itís in the hands of the member.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, my precise question was to put it in the hands of the public and put it on the public record, which is why I asked him to table it. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís a very public document. Itís public information. The status of these loans has been put out there time and time again. There should be no fear that something is going to be hidden because it is now in the hands of a financial institution. Thatís not the case. Again, the member has been provided the most recent status update of the file ó those that are in good standing and those that are outstanding.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, with all due respect, the Premier has missed my point. It has been provided to me; itís not within my ability to provide it to the public. Thatís not my role. The Premier is the one who needs to provide it to the House and therefore the public. If the Department of Finance wants to put it on their Web site and do it that way, so be it. But just because it has been given to me doesnít mean it has been made public or given to my research staff. Iím asking if the Premier would say, ďYes, you have the right to make that document public, and here it is, Iím providing it publicly on the floor of the House.Ē
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, first off, the member asked for a copy, but now the member wants the public updated. Weíll put it on the Web site. We have turned this over to the media. This is very public, so Iím not sure if the member thought maybe we werenít doing that. But we are doing that and we are ensuring that the public is aware of this and we will go further, a commitment on the floor, Mr. Chair, commitment number ó how many have we got? Commitment number whatever it is ó itís in the hundreds ó is to put the status of the loan portfolio on the Web site and the Department of Finance will do that as soon as possible.
Ms. Duncan: That is what I asked the Premier to do. Itís one thing to provide it to us; Iím asking if it was provided to the public and I want it provided it to the public. So, that is what I asked for and that is what we got.
A final point with respect to the loans is that the outstanding loans, or accounts receivable, vary on the particular business loans ó this file weíve been talking about. The amount shown as outstanding varies between our public accounts reports. What I am saying is that over the years we have collected upon these. In the public accounts report last tabled, which has bearing on the current supplementary because it is part of the overall financial picture, I note that the loans have gone down from $3,783,000 to $3,474,000. So the last $400,000 was forgiven. In the next reporting of them, because they have been turned over to Dana Naye Ventures and because there has a been so much progress outlined by the Premier, are we going to see that amount at zero?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Deputy Chair, those in good standing obviously would be reduced by the amount paid during that fiscal period. Those that are outstanding are dependent on what is collected. Obviously, whatever is collected will reduce the amounts accordingly; however, they will still be on our books. By the way, we still hold the debt. We have simply gone out and got a financial institution to do the collection.
Ms. Duncan: So, what weíll end up with ó itís gone down over the years, so when the Premier talks on and on about how they were the first government to take it to collection, in fact, when you look at the stacks of public accounts reports, that figure has gone down over the years. People have paid them off. As the Premier said, there is $400,000 or about half a million for the NGOs that was forgiven.
Iíve just been advised that our office has not received a copy of those updated loans. There must be a glitch somewhere. Perhaps that could be checked. The e-mail is working fine. Perhaps it could be verified while weíre on break.
My point with respect to these outstanding loans is that they have shown up on the books for the six years of annual public accounts that I have. It has gone down over the years, but we are still going to see these on the books until they are all collected. The Premier has verified that, yes, that will happen, so weíll still see them.
†Iíd like to talk with the Premier about the surplus as reflected in the supplementary budget. The government changed the accounting method, following the suggestion of the Auditor General, to account for our assets. Before we get into that, perhaps the Premier could just update the House in general debate. The other recommendation of the Auditor General was that we also account for our environmental liability. Whatís the progress on that action?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, with respect to environmental liability, weíve been working very closely with the Auditor Generalís Office. We were not required to book it in this fiscal year, but there is a notation in the public accounts, and we will be booking environmental liability in the next fiscal year, as per the work weíre doing with the Auditor Generalís office. If you go to the public accounts document, you will see ó Iím not sure what page it is, but itís item 26 ó the title ďEnvironmental LiabilitiesĒ, and thereís a long explanation of what it is weíre doing, effective dates, and so on and so forth, explaining things that came through devolution, and the devolution transfer agreement and type II sites and all the rest of it, and quantifiable portions of remediation costs for some of the sites that have been at least partially assessed are currently estimated at $700,000. Those would be specific to Yukon government environmental liabilities.
Mr. Chair, as I understand it, the document the member seeks is on e-mail, so maybe somebody in the office hasnít checked their e-mail yet. I know the member keeps repeating the fact that if you look at public accounts youíll see that payments have always been made ó yes, but thatís not the ones weíre collecting. Itís the ones where payments arenít being made. Thatís, I think, a critical point here.
Overall, weíre pursuing the environmental liability issue with the Auditor General, and we are progressing to the point where, in the coming fiscal year, we will be booking liabilities as they have been quantified.
Ms. Duncan: While the Premier was speaking, I looked up note 26. Other than the $700,000 noted, thereís also a tag line in that paragraph, ďThe government is not a responsible party for this site but may incur some future environmental liability as the landowner.Ē
Is the Premier suggesting in his response a ballpark figure? Because weíre booking it next year; they must have some kind of rough idea. Nobody is going to hold the Department of Finance to this figure as gospel, but what kinds of numbers are we looking at? Is it the $700,000 the Premier suggested? The Premier is nodding. All right.
The commitment is commitment number 300 something. It will be booked in next yearís financial statements, so in next yearís public accounts, or in next yearís budget will we see it?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It will be in the public accounts, but I think we have to recognize that the quantifiable number weíre using is specific to Yukon. Thereís still a lot of environmental liability out there that ó if itís not already ó has to be put on the federal books. Type II mine sites: that $700,000 to date is what has been quantified, and we would have to put it into public accounts.
Ms. Duncan: So we wonít see it in the budget presentation this spring, then? For the sake of looking at the liabilities and the assets? Will we or will we not see it in the budget documents this spring?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: How it works is that the total amount, as we know it today, will be in public accounts as a liability. But when we start remediation, or something of that nature, it will start showing up in the budget document in whole or in part, depending on what the remediation part is costing. Does that help the member?
So weíre not putting it in the budget to date, because nothing in terms of us doing any remediation work affecting a cost through a budget has happened. What is happening is that the public accounts will reflect the liability for the fiscal year-end 2006-07.
Ms. Duncan: I need the Premier to outline this for me: when we started recording the assets, the problem was that, in the past ó to bring this discussion away from the accountants and down to the basic bookkeepers ó we were recording the assets in the year in which they expensed, but we didnít record it as a full asset. An example was that if we spent $4 million building a school, we recorded the $4 million, not the full value of the $6-million school. What I heard the Premier just say was that if we spend money on environmental liabilities and the remediation of them, we will record that but not the full environmental liabilities in the public accounts. But why not the budget? If we are going to show the full value of all the assets in the budget, why arenít we showing the full amount of the environmental liabilities in the budget? Why the difference? Shouldnít we be stating the full value of our assets and stating the full value of our environmental liabilities, not just the amount weíre spending on remediation?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, thatís what we are saying. We donít book the asset until we make the appropriation. Thatís when it gets booked. So this is the reverse: itís a liability but we donít put in an amount in the budget until we start making the expenditure. But the liability will be in the public accounts that show what our liability is in this area. Well, when we do an asset we donít book the asset until we make the appropriation for said asset.
Ms. Duncan: I understand what the Premier is saying. I think if he looks at it from the perspective of someone just looking at the budget ó we are debating the budget ó you are showing the full amount of the assets but you are not showing the full amount of what you might end up owing on the environmental liability. So itís an unequal equation in the budget documents. These public accounts, I might add are presented in October for the previous year-end of March; they are the full financial statements. Shouldnít the budget also be, though? They are the audited financial statements ó I understand that ó but the minister isnít going to hesitate, as Finance minister, to show the full value of what we have; shouldnít he also be showing the full value of what we owe?
I understand it is going to be in the public accounts after it is audited and so on and so forth; I understand the argument he is trying to make. I would just ask that he appreciate the argument that I am trying to make: that the public looks at the budget. He has no hesitation in showing how much we own, not like we are going to raffle off a school to pay for something else, but we are showing the full amount of those assets. Shouldnít we also show the full amount that we may end up owing for our liabilities in the budget document?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: If we record the full liability, Mr. Chair, it would affect our net financial resources, but we wouldnít have a line here that says ó until we start making the expenditure, that we are spending X on remediation of this liability. So the quantified amount is going to show up in the public accounts. It will affect our net financial year-end position immediately, but we would not show it in the breakdown of the budget until we start spending money on remediation.
Ms. Duncan: All right, letís try it another way. Page S-11 of the supplementary shows the changes in tangible capital assets and amortization. It says that we have $1,038,386,000 in capital assets in service currently. My argument is this: shouldnít we also have a page that shows S-12, environmental liabilities, and isnít that what the department is working toward?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, no. The argument the member is trying to make is that because we show the assets less the amortization, weíre not showing a correct budget document, and thatís not the case. By the Auditor Generalís direction, there are other liabilities that donít show up in this document, but they affect the bottom line, the net financial position, which this would do.††
When they get retired, they show up in the body of a budget, because we pay it out.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I do, but the member opposite has to understand that your logic is housed in the net financial position. So if the full quantified amount of an environmental liability is $1 million, todayís budget would have shown $22,205,000 net financial. Until we start spending money on remediation, nowhere else in the budget document would it show up. If we spent $300,000 on remediation, then there would be an expenditure of $300,000 for remediation of an environmental liability, but it would increase the overall amount in our net financial position by the $300,000.
Ms. Duncan: The minister, as Finance minister, takes the time to detail to the general public all the buildings and bridges they own. Bridges are in here, along with buildings, stuff ó a highly technical term, ďstuffĒ ó assets, what we own.
To the best of my knowledge, there isnít an amortization schedule for environmental liabilities. The public knows what we own; is it not reasonable to ask and to outline to the public what we owe, what it is anticipated we will have to pay in accounting for our environmental assets?
Perhaps I could start with this: has the Auditor Generalís staff been asked this question? Iím happy to redirect it to them and get the answer from them. Iím just asking as a member of the public. You know, Iím a taxpayer; what do I own? Okay, there it is: I have a billion dollars of assets. Is it not also reasonable to outline what the environmental liabilities are, as a separate table?
Itís clear in the net financial picture. I understand that. But we have taken the time to outline what we own; does it not make sense to also take the time to outline what we think we owe in environmental liabilities?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We do, Mr. Chair. Itís in the public accounts document. If the member ever becomes the Minister of Finance, I am sure she can work with the Finance department to do it. This government is going to follow what the Auditor General wants. Thatís exactly what weíre doing. I donít see any issue here.
We have changed our accounting system to full accrual. We show now the true financial picture ó the real financial picture ó of the Yukon, and we are now embarking on another new element to this whole fiscal situation; that is, the direction from the Auditor Generalís office that we and all governments must now start booking environmental liability. This is how weíre doing it, based on what the Auditor General requires.
Ms. Duncan: I understand that. This has been a long-standing recommendation. The Department of Finance has been working on booking the assets and booking the environmental liabilities for some time. It hasnít been just since this Finance minister came into office. It has been since then that it has been on our books and that we have changed the methods. Officials have been working on it for some time.
My question is as a member of the public. Yes, we have followed the Auditor Generalís instructions in accounting for these assets. Yes, we are going to follow the Auditor Generalís instructions in accounting for these liabilities. I am merely pointing out to the Finance minister that he goes to great lengths, and I am just asking for the same thing.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Okay, the minister says that we are getting the same thing. We get the same thing, Mr. Deputy Chair, who is trying desperately to control the traffic in the Legislature. There is an incoming plane to the minister. The issue is that he will take the time to do this with the assets. There is $1-billion worth of assets on page S-11. It shows up in what the Finance minister calls ďthe real financial pictureĒ. We can get into that in another 20 minutes.
My point is: can the same thing not be done on page S-12 with environmental liabilities? We have done it with capital assets. Is it not fair to the public ó not to put it into the public accounts ó to treat it the same way as we did the assets?
Because itís only fair if youíre going to tell people what they own to tell the public what they owe.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Yes, there is a line item. The public accounts document that the Premier is waving at me is one thing.
And weíre not allowed props in here by the way. But we can get a set of those nice orange sticks if the Deputy Chair would like them.
Itís the budget document Iím talking about, the supplementary. Youíve taken the time to outline the assets. When we get it all sorted out with how much the environmental liabilities are, isnít it reasonable to do the same with what we owe? Itís common on every other balance sheet to show the assets and liabilities, and youíve detailed the assets. Will you detail the liabilities? Will the Finance minister detail the liabilities in either the next budget document or the one after that, as he detailed the assets?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the public accounts document is what I am stating exactly produces the item in question. Itís booked in there ó or will be, as per the Auditor Generalís direction.
When we budget, we do not book an amount until there is an outflow or an expenditure. But in the budget document, the set amount of environmental liability booked in the public accounts will be reflected in our bottom line.
So there is a direct parallel between what our assets plus revenue minus liability is. Itís there in the page of the budget document.
In public accounts, we will list what the environmental liabilities are, but only when we expend money on said liability will it show up in the budget outside of, and notwithstanding, the value called ďnet financial resources end of yearĒ. Again, I repeat: if our environmental liability, as booked in the public accounts document, is $1 million, we would have $22 million in the supplementary for net financial position but, if we started to spend money on remediation, we would book in the budget document ó because thereís now an outflow of money ó whatever that amount is. So letís say itís $500,000. We would then show not only $1-million liability in the public accounts, not only a $1-million reduction in our net financial resources, we would show $500,000 of outflow ó because thatís the expenditure made on remediation.
Then when we do our year-end, our liability in the public accounts would show $500,000 remaining and our net financial position would have that $500,000 net change.
Ms. Duncan: The Premier and Finance minister is either indicating he has a hole-in-one or he has hit a homerun, and I donít think he has done either, so rather than belabour this point endlessly, Iím going to, with all due respect to the Finance minister, forward my question to the Auditor General.
I would just like the explanation from her. As a tax-paying member of the public, I would like this information presented ó if she doesnít think itís necessary, then so be it. Iíll take the answer from her. As a member of the public, I feel that if you are going to tell people they own a billion dollarsí worth of bridges and schools ó and I realize we donít have amortization on environmental liability, but thatís an interesting question I would like to find out more about, so Iíll ask her.
Letís talk about the surplus. We donít amortize liabilities.
The problem I have ó on the off chance the Finance minister is interested in my opinion. You can say, for example, in Faro, the environmental liability ó one year we hear it is X amount and the next year it is drastically changed. So Iím interested to know, in this assessment of environmental liability, what happens when there are changes in the assessment of the environmental liability, as that can happen. The Finance minister is dying to talk to me, so I will let him have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I understand what the member is alluding to here and the member has a very good point. We have to book a quantified amount, okay? Letís say, for instance, the liability is on a piece of property that the government owns, and it happens to be under the surface. So we have estimated that the quantified amount would be $1 million. But we begin the process of remediating, and we find that it cost us $1.5 million to complete the remediation. Of course our statements would be adjusted accordingly. We would show $1.5 million of cash outflow and we would have to then, in the finalization or public accounts for that fiscal period, show that increased liability. So the $1 million that was shown here would be actually $1.5 million.
Now, if it had been completely remediated, it would be stricken from the record. There is the possibility that what was quantified of the amount in the public accounts document, once remediation starts, may not jive. You never know what weíre going to find on the ground. That possibility is there. I think thatís why ó this is new stuff. Governments have normally never booked environmental liability. We have a much smaller problem than the federal government has. I canít imagine how theyíre going to grapple with theirs. We are doing our best to quantify what that liability will be booked as. Then we go on from there to the remediation. It all works, just like capital assets or amortization. Itís the same thing.
Ms. Duncan: It does. I followed the Premierís example.
My question is: suppose we book a $1-million liability on XYZ site. Let me back up.
When one buys a building, one books amortization. Gradually the value of that building is reduced to nothing. The asset is still there, but itís reduced to a book value. And environmental liability is new stuff. I appreciate this and agree with the Premier on that. Booking environmental liabilities is new stuff. What is it called, in accounting terms ó you donít book amortization on liabilities. But if we estimate when we book these that it will cost $1 million to remediate XYZ site, and then we get out there and find out that itís only going to cost $200,000, we adjust accordingly. Is there a technical term for that? Itís not amortization or accounts receivable where thereís a chance of collecting them. Thereís a word for that that escapes me at the moment.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Yes, itís a journal entry. So, is there any kind of ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Sorry, Mr. Deputy Chair. All right.
I was just wondering if there was some method, on the chance youíre wrong, because this is new ó there is a good chance we could be wrong in the amount. Yes, the next Finance minister just gets really lucky and their financial picture looks a lot better, because their liabilities are reduced, but is there any kind of accounting field thatís looking at how you could show a reduction in the environmental liability, other than the actual remediation? Thatís the question.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It would be done by an adjusting entry. In the business world, itís called a journal entry, where adjustments are made for the books, the balance sheet, the income statement and so on, through a journal entry. It would be an adjusting entry, and the Auditor General would also verify that amount.
Ms. Duncan: So thereís no way, other than actually doing the remediation, weíre going to be able to reduce the environmental liabilities. Also, because this is new, we run the risk of it being substantially less or substantially more at any given point in time.
That has to be monitored, in terms of our financial statements, as well. This is a new science, and we run huge risks.
The other point about liabilities is that you hopefully have a balance between your assets and your liabilities, and hopefully your balance sheet balances. The point is that, in my view, the Government of Yukon should not be borrowing against those assets. The Finance minister says weíre not. I know at this point weíre not, but the surplus is only at $23 million. Weíre not going to have a fire sale on our schools or our bridges or on anything else. We book the assets and show them on our balance sheet, but weíre not going to borrow against them.
Iíd like to talk about the surplus. $23,205,000 ó that is the 2005-06 revised vote, net financial resources at end of year, and the note is note A. So perhaps we can just agree on that to start with. The surplus, as we used to debate it in this Legislature, when the member was first a member ó he was sitting over there and I was over here at the time, as well ó the surplus has been drawn down to $23,205,000. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: No, Mr. Chair, the $23 million shown in the budget document is the net financial resources for the end of the year, and that is the balance sheet item. The surplus is actually on page S-1, and it is $17,188,000, and that is the income statement. Thatís the difference. So let me just recite something here for the member opposite. Net financial resources, or NFR, is a balance sheet concept. It represents the difference between the financial assets and financial liabilities ó for example, liquid assets/liabilities of the government. In other words, it does not take into consideration non-financial assets such as tangible capital assets and inventories, less liquid assets. And it goes on to say that if the result is positive, we are in a positive net financial resource position. If it is negative, we are in a debt position. The Yukon government right now is in a positive net financial resource position. It started the year with $48 million and will end the year with $23 million.†
Annual surplus is an income statement concept that shows what the net government revenues over government expenditures are. If it is a negative number, there is an annual deficit. If it is an annual surplus ó in the case of the Yukon, ours is a surplus position of $17 million for year-end.
So that would be the surplus. The now accumulated surplus, however, is the number that includes all the aforementioned plus the effective change in tangible capital assets and, together, we add in the total amount, which is now an accumulated surplus ending March 31, 2006, of $430,619,000.
Ms. Duncan: Iím sorry. Would the Premier just repeat the last figure he used?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: $430,619,000 is our accumulated surplus for March 31, 2006.
Ms. Duncan: But the surplus figure, as we used to discuss it prior to the change in accounting, would be $17,188,000, according to the explanation.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It would have been the annual. Thereís no correlation now between how we used to book and show accumulated surplus and how we do it now, and weíve added the extra, which is the net financial position. Okay?
Ms. Duncan: I understand thereís no correlation but, in the minds of the public and anyone who has watched this debate over the last nine years the Premier and I have both sat in this Legislature, the figure we are used to talking about ó the annual surplus ó has been drawn down to $17,188,000, the annual figure. Do we agree on that?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Maybe Iíll try it this way: as a taxpayer, I would be looking at the balance sheet. The net financial position gives one the perspective of whether we are healthy, heading into debt or already in debt. So this number shows that, all things considered, the Yukon government has a healthy net financial position with no debt as a balance sheet item.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, the net financial position is $23 million. We have cash in the bank of about $130 million to date. It was not that long ago that we were in an overdraft position. I repeat: we were in an overdraft position. There were no beans in the cupboard, no cash in the bank. Today, we have $23 million in net financial position, which is very healthy, and $130 million in the bank account ó lots of beans in the cupboard.
Ms. Duncan: Much as the Premier might want to go down that road, I am not going. Let me turn this into a positive. I would strongly encourage the Finance minister to take a look at the last financial statement that has my signature on it as Finance minister. The Premier will see what was in the bank. Look at the public accounts and letís end this nonsensical argument that he keeps trying to present ó this no beans in the cupboard and how we were in an overdraft position.
The last financial statements that my signature is on prove otherwise. They prove otherwise, and I would encourage the Finance minister to stick with what is on the public record.
Now, we were discussing the figure, and we are back to where I started out our discussion: as members of this Legislature where we are used to dealing with a ďwhatís the annual surplus ó whatís the surplus today?Ē Needless to say the Finance minister hasnít answered that question. He doesnít like to answer it, because I asked him for the first entire session he was in government.
He is now saying there is $130 million in the bank. This book, this supplementary that we are discussing this afternoon, said the net financial resources projected at the end of the year ó Iím not talking about whatís in the bank, Iím talking about the surplus figure we are used to talking about in this Legislature; and it is drawn down as $23,205,000. Thatís what he just said ó we started out that way 10 or 15 minutes ago ó perhaps I should just allow the Finance minister to collect his thoughts a little bit.
Yukoners, for the nine years we have been in this Legislature, have said ďWhatís the surplus?Ē Thatís what we have talked about in the budget. Weíve changed, under the Finance ministerís watch, and no one is arguing the merits of it ó we showed different figures. What I want to talk about is the figure we are used to talking about, distilled from this new method of accounting.
Now, maybe the Premier doesnít want us to talk about that any more ó the Finance minister. You know, weíre in a new method and we donít want to talk about that any more. Well, Yukoners have had a long history of talking about the surplus that way. That is then, this is now?
Well, let me ask the Finance minister this question, then: is it his intention to borrow against the assets that we are now booking? We have a new method of accounting that shows we have $130 billion in assets. Is it the Premierís intention to spend down the surplus as we know it to be? He spent it down significantly already. Is it the intention to spend it down to the point where we are borrowing against these assets?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I have to respond to the member opposite by pointing something out. The member wants to compare what we used to discuss here on the floor of the Legislature with respect to surplus. What would be the comparable number? The comparable number today ó Iím talking comparable number ó is $430,619,000. $430,619,000 is the comparable number to what we used to talk about, which was accumulated surplus.
Mr. Chair, we talk about net financial position now ó because there is no way to take these two documents and link them so that you can draw the comparisons to the old budget documents. Weíre doing it differently, but itís not a new system, Mr. Chair. Full accrual accounting isnít new. Itís new that government has started to implement full accrual accounting, as has every government across the country. Itís a better way of showing the actual financial picture of the government as any company would show their actual financial picture. The corporate world uses full accrual accounting also.
We also now fully disclose liabilities, which was never done before. Mr. Chair, if the member opposite would take the document that has the fiscal framework, the member would see that, as we go forward into 2006-07, we show a net financial resource as projected of $51 million, $47 million and $49 million, right to the year 2008-09. I think that should answer the memberís question.
Over the long term, our fiscal framework shows weíre not going to borrow ó not at all. It shows positive numbers throughout; that is not borrowing. We maintain a surplus net financial position ó no debt.
Ms. Duncan: The Finance minister might recall, if he thinks back to recent debate, we talked at great length about Yukoners still being able to distill from the full accrual method of accounting the surplus picture today, just as we used to be able to distill it.
I started this line of questioning by saying itís $23 million. In his first answer, the Premier agreed with that. It came all the way back, went through steps A, note B, note C, this many assets ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Iím not asking to go back in time. Iím not asking anything unreasonable of the Premier. All Iím asking is what he committed to do. He said that Yukoners would still be able to find out what the surplus is in comparison to the old numbers.
Mr. Chair, at the break, I will go and get all the books. If the Premier wants to do it that way, I will go and do it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. We were doing fairly well up until now. The Premier wants to degenerate this debate, so perhaps now would be a good time, given that the Premier indicated earlier that he is suffering from a head cold, to take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: Would members like to take a normal recess now?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: † We will take our normal 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. We will continue with general debate.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, when we left general debate, I was trying to elicit a figure from the Premier that would allow me and the public, who are used to listening to the debate, to compare apples to apples. So I went out and got the books.
What I went out and got was the operation and maintenance budget estimates for 2000-01, the operation and maintenance for 2002-03 and the 2001-02. On page S-2, consistently, in all of these books, at the bottom, we have the estimated unconsolidated accumulated surplus of the government from March 31 of that year, and itís an estimate.
So for 2000-01, we have it at $13 million, and this is after the opening balance, the forecasted annual deficit, the forecasted annual surplus, plus the estimated annual deficit. The bottom line is an estimated accumulated surplus from March 31 of that specific year. Thatís the figure that weíre used to talking about as the surplus in the House.
The Premier wants me to be specific. The estimated accumulated surplus that we are used to talking about in 2000-01 was over $13 million. In 2002-03, it was $25,879,000. My question of the Premier is this: using this other method, is the figure for the estimated accumulated surplus, as of March 31, 2006, the figure of $23,205,000?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Absolutely not. The comparable figure, if we were to compare full accrual accounting and the books that the member opposite is reciting from, the comparable figure, which would be accumulated surplus for the year-end, would be $430,619,000.
But I must go further with the member, because the member is using a system of bookkeeping where all the liabilities were not booked. So, if we wanted to take our net financial position ó and not all the liabilities were booked, either, and thatís why the Yukon government continued to get qualified audits from the Auditor Generalís Office.
But if we used that same format, that same accounting process or methodology, weíd actually have ó and Iím going to put a number out here because Iím going to just quickly add in my head what we would be putting back in here. I would suggest we would have in the neighbourhood of $60 million in net financial position. If the member wants to compare methodology to methodology, then we would have $60 million in this accounting because we would not have booked the full liabilities of the territorial government. In this case, our $23 million net financial position reflects the fact that we booked $27 million of pension liability on behalf of the employees. Plus another $10 million in liability; $37 million is reflected in this number, Mr. Chair. We are providing full disclosure through our accounting system and our financial management.
The numbers the member opposite is reciting ó yes, they are numbers written on the page of a budget document but they do not reflect the exact financial picture of the territory; this does. So, if we wanted to go back to the member opposite, this would be important, because weíd have actually $60 million in a net financial position, but if weíd used the same financial management as the member opposite, we wouldnít have $130 million in the bank. We would be in an overdraft position.
Thatís the problem with not using an appropriate methodology for accounting. And thatís why weíre comfortable that what weíre doing here is showing a fiscal framework that is positive into the out-years. We are doing our job as fiscal managers. Unfortunately, the member opposite does not want to let herself understand or believe that this new accounting system is simply not comparable to the old methodology. You canít do it. Itís like taking an apple and an orange and trying to compare them.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, if I may ó this is important. We can now actually compare our fiscal position to all the jurisdictions in Canada ó what a novel idea ó because everybody is the same now. Instead of the little old Yukon being out there in the back woods of financial accounting and management, we are now up to date and firmly entrenched on the national radar screen as sound fiscal managers.
Ms. Duncan: Aside from ascribing motives to this side of the House with comments about financial accounting, I would also say that commitment number whatever he wants to give it ó the Finance minister also said that, in the future and in spite of this change, we would still be able to compare apples to apples. The fact that he wonít do it today says something about it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: That is not the comparison and the Premier and Finance minister knows it. Heís very jovial and feels this is fine and dandy and that these questions are a waste of time. Well, you know, itís quite unfortunate that the Premier and Finance minister feels that way. It speaks volumes.
The minister is very proud of saying, ďWell, we followed the Auditor Generalís recommendations to the recordĒ and weíve done this and weíve done that. I for one will be very interested when the Auditor General goes through the books when theyíre done in office, and has a good, hard look at every one of the contracts and every one of the contracting methods, because they will have a good, hard look, because theyíre going to be asked to do it.
I ask these questions for a very specific reason. The Premier is unwilling to provide the answer to Yukoners he committed to provide. He said to Yukoners that they would absolutely be able to compare these in the future ó absolutely.
There are some questions. The Premier raised the issue of booking the pension liability. There are questions around the pension liabilities for the Crown corporations and armís-length entities, such as the college and the hospital. There are, I am sure, actuarial evaluations out there. I would like to put the Public Service Commission on notice, since the Premier raised the issue of booking pension and leave liabilities, that when we get into the Public Service Commission, I am going to ask about it. Perhaps they will provide the answer. The Finance minister may want to provide it to that individual, because it is the overall financial picture of the Government of Yukon.
What is the status of the actuarial evaluations of all the organizations that offer pensions to their employees ó the college, the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Hospital Corporation? Granted, they are somewhat at arms-length, but we have, reading through the public accounts, have some financial responsibility for these organizations, as well.
I would like to know what the actuarial evaluations are and what they have been advised they are showing for liabilities right now, and whether or not the Premier has any intention of providing funding to those organizations to pay those bills, which can vary significantly.
Further on in general debate, I am going to give the floor to my other colleagues in the House, and perhaps theyíll have a little greater success than I have.
The Premier says the surplus is $431 million. As a taxpayer of the Yukon, I would like to know just how much of that does he intend to spend down in his pre-election spending?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, our intention is to do exactly what we show in the fiscal framework and keep positive numbers. Weíve turned it around. We didnít have positive numbers a short time ago, three years ago. Again I repeat: we were in an overdraft position. That is essentially broke, out of money.
The member asked about the college and the hospital, and the shortfalls that weíre dealing with exist only with respect to the solvency test, Mr. Chair. Our government has been close to this issue and is being kept apprised of the situation, where assistance may be required. We have already stated publicly that we will work with both corporations to assist them with their problem. I donít have anything other than that for the member opposite today. I assume that actuaries are still working with the said corporations to determine exactly what it is weíre dealing with here, but I want to stress that the issue exists only because of the solvency test, which measures whether plans could meet their funding obligations if they were wound up on the assessment date ó in other words, immediately.
I mean, I donít think itís something that we have to rush off to Panicville on. We know that theyíre not going to wind up operations immediately and pension everybody off. But itís about the solvency test, and the actuaries are working, and the government is being kept apprised of all thatís transpiring.
I really wish the member for the third party would recognize the values and merits in this full accrual accounting system. There are tremendous benefits to it. The member keeps trying to make the comparison ó and we can, to a degree ó but the comparison is trying to put a square peg into a round hole. If we are to get close in our comparison, we can say, with the greatest of confidence, that the number the member recites as the accumulated surplus ó given that methodology ó would be the number ó given this methodology ó that we on this side of the House recite of $430 million.
The member asks if weíre spending that down vis-ŗ-vis an election. Well, weíve shown our projections for the fiscal framework. Are we going to do what we committed to do? Yes, we are. Are we going to try to keep our stimulus up, as we have over the last number of years? Yes, we will certainly do that. Are we going to continue to invest in our education system, our health care system, into our social safety net, into ensuring we can serve and protect Yukonís wilderness and environment ó all those things? Yes, we will.
Are we going to encourage and continue to work with the private sector, so they continue to increase their investments in the territory? Yes, we are; yes, we will. And we are moving toward industry development here, in a way that looks very encouraging, considering the mining sector.
And letís look at some of the other sectors that are looking very encouraging: the arts community, the cultural communities, the IT sector, the film and sound industries ó things are happening.
Tourism appears to be a strategic industry that is contributing a great degree to our economic well-being. Weíve removed policies that are impediments that really compromise investor confidence, and thatís the difference between this side of the House and the members opposite. A government that makes decisions sticks to the decisions, applies an accounting methodology thatís a standardized system, gives us a better financial picture and increases our ability for financial management.
So, from the Yukon governmentís perspective, all is in order, and so too does the Auditor General agree and say that itís in order. We are receiving unqualified audits. This governmentís three budgets to date have been unqualified. That has not been the case in the past here in the Yukon. Government after government was receiving qualified audits, because of this issue of not booking the liabilities and not presenting the actual fiscal or financial position.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd like to change up a little bit and go back. In the supplementary budget document, what is the planning process for capital projects? In previous governments, or those I was familiar with, there was a planning process where the idea was to have projects that were ready and available. So there were studies done; for example, school councils were consulted and there was a plan for the replacement of schools on a priority basis that was identified by members of the school council.
It appears that plans like that donít exist. Thatís why we see, all of a sudden from pretty much out of nowhere, a school being built in Copperbelt without looking at all the options. It could have been perhaps a catchment area study to see where ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cardiff: The Premier wants the Minister of Education to answer this, but the Minister of Finance is responsible for the overall budget and I am talking about overall capital planning. It is about the long-range vision for capital planning and I am using the school as an example. I could use another example so that the minister canít fall back on the minister responsible for that at this point in time, and that is the athletes village. All of a sudden, we know that there is $2.7 million being contributed by the host society. We know that thereís money being contributed by the City of Whitehorse. One city councillor had a name for that type of financial planning or accounting.
But where is the planning when all of a sudden it appears that the Premier seems to think that one year ago, they werenít involved in this fiasco? And all of a sudden there is $30 million available to build this project.
On top of that, I would like the Premier to explain to me ó I think heís familiar with the affordable housing agreement, which reads that for-rent units are eligible for $25,000 per unit. With the affordable housing portion of this project ó there are 72 suites ó 48 of them are covered under the affordable housing agreement. The last time I checked, 48 units times the $25,000 that theyíre eligible for under the agreement with the Government of Canada does not multiply to $3.5 million.
It comes to approximately $1.2 million. What I want to know ó what one city councillor calls ďvoodoo mathĒ ó is where is the planning? Is it the lack of planning on the part of this government to look ahead and see what things are needed? They like to say that where there is a demonstrated need, they will respond. But what I see is that there was a demonstrated need two years ago, or three years ago even; we knew that this project was going to be there, going to be needed, and the government ó the Premier and his ministers ó should have been able to see that. Thereís another example of planning that seems to have not taken place, or gone awry. In my view, weíve gone from an agreement with the federal government that would have provided $1.2 million, to raiding the piggy bank for $3.5 million.
So I would like to know, and can the Premier explain, what planning processes they use on that side of the House to look into the future for demonstrated needs, to plan capital projects so that they can come on-line in a timely fashion, so that they come on-line at a time of year when it makes sense to build them. There are a couple of capital projects out there right now that they have been trying to get out of the ground and the ground is actually frozen.††
So, Mr. Chair, if the Premier can respond to that, Iíd appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Mr. Chair, I think the member opposite has lived in the north long enough to know that itís not impossible to build in the wintertime. It never is impossible to build in the wintertime. In fact, I know a lot of people who have started projects near winter start-up and, being a councillor in Kwanlin Dun for many years, there was always a bit of a funding problem with the Government of Canada, but funding always was available late in the year. So many projects and housing projects, affordable housing projects in other First Nation governments, are very successful at being constructed in the wintertime. So itís not an issue, really. If that were the case, we would have a pretty hard time to survive in the north, because winter is winter.
The member opposite has talked about affordable housing. I think itís important to put on record what that really is. Affordable housing is defined as housing that 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 rent prices for comparable housing in the community or area. Yukon Housing Corporation has set energy efficiency standards for the units built under this program and will require all units to be designed to accommodate people with disabilities and special housing needs.
The building at the college, which will be used to house athletes at the 2007 Canada Winter Games for a two-week period, is an investment in our education system. Itís very important to understand this part, because there are two sets of 12 units being built there ó 12 units will house two family members and the other ones are for three. Again, the lack of housing for students has been an issue within the Yukon for many years.
In my constituency Iíve heard from numerous people that, because there is no housing at the college, a lot of them donít go to the college. Itís quite understandable that, when thereís disruption in a young personís life at home, they donít want to live at home and they just donít go to school. They donít even bother continuing with a trade.
So by having this infrastructure of the athletes village being built for athletes who will be in the Yukon, I think this government made a very wise choice by ensuring there wasnít an infrastructure that would be towed here and towed away again at the end of the day. By going with the stick-built accommodations at the college, we will now have the availability of housing for students. Thatís critical to the very existence of the college. We cannot continue to attract investment to the City of Whitehorse and the Yukon Territory and not improve the living accommodations for students at Yukon College.
So, again, this was requested by the college. It will enable us to bring rural Yukoners to Whitehorse to further their education at Yukon College and, at the same time, enable them to continue residing with their families. There are 24 units. We have to be aware of the importance of that.
The member opposite talks about not having the availability of houses in the territory. This demonstrates that there is the desire to ensure that there is housing available and that this government is doing what it can to ensure that happens.
Mr. Cardiff: The Premier and the minister did not respond to the question that was asked. They totally ignored what I was trying to ask, which was about the planning process. I used a couple of examples: one was capital planning for schools. The other was how they planned for a $30-million expenditure for the athletes village. I asked another question about the affordable housing agreement.
It would be handy if the Premier and the acting minister would actually read the agreement. I would be happy if the real minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation would read the affordable housing agreement. Maybe the Premier could direct the minister to read the agreement because they keep saying that it doesnít provide for social housing.
Now, there is affordable housing money in the budget. Thereís not a lot in the supplementary budget, yet they just committed $3.5 million of that affordable housing money, but it doesnít show up in this budget. Iíd like to know why itís not booked in this budget. They decided itís going to be spent.
And the other question I had was how do you arrive ó do the math ó 48 times $25,000 under the agreement with the Government of Canada and CMHC for 48 units.
The acting minister was talking about the student residence. I know there is a need for family residences at the college. Thatís not at issue here. What was at issue was whether or not $430,000 per suite was affordable. And, as far as the timelines of issuing contracts, itís not about whether or not we can build in the winter here. I worked in construction for 30 years. I worked out there, through wind, snow, sleet, rain and hail, in freezing conditions. I know it can be done.
What Iím saying is: is it good value for the taxpayersí dollar to be breaking ground? You can have people working inside all winter ó theyíre still working. What Iím saying is that the cost of doing the outside work in the winter, as opposed to doing it in the summer, doesnít represent good value for the dollar.
And itís the taxpayersí dollar. Remember that this money doesnít belong to me, it doesnít belong to the minister, it doesnít belong to the Premier. This money belongs to the taxpayers of the Yukon. The job of the Premier and the ministers and the government members on the other side is to ensure that it is spent appropriately, that it meets the priorities of the general citizenry of the Yukon. Our job on this side is to hold them accountable, to make sure that they are spending it in a fair and equitable manner and that the taxpayers are receiving good value for dollar when itís being spent, that the programs and services and the capital projects are meeting the needs of the people of the Yukon.
So what I was trying to get at was: is there some sort of a capital planning process where the government looks ahead? Iím not talking about looking ahead for two months or to the next by-election or the next election. Iím talking about looking ahead and having a capital plan where there are projects identified so that they can be designed and be ready to go in a timely manner. Thatís what I was asking. And they can be tendered so that the contractors are tendering in the spring and the projects can start in early summer as opposed to tendering through the summer, starting the projects in September, October and November. Thatís what Iím hearing from the contracting community.
Capital projects need to come out in a more timely manner. We seem to be able to do it with highway projects. Why canít we do it with capital building projects?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The planning exercise is ongoing. Itís a continuum ó it never stops. What this government has done is dramatically increase the amount of capital investment that is being allocated in the territory. Weíve come from a $100 million plus gross capital in 2003-04 to $206 million in 2004-05 and into 2005-06. That in itself lends to a very heated-up construction community, high demand for skilled labour and tradespeople, all these things. Itís all part of the challenges we must meet.
Our project management team within government is extremely busy and then other projects come on, such as the investment in the college, where project management was brought on to deal with that particular project. The same with the multi-level care facility in Watson Lake ó itís no different. A project manager was brought on to deal with that project. Thatís because we have many projects out there, Mr. Chair.
That said, the member has an issue about winter. Well, this government takes the view that winter works is a good thing. Itís a good thing for Yukoners to put people to work during the winter. Actually, itís a good thing for Yukoners to have jobs and gainful employment available year-round. So, let the record show that the New Democrats take issue with winter work because they seem to draw the parallel that that is something they wouldnít do as fiscal managers ó no winter work; thatís bad. Therefore, Mr. Chair, we want to express clearly the contrast between the government side and the members opposite.†
We have a very keen interest in ensuring that winter work is available for Yukoners and, as I said, year-round work too.
Furthermore, the member keeps going on about affordable housing. Thatís exactly what is happening on the college precinct. There will be affordable housing there. There will be one-, two- and three-bedroom suites and all kinds of space for Yukoners to come and attend college. It will be affordable.
If the initiative or the project did not conform to what the federal government demands, we would not have been able to achieve that investment. Obviously, the federal government concurs that what we are doing fits the program for affordable housing, so we are moving ahead.
The member is making an issue out of planning with respect to the investment in the college. I want to go back over the same information that I provided to the leader of the official opposition. Itís important, because it was in October 2004 that the host society issued a request for proposals based on a master plan document with key components as follows: design and fabrication of 100,000 square feet of temporary accommodation space; identify post-games end-users; and self-finance the construction of the athletes village. That was the so-called RFP ó the leader of the official opposition clearly misrepresents this as a request for proposals. It was not a project; it was an ďaskĒ, with these three key components.
The RFP closed on November 23, 2004. An evaluation of the submissions that came in was completed by December of that year. Of the proposals submitted, none resolved the self-financing issue ó none ó or completely identified end-users for the facility following conclusion of the games.
Subsequent to that, these proposals that came in did not fit the three components required. The host society approached the Government of Yukon in 2004 proposing that Yukon may have some space needs that could be built and used temporarily as athletes accommodations and, after the games finished, to the final government end-use.
The Yukon government considered possible government end-uses of both permanent-build and temporary-build structures ó this is all happening in the period of one short year ago ó and commenced planning for two possible permanent structures.
So the memberís point about ó is there planning? Thereís always planning. And in this case, when an emerging issue arose, the government went to work there too, as we have with all the other capital involved ó a huge increase in capital investment in this territory under this governmentís watch.
Now, the government commenced planning for two possible permanent structures ó a college family residence and an affordable housing residence on the college precinct. Thatís what the ministers have been saying, thatís what the government has been saying, thatís exactly whatís happening.
In February 2005, the government and the City of Whitehorse signed an agreement laying out how this fiscal issue would be dealt with. The host society notified proponents. By April 2005, the host society ó not the government saying no. The government didnít say no. The host society notified the proponents by letter on April 5, 2005 that their request for proposals was cancelled because none of the submitted proposals ó I repeat, none of the submitted proposals ó adequately addressed the key components required by the society for the project to proceed.
Again, the official opposition has their facts mixed up and confused. The host society cancelled the RFP and notified the proponents on why ó because they did not address adequately the components required. At the end of April 2005, the design team presented preliminary floor plans, a site plan and accommodation schedule to the village project committee, comprised of members from the Yukon government and the host society, for review and comment. Thatís April 2005 ó thatís a few short months ago.
On May 17, 2005, we announced at this college site that the Yukon government would undertake construction of two buildings that would temporarily serve as an athletes village for the 2007 Canada Winter Games, and of course now the end use has been addressed. So I guess we can say that the government came in, assisted the host society and the City of Whitehorse, and we met the three key requirements. Now weíre moving ahead.
So the planning was done. And the planning was done very expeditiously to make sure that this really compressed timeline was going to be managed so that we had the facilities ready for the games. Even with all that has been done and with engaging a manufacturing sector that has the tremendous capacity available to produce large quantities of these types of structures, we are still going to be in a situation where completion will be by December 2006 ó† in that neighbourhood.
Thatís what weíre dealing with time-wise. The Member for Mount Lorne is probably not happy with the answers because they bear out the facts; they are the evidence of what has transpired.
The case that the official opposition is trying to make is somewhat disturbing. Why would anybody try to cast a negative pall over the Canada Winter Games?
Weíre trying to showcase the games and the territory to southern Canada and make sure itís a resounding success. This has never happened before in the Yukon, or north of the 60th parallel. Of course weíre going to make best efforts and do everything we can to assist the host society and the City of Whitehorse in making sure these games will be that resounding success we seek.
Weíre going further. By policy, weíre allowing government employees to be involved in the games on a volunteer basis. Weíve had a solid team working with the host society throughout these challenges, and we are meeting those challenges. We are doing our work; we are doing our part; the host society is doing its part; the City of Whitehorse is doing its part; the volunteerism is increasing and theyíre doing their part; the corporate community is investing and sponsoring and doing their part. I think weíre in the millions now of corporate sponsorship, which is another sign of the value being placed on the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
The only area that seems to be falling down on this whole initiative is across the floor, and thatís really unfortunate because the members have a golden opportunity to contribute positively to the games. But, obviously, thatís not something they intend to do.
So the official opposition can carry on their merry way with the ďjust say noĒ mantra to everything and the negativity they have immersed themselves in. At some point, maybe theyíll see the light, recognize the error of their ways and realize that they are Yukoners too, and no matter how hard they try, the majority of Yukoners arenít buying it. Theyíre just simply not buying it because the facts, evidence and realities speak for themselves.
I will turn this back over to the members opposite. At least the third party engages in budget discussion and debate, which is constructive and a contributing element to this afternoonís proceedings. I would look to the official opposition to try to do their very best to do the same, although I understand that they are dumbfounded by the budget. I am sure they will try.
Mr. McRobb: Speaking of being dumbfounded, I would like to ask the Premier about his comment yesterday, which a lot of people are trying to make some sense of. He said that the pipeline commission wasnít secret and is something that this government has made known. Well, the only discussion Iíve heard from this government was in response to a secret letter we tabled in this Legislature and asked questions on. Weíve heard nothing from this government about a pipeline commission. There have been lots of opportunities to discuss a pipeline commission. The only thing the government has said about it is in response to questions from the official opposition. Well, thatís one heck of an open government. Iím really interested in hearing what the Premier has to say regarding his comments yesterday.
Before he does that, Mr. Chair, I want to put on record for those Yukoners and others who donít have the luxury of actually seeing Question Period and may not be totally familiar with the process, a familiar trait of the Premier lately is to get up and respond to the final supplementary question, when the opposition doesnít have the opportunity to question what he said. It takes a very brave man to do that.
I want to ask the Premier right now, since I have the opportunity to respond right now ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Mr. Cathers: † Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Member for Kluaneís sarcastic characterization of the Premier as being a real brave man is clearly contrary to Standing Order 19(i). Itís insulting language that is certainly, in the context, likely to cause discord in my opinion, and I would urge you to have him retract that.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Chair: The Chair has just recognized a change in the tone of the debate. I believe weíve heard both sides just use the word ďdumbfounded,Ē one from one side, one from the other. I would encourage all members not to debate at that level, to elevate the level of debate in this Assembly, to debate in a manner that all Yukoners expect of us. On many occasions, weíve had schoolchildren in the Assembly. Please, letís debate in a manner that we would in front of our children. Can we continue on?
Mr. McRobb: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for that ruling. Now, just to sum up the question, Iím asking the Premier about this pipeline commission, this big secret we havenít heard anything about except in response to information tabled by the official opposition. So I would like the Premier to respond to my questions on this pipeline commission now, because we have an opportunity to rebut what he says. So I want to hear from him.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the member opposite about the pipeline commission, as a government we are working toward getting our house in order for a pipeline if and when it comes to our jurisdiction. We are looking at all aspects of the project, understanding there is going to be a huge impact on the Yukon if and when that pipeline is brought through our jurisdiction.
As far as a pipeline commission is concerned, there are all sorts of conceptual ideas out there on how we would handle different issues. We certainly are working closely with the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. They are working toward answering some of the questions they have. The funding has been agreed to. We are moving forward on that and hopefully at the end of March we will look at some product from them.
Is a pipeline commission the answer? They are looking at that regarding the Mackenzie Valley pipeline; they are looking at that concept. We certainly on this side have to have an agency put together to address all of Yukonersí issues. Is the pipeline commission that agency? That decision will have to be made, Mr. Chair. It will be made in the future. We certainly are keeping our ears close to the ground on whatís happening in Alaska with that jurisdiction. Of course, our Premier has been working with the Premier of Alberta, the Premier of British Columbia and the Governor of Alaska to keep ourselves up to date on whatís happening in those jurisdictions. We are looking at the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and itís moving and, according to what we hear, Mr. Chair, itís moving forward. There should be some very positive comments regarding that pipeline in the very near future ó certainly looking at the Alaska end ó to make sure that the Stranded Gas Act and that the State of Alaska can come to some agreement with the producers in Alaska to address the issues they have to address locally. And then at that point, when thatís done, Mr. Chair, of course we have to look at the federal government from a point of view of regulating the pipeline down the Alaska Highway.†
Certainly, the only thing we have in front of us is the Northern Pipeline Act. There is no other proposal on the table. There are conversations from the producers, from the point of view of a green route. They have not shown us anything that resembles an actual plan. Itís a line on a map.
So, what weíre going to do and work with in our jurisdiction is to make sure that, at the end of the day, we maximize the benefits Yukoners can get from participating in this pipeline and try to minimize the impacts. I donít think anybody in the Yukon understands the size of this project, if and when it goes forward. Itís a massive project; 700 and some kilometres of it will be in our jurisdiction, so we have to be as ready as we can be.
In conjunction with the Department of Education and the college, weíre very aggressively looking at the trades. Of course, we have funded Yukon College to expand the capabilities of that institution to educate our youth to make sure that we have the tradesmen that are necessary, or at least that we have the tradesmen that we have here in the Yukon well trained and ready to go to work.
I guess, in answering the member opposite about the commission, the commission would just be an umbrella group or umbrella organization if, in fact, we as a government were to decide to do that ó how we would bring everybody, every component, every government into a situation where we could have the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. Remember that the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition is the seven First Nations that are going to be specifically on the route of the existing plan for a pipeline.
How do we address the other First Nations who arenít directly involved in that? If you were to take that group and the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition ó and a big part of this is the federal government. We are working with the federal government to get the funding up and get some resources put in place so that the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition can get out and do its job. They have, as you know, funded the Mackenzie Valley pipeline to the tune of $500 million. Iím not saying that weíre going to require $500 million, but I do say in the House here today that we are part of Canada; we do have the prospect of a massive pipeline on the horizon. Weíre holding the Government of Canada to task and asking what is wrong with funding our situation, since they funded the Mackenzie.†
To give the federal government credit, they have an issue about the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, because it is Canadian gas going to a Canadian market. It is very important to us in Canada that our gas isnít stranded in northern Canada. It is very important that, because of the size of these two projects, we get in front of the Alaska Highway pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley and put it on the front burner. We need to get it moving forward. I think those announcements are going to come.
We are going to become dependent on that pipeline in north Yukon, because we have resources in those areas that would benefit from access to that pipeline. We, as a government, have been working with the NEB on the proposed pipeline. We have intervened on the question of access cost to make sure that weíre not shut out of that pipeline and that we are looking at an acceptable and reasonable cost to the consumer. That way, our northern gas resources can be a viable commodity.
In other words, northern gas in Canada, in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, will not be stranded. So again, itís very important for us, in our jurisdiction, to keep our eye on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline because in time we will be depending on that for transporting some of our resources to market. But of course we canít ignore the fact that the Alaska Highway pipeline will impact western North America in a big way.
I think, from looking back 30 months ago when we formed government, the first thing the Premier in his leadership role did was patch fences north of 60 to make sure that we made it very clear to our neighbours that we have a lot of common challenges. One of the challenges was that we had to get together, we had to work in unison to make sure we could maximize the benefits that we could get from the pipelines ó meaning the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and the Alaska Highway pipeline ó and Yukoners could work in Northwest Territories and of course our contractors, our business community, could contribute to the pipeline.
At the end of the day, we all understand that all these pipelines are going to go ahead and the decisions on building those pipelines are made somewhere else. Weíre not going to build a pipeline, Mr. Chair. Yukon isnít going to build a pipeline. Northwest Territories isnít going to build a pipeline. The producers are going to build pipelines. The pipeline people are going to build them. So what we have to do is deal with the cards we are dealt and work with those cards and maximize the benefits we can acquire from that project ó from either one of the projects.
I think of the partnership that has formed north of 60 over the last 30 months ó the Canada Winter Games, for example. Northwest Territories is very supportive of the Canada Winter Games and Nunavut is very excited about it due to the leadership of our Premier, who took this and said, ďYou know, we can all benefit from the Canada Winter Games. We can all, north of 60, display what we have to offer Canada. This is a great showcase for us, in partnership with Canada.Ē
I think, at the end of the day, as my parallel minister, Mr. Bell, was saying in his discussions last week to the Chamber of Commerce here in town, the partnership shows that, down the road, other jurisdictions ó the Northwest Territories, Nunavut ó can host these kinds of things.
So, I would like to calm the fears of the members opposite on the pipeline commission. Itís a conceptual plan that might work. I think the member opposite is always commenting that weíre not planning, that weíre not looking ahead. We certainly are putting those options out there, weíre discussing the commission, and weíre working with the First Nations and the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. Theyíre going forward with their workplan, and theyíre very active out there.
How do we involve the federal government on a day-to-day basis? How do we bring them to the table with funding? How do they feel about a commission because, if thatís the case, then they would be part of that commission? As I said, how are First Nations who arenít part of the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition going to be affected? How is the general public going to be affected? How are they going to have input?
The Yukon has only 30,000 people. The general public wants to be involved. How do we involve them? Letís go to work and think about these conceptual plans. Letís plan ahead. The members opposite are always accusing us of having no plans. When we come up with a conceptual idea and throw it out there, itís too much planning. Somewhere in the middle, we have to meet. Somewhere in the middle, a government ó whatever government is here when that pipeline goes through ó has to have a workplan put together so that, at the end of the day, we can benefit from that pipeline and mitigate the issues that are going to come with that pipeline. No one can come in this House today and say that anyone in this House has all the answers about the pipeline. We are not pretending to have all the answers. Iím saying that we will be a lot wiser two years after the pipeline is built.
But thatís not good enough, Mr. Chair. What we want to do is maximize the benefits and minimize the issues. We are not going to mitigate all of them. Thatís impossible. There is no bigger contract in the history of the world than the Alaska Highway pipeline, if it goes forward. There has never been a bigger contract. The Aswan Dam in Egypt was not as big as this pipeline is going to be.
Another thing is that this gas is American gas going to American markets. That has never been done in Canada either. Weíve never moved foreign gas through our jurisdictions, through Canada, to a foreign market. We are taking foreign gas, owned by a foreign corporation, moving it through Canada and, at the other end, the Americans are receiving it.
So this concept, this job, is all new on all levels, and Iím sure if the member opposite cornered the chairman of Exxon, he would have some questions on the size of the pipe, the volumes in it, all the things we hear thrown out there ó they are all thrown out there. The only thing weíve seen is the NPA. Weíve talked to producers who say, ďWell, the green route is an option.Ē Well, show us the option. The producers havenít come up and given us that option. They havenít shown us what our benefits are going to do. Conversation is based around, ďTrust us.Ē Well, the NPA is written in stone. Itís a Yukon advantage because we can read it and there is a mechanism to modernize that. They had an overview with Dr. Steele who did a whole overview of the whole thing, came back to the federal government and said itís workable, you can modernize that act, and it would work.
So weíve had that overview. Now what we have to do is go forward. Now, at the end of the day, Mr. Chair, we are not going to pick the route. The producers might come up with something different. But at the moment, all weíve got to work on is the NPA because thatís the only thing in black and white in front of us. The rest of it is just conversation, and as we get closer to the mark, the producers might come up with something. That could happen. But as we move forward at the moment and do our homework, we have to look at the feasibility of how do we modernize the NPA, whatís the NPA going to mean to us, and again that commission could be part of that, Mr. Chair. But thatís all planning for the impact of this pipeline. So, what we want to do is have a maximum input from the general public, we want balanced input, we want to have an umbrella of some sort ó we might call it something else ó on how everybody can get together and everybody can discuss issues and move forward with this pipeline.
So the member opposite is right. We are looking ahead for the pipeline. Weíre working very hard at it, and I appreciate the member oppositeís concerns. I hope he doesnít think weíre moving too fast on the pipeline. I hope that the planning isnít going to interfere with anything in Haines Junction.
I know the last time we were sitting here, Mr. Chair, we discussed the parking at Haines Junction and the number of trucks that were going to come through Haines Junction and the bottleneck in Haines Junction, but we are working with our Minister of Highways and Public Works to minimize the traffic that will congest Haines Junction at the junction there. Of course, weíre going to have to work very, very diligently on the pipe storage area. Iím sure that the member opposite will be very concerned about the overnight parking of the pipe as it moves through his jurisdiction, and so he should be.
But at the end of the day, this elected government, as long as weíre in the position weíre in today, has to take the pipeline seriously. We are moving forward with planning. Weíre looking at all sorts of conceptual plans and how we can involve all of the intricate parts of our society in the decision making at the end of the day. I think I appreciate the member opposite and I understand his concerns. But I say that he can sleep well, knowing that weíre in government and that we will do right by the Yukon and maximize the benefits the pipeline will give to the community.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, what an embarrassment that was, and for so many reasons. Iím embarrassed to hear what the minister said.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Did I say something wrong?
Chair: Order has been called.
Members in this Assembly are entitled to put forward their opinions on the issue. Please continue debate.
Mr. McRobb: Iím embarrassed about what I heard. Here are the reasons: first of all, the Premier didnít accept the challenge to get up to respond to what he said yesterday at the first occasion when the opposition has the opportunity to rebut what he said. Itís quite embarrassing. Heís very good at getting up in Question Period when the opposition doesnít have the opportunity to respond and take pot-shots. But where is he? He didnít respond when he had the challenge put to him.
I am also embarrassed to realize that what we just heard was the same speech that the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources gives when he is at the oil and gas conference in Calgary or when heís at the aboriginal exposition for oil and gas and when he is a keynote speaker at other engagements. I listened carefully to what he said. He was all over the map. It didnít add up.
My question pertained to this pipeline commission scheme that this Yukon Party government is proposing. Instead, heís all over the place. He ends up talking about overnight parking in Haines Junction. And this is the minister. This is the contact man for the Yukon government on the Alaska Highway pipeline. What we heard was a 19-minute speech culminating in overnight pipe parking in Haines Junction. Well, Iím really embarrassed.
I feel sorry for the members opposite, if thatís the best they can do.
Now that I have the ministerís attention, there are a couple of things he said yesterday. He accused me of ó and here are his exact words: ďI am pleased to see that the member opposite is realizing that a pipeline might come through our jurisdiction. It wasnít too long ago that he said it wasnít going to come through our jurisdiction.Ē
Mr. Chair, I challenge that minister to provide the evidence to back up what he said yesterday. I challenge him to do that because, quite often, we see allegations made in here that arenít backed up. The minister will have lots of time over the weekend to produce the evidence. Letís see it on Monday. Letís see it.
Now, he also said nobody understands the size of this project. Well, how many times have I referred to it as the largest ever private sector project in the history of the world? Well, the answer is probably about seven or eight times in this Legislature, including yesterday. Yet the minister goes on and on about how nobody understands the size. Well, thatís the very point in my questioning about how the government is failing to prepare Yukoners for the social impacts. Thatís the very point.
Yet he says nobody understands the size. I would submit, Mr. Chair, itís he who doesnít understand the size. He is in denial, and he has no plan to deal with it to protect Yukoners from the social consequences, which could be severe.
Mr. Chair, this is a darn serious matter. If the government doesnít protect the people and the communities and the culture and even our local economy, the Yukon we know today will be gone forever. And there wonít be any going back. It will be gone. It will come down to future historians trying to find the point in time when something could have been done. You know, they will probably come down to this discussion right here and previous ones with this minister. And it will be clear to them where the government of the day went wrong. They will probably conclude the government was in denial, they didnít admit there was a need to deal with the social consequences and, instead, they were too busy trying to sell one option to anybody who would listen.
I guess I will be vindicated at that point in time. I do feel that Iím vindicated today to express these concerns, because they are valid. It will be this Yukon Party government ó or the Yukon Party, period, if it exists at some future point and they donít change their name again and become something else ó the onus will be on it to explain why it didnít do the right thing when it had the chance.
Now, hereís another point where the Yukon governmentís lead minister on the pipeline should be held accountable. He just referred to the minister from the Northwest Territories ó the Hon. Brendan Bell ó and his recent comments. Well, as a matter of fact, something Mr. Bell said should ring a bell with this minister; that is, he said that Yukon politicians were confused about the $500 million and the purpose of that money in the N.W.T.
Now, what he was referring to was this ministerís comment of how that money was to flow to First Nations in the N.W.T. Thatís what Mr. Bell was referring to.
So, we know the Yukon Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources was wrong when he said that. The truth is, that money goes to communities, organizations, and First Nations are included, but the main point is that communities along the route are the main beneficiaries of that money. Yet the Yukon minister didnít even know that. He had to be corrected by his counterpart in the N.W.T. I guess thatís part of the Yukon Partyís pan-northern approach ó part of the deal.
Now, there are all kinds of concerns here related to the pipeline, and Iíll give the minister the courtesy of letting him know in advance that I intend to explore this in some detail in this budget.
At this time, Iíll also let anybody else know that, when I was questioning the Premier more than two weeks ago about the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition and the letters that I tabled, which revealed what was going on behind the scenes involving the Yukon government and the disrespectful approach to First Nation members of the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, that the Premier, at the time, found it opportune to suggest that we on this side needed a briefing on the pipeline.
He mentioned that two or three times. I believe his words were: ďI would be pleased to offer the opposition a briefing on this matter.Ē Well, you know what, Mr. Chair, I thought about it over that weekend and I realized, hey, I donít have all the answers for the pipeline. Iíve got some questions, and getting answers out of this government is impossible. So, why not take the government up on its offer of a briefing; perhaps then itís possible to get answers from the departmental officials, people who know whatís going on. So what did I do? Well, at House leadersí meeting that Monday morning, I notified the government House leader I would take up the Premier on his offer. Mr. Chair, what has happened since? Well, I repeated the request on the Tuesday and the Wednesday and the Thursday and again Monday of this week, Tuesday of this week, Wednesday of this week, and again this morning, Thursday. Guess what? Nothing from this government. It is stalling the very briefing the Premier used to get out of the line of questioning two weeks ago.
Mr. Chair, this is a classic case of calling the bluff of this government and how it just collapses like a house of cards. It is hollow when it comes to backing up the rhetoric, Mr. Chair. It is hollow. It collapses like a house of cards.
Mr. Chair, given the time being close to 6:00, I move that you report progress, if there was any.
Chair: † Mr. McRobb has put forward a motion that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 17, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
following Sessional Paper was tabled November 17, 2005:
Area Development Act: Order-in-Council 2005/175 re Mayo Road Development Area Regulation and maps† (dated October 3, 2005)†† (Hart)