Thursday, November 24, 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 White Ribbon Campaign
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to rise in the House today to acknowledge White Ribbon Day, also known as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which takes place tomorrow, November 25, and takes place at that same time each year.
Wearing a white ribbon signifies a manís pledge not to commit, condone or be silent about violence against women. I am heartened to see a roomful of white ribbons here today. The purpose of the white ribbon is to demonstrate menís commitment to working toward gender equality by speaking out against discrimination and violence against women. The ribbon represents our collective commitment to challenge sexism in our everyday lives, whether it is through our informal conversations with friends and colleagues, whether it is through our assumptions of what our daughters, sisters or partners may be capable of, or through our challenge of deeply respecting womenís contributions to our families and communities.
The elimination of sexism and our commitment to ending violence against women are absolutely fundamental in creating communities of peace and safety for women and girls.
We in the Yukon have long been committed to building healthy communities. This day ó and the next couple of weeks leading to December 6, Canadaís National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women ó helps us to focus and strengthen our efforts in achieving this goal.
Iím proud to be wearing a white ribbon today, and also proud to be part of a government where last November members in each and every seat in this Legislature agreed unanimously to support a public education campaign on preventing violence against women and children. In response, this government has recently launched a territory-wide education program that addresses violence against women and children. Speaking to those people in our communities who may know or suspect that a woman is living with violence, the campaign posters and ads provide suggestions for concrete action. The communitiesí response to the campaign has been overwhelming, which means two things: first that the messages and tools are practical and have had an impact, and second, that there is incredible support throughout the Yukon to continue to enhance our ability to support women and children experiencing violence in their lives.†
As men, we can make a choice to speak and act when we know violence is taking place. Our sisters, nieces, mothers, aunts and our children need us to demonstrate leadership and strength in our allied role to challenge and prevent violence through our actions and words. Without our actions and commitments, women and girls will continue to experience barriers to gender equality.
In May of this year, the Womenís Directorate brought to the Yukon an organization from Washington, D.C., known as Men Can Stop Rape. This organization builds menís capacity to challenge the harmful aspects of masculinity and empowers them to work as allies with women in the prevention of sexual and spousal assault. They gave workshops to many of our family violence front-line workers and to a group of young men, building on their knowledge and experience in support of menís commitment to change.
November 25 marks a reflective and action-oriented time in the Yukon. It begins two weeks of education and action by men and women, as we move toward December 6. It is not without meaning this two-week period begins with a demonstration of menís commitment to end violence against women.
Men must join the women who continue to work tirelessly as victim services and transition home workers, and who often feel isolated in their efforts. As men, we must speak out against sexism and violence and strive to become allies with women to ensure that gender equality is realized in the Yukon ó not least through the creation of safety and respect for all women and girls. This is the challenge that any man can choose to take.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cardiff: I rise today on behalf of the official opposition and the third party to pay tribute to all those men across the world who are taking part in the White Ribbon Campaign. The campaign originated in Canada, and it begins tomorrow, November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. On that day and for the following two weeks, men are urged to wear a white ribbon to show their support for the individuals and organizations working for the elimination of violence against women. The campaign ends on December 6, the day that Canadians remember the tragic deaths by shooting of 14 young women in Montreal.
Violence against women crosses all our lives, no matter what our status in society is. It is passed from one generation to another as children are forced to live with violence in their families. Every few weeks, there is another report of a violent assault against a woman in our local papers. We have all heard the disturbing statistics on violence against women in Canada, but we need to be reminded of them. An average of 182 Canadian women are killed in homicides each year. One in five women is a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. Aboriginal women are at risk of violence in their lives, four times as much as non-aboriginal women.
We cannot let ourselves become immune to the impact of these facts. We must ask ourselves what causes such a terrible situation so that we might begin to change. Underneath much of that violence against women is the belief in our society that women should be subordinate to men. Even in this 21st century, when most of us have grown up with the ideas of womenís equality, many of them are considered subordinate to men in their lives. It is a slow process to change power structures that have existed for a thousand years, but we must continue to be aware of them in our daily lives. We must work toward equality and educate children to do the same.
Another cause of violence against women, Mr. Speaker, is poverty. Until fair income distribution is an accepted fact in our society, we will continue to see the results in homelessness, substance abuse, and physical and psychological abuse. ďMaking poverty historyĒ is not only a public relations phrase, itís something that every one of us must see as a goal that can be realized.
Now is the time for all men to act. Supporting individuals and organizations that are working toward the elimination of violence against women is a good start. We must also take a serious look at our own attitudes as we strive toward the positive inclusion of women in our everyday actions.
National AIDS Awareness Week
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I rise today to recognize the week of November 21 to December 1 as National AIDS Awareness Week. I would like to ask my colleagues to take a moment to remember those who are living with HIV/AIDS and those who are affected by this disease. In the Yukon, there are just under 50 individuals living with HIV, but the number of those affected is much higher, when we consider family and friends who suffer because of their loved ones who suffering.
Every day in Canada, 11 people are newly infected with HIV. HIV/AIDS is 100-percent preventable. Yet, every day in Canada with 11 new people being infected with HIV, it exists in our country and in our community. There is no cure. Thatís the hard truth. But over the years huge strides have been made in treatment, and being told you have HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. We need to continue our efforts to fight the scourge. We need to educate people, encourage them to practice safe sex and employ safer injection practices. We cannot let up on these education and prevention messages, because if we do, people will become complacent. We need to continue our efforts at the national and local levels to keep telling people how to protect themselves and others from this deadly virus. We can make a difference, Mr. Speaker.
Yukon Commissioner appointment
Speaker: Also under tributes, Iím sure I speak on behalf of all the Members of the Legislative Assembly in offering congratulations to Geraldine Van Bibber on her appointment as Yukonís Commissioner.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Mr. Hardy: I have for tabling a few documents.
Speaker: Are there any other returns or 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. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that, before the Yukon Party government takes on any new bridge re-decking projects, it should first complete the projects for which funds were appropriated in this current yearís budget, such as the Takhini River bridge west of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† Dawson City care facility
Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. This government has a poor record with their public service. It started early in the mandate with the now infamous computer-use investigation. At the time, the minister did nothing to stand up for Yukonís public service.
We had the Minister of Economic Development make disparaging remarks about public servants in January of this year. He said public servants were motivated by political gamesmanship and they were deliberately ignoring political direction. Nothing was done by the minister.
Now we have another example. Public servants are very clearly unhappy with the way the Minister of Health and Social Services is interfering in the Dawson City health care facility. Let me quote from an e-mail: ďI am uncomfortable with the manner in which this program is unfolding.Ē
Is the minister concerned at all about how public servants are being treated by her colleagues? Has the minister done anything about this? Is the minister just turning a blind eye and accepting the bad behaviour of her colleagues?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †We on this side of the House have the utmost respect for the well-being of our employees. We certainly treat them with utmost respect, Mr. Speaker.
With respect to the investigation that was conducted, as members are fully aware, a binding decision was made by an arbitrator in a process that was agreed to by both the government and the union. The government has certainly respected the settlement made, and we adhere to the provisions within the settlement. With respect to the acts that the member refers to, there are processes through which employees and our government are certainly protected. They can refer to processes that are outlined within the collective agreement, which includes filing grievances ó discussing matters before them ó with their supervisor, the deputy minister responsible for the Public Service Commission or with their respective union.
Again, Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House do have the utmost respect for our employees; they do a wonderful job on behalf of all the citizens.
Ms. Duncan: I quite agree with the minister that the public service does an exemplary job. I donít agree with the minister that the behaviour of her colleagues is okay, and she has just said it is. Let me repeat again, for the minister that this is what public servants are saying: ďI am uncomfortable in the manner in which this program is unfolding.Ē Public servants are not happy that the Minister of Health and Social Services is interfering. He spends his day sole sourcing contracts, overriding public servants and making them uncomfortable.
What is the response of the minister responsible for Yukonís professional public service? Nothing. When is the minister going to quit behaving like a Cabinet bystander, and start standing up for Yukonís professional public servants?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †Mr. Speaker, again, we have the utmost respect for our employees. They do an admirable job on behalf of the Yukon citizens, and we certainly support them in this regard.
Mr. Speaker, members opposite know full well that I do not get involved in personnel matters. I do not get involved in administrative matters. As members opposite are also aware, the Public Service Commission oversees various grievances through appeal of procedures that have been negotiated between the government and our respective unions and are outlined within our collective agreement. Certainly, if employees feel that they have been aggrieved within the workplace, they are encouraged to raise these concerns at the respective levels.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister stands on her feet and says she doesnít meddle with the public service. Her colleagues clearly are, and she is the minister responsible for standing up for the Yukonís professional public service at the Cabinet table.
My final question, Mr. Speaker, is for the Minister of Highways and Public Works. The MLA for Klondike is interfering with the tendering of the Dawson health centre and the tendering of the Watson Lake health centre. He is interfering with the design of the projects and overriding public servants who work for the Minister of Highways and Public Works. His meddling has left public servants very uncomfortable. Some of those employees work for the minister. Why is the Minister of Highways and Public Works not standing up for the employees? The minister responsible for the Public Service Commission wonít stand up for the Yukonís professional public servants. Will the Minister of Highways and Public Works stand up for these public servants?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Let us correct the record here, Mr. Speaker. The employees work for the Public Service Commission. They donít work for this minister or any minister, and we have the utmost respect for their skill set and their ability and for the undertaking that they have. I would like to thank them personally on behalf of my department and the areas that I am responsible for, Mr. Speaker.
The member opposite might laugh, but let us look at the facts of the situation with respect to the multi-level care facility. Right at the onset, we were in the conceptual design, and I freely admit, Mr. Speaker, that I said, ďLook, with the Dawson City situation, number one, it has to be on a decent foundation,Ē which the leader of the third party failed to do with a recreation complex in that community, and that has resulted in some $10-million worth of additional costs.
Letís look at the other areas that I freely admit to being involved in: face the property to the west so there was a good view, enlarge the size of the rooms people are going to be occupying and move the boiler room away from the residence area. These are common sense approaches. The exercise is to build a facility that is useful and meets the needs of Yukoners.
Question re: Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm
Mr. Hardy: Yesterday, the Minister of Environment repeatedly claimed that no ministers were involved in the decision to kill 56 reindeer last May 21, yet in a news conference three days after May 21, officials of his own department told reporters that the order to destroy the herd was signed by the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. Why did the minister contradict his own officials, the same officials he tried to hide behind yesterday afternoon?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We are not hiding behind anything. The facts speak for themselves. There was a herd of reindeer that was privately owned here in the Yukon and the owners couldnít afford to maintain them. The government provided them food for a number of months and, subsequent to that, they threatened to allow these reindeer to be released into the wild. Prior to that, the Department of Environment asked to test the reindeer for disease. That permission was not granted. The owners of the reindeer released them into the care of the Yukon government, which subsequently tested them and found they were diseased and then pursued the best practice, which was to cull the herd.
Mr. Hardy: Well, he has his lines down, Mr. Speaker, but we ask questions and he still doesnít answer them. The minister obviously has a very low opinion, of course, of the intelligence of Yukon people, with that kind of answer.
The reindeer situation has been a big controversy for this government for two years. Does the minister really expect people to believe that professional public servants would take such an extreme action that is bound to cause public outrage, without getting the go-ahead from the minister or Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Cabinet wasnít involved in any decision here, and I do sit on Cabinet, so the member opposite is raising fears and alarm bells that due process was not followed. Due process was followed completely. The appropriate authorities were contacted, and the determination was made, because of the diseases, to cull the herd and thatís what took place.
The members opposite were offered a briefing and did not attend. The media did and an explanation was forthcoming then, but the members opposite from the official opposition refused to attend that briefing. In the interests of allowing them to have an understanding of the issue, Iím prepared to offer that same briefing again to the members opposite.
Mr. Hardy: I have to remind the minister that I was actually at the site where they slaughtered the reindeer. That was briefing enough.
This minister refuses to take the responsibility. His colleague who issued that order has not been allowed to speak and sits in the back there, drinking water. The silence speaks much more loudly than all the bluster and bombast that comes from this minister. He knows, we know and the public knows that any deputy minister who took such a drastic action without ministerial blessing would be on the carpet or out the door.
The minister also wants us to believe that all the appropriate steps were followed and that the government had no choice but to kill off all these animals to prevent the spread of disease ó thatís what he says.
Will the minister provide the written evidence to support that claim? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Letís look at the dates, Mr. Speaker. The owners of the reindeer voluntarily gave up the animals and turned them over to the Yukon government because they were unable to feed them. That was on March 30. From March 30 onward, the government effectively owned the reindeer.
The government ran the reindeer through a series of tests; that series of tests determined that the reindeer were diseased, and subsequently, after all the appropriate individuals were contacted and the appropriate contacts were made with veterinarians and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency vet, the herd was culled.
Question re: Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm
Mr. Hardy: † The Minister of Environment keeps insisting that the 56 reindeers that officials slaughtered on May 21 were riddled with disease and had to be put down. Yesterday, he upped the ante, hinting that the animals had a variety of diseases, including herpes. He produced no evidence and didnít explain how herpes entered a closed herd that has had no outside animals introduced in 18 years. Is the minister claiming that these diseases, including herpes, showed up in tests conducted before the animals were destroyed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the diseases are coming to the forefront more and more. A number of tests were conducted before the animals were culled. The results allowed the veterinarians and those involved to make the decision to cull the herd.
Mr. Hardy: The minister has a very serious credibility problem here. A few minutes ago, I tabled necropsy results from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine on three animals that were put down voluntarily for reasons that had nothing to do with Johneís disease. They were killed on April 6, six weeks before the rest of the herd was slaughtered. A post-mortem was done locally on April 12, and the government received the necropsy results on May 16, five days before killing off the herd. How does the minister explain the fact that there was no mention whatsoever of herpes in these findings?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Probably because this minister didnít do the tests, Mr. Speaker, and Iím not capable of doing those tests. I rely on the colleges and the institutions that do the tests and provide us with the information. We have no reason to believe that the institutions that we are using do not provide accurate information with respect to these animals. The tests clearly indicated the presence of disease. After due consideration, the advice given by quite a number of individuals was to cull the herd. That was done. Mr. Speaker, itís happening all over the world today. When an outbreak occurs, such as in the poultry in the Lower Mainland, with one or two ducks that have a disease, the entire flock ends up being culled. Look at mad cow disease ó there was one instance of it in Alberta ó
Mr. Hardy: Once again, weíre seeing this minister scaremonger to protect ó
Speaker: Order please. We have ruled that out of order. Please carry on.
Mr. Hardy: Okay, I will continue with this.
In fact, the local veterinarian who did the post-mortem on those three animals performed a health inspection on the herd on April 5 and said, ďIn summary, I find the herd to be in good health with the exception of the three animals listed above.Ē These are their tests.
Now, the minister wants us to believe that this reindeer herd was a walking time bomb that posed a serious health risk to other animals. I think itís acceptable to say it that way. If the governmentís own test didnít show the range of diseases the minister alluded to yesterday, will he now produce written evidence to provide his claim? Thatís all weíre asking for: produce it.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The tests are still ongoing.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: They are still ongoing. After what the member opposite refers to as necropsy, which is basically a full autopsy of an animal, the test results are sent out and they can take months to return. That is the fact of the matter with respect to tests of these animals, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm
†Mr. Hardy: Well, letís look at the science the government used to justify the wholesale destruction of the reindeer herd. On May 16, the department received the necropsy results from Saskatoon.
Those results showed that all three animals tested positive for ó excuse my pronunciation here ó mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis. According to literature I tabled earlier, this antigen is closely related to the bacterium that causes Johneís disease, but it is not Johneís disease itself.
Does the minister dispute that fact?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iím not aware of those details. All Iím told by the department, by the clinics, by the services ó three institutions were used to do the tests: the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, one in the U.S. and one back in Ontario ó and the results are still coming in. All I was told is there was a serious problem with the health of these reindeer and they have to be culled; and that was done.
Mr. Hardy: Maybe he should spend more time on this issue and less time on the Dawson City health clinic.
Perhaps the minister really needs to do some more homework on this subject, although this has been going on for two years now. The antigen I just mentioned is commonly known as avium TB. It can be an indicator that an animal has been exposed to the bacterium that causes Johneís disease, but it also results in a high incidence of false positives. Does the minister agree with that? Maybe he knows something.
Speaker: The leader of the official opposition knows full well that one shouldnít bootleg previous issues into this series of questions.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: In a brief conversation I had with my colleague, who is a doctor of veterinary medicine, he clearly indicated to me that these are two separate diseases. Iím not qualified to offer that opinion, but Iím sure my colleague, the Minister of Economic Development, certainly is.
Mr. Hardy: Let me try to help this minister again. In fact, Mr. Speaker, and this is something that the Minister of Economic Development knows full well ó whom he just referenced ó this same herd was diagnosed with avium TB in 1992. At that time, the proper isolation measures were taken and the appropriate range tests for Johneís disease were employed under the supervision of a senior federal inspector from British Columbia. The herd came back clean; there was no Johneís disease. The same inspector has done all the mandatory federal tests on this herd for many years.
What reason did the Yukon government have to assume that the presence of the same antigen this year meant that the reindeer had Johneís disease and must be destroyed? Why the double standard on this one?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: This minister does not assume; this minister allows due process to be followed and the appropriate tests that weíre taking to make the determination. This is a highly technical matter of which neither the member questioning in the House, nor myself, are the least bit qualified to respond to or at least pose the question ó or answer the question. I would be more than happy to set up a detailed briefing on this area for the leader of the official opposition or for anyone else who, for that matter, would like to get an understanding of all of these diseases, how they affected this reindeer herd and what the recommendations from the vets were. The recommendations were based on the diseases present: the herd must be culled.
Question re: Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm
Mr. Hardy: One of the documents I tabled earlier is a paper called Johneís Disease Diagnosis and Control, by Dr. C. Sockett of the Wisconsin Animal Health Laboratories. After noting the close similarities between avium TB and Johneís bacterium, Dr. Sockett says this, ďTraditional diagnosis of M. paratuberculosis infections in cattle depends on culturing the bacterium from fecal samples submitted to a diagnostic laboratory, a process that takes eight to 16 weeks because of the slow growth of the organism.Ē
Why did the government fail to conduct this test before the minister issued the order to destroy the reindeer herd?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: † Thatís what I said to the member just earlier. A number of the tests are still ongoing. The results havenít come back. What I said at the onset, Mr. Speaker, is that the determination was made by the appropriate authorities, based on the number of diseases that were present in this herd, that they must be culled.
Mr. Hardy: Well, Iím supposed to assume that the way this minister works is to slaughter first and then test later to substantiate the actions.
Nothing will bring back the reindeer but perhaps the minister can answer this: since the animals were slaughtered, has the government sent any fecal or soil samples for testing procedures, which is the standard way to confirm a ruling of Johneís disease? I know weíve been talking about testing but he hasnít given us any evidence whatsoever, and thatís all weíre asking for. If so, will the minister table those results? Thatís what we want. We want to see them.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We could show the member opposite a whole series of information in this area but heíd be like me ó he wouldnít understand it and he wouldnít know what to do with the information. The issue here is highly technical. Iím prepared to offer a briefing to the members opposite and the leader of the official opposition who is obviously questioning in an area that neither he nor I comprehend.
The facts of the matter are very, very simple: the government asked permission before the owners of the reindeer allowed the government to assume ownership if they could test the animals. The owners of the reindeer refused. When they were taken into the control and ownership of the Yukon government at the end of March, a number of tests were performed. Our intention was to certify the health of this herd, because we had every reason to believe that they were healthy, and find them a new home. We had two options for a new home for these reindeer: one was in Alberta and one was in the Northwest Territories. One of the vets had to certify that the reindeer were healthy but the vet could not. The determination was made to follow the appropriate action and cull the herd.
Mr. Hardy: Well, Mr. Speaker, listening to this minister, itís obvious that he makes it up on the fly. I believe very firmly that this minister needs a briefing and should have got it months and months ago, before he decided to slaughter this herd.
Mr. Speaker, whatever this minister wants us to believe, the fact remains that 56 animals were slaughtered for no reason. There was no scientific basis for the governmentís callous and heartless actions. This minister and other ministers who were part of that decision should resign for their role in this outrage, Mr. Speaker. Now, will the minister do the honourable thing and resign? Will he do that? He doesnít know whatís going on. He has made decisions without the scientific evidence.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite is completely incorrect, Mr. Speaker. Once again for the record, it was the governmentís intention to find a new home for the reindeer. We had two options, one in Alberta and one in the Northwest Territories. The herd had to be confirmed as being healthy. The appropriate tests were done. The herd was determined not to be healthy, and the appropriate authorities indicated clearly that the best course of action was to cull the herd, and that is what transpired, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm
Mr. Hardy: Just to correct the record, three animals were tested. Those three animals were identified by the owners. These animals were sick ó not the herd. Letís get that straight.
Now, Iíve tabled evidence that proves these animals did not have Johneís disease. That has been tabled. The minister refuses to produce any evidence to back up his claims. Those facts speak for themselves, Mr. Speaker. I want to take the minister back to the science, since he has tried so hard for two days to confuse this issue with scare tactics about totally unrelated issues. Is the minister aware of how common Johneís disease really is? Is he aware of that?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The issue remains that the intentions of the government were to find a new home for this herd of reindeer in Alberta or the Northwest Territories. That was our intention at the time. A vet had to certify the health of the animals so that they could be exported. Tests were done ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Do I have the floor, Mr. Speaker? There is quite a bit of kibitzing from the side opposite.
Mr. Speaker, the tests were done that confirmed that the reindeer were diseased. Further to that, the recommendation from the vets was to cull the herd. Regrettably, that was undertaken and done.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, tests were done on three animals that were sick, not the herd. He knows this full well. Thatís what the shame is in here today ó the confusing messages heís putting out.
Now, the question I asked wasnít answered, so Iím going to help the minister out. According to the documents I tabled earlier, Johneís disease has been known for 160 years. One research scientist has determined that 41 percent of U.S. dairy herds have at least one cow that tests positive for Johneís disease. According to Dr. Murray Woodbury of the vet college in Saskatoon, ďWildlife species are probably at greater risk from exposure to dairy cattle pastures than deer or elk farm pastures.Ē Can the minister explain why this entire herd was slaughtered when that is not how Johneís is controlled in domestic species that present a much higher risk than these reindeer did, even if they did have Johneís disease, which they didnít?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The diseases they had were proven by tests undertaken by recognized institutions in this field. The member refers to three animals ó the bottom line is that the governmentís intention was to ship these animals outside the Yukon Territory. In order to do that, a vet had to certify that these animals were disease free. After the tests were done, the vets would not certify the animals as being disease-free. The recommendation was to cull the herd, and that is what took place.
Mr. Hardy: Once again, this minister does not know what heís talking about. He has admitted it in the House, yet he stands up there and says tests were done according to proper practice. We have also done tests; the owners have done tests with witnesses there, and they were sent out to two labs that show the herd was not contaminated or diseased.
So what Iím asking for is proof. Weíve tabled the proof; why wonít this minister table the proof to back up his claims?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: From what I know, Mr. Speaker, itís obvious the member opposite has probably ATIPPíd the information and has all the information the department has. A number of other tests have yet to come back. There are a number of other tests underway but, at the point the decision was made to cull the animals, the facts were that the herd had a number of diseases.
Question re: Northern Splendor Reindeer Farm
Mr. Hardy: Let me conclude with the same minister on the same topic. Yesterday, he tried to hide behind his officials. He tried to hide behind the federal officials, as well, and it isnít working, Mr. Speaker. If all the federal rules were followed, the place where these supposedly infected animals were kept would have been posted and closed to the public under the federal Health of Animals Act. This did not happen. If there was this much disease, you would expect this to happen. Because there was no health threat ó in our opinion, there was no health threat, and the minister knew this ó it didnít happen.
Was the political decision to kill these animals based on the cost to quarantine, feed and test them, or was it just a vindictive act because the owners of the animals refused to knuckle under to the government? Is that what it was?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the memberís premise for his question is totally incorrect. Iím advised that the act only covers 22 diseases. There are many more out there in the animal population.
Mr. Speaker, the facts of the matter are that there was a disinfecting of the rubber boots and equipment used by the staff so as not to transfer any possible diseases outside the perimeter, a clean-up crew went to the property to remove soils and disinfect other areas. The people who live on the property were given instructions on how to reduce contact with potential diseases, and the poundskeeper who came to the herd to feed them was also provided with advice on precautions that should be considered.
The keepers of the animals were the previous owners of the animals. They were paid by the department some $5,000 odd to look after the animals when they were taken into the governmentís ownership.
Mr. Hardy: Thatís wrong information ó absolutely wrong. I was on that site; I didnít receive any of those instructions. I know many other people who came on to that site. There were no precautions taken whatsoever, so I donít know what direction this minister got from the Minister of Economic Development, his so-called expert, because thatís wrong information.
The minister has refused to provide evidence to support his case so far. Under the Animal Health Act, an inspector may order any animal to be exhumed and examined for the presence of disease. The Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is responsible for that act. He owes it to the Yukon people to set the record straight ó and he sits back there and says nothing.
Will the minister direct his officials, and not this minister, to exhume the bodies of these reindeer from the Braeburn dump and have them properly tested to confirm or deny the presence of Johneís disease, which was the basis of the slaughter?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The samples were pulled before the animals were buried. Theyíre buried in an appropriate manner that was determined by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. A pit is dug; it canít have any water in it; lye is used. Thereís a whole procedure that must be followed and adhered to when youíre dealing with culling animals that are diseased, and that was completely followed. Samples were taken, and they were sent to the appropriate centres for tests. Not all the tests have been completed as yet.
Mr. Hardy: How would we know? Are we supposed to stand here and accept what this minister is saying? Are we supposed to believe the position thatís being put forward, without any backup, without any documentation? Months and months have gone by.
Tests were done by this side of the House and the results have come back, so whatís going on over there? This whole episode is a huge black eye for the Yukon Party government, and itís becoming a black eye for the Yukon. This government cannot continue to duck its responsibilities, and the facts must come out at some point. The only way this will happen, from our position, is if there is a full independent inquiry.
Will the minister, in his capacity as Deputy Premier, now agree to commission an inquiry, under the Public Inquiries Act, so that Yukon people finally get the facts they deserve about this very disgraceful episode?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, let us just look at what steps the Department of Environment went to. The previous owners of the reindeer were engaged. They were paid some $5,725 for services to look after the reindeer. The owners were paid $3,300 in rent for the compound that the reindeers were on. Billing services for the vet who initially attended to the animals was $2,427. The total cost of the tests has yet to be determined. Theyíre coming in from three different institutions: the School of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, a U.S. lab that is being used and another institution in Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, there was a threat made by the owners of the reindeer that they couldnít look after them and they were going to release them into the wild. They voluntarily gave over ownership to the Yukon government, who cared and looked after them with every intention of moving them to a new home in a neighbouring jurisdiction, but that was predicated on these animals being healthy. Tests proved that they were not healthy, and the recommendation was made to cull the animals, and that was done. They were buried in the appropriate manner with all the appropriate steps taken. Samples were taken and sent to the labs.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Hart: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, Iíd like members of the Legislature to help me welcome Mr. Deulingís grade 11 social studies class from Vanier Catholic Secondary School.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
†Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
†Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before Committee is Bill No. 17.
Before we begin debate, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. Before Committee continues with debate on Bill No. 17, the Chair will rule on a point of order raised by Ms. Duncan on Tuesday.
Chair: During debate on the Department of Health and Social Services, the Hon. Mr. Jenkins said that a course of action suggested by Mr. McRobb with regard to sewage and water regulations would ďprobably take us down the road to another Walkerton.Ē In raising the point of order, Ms. Duncan expressed her discomfort with the Hon. Mr. Jenkinsí comments, given the tragic nature of the events that took place in Walkerton, Ontario.
After examining the Blues the Chair finds that there is no point of order. The minister did not accuse Mr. McRobb of desiring an outcome similar to what occurred in Walkerton. The minister expressed the opinion that a similar outcome might occur should the government follow the course of action advocated by Mr. McRobb. Nonetheless, the Chair appreciates Ms. Duncanís point that members ought to avoid making statements that could be provocative or lead to discord.
The Chair will also make a statement regarding a procedural issue that arose on Tuesday. Specifically the issue is the scope of debate allowed during general debate on departmental appropriations.
It is not out of order for members to ask questions regarding departmental policy during general debate. In terms of parliamentary procedure it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the Chair to rule on such questions. The information provided to the Committee indicates how appropriations are to be allocated to different units within a department. This information does not ó and could not ó indicate the scope of work to be undertaken by departmental employees. For the Chair to rule on whether the appropriations before the Committee would be devoted to work on one policy or another would require a determination of fact, and that is beyond the role of the Chair.
At the same time it is also beyond the role of the Chair to rule on the adequacy of answers provided to questions asked. Again, this would require determination of fact.
The Chair will remind members of Guideline No. 10 of our Guidelines for Oral Question Period. It says, ďA minister may decline to answer a question without stating the reason for his or her refusal. Insistence on an answer is out of order. A refusal to answer cannot be raised as the basis of a question of privilege.Ē While these guidelines relate specifically to Question Period, they apply generally to Committee proceedings as well.
The Chair hopes that this statement helps to clarify the issue. The Chair would also suggest that in future, if members have concerns about procedural issues, that they raise them as points of order so that they can be dealt with, rather than engaging in extensive debate about rules and their application.
We will now continue with Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much for that very good ruling. Itís much appreciated.
Bill No. 17: Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06 ó continued
††††††† Department of Health and Social Services ó continued
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The total increase in the supplementary budget for Health and Social Services is $7.9 million. What weíve done, Mr. Chair, is increase funding to the critical areas of need for our Yukon citizens ó for adults, children with disabilities and special needs, NGOs, childcare workers, seniors, our FASD action plan, and of course, health care.
Some highlights of the increased funding is an increase of $228,000 for children with autism and their families. We have to engage with stakeholders to look at the childcare regulations, and that area shows an increase of $35,000. There is an additional $40,000 in the budget envelope for childcare subsidies for children with special needs. To support the Canada Northwest FASD Partnership and FASD symposium, there is an increase of $45,000.
Thereís an increase in social assistance rates for persons with disabilities, Mr. Chair, and thatís $150,000. The social assistance rates in the Yukon currently are the highest in Canada, including Northwest Territories and Nunavut, for the single category, which has the most uptake. There was a demonstrated need for increasing the social assistance rates for those individuals who have disabilities, and our government increased it by some $125 per month, a $1,500 per year increase just for the disability component.
There was another increase in funding for the programming that has been increased at Kausheeís Place, $93,000 ó the older abused women pilot program. There is a new initiative underway where the seniors association in Haines Junction has received the same offer of quite some time ago as the Signpost Seniors had in Watson Lake, predicated upon the numbers in the group. The seniors association in Haines Junction has received $25,000. That is clearly indicated in the supplementary.
We have an increase in demand for home care services of $80,000; there are demand increases in continuing care. Itís all subject to what weíre experiencing here in the Yukon: increased life expectancy, increased aging population, and more of our seniors and elders are choosing to remain in the Yukon and thereís a need for an increase in care within their own homes, which means the home care program is increased.
The opening of the 12 new beds in Copper Ridge Place above and beyond what was budgeted indicates another increase of $463,000. This is primarily made up of new FTEs, new individuals to deliver the programs to the residents in our lodges.
Mr. Speaker, all our health care professions across the Yukon are well recognized and well received, and Iíd like to thank them, on behalf of our government, for the valuable contribution they make, whether they be doctors, nurses ó the complete list of health care providers, whether they be technicians or wherever they fit into the system. Theyíre doing an excellent job and providing some of the best care in Canada.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: † On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I feel weíve given the Minister of Health and Social Services a lot of latitude, both today and on Tuesday afternoon. If youíll recall where the questioning left off, there was not a question asked, and the minister is going on with his speech.
Chair: Is there a specific Standing Order that the member finds has been broken?
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, I believe there is something on keeping the focus in the debate on the question asked, and there was no question asked.
Chair: Thank you.
Mr. McRobb: Maybe there isnít anything in the orders, but there should be.
†Chair: †I find no point of order. The matter under debate is Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services. We are still in general debate on the topic.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
As I indicated, one of the largest increases in this supplementary is for $4.8 million required to provide health care, and a lot of it is price and volume demands in specific areas. Outpatient and in-patient rates have increased when we need to send an individual for medical attention to British Columbia or Alberta. That increase is $1.3 million that is contained within the supplementary estimate.
There have also been increases in medical claims due to an increase in the number of physicians, the number of specialists. What weíre doing is more local surgeries. There is more access to walk-in clinics and, overall, more physician services are being provided to Yukoners right here in the Yukon. That has resulted in an increase that is contained within the supplementary of $1.8 million.
One of the other areas that has shown a price-driven increase is the chronic disease and extended benefits and the childrenís drug and optical program. That has been increased by some $531,000. Also, we have incurred increased drug costs at the Whitehorse General Hospital, so there is another $300,000 increase there.
What it clearly indicates is that the cost of drugs now exceeds the cost of physician services. It is clearly what is transpiring in the health care field with drug costs rising at a very significant rate.
Some of the other areas of priority health care spending contained within this supplementary budget include support for the start-up and training of the electrocardiogram program at the Whitehorse General Hospital. This is another $50,000. Some of our substance abuse strategies ó the tobacco reduction campaign shows an increase in this supplementary of some $98,000. Our telehealth program also shows an increase, because of its uptake, of $90,000. Weíve had an increase in the support staff training and mentorship programs, which has been increased by $641,000. Weíve expanded home care into the Carcross area, which has resulted in an increased cost of $57,000. Weíve continued with the program with the Victoria Faulkner Womenís Centre for housing for those from rural Yukon who come to Whitehorse to await the arrival of their child. That ongoing contribution is now at $28,000.
Those are just a number of the highlights, Mr. Chair but, across the board, there have been many significant increases in the various areas of health care programming. One of the most significant that we must pay tribute to are the non-government organizations, the various shelters and organizations which, under our government, have seen an increase to their funding and also a three-percent increase in their base funding for the last fiscal year. We will be budgeting the same amount for the next fiscal period.
Iím sure the member opposite may have some questions. Iíd be more than willing to entertain those questions from the Member for Kluane, as it appears his colleague from the third party has chosen not to take her turn in this equation.
Mr. McRobb: Iím not sure what the minister meant by that, but I do note the camera is now off, so hopefully he will respond to a question. On Tuesday, when debate on this department started, he refused to answer questions. Then what we saw was the minister use about 20 minutes to advertise his messages that responded to the statement that I had made about having no more questions.
Really, I think the minister should recall what I said at the outset of the departmental debate on Tuesday afternoon, that we should try to be more productive. We just saw one-third of an hour wasted.
Mr. Chair, I want to refer to a letter that was sent to the minister dated November 18 of this year. I am mindful of the fact we shouldnít identify people by name, but it was in regard to encouraging the government to consider a hospice palliative care facility in Whitehorse. So I assume the minister knows which letter Iím talking about. I have read the letter. I believe there is a lot of merit to the request. I would like to ask him what he is doing in response to that letter.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Actually, that is an excellent question from the Member for Kluane. Mr. Chair, our government has recognized the very important role that Hospice Yukon has undertaken, and we have enhanced significantly their funding. At the same time, we have also provided them with office accommodations in a building that is contained within the Health envelope.
Mr. Chair, weíre examining the area, and weíll examine it fully. There is a very good likelihood that, down the road, we will be enhancing the issue of palliative care, not just in Whitehorse but in rural Yukon as well. There is currently an examination being undertaken by the department in conjunction with the palliative care association here in the Yukon. Iím not sure of the date when they will be concluding their examination, but I am sure we will be working with them. As there is a demonstrated need in this area, I am sure we will be moving forward to see what we can do to provide the best possible level of palliative care that we can to those in need of that service.
Mr. McRobb: All right, Mr. Chair. I didnít hear if there was any money in this supplementary budget for this purpose, so Iíd like to return to that question for the minister.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The short answer is no.
Mr. McRobb: All right. Is this facility something that must be located in Whitehorse, or can it be located in a community that is reasonably close to Whitehorse? The reason I mention this is because I participated in meetings in Haines Junction regarding a seniors facility and what types of health care services could possibly be located in that community. The idea of a Yukon palliative care facility has been mentioned. Iíd like to ask the ministerís view. Is it something that could be located in a community like Haines Junction, which is really only an hour and a quarter away by road these days? Or must it be located beside the hospital in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Given that virtually the greatest majority of deaths that occur in the Yukon occur right here in Whitehorse, the issue of the location of a palliative care unit would more appropriately serve Yukoners if it were located where the greatest population is. Thatís not to say that we arenít examining the issue of palliative care in outlying regions of the Yukon where there is also a need. By and large the numbers speak for themselves, and any new initiative of this nature will be located in Whitehorse, as far as I can see, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: All right, the minister clearly stated his position on that matter.
I want to turn now to another letter, this one dated November 1, 2005, from the minister to the executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions. I actually had a chance to discuss this with the executive director last night, at the drug meeting on crystal meth at Grace Community Church. We were both a little puzzled as to why the letter is dated November 1, when the minister was asked questions in the House around November 14, 15 and 16 on funding for Blood Ties and, at that time, I ribbed him a bit about how he hadnít responded to the letter from Blood Ties yet. Yet, the date on this reply from the minister is November 1 ó quite awhile before he was questioned. So, Mr. Chair, weíre speculating about the date of this letter, and wondered if it was actually sent out on November 1?
Now, she told me she received it yesterday. I received it the day before. So, one would assume it was really mailed on about November 21. Well, why was it dated three weeks previous, if it wasnít mailed out until November 21? You know, in the official opposition office, we have seen this type of example before, where we will receive letters that are predated weeks, and it appears the government uses the same approach now when communicating with NGOs or the public.
Can the minister tell us what happened here? Why is this dated November 1 when, in fact, the letter wasnít sent out until about November 21?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, letters are prepared in the department and sent over, and there is usually a two- or three-day turnaround, but I canít answer for the mail system. If the member is suggesting that I have backdated the letter, the member opposite is on very, very incorrect ground here, Mr. Chair. I donít undertake to backdate any letters. They come across, and if there are changes, the changes are made and the current date is applied to the letter. We have nothing to hide, and we endeavour to turn around the letters as soon as we possibly can. The member opposite is ending up out on the lake again, fishing, Mr. Chair, not dealing with the appropriateness of the debate.
As for the Blood Ties Four Directions, this very capable NGO, when we came into power, was receiving $130,000 odd. It is now at $167,000. It has been increased significantly under our watch because of the demonstrated need that this organization had.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I think we just heard some information that was very interesting ó a few things there. First of all, the minister said the department wrote the response. Well, Mr. Chair, he signed the letter. Itís from the Minister of Health and Social Services, but he said the department wrote the response. Well, isnít that something? And hereís why. I just heard the former Premier chortle over there, and for good reason, Mr. Chair. My, my, my, how soon we forget. I recall, when that member was sitting where she is now, how he blasted the former Liberal government, accusing it of having the bureaucracy write the public letters for it.
He went on and on and on ó and maybe she would like to redress this matter later.
I will conclude by just reminding members about that.
Secondly, the minister denied changing the dates of the letters. Well, maybe heís feeling a little guilty. I didnít accuse him of changing the dates that the letter is predating. But there is another very plausible reason, and I will explain it now. Perhaps the department wrote the response and that draft letter sat on his desk for three weeks before he got around to signing it and putting it in the mail. He didnít change the date, but the date remained the same ó November 1 ó even though it wasnít mailed for another three weeks. Thatís very plausible. There are a few issues there that perhaps the leader of the third party would like to follow up on.
I want to ask the minister about something else. He has made a lot of hay out of his substance abuse action plan. Iíve asked questions about timelines, about any kind of dates for implementation of this plan. So, I want to ask him: does he have a workplan with any timelines for the SAAP?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Our government is very, very pleased with the cooperative initiative among the Womenís Directorate, the Youth Directorate, the Department of Education, Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Services to work on the substance abuse action plan.
The action plan is moving forward, and I encourage the member opposite to join with us, like the official opposition and the third party did right at the onset. They are probably recognizing that this initiative is going to address some of the issues here in the Yukon Territory, and they are reluctant to join in the collectivity of a legislature moving forward on a good action plan dealing with substance abuse.
The four major strategic directions this action plan focuses on are harm reduction, prevention and education, treatment and enforcement. With respect to harm reduction, the harm reduction strategies are intended to reduce the health and social problems associated with the abuse of alcohol and other drugs among individuals, families and communities. What will transpire here is the Department of Health and Social Services will establish a fund that will provide financial assistance to communities that wish to deliver projects focused on after-care treatment, harm reduction and/or prevention. That is where weíre going. These funds will be flexible and easily accessible. In most cases, a contribution of some percentage would be expected. This would allow communities to undertake initiatives at a pace and time they are comfortable with.
Iím sure the member opposite is just waiting in anticipation for the next budget cycle or the supplementary that may have to contain some of this funding. I canít pre-announce everything thatís going to be in the next supplementary or the next budget cycle, but it doesnít matter what we do with the supplementary or the next budget, Iím sure the member will vote against an initiative of this nature and its well-meaning and well-founded intentions, done with the support and assembled with the cooperation of over 200 Yukoners who were at the original summit.
That is but one area ó the community harm reduction funding. Thereís also the second: learning how to help children with FASD in schools. The Department of Education will be enhancing its existing FASD project that offers training and support for educators. These enhancements will focus on developing a teacher training module, support manuals, enhancing mentors and training school-based support persons and developing a culturally relevant grade 1 to 12 curriculum on FASD for Yukon students.
Weíre also looking at the Outreach van. We will be providing additional support for the No Fixed Address Outreach van. Responsible server training ó the Yukon Liquor Corporation will develop a self-directed version of the existing Be a Responsible Server training program. What this program focuses on is server responsibility. Then we will be going into the substance abuse management certification.
The Department of Justice will increase drug and alcohol awareness and train staff who work with offenders in communities or at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre to deliver the substance abuse management program. The substance abuse management program is an introduction to substance abuse issues and will provide staff with the opportunity to consider the effects that substance abuse has on the lives of offenders.
Support for high-risk young women ó the Womenís Directorate will establish a fund to assist NGOs and First Nations to implement harm-reduction initiatives for young women living in high-risk situations. Projects will focus on young women who are or may be experiencing sexual assault, homelessness, family violence, mental health issues, HIV/AIDS, or other health risks and/or teen pregnancy.
I donít believe there is any area, Mr. Speaker, that is not going to be addressed in our substance abuse action plan, because it was done cooperatively with all stakeholders, communities, First Nations, from right across the Yukon, Mr. Chair. The member opposite jumps to his feet, Mr. Chair, and says, ďTimelines, timelines, timelines.Ē The timelines are that we are hoping to implement them as soon as possible. Whether the funding for this comes by way of an additional supplementary or in the next yearís mains, the issue will be addressed, because there is clearly a problem with substance abuse. Substance abuse here in the Yukon is the leading problem that we currently have. Letís deal with it. Our government has stepped up to the plate. The summit was held this summer. The substance abuse action plan stems from that summit. This is an excellent initiative. Weíre moving forward, and progress is being made.
Mr. McRobb: Well, self-congratulation is no recommendation, Mr. Chair, and I believe thatís what we just heard. The minister didnít answer the question. He is talking about implementing the schedule at some point in time. Think about that. Heís talking about timelines and time. I think the minister is in some other dimension and he canít bring himself to deal with the realities of today, because the official opposition has requested timelines for this plan. Instead, he talks about possibilities in the next budget. Well, isnít that interesting? The other day he wouldnít talk about anything that wasnít in the supplementary before us and now he wants to talk about possibilities in the next budget. Why canít he just table a timeline and we will be done with it?
You know, I recall when he was on this side of the House and, for the energy commission, we tabled timelines and all kinds of stuff. At least it let people know what the work was and what the schedule was in terms of completing the work. They demanded this sort of information. Now they are completely refusing to provide any type of information, but they have on one or two rare undertakings, such as the Childrenís Act review.
Now, we all know what happened there. Back in May there was supposed to be proposed legislation out to all stakeholders but they are still waiting for it, and this is mid-November. Itís more than six months late, and the minister refuses to explain why. Itís no wonder he hates timelines so much, because he canít stick to them himself.
Well, Mr. Chair, I guess itís now a matter of record that the minister does have a bad record when it comes to timelines. But, when in opposition, he sure liked to demand that other governments produce timelines.
Is there any money in this supplementary budget to implement the substance abuse action plan? Thatís probably my last question unless the minister goes on at length and talks about other matters. The question is a rather simple one. Is there any money in the supplementary budget to help implement the substance abuse action plan?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The appropriate steps have to be taken, Mr. Chair, and that includes Management Board approval of these new programs. It is work in progress but the intention of our government is to implement the Yukon substance abuse action plan as soon as possible. Work is underway and a lot of work has been done to date. Iím sure the member opposite might want to give some kudos to all those involved in the original summit, because they were the ones who came together from all across the Yukon and clearly demonstrated what was needed. From that summit the action plan was developed, and it will be implemented.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to enter into the discussion with the Minister of Health and Social Services regarding the supplementary budget for the Department of Health and Social Services.
I would like to begin with the multi-level care facility in Dawson City, as the minister is very familiar with this facility. The $5.2 million scheduled for construction of the facility has lapsed. Why?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Because we have stood down on the project. We are not going to spend that money in this budget cycle. It wonít be expended by March 31 this year. The project is alive, ongoing, but will come forward in the mains next year and Iím sure the member opposite will vote against it again.
Ms. Duncan: Well, as I said, the member has been intimately involved with the construction of this project, the multi-level care facility. Whatís the holdup? The minister was making notes about design changes in June 2004. They had the money budgeted; they had the design. Why didnít the construction proceed this summer? The minister is very good at sole sourcing contracts. I donít understand why this one didnít go ahead.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Iíve provided the member opposite with the answer.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, it will probably come as no surprise, but I beg to differ with the minister. He has not provided an answer. What is the reason for why the multi-level care facility didnít proceed? The design work was done, even to the satisfaction of the minister, with all his changes. It was done in June; they had cost estimates. Why didnít the project proceed?
We voted on the money. It was scheduled; the design was done. Weíve listened to members opposite go on at great length about everything theyíve managed to take credit for ó everything in the economy. They havenít managed to actually build anything, and Iím curious as to why this particular project didnít proceed. The design was done; the money was voted on. What was the reason for why didnít it proceed?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: For the reasons Iíve given the member opposite ó because the money cannot be expended from now until the end of the fiscal year.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we passed the budget in April ó April or May, thereabouts. We have so much fun in here that I donít remember the precise date that the Commissioner assented to the budget.†
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: It was May 17, Iím told. On May 17, the minister had the money approved by the House. The minister has a design for the work. He even has the change order, and the change order has been paid for. He has what he needs to put this contract out. Why didnít it go ahead? Is the minister saying that from May 17, 2005, until November ó even though there was a design in hand ó they couldnít get a contract out? Heís very good at sole sourcing them. Why couldnít they issue a contract to get this project started? Itís the ministerís legacy project for his community ó how come it didnít get done?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Given the amount of work that is underway across the Yukon, given the amount of energy that has been devoted to capital projects, given that the last couple of budget cycles were the largest capital projects undertaken ever in the history of the Yukon ó there is an issue of capacity. There are also a number of issues surrounding the planning and cash flow of monies for various initiatives.
So although the member opposite I know doesnít have the background and the acumen in the financial area to determine cash flow and to organize cash flow within governments in an appropriate manner, that is not the case with our government. Our government took the steps to put our fiscal house in order. We did that. At the Auditor Generalís request, weíve gone to full accrual accounting, and weíve identified funding from a number of sources and put that funding to work.
Letís look at a community centre in Ross River. Letís look at a community centre at Marsh Lake. Letís look at an airport terminal in Old Crow. Letís look at a tremendous amount of crushing and bank stabilization work in Old Crow. Letís look at the major highway construction projects, bridge rebuilding. Letís look at a new school for Carmacks. Letís look at all the capital projects across the Yukon. Letís look at the athletes village here in Whitehorse.
You know, if we start looking at all the projects that this government has put together and moved forward on ó and we have a project that we have budgeted $5.2 million for, weíve put the plans together, Mr. Chair, and my involvement was right at the onset of the project. That was to ensure that the project would be built in a manner that the people could be proud of and would delight in staying there. The exercise is to not build buildings that you just get an architectural award for, Mr. Chair. The object is to build a building that is efficient, both energy-wise and productive-wise, to meeting the intended purpose for which it is built.
We only have to look at initiatives that took place under this memberís government, and we see a school in Mayo where the foundation has collapsed ó so much so that a machine about three feet wide has to have a two-by-four under one side of it just to level it out in the hallway. That shows you how much the floor in that school has sagged ó a brand new building. Then we look at Copper Ridge Place, commissioned under this member oppositeís watch, a beautiful-looking building. But, as soon as it gets cold, which it tends to do on a regular basis here in the Yukon, the roof jams up with a big ice jam. Probably down the road in a few yearsí time, it will necessitate millions in a new roof construction on that building.
At the same time, when it gets very cold ó like it did last January ó the pipes in the outside wall of one wing froze. Department officials opened the wall up to have a look and, lo and behold, there were problems ó serious problems. Iíd encourage the member opposite to reflect on some of the projects that were undertaken by her government to look at how to proceed. Unless there is correct and adequate supervision, problems do arise, and we maxed out as far as our government could go with project management and with officials to undertake these initiatives.
Then we have that wonderful facility in Dawson City called the recreation facility for which, under that memberís watch, extensive funds were flowed to the municipal government there. We now have about an $11-million recreation facility that doesnít work. The foundation does not work; the roof structure does not work. After spending $11 million, it is clear that the design was seriously flawed, if not inappropriate for the area.
Thus, when weíre going to build a multi-level health care facility, the first question I asked was to make sure it would be put on a decent and proper foundation for that area. The member opposite forgot to do that, right from the get-go.
So letís go down the road a little bit. We now have a recreation complex in my community thatís totally dysfunctional. We may have ice in there we can skate on ó itíll be natural ice; we may have ice in there on the curling side, which will be natural ice, if they can get the air movement in the building, but they have had to jackhammer out all the concrete.
This is a classic ó
Point of order
†Chair: Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Our time for debate is seriously limited. The minister is talking about projects that arenít even in this department. Heís going on and on in detail. Could you please rein him in? Can we try to be more productive this afternoon?
Chair: The matter currently under debate is Bill No. 17, Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services. We are still in general debate, and I would encourage members to keep the current topic of debate in mind when debating.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Gladly, Mr. Chair. The leader of the third party knows full well the inappropriateness of the line of questioning that is coming forward. All my involvement was of a commonsense, logical nature. I was doing my job as the Minister of Health and Social Services, and the member knows full well that I will continue to do my job as Minister of Health and Social Services to the best of my abilities. You know, to sit back in the office and make sure that the tís are crossed and the iís are dotted, thatís not what it is all about. Itís to ensure that the projects that we engage in ó if the member opposite is on the line of capital projects ó are done in a manner that meets the needs that they are designed and built for, that they are adequately funded during the construction and that they are adequately supervised. Thatís an initiative thatís undertaken by others. Virtually all the areas are dealt with in-house ó member knows full well that is the case, and where the political arm gets involved is right at the onset: it conceives the projects and ensures that they are done in an appropriate manner, spelling out what is required along with consultation from all those involved in the department when the purpose of the structure is a multi-level care facility.
††††††† The member opposite might want to look in the mirror as to how inappropriate some of the structures are showing themselves to be for the purpose that they were intended and how many serious design flaws they have.
We only have to look at those projects that the member oppositeís government oversaw to come to the realization that there are a lot of boondoggles out there.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to respond to a couple of points that the minister has made on the floor this afternoon. He made reference to my financial acumen, which is his opinion. I believe members would share the opinion that my command of the English language is somewhat better than that of the members opposite ó that member in particular. It is with respect to motions that we speak.
The minister is very, very good at design. He seems to be, and he points out that he also knows all the numbers involved. Perhaps heíd like to take some of that talent and design in numbers work and maybe devise a repayment plan that would be suitable to the taxpayers.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: He suggests that we ó
Well, we just canít go down that road.
Mr. Chair, I can hardly wait until the day we go down the road and the Auditor General takes a good, hard look at the members oppositeís handling of the athletes village ó itís not going to be pretty.
In his response, the minister seems to feel ó as heís rewritten public administration ó that itís the ministerís job to pick out the bed linen for the new multi-care facility. Thatís his job ó he just said, ďItís our job.Ē Thatís news to every individual who has ever been involved in public administration. It is not the ministerís job to issue change orders that constitute specific ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Well, perhaps the members opposite who support the minister would like to read the e-mails.
Mr. Chair, he has directed the architect to make some significant changes so that this work can be completed as per ministerial direction.
And weíre not talking about oversight and supervision. Supervision of projects is not the ministerís job. Policy is the ministerís job. However, he did, in his lengthy response, indicate that the reason the multi-level care facility has not gone ahead ó he didnít win that one at the Cabinet table, and the money has gone elsewhere. So that is the holdup on that project. $743,000 for a new group home has lapsed. Would the minister care to outline why that has occurred?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Certainly. The project we still have underway.
Ms. Duncan: When will the public consultation on the location of the group home begin?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís currently underway, to the best of my knowledge.
Ms. Duncan: And where is the proposed location for the group home?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I donít believe one has been selected as yet.
Ms. Duncan: If there hasnít been one selected, what is the public being consulted about? If the public consultation has begun but we donít have a location, what constitutes the public consultations?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, we are discussing the issue with a First Nation government. We are discussing it with others. Iím not aware if there is a vacant lot next to the member opposite, but I can assure her it wonít be there.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, Iím sure you find the personal comments amusing.
The member stood on his feet and said the public consultation was underway, yet in his past response, he said consultations were underway with the First Nation government and with others. Where and when is the public consultation, and what is being proposed? What constitutes the public discussions?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Again, Iím not aware of all the details of the public consultation and, once again, I donít want to be accused of micromanaging the department and stepping on officialsí toes, but there is a process thatís involved. Itís ongoing as I speak.
Ms. Duncan: The member opposite has just made my point. He thinks there might be some public consultation out there on a very important subject, perhaps with a First Nation government, perhaps with others. And I know he said First Nation ďgovernmentĒ. There are two self-governing First Nations that have interests in the Whitehorse area. The minister canít answer the most basic of questions about a fundamental part of his portfolio, yet he knows that the bedrooms of the multi-level care facility have to be increased by 35 percent, we have to have a central boiler room, we have to change the location of the dining room and we have to change the size of the doctorís waiting room. He knows every minute detail about a facility in his riding, but he doesnít know the most basic of information about his ministerial responsibilities.
Mr. Chair, where and when is this public consultation and what is the basis for the public consultation? If the department is out talking to people and listening to Yukoners about the new location for a group home facility, what location are we talking about?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I donít have that information.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps the minister could undertake to get the information, if it wouldnít be too much trouble.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The minister canít answer and will not answer that question. The minister did say in a previous answer that there was consultation with the First Nation government. Was he speaking in the singular or the plural? Are we only consulting ó presumably this $743,000 was for construction of a new group home in the Whitehorse area, but I will ask the minister: have they only consulted with one First Nation, or are they consulting with both the self-governing First Nations in the Whitehorse area?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: All the details ó since I donít micromanage the department, Mr. Chair, I donít have those types of details. The member is off on a track that is not relevant to the supplementary here, given that all we did was stand down on an issue, and weíre moving forward on a consultation process in a number of areas.
Ms. Duncan: A consultation process the minister canít answer anything about ó almost $743,000, pretty close to three-quarters of a million dollars, is lapsing out of the ministerís department and he knows nothing about it, but he can tell us the precise size of the dining room for a facility that they couldnít manage to get out to tender this summer. Itís amazing, Mr. Chair ó absolutely amazing.
Can the minister provide any information on a completion date for the Childrenís Act?
The Premier has been on the radio saying that we wonít be having another legislative session, so will the draft legislation be left for the next government?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The chances of a legislative session going next fall ó the member opposite is absolutely correct ó but it may come forward in the spring session. It depends on the consultation process. It is our intention to complete the Childrenís Act at our earliest opportunity. Work is underway.
Ms. Duncan: Work is underway. Normally, when work is underway on a project of this significance, there are time frames attached to it. Can the minister provide any time frames as to when we might see a completed product? At what point is the consultation group anticipated to examine draft legislation or proposals for legislation?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I tabled a workplan for the Childrenís Act review in the Legislature previously. If the member opposite needs another copy because she has misplaced it, I would be happy to send her over another copy. But ďat the earliest opportunityĒ would be the spring session next year.
Ms. Duncan: The earliest opportunity for Childrenís Act legislation is the spring of 2006 ó is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Thatís exactly what I said, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Does the minister anticipate meeting that time frame?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: We are going to give it our level best, Mr. Chair. Weíve been very successful in accomplishments to date and I have no doubt we will continue to be very successful in meeting our commitments as a government in a number of areas.
We have gone on the record as saying we are going to rebuild the Yukon economy, restore investorsí confidence and provide opportunities and hope for the youth through training and wonderful opportunities for employment; and that is exactly what we have done.
The member opposite comes into the House and says that we need a new school up there because there are over 200 new houses. My gosh, what do you think precipitated the need for 200 new houses?
Two hundred people are not moving up here because of the climate; 200 people are moving up here because of opportunity. Thatís the way it is, and thatís what is happening. The economy is being rebuilt; investor confidence is being restored; and there are opportunities out there for all.
We take credit for what we have demonstrated, and our platform commitments are being met on a regular basis. I have no doubt we will continue to meet those expectations and continue to provide the best possible services to Yukoners that have been made available by any government ever.
Ms. Duncan: What Yukoners have sought from their government and looked to the Yukon Party to demonstrate ó which they have not done ó is leadership and ethics. We donít see that. We donít see that in answers.
As to the reference to Copperbelt made by the minister, the results for the Copperbelt by-election speak volumes about the government, as he well knows.
With regard to the Childrenís Act, would the minister offer an explanation to the Legislature as to why Kwanlin Dun is not participating?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Itís their choice. I understand they are there on observer status.
Ms. Duncan: Is the minister doing anything to accommodate concerns that have been expressed by Kwanlin Dun as to why they are not participating and why they have changed to observer status?
I can recall ó and the member opposite can also recall ó that Yukon didnít want to have observer status at the First Ministers meeting; we wanted to be a full partners at the table, and we fought long and hard for that position. Now we see the opposite. The Kwanlin Dun is an observer at the Childrenís Act discussions, and this is of very serious concern to all Yukoners, and I would conclude for that First Nation as well.
So has the minister had any discussions with the chief and council about their participation?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Kwanlin Dun First Nation has the opportunity to sit as full participants, and the question the member opposite posed is a question that I would encourage her to pose to the chief and council of Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
Ms. Duncan: Has the minister had any discussions with Kwanlin Dun First Nation about this?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I have discussions with Kwanlin Dun First Nation, yes.
Ms. Duncan: Are we then to conclude the minister was unable to persuade them to be part of the process? Is that the conclusion from what the minister has just stated?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The short answer is no.
Ms. Duncan: Well, then, would the minister offer another explanation to the public?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: As a government and working on a government-to-government basis, the member knows full well that I canít speak for Kwanlin Dun First Nation. The member opposite should address her questions to chief and council of Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the member opposite knows full well Iím not asking him to speak for Kwanlin Dun First Nation. He has a very important process that he has responsibility for that is underway. A self-governing First Nation has said they will only participate as observer status. Itís his process. What happened, and why has this occurred?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Again, itís a question the member opposite should pose to chief and council of Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
Ms. Duncan: The minister is fully prepared to take responsibility for the most minute of details in capital projects. On the fundamental issues of policy that require the building of consensus, collaboration and cooperation, the minister has failed miserably in achieving that kind of consensus and that kind of cooperation.
The larger policy issue with regard to the recruitment of doctors ó we still have issues of orphan patients in the Yukon. Several times the minister has promised me a phone number that I could merrily hand out to individuals so they have a number that they can call ó Health and Social Services staff ó to obtain a list of doctors. He has never given me the number, and he has not indicated what, if anything, heís doing with YMA with regard to the recruitment of new physicians. Iím not speaking about the surgeon, so I would suggest the minister not take credit for the recruitment of the additional surgeon. The congratulations belong to our Dr. Storey, who has served Yukoners so well, and Dr. Poole.
The problem I have with the ministerís response, ďWell, weíve got this phone number,Ē is that he has pledged numerous times to give me the phone number. He has pledged numerous times that there was a data base, that there was work being undertaken in the department and that there was work being undertaken with Yukonís medical professionals. I have yet to see the results of any of this work, and I donít have an answer for all those constituents who phone me, who are new to the Yukon and canít find a family doctor. What do we say to these people? The Minister of Health and Social Services should be concentrating on big policy issues ó major initiatives like that ó but he is too busy with the multi-level health care facility in Dawson City that he canít get built? Whatís he doing about the bigger issues like the recruitment of doctors?††
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I would be glad to share with the member opposite what weíve done and what we are continuing to do with the recruitment of doctors. Admittedly, there is a shortage of family physicians here in the Yukon. As Minister of Health and Social Services, I have declared that we have a shortage and, as a consequence, the recruitment of ó I believe that five or six new physicians have become involved in practising here in the Yukon.
Let me share with the House some of the other steps weíve taken. Weíve negotiated a new contract with the YMA for a four-year period. It includes a retention bonus of $16,000 per year for the first year. That is in addition to the fee-for-service contract for those doctors who were on contract. In the second year there is no payment for a retention bonus, but in the following year the retention bonus ó if they stay the two years ó is $32,000. We have also enhanced and put in place a fund for orphan patients who are taken on by a doctor practising here in the Yukon, so there is an initial fee they are paid to set up for a new patient. At the same time, weíve further enhanced and increased the fee-for-service schedule as well as other opportunities for training, enhancement and furthering their education.
We are looking in the next budget cycle to further enhance programs. Just how they will go about doing it has not been finalized, but the Yukon will have a program for assisting doctors who have graduated and come to the Yukon to assist in paying off their student loans or providing bursaries or assistance for their tuition.
Itís a whole series of things, and if you look in the whole of Canada, we are moving ahead rather than just maintaining the status quo here in the Yukon. At the same time, we are continuing to provide more and more health services here in the Yukon, rather than having to buy those services in British Columbia or in Alberta. We have expanded quite a number of programs. We have enhanced service delivery with a number of specialists, and those by and large appear to be very well received and working in the best interests of all Yukoners. But we have not only to constantly stay on the alert in the recruitment of doctors, but for virtually all health care providers, health care professionals of all categories, including those who provide the technical backup and assistance for a number of health care-related functions.
I freely admit, Mr. Chair, that we are going to have to increase our recruitment and retention efforts, and we are doing that and, at the same time, weíre going to enhance our position with the incentive that I outlined for tuition for the doctors, or some assistance in that area. How it will be structured, we havenít finalized, but Iím sure the member opposite will be more than willing to engage in a debate on that matter when it comes before this House in our mains next year.
Ms. Duncan: Is the minister aware of the recruitment and retention initiatives and the database initiative that has been undertaken in the Province of Manitoba?
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I have looked at the retention, recruitment and the IT section as to what is happening in all of Canada. There is more and more of a movement toward computerization of all medical health records. Itís moving in that way. There are great issues there with privacy that have to be overcome in databases. There are also various models of recruitment and retention bonuses, and each jurisdiction looks at it somewhat differently. With respect to north of 60, I would say that the Yukon is in the lead as far as what services are provided here at the Whitehorse General Hospital. Itís doing an excellent job, Mr. Chair.
The Whitehorse General Hospital and the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board of Directors is probably one of the best functioning health care entities in Canada, for its size, delivering excellent service, and I canít speak more highly of it than I do. That bodes well for those who are employed there, because itís not just bricks and mortar; itís the people inside who make the difference. But the buildingís functionality is paramount to its success. That was determined a number of years ago. Iíd like to bring the same success to other buildings that the Department of Health and Social Services is responsible for ó one of those being the multi-level care facilities in not only Watson Lake but in Dawson City, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: To bring the minister back to the topic at hand, I was asking about the recruitment and retention of doctors. I was also asking about orphan patients and how the Department of Health and Social Services was assisting orphan patients.
On November 2, 2005, the Government of Manitoba launched a physician profile Web site where any individual contemplating moving to Manitoba or in Manitoba could find a doctor. Now, the only thing thatís missing from the Web site ó and Iíve been unable to determine whether or not it is intended to be added. You can find out information about a doctorís education and training, certification and registration, where they work and any disciplinary action. If youíre particularly concerned about having a female or male physician, you can find that out, as well as their office telephone number, their wheelchair accessibility, the languages they speak and their teaching responsibilities.
The privacy issues with regard to the doctors were dealt with because this particular Web site is the result of the College of Physicians and Surgeons and it was announced by the Health minister.
This sort of a Web site, given that the Yukon is a very wired jurisdiction, might serve as a valuable starting point for the minister in terms of enabling orphan patients to find a doctor. Some other models exist out there, and provinces are making some innovative strides in how theyíre helping Canadians deal with this issue of orphan patients. Itís not just the Yukon that has it, but we have a particular problem right now.
Constituents who phone me and phone the Department of Health and Social Services donít have a single point to turn to. They donít have one point of contact; instead, theyíre phoning around to doctorsí offices.
The ministerís initiatives that he mentioned before arenít working. They havenít been met with huge success. I would encourage the minister opposite, in his overall responsibilities as Minister of Health and Social Services, to spend a little more time on the big policy issues such as recruitment and retention, such as orphan patients, working with the YMA and YRNA rather than the size of the rooms in the multi-level care facility in Dawson. I would encourage the minister to have a look at that Manitoba Web site and to work with his officials and see what could be done and if it could be adapted for the Yukon.
The minister has mentioned the hospital, and Iíll get back to that in a moment. There is also, of course, the endless saga of the Thomson Centre. There is more money for the Thomson Centre. Before the minister launches into a long berating of the previous governments that were so foolish as to accept this building ó and I am sure that weíre all going to get blamed óperhaps the minister could bear in mind that we will need to take our break before the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board officials arrive and focus his answer on what the plans are for the Thomson Centre and what the new additional money will be spent on.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The member opposite makes a good point about the Manitoba Web site. Letís just look at what Manitoba has. They have a population in the ballpark of one million. Yukon has a population of 30,000 people odd. Manitoba still hasnít addressed their orphan patient issue. The biggest issue across Canada is wait times. We have some of the lowest wait times in Canada for any of the procedures. The longest wait is for hip replacement, and weíve made progress there.
What some of the areas have done for orphan patients is opened up walk-in clinics. We havenít developed walk-in clinics to the same level as they have in other areas, but itís still a viable option. Thereís the emergency ward at Whitehorse General Hospital that has picked up the slack. One also has to correlate everything back to the population base and the cost effectiveness of probably spending a significant sum on a database for this purpose, for Web site development and maintenance where we could be recruiting another doctor for probably virtually the same cost.
I know the member likes to spend a lot of time playing on the computer, searching things and finding out things, but Iíd encourage her to recognize the population of Manitoba is one million; the population of the Yukon is just over 30,000 now and growing ó and growing strong. So we have different ways of addressing different issues.
One of the sums of money that the federal Liberal government is committed to is the territorial health access fund, and it has been over a year since that announcement was made as to the amount that was going to flow to Yukon. Let me share with the House that the federal government hasnít cut the cheques yet, for any of the three territories. The same holds true for the other fund dealing with transportation, and although transportation costs here in the Yukon are not nearly as high as Nunavut ó because the last numbers I saw for Nunavut, itís population was just over 25,000, Mr. Chair, and they had nine doctors located in their hospital, in the whole territory of Nunavut.
Mr. Chair, they have a different model. That model required the movement of a great number of people to principal centres in the south ó Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg. They are buying capacity for those services that we canít provide here, the same as we are as a government. But more and more, Mr. Chair, Yukon is expanding the services we are providing and growing those services. We are meeting the challenge in other ways. The issue of recruitment and retention of health care professionals, including doctors, is a very good topic, a very good subject. One only has to look at the enhancement that our government has done in this area with the YMA. There is a cooperative effort between the YMA and the Government of Yukon that has made tremendous improvements across the Yukon, and Yukoners are benefiting when they need medical attention.
Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06..
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins that we report progress on Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
Motion agreed to
Chair: Pursuant to section 109 of the Workersí Compensation Act and Committee of the Whole Motion No. 7, the Committee will receive witnesses from the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. In order to allow the witnesses to take their places in the Chamber, the Committee will now recess briefly and reconvene at 4:00 p.m. sharp.
Deputy Chair: Order please.† Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Pursuant to section 109 of the Workersí Compensation Act and Committee of the Whole Motion No. 7, passed on Tuesday, November 22, 2005, Committee of the Whole will now receive witnesses from the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board.
I would ask all members to remember to refer their remarks through the Chair when addressing the witnesses, and I would also ask the witnesses to refer their answers through the Chair when they are responding to members of the Committee.
Mr. Jenkins, I believe you will introduce the witnesses.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: The witnesses appearing before the Committee of the Whole today are Mr. Craig Tuton, chair of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Ms. Valerie Royle, newly arrived from ďthe rockĒ ó I guess we could refer to that wonderful place on the east coast ó our new president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Deputy Chair: †††††††††††† Perhaps our witnesses would like to give some opening comments.
Mr. Tuton:††† Iím happy at this time to welcome Ms. Royle to the position of president and chief executive officer of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. Val comes, as the minister said, from Newfoundland, where she has an extensive background of working with the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and we are very, very happy that she was able to bring her young family to a new climate and a new way of doing things with very short notice. I think we made the offer in September and she was here on October 1 to start work. Her family joined her some three or four days later. So we at the board are very happy to have Val on board, and I know that she is expecting to help us move in the new direction that we have taken over the last year.
Mr. Cardiff: I would also like to welcome Ms. Royle to the Yukon and to thank her and Mr. Tuton, the chair, for appearing today and taking some of their time to answer some important questions I believe need to be answered and put on the public record.
I would also like to note that our time today is limited; hence, if there are questions I have that are too technical in nature to respond to verbally today, I would be more than happy to receive written responses at a later date.
Iíd also like to recognize the board for the work theyíve done over the last year or two in moving toward a more prevention-oriented style of governance.
I think itís important, having been a construction worker for some 25 years ó and I believe Mr. Tuton, at the annual information meeting, said that itís not easy to teach old dogs like him and me new tricks. Itís important that we do that. I honestly believe that making the workplace safer is the answer to some of the financial challenges that face workersí compensation boards, not only here in the Yukon but across the country and in North America, so I applaud them for the work theyíve done in that direction.
The ones that I am aware of are the passport to safety program, which I believe is targeted at teaching young workers safe work habits. I think thatís a good idea ó weíve got to start with the young people so that they learn early. Another one is the certificate of recognition program, which is about teaching employers and employees the benefits of working and reducing workplace injuries and bringing down the costs associated with those injuries. Itís good to note that the board supported the Construction Safety Association, which has been doing a lot of good work, including the certificate of recognition program. The new initiative recently announced is the prevention fund.
Iíd like to start with some questions around that area. The certificate of recognition program ó in the recent consultation that was done by the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board there were some questions posed and in some of the responses, one of the things that the Construction Safety Association was urging the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board to talk to the government about was making the certificate of recognition a requirement on government contracts. I am just wondering if the witnesses could tell me if theyíve had any of those discussions with the government about making the certificate of recognition program a requirement for government contracts.
Mr. Tuton: We have been in a consultation process for slightly over a year; we are consulting on many, many things. Weíve had some very generous dialogue with the Government of Yukon surrounding the certificate of recognition, surrounding passport youth in government offices, and also dealing with the new initiatives in the areas of prevention. Iím very happy to say that our discussions with Government of Yukon as an employer are moving along very nicely. They understand, as we do, the value of safety and prevention in the workplace. They have had an opportunity to see the results of core-certified companies in the private sector and I know that they are happy with what theyíve seen. They are working with us and industry in moving ahead in prevention through the passport to safety and certificate of recognition programs, as well as the other initiatives through partnering with the Construction Safety Association.
Mr. Cardiff: Specifically, Iím just wondering if the chair could tell us what the governmentís response was to making the certificate of recognition program a requirement on government contracts ó was their response favourable or have they responded at all? ††
Ms. Royle: † In our preliminary meetings with government officials, they are looking very favourably on making certificate of recognition a requirement. That may be a little bit down the road, as the number of companies in the private sector that currently have the certificate of recognition needs to grow. Right now, we have three core-certified companies, so we need to grow that number. The government was very favourable to people we met with toward making that a requirement at some point in the future.
Mr. Cardiff: I believe there was a number put out there recently, and I know there are several companies working toward the certificate of recognition. How many have achieved that? How many currently are working toward that?
Ms. Royle: There are 25 companies registered in the core program; another 81 have received training through the Yukon Construction Safety Association. There are currently three core-certified companies, and two others are ready for external audit, which is the final step before core certification ó so that will make five. The Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board itself has now registered to become core-certified as an employer as well.
Mr. Cardiff: Another part of the consultation was around economic incentives for employers. The board outlined two scenarios: one was basically an experience-rating model and the other one was a best practices model. It was the Construction Safety Association that encouraged the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board to provide some sort of economic incentive for those employers accredited through the certificate of recognition program. Iím just wondering if one of the witnesses could provide us with an update on where thatís at.
Mr. Tuton: That is quite right. One of the initiatives surrounding our new prevention consultation strategy, which has resulted in a prevention fund, is looking at ó and the word ďincentivesĒ or variations of that word have been used. There has been nothing determined by the board at this point. Weíve asked the employers, through our prevention and safety committee that we struck about a year ago to help us get to this point, to look at various initiatives that are offered throughout the country and to look at various initiatives that may fit the Yukon style better than any of the others. To this point, we have not finalized anything in the areas of incentives.
Mr. Cardiff: I am wondering if either of the witnesses could comment on the two options that were presented ó the experience rating and the best practices. To just outline my understanding of it, the best practices model would be incentives for those employers who have put proper safety procedures in place and were trying to make their workplaces more safe, whether itís through training, equipment, or whatever. An experience rating model is where employers are rewarded in some way for low claims costs. The WCB chair is nodding.
One of the concerns that has been brought forward to me by workers about an experience rating based on the claims experience is that it can lead and has led, in other jurisdictions, to an under-reporting of workplace injuries.
The financial incentive, if itís based on claims experience, is basically that youíre rewarded for not filing claims; hence, what tends to happen is that employers encourage their employees not to report claims and encourage them to work while theyíre injured, actually. Iím just wondering if you have a strategy or something in place that you feel could prevent that.
Mr. Tuton: Part of the strategy is to completely lower not only the number of accidents, but also the risk of accident and injury in the workplace. There are a number of ways to do that, and youíre quite right: there are two methods that are basically used in jurisdictions across the country.
At the end of the day, really, what we want to do is empower both the worker and the employer to look at all the options in providing safer and healthier work sites. We recognized very early on in the process that, in order to do that, we have to change the culture and the way people think about what happens. And youíre quite right: the number of claims that go unreported is far, far too many. The reasons are varied. But you know what? One non-reported injury is one too many, because usually what happens with a non-reported injury is it becomes a bigger injury in the future. That bigger injury, when it is reported, may sometimes not be covered under the Workersí Compensation Act, because it may have reoccurred doing something other than at the work site.
So we have to empower both workers and employers to look differently at their workplace and to be able to say no ó for example, for a worker to say no when the ladder doesnít look fit, even though it may be fit from an employerís perspective. So those types of things have to be done, but we also have to look at ways to encourage that to happen, both from a workerís and from an employerís point of view.
In our initial discussions in the consultation process, what we are definitely looking at is connecting the ó for lack of a better word, I will use ďincentivesĒ at this particular time ó incentives where there are large companies ó safety and prevention programs. We struggle, as Iím sure you can imagine, because the majority of our employers are those who are classified as small employers with fewer than 10 employees. For them, it isnít practical or affordable to be able to produce a bound prevention manual. But we have to be able to assist and find ways to assist them to provide some mechanism that will enable the workers and that employer to have a safe and healthy work site. So we do encourage, as we have been in this consultation process, a good dialogue between both the labour side and the employer side.
Iíd like to say that the involvement that the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board has had with both stakeholders in this matter has been tremendous. We are very, very pleased with the progress that weíve made in what we think is a very short period of time. I think that, as we continue down this road, very positive results will occur because of these tremendous moves that weíre able to make with the partnership of our stakeholders.
I hope that answered your question.
Mr. Cardiff: Yes, I understand and Iím glad that the board is working with the stakeholders. Itís also commendable that the board is taking the time to work through that and listen to concerns from all stakeholders in that regard.
I think there are some valid concerns. There are probably other concerns, other than the one that I raised, as well. Iím sure there are concerns from all stakeholders.
I would like to recognize one of the stakeholders, and recognize the work that the board is doing in this matter.
In the consultation document Iíve received ó I believe it was the labour representative who cited that the prevention strategy is probably the single most important thing that the board will have done in a long time, so you are to be congratulated in that respect.
I have a couple more questions. These are issues that Iíve raised probably at every appearance of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board that Iíve participated in, and that is about the indoor air quality and the environmental tobacco smoke. I know that youíre doing some work on that and Iím wondering where you are at with that. Youíve done some consultation on it; youíve got some information back from the stakeholders and the people youíve consulted. I would like to know where the board is at with that. I would also like the witnesses, if they could, to tell me what theyíve done with regard to dealing with potential liabilities around smoke-related or indoor air quality issues when it comes to potential claims.
Mr. Tuton: As you are probably aware, during the consultation process the one issue that appeared and was discussed more than any other was that issue that surrounded the indoor air quality. As you are aware, it is an issue that is treated differently across the country. It is dealt with in some jurisdictions federally, it is dealt with in some jurisdictions provincially and in some cases by municipalities. Each one of those jurisdictions that have looked at regulations governing indoor air quality ó and this is much more than tobacco smoke. Itís really the quality of all the air that is breathed during the work period. It is a very complex issue. Every time itís discussed with different stakeholders, you learn more and more about the effects of indoor air quality.
We at the board have done a jurisdictional scan to see what other boards have done. Quite frankly, itís a real mishmash. Some have done nothing, because they view it as a federal issue. Some view it as a provincial issue. Really, we have to look at it as a common issue. Itís an issue that we still discuss at the board table from time to time. I think itís going to take some collective thinking at the federal and provincial levels and must include the occupational health and safety branches and workersí compensation boards from across the country. It is very complex. Some of the regulations that have been put in place across the country only deal with portions of those complexities. Some jurisdictions, for example, only deal with tobacco smoke. The issue is much more than that and broader.
I think it would be safe to say that, if it is possible ó and when I attend what we call annual heads of delegation meetings, we discuss issues of common concern and about how, collectively, we as governors of the system across this country can look at various options surrounding this issue. It is a huge issue in every jurisdiction.
But we havenít developed a strategy at this particular point. Weíre still discussing it with, as I said, our counterparts across the country, and weíre still looking at experts to provide us with advice. But we will continue to move in that direction.
Mr. Cardiff: Iíd like to move on to other issues, Mr. Chair. Under the Workersí Compensation Act, in section 108, which is the powers of the members of the board, it says in 108(j) that before the adoption of any draft policy affecting claims for compensation, the board shall cause notice of the draft policy to be published at least once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper circulated in the Yukon, and the notice shall state ó basically, there are a number of things, but the purpose of the draft policy and a general description of its effects on claims for compensation.
Earlier this year, I believe it was in the spring, the board rescinded a policy, policy CL-37. The act doesnít appear to be clear. It talks more about when youíre adopting a policy. Rescinding this policy CL-37, which is the minimum compensation for a total disability, would affect the compensation and the entitlement of claimants. Iím just wondering if the board has given any thought to why the board would rescind a policy that affects clients of workersí compensation without consulting them first?
Mr. Tuton: † I think the act is very clear and speaks for itself. The act deals with adopting policies. The board has every right to rescind policies as they see fit.
Mr. Cardiff: I would have to differ. This only came to my attention recently. Maybe this is one of those issues that needs to be addressed in the act review, which weíre still waiting for unfortunately. Because of the time frames, itís hard to get new issues like this one brought forward in the act review. I donít recall seeing it in the act review, but I will endeavour to bring it to the attention of the act review committee, and maybe it can be dealt with.
I strongly believe there should be consultation on rescinding policies that affect the entitlement of claimants.
Iíd also like to ask about another policy the board put into place this year, and itís about holding hearings and reviews by hearing officers. In looking through this new policy and the appendix on the rules and procedures for holding these appeal hearings, I talked with some workers who had been through this process. Some of the other policies and information that come from the board, about things like early return to work and dealing with things in a timely manner, I donít believe are dealt with in as timely a manner as they could be.
Well, for starters, it says on notification and scheduling that, upon the receipt of a request for a review by a hearing officer, the hearing officer shall review the claim to determine if there is jurisdiction and ensure that there is no conflict of interest. They also have to send letters to the other parties ó so, the workers and employers. The employer can also request a review for a hearing as well.
But the way that I look at this, the review is scheduled for a date approximately four months ahead to allow for the disclosure of issues. The disclosure of issues is where you go back and forth and you have to determine whatís relevant and whatís not relevant. The employer has to review all the information and the worker, or their representative, has to review the information.
It just seemed like ó when I went through this ó that time could drag on. When you look at things like the rehabilitation policy ó and the act itself, which actually talks about dealing with matters in an expedient matter ó it would be nice if the board could deal with things a little faster when it comes to this because, at this point in time, theyíve already been through a process and this is an appeal. Theyíve been dealing with workersí compensation for a period of time, and theyíre not satisfied with the way theyíve been dealt with, and now weíre dragging it out for even longer.
Iíd like to hear the chairís comments on that, if I could, Mr. Deputy Chair.
Mr. Tuton: † You are quite right in your comments. Part of the process weíve just gone through in developing this new direction that the board is taking is to look internally at some of the procedures that we had in place, and weíve done that. Weíve gained the services of some individuals who have great knowledge in the claims area to come in and have a look at the way we handle claims in a timely manner. You brought up our rehab policy, which is thought about in the country as one of the best rehab policies in the country because it involves partnerships. Once again, we talk about the partnerships. It involves the partnership between the worker, the workerís contact at the board, the rehab officer, the employer, the medical community ó so itís an effort to first, that we want to adjudicate that claim as quickly as we can to determine, number one, that it is a claim. Once it is adjudicated as a claim, we want to get that individual into treatment as quickly as possible. Thatís the early intervention part.
As we review the boardís liabilities, we see that early intervention is one of the single most important steps that we can take to try to reduce the time loss, as well as the value of that time loss. So, we saw that, we recognized that, we brought in some expert advice to have a look at our claims management system ó not the IT system, but the way that we get a claim adjudicated ó and the timeliness in which we adjudicate a claim. We are in the process of getting those procedures in place. We are very happy to tell you that one of the bright lights on the chairís shoulder is ó thatís her expertise. She was involved in that area in Newfoundland and they were sad to see her go, but we are happy to see her come, because she has a great deal of knowledge in the areas of early intervention and early return to work, and I just canít stress enough that we have to develop, where we have not developed, sincere and workable partnerships within the medical community, because they are key and critical to what we are attempting to do.
We must encourage those partnerships with our employer community because they have to share in that early intervention and that early return to work. It was just months ago that we sent letters to our employers, reminding them that they must report an injury within three working days or face the consequences of a penalty ó that penalty being a dollar charge to that employer. We have taken the steps to ensure that the workers must empower themselves to, number one, report an accident when it occurs on the work site and, number two, when the employer receives a report of that injury or accident or illness on the work site, they must report it to us in a timely manner. We consistently and constantly remind our employer community in whatever way or mechanism that we have available to us.
It is going to take us time, but we think weíre starting to see the results. I guess the injured worker community will tell us whether weíre moving in the right direction, but the message to them and to you, sir, is that we think we are but we need all the input we can get to let us know that we are moving in those directions. But it is our intent to, number one, ensure early intervention. We want to make sure that that claim is adjudicated well within a 30-day period. We would like to see it reduced quite drastically from that 30-day period, because, as I said, when we can get that early intervention, we can reduce the time loss. As we reduce the time loss, we drastically reduce the dollars that are spent, and there isnít an injured worker that I know or anyone else knows who wants to be injured longer than necessary. They would like to get rehabilitated and back on the work site as quickly as possible.
There are going to be instances where they canít be rehabilitated to return to that particular form of work. Thatís where the retraining portion of that rehab policy comes into place, so that they can be retrained to work in other areas to provide them with the lifestyles that theyíve been accustomed to.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I thank the witnesses for the answer. I agree. The longer one waits to get an injured worker back to work, the less likely he will go back to work. Itís harder to get them back on the job.
The question I was asking was about dealing with things in a timely manner. The witness talked about the adjudicating of claims. What I was talking about were the appeal procedures and reviews by hearing officers. I accept the answer. I look forward to seeing improvements, as do injured workers. Weíll leave that one for another day. The witnesses can take that as my input into the process.
I am going into my fourth year now of being the critic responsible for this area. I am beginning to do more research and more studies in this area. One of the areas I looked at this year was the appeal tribunal. When I look at the number of appeals that the appeal tribunal deals with ó I wouldnít say it is staggering, but there are a number of them over the years that the appeals tribunal has dealt with.
What I found interesting was the percentage of decisions that were overturned on appeals. In 2002, according to the reports by the appeal† tribunal ó and I only went back three years ó 73 percent of decisions in 2002 were overturned by the appeal tribunal; in 2003, it was 58 percent; and the number in 2004 wasnít put into the report.
The appeal tribunal has a job to do, and the boardís job is to look at the decisions that the appeal tribunal makes and review those decisions, and the board has the opportunity to either accept or reject the decision thatís made by the appeal tribunal. If they reject it, it goes back to the appeal tribunal, and they make what would be either the final decision or it ends up getting referred to court.
Now, the board has asked the appeal tribunal, in a number of instances, to go back and review their decision. In reading through some of those decisions ó and I havenít read all of them, but Iíve read a number of them and itís a lengthy process to actually do that ó it would appear to me ó and I donít understand why this is ó that the decisions that the board asks the appeal tribunal to review are largely where the appeal tribunal finds in favour of the worker.
Iím wondering if the board chair could comment on that.
Mr. Tuton: The appeal tribunal is quite an armís-length board. We have no reporting other than in the areas of decisions by the tribunal. That is quite clear. We are governed under the legislation on how we must look at those appeals. We must make sure in all decisions by the hearing officers and by the appeal tribunal that, number one, the legislation is clearly followed and that, number two, the policies set by the board are clearly followed. If, in fact, the legislation and policies are clearly followed by the appeal tribunal, then we simply agree to that. Itís as clear as that.
Mr. Cardiff: Maybe I wasnít totally clear with my question. My understanding when I look at it is that when the appeal tribunal makes a decision and the worker is successful, the board, in some instances, asks the appeal tribunal to review that. If the appeal tribunal finds in favour of the board and the worker is unsuccessful, the board almost never ó in fact, I couldnít find an example ó asks them to review it. Iím just wondering if thereís a reason for that.
The board is there for the benefit of both the employer and the workers. I am just troubled, because it seems that if a worker is unsuccessful in his appeal, the board just lets it slide through. They donít ask for a review of that.
Mr. Tuton: As I said, weíre governed by legislation. That legislation ensures that we, as a board, must be clear that, number one, the legislation was adhered to in the decision of the appeal tribunal and that, number two, the policies that are set out by the board are clearly followed. I should provide you with copies of at least the last eight decisions that the board reviewed. My recollection is that they were in favour of the worker and the board did not stay or return any of those decisions.
Mr. Cardiff: I have to admit I was looking at the reports from the past three years. Maybe things have improved since I did that.
I guess my questions are about the reports. When one looks at them, it doesnít appear that the appeal tribunal changes their decisions very often when it comes to being asked to review them again. When one looks at the ones that get referred to court, most of the time the court finds in favour of the appeal tribunal. It goes back to what we were talking about in my previous question, which is about timeliness in dealing with injured workers and the clients of Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. Itís not only a time issue, but also a cost issue when some of these things go to court. There is a huge cost to the compensation system when that happens.
So Iím just wondering, does the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board chair believe that some of these issues are going to be resolved at an earlier date? Some of this ends up in a rather protracted situation, and it drags out over many months. In some instances, it drags out over years. Thatís the point of the question. If we go back to what the act says and deal with these things in a timely manner ó I recognize weíre dealing with decisions, weíre dealing with appeals, but when the board is appealing the decisions of an appeal tribunal, the evidence that I have examined over the last two or three years shows that ultimately the appeal tribunal is usually right, and even the courts would tell you that. So Iím just looking for some assurance that weíre moving in a direction where things are going to be dealt with in a more timely manner.
Mr. Tuton: Iím sure that the courts will tell us when the legislation and the policies have clearly been adhered to. As to the other issues ó and I have been very clear in articulating this over the last several months ó I would foresee a best case scenario in years to come, and Iím hoping that it isnít too many years to come, that the work of an appeal tribunal and a hearing review officer at the board ó and certainly the work of the claims adjudicators at the board ó would be reduced drastically. Thatís what weíre hoping to have happen with the direction in which weíre moving. But in the short term, weíre going to have to work collectively to make sure that theyíre adjudicated clearly in a workable time frame, that that worker is dealt with in rehabilitation or receives medical help in an early intervention period and that theyíre returned to their original employment as quickly as possible.
Collectively, I think we can achieve that. There will always be the need, as Iím sure weíre all aware, for some form of an appeal process. That is something that there is a very clear demonstrated need for, and is something that we would clearly support on an ongoing basis. I would probably share with you, as you would share with me, that we would like to see the day when the number of appeals is reduced.
I can tell you that in 2003 there were 24 claims reviewed by the appeal tribunal, and in 2004 that number increased to 27. Those 27 reviewed by the appeal tribunal in 2004 were out of 2,800 open claims, and the 24 reviews by the appeal tribunal in 2003 were out of 2,900 open claims.
Mr. Cardiff: I appreciate the witnessí answer. I guess my point in this is to ultimately reduce the costs to the workersí compensation system. I mean, we want to deal with prevention. It would be a wonderful day if there were no injuries and we didnít need a workersí compensation system, other than to promote safety in the workplace, and there were no injured workers to deal with. Unfortunately, that day is probably a ways off.
So, by dealing with these things in a more timely manner, I believe we can reduce the costs. If you want to reduce the costs, we could resolve the appeals.
I have one more question in this respect. Iím just wondering if anybody internally in the workersí compensation organization reviews the appeals that are filed prior to them actually going to the review and saying, ďOh, geez, you know, maybe we made a mistake here. Maybe we donít need the appeal tribunal to look at this. Maybe we made a mistake here. We can deal with this internally, and we can review it internally, and the outcome would be different.Ē
Ms. Royle: † Itís a point well taken, and in fact that does happen. What happens upon intake of an appeal is that the hearing officer does a preliminary review of each one that comes in and then the hearing officer will look at something, and if itís something very obvious, it will immediately be returned to the adjudicator to review again. So that process does happen, and itís part of our quality control.
One other point I would like to make is that we do encourage workers, before they even go through an appeal process, to first discuss their disgruntlement with the case worker dealing with their claim, so that they can avoid that process and perhaps have their concerns heard by the person in the first place. If they donít, it goes to appeal, there is a quick review, and it will be sent back to the adjudicator before this whole process may take place, although the worker may still choose to go forward with an appeal, if they filed one.
Mr. Cardiff: Thank you for the answer. I am just wondering ó and this is probably a hard one to answer, being new to the job, but I would be interested at a future date down the road possibly, in some statistics about how many instances there are of that ó of actually reviewing complaints or potential appeals and what the outcome of those issues is.
I am going to try to get through just a few more questions and make time for the Member for Porter Creek South.
There was some controversy ó I guess almost two years ago now, about a board policy that was put in place regarding lump sum payouts that claimants were eligible for under prior acts. What I would be interested in knowing is, there were a number of injured workers who were pursuing lump sum payouts, and some of them were successful and some of them werenít. Whether I agree with the policy or I donít agree with the policy, what I would like to know is how many injured workers have received lump sum payouts to date, and how many are still working in the process?
Mr. Tuton: I believe that the total number of applicants was three, one of which has gone through the system and has received a lump sum payout, and the other two are at different stages of the process.
Mr. Cardiff: I am going to try to make this my last question because I want to make time for the other member who would like to ask questions. This one is maybe a little technical to explain but I am hoping there is an easy answer, or Iíll take the answer in writing at a future date. The issue is about indexing of benefits.
In the act, in section 48, I believe it is, the indexing of benefits ó I just have to make sure I have this correct ó on the anniversary date of the workerís loss of earnings, the average weekly earnings of the worker for the purposes of paragraph 37(a) shall be increased on the first day of the month immediately followed by the sum of ó and itís two percent ó the percentage of change between the average wage for the year and the immediately preceding year.
Basically, what itís saying is the indexing takes place on the anniversary date of the workerís loss of earnings.
If Iím not mistaken, in section 104 of the act, as well, which is the transitional section, it states, ďFor the purposes of section 34 of this act, the workerís anniversary date shall be considered to be January 1, 2002Ē. This would mean that, according to the act, on the first day of the month immediately following the anniversary, they would be entitled to an indexed benefit. I have had a couple of workers who are concerned about the fact that this is not the practice of the board. The practice of the board is that they end up getting their indexing on December 31. I can understand that part of the reason for that is because itís hard to do the calculations by February 1 in some instances. In other instances, it may not be that difficult to at least do the two percent, then do the calculation at the end of the year and make an adjustment.
Basically, what it amounts to is that the indexing that injured workers are receiving is basically coming a year late. What is specified in the act is that it should be received on February 1, but it is actually happening on December 31. Can they elaborate on why thatís happening and if there is a remedy for it?
Ms. Royle: It certainly is an issue that weíre very aware of, and the problem is in getting the information on those anniversary dates to be able to enact that. We donít get the information available to do the indexing until November of the current year. But what would happen is that the workerís indexing would go retroactive to the date specified by the legislation. We are working on that issue. Right now, itís just impossible to do, given our current data sources and our current system. But we certainly recognize it as an issue. So workers are not losing their entitlement, it is delayed. They do get it retroactively and it is something that weíre looking to remedy.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to thank both the witnesses for appearing before us today, and Iíd like to join my colleagues in welcoming Ms. Royle, who has joined us from ó I think we should be saying Newfoundland and Labrador. So thank you very much for joining us, and welcome to the Yukon.
Iíd like to start by asking what the future is of a program that Iím particularly supportive of, and thatís the passport to safety program. All of us have expressed our support for it. Itís a commendable program, and I believe last year in the debate I suggested that it be made mandatory for high school students. Did we make any progress with that?
Mr. Tuton: I share your thoughts. I think passport to safety is a wonderful program. I commend labour, actually, because labour was the driving force behind convincing us at the board that providing passport to safety to our youth in the schools is a tremendously beneficial opportunity for the board.
Iím encouraged to say that we have had discussions with the Yukon Teachers Association and have recently entered into discussions with the Department of Education about two things: continuing our passport to safety but also introducing a component to the education system that includes some aspect of safety training.
There are other provinces that have, as part of the curriculum, safety and prevention. I can think of two in B.C. and Ontario, and Iím sure there are others ó Newfoundland and Labrador. But we have the Yukon Teachers Association being very supportive.
One of the issues, quite frankly, has been that we follow the jurisdiction of B.C. and they are only at a certain level. We have to convince the department officials here of the benefits. We are attempting to do that in our discussions, albeit at an early stage, with department officials about introducing that component to the education system.
We are very encouraged by our early conversations with the Government of Yukon. In fact, some departments of the Government of Yukon, as an employer, have introduced passport to safety as a prerequisite. And youíve noticed that we have more and more employers, almost on a monthly basis, that sign up.
But we will be working very hard with our partners to encourage Government of Yukon to expand the opportunities for passport to safety for youth, as well as that component in the curriculum of our education system.
Ms. Duncan: Iíd like to thank Mr. Tuton for that answer.
We should be able to make it so a little faster. If we can make it so that the students now receive credit for extracurricular activities, like participation on an Arctic Winter Games hockey team or sporting organization ó you can get credit for having taken your Cecchetti exams in ballet, and band participation ó then surely we should be able to move this a little faster.
I would encourage the Minister of Education, who I know is listening to this debate with rapt attention, to move it along a little faster.
The Yukon Construction Safety Association contract with the board ends in 2006. Where are we going from there?
Mr. Tuton: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Chair. The combined efforts of the board and our contractors in developing the program surrounding the Yukon Construction Safety Association has been the success that I think we all knew was possible, but we werenít able to envision it being such a success in such a short time. We at the board are very happy with the relationship that we have developed with that association. I am happy to say that our president and I have had constructive conversations with labour, with the Yukon Contractors Association and with our employers about moving to the step that we as a board envisioned for a year from now; that is, to expand away from the confines of contractors to that of employers.
I am happy to say that the board was able, through discussions with the Yukon Contractors Association, to encourage them to open their board of directors to where they now have a representative of labour sitting on their governing body. We at the board are extremely happy and excited about that, as is the Yukon Contractors Association.
This year we have started discussions with the chambers of commerce, with labour in general and with the Yukon Contractors Association to be able to expand the abilities of that board to reach out to more employers. In fact, they have. Under the restrictions that they currently have, they have provided training for the Government of Yukon as an employer and for many small operators.
This year we expanded the funding that they originally requested to make sure they had the ability to move in areas other than the core certificate of recognition program. Weíre looking at a very successful continuance of our agreement. Unfortunately, as you are all aware, the Yukon Construction Safety Association is in a position now where they are without a leader, and theyíre going to have to take a moment to sit back and look at how they can move ahead in a positive direction by refilling that role. We at the board are going to provide all the help and assurances that we can in moving ahead successfully in that area. I hope that answers your question.
Ms. Duncan: In part, it does answer the question. I donít have the exact date when the contract ends. I realize itís 2006. What I gathered from your answer is that weíre looking at that contract continuing, because it has been very successful, and it has expanded. Where does the employer consultant fit in with all that discussion?
There was an initiative with the employer consultant ó that is the correct terminology; I was just checking. Where does that fit in with this discussion with the Yukon Construction Safety Association?
Mr. Tuton: † I should just be clear that the contract will be ó I would be shocked if it wasnít continued. It may not be with the Yukon Contractors Association, though, because there is a move within the group, which would include labour, the employers, the contractors, to form a network that would include all these people so that the board of directors would be differently structured so as to be more inclusive than exclusive. So, in one form or the other, we will be moving in that direction. As far as the employer consultant, that position was on a trial basis and it finished, I think, roughly about a year ago, and we have had ongoing discussions with the chambers of commerce about how we move ahead in the area of prevention. The issue is much bigger than the role of the employer consultant and we are talking now with the chambers about ways that the board can partner with groups such as the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, which, incidentally, are very excited about opportunities in partnering with us as a stakeholder. We have had discussions on how we can help them as well as discussing with them how we see them helping us.
Part of the prevention fund that we announced some months ago may in fact provide opportunities that will enable us to move forward in making employers feel that they are in a better position to react to these new directions that we are planning on moving in.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Deputy Chair, thank you. Just so Iím clear, then, what weíre looking at is the Yukon Construction Safety Association, this network of individuals that has been expanded to include labour and, in part, employer representatives ó no, they are. The contractors are employers. This group had a contract with the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board. That contract ends in 2006. Weíre looking at continuing it. This may expand to be a network of individuals. The board also had the employer consultant initiative. That initiative ended in 2004, and weíre looking at possibly that continuing as well. Am I correct?
Mr. Tuton: No. We havenít had any discussions specifically related to an employer consultant, although we have had a number of discussions with our employer community about, as I said, ways in which we as a board can partner with the chambers, for example, in helping employers gain a better understanding of prevention and safety and areas in which they are able to move ahead, in conjunction with us, in the future. I should just clarify for the record that the Yukon Construction Safety Association is still just that: it hasnít expanded yet to include labour or employers. What has changed, though, is that the Yukon Construction Safety Association has made available to labour a seat on their board of directors, which governs the operations of the Construction Safety Association.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to touch on a couple of areas that were raised by the Member for Mount Lorne.
The first of them is the lump sum payment policy. When we last met, a year ago almost to the day, I asked the chair of the board about this lump sum payment policy and the issue was before the courts. For the public record, would the chair be so kind as to update the public about the process from there?
Mr. Tuton: Yes, we do have a policy in place. As I stated, presently we have three applications for that process, one of which has been awarded a lump sum payment. There are two remaining applications. Those applications are at various stages of that application.
Ms. Duncan: Part of the controversy was about the way in which this payment policy was going to be administered and the way in which individuals were going to receive their lump sum payments. Has that been resolved?
Ms. Royle: Could I ask the member to clarify her question? What was the particular concern with the process?
Ms. Duncan: The concern, as I recall ó although I have not looked at this file for quite some time ó was the way in which an individual was required to provide the board with quite a bit of information. I see the chair nodding, so perhaps he could fill Ms. Royle in on the particulars of the debate around this issue. It was very controversial.
My question is: has that been resolved?
Mr. Tuton: My recollection is that the controversy was over the judgeís decision. That decision had to do with the process of putting it out to the public. The courts dealt with that issue, and we have a policy in place that deals with administering the lump sum payment. We would be happy, though, to provide the member with a written submission that would be more detailed. It is an administrative issue of which I as the chair do not involve myself. Quite frankly, our president has been involved in other issues, but I will make sure the president does get back to the member with that information in a timely manner.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that, and I recognize the chairís point. I look forward to receiving the information when Ms. Royle has the opportunity to forward it to me.
There was a discussion with the Member for Mount Lorne about the appeal process. I would like either of our witnesses to spell out for me what timeframes are existing in terms of dealing with an individual who chooses to go to the appeal tribunal. We have legislated timeframes in regulation for other situations in the government. One that comes immediately to mind is the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board has within their regulations before the Government of Canada timeframes that they discussed for assessments of projects that were publicly discussed in a consultation.
What sort of a time frame do we have in the appeal process? When do they have to be heard by? By when do they have to be ruled on?† And are we following those time frames?
Ms. Royle: The act doesnít specify time frames, and particularly ó your question to the member was about the appeal tribunalís time frames, and the act does not specify time frames for the appeal tribunal, although they have administrative time frames in place, which they are meeting.
One of the issues that the member had previously discussed was the length of time with respect to appeals. One of the issues there is that there is no time limit for a worker or employer who is filing an appeal after the decision. So it may be many years after a decision that an appeal is actually filed, which necessitates taking a four-month look internally to make sure all the issues are dealt with and all the things are happening.
So, there are a number of complications. I can put out a timeline for you, in writing, of all the administrative time frames, but the act does not specify anything with respect to the appeal tribunal, in particular.
Ms. Duncan: There are two follow-up questions with respect to that. Number one, the difficulty I have is, what happens to the employee who is filing these appeals, who has had his or her claim payments stopped, and theyíre wading through this appeal process? How do they have any financial assistance? And if they are the number one salary earner in the family, that can impose extreme hardship. Thatís my first question, and Iím very interested in the answer to that ó what the avenues of assistance are ó because, clearly, unemployment insurance isnít there, our other social safety net.
And the second issue is: is this a matter that was considered in the act review? I havenít gone through the act review in great detail. Is this an issue that has been raised, and is there an intention to deal with it legislatively?
Mr. Tuton: I can answer the latter part of the question, and Iíll ask the president to answer the first part of the question.
Thatís a very valid concern and a good point. It is one of the questions being pondered, I believe, in the act review, because there have to be some timelines and there has to be an ability for both sides to have a clear definition of when things must be put in place because, as our president said, presently there are no legislative requirements as far as time goes. So it could be and in fact is, in many, many cases ó the majority of cases, actually ó where it is years from the date that a claim has been filed to when it is actually under appeal.
And youíre quite right: if the legislation is such that the claim is deemed to be finished, then that claimant would come off disability payments. There are no other options.
Iíll let the president deal with the first part of the question.
Ms. Royle: Thank you, although you did deal with the first part of the question, which was what would happen to a worker whose benefits were terminated, and that was the issue under appeal. There are a number of issues under appeal that range from provision of a particular type of bed to the person whose benefits have been suspended or terminated, either permanently or for a period of time. Usually, in those cases, the worker appeals fairly quickly because they have been without benefit.
From administrationís perspective, weíve done our due diligence and made a particular decision, and therefore itís enacted. So the benefits are ended. Whatís available to a worker then ó would look to other sources of support that government has provided, whether that be social assistance or what have you.
There is a real need to prioritize those types of claims in particular. All appeals are critical. However, some, where they have a direct impact on a workerís earnings and the financial monies going into a particular household, need to be prioritized. So I have asked for a review of all the issues that are under appeal internally so we can determine how many of those are of that nature and if there is a way for us to expedite them from an internal perspective. What happens at the review division ó sorry, the appeal tribunal. Iím using a little bit of Newfoundland and Labrador terminology, and I apologize for that. But what happens at the appeal tribunal, as the chair said previously, is something happens at armís length from us, and certainly we would not have any control over the time frames, as there are none specified in the act with the appeal tribunal.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that answer. I am very concerned about these individuals. What Iíve heard in the answers today is that, short of getting the act review and the regulations onto the floor of this House, thereís nothing we can do to help them. Thereís nothing that we can do and thereís nothing the board can do with respect to the appeal tribunal, save perhaps the legislation or more resources, if itís a resource issue.
Will the review that Ms. Royle has undertaken indicate if itís a resource issue?
Mr. Tuton: There are things that we can do. There are things that weíre taking steps to deal with now. As I indicated, we had an internal review of our claims management system done some months ago by an expert we had worked with a number of times. He used to be with the Northwest Territories Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board and now holds a senior position with the British Columbia Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Out of that review came a number of areas where we could improve the way in which we handle our claims. A number of those steps have been taken and are dealing mainly in the areas of early adjudication, early intervention and early return to work. All of those things will help. They will help with current claims.
The area that we have to rely on the legislation for is the claims that are dated. On that, I would agree, we need those legislative changes to be reviewed by the House as quickly as possible. We are not being held up in the way that we operate at the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board without those legislative changes. We are moving toward assisting in those areas in whatever way we can, as we are governed under the present legislation.
We are doing what we can under the restrictions we have in front of us.
Ms. Duncan: Is it fair to say, from the witnessí answer, that these dated issues are being held up because we havenít dealt with the legislation? That we the Legislature have not dealt with the changes to the legislation?
Mr. Tuton: † I donít think that thatís ó I mean, itís very difficult to judge why a claimant will appeal after a number of years. And there are many different reasons that the board is not privy to. Those are obviously areas that are outside of our mandate. So no, I donít think that that is the only area. I donít understand the system myself but there are a number of appeals that are about a period of five years or greater and have not been in the appeal process. The legislation allows those kinds of appeals.
Ms. Duncan: I think we could discuss this at length; however, just before we leave the idea of the legislation and the regulation, weíve heard and understand that the regulations are done, but they havenít been passed and there has been work done on the act. It hasnít been brought forward as legislation.
From the boardís perspective, where are these issues?
Mr. Tuton: I thank you for the question, and I am happy to say that in the area of the occupational health and safety regulations, the process that we as a board undertook some months ago, in obtaining the services of Mr. Ralph McGinn, who has a very respected career in the areas of workersí compensation and in particular the occupational health and safety ó we had him come on-board a number of months ago to review the occupational health and safety regulations.
Mr. McGinn has written a report. Some of those regulations were replaced with codes of practices. They are not part of the regulations but they do provide guidelines for employers who need more direction. We will develop more of these codes of practice as the needs are identified. For example, one possible code that has recently been identified is for visual equivalents to written safety signs. This will help ensure that all workers, regardless of their level of literacy or language, will be able to understand these warnings that are posted in the workplace. So these are just a number of these. Iím happy to say that weíve completed that portion of it.
Weíve also engaged the services of a local consultant to enhance the readability of those occupational health and safety regulations to the greatest extent possible ó obviously, given the technical nature of these regulations for the Yukon workplaces. Iím led to believe that the minister has received those and that the only drawback now is for Cabinet to approve those occupational health and safety regulations. We expect that that should happen in the near future.
As far as the act review, that is totally out of our control and out of our hands. I have no idea where itís at, other than to say that the same individual, Mr. McGinn, was involved in that process and I understand that he has just recently completed his review of the act and that is well in the hands of the review committee.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you very much. I appreciate the forthright answer from the witness.
I had the opportunity to have a look at the annual report, 2004, from the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and I was quite delighted, as Iím sure the board was, to note in the financial statements that the boardís investments were revalued from a carrying value of $130,301,184 to a fair value of $131,976,288 ó a difference of $1 million. It was reclassified as an adjustment to the opening balance of reserves. The bottom line in the opening reserve balance was increased by $8,456,197. This is on page 19 of the report.
You can learn a lot by having a look at the financial statements that are presented, and it is not often weíre going to see something like that: an increase to the good of $8 million. Would either of our witnesses like to offer any comment on that particular note in the financial statements or any indication as to what this means to the worker and to the Yukon public?
Mr. Tuton: Since it is administrative in nature, Iím going to turn it over to the president. But before I do, part of the way that workersí compensation boards deal with their assets is in how they estimate their liabilities. We were, I guess, a little conservative, and we had a figure, and Iíll let the president, if she has it in front of her, deal with that figure. But we reduced the amount of conservatism that we applied to that. It simply meant that, in our discussions with our actuary, who we rely on very heavily to help us determine what these reserves should be, we determined that we were being a little conservative and in fact could reduce the amount of conservatism ó I think it was in the area of 3.5 percent.
Rather than get into something that Iím going to wish I hadnít, Iíll pass that portion on. And the next part came about from the new accounting practices that were the CICA guidelines, and that affected the way workersí compensation boards have to report. Iíll turn it over to the new president.
Ms. Royle: To address the memberís question, when the CICA changed the way they do their accounting, in the past, we had taken our investment revenues and we looked at gains and losses, which happened over an investment cycle over a 10-year period. Basically, it smoothed out large gains, but it also smoothed out the losses.
What the CICA has now said is that we canít do that any more. What we have to do is show our investment portfolio each year at fair market value. What that means is, if we sold all our investments, then we would have an extra $8.4 million. And weíre not selling our investments, so it looks like $8 million extra.
So what would happen is that next year, if the market takes a dip, we will be showing that loss in one year and not averaged out over 10. So our actual reserve amount is going to look different, depending on the markets, on an annual basis. Whereas before, we could smooth those out over 10 years, now we canít. So, until we actually sell those, whatever the fair market value is at the time of sale will be what actual cash we have in hand to be able to change things.
We are adopting the CICA rules. It certainly looks like $8 million, but it might not be next year, if the markets go down and our investments arenít worth as much. Itís not something we could go out and spend ó okay, we have an extra $8 million to spend on benefits or something else. Itís just what the market is worth as of December 31, 2004, which could be dramatically different next year, and we have no ability to smooth out those differences any more.
Ms. Duncan: We in the Legislature are, of course, very familiar with the actuarial evaluations and changes to accounting policy. This was a change to the opening reserve balance, and the change this year looks good ó next year might not.
The actuarial evaluation, presumably, also went through the liabilities and would have estimated, given the current rate of ó well, with our pension, the current rate of retirees, et cetera, et cetera. So, could Ms. Royle explain, then, what the difference this change in accounting policy also made to that side of the ledger?
Ms. Royle: One moment, please, Mr. Deputy Chair.
Mr. Tuton: May I, Mr. Deputy Chair?
Because the board recognized that this was going to be a dramatic shift in the way we presented our statements on a yearly basis and there was an ability, because of that dramatic shift, to have radical changes based on year-to-year activity depending on how the year went, we consulted for a lengthy period of time. As a matter of fact, the consultation process was only scheduled to take us into the first part of July of this year, but it was extended to October because of the complexity of the issues. It means that we have to maintain our level of reserves in a different manner. There had to be abilities to top up and there had to be abilities, when there is an overage of reserves, to reduce that amount. The process we followed was quite extensive and very inclusive of all the stakeholders.
Ms. Royle: The changes in the benefit liabilities that the actuary has estimated were as a result, as the chair had previously said, of a change in the look and the way the actuary had, in the past, more conservatively estimated the benefits. It is my understanding that the CICA changes did not have a direct impact on how he calculated the benefit liabilities. I certainly will confirm that with the actuary. Nothing in the financial statements would lead me to come to that conclusion, but I will confirm that for you.
It was due to looking at the practices at the board with a more conservative view of things.
It went from being more conservative to less conservative in their estimates.
Ms. Duncan: For some of the pension funds, the actuarial evaluation is once every three years. Could the witnesses just refresh my memory? Is it every year with WCB?
Ms. Royle: Yes, itís an annual evaluation process that this jurisdiction intakes every year.
Ms. Duncan: In the statement of expenses on page 14 of the report, there has been a reduction of expenses in a number of areas and some increases in others. What I particularly noted was that there was a reduction in administrative expenses by over half a million dollars ó the administration and prevention. I wonder if either of our witnesses would care to offer an explanation for that reduction.
Ms. Royle: Which portion of the expense statement is the member considering?
Ms. Duncan: Certainly, I apologize. On page 14 in the compensation funds statement of operations and reserves, there is the revenue side and there are the expenses. The administration and prevention, note 12, says that administration in 2003 was $5,697,000 and it went down in 2004 to $5,089,000. That reduction is what Iím looking for an explanation for.
Mr. Tuton: I think weíre going to have to provide a written response to that. My recollection, for the member, is that a number of positions in the administrative side ó that were senior positions ó were difficult to fill under the Public Service Commissionís guidelines; they werenít able to be filled. But I will provide that written information back to you.
Ms. Duncan: Fair enough, thank you. Iíd appreciate an explanation. And I see where the employer consultant weíve discussed ó sorry, the Construction Safety Association we discussed. And the Federation of Labour is a new funding in 2004. Could either of our witnesses offer an explanation? Itís not a huge sum of money, but I would like an explanation as to how it fits with these other situations, such as the funding of the employer consultant and the funding of the Construction Safety Association.
Mr. Tuton: The Federation of Labour had requested of the board to have an ability to properly prepare itself during the act review, and this was at the outset of the act review. So they wanted the ability for themselves to take an active role. Iím happy to say that the board quickly agreed with their suggestion and their request.
As well, this year, the board is quite happy to say that we have received the same request from the employer community and we have provided the employer community with the same result. So you will see in the statement next year that we had provided funding, in the absence of the employer consultant, and I believe my recollection is with the Chamber of Commerce, so that they also have the ability when the act review gets back again, so we can all be prepared for it.
Ms. Duncan: We are all looking forward to having a look at that act. The existing act allows for six board members ó four to six board members ó and the board has been reduced from six to four under the current government and there has also been an increase in honorariums for the chair and the alternate chair.
Is this working? How have these changes impacted the working of the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board?
Mr. Tuton: Speaking as the chair ó the independent chair ó Iím happy to say that we have a very functional board and I think it is evidenced by the constructive work that ó collectively, the representatives of labour and the representatives of employers have been able to shift their focus to that of a collective focus on prevention and safety so that we can look at the whole concept of why our fund is shrinking as our assessment rates seem to be level and our claims and benefits costs continually rise.
I think it is working. I am happy to say that I think ó and in no way reflecting on any other boards, because I am sure that every other board in their own collective way produces satisfying results ó that the board that we have now is very focused. Collectively they are able to work together and I think results, I guess, are what will show in the end, but I think it is working. Certainly we have no hiccups.
Ms. Duncan: If the board had the additional members that used to be in place, would we see an expedited version of the act? Would we be able to deal with these appeal tribunal issues? We had a discussion earlier about these former employees ó injured workers ó whose claim had ended and they are under appeal with no financial resources. With issues like that, which we share and have concerns about, would we be able to deal with them in a more timely manner if there was a full complement of board members?
Mr. Tuton: It is a very difficult question to answer, because thatís all speculating on what, if any, changes are made to the act. I donít see the way the board operates today and the structure of the board as facing any serious setbacks in those areas. The difficult part of the question is determining what, if any, changes to the act would reflect that. I donít see it either way. If the act is left the way it is or if there are changes that dealt with appeals in a timely manner, in my own personal opinions as chair, I donít think the board would suffer any negative effects.
Ms. Duncan: I am mindful of the time. I am not aware of any other members who wanted to ask questions of our witnesses or if the Member for Mount Lorne had any left. I would be remiss if I did not ask, given that the chair has mentioned that our compensation and so on is going up and we are not always getting an $8-million increase in our opening balance in the reserves ó in fact, the question begs to be asked: are rates going to go up in the future to cover future claims costs?
Mr. Tuton: Iíd be surprised if you didnít ask the question. The reality of the situation is that as long as the numbers of time loss claims continue to escalate and the length of those time loss claims continue to escalate, thereís going to be a need for more revenue. The board only has two sources of revenue ó one being the assessments that it assesses its employers, and the other method of revenue is our investments.
Now, our investments have shown a little bit of an increase over the last year. But certainly over the last five years, theyíre nothing to write home about, as Iím sure we all can understand.
We have not raised the assessment rates. What has happened is that, over the last three-year period, there has been a concentrated effort by the board to reduce the assessments with a reserve. That reserve has now been depleted and there has been, through a consultation process, a planned continuance of the reduction of that assessment subsidy to take us to, I think, 2007. Without that number in front of me, I think itís 2007. So, in fact, this year, some employers will be paying a higher assessment rate, but thatís because the amount of the subsidy has been reduced.
In the area of the government, they do not get a subsidy but they do get a reduction ó an administrative reduction. That has also been reduced, so Government of Yukon assessments will be higher this year than what they were last year.
In fact, through the boardís assessment consultation process, the employers that will be seeing the largest increase to their assessment, or the money that they pay merely for workersí compensation, will be those employers that are in the high-risk category; in other words, the employers that use the system more than others will see their increases reflect that and, in fact, some will have increases of up to 50 percent.
But the reverse is also true, that there are some employers, and the one that I can take off the top of my head are those that are in electrical contracting, that type of a category. They have been reduced because, in fact, they have a very limited use of the fund.
Now, itís important to remember, when you talk about up to 50 percent, remember that weíre only talking about the assessable payroll. So itís per $100 of assessable payroll that their assessment rates are based on. In some cases, the amount of an increase would be in the thousands of dollars, not in the tens of thousands of dollars per year.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I was just looking through the financial statement for the status of the two reserve funds that were alluded to by the chair. I donít have them in front of me, so Iíll leave that question.
I have been asked by a constituent to raise the issue this afternoon of the presumptive cancer and what the board position is on that. What this is, there is presumptive legislation in Manitoba that deals with firefighters, and what the act does is amend the Manitoba workersí compensation act to give career firefighters automatic compensation for primary site brain cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, non-Hodgkinís lymphoma or primary leukemia.
This legislation was enacted in Manitoba. Iíve been asked by a constituent to ask the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board witnesses today if there is any work being undertaken at the board level in reviewing this initiative by Manitoba.
Ms. Royle: Just to clarify, that legislation in various forms exists in several jurisdictions across Canada ó Manitoba having been the first. Some jurisdictions are dealing with it through board policy. Others are dealing with it through legislation. We would certainly be willing to address the issue with the firefighters association or another interested group. Right now, each claim we would get would be adjudicated on its own merit and we would review the ó arising out of the course of employment, as we would with anything else.
Certainly, if a firefighter came forward, they wouldnít be denied. We would go through the process. To have something presumptive, we would certainly be willing to work with associations to look and see if thatís something that would be suitable for the Yukon or whether a policy would work here, given the numbers that are involved. But itís definitely something that we would look at.
Ms. Duncan: So it could be either board policy or part of the act review, if Iím to understand the answer correctly.
Mr. Tuton: Thatís correct. As the president was speaking, we as board members encourage groups that have concerns to contact us because we are more than willing to sit down and discuss these issues. To my knowledge, this issue has not been brought to our attention. But, as the president said, we would be more than happy and willing to, at their leisure.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Deputy Chair, I would like to thank both the witnesses for their answers and for their commitment to get back to us, where required, with written answers. I very much appreciate your appearance here today. Thank you.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Committee of the Whole, I would like to thank Mr. Tuton and Ms. Royle from the Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board for their appearance before the House today as witnesses. Again, our thanks.
Deputy Chair: Thank you, Mr. Jenkins. The witnesses may now be excused.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Deputy Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Jenkins 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 Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Also, Mr. Speaker, pursuant to section 109 of the Workersí Compensation Act and Committee of the Whole Motion No. 7, Craig Tuton, chair of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, and Valerie Royle, president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board, appeared as witnesses before Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.†
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: The House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:56 p.m.
The following documents were filed November 24, 2005:
Reindeer, Laboratory reports re:† (Hardy)
Wildlife Diagnostic Report† (Hardy)