Thursday, December 1, 2005 ó 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Withdrawal of written questions
Speaker: The Chair wishes to inform the House that Written Questions Nos. 3 and 5 have been removed from the Order Paper as they were addressed to the Member for Klondike, who is no longer a minister.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of the Yukon Foundation on their 25th anniversary
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Today I rise in the House to pay tribute to the Yukon Foundation on their 25th anniversary. The Yukon Foundation is an organization that has been supporting Yukoners of all ages through its private scholarship and grant program for the past 25 years.
In 1980, the Yukon Foundation was created by 17 Yukoners who wanted to make a difference. Each founding board member contributed $100 and their expertise in various fields to start up what we know today as the Yukon Foundation. From its small and humble beginnings, the Yukon Foundation has grown to the point where they had over $120,000 in distributable income in 2004.
Today, though the membership on the board has changed somewhat, the Yukon Foundation is still supported by many individuals who ensure the continued success of the foundation through their exceptional skills and dedication to Yukoners.
The Yukon Foundation provides scholarships and grants in all sorts of areas, everything from alternative energy, law, nursing, and even flight school. I commend the Yukon Foundation for its work supporting Yukoners in their educational pursuits and I also commend the other foundations in the territory for their work supporting the needs of Yukoners.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
In recognition of World AIDS Day
Mr. Cardiff: I rise on behalf of the Legislative Assembly today to pay tribute to World AIDS Day. The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, causes AIDS, which weakens the bodyís immune system so that it is unable to defend itself against any disease. Once infected with HIV, a person is infected for life.
In 1988, the United Nations General Assembly declared AIDS to be a global epidemic and established December 1 as World AIDS Day. The theme for World AIDS Day this year is ďStop AIDS. Keep the Promise.Ē
More than 20 million lives have been lost to this terrible disease; 3 million children are living with AIDS, and 90 percent of them have been infected by their mothers; 13million children have lost one or more parents to death caused by AIDS. †
AIDS is possibly the most serious public health problem of our times, Mr. Speaker. It is affecting up to 40 million people worldwide and decimates families, communities and economies. No group or society is immune to AIDS. In Canada, it is estimated that 56,000 people are living with HIV and AIDS, and the numbers are increasing, both here in Canada and around the globe. Here in Canada, it especially is increasing and affecting the aboriginal community.
Beyond the devastating health effects of HIV and AIDS, many infected people face extreme discrimination both in their work, in obtaining housing, as well as personal discrimination. Education has helped to change the public attitude toward HIV and AIDS, but there are many countries without reasonable legal recourse or the resources to help victims. Discrimination and poor health lead to poverty for many victims of this disease.
Three trends are being observed in Canada: (1) living in poverty is a determinant of health that increases the vulnerability to HIV and AIDS; (2) people living with HIV are at risk of drifting into poverty; and (3) living in poverty speeds up the progression of HIV. The HIV epidemic in Canada is also an epidemic of poverty.
Organizations combating poverty and HIV and AIDS are joining together to work toward a solution to make this an unacceptable solution. It is time that governments take serious action to make poverty history, if only for the reason of combating AIDS.
Iíd like to recognize the good work thatís done locally to keep that promise here in the Yukon, and that is the work thatís done by Blood Ties Four Directions. Iíd like to recognize the executive director, Patricia Bacon, who has joined us in the gallery today.
This evening in Whitehorse thereís a candlelight vigil to recognize people who have passed on due to AIDS and to help keep that promise here in the Yukon. The vigil begins at 6:30 and itís held at the United Church this evening. I look forward to being there and I would urge all Members of the Legislative Assembly and the public to attend that event.
In recognition of National Safe Driving Week
Hon. Mr. Hart: I rise on behalf of the House to recognize the first day of National Safe Driving Week. On December 1 through to December 7, Canadians are asked to examine how they drive and to focus on driving safely. Safe driving is a habit people must maintain whenever they get behind the wheel. It should be like breathing ó completely natural and always present.
Responsible drivers wear their seatbelts to keep themselves from being seriously injured or ejected from their vehicle if they are involved in a crash. Responsible drivers also reduce their speed in inclement weather. They rest when they are fatigued and they call a cab when theyíve consumed alcohol.
Statistics show, however, there are still many Yukon drivers ó too many ó who drive unsafely. The beginning of December is the beginning of the holiday season, a time when many Yukoners celebrate with family, friends and colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, this yearís theme for National Safe Driving Week is: ďIf youíll be drinking, plan on a safe ride homeĒ.
Iím urging all Yukoners to plan ahead for a safe ride home if alcohol will be part of your holiday festivities. Planning ahead may save your life, the life of one of your neighbours, a passenger or a pedestrian. Iím very pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, that the Department of Highways and Public Works is a member of the impaired driving committee. This committee also includes members from the Departments of Community Services, Health and Social Services, Justice, Education, Yukon Liquor Corporation, the RCMP, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Whitehorse Youth Centre, the insurance industry and the local driving school. Each member of this committee recognizes that to tackle impaired driving in the Yukon, you need ideas and coordinated action from many fronts. Together, we can make a difference to save lives.
Mr. Speaker, this year, the Department of Highways and Public Works has partnered with the Yukon Liquor Corporation to produce a 2006 calendar with holidays hosting tips and a very practical alcohol-purchasing guide for your next gathering. These calendars will be available at all Yukon liquor stores.
Iím very proud of and thankful for the hard work of Yukon transportation maintenance staff. These dedicated men and women faithfully maintain our highways to ensure that our daily commuting and travelling can be done as safely as possible. In addition to the governmentís extensive efforts, all drivers must think about safe winter driving practices, slow down and leave more space between vehicles.
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all motorists to follow these basic winter driving tips: always wear your seat belt ó itís the single most effective way to prevent serious injury; slow down when approaching intersections; check your tires and be sure theyíre suitable for winter road conditions; give yourself more time ó itís winter out there, donít place yourself or others in danger through excessive speed; clean the snow and ice off your vehicle. Itís dark enough; donít further reduce your visibility with snow and ice on the windshield.
Mr. Speaker, like it or not, winter weather is here, and that causes rapidly changing and sometimes harsh driving environments. I appeal to all Yukoners to always drive with the road conditions, weather and safety in mind and never drink and drive.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like all Members of the Legislative Assembly to join me in welcoming Mr. Bell and his class from the Wood Street Centre School.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Itís so good to look up in the gallery and see it full. There are a number of students from Porter Creek High School and also, I would like you to join with my colleague from across the way in welcoming Ms. Patricia Bacon, the executive director from Blood Ties Four Directions.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Toews make a point of bringing their classes to this Legislature. Their grade 11 Social Studies class from Porter Creek Secondary School has joined us today. Mr. Speaker, knowing that you feel as strongly as many of us do about the importance of young people understanding our political process, I particularly would like to commend teachers Mr. Wes Sullivan and Mr. Mike Toews for once again bringing in their grade 11 Social Studies classes to the Legislature. I would ask my colleagues to join me in welcoming them.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I also would like to acknowledge all the students here today, and to give a message to them that life is a life-long learning process, and this is part of learning. I certainly hope you learn something here today.
Speaker: The Chair rarely gets the opportunity to introduce people. Today I actually do get to introduce members of the electoral reform committee, and I would like all members to join me in welcoming them here today.
Speaker: Are there any further introductions of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
†Hon. Mr. Hart: I have for tabling the annual report of the Queenís Printer.
Speaker: Are there reports of committees?
Petition No. 11
Speaker: Under petitions, it is the understanding of the Chair that an agreement has been reached between the House leaders that the Chair should recognize all three House leaders for the presentation of a petition today. The Chair will, therefore, recognize the acting government House leader, the official opposition House leader and the House leader of the third party. I ask these gentlemen to please stand so that people can recognize them. It is also my understanding that the acting government House leader will present the petition on behalf of his colleagues.
Mr. Cathers: The three House leaders have been approached by representatives of a group of Yukoners interested in electoral reform to present a petition on that subject. This petition contains over 700 signatures of individuals from across the Yukon.
It reads as follows:
ďThe petition of the undersigned shows:
ďTHAT our present system of voting is not fair, as illustrated by the following facts:
ď(1) since 1978, six out of eight so-called majority governments have been elected by less than half †of the voters, and the majority of votes did not count;
ď(2) there exists a substantial imbalance between the percentage of votes received by each party and the percentage of seats they have won;
ď(3) an independent Yukon citizens commission is needed to hold public consultation on electoral reform to ensure fair, effective and equitable representation.
ďTHEREFORE, the undersigned ask the Yukon Legislative Assembly to:
ď(1) urge the government to immediately establish an independent and representative Yukon citizens commission on electoral reform with a mandate to research the various options and to inform as well as consult the public; and
ď(2) following receipt of a report from the citizens commission, provide Yukon citizens with a referendum process to choose the electoral system they prefer.Ē
Speaker: Are there bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 65: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 65, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, No. 2 (2005), be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved the Hon. Premier that Bill No. 65, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, No. 2 (2005), be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: Are there any further bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Jenkins: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to approve the new municipal potable water regulations and ensure that they come into effect January 1, 2006.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to approve the new waste water regulations and ensure that they come into effect January 1, 2006.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government approve the new occupational health and safety regulations and ensure that they come into effect May 1, 2006.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Yukon government to assist any Yukon First Nation government to design and install piped water and sewer systems on their settlement land and to assist those First Nations in obtaining funding for the installation of water and sewer systems, from the Government of Canada.
Mr. Mitchell: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to complete the Hamilton Boulevard extension during the 2006 construction season.
I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Premier to table the letter of resignation from the former Deputy Premier.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re:† Coal-bed methane
Mr. McRobb: Attendees at last nightís meeting at Yukon College on the impacts of coal-bed methane were somewhat distressed at the absence of the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. Thatís too bad because, if the minister had seen the presentation, maybe he would take this matter more seriously and realize how necessary it is to avoid allowing that disastrous industry to enter our territory.
Lately he sounds like a broken record, stuck on repeating his tired old line that there currently arenít any regulations to deal with this industry. Letís see if he can answer this yes-or-no question.
Would the absence of regulations prevent coal-bed methane exploration or development in the Yukon ó yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the question from the member opposite, he is right. There are no regulations in place. We do have natural gas in coal in Yukon. Weíre working toward putting regulations in place so we can do just what the member opposite is requesting us to do. The meeting last night was a meeting of concerned individuals, and we have to rectify that with some form of regulations in place so we can control natural gas from coal. We donít do it at the moment, but in the future it will have to be done.
Mr. McRobb: The minister is scared to say yes, the absence of regulations wonít prevent this industry from operating in the territory.
Now, I would strongly recommend to this minister that he try to attend the speaking tour co-sponsored by the Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council. Today this group is making a presentation to the Teslin Tlingit First Nation, the 10th - such presentation in their territory-wide tour. Last night, the group reported that First Nation audiences are shocked by what theyíre learning. Generally, Yukoners have no idea how disastrous this form of industrial intrusion can be to their landscape and way of life. Will the minister now commit to attending one of these presentations while there is still time?
Hon. Mr. Lang: We certainly go to different presentations. I am certain the group that is doing their presentation around the Yukon presents one side of the story. But the government has to represent all Yukoners, not just specific interest groups. Weíre going to do that by putting regulations in place, and weíre going to work with Yukon to do that. We represent all Yukoners. We donít represent special interest groups.
Mr. McRobb: The minister is only listening to one side of the story, and we know which side that is.
Last night we heard personal experiences people have had with the coal-bed methane industry. In Alberta, people were assured by the government that mistakes made in the U.S. would not be repeated. They were wrong. In B.C., people were told the situation was different because the coal was of the dry variety and the impacts would be less severe. They were wrong.
People have lost their communities because they are no longer pleasant places to live. Theyíve lost their way of life because of the drastic changes to the landscape and pollution of the groundwater. Theyíve lost their health because of the toxic fracking chemicals dispersed untreated into the air. Theyíve lost their peace and quiet because of the compressor stations that sound like jet engines about to take off.
Will the minister now agree to impose a moratorium on this industry, at least until the government learns more about it?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, we donít run the government based on scaremongering. We do it on good management of the Yukon.
The member opposite is wrong. They do manage a natural gas from coal in other jurisdictions. We donít have the tools to do that at the moment. As far as somebody applying for access to natural gas from coal, we donít have the forms for them to fill out, so weíre a long way from managing that resource.
For us to say weíre going to put a moratorium on it ó at the moment we have a moratorium on it. Until we have regulations in place and policies, we are not putting out natural gas from coal but a government in the future will have to do it.
Mr. Speaker, denying the fact we have it is not managing the resources of the Yukon very well.
Speaker: Before the honourable member asks his next question, I would just like to remind the minister that the term ďscaremongeringĒ has been ruled out of order in previous days in this House, and I would ask the member not to use it.
Question re: Alaska Highway pipeline environmental impact
†Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Letís see if the minister has the tools to provide a substantial answer to this question related to the Alaska Highway pipeline project. Yesterday, he said he has been getting ready for this pipeline since 1978. One would expect, then, to see the minister with all his ducks lined up. Instead of seeing any evidence to that effect, Yukoners have heard lots of quacking from this government while the minister continues to duck the questions.
Now, before we get out the tar and feathers, Yukoners want to know whether any changes to the Foothills agreement would require screening through todayís legislation ó I do mean todayís legislation: the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, known as YESAA ó or through yesterdayís legislation. Which is it, YESAA or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the question from the member opposite. Those are the questions that we certainly have to address. The NPA is in place. Thatís the only application that is in front of this government to date. Those are questions that the federal government, through their regulatory basis ó hopefully that will come forward in the new year. There is a lot of work to be done with the federal government on regulatory certainty for this pipeline. That is one question that will have to be addressed.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, there is an interesting story circulating through the hallways of the government that the minister has assured this company that it would be exempt from todayís legislation. Apparently, he has assured Foothills that it would only have to meet the requirements of the old CEAA, or Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The ministerís back-slapping to his industrial friends has caused a troubling predicament for the dedicated employees working on pipeline issues and on environmental assessment in this ministerís department and, in fact, other departments. They are often seen running around trying to repair some of the damage caused by this minister. Is he now prepared to admit, for the record, that he has given such assurance?
Hon. Mr. Lang: † Again for the member opposite, the Northern Pipeline Act was an act that was given by National Energy Board, and that was given to TransCanada Pipelines. Itís a federal act, Mr. Speaker. Itís not an act that the Yukon government pulled out of the hat ó itís a federal act, and thereís a lot to be addressed under that federal act. The Government of Canada has to make up their mind whether itís going to be the Northern Pipeline Agency, and then if itís going to be the NPA, how are we going to work with it? Where does the National Energy Board fit into this? There is a lot of work to be done, Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member opposite, and weíre doing just that.
Question re:†† Yukon College endowment lands
Ms. Duncan: Today Iíd like to raise the issue of the land in my constituency, specifically the area between Mountainview Drive and Rabbitís Foot Canyon and the Alaska Highway. This is the area directly behind Yukon College. Unfortunately, with this Yukon Party Cabinet, my questions are going to sound a lot like the comedy routine, Whoís on First?, except that for residents and students who hike in the area and Yukoners who are anxiously waiting for new lots, itís not a laughing matter.
My question is for the Minister of Education. Will the minister confirm that he has discussed with the Yukon College Board of Governors the transfer of this land to them as endowment lands? In fact, he has discussed this since 2003 and as recently as June of this year committed to bringing forward a Cabinet submission that would transfer the land to the college. Will the minister confirm this?
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I thank the member opposite for that question. I believe everyone on the floor of the Legislature knows that there was a motion put forward here in this House to deal with that land. The motion, in a nutshell, said there has to be consultation among all the stakeholders before anything is done on that property, and I believe that still is the position of this House.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon College Board of Governors minutes indicate the minister has committed the land to them as endowment lands. On May 10, 2005, the Premier wrote to my constituent and said, among other things, that the constituent could request the City of Whitehorse to have the area zoned for public use and recreation purposes, and the city could, in turn, request that the Yukon government withdraw the area. Less than a month later, the Minister of Community Services wrote to the Mayor of Whitehorse, and copied my constituent, saying they were referring the matter to the City of Whitehorse.
The City of Whitehorse will again be presenting for public consultation plans for the development of some 200-plus residential lots in this same area this month and early in 2006.
My question is for the minister who actually develops lots for the city and who owns the land: does he intend to develop the lots as the city requests and ignore his Cabinet colleagueís commitment to transfer the land to the college?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I stated in my response to the petition for that particular area, we will be working with all the stakeholders in that region, including the City of Whitehorse, the First Nations involved, the Department of Education and the college on what is going to happen with the endowment lands ó or whatís referred to as the endowment lands ó between Mountainview and Rabbitís Foot Canyon. That process is also an issue that weíre having an interdepartmental meeting on with regard to all the affected departments related to this particular area. Once we go through that, then we will go through a public consultation, as the Minister of Education has indicated.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, that answer is about as clear as mud. Iíve been speaking about this land and lobbying for its protection for some time. In 1997, I tabled a petition in the Legislature. The governmentís response was that further consideration to the specific park land will be given once First Nation land claims were signed. City of Whitehorse had identified and committed to an area development scheme. Ultimately, the government of the day committed that the rights of all the parties would be respected.
Now, the minister just mentioned his response to a similar petition I tabled in this Legislature. The government committed to working with the City of Whitehorse to establish a consultation process involving First Nation governments, Yukon College, City of Whitehorse and Porter Creek residents to protect the natural park area ó consultation on that specific initiative.
My question again is for the minister: is he going to develop the lots, as the city has planned and is undertaking public consultation on? Is he going to transfer the land to the college, as his colleague has planned and make good on that commitment ó
Speaker: Order please. Ask the question, please.
Ms. Duncan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker. Or is he going to do as he committed to in this Legislature and listen to what all parties involved have to say on protecting the area?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Iíll remind the member opposite of the response I made to the petition, and thatís what we will be sticking to in this particular area.
Question re:††††† Canada Winter Games, athletes village project manager
Mr. Hardy: The Premier assured the House yesterday that his government would, ďNever, ever support a hiring policy that diminishes an individualís right to access justice.Ē He also made a commitment to look into this matter immediately. I donít know why he hadnít looked into it long before this, Mr. Speaker, because his office has been aware for a couple of months now of the situation Iíve been raising for the past two days.
What immediate steps did the Premier take to determine whether or not government hiring policies have effectively diminished this employeeís legal rights or the rights of any other employee?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †The member knows full well ó or I should phrase it, ďshould know full wellĒ that individual personnel matters are not to be discussed on the floor of the Legislature. Thatís what I said yesterday, and Iíll reiterate that very fact for the member opposite as well. Pursuant to the Public Service Act, there is no authority whatsoever for the involvement of the political arm of government with respect to appointments within the public service. Rather, the Public Service Commission has the exclusive authority with respect to appointments in the public service. With respect to the member oppositeís questions, it certainly has been confirmed that there is no policy linking hiring to pursuing a lawsuit against the government.
Mr. Hardy: The Premier himself said yesterday that he would look into it, so that would indicate that there is some involvement. Also, we do know his office was involved. As of noon today, Mr. Speaker, no one from the government has contacted the employee whose job ended yesterday afternoon. This person apparently fulfilled all the conditions of his employment. His supervisor recommended that he be kept on in an indeterminate capacity. Somebody, somewhere, decided to punish him for something totally unrelated to the job that he was doing. They did it by denying him further employment, Mr. Speaker. Those are the facts. Somebody made a policy decision ó period. Policy is not just what is written; it is also what is practised.
What has the Premier done to ensure that government hiring policies are not being abused in practice? What has he done?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †Again, for the member oppositeís information, the member knows full well ó or I should say again, should know full well ó that personnel matters are not to be discussed on the floor of the Legislature. We on this side of the House, the elected arm, the executive arm of the government, do not get involved in personnel matters. We respect the role of the Public Service Commission. That is their purview. It is certainly outlined within the Public Service Act. We have great respect for the Public Service Commission and their hiring policies, and that is what we on this side of the government will continue to do.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite should listen to the question instead of reiterating whatís written on her sheet. I asked about policy. Thatís what I asked about. This government has a shameful record in terms of intimidating and humiliating its employees, and the buck goes right back to the Premierís office.
In the case weíve been discussing, a letter from a government lawyer on November 24 justified the decision not to rehire this person on the grounds that, ďHe may be planning to do certain things.Ē Thatís what the letter said. Another paragraph referred to ďhis apparent intention to try and cause public embarrassment.Ē There is not one shed of evidence that this person has broken any terms or conditions of employment or breached any other undertakings ó not one. What we are seeing is a policy of muzzling and intimidation of employees who simply want to be treated fairly by their employer.
I go back to the policy question.
Speaker: Ask the question, please.
Mr. Hardy: Why is the Premier allowing this to happen?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †Mr. Speaker, our government values its employees. We value the quality services they provide to Yukon citizens day in and day out.
Again, for the member opposite, we on this side of the House, the elected arm of government, do not get involved in administrative and personnel matters with respect to the public service. That is not our job. For the member opposite to actually say that we on this side of the House should become involved in personnel matters is unbelievable. It certainly is outlined within the Public Service Act that it is not within our authority to become involved in those hiring decisions. Therefore, we will not discuss personnel matters on the floor of the Legislature.
Question re: Blood Ties Four Directions funding
Mrs. Peter: People with HIV/AIDS suffer not only from their disabling disease but also from discrimination around employment and housing. They are isolated, living in poverty and left without community social supports. Others in the community may not be, because they deny this illness. AIDS is spread through ignorance and denial.
On this World AIDS Day, will the new Minister of Health and Social Services tell us what his plan is to combat AIDS spreading in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I agree with the sentiment expressed by the member opposite. I have six friends and a number of co-workers in the past dead from this terrible disease. I was in Toronto during the main outbreak ó the main epidemic, so to speak ó in the mid 1980s. It is something Iíve had to deal with ó with employees in the past and to fight that discrimination. It is the policy of this government not to discriminate in any way against any disease or any handicap; I think that has been very clear.
In terms of prevention of the disease, we will continue to do the good work of the Department of Health and Social Services. We will continue, as we have in the past, to support groups like Blood Ties Four Directions and try to deal in a very open way with this terrible disease. The member opposite is quite correct in that.
Mrs. Peter: It is well known that the best approach to stopping the pandemic of AIDS is simple: itís education and awareness. Funding for prevention and awareness programs in the Yukon is minimal. It is especially true for small communities outside Whitehorse.
Blood Ties Four Directions can travel to communities in the Yukon only when they are invited, because their expenses are paid by the communities. A healthy supportive dialogue that would help prevent AIDS is not being funded by this government. On this World AIDS Day, will this new minister take a new approach to this problem and assure our rural communities that they will have the prevention education services they are entitled to?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: As acting minister, I agree with the sentiment and what the member opposite is saying. Yes, I agree the government is taking a whole overview of this situation. Itís called the ďsubstance abuse action planĒ, and itís part of our consultation. Itís part of looking at this problem about needle exchange, about education, about working within Whitehorse and in the communities. We are very happy about the way that program is moving. We will continue to support that and act in ways that the substance abuse action plan directs us. Itís a good initiative. Itís one that weíre very happy to be working on with our colleagues across the way. Iím sure the good work will produce some excellent suggestions. Certainly, I leave that in the hands of our experts in our department who were involved in that, and I look forward very much to their recommendations.
Mrs. Peter: Itís great that this minister is agreeable; however, we need action with this very serious disease. Itís true that the fastest rate of infection is with the aboriginal population, but this affects everyone. Itís a health issue that is his responsibility. Is this minister prepared to live up to the theme of the World AIDS Day to ďStop AIDS. Keep the Promise.Ē Will he promise to immediately respond to the need for prevention and awareness programs now?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I am still in a bit of shock at the member opposite calling me agreeable. I look forward to reading about that in Hansard. On a more serious note, yes, that is what the substance abuse action plan is. The integral part of that is action. I certainly agree that education is a big part of that matrix and a big part of that whole thing that we have to look at.
Again, I look forward to the results on that. As acting minister, I will do what I can to promote that plan to continue in a timely way and to look at made-in-Yukon solutions. AIDS is a worldwide problem. Again, having worked for many years in a major urban centre with a number of people thinking this was a gay disease ó it is not. Aboriginal communities are being hit very hard, and right now I believe that statistically more women than men are being affected. Itís a major, major problem with huge percentages in Africa.
The purpose of this plan is to look at what is happening within the Yukon and how we can best deal with that situation. That, to me, is the most important thing ó to look at it. Again, I welcome and applaud the members opposite for their participation in it.
Question re:††††† Government attitude
Mr. Hardy: † It has been quite a week watching the Premierís chickens flock home to roost and weíve really witnessed it this week. First we saw a new MLA, because more than 80 percent of Copperbelt voters just said no to this government. Then we saw more evidence of a government meltdown with two totally different versions of why the premier of southeast Yukon and his deputy abruptly parted ways. From this side of the House itís obvious that both versions have credibility. We believe that thereís some substance to both stories here.
Has the Premier learned anything from these dramatic events that weíve witnessed this week, or can we expect another year of the ďmy way, or elseĒ option as this governmentís guiding principle?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: That so-called guiding principle that the leader of the official opposition has just presented in this House is a new one on this government. Our guiding principle has been exactly as we committed to govern ó through collaboration, cooperation, and a plan and a vision for this territory. The evidence speaks for itself: the tremendous relationship weíve developed with our neighbours that wasnít there in the past. In fact, the NDP in this House, time and time again, show clearly they would never have worked with the Alaskans or Albertans or British Columbians, and they would certainly take a dim view of working with the private sector toward a profit margin that makes sense in building Yukonís economy.
Also, weíve demonstrated, internally, the tremendous amount of collaboration and cooperation: the northern strategyís Yukon chapter; a common position on the northern economic development fund; educational reform. The Minister of Justice just attended today another example of that collaborative approach with a massive attendance for the correctional reform summit here in Whitehorse. These are but a few examples of the facts. The principle the member opposite speaks to might be their own.
Mr. Hardy: As usual, the Premier attacks the opposition because he canít defend his own partyís actions and the way they have been behaving. Maybe the Premier should look around at the chairs around him. Heís down two now. One more, and itís pretty well all there is left. He hasnít got a cushy majority any more, and he has to watch how he travels now. He canít just skip out of the Legislative Assembly whenever he wants.
Now, something else weíve seen again this week is how one size doesnít fit all when it comes to Cabinet ministers paying back their debts. The Premier may think heís taking this issue off the public agenda, but he hasnít. Since Christmas is coming, Mr. Speaker, Iím willing to make the Premier an offer in this matter, in regard to his other colleague who owes money. If he promises to tell his colleague from Porter Creek Centre that itís time to pay up or pack up, Iíll offer to co-sign a loan if that minister canít come up with the cash. Iíll do that for him. Now, will the Premier accept that challenge and give Yukoners what they want ó a clear policy that someone who has an outstanding debt to taxpayers canít sit in Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, if we want to talk about debts, Mr. Speaker, letís talk about the debt to this territory that social democracy has left us under the leadership of the NDP ó an exodus of the population, double-digit unemployment rates, no private sector. Things were not in very good shape in this territory under their watch and under the Liberal watch.
As far as co-signing a loan, that would only be dependent upon a financial institution accepting the member oppositeís ability to pay. In the case of the Member for Porter Creek Centre, a financial institution has accepted that. In this case, the government, the Member for Porter Creek Centre, who has a participation in a corporate entity ó they are paying their bills. Thatís what itís all about. So not only have we resolved this file in its entirety by now being at the collection stage, we have forgiven part of this to NGOs, weíve repatriated hundreds of thousands of dollars back to Canada, and over half of this file has been made good. Thatís a pretty good record, Mr. Speaker, in terms of the fact that past governments were unable to do anything of the sort. This is 15 years old. This government in three short years has cleaned this file up.
Mr. Hardy: I donít think he has cleaned it up at all, Mr. Speaker, and we know he hasnít cleaned it up. Thereís still a Cabinet minister who hasnít paid back what he owes the people of this territory. Thereís another MLA who hasnít done it, and there are a lot of files still out there. What imagination is he using now?
A couple of other things came back to haunt the Premier this week: one is how this government has treated the folks who have spent 18 years caring for a herd of reindeer, only to see them rounded up and killed. Another is how this government treats employees who dare to pursue their legal rights, instead of slipping silently out the door when the government decides it no longer wants them around.
Iíve already said it once: the problem goes straight to the Premierís office. In short, the lesson that should be clear to Yukoners by now is very simple: do things the Premierís way and youíll do fine; cross this Premier or stand up to this government, and youíre toast.
The Premier needs to adopt a far more constructive ó
Speaker: Would the member please ask the question.
Mr. Hardy: I will. Iím going to offer another suggestion for the Premier then.
Speaker: Order please. Please ask the question.
Mr. Hardy: That was the question. Will he set an election date for the people of this territory?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The government has a long way to go in its mandate. The government has a lot of things it wants to do yet to complement what has already been accomplished in this territory through a collaborative, cooperative approach with the highest of ethical standards we can bring to bear.
The member opposite makes comment about the aforementioned reindeer herd and, by the same token, accuses this side of the House of mistreating employees. Well, I would remind the member opposite that it was biologists, public servants, employees, who were tasked with this very difficult decision. We accepted the expertsí recommendations; we did not go out and, on a premeditated basis, kill any reindeer. This was done by people who were tasked with that responsibility.
Who is mistreating the employees of this territory, given the memberís questioning?
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Point of information
†Mr. Jenkins: † Mr. Speaker, members of the House will be aware that there is a very important climate change leaders summit that is taking place in Montreal next week and that the Premier will be attending on behalf of the Yukon. I wish to inform the House that in view of the necessity for the Premier to attend that summit, I will commit to pairing with the Premier. What that means, Mr. Speaker, is if during the Premierís absence a vote takes place in either the whole House or the Committee of the Whole, I will withdraw from the Chamber during the taking of the vote.
Speaker: This, of course, qualifies more as a point of information than a point of order.
Unanimous consent re second reading of Bill No. 65
Mr. Cathers: I would request unanimous consent of the House to proceed with second reading of Bill No. 65, Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, No. 2 (2005), at this time.
Speaker: Is there unanimous consent to proceed with second reading of Bill No. 65 at this time?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: Unanimous consent has been granted.
†Bill No. 65: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 65, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fentie.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I move that Bill No. 65, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, No. 2 (2005), be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Premier that Bill No. 65, entitled Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, No. 2 (2005), be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am very pleased today to introduce this bill to the House ó a bill whose purpose is to lessen the impact of rising energy costs that Yukoners are facing. We all know that the high price of energy affects more than just the direct energy users. These energy cost increases eventually flow to virtually all areas of our economy and affect Yukoners through increases in other consumer products such as groceries, rents and so on.
Mr. Speaker, we have heard the concerns of fellow Yukoners as they face the challenges imposed by these recent energy price increases.
The bill addresses those concerns. It provides relief where relief is most needed. It provides an energy rebate to those with little disposable income to manage the recent rapid escalation in prices. Individuals with little disposable income do not have the capacity to absorb these increased costs. This bill provides assistance to these very individuals by providing a one-time energy rebate cheque to them. All residents entitled to a quarterly GST credit payment in the last quarter of this calendar year will be entitled to an energy rebate cheque of $150. Social assistance recipients eligible for the rebate will not, Mr. Speaker, have their assistance reduced by the rebate amount.
Iím also very pleased to say that this government will also exempt the recently announced federal energy rebate program, which complements this governmentís energy rebate program, from the social assistance clawback. The result will be that individuals on social assistance eligible for both the territorial and federal rebate programs will not have their assistance reduced by the rebates in any manner.
Energy rebate cheques will be available as early as possible in the new year. This energy rebate will go a long way to mitigate the effects of rising energy prices to Yukoners who most need this assistance.
Itís a proud day for this government to introduce this bill, and I commend the Department of Finance and its officials who took up this challenge a few short weeks ago and have come forward in such a short and expeditious timeline with a very, very efficient program, and a great deal of the credit goes to those officials in the department.
I look forward to the discussions and debate in the House with respect to the bill and Iím sure that this is an initiative that all members in this House recognize as much needed for people in this territory who require this kind of assistance. Iím sure we can move this bill forward so we can actually get that relief out into the hands of Yukoners as itís needed.
Mr. Hardy: Well, to start off this immediately, yes, of course, we do support this relief. We do support this very small amount that is being given to a very small segment of our population. We do support that. However ó however, it doesnít go anywhere near far enough. I have to question if there was really any amount of serious consideration on the impact that the rising cost of fuel is having on people of the Yukon. Just as an example, $150 works out to about one-fifth of a tank of fuel ó one-fifth of a tank of fuel, for one fill-up in a month. In many, many ways, it is a very, very small amount of money. As I said, it goes to a very small group of people. There are a lot of people who will be missed in this area.
Now, weíre talking about the whole year, $150. This is a government that quite easily hands out $300,000 sole-source contracts without a blink of an eye, but they have a hard time finding any money of substance to be returned to the people of this territory when theyíre facing difficulties. That is why we have some very serious concerns. It doesnít go far enough. It doesnít reach enough people. Itís not enough to assist many people who are still going to be facing a lot of hardship.
The other thing is the time. People need the money now. People needed the money a month ago. People needed to see some kind of rebate when winter started, not when winter is three-quarters over, not when winter is over, in some cases ó thatís not when they need the money. They need it now to help pay the extra costs that they face. Many of them are on fixed incomes. A lot of them are seniors. A lot of them are younger people. A lot of them are working two jobs. A lot of them work in the many, many minimum wage jobs out there that have had an influence on the employment rates ó not high-paying jobs at all, Mr. Speaker, and those are the people who are struggling, of course.
Quite easily, if this minister was very serious about helping those many people on lower incomes, one of the first things they would have done is raise the minimum wage. That would have helped right there; thatís just one suggestion. This government hasnít done it yet, but letís go further. There are a lot of other areas we can talk about.
I see the minister frantically writing on the other side. I hope heís writing to take note of this and not to try to rebut it as being a wrong suggestion. Knowing him, itís going to be an attack on us.
There are many other areas we need to consider. Other provinces have gone a lot further than this. Other provinces, without the healthy bank account this government has, have gone a lot further to assist their people. Newfoundland and Labrador has gone a lot further and they have a lot higher unemployment rate, their bank account isnít anywhere near as good as the Yukonís, and their heating costs are a little bit lower than in the Yukon; yet, they are giving more. Theyíre helping more people, theyíre giving more money back and they have more programs to help in this specific area. Thatís just one example.
Why is this government falling so far short in this matter? Because they have fallen short. $150 for a very small group of people who definitely do need it ó and I donít question that, and thatís why weíre supporting it, but it is not enough in any way, shape or form.
There are a lot of other areas this government could be working on to ensure it keeps the cost down so people can get through the winter, but there are also questions we have about this. How does this apply to a rental? How does it apply to someone who is renting and the cost of the fuel is part of their income? Maybe thereís a formula here that is not explained yet. Itís not in the bill itself, so maybe the minister can stand up and explain how itís going to help a person who is paying high rent, making low income or is on SA, as an example, but is renting. A lot of people on a lower income or on SA do not own their own place and donít fill up their own tanks; theyíre renting.
So how does that apply? Iím sure he can explain that to me. The minister didnít explain it to us, this side of the House. I would just like an explanation around that.
He talks about little disposable income. Iím glad he has recognized that there are a lot of people out there who are not making much money, who are struggling to make ends meet, that the economy is not fixed yet for a lot of people, that the wages that people are making out there are still not good enough to make a decent living in this territory for many, many people. Iím glad he has recognized that. Though he stands up and says they fixed the economy, Iím glad he also turns around and recognizes that there are people in communities, there are people in my riding, for example, in downtown Whitehorse who are struggling day by day to make ends meet. Iím glad for that.
There are other people who want to talk. I wonít take up much more time. I just want to make it very clear that we support this tiny little effort. We feel this government, unfortunately, hasnít gone far enough, hasnít given enough to enough people out there. There are far too many restrictions around it based on the way itís written.
Maybe the minister has some other suggestions. Maybe the minister can answer the questions I put out there. Iím sure he can. I look forward to those so that I can tell the many people in my riding and my colleagues can go back to their ridings and be able to answer the questions about how this is going to impact their lives and improve their living conditions over this long winter that we are in.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to allow other people to talk. Thank you.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, first of all, we will go on record as saying that we, too, do support this relief, but I think weíd have to describe it as too little for too few. In this newfound spirit of cooperation, all members on this side of the House agreed for unanimous consent to first reading of this bill today, and we suddenly find ourselves at second reading. It is important, so we will discuss it, although we would have appreciated the time to get more information about this bill prior to this point in time.
The Premier is presenting this as an early Christmas present, and Iím afraid that many Yukoners will still find coal in their Christmas stockings this year, because this will go to about 7,000 homes. That leaves an awful lot of homes of people who wonít be helped. Our concern is that that includes many of the working poor. There are many people who may not qualify for this particular subsidy, but the price of fuel that has skyrocketed so rapidly, due no doubt to outside forces ó this wouldnít be one of the numbers that is going up due to good Yukon Party government. This would be a statistic that is apparently of someone elseís doing, unlike the price of housing and others that weíve heard about. These people will be affected. I know that many of my constituents will be affected, and not all of them will be helped by this program.
It was very quick ó the Premier was able to come up with $3 million to discuss the feasibility of a railroad ó something that may happen far in the future. This works out to be $1,050,000 ó thatís all we could find to help Yukoners who are struggling with the high price of fuel right now.
There is an awful lot that could have been done if we would have had more time to see the proposals that were coming forward. Perhaps there could be a graduated rebate, because certainly we want to first of all look after those people who are absolutely up against it, who donít have any other resources ó thatís our pensioners, our people on fixed incomes, people who are below the poverty line. But there are other people who are not as fortunate as the people who are in this House with the income levels that we perhaps enjoy here, who will still be feeling the pinch as the temperatures drop today and as they continue to drop in the coming months. Those people would perhaps also look to their government to help them.
We would be interested in hearing whether the Premier has thoughts of any help for those people and whether there is some way they can get some relief.
We often hear about the good fiscal management that that side has brought and the huge surpluses and indeed the lapses, and we would think, if weíre going to use that Christmas analogy that I see in the news release, there would be a little less Scrooge and a little more to help out people during the cold weather. Nevertheless, we do appreciate the fact that itís important for there to be some relief and we will support this.
Iíll now allow other people to address their concerns.
Mr. Jenkins: I rise in support of this bill. This bill was similar to that which started off in Newfoundland and Labrador. I was hoping, though, the government could see its way clear to embellishing it more than a maximum of $150 for those eligible for the GST.
If you look across the Yukon, fuel prices have risen alarmingly and, if you look just in my community of Dawson, where heating fuels are over a dollar a litre and the price at the pumps for highway diesel is relatively comparable to heating oil, one has to ask the question: is there not something going on in that area, given that highway fuel has 10 cents a litre in excise tax, 7.2 cents a litre in Government of Yukon road tax, as well as the federal GST of seven percent on the total amount; whereas heating oil does not have any Yukon tax. It does not have any excise tax; it only has the GST on it.
You have to ask the question: is there something wrong with the system here?
I would encourage the Yukon Party to look at examining this amount, because $150 does not go a long way. Overall, itís a very good move; I support it; letís call it an extremely welcome and good start.
Mr. McRobb: As indicated, we do have some questions on this bill. Hopefully, weíll get some answers in Committee of the Whole. Iím unsure whether itís an appropriate or fair means of financial assistance to Yukoners. After all, isnít this the same method that was used by the federal government a couple of years ago to distribute its energy rebates? And, of course, the fallout from that is quite well known.
I recall some of the people who collected the rebates were no longer living, and others were in prison. So they didnít even have fuel bills to be offset.
So I think there are some questions about the methodology of this program. Certainly, the amount leaves a lot to be desired, Mr. Speaker. $150 per person is, as indicated, only one-fifth of the cost of a tank of fuel. And that payment is supposed to last everybody for the entire year. Well, itís just a drop in the proverbial bucket, Mr. Speaker. And the government has always backed away when it comes to providing assistance to people on low incomes. The Yukon Party supports the rich, not the poor in our society. It raves about how it increased social assistance rates. However, Mr. Speaker, those rates were only increased for the disabled among the people who received social assistance. That particular group is in the minority.
We heard earlier this week a different tone coming from the Yukon Party. It took a lot of credit for repairing the economy in the territory, which we know, Mr. Speaker, it had very little to do with, and there is still lots more repairing yet to be done. It said it was now going to roll up its sleeves and focus on social issues.
Mr. Speaker, itís rather embarrassing to see the final product of its sleeve-rolling session has amounted to only $150, or a fifth of a tank of fuel.
Look at the millions of dollars this government is hauling in from Ottawa. Itís arriving by the wheelbarrow loads daily. Yet, all it could muster up is one fifth of a tank of fuel only for a portion of society.
This leaves a lot to be desired. Weíve got a lot of questions for this government. Look at what the government gives to industry, for example, Mr. Speaker ó $3 million because Governor Murkowski wanted the Yukon to join in on a railway study.† The Premier was impatient ó he wouldnít wait for the federal government to okay the deal ó so he jumped in with $3 million. What amount of money will this program cost the Yukon? Iím very interested to hear that. I did not hear the Premier indicate the cost of this program. When he gets up, after Iím done, Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear that figure, because I want to compare it to what he gave Frank Murkowski for the railway study.
Speaker: When the Hon. Premier speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I must say first, in my closing remark, that this side of the House is knocked completely over by the overwhelming support from the members opposite, as the government moves ahead with assisting those who most need assistance in this territory. We thank them deeply for their support of this initiative.
Let me touch on some of the comments that have been made. The leader of the official opposition came out with a very interesting slip-up when he spoke of the minimum wage. In the first place, I want to remind the leader of the official opposition of a very important fact. In the Yukon Territory, itís the labour board that sets the minimum wage, not the government. Weíve triggered that process by the first step with the increases to the fair wage schedule. If the member opposite doesnít even know that, itís going to be very difficult to try to debate with the member opposite the merits and the logistics and the elements of such an initiative as our energy rebate program.
The members opposite have touched on an issue that the government had to deliberate on, which is, how do we do this? We wanted to target Yukoners who would most need it, so we took steps, along with the federal government through the GST program, whereby we could define a sector of our community that would be deemed those most in need of this kind of assistance.
Contrary to the members oppositeís assertions that this is a government that does not cooperate, weíve cooperated a great deal on this initiative, as we have on every other initiative weíve undertaken with the federal government to ensure that what we were doing was helping Yukoners.
So not only have we been able to expedite this process because we are using linkages with the federal government and the GST database, but weíve also ensured that the individuals in Yukon who most need this receive, in terms of an energy rebate or assistance, in total, $400 ó the total impact with our cooperation with Canada, an interesting point Iíd like to make for the members opposite.
This will touch 7,000 families in this territory. I think itís important to recognize that those are 7,000 families in an earning range who can most use assistance like this.
Now, this also is coupled and in conjunction with a lot of other initiatives the government is undertaking to provide support.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Letís go through some of those, because I just heard a challenge from the Member for Kluane that this governmentís social agenda has been lacking in some manner. Mr. Speaker, we all know that not to be the case.
This does complement and add to assistance weíre already giving.
When you consider that this goes along with increasing the Yukon child tax credit; this goes along with raising the pioneer utility grant and indexing it to 35 percent; this goes along with increasing the territorial supplementary allowance for the disabled on a monthly basis ó this new initiative is all in addition to the many other social initiatives that this government, with its very heightened and sharpened social conscience, has undertaken to help Yukoners most in need.
And, Mr. Speaker, it also includes a step that the NDP would never take, nor would the Liberals in this House, and that is to ensure that assistance like this for those who are in our social safety net, who need social assistance, was not being clawed back. Those two governments across the floor, when in office, would allow assistance of this nature to be clawed back by the Department of Health and Social Services. Not this government. Not only did we disallow the Yukon governmentís rebate from clawback, we disallowed the federal governmentís rebate for energy assistance from clawback ó again, an additional help on top of all that weíre doing for Yukoners who most need it.
And, Mr. Speaker, I want to caution the official opposition about their constant criticism of the Alaskans and remind them once again that, by the good graces of the State of Alaska, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in this territory, putting Yukoners to work improving and reconstructing Yukon infrastructure. I would suggest the members opposite should rethink their approach. When they accuse this side of the House of being confrontational, I think the evidence shows otherwise. The members opposite are extremely confrontational. Nothing ó nothing, in their view, meets the standard or the test that the NDP believe governance should meet, but all of that results in a very, very poor level of governance, because we canít work with anybody.
We are isolated. We stand alone, and not much gets done, Mr. Speaker.
So the difference of this side of the House is clear. By working with our neighbours, by working with First Nations, by working with our public service, by working with Yukoners, by building Team Yukon, we have accomplished things. Todayís initiative is just one small example of those kinds of accomplishments.
I think itís fair to say that we would have liked to have done this faster, but we did our research and our homework and the reason that weíve taken the step that we have is because it can be quick in terms of cheques actually getting out into the hands of Yukoners ó those who most need it. We could have taken some very complicated approaches like other jurisdictions, where massive costs were incurred just to administer a program like this. Thatís not what we did. We took the money and targeted the money to Yukoners where it is most needed, as I said.
Also, there are many differences. The leader of the official opposition makes mention of Newfoundland and Labrador. Well, Newfoundland and Labradorís assistance only goes to one thing: fuel oil. This addresses energy in its broader context. I think we recognize that the cost of fuel and other areas of energy have a residual cost in almost all sectors of Yukon daily life. So, our program is consistent with the broader context. Itís an energy rebate program.
Mr. Speaker, we believe strongly that this is a good first step in terms of how we can deal with this issue now, because we also recognize there is a global need here to address the costs of energy overall. That is something that Yukon will continue to work on at the national and international levels in terms of addressing that particular area.
Mr. Speaker, our offer here, as we go forward, is now to provide the members opposite a very detailed briefing of exactly how this program has been put together by the Department of Finance. That offer is to be done prior to any discussion or debate in Committee of the Whole. So, the members opposite can have a real good understanding of what the program is all about and what the elements of the program are actually going to do. That offer will happen at their decision, but we want to make sure that they are fully briefed before we move this into Committee. I think the common objective here will be to get monies, to get this assistance, into the hands of Yukoners.
So, once again ó though we were wondering at points of time here during the discussion and second reading ó once again, we genuinely thank the members opposite, the official opposition, the third party and the independent member of this House, for their support in helping Yukoners who most need it.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Would the Clerk please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †Agree.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Agree.
Mr. Rouble: Agree.
Mr. Hassard: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. Cardiff: Agree.
Mrs. Peter: Agree.
Mr. Mitchell: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 15 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 65 agreed to
Mr. Cathers: 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 acting government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee this afternoon is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. I understand the Executive Council Office, Vote 2, is up for debate. Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 17 ó Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06 ó continued
Chair: The matter before the Committee today is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. The department under debate is Vote 2, Executive Council Office.
Executive Council Office
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I am pleased to provide an overview of this supplementary request for the Executive Council Office. This supplementary budget request deals with revised funding estimates for three government priorities: land claims implementation, devolution implementation and YESAA implementation.
The net results of the request are: a decrease in both capital and operation and maintenance spending; a net decrease in O&M of $717,000; and a net decrease of capital of $380,000. The net decrease in O&M spending consists of three components: a land claims and implementation decrease of $817,000; a devolution program increase of $30,000; and a development assessment program transfer of $30,000 to capital. The $817,000 decrease in land claims and implementation program expenditure estimate results from a difference in timing between the establishment of the budget and the decision making about what projects would proceed in 2005-06. The revised budget estimate reflects forecast costs for priority implementation activities in response to First Nation priorities.
The increase of $130,000 in the program line Devolution reflects the approved revote of funds voted in the 2004-05 budget to support devolution-related activities. Two departmental projects were not complete at year-end, so a funding carry-over was required. The final change is a $30,000 transfer from the development assessment program and operation and maintenance budget to capital.
There are two significant decreases in the capital vote. First, a reduction of $300,000 in the land claim and implementation program relates to the funding request for the waterfront remediation obligation pursuant to the agreement with Kwanlin Dun First Nation. The cost of this project is being covered under the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund, which is managed by the Department of Highways and Public Works, so funding is not required by the Executive Council Office. The second decrease of $135,000 is also in the land claims and implementation secretariat. This results from the same timing issue described under the operation and maintenance vote. These funds are used to fund projects in individual departments that support implementation obligations, which are a priority for First Nations.
These decreases are offset by two items: an increase of $25,000 for the TríondŽk HwŽchíin 17(7) working group, which was approved for expenditure in the 2004-05 capital budget but carried over at year-end to support the workplan approved by both parties; and an increase of $30,000 through transfer of funds from the development assessment program operation and maintenance to fund the development of an internal Web-based information-sharing application relating to implementation of the new YESAA legislation.
With these comments, I would be happy to proceed to a line-by-line debate and answer any questions the members opposite may have on these forecasts.
Mr. Hardy: As I indicated a couple of minutes ago to the minister, I am going to be fairly brief in this department. I just have a few questions. I would like to get more specifics around the waterfront land remediation ó the decrease of $300,000 ó if the minister could give it on the floor and, if not, he could send some information over.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Under the land claim with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, we have an obligation to deal with property on the waterfront that is part of the land claim package and the final agreement. That is to, firstly, purchase the land in question. It has been transferred to the First Nation via the final agreement, and our obligation therein is to do any environmental remediation. Originally this was set up in the Executive Council Office through the land claim initiative but has now been picked up through the infrastructure fund because the CSIF is specific to waterfront. The Whitehorse waterfront overall is receiving a significant investment of some $14 million. So, this remediation is part of that overall investment, thereby negating the need for us to have this in the Executive Council Office.
Mr. Hardy: That explains it very well. I thank the minister for that.
This might be a tiny bit off topic. I just want to pursue one little thing on this. I remember years ago there were a lot of concerns about contamination along the waterfront ó and other areas, of course, around the Yukon, but specifically along there ó and that there might need to be substantial environmental remediation work done along the waterfront. If the minister wishes to, could he just give me an idea of what the status of the environmental concerns along the waterfront are? If he wants it to be asked in another department, I am quite willing to do that as well.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First we have to recognize that there are properties along the waterfront that the Yukon government does not own or have an involvement in. Some of it is private sector, some of it is City of Whitehorse but, in the areas weíre responsible for, such as the parcel of land in question that was transferred to Kwanlin Dun First Nation, the government is addressing this issue. The budget amount is allocated toward soil and groundwater contamination. I think the engineering company, to the best of my knowledge, is now at that stage of compiling a final report for that specific property.
In other sectors along the waterfront, there may be other issues yet to be determined. As I pointed out at the beginning, some of those properties belong to the private sector, and some of those properties belong to the City of Whitehorse.
Mr. Hardy: I donít mean to belabour this point, but I have a couple more questions. The land the City of Whitehorse has agreed to transfer to the Yukon government ó I think it was around the Canada Winter Games agreement for funding ó is that the land the minister is talking about right now, or is this another section?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The land that is being worked on now by the appropriate expertise is adjacent to the property picked up from the City of Whitehorse with respect to the agreement reached on the Canada Winter Games initiative.
Mr. Hardy: That clarifies that for me. I expect over the next while weíll see what work needs to be done in terms of environmental contamination and prepare that land for whatever development it gets earmarked for.
Some general questions around the land claims: can the Premier just give a quick update on the status of the outstanding claims and where the federal government is at on any of them?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the federal government does not today have a mandate to negotiate the land claims further in the Yukon. That has resulted in the White River First Nation, the Ross River Dena and the Liard First Nation from not achieving or concluding the land claim final agreement and self-government agreement with Canada and Yukon. Yukon governmentís position is Canada has unfinished business here in the territory. We are encouraging Canada at every opportunity to recognize that and come forward with what is necessary to conclude that unfinished business with those three First Nations, and we will continue to press that issue.
But in addition, there is also the issue of litigation that has been tabled in court by the Kaska Nation. I cannot say at this time if any discussions are ongoing with Canada and the Kaska Nation with respect to an abeyance on that litigation or what the status of the litigation is. However, I will say that the federal government has demonstrated most recently in negotiations with the Deh Cho that Canada will negotiate while in litigation, which is somewhat different from what they said to the Kaska Nation, whereby Canada has taken the position that they do not negotiate while they are in litigation. They have changed that policy, obviously, with respect to what has recently transpired in the Northwest Territories with the Deh Cho. Canada did actively negotiate while litigation was in place and there was no land claim concluded.
Mr. Hardy: Maybe I didnít hear it clearly. There was no land claim included?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Okay, it was still outstanding, even though they were negotiating ó in direct contrast to the position theyíve taken with the Kaska here. Thatís very interesting how the federal government seems to pick and choose how they will treat people.
There are a couple of points I would just like to get some clarification around on the bilateral agreement that the Government of Yukon has with the Kaska. I believe that agreement is coming to an end next year ó April or May of next year, I believe it is. Could the minister give me an indication if the government is in discussions with the Kaska at this present time to extend the agreement, make changes to it or allow it to just end at that date?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We entered into a bilateral arrangement with the Kaska Nation at the outset of this governmentís mandate. It was intended to find a way for the Yukon government and the Kaska Nation to work on areas of common and mutual interest. It also removed Yukon from any litigation.
Part of the agreement ó this would be a very important component of the agreement ó was that, as we worked on a number of areas with the Kaska Nation, there would also be work done on the issue of the land claim. In that regard, when the bilateral came due in 2005, we extended the timeline until August 2005, in accordance with discussions that were ongoing with Canada with respect to an abeyance agreement.
There was no conclusion or resolution come August of 2005; therefore, the bilateral agreement, as it has been structured, ended.
Mr. Hardy: Then where does that leave the Kaska and the Yukon government in any kind of agreement around the issues that were identified under the bilateral agreement?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Those particular issues do not just go away. We are working on issues ó and Iíll give an example ó such as the R15 block, which was an arrangement we worked on with the Kaska and Canada that has allowed mining exploration to take place in that particular area. That hasnít ceased or stopped; it will be ongoing, should the corporate entity involved choose to come back to explore further.
However, weíve had recent discussions with the Kaska Nation and have talked about planning a strategy to present to Canada with respect to the conclusion of the unfinished business in Kaska traditional territory. We intend to further that discussion; however, we now have a situation of some uncertainty in Ottawa, given thereís now a general election in Canada. While we work with the back channels at the officials level, weíll continue to monitor the situation and, at the earliest possible date, our intention is to sit down with the appropriate minister or ministers in Ottawa to see if thereís a way we can, once again, get to a point where we can conclude the claims process in southeast Yukon and also with the White River First Nation.
Mr. Hardy: I thank the minister for that. Iíve got a couple more questions to finish up.
The ending of a bilateral agreement ó Iím assuming that what the parties agreed to ó thereís still this sense that what was put down in the bilateral agreement is something they would still honour and work with, depending on the issue.
There is one point where I need clarification. There has been talk about changes to disposition of identifying lands under the Oil and Gas Act that it would be industry-driven. The industries would identify areas that they would like to go into and then they would approach the government, which is different from what has been in the past. The bilateral agreement states that at one point, Yukon shall not agree to any significant or major dispositions of interest on lands or resources or authorizations for exploration work and resource development in the Kaska traditional territory without consulting or obtaining the consent of the Kaska.
Could the minister explain how those two approaches work together?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: First, the bilateral has ended as of August 2005, but that does not change the fact that, under the Yukon Oil and Gas Act, consent is required in any region or traditional territory where there is an unsettled claim. It is part of the law of the land. So, for any disposition process in the southeast Yukon under the Yukon Oil and Gas Act, there is a provision where consent is required.
Mr. Hardy: I am looking for some clarification, because there has been a lot of talk about a different approach and how lands would be identified by industry ó the oil and gas industry, for instance, in the Yukon. I think it is just very important that, I guess, when these changes are being contemplated and communicated to the public, they contain the other agreements that are drawn up with First Nationís to show how it actually works. It would probably save a lot of questions and concerns for a lot of people.
So I think there is a challenge in communicating this type of activity and how it relates to First Nation lands, how it relates to municipalities, how it relates to other lands throughout the Yukon and how itís going to impact, and I think thatís a challenge for any government when they go in a slightly different direction.
Iím going to move off the bilateral agreement. I just have probably two more questions, hopefully, at this time. One of them ó and I think I asked it about a year ago, and the minister doesnít have to give it to me right away. But a compilation of all the accords and memoranda of understanding that are out there right now, leading right up to the Yukon forum, because thatís another agreement ó how many are actually living documents to date?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There will be a number of them. Among the most important agreements that are still out there, of course, are the final agreements, the self-government agreements and all that go with them, and our obligations as the Yukon government. There is also the consultation protocol. There are intergovernmental accords with First Nations like the Vuntut Gwitchin. There is an economic development initiative that has been worked on with the Northern Tutchone. So I think weíve already done this work, but I will undertake to have officials once again go through all this to provide the member opposite that information.
Mr. Hardy: Yes, I believe if it has already been done, then the list should be there, and if there are any new additional ones, I would appreciate learning how many are out there, what they relate to. I am not asking for the land claims agreements, and I think the minister knows that. Iím asking for the initiatives that Yukon government has undertaken since the Yukon Party has come into power and the living documents, I would say ó the ones that are actually being worked on and are still active.
Travel cost is a question I think we always ask ó just an update on where we are on travel cost.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We have a total of out-of-Yukon travel for the period ending September 30, 2005 ó thatís the most updated information. Out-of-Yukon travel was $70,687.87; in-territory travel was $15,991.88; for a total year-to-date ending September 30, 2005, of $86,679.75. It is a small reduction from 2003-04 and 2004-05 for the same period.
Mr. Hardy: Could the minister just pass a hard copy of that information over?
Thanks a lot. Those are all of my questions at this moment.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, I had intended to be brief, and since many of the questions that I was going to ask have been asked and answered in the preceding conversation, I will be even briefer.
A couple of things werenít touched on: the northern economic development fund ó there was an indication that the Yukon delegation would be making use of the recent trip to Kelowna to make the presentation on the NEDF at a private meeting. Can the minister give us any update or information on where that stands?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Itís important that we recognize that the northern economic development fund or program is situated within the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development ó a line department for the federal government. We have worked with our colleagues, the provinces and the territories for some time to establish that very program and got agreement to that program well over a year ago.
Since then, the federal government, by its choice, wanted to try to negotiate or establish a set of principles on how this money would be allocated bilaterally with Yukon and with Yukon First Nations. That met with limited success, so Yukon government and Yukon First Nations came together to help the federal government in terms of getting a consensus on how to proceed with the fund. Weíve maintained the themes the federal government insisted upon, which are something we managed to build into the Yukon position and, from there, we notified the minister that we would be presenting to Canada the Yukon position, as developed with Yukon and Yukon First Nation governments to the federal government.
Weíve done that; we now have a concurrence that a tripartite process is probably in the best interests of the federal government and the territory, and weíve also committed to work jointly with Canada and the department to ensure that this program is something that Canada will give meaningful consideration to developing as an institution, so we have a similar linkage with Canada, as Atlantic Canada does and as western Canada does through the western diversification program.
That is where weíre at. I understand, even in the time of this election, a federal official will be travelling to Whitehorse in the coming days to sit down and finalize some details around this tripartite process.
Mr. Mitchell: I thank the minister for that update and look forward to that additional update after the federal officials have come.
Similarly, Iím wondering if the minister can give us an update on the $40 million of northern strategy money, whether or not that money has started to flow and, if so, where it is being spent.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the northern strategy is a trust fund ó at least the monies for it. The strategy itself is much more complex, to be sure. But it is a significant initiative between the three northern territories and the Government of Canada, because it ensures that the federal government no longer puts the three territories in a secondary position but has developed a mechanism that is ensuring that Canada will pay attention and focus on areas of importance for the north. So we find it a very positive initiative.
The trust fund established ó so the $40 million is in place. We consider that to be the first instalment of the overall northern strategy as it evolves through our future.
Weíve presented to Canada the Yukon chapter, but we have to understand that there is also a pan-territorial link here with Canada. Canada has responded to the Yukon chapter. There are a couple of minor issues that we are working through at this time but, in all likelihood, we will soon be able to start to invest some of the monies. To do that, of course, as this is a federal initiative in partnership with the territories, Canada has gone through an extensive consultative process. I think there was a questionnaire in peopleís mailboxes, and so on and so forth. Yukon has worked with Yukon First Nation governments to develop the Yukon chapter, and weíre now in the phase of the implementation plan, which we hope to have concluded soon so we can get on with investing in areas of importance to Yukoners.
Mr. Mitchell: As I stated, there was a series of questions that I was going to ask regarding the progress of land claim negotiations, and in particular with Kaska and transboundary but I think theyíve largely been answered.
I do have a couple of points Iíd like to ask about First Nations relations. A little over a month ago, the Northern Tutchone Tribal Council advised the Yukon government that it would no longer take part in the Yukon forum. I am wondering if the minister can report any progress in restoring the participation of the Northern Tutchone Tribal Council in the forum?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Yes, I am very pleased to report at this time that there is progress. We are working with the Northern Tutchone First Nations on a number of fronts, including an economic development arrangement.
In a meeting just days ago, I had a very positive and constructive discussion with the Chief of the Na Cho Nyšk Dun First Nation government, the Chief of the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation government and the Chief of the Selkirk First Nation government with respect to bilateral issues that are driven by the claims final agreement and self-government agreement. There was also a presentation to the chiefs on a better understanding of what the Yukon forum is and what it is intended to accomplish. I think the meeting went very well.
There are a number of initiatives that the Northern Tutchone First Nations have already participated in with respect to the Yukon forum. The northern strategy is a prime example of that.
Mr. Mitchell: Similarly, I have some questions regarding the changes recently announced in Calgary to the Oil and Gas Act and how the disposition process would occur. I am wondering if the minister might comment on whether he thought it might be advisable, in the spirit of cooperation and considering the agreements we have in place already with First Nations, to have perhaps consulted with First Nations first rather than announcing it out of the territory. He might want to comment on that.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: There was a consultation process that was undertaken with respect to this initiative. The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources will be up for debate with this supplementary, so more detail can be accessed then.
But I want to point at least a couple of things out. These are regulation changes and they are merely changes to improve and increase Yukonís ability to compete in this industry. There are only so many sedimentary basins in the Yukon of any interest regardless of what kind of regulations we have in place. The purpose of this, though, is to get a more competitive edge going and more interest going and it only makes sense in that regard to have industry involved, because industry actually knows better than government where it is that they would want to go and that in itself heightens interest and heightens and increases investment in this particular area. So, this is not a massive change or amendment to the Yukon Oil and Gas Act; itís nothing of the sort. It is simple regulatory structuring that improves our ability to deal with and work with the industry and itís done in conjunction with First Nation governments and Yukoners, and nothing deviates in this area and work done to date on the regulatory regime; nothing causes the government or the territory to deviate from our obligations under the act itself.
Mr. Mitchell: † I thank the minister for the answer. I do appreciate that this is regulatory and I certainly understand where the industry would be appreciative of this approach, but I was simply expressing concerns that I had heard expressed by a number of First Nations about the process and their role in it. So we look forward to discussing this further at another opportunity.
Similarly there has been some discussion and some concerns expressed by the acting chair of the Yukon Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition regarding the apparent changing role that the government may see for that group versus an overall pipeline commission. Some concerns expressed are that that group was concerned that they perhaps didnít see the government representing their interests and didnít want the government to be representing their interests but wanted to make sure that they maintained their own voice. Iím wondering if the minister could explain how he envisions the two different processes moving forward.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Through the department and the leadership of the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, the government continues to work with the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition and continues to invest in it. There is an impetus for that. Those First Nations ó the members of the coalition ó are First Nations whose traditional territories are on the corridor, and they would want to play a very meaningful role in any process leading us toward the construction of a pipeline and all the downstream effects, impacts and benefits therein.
The Yukon government is a public government and is also obligated and responsible to the broader public. Should a project such as the Alaska Highway pipeline proceed, there will be a tremendous amount of peripheral impact across this territory, for any number of reasons. This is probably the biggest project on the planet ó bar none. It will also do things like open up interest in sedimentary basins outside the Alaska Highway corridor, which would then generate investment through exploration and further development, because you now have infrastructure to transport resources to the marketplace.
Our interest for the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition is to ensure that the corridor First Nations are given every opportunity to participate in developing understandings of the social and economic impacts, but also how to ensure we can put into place measures to maximize benefits for the corridor First Nations. The broader process is to ensure that not only are the corridor First Nations participating, but so too are Yukoners in general, so too is Canada and so too are other First Nations throughout the territory, who will certainly experience impacts. It is important that we ensure we maximize the benefits for all Yukoners, peripheral First Nations included.
Itís an approach that is all-inclusive and all-encompassing, and itís the work and the structure necessary that we undertake to make sure that Yukon, border-to-border internally, will be pipeline ready, and we have added to that now an initiative that the minister responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources will be continuing with in an undertaking with our partners ó Alaska, British Columbia, and Alberta ó in developing jointly between those four jurisdictions a strategic plan on how we will co-exist and cooperate should the project be given the green light or the go-ahead.
Mr. Mitchell: The majority of my other questions regarding First Nations and land claims have been answered. The minister indicated that Canada is not currently engaged in negotiations on Yukon land claims. Iím wondering if the minister has any thoughts he would share with us on the transboundary claims with B.C. and with the Deh Cho, if Canada were to return to the table, the approach that heís open to.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, first off, Canada does not have a mandate to negotiate. Thatís not to say Canada does not want to negotiate or Canada will not negotiate. Itís just at this time there is no mandate, and weíre pursuing that.
Also, I will take us back to recent history, where the Prime Minister of Canada visited the Yukon and made a stopover in Watson Lake, a community situated right in the middle of the Kaska traditional territory, and stated clearly, publicly, that it is in Canadaís interest to conclude this unfinished business.
So we will certainly be pursuing that with the Prime Minister and other related ministers and departments. On the trans-boundary front, we are obligated under the Umbrella Final Agreement to negotiate trans-boundary claims, as one party to the negotiation.
We are encouraging Canada to bring forward an appropriate mandate to do exactly that in terms of the transboundary claims themselves. But it also includes other jurisdictions like British Columbia. I have had recent discussions with Premier Campbell with respect to that, on the possibilities of B.C. and Yukon looking into a joint approach on encouraging Canada for an appropriate mandate to negotiate transboundary claims. As I understand it, some officials will be in discussion with B.C. government officials through the aboriginal affairs agency in British Columbia in this regard.
Mr. Mitchell: I thank the minister for that clarification. From this side of the House, we share the desire to see the process move forward for the benefit of all Yukoners.
I have just a few more questions, some of which we do always ask at this point.
All-party committee on appointments ó that was, I believe, a campaign commitment of the Yukon Party, and Iím wondering when we can look forward to seeing this commitment fulfilled.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: We are actually awaiting affirmation from the members opposite. There is a structure in place for an all-party committee, a standing committee, in our Standing Orders. So our approach is that right now we are awaiting a positive response from the members opposite to proceed. The structure is there. There is no reason why we canít utilize the mechanisms we have in place today that are linked to this institution.
Should the member opposite want to proceed, I would hope that we could receive a formal response notifying the government that the third party is ready to proceed with moving ahead with a standing committee on appointments to boards and committees.
Mr. Mitchell: I would just say to the minister that my door is open, and I certainly would look forward to an invitation. If the minister feels that requires the third party to make the overture, then that will be forthcoming.
Iím wondering if the minister would like to talk about his position on the possibility of expanded gambling. I understand in the past there have been responses that the minister has no plans to expand gambling in the territory, but Iím wondering, if there were to be an application made ó and there might be an application made for a casino in the new Kwanlin Dun centre on the waterfront, if it should be on First Nation land, such as that ó how the minister would entertain what the governmentís response would be?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I must begin a response for the member opposite by stating categorically and unequivocally that this government has no intention to expand gambling in the territory. That said, the government would also not close the door to having First Nations or others come forward to make their case, but we will inform them up front that our intention is not to expand.
Furthermore, if itís specific to First Nations, the final agreements and self-government agreements do not give First Nations law-making power with respect to gaming so, again, we would listen to First Nations make a presentation in this regard, but the agreements themselves do not give First Nations the authority to expand gaming on their selected land.
I think we have to recognize also that, although it could be concluded that gaming in many other jurisdictions produces or creates a large source of own-source revenue for governments, weíre not in a similar position to other jurisdictions. Weíre very small in population, and with the tremendous social down-side and impacts that go with this particular industry, no matter what Yukon does here, we must be very careful and diligent. That is why the best position to have today is not to expand gaming at all.
Mr. Mitchell: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I am encouraged by the ministerís response. To clarify, I was just using that as one possible example. I certainly wasnít asking the question exclusively of First Nations being interested.
Just a couple more things: development of ports had been in the platform. Now, the minister may choose to address this under a different portfolio, but Iím just wondering how that would be paid for and where would the money be anticipated as coming from?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The government believes firmly that access to tidewater for the Yukon is critical and vital to our economic future, because we can be competitive in certain markets, especially the Pacific Rim, when you consider our ability to access ports such as Skagway.
To that end, we have an arrangement with White Pass & Yukon that dictates that both the Yukon government and White Pass & Yukon commit to ensuring Yukon has tidewater access. We have an arrangement or protocol with Alaska that commits both Alaska and Yukon to jointly work on an initiative to ensure and guarantee Yukon tidewater access. As part of the rail link study, there is also a port access component, or study, for Yukon.
We are proceeding, but we are comforted and encouraged by the fact that our neighbours ó the State of Alaska ó is committed to ensuring Yukon can achieve tidewater access. Our relationship with White Pass &Yukon Route may prove to be very productive also in this area, given the situation White Pass & Yukon Route has today in the port of Skagway.
Mr. Mitchell: I know that, for now, due to economics, the proposed bridge across the Yukon River in Dawson is on hold, but environmental work is still proceeding. I know that when the Water Board hearings were held there in late October, there were representatives of TríondŽk HwŽchíin who sat as intervenors in opposition to that proposed bridge. I am wondering if the minister has any comments or concerns about that.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The whole initiative of a bridge across the Yukon River at Dawson City is predicated on the fact that we have an annual cost for a ferry, and of course, in intervals, a cost for replacing the ferry. Our position has always been that we would make the business case for the building of a bridge. We embarked on a process that was essentially a public/private partnership process. There was no way, at the conclusion of that process, that the business case could be made; however, the overall initiative is ongoing right now in terms of environmental assessment. The government expects that the environmental assessment will be ongoing for some months, and we will have a better understanding of where we are at once that assessment has been done. We still maintain, though, that it makes sense to replace the ongoing cost of a ferry and its cost at intervals of replacement, with a bridge because it completes our overall highway network and infrastructure in a manner that the free flow of traffic and possibly goods and other things are not restricted seasonally due to the ferry being taken out of the water and waiting for an ice bridge.
Another element now is with what is happening globally with climate change. We are finding in the north that ice bridges are becoming more and more difficult to build during the winter season. In fact, weíre getting quite late into the year now, into the winter season, before the conditions for building an ice bridge are compatible to taking on traffic. There are some challenges here, to be sure. Weíre continuing to work on it and we must now await the environmental screening to be concluded.
Mr. Mitchell: I might just comment that, while I believe the global warming is real and a very serious concern ó and perhaps we may be experiencing the leading edge of it in the north ó two or three years anecdotal evidence of when rivers and lakes freeze may not be indicative of that process. It may or may not be ó we shouldnít reach that conclusion automatically.
Since the minister mentioned the P3 process that was being looked at with the proposed or possible construction of a bridge, Iíll just ask one follow-up question on that. Does the minister think it might be preferable to take a look at P3 projects overall and come up with a good policy on when and how they might make sense and might be employed, rather than picking what might have been the largest capital project for many years in Yukon, for example, and using it as a trial?
Is the minister interested in having that discussion more in the abstract on P3 processes, rather than just jumping in on a particular project?
†Hon. Mr. Fentie: More detail can be gleaned from a debate with the Minister of Economic Development, because there is a policy initiative for public/private partnerships.
There are a couple of statements I want to make: this government believes that public/private partnerships are a mechanism to help Yukon engage or increase our engagement with the private sector and complement government investment with private sector investment.
The aspect of the bridge was a pilot project to look into this matter. Essentially, as it evolved, the process ended with a cost to a bridge for which a business case could not be made.
That will not preclude us from finalizing a policy and looking at all possible areas where P3s make sense, but there is one caveat to all that. We have taken early the public position that this government would not use public/private partnerships for schools, hospitals or jails.
Mr. Mitchell: † I would encourage the minister or ask the minister to table that public/private partnership policy ó I think weíre up to four Ps now when we add the word ďpolicyĒ ó because Iím not aware weíve seen it. I know there was discussion about it, but I donít believe weíve actually seen it.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The department is working on it. As I stated, the members opposite can glean more detail during debate with the Department of Economic Development.
Mr. Mitchell: † Iím wondering if the minister would like to elaborate on why the government has ruled out schools, hospitals and jails among the potential projects specifically as opposed to any others?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: It was a choice made ó those particular institutions are public institutions. We see problems, if you will, if we start to engage the private sector in these institutions, because it leads to some challenges with respect to what our obligations are in this area. We are not about to privatize the corrections system. We are not about to privatize our education system, and we are not about to privatize our health care system. I think, that said, we can see the reasoning here. Secondly, there are examples out there where this type of initiative in other jurisdictions was not all that great of a success, though theyíve tried them. Not always are they a positive or a good thing. We have made the choice. These particular areas of capital investment, for public infrastructure ó schools, hospitals and jails ó would not be a good candidate for public/private partnerships.
Ms. Duncan: The Member for Copperbelt has graciously allowed me to follow up with some questions to the Finance minister, because we have had this debate before with the minister responsible for the Executive Council Office. I would just like to clarify for the record: the minister seems to be indicating that it is Economic Development that will be coming forward with a policy on public/private partnerships or the use of P3s in the Yukon, so would policy be going to Cabinet as a Management Board directive or part of the general administration manual? Could he be more precise? And is the sponsoring minister Economic Development and not himself?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Thatís correct.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that concise answer from the minister. Is it coming forward as a part of the general administration manual or as a Management Board directive? What are the parameters of the policy?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, first we have to determine whether the government even is going to conclude a policy for P3s, because the work may show otherwise. Thatís why weíre doing the work now. So weíll wait until that work is at a point where we can make an informed decision with respect to a public/private partnership policy. We committed to do that work at the outset, and it is housed within the purview of the Minister of Economic Development.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I donít want to enter into a circular argument with the Minister of Finance, because it never ends. The fact is, the Premier indicated that before entering into a public/private partnership the Government of Yukon, under his leadership, under his watch, would develop a policy first. Now what I hear the minister saying is that weíre going to take a good, hard look at possibly doing a project before we develop a policy. So weíre going around and around the same ďhe said-she saidĒ type of argument. It just goes around and around.
The bottom line is that I want to know: is the policy going to be in place before we do a project, and what form will that policy take? Will it be a Cabinet minute? Will it be a Management Board directive? What will it be? And if we know what it will be, we will know how it will guide the government in the future or how it will bind the government or not in the future, and weíll also have a greater sense, then, of whether or not a project fits within ó like if they followed their own policy. But if we do a project first and the policy later, we wonít know if they followed the policy. The minister can see how it goes around and around and around.
Letís start with the answers to these specific questions. What form with the policy take?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: What form the policy will take is dependent on the work that concludes the policy. That has to be done or concluded or completed yet.
The bridge issue was a pilot project with respect to a P3. Obviously, if there were some synergies here between the policy work and the bridge, it would have become very evident except for the fact that there is no way to meet our commitment of making the business case. So, thatís now redundant but the work is ongoing. As I suggested, the members opposite can glean all the detail on this particular area when the appropriate department comes up for debate in this supplementary ó in this case, the Department of Economic Development.
Ms. Duncan: The minister is saying Economic Development is responsible for the policy that will go before Cabinet and it is responsible for looking at the projects. The one point we are able to glean about the policy so far ó which, incidentally, Mr. Chair, the Premier said would be in place before they embarked on any projects, that there would be set of guidelines and a policy before any projects took place. So, weíre studying a project and developing the policy as we go, and one of the elements seems to be that it has to make a business case. We will wait to question the Economic Development minister.
Before I sit down, I just wanted to make the point ó the minister suggested that using a public/private partnership to build schools is in some way privatizing education. The use of public/private partnerships in Nova Scotia, I believe, if I remember my research correctly ó the problem wasnít that it privatized education, it was the way the P3s were conducted, and if thatís the second part of the Premierís answer ó I am quite prepared to accept that.
They ruled out schools because of the experience in other jurisdictions, not because it privatized the delivery of that service to individuals.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: The member is correct, but the concern of this government is dependent upon what the policy would mean because there are examples of public/private partnerships that are not only the capital investment, but theyíre also the daily operation and maintenance of said investment. So we quickly made the decision that there was no point in entertaining these particular areas and concluded that, because these are assets that we hold in trust for the public, we would maintain an approach of no public/private partnership for schools, hospitals and jails.
Mr. Mitchell: Just one more comment on this P3 discussion. I agree with the minister that the business case was not made for the bridge, at least at this time, but Iím a little uncertain how, in the absence of a policy in advance and if one was to use a project like this as a trial project, we would really know what the savings were in advance of taking this approach of the public/private partnership versus the traditional tendering process. Could the minister let us know, in the absence of a policy set prior to it, what he would be using as the yardstick for determining if this was the way to go on a project like this?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, itís simple arithmetic. The business case, regardless of policy, has to include the calculation that provides you the evidence that the business can or cannot be made. So it is on that basis that a policy would not necessarily dictate a business case. It is the costs, the return overall, through the life of a project. There are a number of variables that create a formula here ó not necessarily a policy, but it is the calculation itself.
Mr. Mitchell: Those are my questions for the minister at this time, and I thank the minister for his responses.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on the Executive Council Office?
Hearing none, weíll go into line-by-line.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Land Claims and Implementation Secretariat
Land Claims and Implementation Secretariat underexpenditure of $817,000 cleared
Devolution in the amount of $130,000 agreed to
On Development Assessment Process (DAP)
Development Assessment Process (DAP) underexpenditure of $30,000 cleared
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 2, Executive Council Office, cleared or carried
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in light of the Premierís explanation at the outset of this general debate, I would request unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 2, Executive Council Office, to have been cleared or carried, as required.
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 2, Executive Council Office, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for Executive Council Office underexpenditure of $717,000 cleared
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures for Executive Council Office underexpenditure of $380,000 cleared
Executive Council Office agreed to
Chair: The Chair understands that we are continuing with the Department of Highways and Public Works.†
Do members wish a couple minutes to allow a change of officials?
We will take a five-minute break.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Department of Highways and Public Works ó continued
Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. We will continue with general debate on Vote 55, Department of Highways and Public Works.
Mr. Jenkins: Yesterday, I had a copy of the proposal from Chief Isaac Corporation faxed to the ministerís office regarding office space. I am referring to 9010 Quartz Road and the comparison of how the government proceeded with the acquisition of more space vis-ŗ-vis how they denied Chief Isaac Corporation the option to purchase more space from them. There is quite a comparison, Mr. Chair. Iíd like to know if the minister has reviewed the proposal from the Chief Isaac Corporation and if he is prepared to deal with the proponents for the additional office space that has been required or requested in Dawson by the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Further to that, there is a factor ó I believe itís 17 percent that is used for indexing Whitehorse office space up to the costs in the outlying communities. I believe it is 17 percent higher. This falls well within the range of 17 percent, given that it is $35.12 a square foot versus $42 a square foot for the Chief Isaac Corporation proposal. Does the minister have any explanation for that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I received a fax from the Chief Isaac Corporation yesterday, and we have reviewed the option that was provided to us. Weíre in the process of reviewing what was previously given to us by Chief Isaac to do a comparison of what was provided in the fax and what they actually gave us.
While Iím up today, Iíd like to make a few direct responses to the member opposite with regard to questions he brought up Tuesday. The Member for Klondike did indeed have a variety of questions he directed to my department. I would like to remind this House what the Department of Highways and Public Works provides through its staff of consulting engineers, architects and the contractors we hire. We work for the people of the Yukon each and every day. We ensure the territoryís safety and continue good governance by clearing our highways and roads in the winter, keeping our public buildings and schools safe and clean, bringing forward projects that will mean the continued success of Yukon for generations to come, constructing buildings for the benefit of all Yukoners, promoting French language services in our territory, providing the technology and resources to flow information while maintaining the twin responsibilities of access to the information and protection of privacy, and procuring goods and services from and for Yukoners.
This is what my department brings to the Yukon people.
Mr. Chair, on Tuesday, the Member for Klondike brought forward a number of issues and questions. While I appreciate the opportunity to discuss and debate the departments for which Iím responsible, I was disappointed by the accusatory note of the member opposite. For example, the member asked why we had not gone after anyone ó and those are his exact words ó with respect to the capital projects. He stated we had been sitting on our hands. That member, for very specific reasons, now sits as an independent.
What the member attempted to bring to the forefront on Tuesday, Mr. Chair, were not normal questions that a member of the opposition would bring to floor of this House. I would note that the change to the highly regarded authority on parliamentary rules and forms reflects that it has been sanctioned by the usage that a member must not impute bad motives or motives different from those acknowledged by a member.
Mr. Chair, it concerns me that the Member for Klondike would attempt to misconstrue information about my department ó its projects, its staff, the architects, the engineers, the contractors ó especially when the member knows full well, by virtue of his past position with this government, what he is saying is incorrect.
For example, he questioned our handling of the Copper Ridge Place file. As I said the other day ó
†Chair: The Chair is very uncomfortable with the memberís phrase ďattempts to misconstrueĒ. It would seem to the Chair that that indicates that the member knowingly misconstrued information which is in clear violation of our Standing Orders. Iíd ask the member to retract the statement and to be very cautious in doing what the member is currently chastising the other member for doing.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Hart: So be it. I will actually retract that particular statement, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much.
Mr. Chair, I think itís important that the member has asked questions of me of which I will now bring forward responses to. I am sure that the press gallery and the public will listen intently about what I am about to give.
In relation to disposal of garbage and waste water from the international flights, Whitehorse does not have provisions in place for the removal or disposal of garbage. Garbage under the rules and regulations of Transport Canada must be incinerated, and the Whitehorse General Hospital deals with such requests from the airport on an ad hoc basis. That is a fact that the Member for Klondike is fully aware of, as the former Minister of Health.
In relation to the treatment of waste water on international flights, such materials are not removed from the aircraft because they require specialized treatment processes that the Whitehorse Airport does not currently have. However, such flights dispose of their waste water and grey water materials when they land at Anchorage or Fairbanks, Alaska, on the return portion of their flight.
Mr. Chair, to provide clarity on the matter of the Customs service at Dawson City, I provide the following: Dawson City is recognized as a point of entry by the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA. Services offered at the airport are published on a regular basis in the Canada flight supplement, and I am pleased to state that this federal agency has no plans in place to change the existing level of service that currently is being provided to the Dawson City Airport.
In relation to the questions posed by the Member for Klondike regarding issues of security at the Dawson Airport, aerodrome and air carrier security requirements are based upon the threat assessments completed by the federal government. They have informed my department that there are no proposals in place at this time to change the existing level of security.
Mr. Chair, just to ensure that the Member for Klondike is educated on the issues of travel and the definition of international flights, flights that originate from Fairbanks and travel to Dawson City are referred to as transborder flights and not international flights. It is here that the CBSA, or the Canada Border Services Agency, is currently conducting reviews of their service. Delivery models and this federal agency will report changes, if any, to the government next year.
Mr. Chair, in relation to the question posed by the Member for Klondike about the issue of CARS standby and medevacs, the member is trying to twist the facts around in order to create ó
Chair: I have already recognized that accusing another member of deliberately misleading this House is out of order. Please retract the statement and continue.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Hart: I retract my statement.
The information is incorrect with regard to the medevacs.
Air navigation services, or ANS, such as CARS operate on a commercialized basis on a user-pay system. This method has been in place since 1996 and has served Yukoners very efficiently. More specifically, however, these same air navigation services are provided by Nav Canada and not the airport operator.
These services and the manner in which they are delivered are provided by Nav Canada, who work with industry, perform risk assessments, complete aeronautical studies and adhere to Transport Canada regulations, which, Mr. Chair, conform to international agreements.
Simply put, if an air carrier wishes to have extra services, they can and will be provided, based on the present user-pay system and availability of staff. CARS contractors operate as owners of private businesses and are free to decide whether or not they will volunteer their services for standby duty. In fact, the previous as well as the current CARS contract, contrary to what the member opposite stated, spells out very clearly that CARS contractors are not obligated to give their services for free and that their primary responsibility is to provide weather observation services for the development of aviation weather forecasts.
Mr. Chair, CARS services are not required for any other reason or any other regulation. Nav Canada completed a northern service review in 1998, which involved consultations with over 700 northern stakeholders and the Northern Air Transportation Association. The appropriate level of service for CARS was determined at that time and subsequently they established a scheduling timetable for it.
No province or territory, including the State of Alaska, has a paid standby fee service such as CARS supporting air medevac activities, a point that the Member for Klondike knows very well. Yet, Mr. Chair, the government knows that this system, while an excellent one to have, is not perfect. Therefore, in response to the Member for Klondikeís question about the situation in Faro, for which he perhaps has more answers than I, as he was Minister of Health and Social Services until three days ago, the following actions are being taken: EMS volunteers from Faro were asked if they would be interested in being trained to provide runway service condition reports to medevac carriers if CARS services were not immediately available. I am happy to say that several members came forward and indicated that they would be more than willing to receive such training.
This training, which is being led by the departmentís aviation and marine branch, is currently scheduled to take place this month. These volunteers will be provided with the essentials of airport operation as well as how to safely operate their ambulance on airside. They will be trained to provide RSC, runway service condition reports. These volunteers will be trained to deal with such incidents and proper procedures to follow in the unlikely event of a plane crash.
This is a great step forward and a job in which these volunteers are more than willing to participate.
Exterior switches will be installed on the outside of the airport building, which will activate runway lights, and a fax machine will be installed so the volunteers will be able to send the observed runway condition report to the medevac carrier and to Whitehorse flight services.
In terms of communications between the volunteers on the ground and the medevac aircraft, MDMRS will provide the necessary link between the two groups, as both the ambulance and aircraft are equipped with these radios. As always, all activities will be monitored and changes made as necessary if and when deficiencies or concerns are identified.
I would like now to bring the attention of the House to my responses to the Member for Klondike in his reference to my department moving a number of branches, divisions and staff from the Performance Centre to 9010 Quartz Road.
To the credit of the member opposite, he is correct in saying that the cost of additions made to 9010 Quartz Road is $35.12 per square foot, which is public knowledge. What the member opposite is unwilling to understand is that, by leasing the space, government will save in the order of $9,000 per year.
I would also like to take this opportunity to inform the Member for Klondike that his use of the term ďnet usableĒ is incorrect. The legitimate terms used in the realty industry, for the reference of the member opposite, are ďusableĒ and ďrentableĒ.
I would like to sum up the issue of 9010 Quartz Road for the Member for Klondike by stating that the actual addition to government rental space was 4,754 square feet ó under the 5,000 square-foot threshold. This figure was arrived at in direct consultation with the realty sector, a fact I also stated on Tuesday.
In relation to the Chief Isaac Corporation proposal for office space and the request for renovation in order to consolidate and create a more usable building ó there was no additional space request initially and no addition to the building was requested.
The department, working with Chief Isaac Corporation, observed a rental space in their present building of 5,800 square feet. Chief Isaac Corporation also informed the department that they did not want to renovate their interior nor add to their existing building. The department continued to work with Chief Isaac Corporation and to negotiate a rental rate prior to any construction. This was meant to provide a professional client service and to give some certainty to Chief Isaac Corporation. Mr. Chair, when the tendering process was over, it was soon discovered that the costs of construction were indeed too high for Chief Isaac Corporation. The organization then proposed an effective rent of over $40 a square foot, which is too costly. The highest rate per square foot that weíre paying in Dawson City currently is $29. Thatís the highest rate weíre paying in Dawson City.
Subsequently, due to other space needs in Dawson City, the department has initiated a planning phase or a space planning study for Dawson. This initiative will use the concept of option analysis, where all YTG needs within the town will be reviewed and recommendations will be made on appropriate and affordable spaces, which will then be brought forward to Management Board.
Mr. Chair, for the information of the member opposite, the department indicated a willingness to discuss alternate solutions, including lease to purchase, with Chief Isaac Corporation. Unfortunately, the organization was not interested in this option.
I should also note for the benefit of the House that it was the Member for Klondike who instructed the Department of Environment to withdraw its commitment made to the 700 square feet of new office space for Chief Isaac Corporation. This move had an adverse effect on the interests of Chief Isaac Corporation.
With regard to Copper Ridge Place, we are dealing with that particular issue and trying to come up with a solution that will enable us to address deficiencies in the facility. The best course of action here is to work through the issue with the consultant and the contractor without laying blame. My desire is to pursue other options before resorting to litigation.
Once issues have been identified, the issue usually goes to the consultant and contractorís insurance agent and a very expensive litigation process begins, a fact the member opposite also well knows. Once this happens, more time and resources are expended on the dispute rather than on resolution to the issue. The member opposite is fully aware of this because he previously stood in the way of us going through this, and weíre trying to do it on a non-confrontational basis. Mr. Chair, I hope thatís satisfactory.
For the benefit of the Member for Klondike, my officials inform me there has been no evidence of hoarfrost weíre aware of and that there are no structural issues related to this building. The issues are the exterior envelope; in particular there are an unacceptable number of icicles at the roof eaves troughs. We are not aware of any problems to do with the walls, especially since technical inspections carried out stated the wall insulation met all the necessary and required specifications.
With regard to the school in Mayo, we have had a number of meetings with the consultant and a number of site visits and have closely monitored the situation, again contrary to what the member stated. Technical monitoring has been undertaken by consulting engineers on this project since its construction. The foundations have indeed subsided in a small portion of the building due to conditions at the time of construction.
There has been no substantial damage to the building structure as a result of this. We are investigating the possibility of shoring up a small section of the foundation as the movement has nearly ceased. There may be no reason to take any further action, from an engineering perspective, but simply for aesthetic reasons.
Further, regarding the member oppositeís comments on the Connect Yukon project, I would like to remind the member opposite from Klondike that he stated that this project was overbudget on Tuesday afternoon. In fact, Mr. Chair, this project has been completed underbudget. Therefore, the member is incorrect again.
Mr. Chair, with respect to the Yukon River bridge in Dawson City, during a lengthy lecture the Member for Klondike gave regarding this project, he raised the Mackenzie River bridge project in the Northwest Territories. His point was that the Mackenzie project, which was a P3 project, had received extremely high prices to construct the bridge. The Northwest Territories, according to the member, then negotiated a design/build contract and received much better pricing. He wanted me to commit to considering design/build for the Yukon River bridge in Dawson City. Mr. Chair, we were surprised on the design/build news from the Northwest Territories, as we are following that project closely, for obvious reasons.
So, Mr. Chair, I asked my officials to follow up on the points made by the Member for Klondike. Mr. Chair, they reported back to me that the Northwest Territories is still pursuing the P3 project at the Mackenzie River bridge and, in fact, the bridge corporation, which was formed to undertake the project, is currently out to tender for bridge construction. Apparently the tender closes January 20, 2006. I find it interesting that the member opposite claimed on Tuesday that the project came in very much over estimates and that the tender was not closed.
Again, it is only common courtesy to debate in these chambers truthfully and in good faith.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Jenkins on a point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: † Again, the member opposite is implying that what I am debating here, what I bring to the floor of the House, is not truthful.
Chair: While the Chair is concerned about the statement, there was no direct attribution of motive in this case. The member has one minute to conclude his comments.†
Hon. Mr. Hart: I think I will be able to make that.
In closing, I believe that the information I have given for the benefit of this House, and more specifically for the Member for Klondike, has answered the questions submitted to me. With this in mind, I wish to thank the officials of my department and the staff, who continue to ensure that the Department of Highways and Public Works maintains its dedication and commitment to the people of the Yukon. They have the utmost dignity and professionalism, as has been displayed to the Member for Klondike. Similarly, I would extend the same thanks, respect and ó
Chair: Order please. I would ask the member to refrain from any insulting or derogatory comments. Has the member concluded?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Yes, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Jenkins: Letís start with the last one first and work back to the first one. I never mentioned the Mackenzie River bridge at Providence in the Northwest Territories. I mentioned a bridge in the Northwest Territories. I will get the minister the name of that bridge and the name of the contact lady in the department of the Government of Northwest Territories. The information that the minister put on the record with respect to the P3s on the Mackenzie River bridge is accurate to the best of my knowledge. That was my understanding of how that was proceeding and how it was being tendered.
Letís look at the two buildings. With the Mayo school, the minister went on at great length to say that there was not a structural problem with the school. Well, one could argue that there isnít yet, but there might well be, given the deflection in the foundation.
This is a building that was completed over three years ago, and there hasnít been a resolution through all these appropriate meetings and consultations on the foundation problem. The foundation problem was recognized right shortly after substantial completion because they had troubles fitting the double doors in the hallway. They had to make some changes so that they could fit the doors.
It subsequently became worse, so much so that there is a pop machine, which is approximately 30 inches wide, and to keep it level, one end is propped up with a two-by-four. I just canít see why a resolution of these matters canít take place in a more timely manner. That is the issue.
Mr. Chair, Copper Ridge Place and the issue of ice damming on the roof was noted and is in the remarks prior to substantial completion. The minister might want to check the file on it. This was an issue before the government accepted the building. Nothing has happened.
There has been a series of reviews, thereís been an engineering report on it, thereís been a building envelope specialist look at it and confirm that thereís a problem, but nothing has moved forward. And that building has been occupied and in the governmentís possession for over three years.
It would appear that the approach taken is ďsweep it under the rug, and weíll just fund and repair it later, and nobody has to pay any attention to it.Ē
With respect to the CARS situation, the minister might want to go back and check the last contract that was issued, calling for CARS operators, and have a look at the addendum that was subsequently issued that reduced the number of hours that the principal operator of CARS had to spend on-site. That was the crux of the whole problem, Mr. Chair. And how did that come about? There was an addendum to the main contract.
Mr. Chair, everything that the member opposite mentioned about what has been put in place for CARS service is recognized and itís appreciated, but the problem goes back to the last time that the CARS contract was tendered and the addendum to that contract. Have a look at that, Mr. Chair.
With respect to garbage off the international arriving flights, the international arriving flights can dispose of it at the Whitehorse General Hospital, in their incinerator, but their incinerator is in need of a repair or a replacement, I believe. Thatís the issue. The other issue is the grey water and the waste water. Yes, itís off-loaded in Anchorage and Fairbanks, because those are international arriving airports with full service, unlike Whitehorse. If we want to get into the 20th Century and expect arriving aircrafts to be fully serviced here, we have to provide the same level of service as is being provided in other international airports.
Progress has been made, but there is still a way to go.
The issue of 9010 Quartz Road ó weíve saved the government $9,000 a year by spending another $170,000 ó when you add up the total amount of office space that is currently rented by government, there has been a substantial increase. How the issue of parking at 9010 Quartz Road was circumvented ó perhaps that was another change order, I donít know.
There is a whole series of issues here that just donít ring accurate and everything just seems to be under limits for a number of areas, Mr. Chair. Compare the Chief Isaac proposal, and you add 17 percent to the top in Whitehorse, which is 35 percent, which is the last currently negotiated contract for space ó if you come up in the range of some, I believe itís about $49 a square foot. This is the range weíre in. Itís in the mid-$40, Mr. Chair. Yet, the minister says, ďWell, the most we pay now in Dawson City is $26 a square foot.Ē That may be so, but how old is that contract? The government does lease space from Parks Canada in the Old Territorial Administration Building. Iím sure thatís at a considerably less rate, because that, Iím sure, is a sweetheart deal.
Overall, Chief Isaac Corporation was given to understand there was a request for additional space, right from the onset. That was obviously overlooked, somehow. To blame it on one of the portfolios I used to carry ó it would appear somebody is asleep at the switch and just didnít want to undertake entering into a contract with Chief Isaac Corporation for the additional space that was requested.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Hart, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Hart: ďAsleep at the switchĒ ó is that not imputing motive? If the member opposite is on my case, then maybe can we not use that? Is he not imputing motive on a member of our departmental staff who canít be here to defend himself?
Chair: There is no point of order. Thereís a dispute between members.
Mr. Jenkins: Iíll leave it there, Mr. Chair, and if the member has any responses to any of the positions I put forward, Iíll be happy to hear them. The whole issue across the Yukon Territory with respect to construction of large projects is that, when there is a problem, that problem never seems to get addressed. There were recognized problems with the Mayo school foundation; there were recognized problems with Copper Ridge Place; and here we are, three years later, with the same problems. Yes, weíre studying it; yes, weíre looking at it.
Iím sure the minister might have run up yesterday to look at Copper Ridge Place to see if there was any hoarfrost coming through the walls. Iím sure he wouldnít find it until the temperature drops.
Itís not cold yet ó not as cold as it was last year, when the water pipe in the outside wall broke, Mr. Chair. Thatís the issue ó a whole series of issues, and no one is making a direct accusation of any wrongdoing by anyone. All Iím pointing out, Mr. Chair, is that these problems exist and they never get resolved.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Chair: We have reached our normal time for an afternoon recess. Do members wish a recess?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Vote 55, Department of Highways and Public Works, general debate.
Mrs. Peter: I just have a question regarding my riding for the Minister of Highways and Public Works.
The YTG maintenance camp in Old Crow is working with very ancient equipment. The workers at the maintenance camp are very concerned about the equipment they have. People might think there are not enough roads in Old Crow to maintain; however, with the roads that we have and with the amount of snow Old Crow has seen in the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot of strain on the equipment and employees. They also have to maintain the airport for safety reasons. I hope the minister understands that, in an isolated community, the employees have to maintain the equipment on their own. They seldom see a mechanic. I believe a mechanic goes to Old Crow every six or eight months. The rest of the time, they have to maintain this ancient equipment on their own.
When can we expect new equipment in Old Crow at the maintenance camp?
Hon. Mr. Hart: With regard to Old Crow, we are aware that some of the equipment is ageing, and we are also very aware of the importance of the airport, and thatís evidenced by the recent activity on that airport.
But we are looking at improvements to take place on the runway surface. We are also looking at trying to complete the riverbank rip-rap, which will help shore up the road. And hopefully, in the future, we can look at a piece of equipment thatís going to be useful in all seasons of the year and have more than one activity.
Mrs. Peter: Can the minister make a commitment to the people who are working at the maintenance camp that they will have this equipment within a year or two? I believe there are plans in place for another winter road. I believe discussions are underway.
They missed an opportunity the last time there was a winter road in there. And if they have another opportunity, would the minister make a commitment to the people of Old Crow that this equipment will be replaced at the maintenance camp in Old Crow?
Can the minister let this House know whether processes can be speeded up, I suppose, for the maintenance camp in order to address maintaining this ancient equipment in Old Crow? Thereís a mechanic in Old Crow now; he has been waiting for parts to arrive in Old Crow so that he can do his work. Heís been there for a week and a half. Heís ready to leave and there are no parts available so that he can maintain the equipment, and thatís unacceptable, especially when we are dealing with extreme weather and there are people relying on this service, more especially for safety reasons.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, a commitment to replace the equipment is based on priority basis and itís also based compared to the needs across the entire Yukon. With regard to the member oppositeís concern with regard to a part, we will do what we can about expediting the part so that the mechanic can get the work done. Tomorrow we will probably get on to that particular situation.
If in fact a winter road does go in, we will look at this as a separate project, if and when we get notified that the road does go in.
Mrs. Peter: I thank the minister for his answer; however, itís not good enough. The equipment that is in Old Crow is well over 20 years old and the YTG maintenance camp in Old Crow is connected, I believe to the maintenance camp in Dawson. So, like every other service and program that is delivered on behalf of the Yukon territorial government in Old Crow, they are the last to receive any kind of service that they need, and thatís unacceptable. This equipment, I believe, needs to be replaced or improvements need to be made. It is their own service and delivery program and I believe they need to make these types of programs in the rural communities a priority.
So, again, I ask the minister if he can make a commitment to the people of Old Crow that the equipment be replaced as soon as possible.†
Hon. Mr. Hart: The government has lots of equipment over 20 years old. Old Crow is treated the same as all of our camps throughout the Yukon, and in some cases better. But with regard to the equipment, Iíll state for the record again the purchase of equipment is done on a priority basis and is based on the need right throughout the Yukon. It is also based on dealing with funding resources that come through in future budgets on what comes down the line. But I canít make a commitment to something, for example, that Iím not going to have input on when it comes to resources for that particular product. As I mentioned to the member opposite, if a road goes through, thatís a separate project, and we may be able to look at something ó either an alternate piece of equipment that we can use to put on the trip up, but thatís something that we will look at once we know that the train may go up.
Chair: Are there any further questions in general debate? Hearing none, weíll proceed with line-by-line.
Mr. Fairclough: I request unanimous consent that all lines in Vote 55, Department of Highways and Public Works, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 55, Department of Highways and Public Works, cleared or carried
Chair: Mr. Fairclough has requested unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 55, Department of Highways and Public Works, cleared or carried as required.
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
†Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Highways and Public Works in the amount of $750,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures for the Department of Highways and Public Works in the amount of $11,709,000 agreed to
Department of Highways and Public Works agreed to
Chair: We will be continuing with Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Hon. Mr. Lang: My official is upstairs. He will be down in a few minutes so I can do my opening remarks.
Chair: Order please. We will have a two-minute break.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will come to order.
Department of Energy, Mines and Resources
Chair: We will continue with Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Iím pleased to introduce the 2005-06 supplementary estimates for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources requires $1,858,000 for the 2005-06 Supplementary Estimates No. 1. Of this total, $634,000 is for operation and maintenance and $1,224,000 is for capital. Energy, Mines and Resources is helping the government build a natural resource economy. We have been working to create a positive investment climate capable of attracting private sector investment and developing regulatory certainty in partnership with First Nation governments.
In the forest resources, an interim wood supply development plan was created in partnership with the Kaska Forest Resources Stewardship Council. The council has recommended this yearís plan, which identifies 290,000 cubic metres of harvest opportunity.
An environmental assessment, an EA, was completed for years 2 and 3 of the southeast Yukon interim wood supply development plan. We undertook a comprehensive information campaign, targeting mushroom pickers and buyers, regarding ďno traceĒ camping ó proper waste disposal techniques, campfire safety, and environmentally safe harvesting practices and burn locations.
In agriculture, we introduced a number of new programs for the industry under the Canada-Yukon agricultural policy framework, or APF.
Through the APF, we were able to support an application by the organic growers and Yukon Agricultural Association to set up the new and very successful Fireweed Farmers Market in Whitehorse.
In mining, some of our accomplishments include the following: secure federal funding for work activities at type II abandoned mine sites; advance the sale of United Keno Hill Mines; prepare closure planning processes for the Faro mine site with Canada, the Kaska and the Selkirk First Nation; and establish community offices in Ross River and Pelly Crossing.
In 2005, we forecast mineral exploration to increase by approximately 117 percent with pre-development expenditures increased by 202 percent over the previous year.
With the high demand for natural resources in China and Asia, we have every reason to believe that this trend will continue. Several major mining projects are in the advanced stages of exploration and may proceed to development. Exploration activity in several key mineral districts is expected to generate additional development in the next three to five years.
The Yukon government is working to assist mining companies in their efforts to secure permits for these advanced mining projects. We have dedicated project coordinators to facilitate reviews and timely resolution of issues, and we are harmonizing processes between resource agencies through a one-window approach to development permitting as we made the transition to the new Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. In oil and gas we issued oil and gas drilling licences to Devon Canada, for Kotaneelee and Eagle Plains.
We also held an introduction to the petroleum industry course, including government employees, First Nations and members of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
In April we hosted a two-day workshop on stewardship and best management practice to guide oil and gas development activities.† The Yukon Geological Survey jointly conducted with the Canadian Geological Survey a seismic survey of the Whitehorse Trough to learn more about the geology and oil and gas potential. Findings from this study were made available at the Yukon Geoscience Forum last week. The increases we are seeking will allow us to continue the work we are doing to build a natural resource economy for Yukon.
Operation and maintenance expenditures ó the main increase to our 2005-06 expenditures is the $100,000 for the national water supply expansion program. This program will help producers develop and enhance long-term agricultural water supply. These funds are fully recoverable from Agriculture Canada.
Within the operation and maintenance supplementary estimates, Energy, Mines and Resources has the following revotes: $150,000 for the Kaska Forest Resources Stewardship Council to support the planning activities of the council in relation to the Kaska resource planning agreement. These funds will provide the Kaska participation in resource planning in southeast Yukon and will result in a forest management plan in southeast Yukon being finalized by year-end.
Thereís $283,000 for major mine management activities to support major project permitting in the area of project coordination, environmental assessment licensing, and professional engineer expertise. This continues our support of this vital economic driver within Yukon. An additional $5,000 was also revoted to continue work related to the Yukon placer authorization.
There is $90,000 for the agricultural industry transition program. These program funds, which were originally provided by Agriculture Canada, are being carried forward to continue to provide funding for the agricultural community.
To date, the transfer funds have been used to develop a feasibility study to investigate the purchase and operation of a mobile abattoir. Transition funds have also been used to develop marketing strategies and will be used to update the agricultural products directory. This funding assists the agricultural industry in areas such as research and development, science and innovation, and the environment. There is $6,000 for legal land surveys of properties.
The primary increase in our capital budget is a $902,000 expenditure to conduct regional airborne geophysical surveys and regional geochemistry surveys. These funds are fully recoverable from the federal government. This work supports industry exploration by providing important technical data.
Within this capital supplementary estimate, EMR also has the following revotes: $297,000 for forest engineering work, primarily in southeast Yukon. These funds are required to complete engineering work in the southeast Yukon in support of identifying an interim wood supply. This continues our investment in the forest industry. There is $25,000 for planning agricultural land development to continue developing future agricultural lands. This supplementary budget will assist this government to reach its goals of revitalizing the natural resource economy of the Yukon.
Mr. McRobb: Well, there are a couple of things I would like to get on the record, right off the bat.
First of all, we on the opposition benches arenít very satisfied with the complete lack of notice the government gave for this department being called today. On numerous occasions, we asked the acting government House leader what department was after Highways and Public Works. He point-blank refused to even let us know.
Mr. Chair, I think this is a clear case of the government trying to catch the opposition by surprise, and it really demonstrates there is no cooperation from this government at all.
Moving on, I would like to thank the officials in the ministerís department for the briefing they did provide on Tuesday morning. They were very helpful, and certainly the two officials present are very skilled and knowledgeable in this area of expertise.
However, Mr. Chair, there is another complaint that I want to get on the record. We in the opposition side were told the meeting was to occur at 11 a.m. It was by a stroke of luck I found out the meeting was set for 10 a.m. It turned out the meeting room was booked for another meeting at 11 a.m. So thatís not very cooperative of the government and, again, it indicates theyíre trying to catch the opposition by surprise. I might further add, Mr. Chair, that it took three weeks for the government to set up this briefing ó three weeks ó and it stemmed from some questions asked in Question Period to the Premier about the pipeline. He ridiculed the opposition, saying they need to have a briefing. Well, we took the government up on that offer, but it took three weeks ó unbelievable ó to get a briefing.
Obviously, the government is scared of having the opposition know when the debate is, when the briefings are and so on. Theyíre trying to gain every advantage possible to avoid a fair debate.
But we prevailed, and here we are today. What I would like to do is get on the public record some of the discussion that did occur during the pipeline briefing. This is very important to Yukoners and the territory. And for those who may question the importance, I just want to identify a few reasons.
Firstly, should the Alaska Highway pipeline project proceed, weíre talking about the worldís largest-ever private sector project. Itís currently estimated at some $20 billion. The Yukon, as we know, is relatively small in terms of population and economy to the larger outside regions and, predictably, the impact upon us of such a huge work force would be great. It could be irreversible, if itís not properly planned for.
People in the business community have raised concerns to me about the potential impact upon their businesses because anybody who was in the Yukon 30 years ago can recall the impact that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System had on the State of Alaska. Businesses lost their employees. Everybody went to work for the pipeline. There were even politicians resigning to go to work for the pipeline. There is some hope for the minister yet, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Yes, and as the member of the third party points out, thereís hope for the rest of us.
Thereís no doubt. I think we could all agree about the significance of this project. I recall the Member for McIntyre-Takhini talking about the major issues that have historically affected First Nations in the Yukon. I think future historians will look back and identify the Alaska Highway pipeline project as another one of those historic moments that irreversibly affected the Yukonís native culture.
Itís the responsibility of the Yukon government to protect its citizens. Weíre not seeing that. We are seeing very little from the government in the way of advancing the issues in preparation for the pipeline. As a matter of fact, the minister doesnít even know when the latest estimate for construction of the pipeline is. Heís not paying attention. This is very worrisome. Yukoners deserve to have a knowledgeable government, one that cares about its people, one that is proactive and one that wants to protect Yukoners, along with all the other jargon. What I mean by jargon ó and I think weíre getting really tired of it ó are words like ďmaximizing the benefitsĒ and ďminimizing the impactsĒ and blah, blah, blah. Thatís the jargon Iím referring to.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: The man with the Mickey Mouse tie wants to clear the afternoonís business, Mr. Chair. Isnít that interesting?
The impacts of this project, because of the potential of it to really impact the Yukon along with the benefits and opportunities, really point to the need to have sound planning. Over the last few weeks, Iíve asked several question related to the pipeline and the planning. We could look back in Hansard and try to examine the ministerís answers for anything substantial.
I tried to do that exercise, Mr. Chair, but it has turned out to be an exercise in futility, because when I ask the minister for his understanding of what the latest estimates for the period of construction are, his response is that government doesnít make the decision to construct the pipeline. Well, how does that relate to the question, Mr. Chair? Thatís not an answer, thatís a diversionary excuse. Thatís not an answer.
I see the wild horse look. Is that parliamentary?
We are trying on this side to represent the people. We are trying to ascertain whether the minister even knows whatís going on about the pipeline.
He said the other day that he has been preparing for it since 1978. Well, one would expect him to have a firm command of the situation but he says he doesnít even know what the latest construction period estimates are.
Well, it doesnít add up. People out there are getting quite concerned. Iím getting phone calls, Mr. Chair. People are getting worried that this minister doesnít know much about this issue, even though he has been following it since 1978. I donít know ó what has he been following? Maybe the ďhelp wantedĒ column. Maybe heís one of these politicians who is going to go to work for the pipeline. I donít know.
But really, his responsibility here ó he is basically minister responsible for the pipeline. Thatís the major project we are looking at on the horizon, yet trying to get some constructive information back from him is impossible. People ask me why I even try, and I suppose one of the reasons I try, Mr. Chair, is, well, at least itís a way to convey some information through my questions. We donít expect anything back in the answers anymore, but at least it shows we in the official opposition are trying to inform Yukoners about some of the issues. Weíre not getting much information from the government.
Why doesnít the government bring in a ministerial statement about the pipeline so we can all have a good discussion? Why doesnít it bring in a motion on the pipeline so even more members can participate? Well, those are good questions. I think it can partially be explained by the fact this government was asleep on pipeline issues for the first three years of its mandate. Then all of a sudden it woke up and it realized this was a live issue, and it tried to figure out how it could react and try to catch up.
What weíre seeing is the desperate attempt of a government trying to catch up. Certainly, Mr. Chair, that is a long way away from being proactive on the issue.
Look at how the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition has had to struggle in dealing with this government. This government still tries to boast about the relations with the group but, in this sitting, it has been exposed just how rocky those relations really are.
What about the issue of the northern pipeline agreement, Mr. Chair? Why all of a sudden did this government decide to favour that approach? Good question ó a really good question.
Because up until just a few months ago, it was completely open to any option. Now, we know the minister is down there hobnobbing with the executives from Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd. and TransCanada PipeLines Ltd., and so is the Premier.
Now, just to clear the record, Mr. Chair, at this point, Iím not prepared to say that we have any evidence of any wrongdoing. But certainly there is reason to be suspicious. Why, all of a sudden, did this government chuck out the other options and go with only one option?
Look at the reaction from the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. They have tried to respond and clear the record at every opportunity ó the letter the Premier wrote to the presidents of the big three oil companies, back in June, saying his government and the First Nations were solidly behind the NPA option.
Well, you know what happened. The Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition immediately responded, clarifying the record that it does not support the NPA option, as the Premier said.
There are some good questions as to why the government is trying to force this option down everybodyís throat. They are good questions. Why donít we at least have some discussion in here about it? You know, this is supposed to be the Legislature, where important issues are discussed. Well, if this isnít an important issue, I donít know what is.
Weíre talking about the whole pipeline deal here. I think thatís what the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition is concerned about too.
It reminds me of the railroad deal. This government said that any moment now the federal government was going to announce funding for the railroad study. That went on for a few months. Finally, the Premier became impatient. He couldnít wait another minute, so the Yukon government forked over the $3 million for Governor Murkowskiís railroad study instead of waiting for the federal governmentís response. So, Yukon taxpayers are out the $3 million.
Now, itís a similar situation with the NPA, because Governor Murkowski said that Alaska was ready to make a decision last summer and he wanted the Yukon Premier to do the same. Deciding whether itís an NPA or a greenfield option is at the discretion of the federal government. All along, the Premier and the minister said that they didnít want to choose an option. It was up to industry. That was their response.
But Governor Murkowski was yanking the Premierís chain. He wanted some action, so the Premier jumped. Back in June, the Yukon government decided it was going to favour one of the options. Just so that everyone knows, there were three on the table. There was TCPL Foothills option as one. The second was the big three oil companies wanting to build this section as well as the Alaska section as another option. There was Enbridge as the third option.
Enbridge even announced that it wanted to sue TCPL over its 30-year-old easement agreement, and the big three had Murkowskiís favour, but for some reason the Yukon government came out and said ďWeíre going to lobby for Foothills. We want TCPL to be the only one.Ē So it issued press releases, and when it lobbied Ottawa, it was on behalf of TransCanada ó nobody else.
But one has to wonder about this. Why was that done? More importantly, why was it done in the absence of any public discussion, Mr. Chair? The government did not raise this matter with any Yukoner that I know of ó probably a few in the back room ó thatís it. Why didnít we have a motion debate in here about it, any debate about it?
Well, these are darn good questions, Mr. Chair, and I see some of the members across the way nodding in agreement ó and, of course, the odd one nodding off.
I hope to get to the bottom of some of these issues with the minister. I know my time is almost up and I do want to ask him a question. Itís about the construction scheduling. Now, Iím not asking him who makes the decision. Iím asking him as minister: whatís the latest period of construction for the Alaska Highway pipeline project? Whatís his understanding?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I appreciate the member oppositeís remarks in the overview of Energy, Mines and Resources. I have to remind the member opposite that we are on Energy, Mines and Resources and, of course, the railroad is another issue. So, I wonít answer the railroad issue, but I will address a couple of the concerns that he has. Of course, the pipeline is a big concern to the member opposite, and I keep answering his questions. The issue is not that we donít answer the questions; itís that the members opposite sometimes donít like the answers, so they carry on.
As far as the Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition, we have been working with them in a very positive fashion. We have funded them to the tune of about $350,000 to date. We are working with them to make sure they are, because of the reasoning behind the fact that they are the seven First Nations that will be directly affected ó those communities the NPA, the pipeline, will be going through. Itís very important that they get up and running.
The Premier and the Grand Chief met with NRCan a week ago. Our officials are going to meet with NRCan again, even during this election phase, and we are moving forward in a plan that brings NRCan to the table ó the federal government. We have issues with not only the First Nations who are on the line ó in other words, the seven First Nations ó but weíre a public government. How does the public fit into this? Itís not just the aboriginal groups that will be affected by this. There is a big part of our population that will also be affected by this.
How do we bring them all in? How do we bring the federal government to the table? How do we bring the First Nations who arenít on the line ó how do they get involved?
How does the government of the territory get involved and, of course, itís going to take cooperation, Mr. Chair, and, of course, that is foreign to the member opposite. The cooperation that weíre going to have with all levels of government will unfold as we move forward with this pipeline concept.
I remind the member opposite that the only proposal we have in front of us is the NPA. We donít have a green route proposal. Nobody has ever brought anything forward ó all theyíve done is draw a line on the map. The NPA, a federal government treaty between the United States and Canada, in fact, is very clear. The federal government, NRCan, had a very qualified guide by the name of Dr. Skinner do an overview of the NPA to see if they could modernize it and move forward under that existing act. According to NRCan, it came back very positive.
So we are moving forward, Mr. Speaker. And, of course, as the member is so concerned about the timelines, we understand the Mackenzie Valley pipeline ó remember, Mr. Chair, the Mackenzie Valley pipeline is going to take Canadian gas to Canadian market. Thatís what itís going to do. The federal government has made a commitment to Canada that it would not strand Canadian gas. Theyíre following through with that commitment by moving aggressively forward on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline concept. The challenges are still there. It isnít done. They still have work to do. We on this side of the border, with our partnership with Northwest Territories, have taken a very positive look at that pipeline because, again, it will benefit us.
We are Canadian. We have Canadian gas. We do not want our Canadian gas stranded at any point, so what weíre doing is working and intervening on the NEB to make sure that our concerns are addressed. Again, we are working very positively to make sure that we are part and parcel of any arrangement made on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline.
As far as the timelines are concerned, we can throw around dates. That is quite easy. They have a conceptual date of 2008 for the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and also 2012 for the Alaska Highway pipeline. Those dates are set because of the issue of the size of the projects. The member opposite is correct: the Alaska Highway pipeline will be the largest contract ever done in the world, I think, in terms of finances. We are looking at $20 billion. Thatís a lot of resources coming in to build this pipeline.
I remind the member opposite ó he makes light of it ó that we are not building the pipeline. Somehow the member opposite has it in his sights that somehow the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is going to pull the trigger on the pipeline. Well, I must tell the member opposite again, as I have told him many, many times, that it is an industry decision. I know that my portfolio is a very important one. I appreciate his line of thought that I, as minister, would pull the trigger on this pipeline. Iím not. Industry will dictate whether or not this pipeline goes ahead.
And as the member opposite was saying, as I commented, Iíve lived long enough to have sat through the first announcement in 1978, when the pipeline was going ó 1978, and weíre still talking about a pipeline.
This portfolio is going forward with doables. In other words, weíre very concerned about the pipeline, but itís not the only thing this department does. We are going to live with whatever decisions are made on the pipeline ó in other words, the timelines and the lead time weíre going to need. Weíre going to go to work with industry, weíre going to go to work with our communities and with our First Nations, so that we can answer the questions that are out there. And we will do just that.
And if, in fact, the pipeline is a go, weíre going to have some lead time. The pipeline wonít be announced one morning and there will be pipe on the ground that evening. It wonít work like that, Mr. Speaker.
There will be some lead time for me as the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources to make the pipe, because that will be part of my responsibility ó or, at least, inspecting the wells. Thatís the least I could do on this pipeline.
As an aside, we have a very busy department. Itís working. The staff is excellent ó the member opposite complimented the overview that was brought forward to the opposition. Iím sorry about the timing, but we are a busy department, and we like to bring a high class of individuals in to do this kind of work, so that these members can get brought up to date. There is a lot of work to be done with the members opposite.
They seem to be lagging, and so we have to concentrate on making sure we have the right people in there to do the work on briefing the members opposite. I would like to remind the member opposite that the calibre of person who was briefing him is an example of all our employees in Energy, Mines and Resources. We pride ourselves in the high calibre of individuals, whether in forestry, mining, oil and gas ó in all of our department ó on the calibre of help that we have to do the very, very, very important jobs that are ahead of us.
So Iíll close with that, and I will take some more questions from the member opposite.
Mr. McRobb: Well, I think we all know who and where the weak link in the department is.
I want to just respond briefly to a couple comments, and I want to re-pursue my previous question because I donít believe it was answered. Yes, the minister brings a high class of individuals into this Legislature. Weíre talking about officials who accompany him and the people in the briefing and so on. The concern I iterated previously about being caught by surprise by the government about when this department was coming in ó really, my concern, Mr. Chair, is that I would have been extremely disappointed had I missed this opportunity and the department somehow being cleared without debate, because Iím really relishing the discussion with the minister, and I think Yukoners would appreciate anything in a constructive manner that is put on the record. So Iím glad that the opposition was attentive to this matter and prepared for anything in order to meet the challenge before us.
I want to start with a couple of information requests. The minister, in his opening remarks, mentioned the seismic study. I would like to know if he would table on Monday a copy of that for us. Also, he mentioned the overview that Dr. Skinner did. Is that something he can also provide?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The seismic, or the geotech work, is not complete yet. Theyíve done the physical work. Weíve looked at some drafts. Itís a very complicated process. Itís quite an interesting process when you watch how itís done. Iím sure that it will certainly be public information when we get it finished, because we certainly are going to share it with the First Nations and ourselves. Of course, the member opposite would be privy to that information as soon as we get it done.
To be honest, Mr. Chair, I canít tell you when that would be done because of the technical level of work that has to be done on it. But I would predict that it will be done within the next six months. Of course, I really canít answer that fairly because, in fact, the process is quite complicated, and we have to do it, and it has to be done that way so we get the proper information.
As far as the overview that Dr. Skinner did ó Dr. Skinner did an oral presentation to the Deputy Minister of NRCan. There was no written report given. He was working for the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Canada. He was requested to do the work. He stood up in front of the department and gave his presentation. So, in fact, there is no written study on file on that.
Mr. McRobb: Okay, Mr. Chair, but back to the seismic study. The minister had better get down to work and finish that study and not just go out and inspect the welds in the pipeline and make the pipe; he has a lot to do and we hope that he can roll up his sleeves and get this work done because we are getting impatient over here.
I want to follow up again on the timelines because the minister referred to the conceptual date of 2008 for the Mackenzie gas project and 2012 for the Alaska Highway pipeline project. I want to talk about that and Iíll identify up front what my concern is and the minister can check Hansard from the other day because it was the essence of my question. The construction period for both projects appear to coincide, Mr. Chair, and we know thatís not possible. These major projects cannot be built concurrently ó we know that. The officials in the department also acknowledge that. But hereís the problem: the minister is basing his opinion on outdated information. Here is the updated information, Mr. Chair, one more time for the minister.
On CBC Northbeat last Thursday night they had an industry expert on who said the Mackenzie gas pipeline wonít be ready for another seven years. He said the regulatory process itself could take two and a half to three years. Thatís followed by a period where the producer, Imperial Oil, will examine the circumstances that come out of the regulatory process and decide at a board level if they want to proceed. That could take some time.
There could be some leveraging occurring during this time with respect to government subsidies and so on. There has already been that type of activity occurring vis-ŗ-vis the announcement last month by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan about the big corporate welfare package to Imperial Oil. These corporations know how to squeeze the melons of government and get what they want. What I mean is that theyíre good shoppers and they know how to get what they want.
When we look seriously at the whole situation, we see that there is a major conflict in what the minister is telling Yukoners. These projects cannot be built at the same time; something has to give. The Mackenzie pipeline wonít be constructed probably until the years 2009 to 2011 ó over a two-year period. Thatís precisely the period that the minister is referring to, because I have that old information he bases what he says on. It can be found in the TransCanada submission to Alaska in June 2004. Iíve got the schedule here. If he wants it, I could send him over a copy. I will do that on Monday. The construction period is 2009 to 2011. Itís the same thing, but we know both canít be right.
The minister is sticking to the old story, and Iím begging him: will he please advance to an updated reality of the situation? Which pipeline is going to come first ó the Mackenzie or this one? If itís the Mackenzie, then what is the updated period of construction for this pipeline?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, Mr. Speaker, there is no Alaska Highway pipeline at the moment. And for the member opposite to sit down and argue about dates on projects that havenít even been triggered is a waste of this Houseís time.
At this point, the Mackenzie Valley pipeline will be going forward first. That is a fact. We are working with the federal government to get ready, if in fact the Alaska Highway pipeline is triggered ó and Iím sure the corporations will be working on the labour situation. Timing is very important ó all of those issues. So whether itís 2012, 2015, or whatever that date is, we have to come to the point where we have a project. We donít have a project. All we have is a conceptual plan on a potential Alaska Highway pipeline. The Mackenzie Valley pipeline ó again, we as Canadians have more input on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline because ó I remind the member opposite ó itís taking Canadian gas to Canadian market. We have to work with the industries to make sure that if the decision is made ó and that decision has been pending since it was first announced in 1978. We are working diligently to make sure all our bases are covered if in fact that decision is triggered.
And then, at the point ó for the member opposite ó we can talk about dates. Weíve got to get to first base before we can look at second base, and first base is a triggered project. We donít have a project at the moment.
Now, that we can sit in this House and dictate when this pipeline is going to be finalized is, Iím sure, a waste of our time because, at the end of the day, why donít we argue about when the decision is going to be triggered. Is it going to be triggered in January? Is it going to be triggered in 2006, 2007, 2008? Thatís an argument that is a waste of time. Weíre doing more productive things on this side because weíre the government, and governments have to represent all Yukoners. They canít go off on a fishing trip, on dates that donít exist.
So, when the member opposite talks about the Foothills proposal, or hobnobbing with TransCanada or Enbridge or whatever, we on this side of the House do the job we have to do. We certainly are in contact with TransCanada. We certainly are. Enbridge is part of that. There are some issues out there.
The Premier certainly came out, after looking very closely at what the greenfield route had to offer and what the Northern Pipeline Act had ó we only have one proposal. We only have the Northern Pipeline Act. The NPA is the only one that defines what we would get if, in fact, the pipeline went through.
We also got an overview from Dr. Skinner. NRCan came back and said, ďYes, we can work with that act. That act is workable. We can modernize it to 2005 or 2006.Ē
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Lang: You canít table a study that was never tabled, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Lang: Mr. Chair, do I have the floor?
Chair: Mr. Lang, you have the floor.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As far as the member opposite insinuating that we are lagging behind on this conceptual pipeline that we have out there, in our department we are very concerned about being ready for any decision that comes down. We also want to be involved in that decision-making process, so we are working with the federal government. We are nudging the federal government forward. In the Mackenzie Valley pipeline ó again, they have more flexibility, because I again remind the member opposite that itís Canadian gas going to Canadian market. So weíve got royalties in there, weíve got all sorts of things in there that belong to Canadians, so the Deputy Prime Minister can make these kind of decisions because theyíre dealing with Canadian oil.
We donít have that flexibility when weíre talking about a foreign product going to a foreign market. Now, saying that doesnít mean that we donít work with our partners in Ottawa to make sure that we have input into any decision that comes down that affects us. We certainly are working with the relationship with NRCan because they are going to be the regulatory department that will be working on this pipeline.
The Premier has been working with the Prime Minister. They are very, very aware of the potential of an Alaska Highway pipeline. They have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of challenges in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. For the member opposite to think itís a done deal, again, heís wrong. It isnít a done deal.
There are lots of questions out there that are hanging and have to be cleaned up. Iím very happy that the federal government has come to the aid of producers in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. It had to get that level of interest.
Mr. Chair, seeing the time, I move that we report progress on Bill No. 17.
Chair: Mr. Lang has moved that we report progress on Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
Motion agreed to
Mr. Cathers: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Rouble: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:57 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled December 1, 2005:
Queenís Printer Agency 2004-05 Annual Report† (Hart)