Thursday, December 15, 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 motions
Speaker: Before proceeding with the Order Paper, the Chair wishes to inform the House of changes that have been made to the Order Paper. Motion No. 255, standing in the name of the Member for Southern Lakes, has been removed from the Order Paper as the action requested in the motion has been fulfilled. Also, Written Question No. 6, standing in the name of the Member for Mount Lorne, has been removed from the Order Paper, as it is outdated.
We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †I have for tabling the annual report for the Yukon Advisory Council on Womenís Issues, as well as the Yukon Heritage Resources Board annual report for 2004-05.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: I have for tabling the interim report on corrections in the Yukon and the corrections consultation and, pursuant to section 5(h) of the Education Act, I table the annual report for the Department of Education.
Mr. Jenkins: I have for tabling a copy of my letter of resignation as a member of Cabinet and as a member of the Yukon Party.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I have for tabling today the annual report, April 1, 2004 to March 31, 2005, for the Yukon Liquor Corporation.
Speaker: Are there any further documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Petition No. 11 ó response
Hon. Mr. Fentie: I rise today to respond to Petition No. 11. We have given serious and thoughtful consideration to the petition tabled on behalf of Yukon citizens. We understand that there is a group of Yukon citizens interested in further discussion on the issue of electoral reform. Based on our discussions with Yukoners as well as inclusions in the report from the senior advisor on electoral reform, which was tabled in this House in February, we believe that Yukon people do place a high priority on good government and legislative renewal. In that regard, Mr. Speaker, the government will continue to work with citizens, pursue legislative renewal, as well as continuing its efforts to bring good government to Yukoners in accordance with their priorities.
Unanimous consent re opposition party leaders responding to Petition No. 11
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I would request at this time the unanimous consent of this House to permit the other two parties with the opportunity to also respond to this petition. As you will recall, this petition was tabled by the House leaders representing all three parties. Under the current rules, only the government side is permitted to respond. If we waive the rules, we can get a response from the leaders of the other two parties as well. I am requesting unanimous consent to do that.
Speaker: Is there unanimous consent?
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Speaker: Unanimous consent has not been granted.
We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any 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 Government of Yukon to publicly acknowledge that, through its actions and those of its servants, including the first order-in-council appointed supervisor and various project managers, it possesses a significant amount of responsibility for
(1) discrepancies in the financial administration of the municipality of Dawson City;
(2) the unsustainable debt of Dawson City;
(3) the lack of an operational sewage treatment and recreational facilities in Dawson City; further
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to commit within 90 days to taking the following action in respect to Dawson City:
(1) cause all debt owed by Dawson City to the Government of Yukon to be written off forthwith and unconditionally;
(2) design, build and finance a secondary sewage treatment facility in Dawson City;
(3) provide operation and maintenance funding for the secondary sewage treatment facility for a period of not less than 10 years; and
(4) construct and finance a new recreation complex in Dawson City and turn this facility over to Dawson City once an occupancy permit has been issued for it; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to cause a municipal election to be held in the City of Dawson on March 20, 2006.
Mr. Jenkins: † I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to post, on a monthly basis, all purchase contracts entered into by the Government of Yukon corporations on the contract registry.
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the Yukon Party government has made many commitments to Yukon people that it has not fulfilled;
(2) several key items on the governmentís agenda, such as the Childrenís Act review, the Workersí Compensation Act review, correctional reform, educational reform, whistle-blower legislation, electoral reform and others, are drastically behind schedule;
(3) these matters and many others deserve the full attention and consideration of the Legislative Assembly during its 2006 spring sitting, as does the governmentís budget for 2006-07; and
THAT this House urges the Premier to set a date no later than March 2, 2006, as the opening day for a 40-day sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly so that due consideration can be given to the 2006-07 territorial budget, as well as to several other major items of public business and so that the Premier can call a general election for Monday, June 19, 2006, to give the people of the Yukon an opportunity to elect a government that is more open and accountable and responsive to their needs.
Mr. McRobb: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT the current sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly be extended to Tuesday, December 20, in order to give due consideration and time to debate proposed government motions on appointments to boards and committees, and whistle-blower protection.
Speaker: Are there further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then leads us to Question Period.
Question re: Alaska-Yukon railroad feasibility study
Mr. Hardy: † Mr. Speaker, a key part of the Premierís megaproject vision for the Yukonís economy concerns a possible rail link from Alaska to B.C. The Premier is so taken by this dream scheme that he quietly committed $3 million U.S. to a feasibility study at the request of the Alaska governor. He even went cap in hand to Ottawa with Governor Murkowski to lobby for support. About a year ago, the Yukonís Liberal MP grabbed headlines by claiming that the Minister of Transport at that time was pretty well on-board. Will the Premier tell us exactly what commitment he has received to date from the Government of Canada that it supports either the railway itself or even the feasibility study?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report that the feasibility study is in progress. The project manager is in place in Whitehorse. Contracts for phase 1 and, I believe, phase 2 have been let. I believe weíre in the process of putting together phase 3. They are still on schedule to give us that feasibility study to determine if it is feasible to go ahead. Meetings have occurred between the Governor of Alaska, the Premier, the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and several Cabinet ministers who have given us assurances that they will be coming to the table. Of course, with current events in Ottawa, we donít know who will be coming to that table.
Mr. Hardy: You know, Mr. Speaker, this minister has no credibility at all on this matter. Thatís why Iím addressing my question to the Premier.
Yesterday, the minister made several boldface assertions that were completely at odds with the facts. He said the names of the management working group and a steering committee are on the feasibility studyís Web site. They arenít. In fact, there isnít even a link to that site from the departmentís Web page. Now, Mr. Speaker, that speaks volumes about how important the scheme is to anyone other than the Premier and his friend from Alaska.
Let me ask the Premier this very simple question: will he table any correspondence from the Government of Canada that shows a commitment to participate in this railway feasibility study? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: For the member opposite who also seems to have major credibility issues on this matter, I met this morning with the project manager, who wasnít sure himself if they were on there, so I have asked him to provide that information to the member opposite. Itís publicly available information and a simple phone call would do that.
The advisory committee and the management working group have been formed. The project manager was hired and started on July 1; the project office, as I mentioned, is established at 3rd and Main in Whitehorse. The project plan was developed that broke the project down into a number of small work packages. The idea of that is, of course, to allow smaller contractors and such to get involved in that. The project manager is undertaking to act as a general contractor for the project so it will not be necessary to deal with large consulting companies.
For the member opposite, the Alaska-Canada rail link is in fact not a government agency. It is an agency ó an organization ó that is combined from several orders of government and is binational. There is no need to link to it from the Yukon government Web site, but we are happy to put the link there if the member opposite has trouble with that.
Mr. Hardy: The question about what is said in this Legislative Assembly, and then checking to see if it is fact, really rests with this minister because there is a serious gap here between what is said and what we can actually find. I would like to point out that question asked before wasnít answered. I asked for correspondence and got nothing.
The Premier knows, and I know that there is correspondence from Transport Canada going back to last spring that says, ďThanks, but no thanks.Ē He knows that. Transport Canada looked into this idea several years ago and decided it wasnít feasible. Interestingly enough, much of the data they used came from the same people involved in the current feasibility study, but the Premier and the Minister of Economic Development insist that everything is on track.
Why is the Premier squandering Yukon tax dollars on a project that has no proponent, no support from the federal government, and no matching financial commitment from the Government of British Columbia? Why?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: As I said, the rail link has been looked at since 1942, not 1992. In 1992, Transport Canada did a very flawed study that simply looked at the economics of mineral extraction from the Yukon. It did not look at mineral extraction from Alaska or northern British Columbia, it did not look at tourism, it did not look at the benefits in terms of transport, it did not look at the potential of improving the wear and tear on the roads, it did not look at cargo container traffic from Asia, it did not look at the fact that Anchorage is significantly almost five sailing days closer, at $30,000 per day, than most of the ports that are used and which are heavily congested right now, and often these ships end up sitting out in the ocean, waiting for space, at $30,000, minimum, for a small ship.
It did not look at all these things. It was a study that looked at one very small aspect. Just an impression: a bureaucrat within the Department of Transport may have written a letter ó I donít know ó but the Prime Minister of Canada outranks him, in my book.
Question re: Alaska-Yukon railroad feasibility study
Mr. Hardy: Yes, we all know about your book.
I want to follow up with the Premier on the railway scheme he and Governor Murkowski are so keen on. Iím hoping he will stand up and answer a question today. The Premier knows a project of this size simply wonít happen without federal government support. It wonít happen without a proponent such as CN; it wonít happen if British Columbia is lukewarm to the idea.
Will the Premier lay his cards on the table right now and tell us where the push for this railway scheme is really coming from and why Yukon taxpayers should be paying for a feasibility study when other major players arenít?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: † The member opposite makes one good point, that organizations and groups like CN should be at the table, and Iím pleased to announce and remind members opposite, from our questioning yesterday, that CN is on the table. They are certainly talking with us. British Columbia is certainly there but the first part, of course, is the major link here. Iíve had meetings with the Deputy Premier of British Columbia, Shirley Bond. Weíve had many discussions on this. British Columbia has sent representation to the groups. We have no problem with that. It would be folly and it would be silly, to put it mildly, to not do the appropriate study. But this is the member who, when we talked about leveraging $830,000 in the affordable housing program to a $23-million investment, hinted that heíd prefer to give the money back.
Mr. Hardy: This ministerís credibility is getting very, very thin when he makes comments like that. He knows exactly what we were talking about in regard to the seniors who are getting no housing from this minister.
Now, I asked for correspondence ó he wonít give it. Weíre supposed to take his word on it.
But letís go back to why the Premier wonít answer. If this is such a wonderful idea, it seems strange that the Premier canít get any buy-in from the federal government; nor will he answer questions. Maybe it says something about his lobbying skills. He couldnít get any support from the Prime Minister ó not that a Liberal promise really does mean much any more. The major benefits of a railway seem more to do with U.S. interests of national security and military transport. Maybe the Premier should be lobbying the new U.S. ambassador, who seems to have a lot to say about Canadian affairs.
What is the Premier doing to make sure the next Prime Minister, whoever it is, is more responsive to his requests for support on a big-ticket item like the pipeline or the railway? What is he doing?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: † For the member opposite, who, if memory serves, was suggesting earlier that part of the railway had something to do with nuclear missile defence, U.S. policy is to not transport military items of any sort like that by rail, especially through foreign countries. That stuff is all moved by air, and itís all up there already.
There is no military component to this, any more than certainly the Alaska Highway, which Iím suspicious the member opposite might want to close down as well.
In terms of seniors housing, since he wants to bring that up, weíve created quite a large amount of seniors housing. We continue to work with the Royal Canadian Legion on the potential project at the River View Hotel that would be supported housing. We were continuing to discuss as late as yesterday the possibility of seniors housing in the community of Haines Junction, which the Member for Kluane, Iím suspicious, will be happy to get involved in. The 44 units at Falcon Ridge are all accessible and can be utilized to allow people to age in place. We are working with the Council on Aging. We are meeting with them. But the member opposite doesnít seem to want to recognize any of that.
Mr. Hardy: I think the minister picked up the wrong briefing note, or maybe heís on the wrong day here. Iíd also like to tell the minister maybe he should listen to his Premier. The Premier was the one who was saying it was military transport on the Alaska Highway, not us.
Now, as weíve seen for a long time now, the Premier of the Northwest Territories has been far more successful at getting Ottawaís attention than this Premier. But even Premier Handley isnít leaving anything to chance. He is asking all the national leaders if they support the items he thinks are most important to his territory. Northwest Territoriesí priorities make it on the national agenda because that Premier knows about squeaky wheels and grease. He knows how to do the work.
Does the Premier plan to change his lobbying strategy in Ottawa so that the next federal government gets behind the railway study, or is he waiting for Premier Handley to show him the way?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: If the member opposite didnít notice, in April 2003 we went through a process called devolution, which brought a great deal of the control of our resources and our government into our own hands and away from Ottawa. This has not happened in the Northwest Territories, so the member opposite should perhaps read more newspapers and get a little more up on current events.
The military use of the Alaska Highway† and equating it to the railway is just silly; thereís just no better word for that. Unfortunately, though, the member opposite does get his stories confused on this, and I do have concerns that not looking at the big picture, not looking at the large projects, not doing the feasibility studies to determine if those projects are viable is not a reasonable thing to do.
We have to do the total examination of anything, be it a rail link, be it a port access study, be it a Mayo-Dawson transmission line, be it diesel generation and the Aishihik Lake.
Question re: Ambulance replacement
Mr. Mitchell: I have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services. The Yukon Party government has been busily trying to distance itself from the scandal-plagued reign of the previous Minister of Health and Social Services. Among the many bad decisions made by the previous minister was his meddling in the purchase of new ambulances. The previous minister bypassed the contracting rules, didnít consult with anyone who actually knows anything about ambulances, and taxpayers are now stuck with $224,000 worth of ambulances that are hurting ambulance workers. It is so bad that one of these monstrous ministerial mistakes is now serving as a snow-catcher in Dawson City because no one wants to use it.
To the new minister: does he support the way these ambulances were purchased by his former colleague?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: † ††I thank the leader of the Liberal Party for his question. In response to the leader of the Liberal Party, Iíd like to make him aware that I have not, at this stage, been looking through a detailed review of every file and every decision dealt with and made by the previous Minister of Health and Social Services. I would like to commit to him that, in working with the Department of Health and Social Services, I will be working with the experts in the field and taking their advice, wherever itís appropriate, on how we should proceed in any manner. There will not be any micromanaging under my watch.
Mr. Mitchell: †I donít think that thatís really an answer to the question. Now I know Iíve only been on the job here for a few weeks. In that period of time Iíve heard the acting minister give us daily responses on how many hours he has had to study the portfolio, and now weíre getting the same story from the new minister. Apparently itís not just the training wheels that are falling off.
Itís very disappointing but itís not surprising. The new minister is taking the same positions as he always has for blindly supporting all the decisions this government makes and, based on his answer today, heís well-deserving of that reputation.
The way the previous minister did business was wrong. He routinely broke contracting rules, preferring to hand out contracts to friends, with no competition. He didnít consult with ambulance workers before making the decision to buy these new vehicles. I had hoped that the new minister would bring a new approach to the table. Unfortunately weíre seeing more of the ďfather knows bestĒ attitude. What does the minister plan to do with these $224,000 ambulances that nobody wants?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: † †That was quite the question from the leader of the Liberal Party. Mr. Speaker, partisan shots aside, the issue at hand that weíre dealing with ó the Department of Health and Social Services is a department of tremendous importance to the lives and well-being of each and every Yukoner. I will be working with that department, with my deputy minister and officials, and Iíd like to make the member aware that this is a very large department with over 700 employees. They are people who take numerous years of training and spend decades in the field of highly technical knowledge, and for the member to suggest that, in less than a week, I should come in and be an instant expert and change everything and be aware of every single thing that is going on on every single desk ó I think Yukoners are aware of how unrealistic that is. I will be working with the department; I will be working with the experts and officials to do things in the appropriate fashion.
Mr. Mitchell: † Mr. Speaker, apparently we have a very very steep learning curve, so I will try another question for this minister, because sooner or later, I will actually hit something he actually has read the briefing notes on. Or perhaps he would like to refer to the former acting minister and take some more time studying his portfolio.
Iím glad that the new minister recognizes that his predecessor, as a minister, was a bit of a dud. He made several bad decisions ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Order please. The Member for Klondike does have a point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: I would ask the leader of the Liberal Party to retract that statement. That is casting aspersions on a member of the House.
Mr. Mitchell: † I will rephrase that.
Speaker: No, I would ask for a retraction, please.
Mr. Mitchell: I will retract it.
Speaker: Thank you.† You have the floor.
Mr. Mitchell: Letís take a look at another aspect of decisions that were made that perhaps can now be improved upon.
Another idea that the former minister had was to transfer all emergency medical services to the Yukon Hospital Corporation. This included all the ambulance drivers and many others. Again, this decision was announced with no consultation with the people who would be transferred. They never talked to the ambulance attendants. This decision that was made in March 2004 was roundly criticized in all quarters. There has been very little public discussion about this move since it was first announced. Can the minister tell Yukoners how he intends to fix this mess?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I do appreciate the question from the leader of the Liberal Party and the concerns he has raised, if not some of the language directed toward me and the former minister ó now an independent member.
With regard to the issue of the ambulances that was raised by the leader of the Liberal Party, I would suggest that he might want to take a trip to some of the communities ó for example, the community of Ross River, which has received one of these four-wheel-drive ambulances and ask the people who live and work there how they like the ambulance. It is my understanding that they are very pleased to have a four-wheel-drive ambulance. As anyone who lives outside of Whitehorse will know, there are roads and areas where there is no snow removal and is no maintenance. Even to travel to someoneís house outside a municipality, if you do not have a four-wheel-drive, you may not be able to get there. I think the member might also want to ask his constituents in Whitehorse how many of them personally own a four-wheel-drive for that reason.
Question re: Affordable housing
Mr. Cardiff: I would like to ask the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation to follow up on some questions from budget debate on Monday, because he failed miserably to dispel my worst fears.
The Yukon affordable housing program is falling apart. The Yukon Housing Corporation isnít creating many affordable housing units for seniors, people with disabilities or low-income earners. Just look at whatís happening up in the Falcon Ridge project ó the project that the proponent backed away from in Takhini. The governmentís Falcon Ridge project specifically is a good case in point, Mr. Speaker. Can the minister confirm that the for-sale units in the Falcon Ridge property are now up to $185,000, and it seems like they are climbing by the month, according to the real estate section of the local newspapers. $185,000 is well beyond the means of most people whom this project is meant to help.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Had the member opposite been listening during the budget debate, yes, the prices are climbing in Falcon Ridge. They are not climbing in any of the 44 units that are funded under the program. If the member goes up and actually counts those units, he will find that there are substantially more than 44. The 44 that we funded are still part of that program, and nothing has changed.
Mr. Cardiff: How about the 20 units for rent that arenít going to exist, that this government provided half a million dollars for? The proponent is now saying there wonít be any rental units in this project ó none at all ó because it is not profitable, even though this government is ready to provide a half a million dollars to build that project. Thatís what they are telling people who have inquired about the need ó and they need ó affordable housing units that are for rent.
The minister on Monday admitted that he is not aware of this, so either he was left out of the loop, or he has been sleeping on the job. Will the minister now admit that there are no rental units in the Falcon Ridge project, or will he continue to evade the question and plead ignorance, or is he going to continue to accuse me of spreading rumours like he did on Monday?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Well, I wonít even begin to point out ó I believe spreading rumours is certainly outside the rules of this House. Iím not going to stand on that point. But I will ask the member opposite to wake up, as well, and take a look at this. Up until yesterday, there has been no discussion with the proponent on rental units. If the member opposite has more information and wants to act as their spokesman, thatís between him and them. If the rental units are there and they are funded and they are part of this program and if at any point the proponent tends to drop out, then they donít get the funds. Itís that simple. But as of yesterday, the rental units are there. They are planned. And if they donít go ahead, they donít get the money. Itís that simple. The money will go into other affordable housing projects. The member opposite continues to completely confuse his programs and completely not understand what weíre trying to do here.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, theyíre not trying to help the people who are most in need. Iím not speaking for the proponents. Iím speaking for the people who wanted units to rent.
Now, the housing deal with the federal government and CMHC is a complete and utter sham, Mr. Speaker. When he announced this project in April, the minister bragged the project would address the diverse housing needs and interests of older Yukoners and others with special housing needs. Now, somebody got hosed. There is no rental component, there is no seniors component, and the prices keep going up. It is quite clear that this government doesnít know how to negotiate with sharpshooters from Provo, Utah, or even sharpshooters from Ottawa, Mr. Speaker. Now, the minister or the Premier should call up the Premier of the Northwest Territories for assistance to negotiate a real affordable housing deal with Ottawa that doesnít go sideways and will actually provide housing for the people who need it most. But they probably wonít do that, Mr. Speaker. When will the minister start taking his job seriously, stop blaming the federal government and provide housing that is affordable, accessible and urgently needed here in the territory for people with ó
Speaker: Thank you.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Again, I suggest the member opposite switch to decaf. The affordable housing program is a good program, and the quote the member opposite gives ó if memory serves ó was actually made by our Liberal Member of Parliament, not by this government.
It is a good program. Itís an excellent program to do affordable housing, and I will again, for the member opposite, read the definition of affordable housing. I believe weíre up to around the eighth or ninth time now.
Affordable housing means housing that is modest in terms of floor area and amenities, based on household needs and community norms and is priced at or below average market housing rents or prices for comparable housing in a community or area. They are done in a green way; they are done in an energy-efficient way and in a barrier-free way. Those are the terms of the federal program.
Question re: Beetle infestation
Mr. McRobb: I hope the Premier isnít taking a day off. The sitting isnít over yet. Not long ago, the Premier told some people in Haines Junction that he was lobbying the federal government to declare the Kluane region a disaster zone. This news came as a sudden shock to those few who heard it. The purpose of this remains unclear, as do the ramifications to the regionís residents and small business owners who are sure to be impacted by the terrible image a disaster area would project on the international stage.
Could the Premier now let us in on his secretive plan?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Par for the course ó the Member for Kluane has his facts wrong. The whole purpose of what has transpired on the national stage, with all the provinces and territories, in dealing with what is called ďnatural disastersĒ ó in this case, the pine beetle infestation in British Columbia and the spruce beetle infestation in southwest Yukon. We, the provinces and territories, have urged the federal government to recognize the gravity of the situation and that they should declare these infestations ó not the communities ó as natural disasters.
What does that do? Well, that brings in the federal government to participate in mitigating measures and to deal with these types of situations across the country. Thatís all this is, Mr. Speaker. Now, if the Member for Kluane believes that the situation in the southwest Yukon, in the Kluane region, is not of that gravity, he should tell Yukoners about that, given the fact it is the largest spruce beetle infestation on the North American continent.
Mr. McRobb: Heís splitting hairs, Mr. Speaker. Think about the lasting stigma attached to being declared a disaster area. For example, how would you like to be the booking agent for the New Orleans convention centre or Superdome? Well, how do you think Kluaneís small business and tourism operators would feel? How would you feel if you were in the process of selling your house? How would you feel if you just moved to the area from Europe, when folks back home would know you moved to a disaster area? How would you feel if you were a proud member of your community for all the great many reasons that make Kluane the best place in the whole world to live?
Before the Premier takes another step down this disastrous path, would he first commit to soliciting feedback from the people who would be impacted?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Kluane once again doesnít get it. This is not a declaration of a disaster area. It is a request, nationally ó as B.C. is dealing with their pine beetle infestation, so too are we dealing with the spruce beetle infestation ó that the federal government recognize ó and I repeat for the memberís benefit: recognize† ó the gravity of the situation. We are saying that this should be declared a natural disaster so that we do not have a disaster area, for instance, should the infested area catch fire.
Experts who are well versed in this particular infestation say to us and all who will listen ó hopefully the Member for Kluane listens ó that they have never seen an infestation of this magnitude and what is happening biologically in this area, and furthermore have great, great reservations. Should a wildfire occur in this region, those reservations are based on the fact that there may not be a way to fight the fire with any means of success.
So what weíre saying, Mr. Speaker, is that we need to deal with this issue, we need to deal with it quickly, and the federal government has to be involved in this because of the gravity of the situation, the enormity of the infestation and what the results would be should the wrong things happen.
Speaker: Member for Porter Creek South, your turn.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I get final supplementary.
Speaker: The time is up ó
Final supplementary. But the Member for Porter Creek South gets a question.
Mr. McRobb: The Premier is splitting hairs. This is a secret plan, without consultation with the people. I understand that itís not just the Kluane area that might be declared a disaster zone under this Premierís watch. The beetle is also in Pelly Crossing. It would be interesting to see if he ignores their concerns too.
Letís get to the crux of this matter. The Premier insists this is all about getting federal funds. Well, isnít that interesting? Perhaps if he were taken more seriously on the federal stage, weíd have greater success and our territory wouldnít have to first be declared a disaster area to get federal funds.
Would the Premier now agree to take a much less damaging approach, take Premier Handleyís hand, ride on his coattails to Ottawa and get the funding? If not, is he prepared to accept the reality of the recent poll and declare the Yukon Party the real disaster?
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Now, I know the Member for Kluane is having a difficult time these days, Mr. Speaker, considering voting against an act to strengthen the penalties and the way to deal with violence against women and children in the home. Given todayís conduct at the House leadersí meeting, I know the member is having problems, but let me try to help the Member for Kluane. This is not a disaster-area declaration, Mr. Speaker, it is a process that is available across this country to deal with natural ó I repeat for the memberís benefit ó ďnaturalĒ disasters.
By the way, Mr. Speaker, the gravity of this infestation leads back to members like the Member for Kluane who opposed, a decade plus ago, any reasonable mitigating measures that could have been applied at that time, reducing the level and the scope of the infestation. That was not the case, Mr. Speaker. What we are dealing with today is the result of many factors, including bad decisions and bad lobbying, by people like the member opposite, in dealing with the spruce beetle infestation in southwest Yukon. This government is dealing with it. It is a natural disaster.
Speaker: Member for Porter Creek South.
Question re: Hospital Corporation witnesses appearing before Committee of the Whole
Ms. Duncan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
†Speaker: On a point of order, Member for Kluane.
Mr. McRobb: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, I believe we are at question 6 in the rotation, which belongs to the official opposition.
†Speaker: †There is no point of order. The Chair has written to all House leaders, recognizing the fact that the dynamic on the opposition side have changed. I had asked the House leaders to make a decision regarding the Question Period rotation. Obviously that hasnít come about. The NDP is getting approximately 80 percent of the questions. The Liberals are getting approximately 20 percent of the questions. They have about 25 percent of the opposition. The dynamic has changed; therefore, the Chair recognizes the Member for Porter Creek South for the final question.
On the point of order, leader of the official opposition.
Mr. Hardy: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, it is my understanding that you had conveyed to the House leaders that this would be arrived at through discussions among the House leaders themselves, and you would abide by that and not interfere during a Question Period to set a new order.
Speaker: On the point of order, leader of the third party.
Mr. Mitchell: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, the most recent communication by letter from the Speaker was that the Speaker preferred for the House leaders to resolve it; in the absence of that, the Speaker would go with precedent and that past precedent indicated that representing 25 percent of the opposition members, the third party would receive approximately 25 percent of the questions.
Speaker: On the point of order, the Hon. Premier.
Hon. Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, the government side would like to get on with the business of the House and the business important to the Yukon public. The government side will accept questions from any member on the other side; however, we will respect the Chairís ruling.
Speaker: The Chair has heard sufficient arguments.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Sit down, please. The Chair has heard sufficient arguments, thank you. There is no point of order. Member for Porter Creek South, it is your turn.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Iím delighted to raise a question this afternoon.
Thereís a common expression that there are some things you canít shine; however, given that the Yukon Party is trying desperately to right some of their past wrongs, Iíd like to give the new Health and Social Services minister the opportunity to clean up some of the nasty messes he was left with.
Letís start with the appearance of the Yukon Hospital Corporation before the Legislature. The Hospital Corporation receives about $25 million a year in transfers from the Yukon government. The Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board receives $9.68 million in assessments from employers, including the Government of Yukon. The Yukon Workersí Compensation Health and Safety Board appears annually before the Legislature. I asked the previous minister, through a motion, in Question Period and in general debate, for the chair and CEO of the Hospital Corporation to attend the Legislature to answer questions. The Member for Klondike, one of the former Yukon Party ministers, refused to allow this to happen, simply because I had asked.
I would like to ask the new Health and Social Services minister: is he willing to have the Yukon Hospital Corporation attend the Legislature this spring as witnesses?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †I thank the Member for Porter Creek South for that question. As the member is aware, itís the first time she has raised this issue with me. It is a suggestion that Iíve only had a few moments here to hear. I am certainly prepared to consider that question and I would be happy to discus it with the Member for Porter Creek South after today or after the session.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that response from the minister.
Now, there are a few messes, as Iíve said, that the minister was left with. As an avid student of politics, I am sure in his reading of past campaigns he has come across this friendly piece of advice: hang a lantern on your problem. Weíve shone some light on some of the issues that they have. He has another major problem with the Yukon contracting community as a whole, the Member for Klondikeís micromanagement of the Dawson health centre and the sole sourcing of the Watson Lake health facility. As Iíve said, weíve shone some light on these situations in this sitting.
There is a significant sum of money left to be spent on the Watson Lake facility. The government has other issues in Dawson that they should be focusing on. Will the Minister of Health commit to the Yukon contracting community that the balance of the funds for the Watson Lake health centre will be publicly tendered?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †I would like to express to the Member for Porter Creek South, first of all, that all contract rules and regulations were followed to the letter with regard to the construction of the Watson Lake facility. The community of Watson Lake and the seniors of Watson Lake have been working very hard to get his project underway for approximately the past 15 years. The government follows the standard tendering process for the vast majority of government contracts; however, there is a time and a place for sole-source contracts where special circumstances exist and, in this case, the government worked with the community of Watson Lake to develop the project. The government responded to the communityís desire to maximize local benefits, and thatís why this approach was chosen.
As has been stated before by the former Acting Minister of Health and Social Services, in the future we do intend to proceed with an invitational tendering process that is currently being developed to ensure that this process is thrown open to the full contracting community as much as possible while maximizing benefits to the community.
Ms. Duncan: Well, I encourage the new minister to take a new look at that briefing note. An invitational tender isnít open to everybody.
There is another mess, and Iím going to give the minister one more friendly piece of advice. Now, the member is very fond of the military and of the right. There is a former general who said about leadership three things: whatís broke, fix now; people come to work to succeed; and never lie, ever.
The former Minister of Health and Social Services, the Member for Klondike, said, among other things ó and I am not casting aspersions, Mr. Speaker ó with regard to orphan patients, those desperately seeking a family doctor, that a database, a central registry would be established in the Department of Health and Social Services for orphan patients. He said that work would be undertaken with the YMA on resolving this issue of orphan patients and he would send me the phone number of a central person established to coordinate and help orphan patients. The Member for Klondike committed he would do that the next day ó that was on April 18. Well, I never got the phone number. The department never got the resources to help the orphan patients. The YMA and the YRNA didnít ó
Speaker: Order please. The Chair has been incredibly patient. Please ask the question.
Ms. Duncan: Sure. Will the new Minister of Health and Social Services fix what is broken now and ensure that the Department of Health and Social Services has some resources to undertake the initiatives promised by the Member for Klondike and ó
Speaker: Thank you. Minister responsible.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the Member for Porter Creek South for her question with regard to something in the beginning of this supplementary, her reference to the sole-source contracts. I would remind the member opposite that she herself when in government did use sole-source contracts. Iím not going to cite the numbers. Iím not attempting to attack the member opposite. But it has been done by all governments, including her own.
Now, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the issue of orphan patients and the Member for Porter Creek Southís comments about commitments made to her by the former Minister of Health and Social Services, this is the first time she has raised the issue with me. I was not aware that there was a commitment outstanding on that. I do not have a phone number that I can provide her at this time, nor have I personally seen whether that exists or not. I will be taking this matter up with my department and looking into this issue. As I have stated before, the issue of access to a family doctor is one that this government is very concerned about. We recognize that there is a problem in the Yukon, as there is from coast to coast in this country with people getting access to a family doctor, and we are committed to working on that. I would happily discuss this with the member later.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Unanimous consent re debating Motion No. 582
Mr. McRobb: I stand to request the unanimous consent of all members of this Assembly to now debate the motion I tabled earlier today, which requested the sitting be extended by an extra day in order to debate two motions that the government side is now planning to also request unanimous consent to debate. Those are the motions for a committee on boards and committees to be established and a motion for whistle-blower protection.
Speaker: Is there unanimous consent?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Speaker: There is not unanimous consent.
Hon. 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 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 is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06. I understand the next department under debate is Economic Development.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.†
Chair: I heard a ďdisagree.Ē Recesses require unanimous consent.
Let me ask this again. Do members wish a recess?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I did not hear a disagreement. Letís take a recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 17 ó Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06 ó continued
Department of Economic Development ó continued
Chair: The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06.
We will continue with Vote 7, Department of Economic Development.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: We were talking about the Department of Economic Development and some of the things that we have accomplished and we are very pleased with a lot of those things: the work through Destination Carcross initiative, and all of the various things our regional economic development branch, which has conducted so far 55 visits to communities and is beginning to develop quite a bit there.
Without going into any more detail, I think weíve clarified some of the things and welcome the leader of the last party to ó
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: The member knows full well that is out of order, and I would ask the member to retract that comment.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: Of course, I would be happy to retract it.
I certainly welcome any kinds of questions they want to impose toward the good staff and good people within the Department of Economic Development.
Mr. Mitchell: †Now, I notice that recently the department issued a request for expressions of interest on Yukon ports of access strategy project manager. With the above project title, expressions of interest will be received up to 4:00 p.m. local time, Thursday, October 27, 2005.
Now, recognizing that the port of Skagway is certainly of importance to Yukon, Iím just curious. I also noticed that this morning Cash Minerals Ltd. ó which obviously has some important interests in the Carmacks area as well as elsewhere in the territory, but specifically coal in the Carmacks area ó has also issued an announcement about positive conclusions from a Skagway ore terminal review that theyíve conducted. According to the review, the existing terminal in Skagway can be modified to receive, store, reclaim and load coal onto ocean-going boat carriers. Modifications would include additional coal storage space and upgrading of the reclaiming and shiploading capabilities. They estimate that the capital costs to the owner would be $9.4 million, and the terminal can then be upgraded to load Panamax vessels at a rate of 1,500 tonnes per hour.
It also indicates that Cash Minerals and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, AIDEA, are negotiating utilization of the Skagway ore terminal. The question I would have for the minister is: in light of the fact that the proponent of the coal mine in Carmacks has already determined that the port of Skagway will serve their needs and is in negotiations to access that port, could the minister give us some information on exactly what we hope to gain from having a port access strategy project manager? What costs would be involved? What sort of capital expenditures would the Government of Yukon be entertaining, perhaps to secure some other facility or be part of upgrading the port facility in Skagway?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The port access strategy study is certainly ongoing. The project manager has been identified and is in place in Whitehorse. The whole idea or objective of this, of course, is to prepare a comprehensive strategy that will facilitate the orderly development of port facilities and services and the related supply chain infrastructure and services over the short, medium and long term.
There are things the strategy has to look at: it has to allow the Yukon to exploit its full natural resource development potential. Having said that, it also has to ensure the long-term viability of developing industries and infrastructure, and the service providers that support them. It has to be economically feasible and, of course, it has to be environmentally acceptable. It must be for the benefit of all Yukoners and the Alaskan port communities that serve them. Weíre talking really of Haines, Skagway and Stewart/Hyder.
The whole purpose of the study is to recognize Asiaís ever-growing industrial economies that have created a renewed interest in Yukonís natural resources. One of the challenges in the north has always been the high cost of transportation to world markets. The dynamics are now changing, and mining companies and other shippers are seriously looking at the supply chain system to determine ways of economically shipping products to those Asian markets.
A key issue is the ability to get bulk products to tidewater as quickly as possible and, in the short to medium term, there are three ports, as I mentioned ó Skagway, Haines and Stewart/Hyder ó that could serve the needs of Yukon companies. There are other possibilities in terms of backhauls or this sort of thing that could go up through Anchorage, and this is why we see a great tie-in with the rail study.
What it needed was a strategy to develop the ports in a systematic way, of course. That will ensure that the industry knows, with some degree of certainty, that infrastructure facilities and services will be in place and the cost structure will be known.
The Yukon port access strategy will address the concerns by creating a comprehensive strategy for short-, medium- and long-term needs, as I mentioned. It has to consider not only the port infrastructure ó a big part of that ó and related services, but the surface supply chain as well, and its connection to that port. The rail study is an integral part of that. It has to be comprehensive; it has to look at the socio-economic and environmental issues associated with the development. All these things interrelate.
The study will include five key areas: the inventory and capacity; forecasting demand ó socio-economic analysis is a big part of that; public interest analysis; and the implementation analysis of the business plan itself.
The five areas are broken down, so far, into 11 tasks, as defined by their terms of reference. Without getting into huge details on that, the inventory analysis that will examine the port facilities and services of the three ports I mentioned is critical. The inventory will not only examine port and surface infrastructure, but will include service items such as port services, pilotage ó the U.S Coast Guard is part of that ó tug services and Customs, as well as the surface transportation to get our product down there.
There was a study done some time ago at the port of Skagway, because that is where most of the product of the Faro mine went. It all went by train and later by road down to Skagway and went into the ships at the deep-water port there. It was then transported primarily to Korea, so we have proven demand from the Asian market, so it really is necessary to look at that. This is another reason why the Koreans have been most interested.
The particular study at the time, which was done a number of years ago, looked at the development of Skagway and its development as a tourism destination. Not interfering with the tourism use of Skagway has to be a factor of this as well.
We have to identify the potential for future shipments of mineral, forestry, agriculture, perhaps aquaculture, and other industry products in time frames of five, 10 and 20 years. As well, the inbound traffic, both in terms of normal re-supply and special projects, such as the Alaska Highway pipeline ó again, it has to be put in terms of that ó and even the Mackenzie Valley pipeline would be included.
Also to be considered will be the information on expected increases in rail and highway traffic and cruise ship traffic growth. For this analysis to be used effectively for the Yukon ports access study and strategy, the port consultant must take a shipperís perspective to ensure that their needs are met at the same time. So far, there is approximately $410,000 budgeted for the port access study, and it will be running in relation to the rail study.
One of the things this study has to do, of course, is develop the business case. At this point, the work of the socio-economic analysis and the environment and governance must come together. The socio-economic analysis will examine the impact on the industry, the territory, the communities, and how development will affect the well-being of the communities involved. The environmental component will look at issues like land use, regulatory issues, environmental concerns, of course, increased noise levels within communities that are affected, impacts on rivers, ground contamination, and the mitigating actions required. This is all part of the component.
The consultant will also analyze current port operations and governance and identify costs associated with shipping through the port, current operation and maintenance and capital funding, if relevant, based on projected developments. The consultant will identify capital financing and all of this as it goes on.
They will now analyze the capability of the current governance model to finance such plans and hopefully identify alternative governance models that may be available for consideration based on the analysis of other port models both from the United States and Canada and perhaps elsewhere. The section will also include the existing freight costs from known mine deposits to port, possible final destinations as well as projected freight costs based on port development scenarios. All this information will be the basis for the development of a business case plan to support that new model. With several mines on the edge of opening within the Yukon ó and open in the very near future ó we will have to look at the impact on those individual operations as well. Thatís all part of it.
Given the overall analysis, the consultant will develop port access strategy options for five, 10 and 20 years. The options will ensure that the port and supply chain infrastructure and services are developed so that industries that wish to grow will grow with some degree of certainty that the supply chain system needed to export the products will be in place. It will guarantee public and private cooperation exists to provide a competitive cost structure that ensures the long-term viability of the mines and the infrastructure and the service providers, of course.
That draft final report ó hopefully the consultant will consolidate all the findings and prepare and present a draft report to the task advisory committee. That report will describe strategic options, report development, and recommendations, and the task advisory committee will provide comment and further direction.
The consultant will address the issues and table a final report in due course. The report will then be tabled with the management working group, which is responsible for the study oversight. So with this working in collaboration with, and at the same time really, as the rail access study, and hopefully by sharing the same office space as well, the two groups will work together and produce an overall strategy that will serve the Yukon well for the coming quarter decade at least.
Mr. Mitchell: †Weíre almost at the end of the questions I have in mind. So if weíre concise with questions and answers, we can probably move forward toward going line by line and clearing the department. Now, I did actually have the opportunity to meet with the CEO and president of Cash Minerals this summer, and he did confirm my belief that the most logical port and method of shipping for their product would be to use the port of Skagway and, in fact, didnít see any benefits in the proposed railroad, because the route that they would be using would be to Skagway, as opposed to heading to Alaska or down toward B.C. So I can see by this announcement that they are pursuing that interest.
A couple more things: I think I asked how many employees are in the department these days. Iím sure the officials have that number. If not, Iíd be happy to get that by legislative return. Again, I believe I had asked what the total paid out to Partnerships B.C. was for their work. I know that some of the purpose of that was supposedly to get us a policy for P3s. Now, I asked this of a different minister and was told that it was the Department of Economic Development that would have the answers for that. So Iím just wondering if there is a draft P3 policy that has resulted from the considerable funds that were paid to Partnerships B.C. and if the minister would be able to tell us whether he is prepared to table that strategy if it, in fact, exists.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: When I spoke last, 25 years is a quarter century, not a quarter decade. Anyway, be that as it may, there are 49 employees in the Department of Economic Development. Iím pleased to say I had breakfast with most of them this morning. We had good meetings. I was given a good overview of the department and was able to hear what the department is doing in all the different areas.
Given the logistics of where the Cash deposits are, Skagway would be the most logical, but thatís all part of the matrix that all these studies have to look at. As the member opposite well knows, the most logical isnít always the final analysis, when you put everything together.
In terms of Partnerships B.C., we work on the policy and development of the policy, but the actual financing and such of Partnerships B.C. is in the Department of Highways and Public Works, so I will defer to my colleague, the Minister of Highways and Public Works, to answer that, because I have no information on it.
Mr. Mitchell: Perhaps at some point we can see something, because I believe the ministerís colleague gave the opposite response during debate and suggested that the policy would be forthcoming elsewhere, and I thought it was referred to your department.
At this point, I have no further questions and am prepared to clear the department by going line by line.
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: I have just one just final comment. I certainly appreciate the memberís remarks, but as we are in a budget debate, I refer the member opposite to our budget, which doesnít include anything for Partnerships B.C., and this is why Iím unable to give a direct answer to that.
†Chair: Is there any further general debate? Hearing none, weíll proceed with line-by-line examination.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Policy, Planning and Research
Policy, Planning and Research underexpenditure of $93,000 cleared
On Business and Trade
Business and Trade in the amount of $107,000 agreed to
On Strategic Industries Development
Strategic Industries Development in the amount of $119,000 agreed to
On Total of Other O&M Programs
Total of Other O&M Programs in the amount of nil agreed to
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Economic Development in the amount of $133,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Corporate Services
††††††† On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
††††††† Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $9,000 agreed to
††††††† On Policy, Planning and Research
††††††† On Economic Infrastructure Development
††††††† Economic Infrastructure Development in the amount of $1,700,000 agreed to
††††††† On Business and Trade
††††††† On Enterprise Trade Fund
††††††† Enterprise Trade Fund underexpenditure of $192,000 cleared
††††††† On Regional Economic Development
††††††† On Regional Economic Development Fund
††††††† Regional Economic Development Fund in the amount of $2,000 agreed to
††††††† On Community Development Fund
††††††† Community Development Fund in the amount of $608,000 agreed to
††††††† On Strategic Industries Development
††††††† On Strategic Industries Development Fund
††††††† Strategic Industries Development Fund in the amount of $138,000 agreed to
††††††† On Technology Partnerships
††††††† Technology Partnerships in the amount of $411,000 agreed to
††††††† On Film and Sound Incentive Programs
††††††† Film and Sound Incentive Programs in the amount of $33,000 agreed to
††††††† On Total of Other Capital Projects
††††††† Total of Other Capital Projects in the amount of nil agreed to
††††††† Total Capital Expenditures for the Department of Economic Development in the amount of $2,709,000 agreed to
††††††† On Recoveries
††††††† Recoveries cleared
Department of Economic Development agreed to
Chair: The Chair understands that we will be continuing with Vote 11, the Womenís Directorate.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †As minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate, our supplementary budget request includes $72,000 for operation and maintenance and $6,000 in capital. This would increase the Womenís Directorate operation and maintenance budget from $810,000 to $882,000. This would also increase the Womenís Directorate capital budget from $4,000 to $10,000.
Our request in operation and maintenance includes an increase of $9,000 in program delivery. $4,000 will be allocated for community representatives to travel to a national policy forum on aboriginal women and violence prevention, hosted by the federal/provincial/territorial ministers responsible for the status of women in March 2006. $5,000 will be allocated for additional requirements for the Womenís Directorate move to 404 Hanson Street.
Our request also includes $25,000 in the area of public education initiatives. Specifically, these resources will be allocated to the Yukon Advisory Council on Womenís Issues to host the 2006 annual Yukon Womenís Forum.
Within the area of violence prevention, we are requesting an increase of $38,000. $20,000 is a revote for a series of workshops by our organization, Men Can Stop Rape, which were delayed from March 2005 until May 2005. The remaining $18,000 is allocated toward transfer payments for the aboriginal women in violence prevention funding initiative.
Finally, the increase of $6,000 in capital is allocated for a new server. This is required as the Womenís Directorate moved to the New Cambodia building at Suite 1, 404 Hanson Street, on October 15, 2005. As they are the only government office in this building, a server was required for network access. This is a one-time cost.
With this brief overview, I am pleased to field any questions from the floor and review this supplementary request, line by line.† Thank you.
Mrs. Peter: I thank the minister for that information.
The minister outlined the expenditures in this department ó $72,000 thatís available in this department ó and she also outlined where most of the money is going to be spent. While we are supportive of any kind of initiative that the Womenís Directorate is doing in the Yukon to address womenís issues, I have on many occasions stood on the floor of this House offering good ideas to this minister and, more especially, seeking assistance and funding for programs and services for the communities.
Itís fine and dandy to have public documents or published written material out there that may assist very few people, and the amount of money thatís spent in that area, I feel, is way too much. In the spring budget of 2004-05, there was $800,000 spent within this department, and a lot of that money I recommended go to the grassroots people in our communities. Thatís where it would be more effective, and thatís where it would have more impact.
I hope the minister will listen to some of the ideas and recommendations I bring forward in this regard. With that, I have no more questions on this department.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †I do take seriously any ideas and suggestions from members opposite regarding improvement or effecting further change on this front. The Womenís Directorate was reinstated by our government three years ago. It was an election commitment of our government and is one we acted upon immediately.
Our government reinstated the Womenís Directorate and, as a result, the Womenís Directorate has been very busy on a number of many-faceted initiatives.
I commend each and every one of our officials within the Womenís Directorate for the fine work they provide day in and day out, particularly working with our stakeholders, womenís organizations, women in our communities on a number of various fronts ó whether itís violence prevention, women in trades, providing capacity building through training ó there are a whole host of various initiatives, and I am very proud to be part of a team that is working to effect the equality of women across the territory.
I know that the member opposite is fairly familiar with the fact that a very big priority of our government has been violence prevention. It was actually about a year ago that an all-party consensus was struck in the Legislature to proceed with a long-term public education campaign on violence prevention here in the territory. Since that time, we certainly have been making great strides to make this particular initiative take place.
As the members opposite are aware, we do actually have a specific position housed within the Womenís Directorate to oversee the long-term public education campaign on violence prevention and to work with our First Nation communities, our women, in order to effect changes on all fronts. Violence prevention is certainly a very complex issue. It is a priority of our government, and it is one of the key mandates of the Womenís Directorate.
As such, that is why our government took the initiative to initiate the long-term public education campaign. The goal of the campaign is to further raise awareness of violence in our communities: how violence affects everyone, what resources are available, and how we as citizens can support victims of crime.
Mr. Speaker, our government, through the good work of our front-line workers within the Department of Justice and Health and Social Services, continues to make available counselling, treatment and support for victims of abuse. I just refer to a number of initiatives from the Domestic Violence Treatment Option Court, which has been referred to ó as the federal Minister of Justice has stated ó as a jewel, a hidden jewel, in our country and one that the rest of the country can certainly learn from.
Initiatives that are undertaken through training and clinical supervision through the family violence prevention unit ó we have added resources in that regard as well.
Mr. Speaker, during this sitting our government introduced amendments to the Family Violence Prevention Act, which included a broader definition of family violence to allow for emotional abuse, which also included stronger penalties for convictions of family violence in order to send a very strong message to offenders. As I mentioned earlier, our government, through the Department of Justice, continues to work closely with our family violence prevention unit. We have introduced VictimLINK, a toll-free 24-hour crisis line, and we have expanded the domestic violence treatment option to communities such as Watson Lake.
As I mentioned on a number of occasions, violence against women and children is everyoneís issue, and we as a government will continue to work with our communities, organizations and all Yukoners to address this very serious problem through public education, primarily through the good work that the Womenís Directorate continues to provide, as well as through the good work of organizations such as the Yukon Status of Women Council, the Victoria Faulkner Womenís Centre, and so forth.
Weíll also continue to work with their front-line workers, housed in the Department of Health and Social Services, and the Department of Justice, and weíll continue to work to address this very serious problem via policy work that continues to take place in our department, among many others.
When we look at various initiatives weíve worked on over the years, we have been able to deliver additional resources to each of our womenís shelters. In fact, Kausheeís Place, our womenís transition home, also received additional dollars to extend the program of the older womenís abuse program.
Through the Womenís Directorate, we have been working with the Yukon Public Legal Education Association to develop self-advocacy training for women. This was at the request of a number of women throughout the communities, as identified in the recent reports published by the Yukon Status of Women Council
We have also been working very closely with our own council, the Yukon Advisory Council on Womenís Issues, for which I just tabled an annual report today. We have committed dollars, all told with this supplementary budget, of $40,000 for the second annual womenís forum to take place in Whitehorse next spring, which we look forward to.
This yearís forum was very successful in that it brought women from all over the territory to come and talk about women and safety, how we could enhance womenís safety, protect women against crimes of violence and what we could do to make our communities all the more safer.
Through the Womenís Directorate, in conjunction with our long-term public education campaign on violence prevention, we have introduced safety kits that will assist many of our organizations, one of which is the Yukon Family Services Association. I know they are very appreciative of those safety kits. We have received word from counsellors themselves that they have been very well received; in fact, they have been so popular that we are working on a second run of this very informative piece.
Just to make mention, through the Department of Justice, the crime prevention victim services trust fund ó as members will recall, amendments were introduced on the floor of the Legislature last fall that have resulted in increases to the amount of resources available to programs that address victims and crime prevention needs.
We have also engaged with stakeholders on the development of a substance abuse action plan. The Womenís Directorate has been working with womenís organizations throughout the territory to address situations such as young women at risk. We are very pleased to be able to be part of this and to be working in conjunction with our respective departments.
Again, we have worked on a number of fronts and I am very pleased to continue to work with the Womenís Directorate on a number of initiatives. So, in response to the member oppositeís comments, I just have to say that we are doing much more than just education campaigns, although that is one of the key mandates of the Womenís Directorate. It is very important to note that the work that we do within the Womenís Directorate very much complements the work done in other departments that are responsible for providing front-line services and policy work to address issues like violence in our communities.
I just wanted to make sure that was on the record, just to explain to members opposite the role of the Womenís Directorate and how we do work very closely with our respective departments to effect changes on a number of fronts.
I certainly am pleased to entertain additional questions from members opposite, and I look forward to the further debate.
Mrs. Peter: The minister said she would like to put on record how to make the opposition aware of the Womenís Directorateís role. We are very well aware of what the Womenís Directorateís role is and what the mandate is. The minister put on record the role and mandate of this department, and until this side of the House sees real impact in the rural communities, until we see the human resources that are needed to address family violence in our communities, until we see financial assistance in our communities to address family violence at the grassroots level, then it might be worthwhile to stand on the floor of this House and say that we did make an impact out there. Iím aware, Mr. Chair, today of many young women, many young mothers, many women who are still trying to find their way in this society and are not able to do that.
There are many women in our communities out there who face a lot of challenges, and if there would be a few more resources made available to the communities, that would make a difference for them. I know that they would be more than able to move on in their lives. We talk about childcare; weíre talking about health needs, and trying to build and hold and care for a child within a healthy environment, whether it be in our home or in our communities. Thatís where the impact needs to be felt, Mr. Chair. I have no more questions in general debate, and those are my comments.
Hon. Ms. Taylor: †I thank the member opposite for her response and for her comments.
Iíll just reiterate that we have been quite active on a number of fronts. Is there more to do? Absolutely, there is always much more to do in addressing violence in our communities, violence in our homes, violence against women and children. Again, through a long-term public education campaign on violence prevention, it certainly is but one tool that we are using in our communities to prevent further violence from occurring. I mentioned earlier the initiation and implementation of safety kits, posters and public campaigns through our media. We will continue to increase our resources on this front. In terms of front-line service delivery, again through the Department of Justiceís family violence prevention unit, there is the children abuse treatment services through the Department of Health and Social Services, along with all our non-government organizations who do a very fine job on behalf of Yukon citizens.
We will continue to work with womenís organizations, First Nations and First Nation women in our communities to address some of these challenges in our communities. I just refer to the aboriginal women and violence initiative that, through the good work of our Premier in his capacity as the previous minister responsible for the Womenís Directorate ó it was two years ago where, at the federal, provincial and territorial conference responsible for the status of women ministers, the Yukon and the other northern territories did make it a priority to address aboriginal women and violence in our communities. As such, we have dedicated $100,000, which we are continuing with this year and will continue with next year to support hands-on initiatives that take place in our communities, are driven by our communities and are initiated by each of the aboriginal women in our communities.
For example, just for members opposite, this year alone we are pleased to support the Whitehorse Aboriginal Womenís Circle, the Teslin Tlingit Council, Na Cho Nyšk Dun and Selkirk First Nation with dollars toward violence prevention initiatives. The Whitehorse Aboriginal Womenís Circle, for example, will host a four-day workshop, which will bring together First Nation women from across the territory to focus on using traditional customs and values that empower individuals to combat violence in our communities. This initiative will focus on addressing service gaps by training the trainers and encouraging advocacy and peer counselling.
Its goal is to develop a network of aboriginal women in the territory, to reduce isolation and to strengthen community violence prevention programming in our communities.
Teslin Tlingit Council will also provide counselling, educational workshops, an educational trip and ongoing support groups for Tlingit women who have been affected by violence.
Na Cho Nyšk Dun will also host a two-week long program that will provide the basis for an ongoing womenís support network. The program will provide practical life skills training in a range of areas, including traditional values, nutrition, fitness, safety plans and conflict resolution.
Selkirk First Nation is also receiving resources for a womenís healing canoe journey, where women participate in various workshops, including family violence, self-care and spirituality. This project supports women with an ongoing network of peer support in the community.
As I mentioned on the floor of the Legislature on numerous occasions, initiatives such as these have been very well received by organizations in the territory. Last year, we supported a number of organizations, including Selkirk First Nation, the Margaret Thomson Healing Centre in Ross River, Yukon Aboriginal Womenís Council, Liard Aboriginal Womenís Society in Watson Lake, Liard First Nation, as well as the Whitehorse Aboriginal Womenís Circle.
We have also been able to provide much support to initiatives of aboriginal women. I refer to the conference that was held about a year ago over at the Council of Yukon First Nations building to talk about aboriginal women in self-governance issues, leadership initiatives. Again, that was very well received.
I just wanted to reiterate for the members opposite that there are a number of initiatives taking place as we speak. Certainly I agree with members opposite that there is always more to be done. But we certainly strive to work in a collaborative manner and strive to work with our respective community organizations, womenís organizations, to find very creative ways to address some of these dire issues in our communities, such as family violence, but also initiatives such as how we engage more women in trades and how we can provide more training opportunities to women in our communities ó self-advocacy, for example, is but one of those initiatives.
So, just to again reiterate: we continue to work very hard in the Womenís Directorate, and I thank each of our officials within the directorate for the fine job that they continue to do on behalf of women.
Ms. Duncan: In light of the thorough nature of the ministerís response and her thanking of the officials who have attended today and who work in the department, I would respectfully request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 11, Womenís Directorate, cleared or carried, as required.
Chair: Before we put forward Ms. Duncanís request, is there any further general debate?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 11, Womenís Directorate cleared or carried
Chair: Ms. Duncan has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 11, of the Womenís Directorate, cleared or carried, as required. Are you agreed?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $72,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $6,000 agreed to
Womenís Directorate agreed to
Chair: The Chair understands that the next department is Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services.
Department of Health and Social Services ó continued
Mr. McRobb: Here we are. We thought we were almost finished with general debate for Health and Social Services in the supplementary budget, but the tables have been turned on us again, to our surprise, and we now have the third Health and Social Services minister in as many weeks. So, Mr. Chair, thereís a question about commitments made by the previous ministers and whether we can expect to get them.
I want to start with a very simple question: will the new Health and Social Services minister honour all commitments put on the record ó all undertakings and so on ó that we received in the previous debate on this department?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: It would be very helpful if the Member for Kluane could be a little more specific on what heís referring to and save me the trouble of poring through Hansard to try to read the memberís mind on what commitments he thinks were made to him by the previous minister.
Mr. McRobb: The minister can refer to Hansard.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: † Thank you, Mr. Chair. I see that the Member for Kluane is being very cooperative. I would point out to him that I am more than happy to be cooperative with the opposition and to assist them in answering their questions. However, I would appreciate the same coming from members opposite in identifying to me the questions that they actually wish me to answer, instead of throwing out an open question of whether I will I do everything that they think was said.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Chair, when we asked the previous Yukon Party Minister of Health and Social Services questions that were already dealt with, we got that answer. He said, ďRefer to Hansard.Ē Thatís what Iím saying. Now this Minister of Health and Social Services wants us to do all his research for him. That is completely out of the line of reality. He can do his own research. He can go through Hansard and find out what those commitments are. We just want to know if the new Yukon Party minister is going to honour the previous commitments made by the other Yukon Party minister?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, we have the NDP Health and Social Services critic, the Member for Kluane, standing up and wanting answers to questions, but he wonít tell me what the questions are. I would urge him to provide the same spirit of cooperation toward me as I am providing toward the members opposite in identifying for me the questions that he wishes answered and the commitments he believes were made.
I hope the member opposite recognizes how large a department Health and Social Services is, how broad the issues are and how important they are to Yukoners. The Department of Health and Social Services has a tremendous effect on the lives of Yukoners and has a tremendous number of areas where there are highly technical details and particulars that revolve around those areas. It is not possible for any one human being in their lifetime to become an expert on everything under the area of Health and Social Services, let alone for somebody to become an expert in a space between Monday of one week and Thursday of later that week.
I would be happy to work with my officials, with the experts in the department, to provide the member opposite with answers to reasonable questions. The member opposite will not tell me what those questions are. He simply suggests to me that I should go through how ever many volumes of Hansard he would like me to look through and figure out what all his questions were. That is not a reasonable representation from the NDP Health and Social Services critic.
Would he please identify to me what questions he wishes answered that he does not feel have been responded to? Would he please identify for me any new questions he has, and would he please identify to me any commitments he feels were made by the previous Health and Social Services minister, along with citing when and where that commitment was made? If it was made in Hansard, providing the page number would assist me. If it was made in a letter, provide a copy of that letter, please. I am more than happy to work with the member opposite in providing information to him, his constituents and his caucus but it would be nice to see a little of the same cooperation coming across the floor in having him identify for me what questions I should be answering.
Mr. McRobb: I am trying to cut the new minister some slack on this. I realize he is probably up to his neck in work, maybe even over his head in work, but I would have expected as a very minimum that he would have read the previous Hansard for debate on this supplementary budget. The new minister makes it out to be some great, complicated matter. He refers to volumes of Hansard. He refers to reams of questions. What I am asking for is neither. The previous debate occurred on, I believe, only one day. Everything is contained in one issue of Hansard.
Iím not referring to questions. There were several questions that afternoon. Iím referring to commitments made by the previous minister.
I didnít prepare a list of those commitments and bring a list in with me today; I did, however, expect the new minister to do his work and at least read the previous debate on his department for this very budget. For us to now discover the new minister hasnít done this first order of homework really makes it obvious that, already, heís getting a failing grade.
One of the first things he has to learn as a minister is to do his homework. The previous debate lasted only about three hours, I believe ó maybe three and a half hours in one afternoon. Itís not a huge undertaking to review that material. It could probably be read in less than an hour. As mentioned, I presumed the minister would have done that.
There were some commitments made. I canít recall all of them. As mentioned, I didnít bring a list in today. Itís up to the minister to do his own homework. I recall some undertakings with respect to the provision of conceptual plans for the seniors care facility in Haines Junction and the health centre in Dawson City. While we still havenít received those plans, realistically they should have been provided about two weeks ago, but that was at about the same date the previous Health and Social Services minister pulled the plug on the Yukon Party.
I didnít have an opportunity to ask the acting minister, so here we are today with the new minister. Now, he doesnít even need to know what those undertakings are today, in order to reassure us that he will at least honour the commitments made by the Member for Klondike.
Now, I want to move on because I have questions and it seems the minister is already spinning out on his first question, so I want to ask him: will he agree to the undertakings?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: This is very frustrating to me, to hear the comments from the NDP Health and Social Services critic, the Member for Kluane. The member should know, after nine years in the Legislature ó I believe it is nine years he has been here ó that the onus is on all MLAs to do their homework. Heís asking me to commit to commitments that are apparently very important to him but he canít remember a single one of them.
I canít stand here in the House and comment on alleged commitments, nor can I interpret what the Member for Kluane will claim were commitments. If he would stand here and advise me of what commitments or undertakings were made, I would be more than happy to look at those issues and respond to those questions. I will not simply stand here and give him a yes-or-a-no answer of whether Iíll follow through on some unspecified commitment made on an unspecified date by the previous minister who is no longer here. I will, however, take any reasonable request and I will respond to that question and advise the member opposite, if itís information heís seeking, of whether Iíll provide that information. If heís looking for an answer to a specific question or action, I will advise him whether Iím prepared to do that, whether I will have to take the question under advisement and get back to the member opposite at a different date, or what the status of that is. But the Member for Kluane is not cooperatively engaging in debate. He will not advise me of what he wants. Members and anyone listening will recall that I learned today in Question Period ó questions were posed to me by the Member for Porter Creek South regarding a couple of commitments made to her by the previous Health and Social Services minister.
I did not dismiss her concerns. I did not bat them out of the ballpark. I donít feel that I responded in any way, shape or form in a manner that was rude. I committed to the member opposite that I would be more than happy to discuss these issues with her later so we can discuss her concerns. I assure all members that I will view those concerns in a positive light and would be happy to engage in that discussion with the Member for Porter Creek South ó no matter that she sits across the floor. Her constituents, the people she represents, are just as important as any other Yukoners. Our job here as government is to respond to the interests of Yukoners, to respond to demonstrated needs, to take care of the needs of Yukoners and to work forward. I am more than happy to cooperate with members opposite in addressing the needs of their constituents and in being accountable to the public, but it would be very helpful to me if members would actually identify the questions that they are asking.
Now, since there doesnít seem to be much in the way of questioning coming from the Member for Kluane that is anything beyond arguing, I would like to make members aware of a few of the details pertaining to the supplementary budget for 2005-06 for the Department of Health and Social Services, which I now have the honour of being the minister responsible. I know the Committee has already heard many details related to the supplementary budget but, to summarize, the emphasis of the $8 million ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, the Minister of Health and Social Services has resorted to some dialogue about the member for the third party during his answer to my question. Now he has gone on to give what will probably be a 15-minute commercial to use up his 20 minutes on matters that are totally unrelated to my question.
He is also the government House leader, and we have had some discussion about how the ministers have to pull up their socks to avoid this from happening. Now, he has digressed. He has fallen into that same routine. I urge him to get on with the publicís business.
Chair: Is there a particular Standing Order the member felt that there was a conflict on?
Mr. McRobb: No.
Chair: Because the Chair doesnít find that there is a conflict, there is no point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would urge the Member for Kluane to actually listen to what I was going to say before speculating on what he thinks Iím going to say. The Member for Kluane just stood up and said I was going to give a 15-minute commercial that had nothing to do with his question; he has no idea of that, without listening to my answer.
I would urge him to actually listen to my reply. If he has a question regarding my reply, or a problem with my reply, he will have the opportunity in Committee of the Whole, as does any member, to raise that point. But to speculate on what he thinks Iím going to say ó it is very frustrating to be in this position and not be hearing more substantive debate coming forward.
I would like to summarize for any members of this Assembly who actually are interested, and for members of the public, what the emphasis of this operation and maintenance budget for the Department of Health and Social Services actually is.
The emphasis of the $8-million increase to the operation and maintenance budget touches on six major areas that reflect only some of this governmentís priorities. The majority of them were dealt with in the main budget that was tabled in March of 2005.
The six major areas that reflect some of the governmentís priorities are adults and children with disabilities and special needs; increases to childcare; to address issues related to seniors; the FASD action plan; health care; and increased support to some non-governmental organizations. Increased funding is also identified to support children with autism and other disabilities and their families. There is an increase required for childcare subsidies for children who have special needs. We have also increased social assistance rates for persons with disabilities in this year, and that is part of what is addressed in this manner. We are supporting the childcare community by providing additional money for stakeholder consultations as we review the regulations in that area.
There has been an increase in demand for home care services and we are opening 12 new beds in Copper Ridge. New money is reflected in this budget for these activities. There is also increased funding to support the Canada Western FASD Partnership. We have increased support to Kausheeís Place. We have increased money to support the seniors association in Haines Junction and to Yukon Family Services Association as well as to continue to support the Victoria Faulkner Womenís Centre. In the area of health care, nearly $5 million is going to support price and volume increases to various in-territory and out-of-territory medical claims and drug costs, increased support to Whitehorse General Hospital, enhanced support for telehealth, for tobacco reduction and for community nursing.
In the capital budget supplementary, we are decreasing our funding allotment for the Dawson City multi-level care facility, due to delays in proceeding with that project. This reduction is partially offset by increases that we have included to support renovations and equipment related to continuing care, the Thomson Centre, group homes, community nursing, ambulance services and to the Yukon Hospital Corporation for the purchase of a digital fluoro machine.
Mr. McRobb: I see this new minister has been programmed with this Yukon Party program that trains the ministers not to answer the questions, not to give any commitments for undertakings and to give lengthy speeches that can be categorized better as a commercial.
Mr. Chair, it is a huge step backwards. It is not productive. The information read by the minister is not productive. It did not respond to any question; it is simply another waste of time by the Yukon Party.
I specifically identified some of the undertakings made with the previous minister, but the Member for Lake Laberge decided not to address those undertakings identified. Instead, he flew off into the wild blue yonder like he was in the cockpit of an F-18 aircraft, flying around looking for UFOs, maybe in circles getting dizzy. It was quite something to listen to it all, but he should get back to earth and put his feet solidly on the ground and realize that he is now in a role that demands greater responsibility. It is also part of his role to respond during sessions of accountability, and that is what this can be described as. We in the opposition serve a valuable purpose to democracy, and that is providing checks and balances. In order for us to do our job, Mr. Chair, we need information. Commitments that were made by the previous minister arenít being lived up to by this new minister already. Where does that put the Yukon Party in the rank of public accountability? If it were a totem pole, they would be the low man, Mr. Chair ó the low man on the totem pole of accountability. ďLow personĒ would more politically correct.
Now, we can debate this all afternoon, but letís try to resolve this matter and get back to something more tangible than these circular flights that the minister likes to take. I want to know if the conceptual plans and so on that were committed to be provided to us will be honoured under this minister.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Itís difficult to thank the Member for Kluane for that question, which spent more time talking about UFOs than about health care.
I would like to pose the question to the member opposite and to all members of the House and indeed the Yukon public: how does my standing up and informing Yukoners and the members opposite of what items this supplementary budget is to address qualify as a Yukon Party commercial? It is accountability. It is disclosing to the public what their dollars are being spent on.
Discussing what public money is being spent on and debating what that money is spent on or should be spent on is a large part of what we are here, as Members of the Legislative Assembly, to deal with, in my opinion, as instructed by our constituents. It is a matter of accountability, Mr. Speaker, and we are very happy to provide that information. But I would urge the member to actually ask me some questions about health care.
The member referred to a commitment to providing conceptual plans. If he identified what those conceptual plans were, it was not clear to me. If he would please clarify that, I would be happy to take that request under advisement and inform him of whether I can provide those plans to him. Which conceptual plans is he looking for, and can he please tell me when this was committed to?
Mr. McRobb: Those answers were already given. In the interests of moving on, Mr. Chair, the minister can check Hansard. Will he give those commitments?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I just said to the member opposite that I would be happy to respond to his request if I knew what he was referring to. I apologize for either being in the process of reviewing notes or talking to the official assisting me, but I did not gather which conceptual plans were being referred to.
It would be far more useful and more productive if the member opposite would advise me of what plan heís looking for, rather than telling me to refer to Hansard sometime after Iíve made a yes-or-no decision of whether or not to respond to his request.
If the member opposite would be so good, I would appreciate his identifying which conceptual plans are being referred to. Which plans is he seeking? Iím assuming heís saying the commitment was made by the previous Health and Social Services minister. Would he be so good as to provide us with the assistance of identifying when and how this commitment was made?
Mr. McRobb: You know, Mr. Chair, thereís no consistency with these Yukon Party ministers. The previous Health and Social Services minister, when asked a question, would say to refer to Hansard and then he would sit down. I would follow up, trying to get more detail, and he wouldnít even get on his feet. He would just sit back and smirk. Now this minister is taking an approach that is completely opposite. He wants us to do all his research in Hansard for him.
So the Yukon Party ministers want us to do all our own research from Hansard now; they want us to do their research too. It gets worse. Even when we identify what it is we want, theyíre not listening, and they want us to repeat it.
Mr. Chair, I made reference to the conceptual plans and drawings that were committed the facilities in Watson Lake and Dawson City ó the health facilities, the seniors facilities ó so Iíve just repeated that now. This is really going too far.
For a new minister who professes to know very little from his department, there is quite a disparity between his lack of knowledge and his already proficient ways of reciting the Yukon Party so-called list of achievements and the Yukon Party tactics of stalling debate and avoiding getting to the answers. This whole question should have been resolved in about one minute. Here we are, probably 20 or even more minutes later and we are spinning out on this. Iíve already mentioned on at least two different occasions what we want and there are other commitments too that I didnít bring here today and the minister should have read about. We need to know if these commitments will be honoured before we can move on.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †I thank the member opposite for actually remembering what he was after. The Member for Kluane said he would like the conceptual plans for the Watson Lake and Dawson City multi-level care facilities. At this time, the plans are still in the drafting stage. I will commit to the member opposite that, once those are public documents, I would be more than happy to provide them to the member opposite and I will ask the department and my assistants to take note of that request, as will I. As soon as those become public documents, we would be more than happy to make them available to all members of the public and to all MLAs, including the Member for Kluane.
Mr. McRobb: Well, thatís not good enough, Mr. Chair. The previous minister gave an undertaking to provide those documents. Now the new minister qualifies it. He puts us in the opposition benches no further ahead than the general public on this matter. We know how they treat the general public. The reality is that these studies may never be released to the public. So, the minister could be making just a completely false undertaking ó a hollow undertaking.
Mr. Chair, the minister qualified what the Member for Klondike previously didnít qualify. That speaks volumes in itself, because we know the Member for Klondike, in his previous role as Health minister, pretty well qualified everything. If ever we got an undertaking from him, well, it was one of those rare opportunities. Now the Member for Lake Laberge wonít even give us what we got out of the Member for Klondike. He wants to further qualify it. Letís get real here. The Member for Klondike, as Minister of Health and Social Services for the Yukon Party, gave us a commitment to provide us with those drawings, and it was unqualified. Would this minister at least do the same?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The Member for Kluane is making an issue out of something and making a mountain out of a molehill here. I will tell the Member for Kluane that Iím not going to release confidential Cabinet documents. We swear an oath that we will not do that. As soon as the documents being referred to are public documents, as soon as I may freely release them to members of the public and Members of the Legislative Assembly, we will be more than happy to provide them to the members opposite.
Since the Member for Kluane is not asking any questions relating to what is actually in this budget or to assist the public and other members of the Assembly in discussing the issues, Iíd like to talk about some of the things that this supplementary budget is to cover. We have money in the budget for the departmental workplace accommodation and reintegration costs related to reintegration of employees back to their substantive positions and training for positions that have resulted in costs of double staffing due to their initial return to work and through their training assignments.
All of these are located in the family and childrenís services branch. Thereís money in the supplementary budget to address the issue of Vuntut Gwitchin youth active living programs ó a contribution to implement an active living program in the community and in the school of Old Crow. This is the second year of a three-year agreement.
There is also $156,000 related to dealing with fuel spills, exploration and cleanup of fuel discovered on-site at 302 Lambert youth probation office. This is an issue members will recall has been talked about in the media and has been publicized. It was initially believed to be a very small fuel spill. Once remediation efforts began, a larger area of containment was discovered that had travelled to a neighbouring private business. Cleanup has been completed in accordance with the environmental regulations and the site was restored as closely as possible to pre-contamination conditions.
Thereís money for ó
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Cathers: † †Iím pleased to see the members opposite are interested in listening, Mr. Chair. Iím sure that someone is interested in what the money is being spent on.
Chair: The Chair is having a challenge hearing the person who has the floor. I would just ask members to lower the level of chatter so the member speaking can be heard.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Chair. There is money in the supplementary budget for the Canada Western FASD Partnership and FASD symposiums in the amount of $45,000. The group being referred to represents the three territories, B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This alliance works toward the development and promotion of an interprovincial/territorial approach to intervention, prevention, support and care of individuals affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. We pay an annual fee to belong to the partnership plus a share to fund the research network.
In addition, $15,000 was provided to host the FASD symposium in Dawson City. This portion is fully recoverable from the alliance.
As members are well aware, dealing with FASD and the five-step action plan for addressing that is something of great importance to this government that is having a profound affect on society ó that being the problem created by people who have been afflicted with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Many of them have difficulty dealing with even the simple tasks related to living their lives that many of us would not even think about twice. It does create problems through a wide variety of areas, and FASD, Iím given to understand, affects each individual differently and the impacts are different on every one of them. This money is to deal with the need to add to the original money voted in the mains, to provide funding for that worthwhile endeavour.
For family and childrenís services we also have an increase in services provided to children with autism and disabilities and their families to increase direct support to families with autistic or disabled children and intervention support for children. Thereís also money for additional staff and programming resources to expand the implementation of programming for autistic and disabled children.
There is an increase in the funding to Kausheeís Place in the amount of $93,000. We are increasing the money for the womenís shelter to assist them in doubling staff on all night shifts and to continue staffing a half-time position that coordinated the older abused womenís program. The latter was started as a pilot project through federal money. Even though the program was a success, the federal government would not continue to fund it. However, we have stepped forward to assist them in this endeavour.
Now that I have provided some information for the members opposite, I would be happy once again to entertain some questions and to provide them with substantive answers to their questions.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, we didnít get a reasonable response to our request that has been identified several times now. I would like to draw to the ministerís attention that there is a huge gap between what are confidential Cabinet documents and documents released to the public.
These conceptual plans may have already been leaked to someone in the public, because I recall a newspaper article in the Yukon News that had a conceptual plan of the new health centre in Dawson City. The storyline was something to the effect that its estimated cost was about $14 million. If I recall, when that edition came out, it was probably last February. Some of the information I am requesting certainly canít be confidential documents. We know that. These studies are floating around. There are probably all kinds of them on the shelf in the ministerís office. If he would just dust off a couple of them and send them over to the opposition parties, we would be done with it.
Again, how do we know these reports and studies will ever be stamped ďreleased to the publicĒ? We donít know that. The Member for Klondike didnít stipulate that qualification. He said he would provide them. Maybe he has some. Maybe itís the Member for Klondike we should be questioning here this afternoon, because this new minister isnít willing to uphold commitments his government made to the opposition parties only a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, if thatís the way it is, Mr. Chair, then thatís fine. As long as the Yukon public understands this, thatís fine.
He mentioned FASD and all the wonderful things he is doing. I want to move on to some questions and at least try to get some information out of this minister besides his briefing notes and commercial list. What will he do for adults with FASD?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, with regard to the Member for Kluaneís requests for information and for conceptual plans, I will say to him again: we cannot, of course, release to him any confidential documentation at this time; however, we are more than happy to make available documentation to him as soon as we are able to make it public knowledge. Anything that is available to the public, if the Member for Kluane requests it, we will be happy to provide it to him if he has not been able to locate it through the Web site or any of the myriad of other resources that provide this information in an easily accessible fashion to the general public.
Now, Iím glad that the Member for Kluane seems to be moving on from that request. I would urge the Member for Kluane, with regard to his questions of what weíre going to do for FASD, to actually read the five-step FASD action plan that was originally put forward in our 2002 election platform and has been elaborated on since. The Member for Kluane ought to recall numerous occasions in debate with the previous Health and Social Services minister about elements of this plan. The Member for Kluane seems to be so very fond of urging me to read Hansard; perhaps he might want to read Hansard to see what has come forward.
I would also advise the Member for Kluane that we are proceeding now with a new component in addition to the FASD action plan, which has considerable ramifications on the prevention of FASD ó that being the substance abuse action plan that was formulated this summer after involvement by quite a few stakeholders, by a myriad of stakeholders. The meeting room was packed for the main meeting that they had on this. There were also other submissions. It has been out for comment since then. The member opposite should have received a copy of the draft substance abuse action plan. He is on the list of those to whom it was provided. It shows that it was supposed to have been provided to all MLAs. If the Member for Kluane has not received a copy of the draft substance abuse action plan, I would be more than happy to undertake to provide that to him.
As has been noted before, the substance abuse action plan is a living document. There is work still underway. This type of document is something that I think at any given time should remain a living document with ongoing action items that actually see results rather than saying that, until the end of time you finalize the substance abuse action plan.
We have provided some results in keeping with the substance abuse action plan. The Member for Kluane should recall certain cold medications being removed from the floor of the pharmacy and put behind the counter to reduce the ability of people to access the precursors to the production of methamphetamines. That was one of the components that was recommended under the substance abuse action plan. There is currently work underway on a number of other items. I would be happy to invite the Member for Kluane to participate and make his comments on the substance abuse action plan known and perhaps discuss it with some of the many NGOs, citizens and front-line workers who are involved in the substance abuse action plan.
The leader of the Member for Kluaneís his own party was involved in this plan and in summits related to it. We are in the process now of taking next steps and moving forward with stakeholders. I would invite the Member for Kluane to read some of the documentation that has been provided already, and perhaps that would be of assistance to him in continuing our debate. I would hate to spend a lot of time referring to documents that are already out in the public domain or have already been sent individually to members and to spend a lot of time repeating Hansard, probably word-for-word, and what is in the substance abuse action plan. The document is available. If the Member for Kluane does not have a copy of it, I would be happy to provide it. If the Member for Kluane does not understand part of it, I would be happy to receive a request from the Member for Kluane for more information. I would be happy to discuss it with officials of the Department of Health and Social Services and see how we can assist the Member for Kluane by providing him with more information to clarify any misunderstanding or to provide him with more information related to the request of his constituents, to involve them in this.
We have brought it forward; it has been a very public process, with much stakeholder input and involvement. If the Member for Kluane has not reviewed any of that information, I suppose I could stand here and recite it all into Hansard again, but it does seem like a waste of time and a waste of time that other members of this House would perhaps wish to use to ask questions for information that is not already widely distributed within the public domain.
Mr. McRobb: I can best describe the ministerís approach as condescending and antagonistic. Itís not worthy of what to expect from a Minister of Health and Social Services, especially one who has been on the job but three or four days.
For this Member for Lake Laberge to come in here and adopt this attitude is totally unbelievable. Itís totally disrespectful for this House to be subjected to that type of rhetoric. This member doesnít deserve to be the Minister of Health and Social Services for the Yukon. He was asked a simple question; his response is, ďThe member ought to recallĒ and ďHe ought to refer to Hansard.Ē
Well, Mr. Chair, this is a circular argument that goes back to completely the opposite position he was arguing only minutes before. He not only wants us to do his homework, he wants us to answer our own questions. Thatís totally absurd.
The Member for Lake Laberge ó Iím going to call him the Member for Lake Laberge because I donít think heís worthy of being called ďministerĒ ó didnít answer the question. I asked what heís doing for adults with FASD. It has nothing to do with me consulting stakeholders in some process for some phony Yukon Party plan ó and thatís what it is, some phony plan. We want to get the Member for Lake Laberge on record.
But, you know, this is further evidence that the member has graduated from the Yukon Party school of how not to answer questions and how to give big commercial advertisements, because we see a lot more evidence to that effect.
Letís see if we could actually get something productive done. What will this minister do for adults with FASD?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: † The Member for Kluane is being rather confrontational. I appreciate that he may have some frustrations in trying to debate this topic. I would remind the member opposite that I have very clearly said that I am happy to provide information. If I have in any way in my replies been offensive to members of this House or to the public, I do apologize for that. It is certainly not my intent. I am attempting to cooperate. As members will know, earlier today the Member for Porter Creek South asked some very reasonable questions, and I gave what I thought were reasonable answers and a commitment to talk about the issue with the Member for Porter Creek South. They were matters that had not been raised with me before but I committed to her that if those commitments had not been followed through by the previous Health minister, I would happily discuss the issue with her and would happily look into it and provide her with as much information as I am able to with that regard.
Mr. Chair, Iím beginning to give up on receiving questions from the Member for Kluane, so I would like to talk about some of the other things that the money in the supplementary budget for Health and Social Services is here to address. Other members of this House are being deprived of the ability to ask questions, because the Member for Kluane is standing up and simply talking about how much he doesnít like me.
This budget has some items of real relevance to Yukoners. We believe that it is all important. That is why the money has been expended. It has been dealt with, with the officials of the department. It has been dealt with, with many NGOs. One of the items that this supplementary budget is to address is continued contribution toward First Nation youth camps. This is the second year the government has contributed funding toward establishment and operation of a youth camp with participation from all Yukon First Nations.
There is money also to deal with the increase in the number of children participating in out-of-territory programs. Three additional placements are anticipated to be required before year-end at treatment programs outside the territory. There is the increase in cost of food support for children in care in the amount of $70,000. Food, clothing and other supplies required to adequately support the needs of children in care have increased without corresponding budget increases, and that is what this supplementary budget is here to address.
There is also money to deal with an increase in space costs. More space was acquired for the family and children's services unit within the Royal Bank Building, and in addition, the cost of leased space has increased as a result of higher fuel, electricity and maintenance costs. As members of this House and all Yukoners will recall, we did put forward the energy rebate program to assist Yukoners in dealing with the high cost of heating fuels. It was specifically targeted toward those with lower incomes based on the GST tax credit and the individuals who receive that. The reason for not dealing with some other mechanism based on income was the administration costs that would be associated with that. The provision in accordance with those who receive the GST tax credit provides a way that is very simple to administer. It enables the cheques to get out quicker. It reduces the administration costs and the burden that would be placed on Finance officials by being required to review income tax statements one by one. It allows the money to be flowed in as expeditious a manner as possible.
As members will recall, we brought that forward in legislation to allow that program to be developed. That legislation was passed ó it was given third reading and it was proclaimed. In fact, it also gave rise, as a matter of interest, to a historic occasion whereby the Chief Justice of the Yukon Supreme Court gave royal assent to a piece of legislation, which is the first time in Yukon history that that has occurred. This is due to the fact that, at the moment, the Yukon does not have a Commissioner or an Administrator, due to a minor glitch in an order-in-council that appointed our new Commissioner, Ms. Geraldine Van Bibber, who previously served as Administrator. It led to a gap of about 15 days where she was neither Administrator nor Commissioner. Of course, the appointment of the previous Commissioner, Mr. Cable, had expired by that point. Ms. Van Bibber will be sworn in, I believe, tomorrow evening. As a matter of interest to members of the Assembly, it will be in the lobby.
Now, returning to items that are within the budget here ó there is an increase in the money for federal child tax credits. An increase in the rate for federal child tax credits has been passed along to individuals who are caring for their children and a budgetary amendment was needed to address this. There is an increase to childcare subsidies for children with special needs. A higher number of children with special needs have been identified. This has resulted in an increase to the childcare subsidies that provide for one-on-one care for children with special needs.
Also, there is money to deal with a position transferred to social services. The responsibility for residential programs for adults with disabilities is transferred from family and children's services to social services. The majority of funding was transferred in the 2005-06 mains, but funding for one portion was inadvertently missed during that transfer, and that was for the position of supervisor.
There is also $150,000 in this budget to increase the amount of money available for social assistance. Particularly in this case, it is due to the increase in rates that our government implemented for persons with disabilities.
There were also three new clients with disabilities requiring residential care, and money is included for that ó approximately $376,000. There is an increase due to the transfer of a position from family and childrenís services, to which I just referred. Sorry, that was a duplication on my notes, Mr. Chair. The lease cost for 204 Black Street is also included in this, because the cost to lease space for social services was never added to the budget in the spring.
Thereís also money for an increase in home care. The volume of home care requests has increased, with the majority of client need being in the delivery of long-term home support service versus acute, rehabilitative or palliative care. Client volume increases are a result of increased life expectancy, an increased aging population and an increase in people choosing care within their homes.
I hope that has provided information to members opposite and to the Member for Kluane. With regard again to his question related to what is being done for adults with FASD, as I advised him, much of that information has already been provided to him. I will undertake again to have the department provide the member opposite with information on what is being done to address the needs of those who are adults with FASD, since the member opposite has apparently lost the information.
Mr. McRobb: I didnít lose anything. We could have done without the first 15 minutes of that dialogue, because it was another Yukon Party commercial. The only thing of any substance was contained in the last sentence. He said department officials will undertake to respond with information.
Mr. Chair, thatís what we want. If he canít answer, we will accept undertakings. It took more than 15 minutes for the Member for Lake Laberge to get around to that.
I would urge him to speed up his delivery of the goods. Now, I want to also ask what he is prepared to do about funding the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon, or FASSY.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Iím very pleased to talk about FASSY to the Member for Kluane. Our government has provided an increase in funding to FASSY. We recognize the very valuable work that this group, the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon, undertakes. We have increased the funding. As members will recall, it has been noted by the organization in the public and in the media how greatly appreciative they are of that funding and that it is working to address real needs.
In fact, the member opposite, since he is so fond of urging me to read Hansard, would recall that we brought forward a motion on this, standing in my name when I was a private member, regarding FASSY and urging the federal government to renew their funding contribution to FASSY, which is due to end on March 31, 2006. Our government has increased the money for FASSY.
I do not have the information right in front of me. I can get the member the exact dollar figures if he wishes. I have previously stated those numbers on the floor of the House, but I do not have them off the top of my head, nor right in front of me at this moment. I would be happy to again commit to the member opposite ó we appreciate the valuable work that FASSY does. We have engaged with FASSY and their role as a valuable non-governmental organization delivering programs to Yukoners who are deeply in need of it. I would assure the member opposite that we have every intention of continuing to work with FASSY to address their needs, to address the needs of the clients that they serve so well. We look forward to continuing that relationship. I have not, since my appointment as minister, had the opportunity to sit down with FASSY, with their executive director or their board of directors. I look forward to that opportunity. As soon as their schedule and mine can be mutually reconciled, I would hope that they would be happy to sit down for a meeting, as I am sure they would, and I look greatly forward to sitting down with them and discussing how we may further enhance our efforts and participation in working with them and to assist them in serving the interests of those in need who have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Mr. McRobb: Is the Member for Lake Laberge listening? If so, I would urge him to dispense with the political speeches. Letís have some Q&A. What is he willing to do to commit to long-term core funding for FASSY?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The Member for Kluane should perhaps listen to what he says, because he did not specifically reference the issue of long-term core funding for FASSY in his initial remarks.
Matters such as long-term funding require the approval of Cabinet and Management Board. They also require the annual approval of the Legislative Assembly. I cannot stand here right now and make a long-term commitment on this, but I will commit to the Member for Kluane that we are deeply appreciative of the efforts that FASSY undertakes in dealing with this issue within our community. We recognize that they have a need for sustainable funding to assist them in dealing with their programs.
I will not commit to the member at this time how much of the funding in the future will be program specific and how much will be core funding. Those discussions will have to be undertaken, but I can assure the member opposite that we have no intention of ceasing to participate in our relationship with FASSY. We intend to work with them. We will address needs as they arise and as is appropriate. We will make every reasonable effort within the constraints of the budgetary allotments they have to address their issues, work with them and provide them with long-term security to the best extent possible.
Mr. McRobb: That answer can best be summed up as bafflegab without a commitment. I am asking for a commitment. Is the minister prepared to make a commitment to long-term core funding for FASSY? I would presume it would be in the next budget.
He talks about Cabinet. He talks about approval from the Assembly. This isnít what itís all about. Is he prepared to commit to have that funding in the budget for his department?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again, I state for the member opposite that, because these things do require the approval of Cabinet and Management Board ó which should be very evident to the member opposite ó I canít stand here right now and make a specific commitment in that regard. However, we recognize the need; we recognized early in our mandate the demonstrated need of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon; we have assisted them; we have gone further in that regard than any government previously. We are working with FASSY. They are doing a very good job, in my opinion, of delivering their programming and addressing the needs on the streets. I know this is also felt by other Yukoners. Iíve heard from constituents who are greatly concerned about the federal government ending their funding commitment to FASSY, which is a considerable amount of money.
Perhaps this being federal election time, it might be a good time for the federal government to commit to renewing that funding theyíre planning to cancel. Perhaps this is a question Yukoners and members of this House may wish to ask candidates running for the Yukonís Member of Parliament position, when they are knocking on doors during the federal election, if they will commit to restoring the federal funding for FASSY, which they plan to cancel, effective the end of March 2006.
Again, in reference to the Member for Kluane, I recognize there is a need for FASSY to have long-term security. We are committed to working with FASSY. We have engaged in working with FASSY and, as the new Minister of Health and Social Services, I look forward to sitting down with FASSY. I would hope to do so early within the new year, if their schedule allows, to begin discussing the issues that are relevant to them. In this current fiscal year, there is money budgeted that is flowing to FASSY and has flowed to FASSY.
The only commitment I can offer to the Member for Kluane at this time is that we will work very proactively with FASSY in assisting them in addressing the needs that they and their clients have, to the best of our ability, recognizing, of course, that the government must deal with budgetary requests on numerous fronts for numerous valuable programs, such as those within the department that I am responsible for where there is money for everything under the sun related to health services that the government is responsible for. There is a very long list that could be gone through. Perhaps the Member for Kluane would like us to engage in a full recital of all the products and paperclips and needles and vials that are purchased by Health and Social Services. I say that somewhat in jest. I am sure the Member for Kluane would not wish that to be gone through.
However, let me reiterate, to be very clear about this. We do recognize the work done by FASSY. We will work proactively with them and we will more than happily sit down and discuss with them what their needs are and how we can assist them in fulfilling them, and how we can assist them in engaging the federal government and achieving a sustainable commitment from the federal government to fulfill their role in that participation.
Mr. McRobb: Well, Iím sure some people wonít find that funny, especially the people who are losing their jobs this Christmas at FASSY and all the people with FASD they are helping. This pat on the back that the minister insists on giving is all he is prepared to do. It simply isnít enough for those people.
I am also not interested in debating the federal election on the floor of this House. That seems to be something several members of the Yukon Party want to do. It becomes a standard line for many of them over there ó talk to federal candidates, they say. Look, Mr. Chair, this government has a commitment to fulfill its responsibilities. The Member for Lake Laberge hasnít accepted his yet.
What is he doing to provide for the prevention of hepatitis C in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Well, first of all, with regard to the concerns the Member for Kluane raised regarding FASSY, I would like to stress to the member that I would hope he would appreciate that long-term funding agreements are not negotiated on the floor of the Legislature. To my knowledge, they never have been negotiated on the floor of the Legislature and I fail to see how they could have been negotiated on the floor of the Legislature. That is not the prudent and responsible way of dealing with things. The funding agreements are, in most cases, largely dealt with at the official level by pulling in people who have expertise and training in these areas and they are dealt with in context of the pressures that are placed on the department, the government and the consolidated revenue fund.
When the federal government backs out of an area of their responsibility and ends a funding commitment, it poses a problem for the territorial government. It poses a problem for every province and every territory in the country. The member will recall ó should recall ó this has been an issue that has been debated at many meetings and discussed in the media; many federal/provincial/territorial meetings have discussed this matter. There has been quite a bit of discussion in the media with regard to this in every jurisdiction ó to the best of my knowledge ó of this country, due to the issue of the federal government pulling out of areas that it funds: establishing these boutique programs for a few years, funding a very valuable area, and then withdrawing the funding so they can reallocate it somewhere else, and have a press release about that.
Mr. Chair, when the federal government withdraws its massive spending power from an area, it is often very difficult for provinces and territories to step in.
We have been working on that, and I believe we are still working on it right now.
We are currently engaged with working with FASSY, trying to re-engage the federal government into living up to their responsibility in this area. We would welcome a commitment there. We are certainly not trying to debate the federal election on the floor of the Assembly, but the Member for Kluane ought to recognize the role of the federal government and realize that it is very difficult for any jurisdiction ó any province, any territory, municipalities as well. If the federal government has been funding an area and then withdraws a large portion of funds, we are hard-pressed to come up from a much-diminished budget. We have engaged with FASSY and the federal government to encourage the federal government to come back to the table, to fulfill their responsibility and deal with this.
The Member for Kluane also raised the issue of Blood Ties Four Directions. I am pleased to inform the member that we currently do assist Blood Ties Four Directions. We do provide funding for programming. I do not have the numbers in front of me, but if my memory serves, it was an increase from what was previously provided.
Mr. McRobb: I am not going to argue these answers with the Member for Lake Laberge. If he doesnít answer the questions, then, fine, the record will speak for itself. If he doesnít put on the record what he is providing for the prevention of hepatitis C, I am not going to go back and revisit these questions and answers and spin out on them. I am going to move on and let the record speak for itself. If he doesnít mention an answer, then obviously he is doing nothing about these matters.
I didnít ask him about Blood Ties Four Directions funding. I asked him about what they are doing for the prevention of hepatitis C. Now I want to ask him about funding for Blood Ties Four Directions. I would ask him to think a little beyond his previous answer, because his previous answer related to an increase in the last mains budget for the NGO funding. Weíve been around that bush several times with the previous minister. This group is providing services that it had been previously promised funding for, but to this date it has not received it.
I want to ask the minister if he is prepared to give the group what it really needs to continue these services. If he is listening, would he also provide that agreement? We did get that undertaking from the previous minister.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: First of all, I would remind the Member for Kluane that hepatitis C compensation is a federal responsibility. Also, with regard to Blood Ties Four Directions, which is involved in the prevention of that, and with regard to his comment that there was a funding commitment that has not been fulfilled, I am pleased to inform the Member for Kluane that, if there is a commitment to Blood Ties Four Directions that has not been lived up to, it would be a federal commitment, because the Yukon government is fully honouring all commitments that have been made to Blood Ties Four Directions. We appreciate the work they do and we are honouring fully our funding commitments to that organization.
Mr. McRobb: This isnít about compensation. The Member for Lake Laberge is confused again. Obviously, they are doing nothing about the problem of the lack of funding. Fine. He didnít commit to provide the agreement. Fine. We see the Member for Lake Labergeís lack of commitment to these matters. Theyíre on the record, so letís move on.
What is the Member for Lake Laberge doing to promote and train emergency medical services volunteers in the communities?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would assure the Member for Kluane, first of all, that it is the Department of Health and Social Services that engages in areas of training and working with front-line officials. I can assure him that I will be working with the officials of Health and Social Services regarding addressing the needs for such items where we are able to do so and when it is appropriate. We will be weighing the merits of that.
I personally do not have the qualifications to train emergency medical personnel. I am sure the Member for Kluane does not either.
I believe the Member for Kluane was asking for a copy of the agreement with Blood Ties Four Directions. My understanding is that that is a document that can be made public and is available. I will ask my department to provide me with a copy of that agreement so that I may provide it to the member opposite and assist him in understanding that. I hope that I have answered the Member for Kluaneís questions in this regard.
Mr. Chair, I assure you that I will be happily and energetically working with the officials of Health and Social Services to determine how we can address demonstrated needs, including the shortage of medical personnel. As the member will recall, we have discussed this issue on the floor of the House. I have stated publicly to the media that the issue of the shortage of family physicians is a problem that is faced by many Yukoners; there is also a shortage nation-wide not only of physicians, but there is an existing and coming shortage of personnel in other areas, such as in fields with registered nurses that, due to the demographics of the population, the aging population, the aging demographic that will require more care, coupled with those who are reaching retirement age within that professional field, is becoming a problem. It is also a problem that was exacerbated by a poor decision back in the 1990s, I believe it was, by a number of governments to cut some of the funding provided to universities to assist them in the supplement of what programming costs. That resulted in a spike in tuition fees for medical students and for some other fields and resulted, consequently, in a diminished number of applicants and students who are actually taking those courses. I hope that has assisted the member.
Mr. McRobb: In Ross River, what is he doing to assess environmental health issues affecting First Nation housing?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: With regard to environmental health issues in Ross River in First Nation housing, the member ought to recall, since he is so fond of referring me to Hansard, that the issue of black mould in First Nation housing has been discussed. His colleague, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, is familiar with this issue and has asked a number of questions regarding this issue.
The issue of black mould in First Nation housing is one we are concerned about. The issues related to this are complicated. It is my understanding that the Yukon government environmental health branch requires an invitation to go on to First Nation land to look at their housing. We have limited resources, and there is also the fact that the provision of this housing for First Nations was, in large part, done by the federal government, through the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, in keeping with their fiduciary responsibilities as they relate to aboriginal Canadians. These houses were not constructed to building code, as there is no requirement for the federal government to follow the building code when it constructs housing. Thatís my understanding of the cause of these issues, in large part. It is a matter for which the federal government has to recognize its responsibility.
I would point out to the members opposite that the Yukon government cannot take on all the responsibilities encompassed by any federal department, including the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. I believe it is Indian and Northern Affairs Canada now. They have revised the name. We cannot assume INACís responsibilities for which it is funded billions of dollars by the federal government annually to address.
In some of these cases, we can only work with First Nations and Yukoners who are affected in trying to get the federal government to come back to the table to cease abrogating their area of responsibility and address the problem. I would also point out to the Member for Kluane that it was a key commitment made by the current federal Liberal government during their last election campaign, that they would be addressing the issues of problems with First Nation housing. If memory serves, this was not the first time they committed to such, and they have yet to live up to that.
Perhaps the member opposite would be more interested in pressuring whoever our new Member of Parliament is, to urge the federal government to actually live up to their responsibility, rather than trying to off-load responsibility for programming to a level of government that simply does not have anything approaching the financial capacity to deal with the problems that have been off-loaded on to it.
Mr. McRobb: What is he prepared to do to end the claw back of the child tax benefit supplement from social assistance clients?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †I will have to take that question under advisement and discuss it with officials of Health and Social Services. It is an issue relating to financial management and the formula that is applied to assessing social assistance payments. I am not an expert in that area. I will have to discuss with those who are and determine the information and look into that information. We will address that matter in the appropriate fashion once we determine what the appropriate fashion is. I will have to take that question under advisement.
Mr. McRobb: Does addressing it in the appropriate fashion mean giving some information to us in the opposition benches?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †I will undertake to look into this matter and at that time, when I do have information, I would be happy to assist members opposite in letting them know. Well, Mr. Chair, let me put it simply here: if a change is made to that, we will certainly make that change public. Not only will members opposite be made aware, but all Yukoners will be made aware of that change. At this time, I do have to take the question under advisement, as it is a technical financial matter related to social assistance payments and I am not an expert in that field and I will not be modifying the social assistance structure here on the floor of the Legislature.
If at such time we do decide that it is necessary to do so, as we increase the social assistance payments for those with disabilities, then we will certainly make that announcement public and any funding changes will, of course, be reflected in the budgets that are presented to this Legislative Assembly.
Mr. McRobb: Let the record show that there is no commitment from the Member for Lake Laberge to give us any information that isnít given to the general public.
Now, can we expect to have the revisions to the Childrenís Act tabled in this Legislature before the end of the spring sitting?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The Childrenís Act review has been done in participation with Council of Yukon First Nations and, because we are relying on partnership and cooperation of working together to reach an outcome ó what I will say very clearly to the member opposite is, if the process is not concluded in a manner we feel is appropriate and that has included and reflected the participation of the partners involved ó that being the Yukon government and Council of Yukon First Nations ó we will not table a flawed document or an incomplete act simply to satisfy the membersí opposite desire for timing. I cannot commit that it will be tabled in the spring sitting. Members will recall that it had been stated before as a hope for outcome; work is still underway right now on the Childrenís Act review and I assure the members opposite that, as soon as we are able to complete it and to have a final and appropriate document done, that document will be brought forward ó that bill will be brought forward for debate in the Assembly.
Mr. McRobb: Is the member willing to bring forward legislation that bans smoking in all public places in the Yukon? If so, when might we expect it?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: We certainly recognize that smoking is an issue of importance to Yukoners, and there are considerable effects associated with both sides of this issue. I can assure the member opposite that we will not rule out that possibility. I am not going to table legislation tomorrow to address that issue, nor can I commit to when that will ever be dealt with. In my opinion, this is a matter that will likely be dealt with by the Yukon public at some point. We want any such document or legislation to be done fully involving the Yukon public, because it affects them profoundly. The number of home businesses that are involved can be affected due to that. The impact of changes related to smoking in the workplace is something that can affect small business owners operating out of their own homes and can affect them in an unfair and negative manner if that is done inappropriately. We will certainly not rule out the development of such legislation. We are fully interested in participating with Yukoners in discussions relating to any such matters of importance, but we will do so in due course and with full public involvement. I will not stand here in the Legislature and commit to the Member for Kluane to a specific date when any such public process will be concluded, as that would not be reflective of the public interest, in my opinion. I believe that any such legislation must have full involvement and discussions of its impacts, both positive and negative, from the side of both the restriction and permission of smoking in workplaces.
Mr. McRobb: What is he prepared to do to increase the medical travel allowance for Yukon outpatients?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I recognize that this is an issue of importance. I recognize also that there have been numerous discussions between him and the previous Minister of Health and Social Services in Hansard ó which the Member for Kluane is so fond of ó regarding this issue and regarding the difference in how we provide funding for outpatient travel in comparison to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
I certainly cannot stand here on this issue and commit to the member opposite a specific outcome or a change. There are numerous pressures on the Yukon government, in particular the Department of Health and Social Services. It has been an ongoing issue for the last 15 or 20 years, perhaps even longer ó the Department of Health and Social Services having difficulty dealing with the high cost and increase to cost for medical services. I believe the spike in the last 15 years has consistently been in the order of a $7-million to $10-million increase per annum for the cost of health services. We are very respectful of that need.
As far as the number for the percentage increase, I would have to check the exact numbers for how much it has increased and for how many years, but it has been a significant increase and often an overage in the Department of Health and Social Services for many years.
We are very cognizant of the needs that are faced by Yukoners. Department officials and many people are very dedicated and work very long hours, in some cases, for many years in dealing with these problems and issues. There are a myriad of fronts and, quite frankly, the Member for Kluane ought to appreciate that there is not enough money within the Yukon budget to deal with everything we would like to deal with or that would enhance the lives of Yukoners. Thereís simply not enough money out there.
We are committed to fighting the problems that are being faced from coast to coast in every jurisdiction with increasing health costs and the declining number of professionals who are available and the difficulty in attracting those professionals. We are committed to addressing the rising health costs; we are committed to working with that and not only to maintaining services, which is a struggle in every jurisdiction, but in working to enhance them, as we are best able.
I will have to take the member oppositeís question under advisement with regard to the specifics of outpatient travel. I cannot provide him an answer at this time, but I will certainly make note of that issue and discuss that with the Department of Health and Social Services. We do recognize that concern, and we recognize that there is merit to that argument. But there are merits to many other arguments and many other budgetary requests as well.
Chair: Weíve reached our normal time for an afternoon recess. Do members wish a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Weíll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 17, Second Appropriation Act, 2005-06, with Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services, and continue general debate.
Mr. McRobb: Well, we didnít get much of an undertaking on the record about banning smoking in all public places in the Yukon. I want to ask the minister about students who also smoke. There are some rather alarming statistics in the territory. If you look at the group from grades 8 to 10 and compare them to the next group, in grades 11 and 12, youíll find that in the latter group the incidence of student smokers doubles. Whatís the minister planning to do about this?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Iíd like to inform the Member for Kluane that we already have initiatives underway ó education programs on that. The name of the most recent one is escaping me right now, but it has been targeted at informing youth of the risks of doing that and trying to get people to stop smoking.
Smoking is a personal choice. We canít force them not to do it. There are enforcement efforts that are engaged in by the RCMP with regard to the fact that it is an offence to sell cigarettes to children. There is a requirement for the provision of ID. Perhaps the next time the member is at a gas station, he will note that on the wall behind the cigarette stand. It is located in most stores. It is, of course, an offence to provide them. That has not stopped the problem for many years and children do acquire them somehow. We are working on the education initiatives, but simply to make something illegal does not mean that people will not engage in that activity, as has been evidenced by the problems we are currently experiencing in the Yukon and in every jurisdiction in the country regarding the increased use of illegal drugs, such as crystal meth.
The fact that we have to deal with these problems underlines the fact that making something illegal doesnít mean it wonít be practised. I hope that the member opposite appreciates that educating people about the risks of doing this and trying to create the impression for kids that smoking is not cool is probably the most effective way to target it. If the Member for Kluane has a constructive suggestion about how we should be targeting it, and he has an initiative that he would like to propose we undertake with regard to stopping smoking and encouraging children and youth not to engage in that behaviour, I would be more than happy to hear his suggestions and discuss with the department and experts in the field how we might initiate them.
So if the Member for Kluane has a suggestion, Iíd like to hear it.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, obviously what the minister is doing now isnít working. As for his offer to follow up on any suggestions I might have, I simply donít trust him. I donít trust any member of this Yukon Party government. The Yukon Party consistently rejects any suggestion from the opposition. We know that. Itís not just us who donít trust this government. More than half of Yukoners in a recent poll donít trust this government either. As a matter of fact, three-quarters of them said they wonít vote for the Yukon Party, and we know why.
I want to turn to addictions treatment. What plans does the minister have to train addiction workers in Yukon communities?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: In reference, first of all, to the Member for Kluaneís statement about the suggestion that my initiatives as the Minister of Health and Social Services were not addressing the issue of children and youth smoking, Iíd like to make the member aware that there are no statistics available for whether, in the time between Monday of this week and today, youth smoking has increased, decreased, stayed the same or had no statistical change. The programming that I informed him of was in place, was being undertaken. The problem in fields such as this, as I would hope the member would appreciate, is that itís not always easy to tell with something such as an education program to combat smoking whether the program is working or not, because the problem with any such program comes with how you measure its success.
It would be very simple, but overly simplistic, to say that a decline in the rate of youth smoking means a program is working and that an increase in the rate of youth smoking, or other such behaviour, means that the program is failing. There are demographic elements at work, there are issues regarding peer pressure, there are issues relating to what other substances may be abused. People who engage in the abuse of alcohol, for example, and are binge drinkers or heavy drinkers, are often very prone to engage in smoking when they do so. There is a fair amount of ó Iím not sure what the exact term is ó cross-addiction, for lack of a better term, when they have both combined with the problems of smoking and of drinking. So, simply to say that there are more youth, or a higher percentage, or less youth, or a lower percentage, smoking or not smoking or engaging in similar behaviour ó it is something that we can apply best guesses to about whether this is a result of programming or the result of other changes within society that are afoot ó for example, programs within schools to deal with activities, physical education, dealing with sports. Sports that are available within the community ó participation in sporting events outside of the government system through the numerous sports teams and activities that are set up in the territory ó are something that can have an effect on smoking. If someone is participating in sports and is athletic, first of all, they have that activity to keep themselves occupied and are less likely to resort to hanging out behind the school, or wherever, and lighting up with their buddies. They are more likely to be out practising for some of that time and thus less likely to fall into such behaviours. Thereís also the fact that someone who is competitive at sports is more likely to be ó more likely than the general public and the general population of youth ó aware of health-related issues, to be aware of the need to eat healthily, to be aware of the need to do cross-training to improve their performance in sports ó such as running, for example. Weightlifting can assist runners in performing better through doing weightlifting with iron weights and the use of things such as a Smith machine or a rowing machine.
Mr. Chair, there is a fair amount of benefit provided by engaging in such activities. As stated, those who engage in them and who are competitive often have a desire to become more capable and more competitive, and thus are far more likely to cease the pursuit of harmful behaviour such as smoking, overeating, drinking or simply eating unhealthy foods or spending a lot of time on the couch watching TV.
I hope that has been helpful to the member opposite.
Mr. McRobb: Is he prepared to support a diploma course in addictions counselling at Yukon College?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †That is an issue that affects not only the college and their ability to provide services, but any provision of such a program would have an affect on their operations, on their budget, on their ability to provide such a program. That is something that would not be fair of me to commit the college to do.
The Minister of Education, of course, is responsible for working with Yukon College and the Yukon College Board of Directors. It would not be fair to the Minister of Education for me to make a commitment without fully discussing it with him, as it involves his department, and without talking to my officials regarding exactly what type of programming should be dealt with, where we would borrow such programming from or how we would develop it.
I simply cannot at this time stand here on the floor of the Legislature and give the member a yes-or-no answer. I appreciate his concern. I recognize the need for training for areas such as that. We will take the request under advisement. I will discuss that with officials and we will, as with any reasonable idea, take it under consideration in the context of our limitations both in terms of staffing and budget.
Mr. McRobb: Well, letís see if the minister is prepared to support addiction treatment centres outside of Whitehorse.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: The member will recall that we had discussed the substance abuse action plan. This is a coordinated approach toward dealing with the problems of addictions. It has involved a large number of stakeholders, front-line workers, non-governmental organizations and First Nations. This substance abuse action plan will be looking at a number of areas related to addressing problems of substance abuse.
The issue of treatment centres is also something that has effects and linkages to the correctional reform process, which is underway through the good work of the Minister of Justice and the officials of the Department of Justice, who are proceeding with this process. Again, it is not something that I can stand here on the floor and give the member a yes-or-no answer to, as I believe he fully knows.
We will be reviewing this matter. It is certainly not the first time such an idea has been raised. I will not be making snap decisions on the floor of the Legislature simply because the Member for Kluane thinks it might be a good idea. The Member for Kluane knows full well that we will be reviewing the request for such matters, and we will be discussing them with the partners in these fields and with First Nations in such areas, as far as how we can address the needs in that area and, in fact, in determining what those needs are.
Mr. McRobb: Well, obviously, the Member for Lake Laberge isnít prepared to do much about anything. Letís find out what heís prepared to do to increase social assistance rates.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Would the member please repeat that question?
Mr. McRobb: Is this the same Member for Lake Laberge who only minutes ago was accusing us of not listening? I asked him what he is prepared to do to increase social assistance rates.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: With regard to paying attention, if the Member for Kluane was paying attention to what was said earlier, we did increase the rates under social assistance for people who are disabled. That step was taken to address those needs. The Yukon already, compared to the rest of the country, has very high social assistance rates. I will discuss this with the officials. If they feel that the needs are not being adequately met, we will certainly discuss that. I will discuss with my Cabinet and caucus colleagues whether or not it is necessary to review this matter and take any action on it.
The first step will be to discuss it with the front-line workers in the field. They have the expertise. The officials in the department and involved in the financial matters have the knowledge of the implications and effect this would have. I will be reviewing the matter with those officials. We will take steps if we believe that there is a demonstrated need.
Mr. McRobb: What is the percentage of current social assistance recipients who are disabled?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I canít quote the percentage of social assistance recipients who are disabled off the top of my head. I will have to take that question under advisement and get back to the member opposite regarding that issue. It may be a moving target number. I canít provide it to the member at this time, but I will take it under advisement.
Mr. McRobb: We will look forward to receiving that information.
I would also like to ask him if he can get back to us about the cost of increasing social assistance rates, letís say, 10 percent and, if the cost wouldnít double if it were increased to 20 percent, could he explain why? If we get the figure for 10 percent, we can make some assumptions and just multiply it on that basis. If it cannot be extrapolated as such, then we would request an explanation as to the reason for that.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: With regard to the impact of increasing social assistance rates by 10 percent, I would advise the Member for Kluane that that would presumably have a 10-percent increase on that line item. That is not something incorporated in the supplementary budget, which I have in front of me right now. It is something that would be encompassed in the main budget. Therefore, I will have to take that question under advisement.
In fact, what I would suggest to the member opposite is perhaps he should pull out his copy of the 2005-06 main budget that was passed in the spring of 2005-06, pull out a calculator and enter the number that is shown in there, times 0.1, and he will determine what the cost is. If there is any confusion relating to what is in the mains or if it is not entirely clear in the form that it is presented, then I would ask the member to advise me, and we will certainly look into that information at that time and get back to the member opposite.
Mr. McRobb: Well, thatís unacceptable, because we know this government informed Yukoners its own budget was inaccurate by tabling a supplementary earlier this year. And there is another supplementary now, and the lapses total some $60 million and counting. So nobody knows what the totals are for what this government is spending. That is why I asked the minister.
I didnít quite hear if he undertook to provide that information along with the other stuff, so I would just like him to confirm that he will do that.
At least one more question related to this matter ó what does he plan to do, if anything, to help alleviate the numbers of SA recipients in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I appreciate that question. I thank the member opposite for giving me the opportunity to explain to him how the Yukon Party, since taking office in 2002, has worked to improve the economy, how the unemployment rate has fallen from being the second-highest in the country to now being consistently ó since last year ó between the second and fourth lowest, depending on the month. It reached a historic low of 4.2 percent, contrary to what happened under previous governments, when we saw an exodus of the population. Under the previous two governments, the NDP and the Liberals, we saw the population of the Yukon go down by approximately 4,000 people.
We have seen an increase in the population. More Yukoners are moving in. And, with this happening, at the same time, we have had an increase in the number of people employed and a decrease in the unemployment rate.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Mitchell, on a point of order.
Mr. Mitchell: †According to Standing Order 19(b), ďMembers shall be called to order by the Speaker or by the Chair if he speaks to matters other than the question and discussion,Ē et cetera. I donít see where this has any relevance to this Department of Health and Social Services.
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: There is no point of order. The Member for Kluane had asked me what the government had done to decrease the reliance on social assistance rates. I was responding to a direct question. Perhaps, if the Chair or the member of the third party feel that the Member for Kluaneís question is not relevant to the budget, I would urge them to take that up with him. I was simply responding to a question.
Chair: There is no point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Iím not commenting on the point of order. I would have liked to have, but Iím not commenting on it. Aside from that, I believe the Member for Lake Laberge misquoted what I said. I didnít ask him what the government had done. I asked him what heís planning to do.
He gets into the Yukon Party commercial and the message box thatís clearly outside this Department of Health and Social Services.
What Iím asking, in the context of this department, is what he is planning to do. We only have to go back one decade to remember the witch hunt launched by the Yukon Party health minister into SA recipients.
Chair: Order please. The Chair has a hard time believing that the term ďwitch huntĒ is perfectly acceptable in an Assembly such as this. Although it may have been used in previous debates, it has no bearing on this debate. This Chair finds that term out of order.
Is there a comment that the member would like to make?
Withdrawal of remark
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair. If other members wish to say something on the record, I assume that they would stand up. I retract the use of the words.
Chair: Order please.
Mr. McRobb: What I would like to say instead is ó
Chair: Did the member not hear the word ďorderĒ?
Mr. McRobb: No, I did not hear what you said, Mr. Chair.
Chair: I will repeat it again. Order.
Chair: The Chair appreciates the memberís helpful hints and advice. If the member has other comments he would like to make regarding the Chairís duty, he is more than welcome to address that outside of this debate.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Chair. My words were suggestions to other members of the Assembly, not to the Chair.
The previous investigation was launched by the former Yukon Party Health minister a decade ago into social assistance recipients and possible fraud claims and so on. I have a hunch that this minister has the same psyche as that former minister.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Cathers, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: † The Member for Kluane is very clearly imputing false or unavowed motives upon me in suggesting that I have some nefarious plan. That is certainly contrary to anything I have said. I would urge you to have him refrain from doing so.
Chair: Order please. The Chair didnít hear any interpretation or aspersions cast. There is no point of order.
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Chair, I think the Member for Lake Laberge is perhaps a little sensitive about this. We know that the previous Yukon Party minister did publicly announce his investigation, and I want to know: does this minister have any secret plans to do the same?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Let me say very simply to the member opposite: no. I hope that is a clear enough response to the memberís question.
Now, Mr. Chair, with regard to the question previously by the Member for Kluane that I was not given the opportunity to answer due to points of order, I would like to clarify for the Member for Kluane that he might wish to discuss with some of his colleagues, or perhaps with Finance officials or perhaps take a course at Yukon College, about budgeting to understand that supplementary budgets are not due to inaccuracies in budgeting.
The process of corporate management and government management does require modifications. The supplementary estimates that are brought forward for modification are to give vote approval to the modifications made within a fiscal year due to the need for management and for cash management and for dealing with programs and the issue of programs that are not delivered or projects that are not delivered due to problems or that do not meet the full expense that was booked or perhaps that go over the expense that was booked.
It is a necessary part of finance and of dealing with that and, rather than the member opposite suggesting that supplementary budgets are brought forward due to a mistake, I would urge him to fully reflect the facts and note that it is due simply to the way the process works. Every government in Canada deals with supplementary estimates; it is simply the way the process is dealt with.
Now, I would like to help the member opposite by telling him about a few more things that we are doing in this supplementary budget. There is money due to the opening of two new beds in Copper Ridge Place. The beds were open in the last fiscal year but staff were not hired and costs were not incurred until such time as the patients were resident in that facility.
There is funding to the seniors association in Haines Junction. Iím sure the Member for Kluane will be happy to hear that, if he was not aware. The seniorís association will be providing services and support to seniors in Haines Junction.
There is money for an increase in the amount of money for hospital claims because outpatient and in-patient rates increased in B.C. hospitals by about one percent and there was also an increase in volume. As members are aware, the Yukon government Department of Health and Social Services, for which I am the minister responsible, does contract with the hospitals outside the Yukon to provide some of the services that we are not able to, due to our small size and population and demand on those services.
The rates for hospitalization, again, Mr. Chair, are included in this budget. Thereís also an increase in the volume of medical claims; a continued increase in medical claims due to the increase in the number of physician services provided has been seen within this fiscal year.
More specialists are coming to the Yukon, and I would point out to the member opposite that this is through the work of officials at the department in setting up increased access to specialist services for Yukoners. As a result of that increase in services that are provided, more specialists are coming to the Yukon. There is an increased access to walk-in clinics in the Yukon, and more surgeries in the Yukon have also led to higher costs. There is an increase in costs of chronic disease, extended benefits, and childrenís optical programs. Increased drug and medical supply costs have also increased the average cost per claim.
The Whitehorse General Hospital has had an increase in drug costs, and the training and start-up costs of the echocardiographic program have resulted in an increase, which is encompassed in this budget. The equipment has been purchased through the Yukon Hospital Corporation fundraising, which members and the Yukon public will recall has been conducted this year ó I believe it has been a total of three years now, through the hard efforts of this volunteer organization and the participation of many local businesses and Yukoners that contribute to this fund, contribute auction items and decorate Christmas trees as part of the Festival of Trees, which are then sold to raise money for this. This is something I can tell any members who have not been to one of the balls that has been held ó all three years have culminated with Rudolphís Grand Ball, which is put on by one of our local business people as the main sponsor. It has tremendous investment and participation by many local businesses and individuals and is quite the affair.
It is a good job done by all. It is good to see the contribution of these people, who are working to address the problems faced in health care. It is a problem. It is one more thing that is faced in every jurisdiction. There have been private fundraising efforts for this. To my knowledge, most jurisdictions in the country do have efforts such as this underway. It is just one more symptom of the fact that money does not grow on trees. We are facing the difficulty from coast to coast of escalating costs of health care, the declining number of professionals, including doctors, that are available, and the increased number of patients due to the population demographics. We are struggling from coast to coast to maintain the standards of service but, as previously stated, here in the Yukon we are committed to not only maintaining that standard of service but also enhancing it.
Work that has been done on that include our Premier and the premiers of the other two northern territories walking out on the former Prime Minister, Mr. Chrťtien, on national TV at the First Ministers conference meeting. Through this display, they gained recognition for the first time that per capita funding does not address our needs in northern jurisdictions with our vast areas and sparse populations and gained, for the first time ó
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Order please. Mr. McRobb, on a point of order.
Mr. McRobb: On a point of order, the leader of the third party previously cited a rule. I believe it applies here. I asked the Member for Lake Laberge about a secret plan for SA rates. Now he has launched into the standard Yukon Party commercial and heís wasting time. Itís yet another example of that approach.
Chair: Order please. There is no point of order.
The member has the floor.
Hon Mr. Cathers: In case the member was not listening, with regard to his allegations and suggestion that perhaps I had a secret plan with SA rates, let me state the answer again: absolutely, unequivocally, no. I hope the member has taken notes this time.
I would like to again return to informing the member opposite and those in the public who may be listening to this or who may read this later of some of the efforts that are underway in health care and the challenges that are being faced. I was referring to, for the information of the members opposite, the challenges that are faced in health care, the problem being faced by escalating costs. I was referring to the instance where our Premier and the premiers of Nunavut and the N.W.T. finally gained recognition from the federal government; for the first time in Canadian history, they gained the recognition that per capita funding programs do not address the needs of our northern jurisdictions with our sparse populations and with our large areas of land.
I am pleased to see the members opposite are listening.
Mr. Chair, we are also waiting for the northern health access fund, which has been committed to all three territories by the federal government, and they have not yet flowed these funds. There has been planning work within the Department of Health and Social Services regarding where they would allocate their funds, because there is a tremendous need for services and there are many areas where we would like to see services enhanced. However, we do have to see the federal government come through on this funding and actually flow it before we are able to spend it. We have to have the money in the bank before we can write the cheque.
I hope that information has been helpful to the members opposite. I would welcome more questions.
Chair: Before debate continues, the Chair recognizes that when the member started his response, he encouraged another member to take a course. That has been ruled out of order in the past and it is inappropriate in this Assembly.
Mr. McRobb: I want to ask the Member for Lake Laberge about dental therapists and the childrenís dental program. His predecessor announced a contract to a Hay River firm. I would like to hear an update on whatís going on there.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I do recall the issue; however, I donít recall the specifics off the top of my head, or the current status. I am not going to speak off the cuff without providing the correct information to the member opposite. I will have to commit to taking the question under advisement and will get back to the member at a later date with the answer to that question.
Mr. McRobb: Thatís fine, Mr. Chair. What are the updated costs for the Watson Lake health or seniors facility? What is the name for it?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: This issue relates to a question asked earlier by the member opposite with regard to the conceptual plans for the Watson Lake facility. This is a living process, and I canít provide the member with a figure at this time. I would be pleased to inform the member opposite. I would also like to let him know that this is something we will certainly be making publicly available on the contract registry. Through the usual procedures, this information will be made public. I would urge the member opposite to look at that. If he has any trouble locating that, please feel free to contact my office. We will happily ask the department to provide that to the member opposite.
Mr. McRobb: Asking us to do his homework, the platitudes, qualified answers, finger-pointing at the federal government, time-consuming commercials, lack of will to work with all members and excuses for not knowing anything is good enough for me. Clear.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †I would urge the Member for Kluane to just take a look of what has been said. I hope that Iíve been cooperative. I look forward to the questions from the next member who has questions. I hope that I can fully answer his questions.
Mr. Mitchell: Drug and alcohol programming ó not too long ago, the government released a substance abuse action plan that I think was published this fall. Hard-working employees in this ministerís department have told me that they need less planning and more action. There is a need for longer term residential treatment options; otherwise what we have is a perpetual cycle of the same people continuously entering into programs ó which is a difficult decision for anybody to undertake ó and then they are not there long enough to break the cycle. So, when they return to their former environment, their home communities, they are surrounded by the same unhealthy environment where they fell into addictive behaviour and they end up, once again, in trouble.
I am wondering if this minister has any plans to look at longer term residential programs to increase the length of the available stay to try to address this issue.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: † I thank the Member for Copperbelt for his question there.
I canít, at this time, stand here on the floor and commit to anything as far as what will come into place or what might come into place. All I can commit to at this time is reviewing this matter with officials in the context of the substance abuse action plan and the commitments we have made to nongovernmental organizations and to First Nations, among others. I need to find out what our obligations are with regard to this and to consulting on such a matter. There are also, of course, a myriad of implications related to resourcing it, toward cost, toward such things. So, I canít commit to the member opposite that that will come into place. But I can commit to him and will commit to him that we will look at this matter and it will be something that I do discuss with officials, and I would be happy to discuss this in the future with the member opposite.
Mr. Mitchell: †† I thank the minister for his response. I hope that he will look into this because Iíve heard it from many people, including some who have been employed in that department. So, I believe that there is a need out there and I am sure that the minister, if he looks into it, will see thereís a demonstrated need and look for an opportunity to fill it.
An issue that my colleague and I, as well as a number of members from the official opposition, have raised in this House is the continuing concern with the shortage of health care professionals. Itís most often cited in terms of family practitioners, physicians, and orphan patients; people who are forced to deal with serial visits to walk-in clinics because they canít get on a patient list. But it goes beyond that. We certainly have a shortage of other health care professionals from nurses to nurse practitioners to medical technicians.
Weíve presented some suggestions ó constructive suggestions ó from this side of the House regarding various plans that have been tried in other jurisdictions. They have been tried in other provinces, theyíve even been employed by the Canadian Armed Forces, and thatís some form of forgivable tuition loans that convert to grants or are written off after a certain amount of time where a student, upon completing their studies or† ó in the case of doctors ó their residency, will return to this jurisdiction.†
I know that the minister, prior to being a minister, heard us raise that issue. I am sure, being a keen member of this Legislative Assembly, he has probably thought about it and perhaps even done some research. We didnít get a very thorough answer from the former minister, and we got an answer from the acting minister that thanked us for the question but told us how many hours he had been the acting minister, and Iím hoping weíll get something more concrete from this minister. So I am interested in whether this minister has done any research or has asked the department to, and whether itís an area that heíll look into.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Yes, as the member, I believe, is well aware, we do have a problem from coast to coast with a growing shortage and pressure on the number of personnel, not just doctors but other health professionals. I do appreciate that suggestion of forgivable loans related to tuition for medical students. In fact, actually, it is something that I had heard from a constituent and had previously raised with the former minister as an idea of a possibility. So I can certainly understand where the member is coming from on that. Itís an idea that personally I think has some merit to it. There are other issues, of course, related to feasibility of other potential programs and things that I certainly am not an expert on and wouldnít profess to be. That is something that I will be discussing with officials from the Department of Health and Social Services and I will be looking into that matter. I think itís a reasonable suggestion. I canít say to the member opposite or to myself, in answer to our joint question on that, that it is the answer or it is a part of the solution that should or will be applied. We have to look at the feasibility of it in comparison to other initiatives. Of course, everything has to come within the context of a balanced budget. But I think itís a very reasonable suggestion, and itís one that I will be discussing with my department.
Mr. Mitchell: †Iím encouraged by the ministerís expression of interest in at least investigating the program. I know the minister has mentioned that this is a Canada-wide shortage ó and I agree with the minister that it is ó and the acting minister had made the same comments. But, again, we are competing Canada-wide, and we do that in many areas. We have all sorts of incentive programs to try to be more successful in mining industries, and in film industries, and in other areas, recognizing that much of what we do here is competing with other jurisdictions to provide the best services for Yukoners. So, Iím hopeful that the minister will look at entering into this particular competition as well, because itís one that speaks to the basic quality of life in Yukon.
Again, the multi-level care facility ó the $5.2 million in this budget will be lapsing down to the housekeeping amount of $1 for Dawson. Can the minister give us some information? We know that the plans were being heavily modified by a hands-on approach by the previous minister. Iím wondering if this minister is interested in having that kind of hands-on involvement or whether this minister will be directing his officials to move forward expeditiously to get that project back on track and, if so, whether it might be based closer on the plans that had been endorsed by the community in a consultation process of a one-level facility ó not a two-level facility ó and designed by a professional architect who, ironically, was sole-sourced. So, he must have been the right architect for the job or we wouldnít have had the government sole-sourcing the project.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: First of all, I would like to begin by commenting on the first part of the memberís question and thanking him for recognizing that, yes, the shortage of health care professionals is a nation-wide problem. I fully agree with the Member for Copperbelt on this matter. We are competing against other jurisdictions for attracting personnel. It is a challenge and we need to recognize and respect that. With any challenge or competition, we also always need to look for ways to succeed and make Yukoners winners to the very best of our ability. We are committed to working on that. Itís not something for which we can snap our fingers or wave a magic wand. Iím not suggesting for a moment that the member is saying it is. I am just noting that it is a complex problem. Any initiative we try will likely not be proven until we find out whether or not it works. We are committed to putting forward our best effort in this field and dealing with this problem as best as we can to address this shortage that is affecting Yukoners.
Also, with regard to the multi-level care facility in Dawson City, I can tell the Member for Copperbelt that the reason why it has lapsed in this case, as I think he may be aware, is due to the fact that the project is not to the stage where itís ready to be built. I am advised by officials that there is a need for some modification to the plans.
I will also commit to the member opposite an answer to his question: I certainly will not be whipping out my pencil and T-square to modify the plans. I will not be micromanaging this project. I will be working with departmental officials. If there is any area of this in which the minister is involved ó there are some matters relating to projects that fall into ministerial authority and the requirement for ministerial involvement ó I will be working with experts in the field and looking at the public input on this matter to come up with the best possible decision to address this matter and build this facility in as timely a manner as possible.
Again, the issue at hand is that there was a need for some modifications to the plans. It is currently at that stage.
Mr. Mitchell: Since we are on the topic of health care facilities and facilities for communities, this summer I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the St. Elias Seniors in Haines Junction that was co-hosted by the Mayor of Haines Junction and our Member of Parliament. It was quite obvious that there were probably some 50 or 60 residents in attendance there and they felt very strongly that they too have need of a facility and that facility could serve for not only Haines Junction but the north highway going out to Burwash, Destruction Bay, Beaver Creek and other areas in that direction. They fully recognized that it would not be logical to have the kind of facility that exists in Whitehorse at Copper Ridge Place ó that level of facility. They are quite realistic with their goals ó that it might allow people from the community to stay in their home community for a number of additional years before perhaps having to go to a higher level of care and that it might be very beneficial to families to look out the window and see a familiar vista and to have friends and family members dropping by casually on a daily basis to visit as opposed to the sort of weekly scheduled trip or perhaps even longer in-between.
At the time, the study that had been commissioned by the government had not indicated that the facility out there could be justified. But in the Premierís and Cabinetís community tour, there was a different indication given ó that there could be a facility looked at out there. I am wondering if this minister is carrying forward. Where is this project at in the planning stages? Is this something that we can hope to see in a spring budget? Is this something that we can see move forward expeditiously? We have seen that we can move forward with schools on a very quick basis from time to time, and I donít expect that rapid of an approach, but I am wondering where we are at with the planning for this facility.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: My understanding is that officials from Health and Social Services and the Yukon Housing Corporation are working right now and engaging with the community in looking at this. I believe whatís being proceeded with right now is more in the order of a supported living facility. However, the issue of a multi-level care facility in Haines Junction has been raised. It is one that Iím cognizant of, and recognize the desire for that facility.
As the Member for Copperbelt is aware, we always do have a problem with Health, in that there are so many good things that we really ought to fund, but simply do not have the budget available ó that we canít do everything when we want to do it. I would love to be able to stand here and tell the member opposite that we could construct it, and we could do it right away and get it up and running, but thatís not reality. We are balancing that within the needs of the budgetary pressures. We are also committed to working to address the demonstrated needs of Yukoners from every corner of this territory.
The issue of a multi-level care facility in Haines Junction is something that has not been forgotten. I canít really go beyond that in making specific commitments to the Member for Copperbelt at this time. As I said, work is underway. My understanding is that itís more in the order of a supported living facility that is being looked at right now. That does not mean that a multi-level care facility will not be built at some point, but I certainly donít expect it to be happening within this spring budget. If any change occurs to this issue, Iíd be more than happy to discuss this with the member opposite. But we do recognize that need, and we are cognizant of it, and are working on planning for it and addressing it when we can.
Mr. Mitchell: †Just for clarification, I think if we can maintain this pace of question and answer, we may make some good progress here in the next little bit. The minister has indicated that itís more in the line of a supported living facility as opposed to a multi-level care facility and that a multi-level care facility might be a ways down the road, figuratively, as opposed to literally, since weíre talking about a ways down the road.
But does the minister plan on moving forward sooner rather than later in terms of this supported living facility, or was the minister indicating that any kind of facility is longer term?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: This is a matter Iím going to have to look into in some more detail to be able to get back to the Member for Copperbelt on this. I do thank him for bringing this issue up. It is something with a very large budget in areas that, within the space of a few short days and being in the Legislature, Iíve had briefings and piles of information to assimilate. I must confess that I donít have all that off the top of my head and not in front of me right here. I will be looking into this.
To the best of my understanding, what is proceeding right now is more in the order of a supported living facility. Work is underway ó I am given to understand by officials from Health and Social Services and by Yukon Housing Corporation. I donít have a timeline for that. I do think the answer is sooner rather than later, but I would have to check into that before being able to state that as an absolute fact to the Member for Copperbelt. That is my understanding, but I will check into that. We would be happy to get back to the member opposite regarding if we can provide any sort of timelines or best guess on when this would come into being.
Mr. Mitchell: †† I thank the minister for the commitment to get back to us with that information because thatís the commitment I made to residents when I was in Haines Junction. Of course, they have their own MLA who certainly speaks to the issue as well. Since I had spoken with many of them and made that promise, I look forward to hearing some positive information from the minister.
The $743,000 for the new group home that has lapsed ó can the minister provide some information as to why and what is now the plan? When will it be built? Has the public been consulted as to the future of that?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would like to inform the member that this was due to a delay in planning and design. It was not due to that delay. It was not possible for us to construct the facility during this construction season. The intent is still to proceed forward with it, but that is the reason why the money is being lapsed in the supplementary budget.
Mr. Mitchell: †† I have just a few more questions. Iíd like to ask the minister if he can provide us with any enlightenment on when the Childrenís Act will be completed? What year? If this government actually is still the government and calls a fall session, will this legislation be tabled in the fall of 2006? Is there any possibility that it might be tabled as part of the spring session even though thatís generally a budget session? And if itís not going to be tabled this year, I would have to ask this minister, why not? Why would the Yukon Party government be leaving this to the next government to deal with? This is certainly something that has been out there for quite awhile. Also, why is it still the case that the Kwanlin Dun are not participating ó or are they now back participating? And if not, why not?
So, I know it is a series of questions but it is just one issue and I thought that with the time being short, I would throw those into the one question.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: With regard to the timing of the Childrenís Act review, in this case the board, panel or committee ó I am not sure of the proper term ó that was set up to proceed forward with this was jointly chaired by ourselves and the Council of Yukon First Nations. The difficulty of any process when you are involving others as equal partners is that that partner has an equal ability to affect the process. We have to work with our partners here. There are some matters under discussion that have caused delays, as I understand it. We are working to move forward with them as expeditiously as possible. They are an equal partner in this process, so any final outcome requires their agreement and participation.
I canít commit to an end date. I donít think that would be appropriate, because that is something that would be equally in the control of others. We are committed to moving forward in as timely a manner as possible. We are also committed to getting the right outcome.
With regard to the participation of Kwanlin Dun, if the member would give me a moment, I will endeavour to get that information.
Chair: The member still has the floor.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to advise the Member for Copperbelt that, at this time, he is correct. I confirmed my understanding that yes, the Kwanlin Dun has not been participating in this review. That is their choice. They were offered the opportunity. It is certainly unfortunate that they have not chosen to participate, but they are another level of government. They have their reasons for their decisions and we have to respect that. That is where we are at with this process. The effort was made to involve them. For their own reasons, as a government, they chose not to involve themselves in this review. We have to respect that, as well.
Mr. Mitchell: †Without getting too chippy, I suggest it might have something to do with past experiences of that First Nation in dealing with this government. Perhaps they felt that there was no point in participating.
Iíll ask one more question, and if the minister can give me a timely answer, Iíd be prepared ó if other members would agree ó to try to clear this department today.
Plans for the Thomson Centre ó if the minister would just enlighten me on the $1 million for the renovations and go down the list, that would be what Iíd like to know.
Hon. Mr. Edzerza: With regard to that last comment, Iíd like to state for the record that it is the decision of a First Nation whether they choose to participate in any of the reviews that are being done by government. And it shouldnít be looked at as a negative thing, because they are self-governing First Nations, and they do have that right to say whether theyíre going to participate or whether theyíre not going to.
Itís more a case of really honouring the decision of another government. I know that when a municipal government doesnít agree to do something, itís not a big issue, so it shouldnít be with First Nations either.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †With regard to the question asked by the Member for Copperbelt regarding the Thomson Centre renovations, the money that is being revoted in this supplementary budget is a revote of funding provided to the Yukon Hospital Corporation to complete the Thomson Centre renovations, such as siding and mechanical system upgrades. There was a delay in the completion of the project this year. I understand it is being looked at right now and I believe there is a report that should be coming back in due course. My understanding is that the work should be proceeding in the new year.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: †I actually need to correct a statement I made to the Member for Copperbelt. I understand the money was actually a revote from last year that was put into this fiscal year. I apologize for my misread of that. I correct that for the member opposite. It is very clearly an increase and a revote in that. I apologize for that information. Thank you for the opportunity to correct the record on that.
Mr. Mitchell: I am glad to see we were able to correct that without any more wheels falling off.
Pursuant to Standing Order 14.3, I request the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services, cleared and carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 15, cleared or carried
Chair: Mr. Mitchell has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 15, Department of Health and Social Services, 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 Health and Social Services in the amount of $7,911,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures for the Department of Health and Social Services underexpenditure of $2,820,000 cleared
Department of Health and Social Services agreed to
Chair: The Chair seeks some direction as to where weíre heading next. Would the House leaders like to debate this?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Seeing the time, I move that we report progress.
Chair: Mr. Cathers has moved that we report progress.
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Chair: I believe the ayes have it. The motion is carried.
Motion agreed to
Hon. 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 directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being 6:00 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. Monday.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers was tabled December 15, 2005:
Yukon Advisory Council on Womenís Issues 2004-05 Annual Report† (Taylor)
Yukon Heritage Resources Board 2004-05 Annual Report† (Taylor)
Corrections in Yukon and the Corrections Consultation Interim Report (dated November 25, 2005), Your Views . . . Your Voice† (Edzerza)
Education, Department of: 2004-05 Annual Report† (Edzerza)
Yukon Liquor Corporation 2004-05 Annual Report† (Kenyon)
The following document was filed December 15, 2005:
Jenkins, Peter: letter (dated November 28, 2005) to Premier Fentie regarding resignation from Cabinet and as a member of the Yukon Party† (Jenkins)