Whitehorse , Yukon
Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - 1:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In recognition of National Nursing Week
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask my colleagues in the House to join me in paying tribute to Yukon's nurses. May 8 to 14 is National Nursing Week, a time set aside to reflect on the value of the work nurses do at every level of health care, from the community nurse practitioner responsible for a community's health to the flight nurse accompanying a patient to Vancouver.
There are more than 330 highly trained nurses in the Yukon. These dedicated professionals provide ethical, competent and compassionate care to Yukoners.
They immunize babies, look after us in our homes when we are sick, and deal with life and death situations in emergency rooms. The work they do alone and with other health professionals keeps us healthy.
This year the Canadian Nurses Association has chosen “Promoting healthy choices for healthy living” as their theme for Nursing Week. Nurses play a vital role in helping Yukoners remain healthy and prevent diseases such as whooping cough, diabetes and heart disease and to recover from injuries. They advocate for healthy personal choices in all aspects of their work. This government also supports healthy living in many ways, from setting up and promoting diabetes collaboration to encouraging smokers with concrete help and advice.
In honour of nurses, the Department of Health and Social Services is publishing photos and articles about nursing in the Yukon in Friday's Yukon News. I invite all members of this House to read it and find out more about some of the exceptional men and women who are the Yukon 's nurses.
Today's nurses are there for us from the day we are born to the day we draw out last breath, and their calm professionalism sees us through some of the most trying days in between.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Hardy: I rise on behalf of the third party in tribute to National Nursing Week. The second week in May was proclaimed National Nursing Week in recognition of Florence Nightingale's birthday on May 12. Miss Nightingale would be amazed at the range of services the nurses provide today. Today, we recognize not only registered nurses but also nurse practitioners, certified nursing aides and licensed practical nurses. All of these professionals contribute enormously to the health of Canadians.
The instant we are born, a paediatric nurse specialist greets us to the world. Throughout our lives we rely on nurses to care for us in many different ways and in many different medical situations, from the doctor's clinic to the surgical ward. In our last days, a palliative care nurse will likely be at our side providing compassionate care. We are very grateful for that.
Nursing is a challenging profession. It is hard physical work and demanding emotionally. They work around the clock and on holidays. Nurses also face danger. The rate of assaults on nurses is twice that of police officers. The aging workforce is very noticeable in the nursing professions and the shortage of personnel makes for even harder work for our nurses as they fill in shifts.
Through all of these hardships our nursing professionals put the interests of their patients first.
The theme of Nursing Week is “Promoting healthy choices for healthy living”. Through the Yukon Registered Nurses Association, nurses in the Yukon are showing leadership in promoting preventive measures in health care and recommending innovative approaches such as a collaborative clinic.
Thanks to our nursing professionals for the devotion they show to their calling. Our lives are very much healthier and happier because of them.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Liberal caucus and the official opposition to pay tribute to Nursing Week. Nurses can be found throughout our Yukon communities. We recognize their efforts and express our appreciation on behalf of all Yukoners for the variety of advice and work that they perform on our behalf.
I'd also like to recognize at this time, Mr. Speaker, that last week was Hospice Week throughout Canada. Often nurses are involved with families and the volunteers of Hospice and of course in palliative care as well. The leader of the third party has recognized that nurses are there at the beginning of our lives and they are also there at the end. They are a fact of life and a very much appreciated part of our Yukon community.
Thank you very much.
Speaker: Are there any further tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Mitchell: I would ask all members of this House to welcome Ethel Tizya, the chair of the Tagish Local Advisory Council and, many would say, the unofficial mayor of Tagish, who is in the visitors gallery today.
Mr. Fairclough: We have in the gallery someone who has bugged me about why he hasn't been introduced a number of times: Dave Hobbis, the past president of the Employees Union, who is also my uncle-in-law.
Speaker: Are there any further introductions of visitors?
Are there returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have for tabling a document from the Conflicts Commissioner with regard to my decision on land.
Speaker: Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Are there reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Hon. Ms. Taylor: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly be amended, effective the next sitting day after this motion is adopted, by replacing Standing Order 2(1) with the following:
“2(1) The time for the meeting of the Assembly shall be 1:00 on each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday unless otherwise ordered. The normal hour of adjournment shall be 5:30 p.m. ”
Mr. Hardy: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the death of any child is a tragedy that we must respond to as quickly as possible to prevent it happening again;
(2) government in particular must respond forthwith to the death of a child under its protection;
(3) all measures possible must be taken to prevent the abuse and death of children; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to immediately implement policies and practices in the Department of Health and Social Services that will give the utmost protection to Yukon's children, prior to the Children's Act review final report.
Mr. Speaker, I also give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) a cold climate innovation cluster and cold climate technology centre would bring international recognition to the Yukon as a leader in cold climate research and development;
(2) these infrastructure projects would help to develop, commercialize and export sustainable cold climate technologies and related solutions and would have the potential to become a key wealth builder for the territory;
(3) historically, such clusters and centres have been tied to universities as the best way to attract investment and expertise from both public and private sectors; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to continue working with its partners in the private and public sectors to develop a cold climate innovation cluster and cold climate technology centre, and to do so within the context of studying the feasibility of establishing a Yukon university, as the best way to attract the investment and expertise such major research and development facilities need to succeed.
Speaker: Are there any further notices of motion?
Is there a statement by a minister?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Taku subdivision access route
Mr. Fairclough: My question is to the Minister of Community Services. As reported yesterday, the government cut a survey line across land belonging to the Carcross-Tagish First Nation. This land is a calving ground for the Southern Lakes caribou herd. It has been a known fact for many years that the caribou graze and raise their young in this very area. However, what's more astounding is that permission was never asked for before going ahead and cutting down trees. Had that been done, this serious infringement on the herd's summer calving ground would never have taken place.
Was the minister aware that the rights of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation were being violated under the directive that was issued to cut the line?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The direction to cut the line in the area was performed by a contractor. They went outside the line of what they were supposed to. So, was I aware? No.
Mr. Fairclough: We're not talking about some agreement signed years ago that perhaps officials were not aware of. This was a land claims agreement that was signed and ratified 30 days before the incident. The First Nation had originally intended this to be a special management area but was assured by YTG that this was not required. This is no way to build trust.
It's well known that the sensitivity of this land was a concern. One remark attributed to an engineer was, “We thought we did you a favour.” Well, that is not how you do favours for people - by going on their land without permission and cutting down trees.
Has the minister issued an apology to the rightful owners of this property? What measures has he taken to assure this House there will be no further such incidents as this one?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We have been in contact with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation on this matter, and it is currently before our department responsible for land claims, and we are working through that department to address the situation.
Mr. Fairclough: Well, no apology, Mr. Speaker.
Now, the chair of the Tagish Local Advisory Council has reported that this has been an ongoing issue since day one. Well, this survey was reportedly for a second access route for the Taku subdivision, an escape route in case of fire. However, the point has been made that, due to prevailing winds, this was not the logical route at all. It was, however, the shortest and presumably the cheapest. So can the minister explain why the route being taken was not one that would provide safety in case of an emergency and why the cheaper route was taken to cross First Nation land without permission?
Hon. Mr. Hart: It was not our intent to cross the First Nation land, or trespass, as the member indicated. Our intent was to go beside the area in question. We proceeded based on the survey of the site.
As I stated, we are working through the land claims implementation secretariat on this particular issue, and we hope to come to an agreement with the First Nation.
Question re: Carcross train service
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I also have some questions about how residents of Carcross are being treated by this government. Last week I asked the Minister of Economic Development about the Red Line train and he responded with some very insulting comments about residents of Carcross. I asked the minister some questions about people who had been hired in Carcross. In response, the minister mocked the question. He said we were against hiring people in Carcross. He said we shouldn't have done it; we should have left the 37 people on social assistance.
Mr. Speaker, the minister very clearly implied that all the people who had been hired were on social assistance. I asked him to back up that statement yesterday, and he couldn't. The minister owes the people of Carcross an apology. He has made some very hurtful comments and provided no proof that they were accurate.
Will the minister apologize for implying that everyone who was hired in Carcross was on social assistance?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The comment at the time from the member opposite, or whoever it was who asked the question, was of course implying that the $420,000 for the train was a waste of money. In fact I believe the $367,000 - or just short of the $400,000 - was in fact put directly into the hands of residents of Carcross and the Carcross area in order to extend the track line. At the time I certainly asked if the member opposite would do something different but in no way implied that this was a social assistance program or anything else.
I am pleased, however, that the member opposite has only this to complain about. The money went into Carcross citizens' hands. The upgrade to the track is in direct support of the Destination: Carcross program. It allows wonderful potential for future development in Carcross and an asset that is worth many times what we paid for it - which may stay in that area or may come back to the Whitehorse waterfront. That is to be determined in the future.
But good value for money - all of which went into people's pockets. As members opposite have said, an injection of anything into our communities is very much appreciated and very much a large part of the development of that area.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, Mr. Speaker, this minister, in every way, implied that 37 people were on social assistance. It's very interesting that the Member for Southern Lakes has had nothing to say on this matter. The Minister of Economic Development said last week that all his constituents were sitting around on social assistance, waiting for the government to hand them a job. What has been the response of the MLA for Southern Lakes, the person elected to represent the people of Carcross? Has he stood up to defend his constituents? No, he has sat in silence since we raised this issue last week.
Will the minister just apologize for making these offhand remarks and implying that 37 people were hired to work on the railroad track because they were on social assistance?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: The only apology that I think is due is for the member opposite, who tries to make this look like something that it perhaps is not. Again, there is good value for the money. The money went into people's pockets in the area. We have options to run the train from Bennett to Carcross. It would support Destination: Carcross. It would support other rail initiatives such as the Copperbelt railway, the trolley, Ride Yukon and larger rail projects. It could be utilized to support the Whitehorse waterfront development, address the problem that the current trolley can't make the hill to Schwatka. It would support Miles Canyon Historical Railway Society goals - these are all possibilities. It was done for all these things by putting the money directly into people's pockets within Carcross.
If anyone is sitting around waiting for unemployment - I'm suggesting that the member opposite has a great deal of knowledge on that - double-digit unemployment, Mr. Speaker. People fleeing the Yukon under the shortest lived majority government in the history of the Commonwealth - that's the Liberal legacy. Ours is to put people to work - we're tied for the second lowest unemployment rate in Canada and good economic development.
Mr. Mitchell: The minister can try to twist out of this all he wants. Perhaps he would like to start quoting from Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass again. I am beginning to understand why. It does not change what he said. Last week the minister implied that everyone in Carcross just sits around on social assistance. It is comments like these that let the public see the true colours of the government. This minister has a history of making insulting comments such as this. We all remember when he said last year that public servants in the Yukon are motivated by political gamesmanship. The minister was wrong then and he is wrong now.
He apologized, at last, for attacking public servants a year ago, and he needs to do the same thing now for the residents of Carcross. Will he do the honourable thing and apologize for implying that everyone in Carcross was on social assistance before they went to work on the railroad construction project?
Hon. Mr. Kenyon: If anyone took offence to my comments or, frankly, to his comments, I think both of us would apologize for that. Again, the Liberals have a very long history of opposing rural community investment as illustrated by referring to the community development fund as a “slush fund” many times in this House. They don't see this as being worthwhile.
Instead, we have a trolley on the waterfront that is elderly. It was built in the 1920s, I believe. We purchased it for approximately $85,000 and it took over $100,000 to refurbish it. We won't even begin to look at what it cost to renovate the roundhouse. It's an antique. This gives us something worth I believe three or four times what we paid for it. The money went immediately into people's pockets and immediately in support of Carcross, of Destination: Carcross, and of community development.
Obviously, again, the member opposite does not support community development and gives us a good insight into what his vision of the Yukon is.
Question re: Dawson City social worker
Mr. Hardy: Yesterday the Minister of Health and Social Services responded to questions about the tragic death of an infant girl in Dawson City almost two years ago. The minister said, and I'm using his own words, “We have had high caseloads, and that is why we've provided the increases in social work complement within child protection and family services.”
Our social workers have been under extremely high caseloads all across the spectrum.
Dawson City has a smaller social work complement than it did at the time of this baby's death. The government is going backward on that. Given the minister's statement yesterday, can he explain why the social worker position in Dawson City remains vacant, leaving that community with only two social service workers, which is not the same as social workers?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I appreciate the concerns expressed by the leader of the third party. I would make him aware, though, that we do not micromanage personnel and personnel allocations. The department identified a need for more social workers, and we did provide the funding to enable them to do so.
It is within the deputy minister's purview to address where those people are most desperately needed.
Mr. Hardy: I'd like to remind the minister that he is ultimately responsible and he should know what's happening. He should be asking the appropriate questions and maybe he would know what's going on in those departments.
The two Dawson City workers are frequently outside the community doing other duties - covering a larger range. The minister told the media he is waiting for direction from the department on implementing the recommendations in the latest review - but it's his role to give direction, not the other way around. That's what he's elected for; that's what he's briefed for.
The minister has finally given MLAs a copy of the report that was given to the media, for instance, before us. The department's response to seven of the 18 recommendations is that they will be considered in revisions to the Children's Act - “considered”, not “implemented”. That is the word that was used.
Why is the minister hiding behind the Children's Act review instead of directing his department to implement these recommendations without delay before we have another issue?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct the leader of the third party's understanding. We are certainly not hiding behind the Children's Act review, as he stated. We are dealing with these matters, and they will be dealt with as quickly as they can be. Also, with regard to a comment by the leader of the third party, he had said that I said I was waiting for direction from the department. I don't recall that being the phrase I used. Certainly, if it was, what I should have said is I will be waiting for the recommendations from the department. I do rely on the advice of the people who have considerable experience in this area to provide the advice to me prior to making any decisions on matters within my purview. I don't micromanage the department. I do work with the people we have in the department and, ultimately, of course, stand accountable and responsible for those decisions.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, the response to three of the other recommendations is that the department will seek funds in the next budget cycle. In other words, something may or may not happen a year from now. Frankly, Mr. Speaker, with what has been going on, that's not good enough. Three years ago, there was a coroner's inquest into the death of another young girl - three years ago. The independent reviewer the department hired in that case made several recommendations on risk assessment, staffing and file management that are very similar to those in this latest report. If those recommendations had been fully and promptly implemented, how many of the recommendations in this latest review would not have been necessary?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I suppose we could stand on the floor of this House and have a long, hypothetical debate on what government could have done at what stage, what the Liberals could have done when they were in, what the NDP could have done when they were in. We're standing here now, and we are faced with the recommendations resulting from the independent review of this very unfortunate matter. We take it very seriously, and as I stated both in the House and to the media yesterday, I am very concerned about this issue. We will be working fully with department officials, and we intend to do our level best to ensure that we do the very best we can to prevent such an unfortunate matter as a child death occurring in the future.
With regard to budgetary needs, I would remind the member opposite there is a supplementary budget process. We will be reviewing this, and I take the member's comments as an indication that he would support additional funding being brought forward in the supplementary budget process this fall.
Question re:Taku subdivision access route
Mr. Cardiff: I am going to try the Minister of Community Services and see if I have better luck than the Member for Mayo-Tatchun.
Once again, this government's actions are causing friction between itself and First Nation governments. Once again, this government is barging ahead without adequately consulting the people who live in the area or who own the land. Once again, it is playing the bully and telling First Nations that it is our way or the highway.
My question for the Minister of Community Services, who also wears the hat of the Minister of Highways and Public Work: why did the minister's department begin surveying a road corridor through Carcross-Tagish First Nation land just 30 days after the First Nation ratified its land claim and without first getting permission?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I stated earlier, we are working with those in the region with regard to that particular site, as well as the road. We were intending to build outside the area in question and we have been in that area for some time. There has been a lot of work done in that area in previous years and we are working with the First Nation on this particular land. This particular transgression on their property came as a result of a survey being incorrectly applied and the proponent has already provided the First Nation with an apology for that.
Mr. Cardiff: If the survey work was done in error, that is serious enough, but if it was knowingly done without the First Nation's approval, that is even worse.
The land in question is prime habitat for the Southern Lakes caribou herd. First Nation and other area residents and wildlife officials have been working successfully, I might add, to build up what was a dwindling herd. As the chair of the First Nation land use team put it, “We all voluntarily quit harvesting the caribou, and now we have this habitat destruction and ruin by the government.”
Why is the access road being built on the south side of the Taku subdivision when prevailing winds from the south could mean it would be closed in the event of a forest fire?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are working with our staff in both the protective services and, as the member indicated, Highways and Public Works with regard to the route. We have already had discussions with the First Nation regarding the second access through this particular subdivision and we have been working on it for some time.
Mr. Cardiff: The location of this road makes no sense. It threatens the recovery of the caribou herd. It's being built on Carcross-Tagish land without the First Nation's consent. Will the minister make a commitment to go back up to the drawing board, do a proper consultation and come up with a proposal that meets the needs of area residents and doesn't have a negative impact on the Southern Lakes caribou herd?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I stated earlier, we are working with the First Nation through the land claims implementation secretariat on this particular issue and we hope to get to an amenable solution for both parties.
Question re: Contagious diseases
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services who is responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
The Yukon has had an unprecedented outbreak of tuberculosis. There are also a number of individuals who are HIV positive and there are other very highly communicable diseases. The Department of Health and Social Services includes the Yukon communicable disease control unit, and part of their mandate is to protect the privacy of those afflicted with these highly contagious diseases. They also advise those with these highly contagious diseases that they do not have to advise their employers or fellow employees.
Under occupational health and safety regulations, an employer is required to ensure that the workplace is safe for employees. I ask the minister what takes precedence: the privacy of an individual who has contracted a highly contagious disease or an employee's right to a safe workplace?
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I appreciate the question from the Member for Klondike and recognize his concerns. This is the catch-22 that government collectively faces in dealing with issues such as communicable diseases like tuberculosis. The concern is that if individuals come forward and that information is identified to someone else, it will prevent individuals from coming forward and identifying themselves and seeking treatment. That is the reason the decision was made. The practice within government for years has been to operate on the assumption that we're better to have the individual come forward, identify themselves and seek treatment than to fear to seek treatment for fear of being identified to their employer and to others. I certainly do recognize the concerns of the Member for Klondike . I completely understand his concerns. We're following past practice and that is the reason behind it.
Mr. Jenkins: All those individuals in government, from the chief medical officer to the Yukon communicable disease control unit, are indemnified and saved harmless in the course of undertaking their duties but, on the other hand, should an employer not maintain a safe workplace, the owner, officers and directors of that corporation can be held legally liable under existing legislation for not providing that safe workplace.
I'd like to ask the minister why there is no protocol in place between the Department of Health and Social Services communicable disease control unit and the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board to address this void in order that employees can know what risk their organizations are facing from highly contagious diseases.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would again reiterate to the Member for Klondike that the reasoning behind it has been the philosophy that it's better to have the individuals come forward to seek treatment rather than fearing to identify themselves. Certainly, I would not be averse to having this discussion with my department and with the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. I suspect we would come to the same conclusion as in the past. I do recognize the member's concerns, but I certainly have no problem discussing the matter with officials.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, tuberculosis, if you want to use that for instance, had all but been eradicated up until a few years ago here in the Yukon , but now we have a dozen known cases - the current system is not working.
Will the minister commit to reviewing this area with a view to advising employers and getting a protocol in place with occupational health and safety so that employers can be made aware of the workplace and fellow employees are not placed at risk, as well as the corporations and owners? What we want to do is ensure that everything in the workplace in the Yukon is as safe as possible. The minister can truly admit now that the existing system is not working.
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I do appreciate the Member for Klondike's concerns and will look into this matter with officials from both Health and Social Services and from the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. I would also be happy to discuss this with the Member for Klondike at his convenience - when we can make our schedules meet - and discuss his concerns more fully. I do appreciate his concerns and recognize that this is not a simple issue.
As I have stated, the rationale behind the policy in place is the concern that if people are afraid of being identified or possibly losing their job, that they will not come forward and seek treatment. That is the reason why what has been in place is in place and, prior to considering any modification to the existing practice, we would have to consider very gravely those concerns and come up with the best conclusion for public health. As I stated to the Member for Klondike , I suspect that it would very likely be where we are today, but I am certainly not averse to reviewing this matter. I do recognize the importance of this matter and the concerns around it.
Question re: Lawsuits against government
Mr. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Deputy Premier and the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. Mr. Speaker, on May 3, I asked the Premier to clarify the government's position and policy on hiring individuals who may have appealed to the courts for a judicial ruling on some related matter involving the government. I referred to a court document of a director who unequivocally stated that no one should ever expect to be hired if they had initiated such an action. I filed that document, Mr. Speaker.
Since that statement contradicted an earlier statement of both the Premier and the Deputy Premier, my question is this: has the Deputy Premier had time to clarify what the government's position actually is on such matters?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Mr. Speaker, as I have relayed on the floor of the Legislature on a number of occasions, as has also been reiterated by the Premier himself, there is no policy that links hiring to seeking redress before the courts. Again, I will be very pleased to reiterate that position. The member knows full well that the matter that the leader of the official opposition is referring to is a personnel matter. It is a matter that is still before the courts and, therefore, very inappropriate for me to speak about this particular issue the member opposite wishes for me to interfere with.
Mr. Mitchell: Well, I don't wish the minister to interfere with any matter before the courts or with any individual personnel issue. What we're speaking to here is a question of policy. There are some very conflicting messages out in the workplace. On the one hand, we have government ministers saying one thing, that there is no policy; on the other, we have directors of government departments saying something quite different. Most people would believe that the directors are merely following orders. This is not a healthy environment for anyone to have to work in.
Mr. Speaker, my question for the Deputy Premier and the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission remains: is she aware of this situation, and what is the government going to do to clarify and correct it?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Again, Mr. Speaker, there is no policy that links hiring to seeking redress before the courts. Likewise, there is no policy linking government employment to filing a human rights complaint, for example, or going to the Ombudsman or laying a grievance or appealing a classification decision or placing a harassment complaint, and so forth.
Again, for the member opposite's information, there is no policy that links hiring to seeking redress before the courts. That is the policy.
Mr. Mitchell: I think what I just heard is that the policy is that there is no policy. So that's a pretty wide-ranging policy, for sure.
It appears, Mr. Speaker, that this government intends to run the territory like a company town of old. What is important here is that there are many, many government employees out there who do not believe for one minute that there isn't a policy. Will the Deputy Premier communicate the correct hiring policy to all government workers in writing so that this basic and fundamental principle of justice that says employees do have the right to seek redress before the courts without jeopardizing their ability to be hired is understood and believed by all employees?
Hon. Ms. Taylor: Unlike the member opposite, I do not interfere with personnel matters - matters that are before the courts.
For the leader of the official opposition's information and clarity, I would be happy to repeat myself: there is no policy that links hiring to seeking redress before the courts. I really don't know how to make myself more clear. That is the case. We certainly have not differed from that particular decision or case. There is no policy that links hiring to seeking redress before the courts.
The member opposite knows full well that I, as the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, do not get involved in personnel matters. I do not get involved in matters before the courts. I have great admiration for the Public Service Commission whose job it is to oversee administrative decisions and policies pertaining to employment and personnel matters.
I'll continue to respect that purview, which lies within the realm of the Public Service Commission.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of government private members' business
Hon. Mr. Cathers: I rise pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7) to identify the motions standing in the name of government private members to be called for debate on Wednesday, May 10. They are Motion No. 688, standing in the name of the Member for Southern Lakes, and Motion No. 640, standing in the name of the Member for Pelly-Nisutlin.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
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: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order. The matter before the Committee is Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07; the department currently under debate is Community Services.
Before we begin, do members wish a brief recess?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We'll take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Order please. Committee of the Whole will now come to order.
Bill No. 20 - First Appropriation Act, 2006-07 - continued
Department of Community Services - continued
Chair: We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, Vote 51, Department of Community Services.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would like to take a few moments to share with the members of the House some of the history of the Dawson City sewage project since we formed government. In January 2003, the City of Dawson retained a consultant team, led by G.J. Bull & Associates of Whitehorse as the prime engineering consultants for the sewage treatment project. The consultant team included NovaTec Consultants Inc. of Vancouver as a process specialist and architectural, electrical and mechanical sub-consultants from Whitehorse.
Dawson was directed by the courts on March 5, 2003, to construct a sequencing batch reactor, or SBR as it is known, sewage treatment plant no later than September 1, 2004 . This requirement was reinforced by the water licence issued on March 17, 2003, by the Yukon Water Board. The engineering consultant team was directed by Dawson to proceed with the detailed design work and final cost estimates for the SBR plant.
The project was stalled in January 2004, as the SBR treatment plant, designed as prescribed in the water licence, was found to be unaffordable, particularly for the residents of Dawson City with respect to operation and maintenance costs. The engineering services contract was placed into temporary suspension by mutual agreement between the parties. Approximately $445,000 remained unspent from the contract that could be utilized for other purposes.
Dawson encountered financial difficulties and in April 2004, Yukon assumed the management and financing of the community and the sewage project on Dawson's behalf.
Yukon, on behalf of Dawson, using the work prepared with the assistance of the engineering and legal experts, was successful in convincing the courts to consider other treatment options and to extend the completion date for the project to December 31, 2008.
Chief Justice Lilles commented favourably on the quality of the information presented in granting the extension, and his decision was supported by the Attorney General of Canada and Environment Canada, who placed the initial charges on Dawson .
The Yukon retained GJ Bull & Associates to provide advice and related engineering services in the initial stages of Yukon's involvement in the project, due primarily to their awareness of project details and their capabilities as recognized specialists in that field. The focus was to find alternate methods of achieving the required treatment standards while reducing projected O&M costs. During this review, all the options considered - both solicited and unsolicited - were reviewed, and it was through this work that the option of an aerogated lagoon surfaced. I will list these reports.
The Dawson sewage project public documents include: City of Dawson Secondary Sewage Treatment Plant Reassessment of Treatment Options Report; City of Dawson Comparison of Waste-water Treatment Systems Options Final Report for the Yukon Government, July 2002; City of Dawson Secondary Sewage Treatment Plant Pre-design Report, March 2003; City of Dawson Aerated Lagoon Site Alternatives Assessment: A Report to Community Services, Yukon Government, October, 2004; City of Dawson Water Licence No. MN02-045, Water Licence Amendment Application Report, July 2004; City of Dawson Sewage Treatment Process Licence MN02-045, Project Update Report for Court Hearing on February 28, 2005; City of Dawson Water Licence Comparison with Other Jurisdictions: a report to the Yukon Government, dated August 2003; Review of the Yukon Water Board Guidelines for Municipal Waste-water Discharge Draft, December 2003; Toxicity Identification Evaluation for Samples of Final Effluent from the STP, October 1999; Monitoring the City of Dawson Final STP Effluent for Chemistry and Acute Toxicity to Rainbow Trout during the period February to September 1999, Inclusive, Volumes 1 to 3, October of 1999; Monitoring the City of Dawson Final STP Effluent for Chemistry and Acute Toxicity to Rainbow Trout during the period February to September 1999, Inclusive, Volumes 2 and 3, dated October 1999; Monitoring the City of Dawson Final STP Effluent for Chemistry and Acute Toxicity to Rainbow Trout during the period February to September, Inclusive, Volume 3 of 3, October 1999.
These are just a few of the major reports, Mr. Chair. I have here a complete list of the reports that can be tabled, if desired - a list of all 46 reports. I think this more than demonstrates that this government has been open to any and all ideas regarding a solution for the issue.
Yukon also retained an independent engineering specialist, CH2M Hill of Calgary, to provide a review of the project status and of the initial draft of the water licence amendment supporting information. Their comments were consistent with GJ Bull's approach, and as a result the government decided to go ahead with further work on the aerogated lagoon option for Dawson .
Pilot testing was then undertaken during the winter of 2005-06. Samples were taken and shipped via Air North to a laboratory in Vancouver, as there were no facilities in the Yukon . The pilot test has demonstrated that system design is sufficient for the community's needs now and into the future, with an O&M cost significantly less than that of the original ordered SBR plan. Further, if we are able to find a suitable location closer to town, these costs could be reduced even further.
We've had public meetings. There have been six public meetings held in Dawson over the last two-year period that have been attended by Community Services staff to update the community on the progress of the project and answer questions. The last meeting was in March of this year. Public support for the efforts of the Yukon government in addressing this long outstanding issue is increasing through the willingness of my staff to meet with the public to provide updates and answer questions on a regular basis.
Funding for the project - Community Services has submitted an application to the Canada strategic infrastructure fund for $18 million to fund improvements to the sewage treatment infrastructure in Dawson and Carmacks. The CSIF application would leverage $9 million in funding from Canada . The sewage treatment project will take up to three years to design, permit, tender, construct and put into operation once the land required for construction has been secured. The CSIF application is viewed as the best avenue available to allow the City of Dawson to meet its obligations in a timely and cost-effective manner.
We are not stopping there, though. We are continuing to work with Canada through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to ensure that all the most recent work on a national standard is considered in the final project.
If we can find a way to further reduce the ongoing cost of this project for the residents of Dawson , we will do so. It is not only in Dawson 's interest but in the interests of all Yukoners.
We want the Town of the City of Dawson to be healthy and respected, just as we want the Yukon River to be healthy and respected. It's time to move forward on this issue in an appropriate manner. Dawson is the only municipality in the Yukon that doesn't do some form of secondary sewage treatment.
The financial problems for the City of Dawson are now well known and have been debated in this House several times. We were required to step in, provide a level of governance through the trustee and advisory committee while providing financial support for the operation of services for the City of Dawson. We could not ignore the operations of the community nor abandon the citizens who live there.
Since 2004, the Yukon government has been providing management support, financial oversight and funding to the Town of the City of Dawson . In terms of a direct investment, the Yukon government has provided $1.64 million toward operating expenses, $1.315 toward administration, legal fees and other internal costs, $195,000 toward Dawson's sewage planning and testing, we committed to covering the costs for building a new sewage facility at a potential cost of $20 million, and a million dollars for the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture.
The Yukon government is committed to returning things to normal for the people of Dawson, to having an accountable, responsible and democratic governing body for the benefit of all Yukoners. My department has been working very hard over the past two years with the trustee and the advisory council to find ways to restore Dawson to a fully functioning municipality. We established the Dawson elections act to facilitate an early election, rather than waiting until October. We developed a financial recovery package to allow the new council to undertake their duties as any other municipality is required to do.
Mr. Chair, Dawson will take back control of its affairs by electing a new mayor and council on June 15, and the Yukon government will be there to assist with the transition to deal with the sewage treatment and recreation centre issues, as well as any other concerns the town may wish to put forward to us and get our advice on.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for the information that he provided regarding the Dawson City sewage treatment, where that's at and the studies. I am sure we will hear more about that later today. We'll try to get to it.
But I have a question coming out of yesterday's debate. Yesterday, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun asked the minister to table the advice that he got from the Conflicts Commissioner, and the minister did that today. But the letter that the minister tabled this afternoon at the beginning of Question Period doesn't state what the status of the minister is with regard to answering questions about land issues. All it states is that there was a position put forward, that the letter that the minister wrote accurately sets out the appropriate course of action, which we agreed to during our discussions the previous week. He is going to keep a copy of that letter, and this is the reply, basically saying that the course of action was a good course of action to take.
What we don't know in the public or in the Legislature is what that course of action is. The minister has removed himself from all discussions regarding land issues, whether they be in Watson Lake , Faro, Ross River, Dawson City, or the Hamlet of Mount Lorne. He is clearly in conflict on one land issue here within the City of Whitehorse. What we would like to know is why, when it comes to asking questions about land planning and land regulations, which are clearly within the purview of the Minister of Community Services, we end up getting responses from the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.
I don't know if the minister is prepared to table the letter that laid out the appropriate course of action. If he is willing to do that, we would like to see it. I think that is what the Member for Mayo-Tatchun thought we were going to get - to see what advice had been provided by the Conflicts Commissioner.
Maybe at the same time as he indicates his willingness or unwillingness to do that, the logical question that comes to my mind is this: which minister is setting the direction for land planning in Community Services? There is a land planning program and there is a community affairs program, which deals with land regulations and those types of things. Which minister is giving direction in the department or do we have co-ministers of community services?
Can the minister clear the air and let us know exactly what is happening and indicate whether or not he would table this other letter that was sent to the Conflicts Commissioner?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I have had several discussions with the Conflicts Commissioner with regard to my holdings in Meadow Lakes Golf and Country Club. I had that discussion well before the House was sitting. We had many discussions on what my role would be as the minister with regard to land. I can assure the member opposite that I tried to use the same argument with the Conflicts Commissioner that the member opposite used on me.
However, that was not the way it was seen by the Conflicts Commissioner. The Conflicts Commissioner gave me two choices: sell my shares or drop all land-related issues with regard to Community Services. Those were the options I was given.
I discussed the options and decided those issues would be deferred to the minister who acts for me while I am away, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. That is what has transpired.
I then sent a letter to my deputy minister informing him of this decision, and that is also the letter that was forwarded to the Commissioner, advising him of the decision made.
Mr. Cardiff: It seems a little strange that it took three and a half years to get to this point. We have been asking the minister questions about land development. I am sure the minister recalls quite well the many conversations we have had about the land development that is right across the highway from the golf course and the access road that the city didn't want there.
I am not sure who is going to answer the next question because it appears the minister won't be able to answer it. I find it hard, given the fact that he was answering these questions for the last three or more years regarding this development.
What I would like to know is this: where are we at with this? I know there was a tender and contracts awarded for design and surveying for the Whitehorse Copper subdivision, but I would like to know what the plans are. There is money in the budget, just like there has been money in every budget from this government for the Whitehorse Copper land development.
I would like to know what the plans are for this year. When do they expect to have these lots for sale, and how far do they intend to go this year?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Over this summer period, we would have 80 lots in the first phase and the second phase would be approximately - there are 111 lots, so we're looking at 80 lots for this season, and then, of course, the remainder would be the following season.
Now, as far as answering the question that the member opposite put on the floor here about the second access, it is not fair to say that we, as a government - we made it very clear to the City of Whitehorse that we were willing to put the access in as we opened the subdivision. If in fact the city did not want to put the access in, the option was to not put it in place but they would give us a guarantee that they would put the access in down the road. So, it wasn't a matter of us saying to the city that they had to put it in; all we put on the floor was that, if the city decides not to put the access in, then they would have to bear the cost of that down the road, if in fact they went forward with that access.
Mr. Cardiff: That was a pretty convoluted answer around the access. I don't want to get into a “he said-he said” thing here, but the way I understood it was that the city wanted those lots removed and the access to not be there. That was what the proposal was. It was to remove the lots in that one area between the railroad tracks and the highway and to not put that access in. There would still be two accesses: one would come out on the Mount Sima road and one would come out at MacRae.
Whether that's sufficient or not is a matter of opinion, I suppose. That was what residents had indicated they were willing to accept, and it was also accepted by the city, given the road conditions there - that there were lines of sight and all that. Even in briefings with the Department of Highways and Public Works, it was admitted that there is a microclimate in that area. I can't remember the exact terminology, but they were basically going to do remote weather sensing of highway conditions in that area to provide more accurate, up-to-date information about road conditions on that stretch of highway. They were going to do it there, at Fish Lake and in Rabbit's Foot Canyon because there's concern about traffic accidents in those areas and the road conditions and they feel it's important.
Residents' concerns were about road conditions and the amount of traffic on the highway, coming out onto the highway at that point, and road conditions in the winter. It was my understanding the city had agreed that that's what they and residents would prefer, and the government said it was either you get the road access and those lots, or you don't get anything.
That was the way it was communicated to me; that's the way I heard it when I attended city council meetings to hear what options were presented. It brings me to my next question about the land protocol and where we're at with that, with the City of Whitehorse . This is something we may also need in other communities.
I attended a number of city council meetings and I talked with several city councillors. It is my understanding that the land protocol was the creation of the Department of Community Services. It was a document that was created by the government and it was sent to the city. The government said this is what we would like to see as a protocol for dealing with land issues within the municipal boundaries of the city.
The government presented this as what they would like to see. The city looked at it. It worked for them so they signed it off and sent it back to the government, and the government refused to sign it off and put it in place. This is the way I understand it. I don't know, maybe one of the ministers of Community Services can shed a little light on where we are at. How soon do we expect to have that protocol agreement in place?
Hon. Mr. Lang: The protocol is going to Management Board and then it will be addressed by the City of Whitehorse, so there was never a signed document put in front of us as a government or vice versa to the City of Whitehorse. We have been working on the protocol in partnership with the city. Hopefully, it will go through Management Board and then the City of Whitehorse will have their day with it.
I would say to the member opposite that, in a perfect world, we are looking at no more than a month to have that signed and in front of everybody in the House here too.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, there is obviously more than one story around a number of these issues. In the interest of moving along here - I can accept what the minister said. That's what he believes is going to happen, and we'll just wait and see what actually transpires.
We have a couple of questions around land regulations. The residents of Mount Lorne are incredibly frustrated at the process that they have had to go through to have land use regulations. I didn't bring all the information in the file. I'd probably need a moving dolly to bring in all the documentation around land use regulations for the Hamlet of Mount Lorne. But I do have a couple of questions.
There have been promises made in this Legislature repeatedly that those land use regulations would go to Cabinet, and they've gone to Cabinet more times than any other regulation. I mean, if we believe that they were going to Cabinet every time it was promised, it probably would have been the most well-circulated Cabinet document in the history of the Yukon. Now, my hope is that this government is going to be able to finally get these regulations passed through Cabinet - this week or next week, but hopefully pretty soon. But I have a different question around land regulations in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne.
We've had comments made about the regulations and spot land applications and planned development and land uses in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne for as long as I have been the MLA, and last summer, I think, there were statements made by the Premier - I have a letter from the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources dated September 27 to the hamlet council.
It is my understanding that regulations are part of the law. It says on the second page of this letter, “In order to facilitate an early start to planning the McGowan option, I am directing the lands branch to treat the draft Mount Lorne regulations as though they were already in effect for the purposes of reviewing new land applications in the hamlet.” Now, it's an honourable thing, and I actually believe that, when the minister and the Premier and the Cabinet came out to Mount Lorne, a similar commitment was made, either by one of the ministers or by the Premier, and the Premier actually stated that land applications were a pain in a certain part of the anatomy - which I won't mention - and to me this has been the crux of the problem.
What I don't understand is that there are existing regulations. They are the law and, until there is an order-in-council, they remain in force. I know that the residents of Mount Lorne don't like that, but it appears to me that the minister is saying to ignore that law and to treat this draft set of regulations as the new law.
I don't think that can happen. Just because we have a proposal on the table to increase the speed limit on the Alaska Highway to 130 kilometres per hour doesn't mean you can do it. So, just because the regulations are in draft form doesn't mean the minister can make them law without going through Cabinet and doing an order-in-council.
I respect what the minister is trying to do, but what I want the minister to do is to pass the regulations.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Well, you have the right minister to do it. It has been going on for 10 years - Mount Lorne. I will commit to the member opposite that that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to take the regulations to Cabinet and move forward with the Mount Lorne issue.
Mr. Cardiff: Okay, that's good. The best thing about this job is - if you ask the question, to know what the answer is. And I actually knew what the answer was.
Now can the minister tell me why it took three and a half years? The regulations were drafted more than three and a half years ago, so why did it take this government three and a half years? They managed to get land regulations for Ibex Valley, for Deep Creek - the Mayo Road area. Mount Lorne was at the front of the queue. They were the first ones out of the gate - the first hamlet, local area council in the Yukon , basically. They were the first ones to do a land plan, the first ones to draft regulations and, right now, they're the last ones to get them.
Hon. Mr. Lang: I guess the three and a half years - I have to ask the question why it took the other party six and a half years to get to our three and a half years. This has been a long process. This has been 10 years in the making. There were a lot of issues out there through our tenure, which is three and a half years. We have been working at this very earnestly to try to get this resolved. We are in the final laps of doing just that. The member opposite understands the environmental issues with the caribou herd. There have been questions from First Nations and, of course, working with the stakeholders in the community itself. So this has not been a cakewalk on any level. So when you say this government had three and a half years, it started with the NDP government, it went through the life of the Liberal government, and this government is going to have it resolved.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I'm not going to go around all afternoon with this minister on this issue. I can tell him one thing: the residents of Mount Lorne know the history of this, probably far better than the minister does, and will render their judgement whenever there is an election called. I can guarantee you that. I am hoping that's it for land issues and that I can relieve the co-minister, the other Minister of Community Services, of his duties.
I'd like to ask some questions around this funding policy for local advisory committees. Now, I asked the minister this question in the Legislature and, to be honest, I wasn't very satisfied with the answers that I got. The minister said this funding policy has been around for awhile. I'd like to know for starters when this policy was drafted, who was consulted in the drafting of this policy, and when was it made public?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I'd like to advise the member opposite that the funding provided to the local advisory councils is intended to support the administrative and operational needs of that process.
As stated in the Municipal Act, the mandate for local advisory councils is to provide advice to the minister. The annual operating funding provided by YTG is intended to support that mandate, and the purpose of the funding remains the same. The funding policy states clearly what the administrative and operational expenses consist of. As far as the specific date, I don't have that at my fingertips.
Mr. Cardiff: It would be interesting - it was the way in which it was done. I understand that local advisory councils, hamlet councils, are there to provide advice to the government on community needs and that the funding they get is pretty much around the administration of doing that work, of going out and consulting with the community, and having meetings. Some of these people receive honoraria for going to meetings. I'm sure that a lot of us in this room have experience on boards and committees and whatnot, where you may get an honorarium for going to a meeting, and it may be $50 for a half-day or $50 for a day - even if it's $200 or $300 for a day - it's the work that you do between meetings that you don't receive any compensation for.
They work hard on behalf of their communities and talking with their constituents - they are elected people too.
There are some discretionary areas, like travel costs, in this policy. Honoraria are discretionary; daycare costs are discretionary; a Web site and advertising are discretionary costs, as are software purchases, community signage, information boards, conducting a census. There are nine items plus here listed. It is the prohibited expenditures - we're talking about working in partnership with communities. This government wants to work in partnership with communities. They want to be partners with First Nations, they want to be partners with the business community, they want to be partners with industry, they want to be partners with local advisory councils and community associations, but what this policy does is forbid local advisory councils and hamlet councils from being partners with fire departments, community associations and school councils and to share some of that discretionary funding for the benefit of the community. It's listed as donations to individuals, groups or organizations, such as fire departments, community associations and school councils.
I think that's how communities work: they mesh together. They have local advisory councils and community associations and fire halls. Government can't provide funding for all the needs of every community. For instance, the local fire department there is busy doing training, gearing up for the wildfire season and training for fighting structural fires. They don't have the ability to fundraise on a regular basis, and the department isn't always able to provide what's needed for equipment. Why shouldn't the hamlet council be able to assist the fire department or to jointly purchase equipment that would be beneficial for both the hamlet council and the community association?
I don't understand, quite frankly, what is wrong with that. It's your community and it's your children, so why wouldn't you assist the school council in doing something in your community? We aren't talking about lots and lots of money, to the best of my knowledge. Maybe if the policy was cleaned up a little bit, it could allow a certain portion of a percentage of the funding that is provided - it could allow these community leaders, who work hard at their jobs all day and then give of their time on the weekends and in the evenings to do these types of things, the opportunity to do something good in their community at their discretion. Things like community cleanups initiatives - how bad could that be?
What I asked the minister to do the other day was to go back and, in consultation with local advisory councils and the Association of Yukon Communities, to review this policy. I've offered the minister an idea about maybe only a portion of a percentage of the grants to local area councils being used at their discretion to work in partnership with other groups in their community. I don't know whether he would entertain that or not, but hopefully he will.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would also like to stress to the member opposite that we, as government, feel that the LACs provide very important information to us. We appreciate the work of all the LACs in the Yukon and we also appreciate their commitment.
As I stated, we provide the LACs with the funding to allow them to complete their jobs and to assess what is needed in their communities. We applaud them for all the work that they do, whether it's between meetings or after meetings. In essence, it is a very important element for every community and I appreciate the service that is provided by all the LACs.
I would like to indicate that the funding agreement was to put the accountability framework in place, as I mentioned previously. No change has been implemented as far as the guidelines go.
I will undertake to have further discussions on concerns with the communities with regard to funding. Any increase in the responsibilities of the LAC will require a change in the act. We have to be careful where we walk the line here. I think we will also be open to discuss that at a later date, but the discussion has to come before the change and we have to, again, be accountable for the monies that are being provided, as provided through the Auditor General, showing where our money goes.
The member opposite talks about putting out a certain percentage point on the flexibility. Some of the LACs don't have any flexible money. Some LACs are very well off. So the question is, how do we get fairness in the process?
I appreciate the suggestion from the member opposite. It's something I'll endeavour to look at further.
There are limitations on the funding because we do have to consider protecting the liabilities of the councils and individuals. They have no real authority, and it's done like that for a reason - to absolve them of those particular aspects.
We have a variety of funding programs and mechanisms in place now to assist in some of the areas they're talking about but, as the member opposite indicated, that's something we can look at with regard to each community.
In essence, all the LACs have signed their agreements, except for one, and we're working with that one right now. It is our responsibility to spend money approved in the House specifically for those purposes, so the money is coming from the same department. The issue here is that we just like to ensure the funding we send to our LACs to assist with the operational and administration aspects is going for operational and administration aspects.
I will make it clear that we will look at the possibility of some discretionary funding for the member opposite.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for showing that flexibility and willingness to work with local advisory councils. It wasn't as much the policy, although there are definitely problems with the funding policy, but it was the way in which it was done. It was basically, “Here's the policy, here's the cheque, sign the letter and you get the cheque” - a take-it-or leave-it kind of thing. It would have been nice if they had received the funding policy and the letter two weeks prior to somebody showing up with a cheque so they would at least have a chance to review it, discuss it and think about it.
The minister led into my next question really well, which is that it's my understanding there was some work being done toward another review of the Municipal Act. The Association of Yukon Communities has made some specific recommendations - that's my understanding. We've made some changes to the Municipal Act during this legislative sitting or session - once already, if I'm not mistaken. It appears that we may be making more. I'm just wondering if this is going to be a full review of the Municipal Act, so that it can address some of these issues of hamlet councils and local area councils, as well as the issues of other municipalities? Or are we just looking at minor changes again?
Hon. Mr. Hart: There is a committee working on changes, and we're looking at what we will bring forward at the next process for changes in the act. Hopefully some of these changes are ones identified - as the member opposite indicated - with regard to Association of Yukon Communities. We also have some changes from the government's point of view that we're considering. So the committee we're looking at forming is to address all the concerns with regard to the Municipal Act. The Municipal Act, for the member opposite, is a relatively new act, and we're looking at changes to keep it current. Things have happened that require us to look at making some improvements.
We are currently working with Association of Yukon Communities on that particular aspect. They were identifying inputs on what changes should be made and how they can be made. We are looking at consultation from then on.
Mr. Cardiff: Does the minister have any idea about timelines - how long this process is going to take and when we would actually see changes to the legislation? Would it be this fall? Would it be the following spring or the following fall? What length of a process are we looking at?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We made no commitments. There is a consultation process that has to be followed for all of these changes. Right now we are identifying the proposed changes that we are going to be dealing with, and until such time as we determine what kind of consultation is going to be required, we won't be able to give the member opposite a specific date when they will come forth.
Mr. Cardiff: I have a couple of other questions - a quick one regarding the motor vehicles end of things. There was an article in the media and some discussion about whether or not our drivers' licences are actually a valid piece of identification and whether or not they will suffice for crossing borders and that type of thing. It was my understanding that there was a proposal for a new driver's licence with - I'm not sure exactly what kind of technology was involved in it, whether it was like swiping your credit card or scanning bar codes or what. But I am wondering if the minister can tell us what is currently being proposed and where we are at in that process and when we might see the new driver's licence?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will answer one question for the member opposite. Currently you can use your driver's licence to cross the border to some extent. It's not currently in the process. I have also heard that there have been situations where they have not accepted our drivers' licences for rental cars, for example, back east.
In the midst of that, we are working with other jurisdictions, including Homeland Security in the United States. It is felt that there is no use in us initiating a replacement driver's licence until we find out what is going to be acceptable for them in crossing the border.
We have had our officials in Washington, D.C. recently. I can assure the member opposite that this is a very critical situation, even for the individual states. We are working with them on that particular aspect, along with all the other jurisdictions, to ensure that we do come up with an acceptable ID card for a driver's licence - whether it's going to be a carbon-fit or a chip, or whatever. It has to be acceptable to cross the border.
The member opposite will understand that President Bush said drivers' licences were not going to be acceptable. As I stated, we are working with the other jurisdictions and Homeland Security in the U.S. on trying to explore our options and what we can do with the drivers' licences.
Mr. Cardiff: So we're still a ways out on this. It sounds like a massive project, especially if it involves Homeland Security. Hopefully, we'll come to some conclusion in the near future before we aren't able to cross the border at all. Right now, I think most people are trying to obtain passports, but that is often a lengthy process, and it's an expensive process as well.
I asked the minister some questions earlier on in this sitting about burning garbage. Regarding the garbage dump - I believe it's at Deep Creek - they have been promised that they will be getting a transfer station, as opposed to a landfill. That was the indication that I had - a transfer station similar to the one in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne, the Mile 9 dump. Now, what I was looking for in my final questions was a willingness on the part of the government to look at regional solid waste management as a territorial issue. We're the last jurisdiction in North America - just about - to allow the burning of garbage in landfills. If you look at the way that it's done through the three Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle - and the diversion of garbage, we can provide the assistance and the funding necessary for individual communities, whether it's communities like Carcross, Tagish and Marsh Lake. We've already got a truck going down the Carcross Road to pick up the waste from the transfer station.
I don't know if that truck comes back full or a quarter empty. Maybe if there were a bigger truck - or maybe the existing truck could carry on to Carcross, Tagish or Marsh Lake and return to the City of Whitehorse landfill. If we had the programs and people in place and we supported them appropriately - at least looking at it from my perspective, in my riding and in the neighbouring riding of Southern Lakes - we could cease burning garbage in all those communities, and we could increase the recycling rate and reduce the risk of wildfire. That's one of the reasons they are building a road in the Taku subdivision. It's because the garbage dump is located just about right in the subdivision, and they burn garbage. It is a hazard. It's a potential fire hazard for the residents of Tagish. In the Marsh Lake situation - and I know this from experience, having lived out there for seven years - when they burn the garbage, the smoke billows out and down across Army Beach and across the campground, where we expect tourists in the summer to visit and recreate, and the beach where tourists and locals hang out. The minister must know this first-hand as well, because he spends some part of his leisure time out there, and I'm sure he doesn't enjoy the smoke billowing across the beach and down the road.
So that's looking at it in that kind of small context of Mount Lorne and Southern Lakes, but I'd like to see something happen north of town too. We made a move, and the government has decided that this may be a good idea in Deep Creek; maybe it would be a good idea to extend it further to other communities as well.
I don't know what the situation is in every dump, but I think it is a tough question that is facing governments, that is facing communities, that is facing society. We have become this ever-increasing consumer society with all this packaging and we need to ensure that it gets recycled, if it can be recycled, and that what we put back into the land as landfill - or however we dispose of it - is done in an environmentally friendly, ethically sound manner. What that requires is a plan. The minister has the resources to ask his officials to look into that. I would ask him if he would do that.
Hon. Mr. Hart: For many situations throughout the Yukon , I agree with him that there are options that are more environmentally friendly, as he indicated, and there are some that are more efficient. There are also some that require a lot of work and involvement with the community involved and/or the unincorporated community involved. We need to work with many of our smaller communities to deal with the situation regarding waste management.
The member opposite talked about Mount Lorne . We used his facility as our first transfer station. I might add we did so very successfully. We are currently using that same model for Deep Creek.
We are going about this incrementally, one at a time, because the other method would require a substantial amount of planning and many of those studies would probably end up on a shelf somewhere. We are trying to do it one at a time and work our way through that process. As the member indicated, with Deep Creek we had pressures, and we are currently working with the Marsh Lake community. We have recently had a meeting with them with regard to their dump, and we are moving forward on a solution for them also.
In essence, we're dealing with the major aspects with regard to our dumps in and around Whitehorse because we have the availability of coming to the Whitehorse dump and using them as a transfer station. So, yes, we are doing that and we are looking at our options with regard to the rural areas and dealing with other smaller municipalities that are close by.
Mr. Cardiff: We're rapidly running out of time this afternoon, and I know there are a lot of departments. I'll try to just ask a few more questions and maybe we can move on.
I've corresponded with the City of Whitehorse on a number of occasions. I'm currently waiting for a response from the city. But from the Department of Community Services' end of it, what I'm wondering is what progress has been made toward making the well program available in the City of Whitehorse? What I understood was that there were still some concerns about the financial liability, about the threshold for borrowing the money - basically, the government was going to lend the money to the city to lend to people so they could have wells. This has been an issue for so long - I can't remember how long it has been. But for the last two years the well program has been available to residents outside the City of Whitehorse. Another well-drilling season is upon us here, and people who live in the country residential areas and have either been on water delivery and can't afford it because the cost of water delivery is going up, or have poor wells, or don't have wells or are experiencing problems - I'm sure the Member for Lake Laberge is in the same situation and that there are constituents in his riding who live in country residential areas of the City of Whitehorse.
There are also other municipalities where piped-water systems aren't available everywhere in the municipality. In all fairness to people, whether they live inside a municipal boundary or outside, this program should be made available to them.
What work has the minister's department done since the last time I had an opportunity to ask this question on trying to get this program available to municipalities, including the City of Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The Yukon government continues to provide access to dollars for the municipalities to take advantage of this program and to provide monies to the municipalities at a preferred interest rate for them to carry on the program.
We have not had any municipality take us up on the offer right now. The member opposite talked about the effect on the current debt load for the cities but, with regard to that, Yukon has agreed to investigate the potential for amending the Municipal Act to exclude the 100-percent recoverable loans from their debt load. The very successful program has enabled lots of Yukoners to take advantage of it, but the main focus is that the cost of the well is pro-rated against the property.
We can't levy municipal taxes against that particular property. That's where the issue of the municipality comes into play. Up until now we have been willing to provide the funding to the municipalities to assist in this particular area, but to date no one has taken us up on our offer.
I was also at Association of Yukon Communities meetings twice now where the issue has been brought up, but again there has been very limited uptake, other than Haines Junction and Whitehorse, which considered the particular aspect but didn't want to take on the risk.
Mr. Cardiff: We are back up the page where we were talking earlier about amending the Municipal Act. It sounds to me like we are in a process of trying to keep the Municipal Act current with problems of municipalities and problems that the government has with it. We don't know how long that process is going to be. Wrapped up in all that is the availability of a well program, in order to alleviate - that's what the minister said - in order to alleviate the concerns, they were going to take the 100-percent recoverable loans out of that debt load requirement for the borrowing capacity of a municipality. I think it's three percent of what the municipality collects in taxes. Going over that amount is what got Dawson City in trouble.
Here we are - the government is making an offer to municipalities. They are saying, “This is the problem.” If we knew that was the problem, why didn't we have one simple little amendment to the Municipal Act? It would have been one more piece of legislation that we probably could have all agreed to here in the Legislature, to just remove that. It seems to be what we do a lot - it's called housekeeping legislation. We could have done that, and the municipalities could have accessed the loans. We could have had a well program in the City of Whitehorse and Haines Junction, by the sounds of it. That would have alleviated their concerns, and we could have moved ahead. Why couldn't we have done that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the member opposite, there is no municipality in the Yukon that would be in danger of going over its three-percent process right now while we go through this particular aspect. It still does not negate them from taking the opportunity to take us up on the financing of the program in their individual municipality.
We have made that offer to them - to municipalities - several times. The issue that they bring up is the three percent. We have indicated a way in which we can mitigate that for them, on their behalf. Again, as I stated, until such time as they take us up on our loan program, no municipality is going to be in jeopardy over their three percent by this program.
I can tell the member opposite that, even if we could use our own program, the amount of monies that we have poured into this particular fund is not strenuous on any municipality, even for what we have today.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I heard the minister say that was a concern the municipalities had and that was one of the reasons they gave for not taking the government up on its offer.
I would like to ask the minister a few questions about fire departments. As I mentioned earlier, there are some questions about the increased training demands, liability and new technology. It means that volunteering with a rural fire department and ambulance can become a major investment of time and energy. In fact, volunteer burnout is a fact in some communities. We've seen this in some communities where there were lots of ambulance attendants and then there were only a couple left. It might have been because they didn't want to injure their backs lifting people in and out of the ambulances that were bought.
There's still that burnout factor where people contribute and contribute, over and over again. I'm wondering if the minister has a plan in mind to ensure there are new people coming in and that we're providing some respite for those who have contributed for a number of years.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are providing training for all our volunteer fire departments in relation to wildland fire management of the equipment they will be utilizing in conjunction with wildland fire management crews, when they go out together, so they are well-versed in the equipment they will be utilizing in the areas where they join with our wildland fire management teams on fires in and around their area. We have agreements where that takes place. We are diligently working on getting our training done with as many of the volunteers as possible.
Yes, as with any situation with volunteers, you have a burnout aspect. In some cases, it's higher than in others; however, we are working closely with them. I've been advised that we have very good morale with regard to our volunteer fire departments. Whether or not the ambulance driver is sore from lifting the cot or not, I'm not quite sure, but I can assure the member opposite that we have had no complaints from the rural volunteers with regard to the ambulance and its height, or whatever. In fact, they're quite happy with the ambulance they have received.
In any event, volunteer organizations are an important pillar of our communities. As I stated, we're working to support them. We're looking at providing equipment; we're rotating it to each volunteer fire department to ensure they all get the same value at least proportionately, and we're always open to new ideas. Many of our volunteer fire departments come up with solutions, mechanical or otherwise, to assist us in doing things better and more efficiently. We accept that.
I think that if the member opposite were to check with his own volunteer fire department, he would find that we've been working very well with them, along with our wildland fire management crew. As I stated, I think the morale is actually quite high in our volunteer fire departments. Again, I'd like to assure them that we are providing as much support as we can. We did increase the funding to the volunteer fire departments. Granted, it's not anywhere near enough to offset their time and commitment to the facility; but I think it's an important element to each volunteer organization. As the member opposite stated, I do spend a lot of time at Marsh Lake when the time permits, and I know many of the volunteers at that particular station. I have previously been a part of volunteer firefighter personnel in British Columbia, and I am well aware of what it takes to operate a volunteer organization. My department, as I stated, is working with the independent review that was done, increasing our awareness, increasing our training for our volunteers and ensuring that we have a very safe and healthy summer, when and if we have to face one anywhere near what we did in 2004.
Mr. Cardiff: I thank the minister for that answer.
I'd like to also make a brief pitch and ask the minister if he would entertain this. I know that they have increased the amount of money available to pay the honoraria or the hourly rates to volunteer firefighters. They put them on standby in the summertime, during high risk times, when the risk of wildfire is at a point where it needs to be monitored or there needs to be somebody on standby at those volunteer fire departments.
But, you know, it's the leadership, the fire chiefs, the head medics, the medics who jump into the ambulance, who are sometimes the first responders to traffic accidents in their locale. It's almost like a full-time job. You are on call; you are around; you have to hang around. You don't have the ability to go and socialize because your responsibilities are there.
I am just wondering if the minister would give any thought to looking at increasing the honorarium or pay for people who fill those leadership roles, like the head medics and the fire chiefs.
Hon. Mr. Hart: We did a full review of our volunteers last year and we made some adjustments in that particular aspect. However, that does not negate the fact that we can look at that at a future date and address the situation the member opposite indicates.
With regard to being on call all the time, I can assure the member opposite that I frequently entertain, shall we say, members of the volunteer fire department at Marsh Lake, who carry around their buzzer and have no problem when they are called out, no matter what it is. In fact, a couple of individuals, surprisingly enough, will probably get a speeding ticket before they get down there.
In essence, I'm very encouraged by their duty. I have had some personal requests in that particular area. Last year we made a big adjustment with regard to wildland fire management for the EF personnel - a substantial increase in monies for them, and the restructuring of those facilities also.
Mr. Cardiff: I agree, and the minister knows full well that I support all kinds of volunteer efforts in the community. These people try to keep us safe in our community, and I think it's those in the leadership role who could be a little better recognized for what they contribute to the community.
While we're on fire departments, it was with interest that, during the second reading responses to the budget speech, the Member for Southern Lakes talked about an ambulance bay at Tagish. It's good they're building an ambulance bay at Tagish, because the ambulance needs to get out at any given point in time.
The other thing I noted was that the minister said - and this money was promised a couple of years ago - there was money for planning an addition or a new Golden Horn fire hall. We may also have gone around this question last year.
The minister indicated there was money last year for planning for the Golden Horn fire hall. This year there's $120,000 for planning and we're still no further ahead. What I know of the structure of the building is that it is fairly old, that it was put up by volunteers in the community - not that that makes it a bad building, but the space is quite limited. I don't know if adding on to it makes sense.
If we look at the history of the rural volunteer fire departments, Golden Horn was probably one of the first. It was put up with an injection of money from the community and some volunteers, and I imagine the government probably contributed something.
We've built fire halls out in Mendenhall, in Ibex, on the Mayo Road, in Robinson, Marsh Lake, Tagish. The thing is that as communities grow, so do the needs. First, you've got a pumper and a tanker, and then you need a first-response vehicle. Then they have the ability to take on being a first responder to highway accidents, so there is an ambulance, an emergency-response type vehicle that can go out to a traffic accident. What ends up happening is that these fire halls are built originally with two bays, because you've got a pumper and a tanker, and then you've got this auxiliary vehicle. Where does the auxiliary vehicle go? What you do is pull the tanker or the pumper out and you back that first-response vehicle in between the two and you pull the tanker back out. So, when you have to respond, you pull the tanker out and then get the first-response vehicle out. That doesn't make sense to me. I think the first-response vehicle should probably come out first if it's a first-response vehicle.
This is a perfect opportunity. If we are going to spend $120,000 on design work, maybe we should look at something similar to what a previous NDP government did around schools, where they got a design and the proprietary rights to that design, and they built a school out at MacPherson and then basically built the same school in Porter Creek - Holy Family School.
Maybe the government could get the proprietary rights to a certain design that would be modular. I know the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation likes modular buildings, so this would make sense. You would build a building that you can add on to so, when you get a first-response vehicle, you also get another bay added on to put the first-response vehicle in.
The first-response vehicle that they obtained was through the generosity of the minister but, for the most part, it sits wedged between the tanker and the pumper truck. It just makes sense that we should be looking at this so that when we are building these buildings - and some of these buildings are going to get old and need to be replaced - we have a kind of cookie-cutter type of building that we have the rights to, and we can just add on to these buildings as the new equipment comes on stream. Mixed in with all of that - what I said at great length - is a request that the minister look at providing more space at the Robinson fire hall.
Golden Horn has been waiting for a number of years. I haven't been there recently, but I know that it was one of the first places I went when I was elected. I went to a fire hall practice and meeting and looked at the situation and, to the best of my knowledge, it hasn't improved. It is still hard to get around the vehicles in your turnout gear. It would be nice to see this process expedited for Golden Horn. At the same time there is a request in there for the Robinson fire hall for some added space so that they can have access to their vehicles as well, as they take more responsibility in their community for providing these services. Every time I drive by the fire hall at Robinson, the ambulance is parked outside.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I agree that Golden Horn did a great job of developing the fire department out there and building the hall. I agree that the service agreement changes have resulted in them outgrowing the current facility. But as is stated in here, we intend to review the existing building to see if it's worthwhile adding on to. I understand there are some difficulties if we were to try that so, conversely, we were also asked to look at building a brand new facility adjacent to that and maybe utilizing that building as some kind of storage for one of the vehicles.
In essence, I think what it is, is that the government of the day is guilty of upgrading our fire equipment. Fire halls that were built a couple of years ago are no longer wide enough nor long enough for the new fire trucks because the regulations on new fire trucks have extended the fire trucks from 28 feet to 32 feet. Consequently, we have many fire halls, other than what the member opposite indicated, where we have difficulties getting our vehicles in and still being able to get around the vehicle in order to get into it. I'd like to assure the member opposite we are going to work with Golden Horn on their particular issue and take it from there. We are going to do that. An assessment will take place.
With regard to Robinson, it will be addressed with many other fire departments that are having issues with regard to space and needs, because we have additional equipment that needs to be stored. Again, it will come as a case of priority. It will come as a case of need, and we'll work as much as we can within our budget to get them done.
We have successfully finished getting all our pumper trucks up to speed, so all the fire halls now have up-to-date fire pump trucks. We're currently working on upgrading the tankers in many of our halls. So we're looking at that.
In addition, the member opposite indicated we're looking at making some improvements in Tagish. We just finished completing the Mendenhall fire hall last year. The Mendenhall fire hall is considered very nice by many people, but it's not acceptable, for example, for Golden Horn because it's not big enough. It's not equipped to handle the same type of equipment as Marsh Lake has, for example.
Whether we can find a modular-type building or not that can accommodate, I don't know. We're looking at the facilities. When we look at adding on, we'll ensure there is an ability to add on, if needed - if it's a portable or if the facility is constructed, it will be made in such a way that it can be done and we're not limited by the size of the building or whatever. That's something we're looking at right now.
Our basic point is that many small volunteer fire departments have issues with regard to what the member opposite indicated from his experience. We are experiencing that in many of the smaller areas because, again, we have lots of equipment but not enough space to house it. In some cases, we have the first-attack vehicle stored elsewhere, but that's what we're forced to do. It's also a case of limiting in a very small community what we can get by with.
But right now, we are trying to do it on a priority basis, based on the needs. Right now, Golden Horn is a top priority and we will be doing design and planning for that facility this year.
Mr. Cardiff: I appreciate the minister's comments. Actually, in retrospect, “modular” is not a good word to use because that's not exactly what I was looking for, but I think the minister is on the right track.
What I am suggesting is that, in spending $120,000 to design this Golden Horn fire hall - if we look at a design that can be added on to as the needs increased, that's what is needed. When it comes time to replace these buildings and those in other communities, if we have the proprietary rights to that design, we don't have to spend more money on a design, basically. It is going to work.
I appreciate the minister's comments that it's a problem of the government's own making. I don't think there is a community in the Yukon that doesn't appreciate the efforts of this government or previous governments in upgrading fire-fighting equipment in the communities.
I have one more question for the minister. It is about something that came up recently. I don't have notes in front of me but I am going to see if I can go from memory on exactly how this went. There was an issue that came up and basically it was suggested that the government increase the comprehensive municipal grant for the City of Whitehorse. This profoundly affects my riding, as it does the Member for Lake Laberge's, because we have constituents inside and outside of the municipal boundaries.
The city feels there are some added costs when residents who live in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne, in Golden Horn, out on the Hot Springs Road, or Marsh Lake use the infrastructure here in the city. Some of it is covered by user fees. This is going to take me a couple of minutes to explain this. It's a really complicated issue for any government, because if you live in downtown Whitehorse, you pay a certain level of taxes. You also pay for your sewer, water and garbage pickup. It's the same thing in Riverdale and Porter Creek. If you live in a country residential area, you pay taxes, you pay user fees - just like everybody else does when you go to the rec centre or the hockey rink - you get your roads plowed more often than Riverdale or Porter Creek, probably - which is a good thing and people appreciate that - but you maintain your own sewer, your own water system - if you can get a well grant, anyhow; otherwise, you end up with the old well and the old holding tank. You also pay a higher fire insurance when you live in country residential subdivisions, because you're further away from where the fire halls are located. That's an added cost for residents who live in those country residential areas.
Then, there are people who live outside the municipal boundaries who also use the infrastructure of the city - they come to town, work, drive on the streets and walk on the sidewalks, just like all of us who live in the City of Whitehorse do.
They also have to maintain their sewer and water systems. They're not on piped water. Many of them have increased fire insurance costs. Many of them have to drive and incur costs to get to and from the City of Whitehorse to go to work in the City of Whitehorse and contribute to the economy of the City of Whitehorse . It's a real complicated question, and I could probably cite a whole whack more examples of how complicated it is. But a request was made - and I know that the City of Whitehorse is facing some challenges with regard to the ability to raise revenues. One of the solutions might be to increase the comprehensive municipal grant. I don't know whether this would fall within a review of the Municipal Act, but something that occurred to me and came up in a conversation with someone was whether, somewhere in the Municipal Act, the municipalities in the Yukon could be granted the ability to raise revenue through some other source. Now, I don't know what that is - whether it's some sort of a tax sharing arrangement, whether the government looks at the whole taxation of property or whether it's the government's sharing revenue from its fuel tax, I don't know. But I'm just wondering whether the minister has looked at that, because it is a challenge for the City of Whitehorse, and I think the ability to raise revenues is a challenge for some other municipalities as well.
Hon. Mr. Hart: As the member opposite indicated, it is a very complex problem with regard to dealing with the peripheral service provided by municipalities. However, I do believe the comprehensive municipal grants provided to all the municipalities are calculated and reflect the basic taxes that are available to each municipality.
For the member opposite, direct user fees may be a good way of dealing with it. That might be a possibility. One of the examples is what I mentioned earlier. We transfer the garbage from Mount Lorne and, hopefully, from Deep Creek and Marsh Lake to the Whitehorse dump, and we pay for that service. That is one issue that we are looking at.
Costs have been known for different lifestyles for many people. They chose to live where they live. Many people don't like to live in the city because they don't want to worry about noise or their dog or whatever it is, so they chose to live outside, or they chose to live in within the city limits but at a country residential level. I believe that these are issues that are there.
When you go to the City of Vancouver, you pay to get on a bus; you don't pay any more or less than a person who lives there. You don't pay any less to get into a taxi for the service that is provided in that particular location. So, I believe, in dealing with the City of Whitehorse on municipal issues, that might be a way - a direct user fee.
As I said, when you go to Vancouver, you get in a cab, he flicks the thing down, and it's the same if it's a person who lives there or one who is coming from out of town. People make their own choices. They choose to live in rural B.C. or Yukon. It's their choice whether they're going to live close to a municipality or not, and they do so knowing they have to service their own water and sewer facilities; they do so knowing they have to drive a great distance to work and back, as well as to take their children to recreational facilities. Again, because their kids are using the facilities, they're paying for that.
The city and all the other municipalities are getting access to user fees currently. Do I think it will satisfy some of the concerns councillors have indicated with regard to city revenue? I don't know. Until we find out what's really there, we won't know.
I do believe that each municipality now, under the new gas tax, has a way of generating additional revenue, and maybe that's what they have to look at to assist them in that particular aspect.
Mr. Cardiff: The minister could have just sparked another long debate, but I'll refrain from getting into that. I was trying to get at the fact that the government, and if you look at what the government is currently doing - I hope the minister will be able to answer this, and if not, perhaps the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources can answer it because he's the one who put out the press release.
Land development on the Hot Springs Road, land development, the McGowan option - all these are outside the City of Whitehorse .
So the Yukon government is in some respects adding to the problem. The taxation levels outside the City of Whitehorse are much less than they are inside the City of Whitehorse. Maybe that's fair, because they have other costs that they have to deal with, but you're adding to the problem. Now, there is demand for that land out there, but I guess what I'm wondering just quickly is, is there some formula whereby the government, in the comprehensive grant, looks at what is in the periphery, the population of the periphery, the tax base in the periphery of a municipality, and is that incorporated numerically into that comprehensive funding grant? Is there a formula?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We've been working with the municipalities on this particular issue, but we haven't been able to identify a particular item that all the municipalities can rely on with regard to that issue. So in the formula there is no specific allowance for the peripheral side.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, it's something that I think municipalities might like the government to do. I don't know; there must be some sort of computer guru out there who could analyze the tax rolls and figure out who lives in the periphery of Whitehorse, what the tax base is within a certain area, and that could be figured in any community. We should be able to do that.
I have one other question that I wasn't going to even ask but, with the gas tax money in the budget, there is a requirement in the Yukon for communities to develop an integrated community sustainability plan.
Apparently in other jurisdictions, communities and municipalities have the ability to apply for this funding, proceed with projects and do the sustainability plans in tandem or after the projects are completed. It's only in the Yukon that the government - this is federal money intended for municipalities to address infrastructure needs. But the government is hanging on to it and saying, no, you can't have the money. You have to do the integrated community sustainability plan, and we are going to give you five percent of the money to do those sustainability plans before you can proceed with a project.
I am just wondering if the minister can justify why that is. I don't know - maybe the Auditor General is worried about the accountability. This is money that was intended for the municipalities, not giving the territorial government the ability to dole money out to municipalities.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I am having a hard time with the member opposite. Doesn't he want to do planning? He beats us up in the House on a daily basis because we don't do any planning. That's what it's all about.
Every jurisdiction is going to have to do the planning on the process. In fact, we are getting money out to the communities as we speak. Contribution agreements have been sent to the municipalities and the money is going out for their planning.
I would like to remind the member opposite that many of our municipalities have completed their plans and are going to be way ahead of the rest of Canada when it comes to that particular aspect. It is going to take time to get these things across, for the gas to be pro-rated over a period of time. It's going to take time but we will get there. The planning is going to be done. The integrated planning will take place, just like it has to take place in every jurisdiction with regard to the gas tax.
As I said, we have contribution agreements already. In fact, I think we have already received a contribution agreement back from one of the municipalities already.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, before we leave the issue of the municipal grants, the minister might want to refresh his memory with the formula that determines it. It is primarily based on dwelling unit count, with population being factored into it. That is why under the municipal grants, when you look at the break out, after Whitehorse receives half of the total, the next largest amount goes to Faro, then Watson Lake, then Dawson City. If you look at the population of those communities, Faro is less than 500; Watson Lake is - from memory - 1,500 to 1,600, and Dawson City is 1,800-odd. Those population figures are the entire area, but that is not the area on which I want to spend some time with the minister.
In the minister's opening remarks he did selectively look at some of the background on the secondary sewage in Dawson. Would the minister be kind enough to provide copies of all these studies that he referred to in his opening remarks?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I would be more than pleased to table the information for the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: I thank the minister.
Mr. Chair, two of the individuals operating and contracted to the City of Dawson had contracts that went to the final construction or the completion of the secondary sewage. One was GJ Bull & Associates; the second one was the project manager of the PMT - project management team - that worked extensively on the recreation centre and moved over to the water-meter contract and then moved over to the secondary sewage.
What did it cost the government to buy out these contracts?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I don't have the specifics in front of me but I can dig into it and provide it to the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: Would the minister confirm there was a cost to buy out these two contracts? Who bore that cost?
Hon. Mr. Hart: If there was, the situation was with the City of Dawson, either through the previous council or with the trustee.
Mr. Jenkins: Let me help the minister here. It wasn't through the previous council, so it would have to have been through the trustee. The trustee reported directly to the minister and there were costs incurred. How was that funded, or were there alternate arrangements made between the Government of Yukon Community Services and these contractors to be offered other contracts in consideration of opting out of the contract with the City of Dawson? How was it done?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Any negotiations were dealt directly with these people and were done straight up.
Mr. Jenkins: Any negotiation was done by these people and it was done straight up - that's what I heard, Mr. Chair. What I'd like to know is how much it cost either the taxpayers of Yukon or the taxpayers of the City of Dawson to get out of these two contracts. Would the minister agree to provide that information?
I would also like to know how it was done. The minister can provide it by legislative return, because it is an important consideration and a very important factor in this whole equation.
Hon. Mr. Hart: Any amounts paid will be paid out by contracts to the city. As we stated, we will provide that to the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: What I am looking at is that these two contracts with these two individuals were terminated. Upon their termination, some agreement was reached by both GJ Bull & Associates and the project manager of the project management team that was appointed by the department.
The project management team for the arena was selected by the Government of Yukon - that is a given and that's well known. I can even put the names on the record, if the minister so wishes, but I do not think that would be appropriate. The head of the project management team, the project manager, went on to lead the overall direction on the secondary sewage initiative. When the council was abolished and the trustee was appointed, arrangements were made with both these individuals' respective firms. I would like to know how much those arrangements to terminate their contracts cost. That is a simple question.
Was it for future consideration? Did that enter into it? If so, the minister can state it.
Hon. Mr. Hart: There were no future considerations, but we will provide the member opposite with the information.
Mr. Jenkins: When the city was approached by other firms that had secondary sewage treatments - is the minister aware that GJ Bull & Associates wrote to them and threatened legal action if they pursued offering their product to the City of Dawson? Is the minister aware of that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Chair, I'm not aware of any particular aspect with regard to Mr. Bull with regard to a threat to some other facility.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there must be a reason why a lot of other firms that offer viable secondary sewage treatment systems can't get their toes in the door and can't get past the project management team, made up of individuals from the Department of Community Services along with other individuals who were selected by the Government of Yukon to assist the City of Dawson. Is this just another way that the government is planning to teach Dawson a lesson?
Mr. Chair, this is an issue, in that nobody else can get their toe in the door to have their system examined. There are a number of other viable mechanical systems that exist in Europe, that exist in Japan and in a number of areas in the world. They operate in cold water climates and cold temperature climates. They could be looked at, and they may be very viable.
But the door has been closed to all these products. Instead the government is headed down the course of initially selecting an SBR system, and that SBR system was $20 million odd of capital with prohibitive operating costs, and it is virtually the same type of system for Carmacks. When you look at what is going into Carmacks today and you look at the number of ratepayers in that community who are going to be connected to that system, that is probably the highest cost per person for any secondary sewage treatment anywhere that I am aware of. I'd like to know why the minister isn't aware of these important areas, and what he is prepared to do about it.
Given the document he has tabled, I ask the minister if he would provide a copy of the actual report. All I've received from the minister is a listing of the reports. It lists 46 reports - all of the applications to the Water Board. I do have those. I have the initial Shiltec report from 1996. From there forward, I have not had an opportunity to look at these reports, but they are paramount and there should be a whole series of them. I would appreciate an opportunity to have a look at them.
Mr. Chair, my water bill and my sewer bill in the City of Dawson for a small business is $30,000 a year. Pro-rate that for 50-odd rooms and you will see what I am talking about. But no one pays the bills, and until you have the responsibility to dig into your pocket and pay the bills, you don't know what you are faced with.
If you add another $600 to each one of those service connections per year, based on the estimate of $321,000 for operation and maintenance costs, that in itself adds about another $10,000 a year to my company's water and sewer bill.
If the estimates are wrong, like they usually are - I can recall the estimates when they initially came forward for the operation and maintenance costs on the water and sewer system in Dawson, and they were right out to lunch. There is a whole series of issues there. The minister has the government's backside covered very well with this waste water treatment memorandum of agreement, and yet it does nothing to protect the end-users, the consumers in our community.
Will the minister take this waste-water treatment memorandum of agreement and remove the very demanding and offensive parts in this agreement before he turns Dawson over to a new mayor and council? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are looking at a membrane bio-reactor system for the community of Carmacks. We are also looking at all avenues that may reduce costs for the citizens of Dawson, but also for the citizens of Carmacks. We are not closed off, as the member opposite has indicated, to his process with regard to sewage facilities in Dawson . We are looking at anything that will reduce that.
As I stated earlier, we may have some hope on the national scope that will allow us to reduce our cost for the facility in Dawson, as well as reduce the operation and maintenance cost, ultimately, for the citizens of Dawson. But right now we don't have that information at hand. We don't have it in tow. So we are continuing with the best that has been provided to date.
Also, in relation to Dawson, we reviewed all the proposals received and would be happy to find a more economic option if he is willing to present it, as long as the presentation meets the requirements and does what it is intended to do and can be scrutinized through the normal engineering process. I'm not an engineer; I don't pretend to be one. As I stated, we have had an independent review of the studies done to date by a firm in Calgary and they have indicated that we're heading down the appropriate way.
Are we looking at proposals? We have submitted our funding request to Ottawa under the CSIF program, and we need to do that to meet our legal obligations. We're looking forward to doing that. However, if something comes up and is deemed passable through Environment Canada and we can get that through, we'll work with that particular proponent on the job. We'll do anything that is going to reduce the cost to the citizens of Dawson for their sewage, but in essence, they still will need to get their sewage facility completed and a secondary sewage system in place. It has to be done. I can only indicate to the member opposite that we're doing what we can, given the science that we have, to make the situation in Dawson bearable, I guess, so that the citizens of Dawson can have a facility that gets it by.
Mr. Jenkins: My question to the minister was this: could he please take this waste-water treatment MOA that's in place between the Government of Yukon and the Town of the City of Dawson and that he had his trustee sign on behalf of the city and that is signed by himself on behalf of the Government of Yukon, and take out the onerous parts and conditions in this agreement? Can the minister do that?
The minister has the sole and exclusive right to cancel this contract under section 16(1) on 30 days' notice. The city doesn't have that ability. The city is bound to the ongoing O&M; it's bound to accept what the government determines it will have; and it's bound to a one-year guarantee that this product will be the be-all and end-all.
Given that they want to locate this sewage treatment plant upstream of the city's water supply, which in itself is - well, there's only one word to describe it. It's ludicrous. Somebody should have their head read for even suggesting it. The selection of the type of sewage treatment plant as the aerated lagoon is a very good choice. In fact, it's an extremely good choice, but you have to have a location to put the thing.
Will the minister commit to not constructing the sewage lagoon upstream of the city's water supply? Will the minister make that commitment on the floor of this House?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We are compelled to provide the City of Dawson with a secondary sewage facility. We're compelled by law to that process. We are committed to building a facility, to the capital construction of this secondary facility.
Will I indicate we won't do the aerated lagoon? No, absolutely not. We're going to go through with the process. If the member opposite can present to us here in the House a wonderful panacea for the City of Dawson, I recommend he bring his whole cartload of information in here and we'll go through the process. In the meantime, we'll follow through with the process in regard to the CSIF, we'll follow through with our commitment under the legal obligations we have, and we'll follow through with that process until such time as somebody can lay in front of us a detailed engineering plan of how it's going to be less of a process for the citizens of Dawson.
Right now, this is what we have. We're going forward with that process. As we indicated, we haven't locked the door to this. If somebody can come up with a different plan that will reduce the cost for the citizens of Dawson, we'll look into it and I look forward to providing this particular aspect.
We've indicated in the financial plan for the City of Dawson that we'll deal with the new mayor and council with regard to the sewage facility.
With regard to whether we build it upstream or downstream, I would remind the member opposite that it wasn't too long ago when the City of Whitehorse was permeating its raw sewage right into the Yukon River . Isn't that downriver? Upriver? What is it? Give me a break.
We have to deal with Environment Canada no matter where we build this facility, like it or not. The member opposite knows that full well. I think the issue of being upriver or downriver is just a red herring and he knows it.
We're going to follow through with regard to our legal commitments, and it is going to take place.
Mr. Jenkins: It's not a red herring. No one is disagreeing that an aerated lagoon system for sewage treatment is not a good system. It is a very good system. It is cost effective and it does a very adequate job of treating waste water.
That aside, the City of Whitehorse draws its water supply from, they have a number of wells, as well as Schwatka Lake. That's the potable water supply.
When they discharge it, they don't discharge ahead of Schwatka Lake. They discharge it downstream of the water supply. That's all I'm asking the minister to do: make a commitment on the floor of this House not to build a sewage treatment plant upstream of the City of Dawson's water supply - especially not to build it and then offer a one-year guarantee with the product and then all the operation and maintenance costs are downloaded on to the City of Dawson. That's great.
Once again, will the minister commit to not building a secondary sewage treatment plant upstream of the City of Dawson's water supply? Will he do that, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Hart: With regard to the aerated lagoon system, it is an engineered process designed by professional people. They have to certify how the sewage is going to move and how it is going to get back. It has to meet all the requirements under Environment Canada and Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It has to pass all those elements.
I believe that the solutions are engineer-designed. They provide for a safe pipe system to move the effluent downstream. We have to deal with it. I just don't get up in the morning and decide I am going to turn off the valve and put it into the water. I don't think so. I don't think Environment Canada would allow us to do that. We will follow the requirements and the process involved, both federally and territorially, to ensure that safety is provided to the citizens of Dawson and also that risk is not taken by the citizens of Dawson.
Mr. Jenkins: That is not what this waste-water memorandum of understanding says. I would encourage the minister to read it - spend some time reading it. It says Yukon shall have sole and unfettered control for the management and administration of the project, including any and all tendering and the selection of successful bidders, contractors, proponents, engineering firms, and capital financial requirements for the design and construction of the project. This would also extend to all regulatory reporting, approvals and court reporting. So the total design, total tendering, total overseeing of it, is a Government of Yukon responsibility. Then it goes on to say that Dawson shall assume the full cost of the ongoing operation and maintenance costs of the project upon completion. There is a one-year warranty on the project. Also, Dawson will save harmless and indemnify Yukon, its officers, employees, contractors and agents from all claims, liabilities, and demands arising under these sections, and with such indemnity surviving the expiry or termination of this agreement. Sounds like a heck of a deal for Dawson.
All I am asking the minister is not to build this secondary sewage treatment plant upstream of the city's water supply intake, and I can't even get that commitment, Mr. Chair.
Just how ludicrous is this overview and engineering analysis of the City of Dawson ? Once again, I'm asking the minister to commit on the floor of this House not to construct a secondary sewage treatment plant upstream of the City of Dawson's water supply; 3.5 kilometres upstream is where it's indicated to be in the valley. This is contained in this agreement. I can refer the minister to the page with the project description: an aerated lagoon waste-water treatment facility is proposed to be added to the existing treatment system. I don't have any quarrel with that, Mr. Chair. An aerated lagoon is an excellent method of dealing with waste water and treating it.
The new facility will be designed to provide an advanced level of secondary waste-water treatment capable of producing a non-toxic secondary effluent that will meet Yukon Territory Water Board and federal regulations. That's great.
But then it goes on to say that the new facility is proposed to be located in the Callison area, in the Klondike River Valley, approximately 3.5 kilometres upstream from Dawson . Is the minister aware of how many sewer main and water main breaks occurred in Dawson this last winter, in these last few years, Mr. Chair? It's only a matter of time before a line to this system fails or something happens. That has been the track record of water and sewer pipes buried in the ground in Dawson . I'm sure he's not going to swing these lines out into the valley by helicopter, but it wouldn't surprise me, Mr. Chair.
I don't know how they're going to force it up the Klondike Valley and allow it to gravity feed down. I don't know how they can gravity feed up and over or down and under the Klondike River . It has to cross it both ways.
Can I ask the minister once again to commit on the floor of this House to not construct a secondary sewage treatment plant upstream of the city's water supply? Can the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Again, I will reiterate that we will ensure that all and any approvals, licences and requirements are obtained wherever we put the aerated lagoon facility. There are a variety of experts who sit on the regulatory approval boards. They are well aware of the required safety standards. They will ensure that it is safely built and that it ensures the safety of all citizens of Dawson .
I would like to correct something. I think it is a good deal for Dawson City. I think the entire package is a good deal for Dawson City. As indicated, we are looking at reducing their facilities costs and dropping their debt by $3.4 million. We are looking at providing additional funding for capital expenditures. This will hopefully improve the water facilities in Dawson , which have not been repaired. We are going to work with the new mayor and council on that issue to identify which ones they are, and we will try to get those improved; and we will try to do it quickly.
We indicated that we will separate the recreation and sewage facilities from the deal. We are looking at doing that. We are looking at providing a sewage facility for the citizens of Dawson. The O&M is going to be their responsibility - I admit that. We're going to be working with the mayor and council every step of the way on the sewage facility. We will have to do get something to them. We have a legal obligation to meet.
We have to meet it, and we are going to do everything we can to meet that legal obligation. As I stated previously, we are working at anything and we are looking at anything that is going to reduce that cost - either capital or operation and maintenance. We are not averse to looking at anything in that particular venue. We do have an option that may be coming available to us nationally that may result in that but, right now, we are heading down the road that allows us to meet our legal obligations and to handle the situation.
The City of Dawson pleaded guilty to this particular process, and we are following through on that particular aspect. We indicated we will take the lead on the sewage facility and we are doing that.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's correct the record, once again. It was the Government of Yukon that gave Dawson the money that got them into the debt-load position they have. So, if the minister thinks there is a good deal for Dawson - on the debt-load issue, yes, but there are many other aspects where the government has not concluded what should have been concluded under a trustee: that is the issue of recoveries of funding, taxpayers' money that was misspent by the treasurer, the former city manager and the former mayor. We are not just talking a few hundred thousand dollars here. It is a considerable sum of money, as the minister knows well.
All I am looking for at this time is to agree with minister. What I am looking for is a commitment from the minister that he will not construct a secondary sewage treatment plant upstream of the City of Dawson's intake for water supply. Why can't that be done, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I stated previously, we'll be working with the new council on any decisions that we make with regard to the sewage system. We indicated we will be following all the necessary approvals, obtaining all the necessary licensing and permitting required for a sewage facility for the City of Dawson , and we plan to move along that process. We have legal obligations that we have to follow through with, and we will follow through with those that are necessary. The member opposite knows also that the last facility was ordered to be implemented by a judge on what system they would put in. We were successful in at least reducing that and working with Environment Canada on a facility. As the member opposite indicated, an aerated lagoon is a good option. It works in several other northern areas, in Alaska , and we have investigated those particular units in Tok as well. So we're working very hard on this particular project. We're working with all the engineers. We're working with the appropriate departments - Environment; Department of Fisheries and Oceans - to ensure that the facility we put in Dawson City meets all the requirements, all the licensing, in order for us to move forward. Once we are in that process, and if something else comes up, we are prepared to look at it. But in the meantime, we are willing to work. We commit to work on the sewage facility with the new mayor and council, and we are committed to building that facility.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm not as confident as the minister is in the track record of the government for building new buildings and infrastructure. I only have to look at what was done in the last little while. If we look at the air terminal building in Old Crow, the foundation is not adequate and the building will have to be levelled at a considerable cost. It is a brand new building, Mr. Chair.
We also have the school in Old Crow. The library is a beautiful, big, open space, but they are going to have to put a post in the middle of the room to keep the roof up. Then there's the school in Mayo. The engineer said there could be two inches of deflection in the foundation. The minister should be aware that it is up to five now, and PMA hasn't done anything of about it that I'm aware. Then there is the school in Ross River , which also has foundation problems. That is not even to mention the schools around Whitehorse that PMA has designed and have serious structural defects.
It's not a rosy picture. History has a funny way of repeating itself. When the water and sewage system was replaced in Dawson City in the late 1970s, it was done by the Government of Yukon. There was a piece of legislation passed in this Assembly. It was supposed to have been properly designed by what was then the Department of Community Services. It took them three tries to get the sewage lines correct. It took a very determined council to ensure that happened. The specifications on the pipe that went into the ground -- they were too thin and collapsed.
And of course the engineers blamed it on the contractor, so he dug it up and replaced it and it collapsed again. And then they dug it up and replaced the schedule 45 with schedule 100, I believe, and that collapsed. That was subsequently dug up at considerable cost to the Yukon government, only it was an election issue - a territorial election issue at one point. That was, I believe, another $3 million point something.
But that's what I like about government - nobody is responsible for anything. We have this wheel that we spin and pass the buck. Somebody ultimately is going to be paying the bill for this system, and it will be the residents of the community that I reside in, Mr. Chair.
All I'm asking of the minister, with respect to a secondary sewage treatment system, is that they not build it upstream of the intake, or the water supply, for the City of Dawson. They're infiltration wells and they're located all the way down Front Street . But the minister won't even do that. Now, the minister wouldn't flush his toilet into his kitchen sink and then wash the dishes, but, basically, that's what it could amount to in our community.
Once again, I'll ask the minister, and then we can move on: will the minister commit to not locating the secondary sewage treatment plant upstream of the intake water supply for the City of Dawson?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Mr. Chair, I will commit to building the most cost-effective and safe sewage facility that we can for the citizens of Dawson.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I'm sorry, that's not good enough. I just can't buy having this located upstream from the city's water supply. That is ludicrous.
One only has to look across Canada and see the problems in the remote areas where this has taken place. And yes, the minister is going to go ahead and say he has assurances from the engineers that it is closed-loop and it won't cause any problems. It probably won't cause any problems in the first year, maybe not even in the second, but there is only a one-year warranty on this and then the total responsibility for O&M and repairs is vested in the Town of the City of Dawson City. I'm just looking for the minister's assurance that he is not going to see this built upstream from the City of Dawson's water supply. Can he do that?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will commit that the Yukon government will build the most cost-effective and safe sewage treatment facility for the people of Dawson - one that is acceptable to the new mayor and council and that meets all the requirements with regard to Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the processes that are required under legal aspects to ensure that the citizens of Dawson are not fined, and the government is not fined, for not completing the facility that will provide secondary sewage treatment for Dawson.
Mr. Jenkins: That's a given, Mr. Chair, because that's the minister's job. He wouldn't be doing his job properly if he didn't undertake to do that in that manner. But there is one caveat on what he is doing. What I'm asking him to commit to is to do all of that - what he has committed to doing is very much appreciated - but to not locate the secondary sewage treatment plant upstream of the intake water supply for the City of Dawson - that's the only other area that we've not touched on. If we can just get that into the equation and on the record in this Legislature, we can move on.
Hon. Mr. Hart: I repeat again for the member opposite that we, the government, will commit to build the most effective and efficient sewage-treatment facility for the people of Dawson that is acceptable to the new mayor and council, meets all the requirements of Environment Canada and Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and meets our legal requirements.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister added a clause in there: acceptable to the new mayor and council. How does that factor in when this memorandum of agreement is in place, signed by the trustee - who reported directly to the minister - and by the minister himself?
That's a legally binding document. That document spells out how this project is going to proceed. It is weighted 110 percent in favour of the Government of Yukon. In fact, even the banks are more considerate of their customers and their people than the Government of Yukon appears to be by the contents of this agreement.
Mr. Chair, all I'm looking for is a further condition put into what the minister had to say, and that is that it will not be constructed upstream of the City of Dawson's intake water supply.
Now, the minister is getting amazing amounts of advice and he's being scripted, so it wouldn't take very much to add that in, and I would ask that that be added in so that we can put to rest a lot of the situation in my community that is giving rise to a lot of serious concerns about the location of the waste-water treatment plant.
Mr. Chair, for the minister's information, a number of years ago, when a dump site was looked at being located in close proximity to this side of Callison, it was a dump site and water testing was done, and dye was dumped in. That dye appeared at the mouth of the Klondike in a matter of hours, I'm told. Then they went back to a virgin area on the other side of Callison for the Callison waste-metal dump. That was done in the 1970s. So the whole history and background of that area is something I'm reasonably familiar with, Mr. Chair, and yet the minister seems determined to locate this in an area that could pose a threat to the potable water supply of the City of Dawson . Could the minister just commit to not locating that waste-water treatment plant upstream of the City of Dawson 's water supply? Could he do that, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I will repeat again that we will look at building the most cost-effective and efficient sewage facility we can for the citizens of Dawson . We will work with the new mayor and council on that issue. We will ensure that it meets all the requirements under Environment Canada. We will deal with the issues of Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We will ensure that it meets our legal requirements.
Chair: We have reached the usual time for an afternoon recess. Do members wish a 15-minute recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We will continue with Bill No. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, Vote 51, Department of Community Services.
Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, judging by the minister's response to a very valid question - that being whether or not the minister can agree to not locate the secondary sewage treatment plant upstream from the City of Dawson water supply. Given the minister's response, it would appear that the minister has made up his mind and doesn't want to be confused by common sense or logic. We will try once again. Would the minister commit to proceeding and undertaking all the agreed-upon work, which is - and I concur with it, Mr. Chair, save and except that I am looking for a commitment for the minister not to locate the secondary sewage treatment plant upstream from the City of Dawson's water supply. Will the minister commit to that undertaking? Then we can move on.
Hon. Mr. Hart: This government will commit to build the most cost-effective, efficient and safe sewage treatment facility possible for the citizens of Dawson . We will do it in conjunction with the new mayor and council. We will ensure that it passes all the necessary permits. We will ensure that it covers all the issues with regard to Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and that it meets all our legal obligations.
Mr. Jenkins: What we've embarked upon here is a very costly exercise for the Government of Yukon, in that any type of mechanical facility is going to fail. Lines to this system are going to crack and rupture. It is just not how, but when. Because it is going to occur. One only has to look at the existing screening plant in Dawson City , which has to be bypassed every time there is a motor failure or a pipe failure, and it is bypassed and raw effluent is discharged right onto banks of the river, and it has to be reported. This occurs and it will continue to occur.
For the life of me, I can't understand why common sense cannot prevail in Community Services. You don't build the outhouse upstream of where you pull your water out. That's exactly what this government is determined they are going to do. Irrespective of the minister's commitment that he is going to work with the council, this memorandum of agreement between the Government of Yukon and the City of Dawson is a legally binding document. It spells out how the government is going to proceed and under which basis.
Let's go on the assumption that there will be a failure in about two years. There is a one-year guarantee. Who is going to pay that cost?
Hon. Mr. Hart: Normal O&M costs are handled by most municipalities, and regardless of whether it happens in two years or five years, there will be issues that will have to be worked on throughout the town, as the member indicated. I'm sure the town council and mayor will work on making those repairs.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I guess this government is really out to teach Dawson a lesson and, irrespective of how it goes, they are going to do that. It's blatantly obvious that this is just part of the lesson that's going to be taught to Dawson - it's going to be done our way, and that's the only way it's going to be done.
Mr. Chair, earlier I sent over a copy of a letter that I sent to the Premier. It concerns the City of Dawson's provisional budget for 2006. In my letter, I pointed out: “While the budget provides for a three-and-one-half percent increase in operating expenditures over the 2005 budget, it is in fact two-and-one-quarter percent below the actual operating expenditures, excluding reserves recorded for 2005.” In other words, the city projects that we'll be able to provide all its services to the community for less money in 2006 than it spent last year.
Does the minister have any comment? Because the provisional budget for the City of Dawson was done under his watch and it doesn't project what is going to be spent, and even if you factor in the savings from debt-servicing, it doesn't even begin to cover the additional O&M costs from increasing fuel. For example, the heating bill for the arena alone is over $100,000 in 2005.
Now in 2006, I am sure that cost has gone up and gone up significantly. Is it the minister's intention to take over the O&M on the arena completely?
Hon. Mr. Hart: With regard to our package, financial assistance has been indicated for the citizens of Dawson, and we are going to follow through with that. We indicated that the recreation centre and sewage facility will be kept separate from the package, and we'll deal with the new mayor and council on these particular facilities.
Mr. Jenkins: Will the minister share with the House his ideas of how they are going to take over this arena and under what terms and conditions? What types of cost savings will there be for the city? Or is it, “Trust me, we're here to help you”?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I mentioned before, and as was released by the Premier, we will be working with the new mayor and council on these two facilities.
Mr. Jenkins: So it's “Trust me”. We don't have any understanding and we are not prepared to put out any information as to how the recreation centre will be dealt with, even though virtually all the borrowing that was incurred was as a consequence of decisions made ultimately by the project management team, in which the Yukon government played a big role and was responsible for assembling. That project management team went on to the waste-water treatment, and we don't know where they are at today, Mr. Chair, but the overall expenditures in the City of Dawson could not have taken place were it not for the fact that the Government of Yukon gave the city the money to spend.
Yes, it was a previous Liberal government but, that aside, it was government. It is government that now has to write off a good portion of that debt. Does the minister not deem it appropriate at this juncture, if he wants to attract new individuals to run for municipal council, for those individuals to know what they're getting involved in? I'd like the minister to share with the House how he envisions the arena to be operated. It's an albatross around the city's neck. The estimates to repair the roof alone are $1 million, and I believe it was late 2004 costs or early 2005 costs. That doesn't even address the issue of the soils in the ground and having the artificial ice. Last winter, the arena was used for fewer than 60 days - I believe it was 57 or 59 days. So that's the amount of time there was ice in that facility - natural ice, by the way. It's a $10.5-million arena with natural ice, a heck of a deal. Thank you, Government of Yukon, for assembling a project management team with those kinds of capabilities.
Mr. Chair, what does the minister envision to happen with the arena? Could the minister please share with the House? Or is it a big dark secret?
Hon. Mr. Hart: The financial package for Dawson has been announced both by me and the Premier with regard to providing Dawson with the opportunity to operate as a functional municipality. We indicated also that the issue of sewage and the recreation centre will be dealt with separately with the new mayor and council, and when the new mayor and council get into place, we will be more than happy to deal with those two particular facilities and we can apprise the member opposite what the solution is or what comes out of the agreement.
Mr. Jenkins: That appears to be the approach of the government to just about everything that has taken place in Dawson City for the last four years. Trust me, nothing will happen.
Let's go on to the million dollars in capital. How will that be determined? The minister indicated yesterday that it had been approved by Management Board. He also indicated the $3.43 million has been approved by Management Board. How is this million dollars for capital going to be allocated in a community that doesn't have the wherewithal on the O&M side of the ledger to address the needs of the community?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I'll repeat again that, as in many cases, we'll work with the new mayor and council on the million dollars. We'll ask them to identify their priorities for infrastructure development or improvements or repairs that have to be made for the citizens of Dawson and we'll move forth on that once they've been identified.
Mr. Jenkins: I must compliment the minister on being very well scripted in this regard. There must have been a degree of anticipation.
The issue is one of importance to my community - to know some of the terms and conditions surrounding some of these issues. This minister has failed miserably to address the major points. The only point that has been addressed is the debt. If that's what we're on to, that is exactly what the second supervisor recommended over two years ago.
We are right back to a recommendation made over two years. I don't know why the minister took so long to accept the recommendation. Perhaps he wasn't allowed to.
Mr. Chair, it has cost the Government of Yukon $3.9 million over the last two years to operate the City of Dawson. The breakdown I provided previously indicated that there was a considerable amount for legal costs. The minister has committed to providing, by way of a legislative return, a breakdown of how the money was spent on legal costs. I am sure it will come back as advice for the City of Dawson .
Over the last few years, there has been an expenditure of some $30 million in Dawson City. Doesn't the minister realize that we have very little to show for that expenditure, other than perhaps the previous mayor's trips and a lot of legal advice, engineering advice and accounting advice? There was a qualified audit on the opening balances for the City of Dawson and an unqualified audit on the expenditures and revenues for one year. Well, whoop-dee-dingey-doo. That's a lot of money spent in a short period of time with nothing to show for it. That appears to be the track record of this government when it set out to teach Dawson a lesson.
All I can say is that I am extremely disappointed that the minister has not been more forthcoming in his responses. A lot hinges on the responses here today. So, we can go back and just summarize. The minister will not commit to not constructing a secondary sewage treatment system in the City of Dawson in a location other than upstream from the City of Dawson's water supply.
That is not specifically excluded. The $1 million in capital that has been earmarked for the City of Dawson will be determined by the department and the new mayor and council. The minister is not prepared to amend the secondary sewage agreement, even though there is virtually no one in Dawson that was aware of this agreement until I brought it out, tabled it in the Legislature and provided copies. No one was aware of it. Under the trustee arrangement, bylaws were given first and second reading at one meeting in Dawson and the minister would sign them off when the trustee returned to Whitehorse.
This waste-water treatment memorandum of agreement was provided as information to the group that was assembled to provide advice to the trustee.
This places a very onerous burden on the City of Dawson for waste-water treatment, as well as potentially jeopardizing its water supply.
In all the other areas we haven't been able to hear the minister say anything. I guess he is under advisement not to say anything about all these other areas. Let's move on to some other areas.
PMA - let's explore with the minister how successful this organization has been at completing major capital projects. Does the minister have any comment about the foundation problems in the Old Crow air terminal? Brand new building - they're going to have to spend a considerable sum, probably this summer, levelling it out. And what about the library in the school in Old Crow? The roof design appears not to be capable of holding a snow load. They're going to have to put a post right in the middle of the library - big, open-span library. What does the minister have to say about that?
Given the engineering report on the school in Mayo, it says the foundation can stand up to two inches of deflection and it's currently at five. What's happening there? The school in Ross River also has foundation problems - a very successful rate for this government on projects outside of Whitehorse ; very expensive projects, very worthwhile projects. But why has there been so much in the way of structural problems?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I'll be more than happy to provide the member opposite with that information when the Department of Highways and Public Works comes up. In the meantime, I will investigate the particular issues that he brought up.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, let's look at community services and the areas where Community Services is responsible for delivering potable water in and around the Yukon and providing sewage eduction.
Why is there such a disparity in the costs between communities that the Government of Yukon services around the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Hart: For the Community Services and our sewage and water aspects, these aspects are all put out to contract, and the price of that contract depends upon the cost of the service and depends upon which area of the Yukon it is in.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister knows that that is not very accurate. That is not an accurate reflection of what users pay. Users pay the full cost here in Whitehorse where they are on private delivery, but in the areas serviced by the Yukon government there is a disparity in what the consumers pay - a very wide disparity. Why? If the Government of Yukon has the ability through Yukon Liquor Corporation to charge the same price for a bottle of beer in every liquor outlet in the Yukon Territory, why don't they have the same ability for potable water?
Hon. Mr. Hart: When we came into power, this party made a commitment not to increase any prices or fees with relationship to services provided by the Yukon government, and we maintained that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister can still honour the party's platform commitment of not raising fees by lowering others. Why wasn't that done?
Hon. Mr. Hart: All Yukon residents need safe drinking water, which is why we went out on a territory-wide consultation process to develop a strategy to address these concerns. That has been recently completed. That document is called “What We Heard,” and it's available for all Yukoners. We at Community Services are evaluating the water infrastructure priorities, identifying participants by the consultants, assessing the systems, and we're working with our other departments to ensure that we're integrating the need for potable water for all citizens of Yukon. Our efforts are focused on developing a strategy for water infrastructure that will balance the cost effectiveness to the government, make it affordable for all citizens of the Yukon, and also address the safety of the Yukon's water supply.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister was well scripted in his response but, to most people, that's basically gobbledygook. All we're looking for is the basic necessity in life being provided at a reasonable cost.
Why can't the government look at doing that? It might mean lowering some rates in some areas to bring them into line with the lowest cost service areas. Has any analysis been done on what that would cost the Government of Yukon? I don't think so. Everything is looked at in terms of raising costs. We are speaking of the basic necessity of life - water. The government has not demonstrated - successive governments have demonstrated the ability to address this issue. Probably one of the best initiatives that this government has moved forward on is the well-drilling program. I would give kudos to the government for implementing that, Mr. Chair. That aside, there are still a lot of Yukoners who pay exorbitant costs for water. They are not subsidized at all. Why can't there be a uniform price for water?
Hon. Mr. Hart: As I just indicated to the member opposite, we are looking at a strategy to develop and provide water throughout the Yukon in a cost-effective way, balancing off the needs for potable water by making it affordable for all Yukoners. We are looking at that aspect. The consultation that we did provided us with lots of information we could go on. We are looking at sources of water throughout the Yukon where we can provide community water. We are also looking at the possibility of places where we could provide it commercially.
Mr. Jenkins: Would the minister have any sort of timelines for this? Or is this going to be an ongoing study ad infinitum, to the end of eternity?
There is a heavy degree of subsidy in a lot of communities that isn't even being considered and looked at.
Mr. Chair, this overall strategy - could the minister give us a timeline for its completion - this potable water strategy? When will it be completed?
Hon. Mr. Hart: We anticipate bringing forth something to Cabinet soon with regard to the strategy and, as I indicated, it will be brought in and implemented over time, depending upon the budget resources needed and the priority for it.
Mr. Jenkins: So, no definitive timeline as to when that's going to come in, subject to budget approval - catch-all. Will it be the fall of 2006, before the expiry of this government's mandate?
Hon. Mr. Hart: I indicated we will be bringing forth to Cabinet our strategy, but until such time as it hits that board, I can't make a commitment to the member opposite on a specific date.
Mr. Jenkins: I have another number of issues dealing with the community of Dawson . The community has run out of available lots.
What is the government's plan for further land development for residential and commercial in the City of Dawson? There is a need for rural residential. There are a small number of residential lots outside of the city limits, but there are just a few serviced lots inside the city limits. What are the government's plans?
Hon. Mr. Lang: In answering the Member for Klondike, we will certainly work with the new elected municipality and work on those issues about land inside the City of Dawson and work with them on rural land around Dawson City.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like they are both preaching from the same prayer book.
Has the government done any preliminary work on further land development inside the municipal boundaries?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I think from the territorial government's point of view we have been working with Dawson City on many issues, and certainly we will be working with them on other issues as we go forward, but we will commit in the House here to work with the new elected body to answer those questions internally and externally around Dawson.
Mr. Jenkins: Hallelujah.
Well, I want to compliment the way that the Department of Community Services has taught Dawson a lesson. It is a lesson that won't soon be forgotten.
It's reflected in the services charges. Those of us who reside in that community will pay, will continue to pay. It will probably be reflected in virtually every area. So I just want to put that on the record. I would encourage someone to perhaps do a master's thesis on how not to have a department oversee a community like Dawson City. I'm sure it would go down in history as one of the best, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, it's obvious that the minister has been instructed not to commit to anything. It's obvious that the Minister of Community Services deferred to on the land issue is reading from the same pages of the same script. So we're not going to get anywhere. I guess the community of Dawson is at the mercy, as it has always been, of the Government of Yukon. We'll just have to look forward to seeing how well they treat Dawson . Because on the surface, the debt forgiveness is probably a good first step, but there are many, many other areas that this government should be addressing before they hand the reins back to the community. Those areas, as I clearly spelled out, are to deal with the collection of taxpayers' money. The government has failed to do that - misspent taxpayers' money, amounting to some hundreds of thousands of dollars. Someone should examine why the arena and its structure were so inadequately designed. How one builds a $10.5-million structure and nothing is there worthy of $500,000, I do not know.
Then there is the issue of the secondary sewage. The minister is on the right track, except there is no commitment to not build it upstream from Dawson 's water supply.
The financial statements of the city in the provisional budget and the budget for 2006 are showing expenditures that weren't even realized in the previous year. Even if we factor in the savings from not having to debt-service the $500,000 a year that the City of Dawson has been required to do up until now by liquidating its assets, among other things - the City of Dawson, under the trustee, was instructed to liquidate approximately $500,000 worth of assets. All that money transferred directly to YTG. Mind you, YTG has committed to $1 million in capital. We can't find out under what terms and conditions. We can't find out about the terms and conditions for the arena operation. We have a waste-water treatment agreement in place between the City of Dawson and the Government of Yukon that binds the City of Dawson to costs that may be in excess of what it is able to afford.
I guess that all this factored in means that the government may be expecting that the new mayor and council will come grovelling on bended knee to the senior levels of government, point out the shortfalls, and beg for more money.
Given the past track record, they probably will do it.
Without further ado, I am sure they are going to clear the whole department, Mr. Chair. I would like to thank the minister very much for his non-answers and for his non-commitments. We will move on.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hearing none, we will move into line-by-line examination.
Mr. Fairclough: I request unanimous consent of Committee of the Whole to deem all lines in Vote 51, Department of Community Services, cleared or carried, as required.
Unanimous consent re deeming all lines in Vote 51, Department of Community Services, cleared or carried
Chair: Mr. Fairclough has requested the unanimous consent of the Committee to deem all lines in Vote 51, Department of Community Services, cleared or carried, as required. Is there unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Total Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $50,557,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Total Capital Expenditures in the amount of $49,647,000 agreed to
Department of Community Services agreed to
Chair: That concludes Vote 51, Department of Community Services.
We will now continue on with Vote 3, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Hon. Mr. Lang: Could we take a brief break to change officials?
Ms. Duncan: Could I just make a point of clarification on the record? I understand the Member for Mount Lorne was engaged in debate with the minister on a particular issue, so the floor will be to those two individuals.
Could I just express my thanks to the Community Services individuals who were present for the previous debate? We appreciated them very much.
Chair: Mr. Lang will have the floor when we resume.
Do members wish a brief recess to allow for a change of the officials?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. We'll continue with Vote 53, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Department of Energy, Mines and Resources - continued
Hon. Mr. Lang: I'd like to introduce again the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. As a department, we've been concentrating on a great effort to revitalize the Yukon 's economy. I am proud to say that we have had a great deal of success in the past three years. As well, we are continuing to experience success in this area.
With several mines in the various stages of the permitting process, this is a clear demonstration of the success we have achieved and a definite indication that we are moving in the right direction. We have clearly identified our priorities and are moving forward with involving First Nations in oil and gas, forestry and mining, and supporting training and capacity-building in these areas.
Recent accomplishments include that we've moved forward in forest plans, not only in southeast Yukon but we are looking to the Teslin forest plan and, of course, the completed southwest Yukon forest plan, which is very important to all Yukoners because of the beetle kill.
We have the placer authorization, which we worked on with DFO, CYFN, industry and the Yukon government to establish a new regime. We continue to work toward planning and land development for both rural residential and urban residential lots. We recently completed a new agricultural policy and moved the Energy Solutions Centre to EMR. We are also committed - on the back of our oil and gas endeavours last year, which totalled $35 million of investment in Yukon. We are looking at a disposition this fall for the rest of the Yukon .
Mr. Chair, I'd like to stop there and allow the members opposite to continue the budget debate on the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Mr. Cardiff: When we left off - I believe it was April 27 when we left off - we were talking about forestry, specifically in southwest Yukon . The minister indicated the importance of that plan in southwest Yukon. We were talking about the two different proposals. There was one proposal, I believe, for 160,000 cubic metres and the other one, the more recent one, of one million cubic metres of timber in the spruce-kill area. There are some questions that have been raised about that. I'd like to ask the minister a few of them before we move on.
What we're talking about here is a fairly large cut. It's my understanding that the government is going to accept proposals, but there are some questions around the area that has been identified, I guess. I'm assuming there is a specific area that has been identified for this one million cubic metres. I'm just wondering if the minister or the department have any idea of what the greenwood component of this cut is, because part of it is spruce-beetle kill, and that is for salvage, but there is a component, depending on the methods used, whereby a percentage of it would be harvesting green timber.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In correcting the member opposite, the one million cubic metres of beetle-infected timber is allocated over the next 10 years. It is not one million cubic metres in a one-year span; it is 100,000 over a 10-year period, and we are concentrating on the beetle kill. It is part and parcel with our partnership with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and is one way we are addressing the issue of the beetle kill in their traditional territory.
Mr. Cardiff: I understand that - that it is one million cubic metres over 10 years. I understood that part from our discussion the last time. What I want to know is, of that one million cubic metres of timber that is going to be harvested - and I understand that it is primarily concentrated on spruce-beetle kill, but in some of those areas there is green wood - trees that are still alive. What I want to know is whether there has been an analysis done of how much of the area that is proposed to be harvested is going to be green timber?
Hon. Mr. Lang: Again, making it clear for the member opposite, Mr. Chair, we are looking at beetle-infected wood and this is part and parcel of the package. Some of that beetle-killed wood would be greener in essence because of the lifespan of the beetle, and I can't give you that exact figure, but we are concentrating the one million cubic metres out there for explicitly working on the beetle kill.
As far as green is concerned, there is also a component of green that isn't as dead, because of the beetle issue, as it would be if it were three years old. Certainly the forestry department in conjunction with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations will be looking at that issue, but certainly we are, as a government, committing ourselves in partnership with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations to address the one million cubic metres of wood over the next 10 years. I guess I don't have the figure for what is more dead than the other trees, but certainly the engineering is being done on the beetle kill. And, of course, I am not an engineer so I would have to say that in conjunction with the forestry department, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations will be addressing the issue about where this will be harvested, how it will be harvested and, of course, concentrating on the beetle-kill situation in the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I hope the minister can provide better answers to the person who wrote this letter to the Premier. Something tells me that that answer isn't going to fly with this gentleman. He's asking some pretty specific questions. The minister should get a copy of this letter and assist the Premier in responding. I mean, I just picked one question out of 10 on the back page. Is there an allowable greenwood component to this project at all?
Hon. Mr. Lang: I would remind the member opposite that whatever the government does, there will always be naysayers. There are always letters that come in. I read quite a few letters. This forest plan was put together in full partnership with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and the territorial government. Also, there was public consultation. The urgency of the situation in the Champagne-Aishihik traditional territory and the concerns of the majority of the individuals who live there, whether they be First Nations or other residents, called for a management tool for the spread of the spruce-beetle kill.
I would remind everyone in the House that this is the largest spruce-beetle devastation in North America. This is huge. This ranks up there with the pine-beetle kill in British Columbia per square mile, and certainly we've been very active with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, and they are very concerned about this issue.
As far as will there be a green proponent to this harvesting, as I remind the member opposite, there is a proponent of green forest that has been affected by beetles but it hasn't died per se. In other words, probably with the management of the forest, we would be looking at newer beetle kill than older beetle kill, but we'd like to see a mix and we would like to see a proponent go in there and harvest it and address some of the issues that are soon moving into our area, in the Whitehorse area, because this affects all spruce forests. This is spreading. If you fly over it and see the spread of the beetle kill, this is very much an urgent management situation.
Our Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is working with the federal government - NRCan, to address the issue as they've done in British Columbia . - the hundreds of millions of dollars the federal government has committed to the pine-beetle kill in British Columbia and the Alberta border. We are addressing that issue on a daily basis with our federal government to make sure that the spruce-beetle kill is not ignored federally, and we have had some commitments from NRCan as to how they would address this issue. We haven't had any commitment to resources. This is bigger than the Yukon government. This issue is a huge financial burden on the territory. This ranks up, I would say as a layman - not an engineer, but just an individual Yukoner, flying over that devastation - that this ranks with the Faro mine on an environmental question.
This is probably going to be one of the biggest issues in the next five years that will address any territorial government that is in place - managing the beetle kill in the Champagne and Aishihik traditional territory before it expands even more and we have the issue right here in the City of Whitehorse. And then, of course, we do have a boreal forest from here to the B.C. border. If we were to ignore it completely, Mother Nature would send the beetles down and the beetles would consume this forest. They're doing it today. Our winters haven't been cold enough to kill the eggs, and if it is cold, it isn't cold enough at the right time of the year. It's a very scientific process how these beetles are killed by Mother Nature.
In addressing the member opposite, certainly the issue about the beetle kills - is there a green component? There will be. That doesn't mean they haven't been killed by beetles. That just means it's a newer kill than the older kill. We have to have a mix, I think, from a management point of view, looking at the proponent that's hopefully going to do this who is successful in the bidding process. They will have to have a mix to make it successful for them from a business point of view.
Mr. Cardiff: That was quite a mouthful the minister put out there. I understand the minister's point of view on this - that what we're looking at is a huge, vast forest that's gone through this natural process - and I stress: natural process. This is Mother Nature. The minister even said that himself. This is a natural process. Forests have gone through these processes for hundreds of thousands and millions of years.
From time immemorial, these types of things have happened, not just here in the Yukon but also in other areas of the world. It wasn't someone deciding to drop some spruce beetles in the forest. This isn't a man-made disaster. It's Mother Nature doing what Mother Nature does on a regular basis, everywhere around the world, whether it's a locust infestation on another continent or pine beetles in B.C.
From the minister's perspective, what he looks at when he flies over the devastation are dollar signs with minus signs in front. It's potential lost income from resource development. The reality is that this is a natural ecosystem. It provides habitat for wildlife and birds. Whether the trees are alive or dead, it is Mother Nature doing what she does naturally. It's not that I'm not concerned. There are concerns about whether or not it will catch fire. Fire, again, is a natural thing. When forests burn, there is a natural regeneration of that forest. When spruce beetles kill off acres and acres of spruce trees, there is a natural regeneration that follows.
The question I was asking was whether there is a greenwood component that will be allowed in the salvage harvest. I don't know that we really got an answer on that. The minister thinks the trees may only be partially dead.
I would like to know what the minister expects. From this letter, there is a whole bunch of questions here. There is an integrated landscape plan that was apparently done for the Kluane area. I would like to know whether or not that integrated landscape plan is available to the public and members of the Legislature.
Hon. Mr. Lang: In rebutting the member opposite, obviously he doesn't live in the Haines Junction area or he has sort of written off the riding. The people who live in Haines Junction do have some concerns over the natural expansion of the beetle - whether it affects him in his riding, it certainly affects the individuals in the Haines Junction area. It does include quite a large community and we, on this side of the House, are not prepared to sacrifice it to Mother Nature.
We, as a government, have a commitment to the Haines Junction area that we will do everything in our power to keep Haines Junction whole, which means that on our watch, we will try not to have it burn down.
Now, whatever the member opposite from the third party thinks about Mother Nature and how Mother Nature works, Mother Nature works in a very vicious way on many levels. At the end of the day, we, as man, control a lot of Mother Nature's issues - forest fires, floods, pestilence. We work as hard as we can to make sure that it has minimum impact on communities. Haines Junction has a fear of fire in its area. The Champagne-Aishihik First Nations have a realistic fear of the fire potential in their traditional territory. They are not prepared, as the NDP recommends, to just sit and wait for it to burn down. The people who invest in Haines Junction - the corporate arm is concerned. If I were an individual and had a home in Haines Junction, I would not only worry about the thought of fire in the community, but I would also worry about the repercussions of just getting fire insurance in a community like Haines Junction eventually. If we as a government, under the recommendation of the NDP, were to sit on our hands and not do something about the fire threat to the community of Haines Junction, we as a government would not be doing our job.
Mr. Cardiff: Well, I was going to stand up on a point of order, but I'll just say to the minister that I never said that we supported sitting on our hands and not doing anything. I'm asking the minister questions about what their program is.
What I was saying is that we have to realize that this is a natural process - I'm not saying let it run its course - but let's work with the community and put the resources where they most need to be put. What we are debating is the budget. It's about ensuring that the money is well spent and the needs of the community are going to be met.
The minister, in all that, didn't answer the question. I asked him: is the integrated landscape plan available in print form? I'll ask him a few more questions. Is the integrated landscape plan going to be subject to a review under the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act ?
The thing is - and I know he is going to stand up and he told me this on April 27 - that each individual project under the one million cubic metre program would be subject to the YESAA process. What I am asking is this: is the integrated landscape plan subject to an environmental review?
These are questions that are being asked by residents in Kluane. I haven't written Kluane off. In fact, it is one of my favourite places to visit. Depending on what transpires, I hope to go to the bluegrass music festival there, if I'm not in Dawson . I haven't written off Kluane by any stretch of the imagination.
There are some other questions about this project that need answering as well. Does the minister have any idea of the financial return to the public? When we look at this government's race to sell the resources of the territory, whether oil and gas or minerals in the ground - and I think we went through this once before - we have to remember that the resources belong to the people of the Yukon .
They don't belong to the people in other countries or other jurisdictions. We need to ensure that any benefits - any financial benefits, economic benefits, social benefits - are recognized, and what is most important is that those benefits accrue to people who live here in the Yukon. So, we want to know what the financial return to the public will be. What does the department intend to do regarding stumpage fees? Is it going to be one stumpage fee across the board for the salvage and everything? Or, if there is some harvestable timber that's in the area that isn't infected with the spruce beetle, are those areas going to be allowed to be harvested as well and will the same stumpage fees apply to that?
Now, there are other questions in here. Is this going to be a seasonal harvest? So, is this work going to be done in the winter, the spring, the fall or the summer? In the summer, activity in the bush - and having grown up on Vancouver Island where forestry was kind of a mainstay of the economy and they had forests that they thought could sustain it. It still remains to be seen. When I go back there now, I sometimes wonder whether it has been done in a sustainable way. It takes a long time to grow a tree. It takes even a longer time to grow a tree in the Yukon.
But there is some hope. I know in my travels a couple of summers ago I drove through some cut blocks that had been reforested on the Olympic Peninsula, and it looked like there were harvestable trees again. But down there, trees grow a lot faster. Some of those reforestation projects had actually taken place in the 1950s and the 1960s, so even down there it takes a long time.
We want to know, coming from that area, whether activity in the forest industry sometimes, especially in hot, dry summers, would lead to more fire hazard than if there was no activity. So I think it's a valid question. Is it a winter-only harvest? Are they going to allow activities to occur? In British Columbia, they actually shut down the forestry industry during the summer in some areas because of the elevated risk of fire.
The minister has already identified that the spruce-beetle kill is a high risk. There are actually some questions around that as well. Maybe the minister and his officials have more information about that. I have been told that there is some good science that says that, initially, when the trees are killed by the spruce beetles and the needles are still on the dry trees - and this makes sense from my experience of clearing land in the territory - they are more flammable. But when the needles fall off the trees in, for example, wind storms - and we seem to have had a lot of these lately - they present less of a hazard.
I don't know if the minister has any information on that. It would make sense to me that if we are worried about fire risk, which is one of the reasons why we're doing this, people would like to know exactly what the government is going to allow in this project or program where they harvest one million cubic metres of spruce-beetle killed timber.
So it's a matter of whether it is going to be a winter-only harvest or a four-season harvest?
There are some other questions in here about whether or not the minister and his department or the government would entertain a long-term proposal. They put out this proposal for one million cubic metres. They have another proposal out there for 160,000 cubic metres of timber. Is it their intention to put out another long-term proposal for more than one million cubic metres?
The other thing - I think this is probably the most important thing - was a commitment the government made in their election platform, which was about consultation opportunities. This constituent in Kluane would like to know - apparently, not all of the promised consultation opportunities have materialized. I talked about this with the minister on April 27. They would like to know, Mr. Chair, when the public's next opportunity for input into this process is.
Chair: The time now being 6:00 p.m., the Chair will report progress.
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I 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. 20, First Appropriation Act, 2006-07, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being 6:00 p.m., the House now stands adjourned until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:02 p.m.
The following document was filed May 9, 2006 :
Meadow Lakes Golf Inc. – Land Development: letter (dated April 3, 2006) from David Phillip Jones, Q.C., Conflict of Interest Commissioner, to the Hon. Glenn Hart, Minister of Community Services (Hart)