We'll call our meeting to order. This is the 37th meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
I would like to start by saying, on behalf of the committee, how much we appreciate the opportunity to be in this wonderful city here in the Yukon.
Members and our witnesses will know that we conduct all of our deliberations in both official languages. We have translation and interpretation available for you, so please tune in.
We'll get under way. We have three departments, all representatives of the Government of Yukon. We have Harvey Brooks, the deputy minister from the Department of Economic Development; Brian Alexander, deputy minister from the Department of Tourism and Culture, together with two of his directors; and Robert Holmes, a director in the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Gentlemen, I know you have some other representatives with you. We have Mr. Lemaire, who is with....
Thank you very much, Mr. Stanton.
Welcome, committee members, to Whitehorse and to Yukon. Welcome in particular as you begin your journey across northern Canada.
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you again. I last spoke with you and met with the committee in April of this year, along with my colleagues from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
I am the deputy minister of Yukon government's Department of Economic Development, and my previous remarks to the committee are still relevant. I may reiterate several key points.
I'd like to begin by stressing two points. First, in considering northern and aboriginal economic development it is important to remember that all three territories have unique competitive advantages and challenges. Yukon, for example, is the only territory that has responsibility for its own natural resources. That's a critical difference. As a result, we have developed a thorough and streamlined regulatory process. The challenge of addressing territorial issues independently is best illustrated by noting that the report by Mr. Neil McCrank entitled Road to Improvement: The Review of the Regulatory Systems Across the North, of which I'm sure you're all aware, addresses only Northwest Territories and Nunavut issues. It does not address Yukon. Our challenges in this and other areas are completely different from those faced by the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and one solution does not fit all.
Secondly, economic development in the north is not a blank slate. As a senior level of government in the region, we welcome a partnership with Canada to address the territory's challenges. It is crucial that Canada coordinate its northern economic development activities with existing efforts taking place in Yukon. In particular, we look forward to working closely with the newly created Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, CanNor, for the benefit of Yukon's businesses, workers, and residents.
I'd also like to highlight three key initiatives for the Government of Canada that will have long-term, positive impacts on the growth of the Yukon economy: partnering with Yukon and the First Nation of Nacho Nyack Dun in the expansion of the Mayo B hydro project; facilitating access to skilled and unskilled workers through the temporary and skilled foreign workers program; and the establishment of CanNor, the previously mentioned regional economic development agency for the north.
Yukon has many advantages, including our abundant and valuable resources. The tourism, mineral development, and secondary industry growth that is possible from our natural resource endowment are substantial. Our people are another primary advantage, given that they are among the most educated and trade-certified in Canada.
Another advantage is our location and connectedness. Yukon is connected by 4,800 kilometres of all-season roads, which provides a vital link to Canada and deep-water port access for export and import. Yukon provides the key transportation corridor between Alaska and the rest of North America, which, in addition to the Alaska Highway, has a potential for rail, pipeline, fibre optic networks, along with the strategic access to the Asia Pacific markets through deep-water Alaskan and B.C. ports.
The Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Centre, coordinated through Yukon College, provides an example of the benefits of capitalizing on our resource advantages. The centre is a partnership between applied researchers, industry, and government. It is dedicated to developing, commercializing, and exporting sustainable cold-climate technologies, including construction materials, techniques, and technology suitable for mining in cold climates.
As for our challenges, the main critical impediment to northern economic development is enabling infrastructure. Yukon is investing heavily in infrastructure to create immediate stimulus and long-term economic growth. Some of these investments include enhancing our major highways to support the economic future of Yukon's natural resources, major upgrades to the Whitehorse airport terminal building to maintain its status as an international airport, expanding the existing cellphone service to eventually cover the entire commercial area of the territory, and expanding hydro generating power to support Yukon communities and the mining industry while reducing our carbon footprint.
We need to do more in this area, but Yukon cannot do this without a major and ongoing commitment from the federal government, which will be a prime beneficiary of infrastructure development through increased resource royalty revenues.
Transportation, both roads and access to deep-water ports, is an ongoing need. Yukon has deep-water access through Skagway, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia. Yukon is engaging the Borough of Skagway and the Government of Alaska to consider ways to expand this port to meet the future needs of Yukon mines and other businesses. As the economic activity in Yukon grows, so do the demands on our power generating facilities.
Finally, the speed, cost, and reliability of our telecommunications infrastructure creates a digital divide between northern and southern Canada. In 2008 the federal government committed to protect the sovereignty and promote the development of Canada's Arctic and north as key priorities. Partnering with Yukon to meet our infrastructure challenges will be a significant step in achieving these priorities, with long-term benefits to business development in the north.
In conclusion, the economic development opportunities available to Yukon and Canada are considerable. The Government of Yukon looks forward to working with Yukon first nations and the Government of Canada to enhance our capacity to move forward with sustainable economic development for the benefit of Yukoners and Canada.
Before starting I'd like to acknowledge the presence of a staff member, Pierre Germain, who is our director of tourism. He'll be here to answer any and all questions you may have on that very important subject.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on this important topic. We are heightened by your recognition of the fact that to truly understand northern issues you must travel to the north and talk to northerners.
I'll be speaking about some of the development barriers I see from the perspective of my department in its two main program areas of tourism and culture.
Tourism is a major economic driver in Yukon, with annual gross revenues estimated at $200 million, and approximately 300,000 visitors travelling to Yukon per year. Tourism is the largest private-sector employer in Yukon. Training and maintaining a product that allows for year-round employment ensures a stable and trained workforce.
The cultural services branch is responsible for Yukon's arts funding programs, archeology, paleontology, historic sites, and museums. The branch is also home to the Beringia Interpretive Centre and the Yukon archives. The branch strives to maximize socio-cultural benefits for Yukon residents and visitors through the preservation, development, and interpretation of Yukon's heritage resources and the visual, literary, and performing arts in Yukon.
Before getting into specific issues I would like to start by commending the federal government for the establishment of CanNor. The need for dedicated federal economic development funding for the north is long overdue. In particular, I'd like to commend CanNor for its recognition of the importance of the core tourism and cultural industries.
CanNor's investment plan for Yukon for 2009 to 2014 proposes to allocate 20% of SINED funds to the tourism sector and 10% to the cultural sector, in keeping with the critical role these industries play in the Yukon economy. There is also significant potential for pan-northern cooperation in the area of tourism marketing. The pan-territorial fund, comprising $5 million over four years, is ideally suited for this purpose.
I will now discuss some specific issues on the tourism side, and then on the cultural side.
Marketing is a key to the north being a competitive tourism destination, yet we do not have the economies of scale to sustain competitive marketing campaigns. A solution here has been, and could be again in the future, the formation of partnerships between Canada and the three territories on marketing campaigns. Canada has the resources and the territories have the experience and expertise to market the north. Such campaigns need not be limited to marketing the north as a tourism destination. They can also market the north as a place to invest and live.
Marketing will bring tourists to the north, but high-quality tourism products will lead to the kinds of world-class tourism experiences that will generate positive word-of-mouth and repeat visits. Yukon needs to build its capacity in this area through business development assistance and access to investment capital.
Particular attention needs to be paid to the development of first nations tourism. There is a very high demand for authentic first nation cultural experiences, and Yukon has excellent potential to develop some very unique and highly compelling products. However, first nation capacity is a very serious barrier to this potential being realized, along with the aforementioned shortage of investment capital.
The development of a national tourism strategy whereby the federal government adopts a whole-of-government approach for the advancement of the tourism industry is a wonderful concept. This initiative was announced in January of this year, but we're still waiting to see what progress has been made.
Yukon has identified two areas where we'd like to see changes in the future. An ongoing irritant has been the fact that cars rented in Alaska by Canadians are not allowed by the CBSA to enter Canada. This has a direct impact on the ability of Canadian tourists arriving in Alaska to visit Yukon. We've also had issues with the early closure of the Little Gold border station on the Top of the World Highway, without prior notice or consultation. We have had discussions with the CBSA on both of these issues, and we are hopeful that appropriate solutions will be found.
A key concern on the cultural side has been an inconsistent approach to federal funding of key programs, either funding that has begun and then is arbitrarily curtailed or funding that applies only to large metropolitan markets. A telling statistic is that, of the approximately $245 million the federal government spends on museums each year, approximately $230 million goes towards the national institutions in Ottawa.
A prime example of the federal government approach is the termination of federal core funding for the historic places initiative after March 31, 2010. This will have severe adverse effects on our ability to participate in a national heritage conservation framework.
The marquee tourism events program, which was unveiled in the last federal budget, provides financial assistance for major cultural and sporting events that are a significant attraction to tourists, such as music festivals. However, for an event to qualify for funding, it must attract a minimum of 50,000 spectators, which automatically excludes the north from this program.
Canada is a special place, and the north is a unique jewel within this country. However, it is clear that a one-size-fits-all approach from the federal government does not work. In certain circumstances, the north needs special treatment to fulfill its promise. Federal government departments and agencies need to work with us to find solutions to specific problems and get away from simply telling us why something cannot be done.
My position is director of mineral resources, so my comments are mostly around the mining industry, although they do apply similarly to other resource sectors in the Yukon.
I think the Yukon holds a special place in Canada. One of the hallmarks of the Yukon over the years has been the ability of Yukoners, from all walks of life, to work in a collaborative way. I think this is because we live in a relatively small community and we're more aware of the interconnectedness of people and things here.
As a result, we've achieved some things that I think many parts of Canada would be quite envious of, if they knew about it. First, there's the devolution transfer agreement, which Harvey Brooks mentioned earlier, which was signed in April 2003. This gave the Government of Yukon full control over natural resources: mining, oil, gas, land, forestry, and water. The DTA, or devolution transfer agreement, allows Yukon to amend policies and legislation and to be responsive to local needs and modern requirements.
The second thing that's happened here is that we've largely settled our land claims. Of 14 first nations, 11 have completed comprehensive land claims agreements. This relationship between public government and first nations governments is somewhat unique in Canada. First nations here have self-government powers as well. We're working with the practicalities of this new relationship every day--for example, next week the lands directors for all the first nation governments are going to meet to update each other and describe new ideas and initiatives.
Third, another advantage is that we have a unique environmental assessment process in the Yukon. It's called the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act, which replaced CEAA in the Yukon. It's the sole environmental assessment process for federal, Yukon, and first nations governments. We don't have the issue of harmonization between federal and provincial environmental assessment processes that you see in the rest of the country.
When you put these changes together, Yukoners have much more say and influence on development occurring in the territory now than they ever did before.
I'll talk a bit about mining and some of the challenges we have in that industry. Mining has traditionally been the largest contributor to the Yukon economy. Of course as a result of the Klondike gold rush in 1896, the Yukon was created by federal statute in 1898. However, in the late nineties the Yukon mineral industry just about disappeared, and we were down to no producing hard-rock mines. Exploration levels were around $5 million at the time of devolution in 2003.
A number of changes, including record metal prices, new technologies, and I think new policies, have meant that we're currently experiencing a resurgence in mineral exploration and development. In 2008 our exploration reached $112 million, and this year, despite the recession, we're expecting a $90-million exploration season.
The Dawson gold fields are still active, surprisingly, after over 100 years. This year we expect placer production, or the production of gold from gravel, to reach $50 million in value, which is similar to last year.
In terms of hard-rock mining, we'll have three operational mines next year in the Yukon. We currently have a copper and gold mine near Pelly Crossing, which produces about $150 million of revenue a year. The Wolverine mine, which is in development, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Jinduicheng Molybdenum Group Ltd., which is a major Chinese metal company. This project is investing $200 million in a lead-zinc project east of Whitehorse. This is one of the largest investments of Chinese companies in the Canadian mining industry, and probably the only fully owned Chinese company operating a mining project in Canada.
In addition, the Bellekeno development has announced it will move ahead. That's a $50-million development, which will be happening this winter. And the Mactung project is in assessment. It's a $400-million project, and they expect to be in production in 2013.
These are just some of the things that are happening here. It's very busy. We have a reputation as a can-do jurisdiction.
In passing, I want to quickly mention four challenges that seem to be here all the time. One of them is geoscience information. There's a need to continue to map the Yukon in more detail. We've worked very well with the Geological Survey of Canada and INAC on funding vehicles for geoscience.
Financing has been hard for companies to find this past year. The Yukon is very active in promoting and marketing the Yukon, and it is particularly successful at getting Chinese investment.
Infrastructure has been a challenge. It creates some barriers to entry, with the additional costs of large transportation distances in the Yukon. Then there is the situation with trained workers. Most companies are flying workers in from outside the Yukon, but we're working hard to train Yukoners. We have a program through the Yukon Mine Training Association to do that.
Just before I end, I wanted to mention one issue that has been highlighted for us. It's a limitation on resource revenues under the devolution transfer agreement. The DTA provides that, even though Yukon owns and manages its mineral and other resource revenues, any resource revenue in excess of $3 million is offset by a reduction of other transfers from the federal government. This provides for an effective cap of $3 million for all Yukon resource revenues—apart from oil and gas, which has a separate agreement.
With that $3 million that the Yukon gets to keep, there's a responsibility to share a portion with first nations. This structure creates a problem in that the Yukon cannot provide capacity support for first nations to participate in regulatory reviews or increase opportunities for them in resource management.
I'll close at this point. Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee. I hope you enjoy your visit here and are able to come back when it's warmer.
Welcome. My apologies: you would think that after 37 years in the north I could deal with two inches of fresh snow.
Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to address your committee.
The Association of Yukon Communities represents all incorporated municipalities and elected local advisory councils in Yukon. Eighty percent of the population of Yukon reside in member communities of the association.
My aim this morning is to bring to the committee’s attention the association’s views on barriers and solutions to northern economic development from the perspective of Yukon municipalities.
First, let me suggest that economic development that sustains Yukon communities is important to Canada because it is the northern communities that anchor Canadian sovereignty in a geography sparsely populated but rich in natural resources. Yukon’s mineral resources, boreal forests, and pristine rivers are of significant economic value to Canada.
Second, we should note that the fundamental roles for local government in community economic development are to provide necessary facilities and services, to act as a catalyst, and to become directly involved in growing businesses.
There are a number of factors that will influence economic development in Yukon communities. Obvious but important is the fact that the population of Yukon is very small in relation to the population of Canada, approximately one-tenth of one percent, and the distance between communities is great.
The population is culturally diverse, with locally significant populations of fancophones, first nations, and first-generation immigrants. Yukoners are well educated and entrepreneurial. The percentage of Yukoners 25 to 64 who are graduates of a trade school, college, or university is almost ten points higher than the national average, at 62% to 53%.
Next, we need to recognize that it is not possible to construct infrastructure in Yukon at costs approximating those of southern centres. The shortness of the season and the lack of skilled trades people in some specific trades are factors. The distance from major markets increases the transportation costs for materials, and economies of scale are difficult to achieve in the Yukon's relatively small economy.
The environmental norms of severe cold in the north are being magnified by climate change. As the permafrost weakens, aging community water and sewer systems break, and the foundations of buildings may shift.
Much of the cost of providing municipal infrastructure to support economic development falls on the residents of the community through property taxes. Property taxes alone should not be expected to bear the cost of building and maintaining roads and bridges within municipalities.
The hard fact is that while a strong business base provides employment, businesses do not provide direct tax revenue through purchases or work income to municipal governments.
Seven of the eight incorporated municipalities in Yukon are co-located with first nation communities. All eight sit on the traditional territory of a Yukon first nation. Effective communication between first nations and Yukon municipalities is critical to healthy and prosperous communities, and sustainable communities need economic development.
Conversely, moving economic development projects forward in a shared landscape requires effective communication between all orders of government and particularly the municipal and first nation governments that serve the most basic needs of their residents.
One barrier to effective communication is the capacity of municipal and first nation governments to respond to initiatives of the other. Whose duty it is to consult the other is unclear. There are two definitions of the “duty to consult”: the umbrella final agreement with Yukon first nations defines a “duty to consult” in particular circumstances under that agreement and agreements with individual first nations and the common law “duty to consult” as defined by case law.
What defines “adequate consultation”? The consultation requirements under final agreements are clearly defined in those agreements, and a protocol for their conduct has been established between Yukon and the first nations. Consultation demanded under common law needs to meet the test of reasonable.
Consultation demanded under common law needs to meet the test of “reasonable”. It needs to be meaningful and effective. There is a requirement on both sides to participate. First nations may require additional funding to participate in meaningful and effective consultation. No court decision has yet been rendered on whether municipalities have a duty to consult under common law.
The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, CanNor, provides an excellent start to ensuring a prosperous and sustainable future for Yukon communities. Because CanNor oversees strategic investments in both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in the north, it is well placed to bring communities together where it is appropriate to share burdens and outcomes. Flowing funding through territorial governments directly to first nations doesn’t promote cooperation.
Our recommendations to this committee are that the federal government policies promote economic development in Yukon municipalities as an act of sovereignty; that the federal government support the construction of municipal infrastructure as an element in economic development; that federal funding programs recognize that jurisdictions small in population, like Yukon, are not served by per capita allocations of funds and that base funding is required to anchor the per capita allocations.
Economic development funding can be a catalyst to bring Yukon first nations and municipalities together. Economic development efforts should be focused on innovation, labour, access to markets, investment capital, government regulations, community amenities, culture, energy, and the environment.
Good morning to each of you. It's good to be here in Whitehorse to join my colleague, the MP for this area. There's no doubt about that. I think he's done a lot of work in helping the committee put some of the panels together, so I want to thank Larry.
We only have five minutes. You've already outlined some specific things that I think we can do. One thing that really strikes me this morning, and I guess we always need to be reminded of it, is that one size does not fit all. There's not one monolithic, homogeneous north in Canada. It's very diverse. Even within the Yukon, I'm sure there's diversity, though the territories have to be approached differently and in their own milieu.
When you talk about investment in infrastructure, how do you envision that? Is that a matter of more money from the federal government, or does the Yukon government see ways to generate its own wealth, or more wealth, for investment in infrastructure? I'm simply wondering what this comes to. I note the comment made by Mr. Austin about the impact of climate change, maybe, on infrastructure costs. How do you envision a greater investment in infrastructure, and how would that be financed if we were going to make a recommendation?
Thank you very much for that question.
Historically, the Canadian Tourism Commission has been responsible for marketing Canada to the exterior of the country, in foreign markets. We rely a great deal on their research capacity, their people who work in offices overseas. We've found them to be very helpful and very integral to what we try to do in terms of marketing campaigns.
This past year there was an announcement by the federal government of increased funding for the Canadian Tourism Commission to assist in domestic marketing as well, and we've been participating in those programs with them.
A key element for the Canadian Tourism Commission coming up, of course, will be marketing Canada as part of the Olympics and trying to generate that increased awareness that will come into all of Canada as a result of these games, not only leading up to the games but also capturing the afterglow market. They've been very good, very helpful, and we have a great relationship with them.
I'd certainly be delighted to do so.
In a nutshell, if you look at car rentals, there is a longstanding issue with people in border communities being prohibited from renting American vehicles. That could be of detriment to the Canadian providers. So they're forced across the border into Canada and rent a Canadian vehicle, and away they go, which would be a great solution for us if we had any capacity along the Alaska border to rent vehicles. That does not exist. That's an issue, and again, we're working with CBSA on that.
In terms of the northern border point, in 2008 there was an early winter and they had some difficulty in closing their facility—that would have been around October 1. Their solution was to essentially close the border early this year, again without prior notice or consultation, and that caused a lot of consternation in the north of the territory because it had a direct impact on the city of Dawson.
Our recommended solution is not to close early but to better winterize the facility to allow it to remain open even longer. Again, these are the types of discussions that are under way with CBSA.
Thank you very much for the question. It is almost like being in a candy store and trying to figure out which globe to grab.
I think there's a way to get at all those under one element, and that would be the tourism strategy that is being championed by the Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business, Diane Ablonczy, because tourism actually cuts across 13 to 15 different federal departments and agencies. Whether it's the Departments of Transport, Public Safety, with the CBSA linkage, Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Environment, or Parks Canada, if indeed the Minister of State can get her colleagues to recognize the importance of tourism to the Canadian economy, that would be a way for us to follow on that initiative, then try to work on all of these specific areas, and then try to move forward.
I think tourism is probably not well known or recognized across the country. In fact, it represents 2% of the federal GDP and it has a larger financial impact than forestry and fishing combined. So it is a way to generate wealth for all Canadians and it is extremely important for the Yukon. And as you mentioned, it is the largest private sector employer up here.
That is a tough question, Larry. I don't know if I have a real answer for you on that.
The Yukon is doing very well in terms of exploration. With the grassroots exploration, we have 100,000 mineral claims out there now, which is an all-time record. Given the recession, we've done really well at attracting investment. It is so busy it is hard to keep up.
The other good thing that has been happening, of course, is mines are in development now. It is very hard to take a project from exploration through to developing a real mine. Only one in a thousand ever gets that far. We have three projects that will be in production next year, so we're very busy on that front too.
It seems to me it's almost a case-by-case issue. If we get a big project like Casino--that's one that is on the board there as possibly coming into the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act process for assessment--that's going to be a $2-billion capital investment and probably a 100-megawatt power source. For the Yukon that's really hard to swallow. So we would need federal support with that.
For the most part, I think the projects we've managed to move along have been done incrementally. They are smaller. They're not too far from the roads. They're not too far from the grid. A little bit of help here and there has been able to move these projects ahead.
I would have to say it's going to be case-specific.
Another tough question, Larry. From an infrastructure standpoint we are treated extremely well by both the territorial government and the federal government. I don't think we have anything to whine about there.
As for climate change, this issue is being currently dealt with. It was mentioned yesterday in India. The Copenhagen meeting is coming up here very quickly.
As a city councillor, we put a motion on the table to encourage Canada to get off its proverbial butt and get on board with this whole issue.
Locally, yes, things do break. At 40 degrees below zero things break. We just went through a major subdivision development here in Whitehorse, where infrastructure is very difficult to install. We have another portion of that particular subdivision where the infrastructure is something like 50 years old. When we actually get into the ground we are dealing with wooden sewer lines. That is unheard of in the rest of Canada.
So, yes, it is a big issue with us, and keep it coming.
We're still in the process of approvals for many of the proposals that have been put forward. We've accessed some money from the federal program for the Mayo B hydro project, and that is in the neighbourhood of $70 million. There's some Building Canada funding that we are after. We have been successful in some cases, but in other cases we are still waiting for approvals.
With regard to the community adjustment fund, we're hearing that some of the projects are moving forward, but we are not sure whether they have received full approval yet. With the recreational infrastructure program, we are still waiting for some formal approvals.
Like the rest of Canada, we are in various stages of approvals. Some projects have been approved, and on those we're on the ground and building, moving forward as fast as we can. On others, we are still waiting to hear the final result of the various proposals that have been put forward.
We've been actively involved with the CanNor people—and the INAC people before that—to ensure that we're in the queue and that they fully understand our priorities and opportunities.
We have a number of projects on the go that will have some form of federal government involvement in them.
At the top of Two Mile Hill, you would have seen the new fire hall program that's on there. I believe the airport may have some funding for the airport expansion, which was required to meet the homeland security requirements for an international airport, specifically to allow direct flights from Frankfurt to come in, so it's very, very important for us.
In terms of some of the municipal projects, I'm not sure, but there was certainly some housing money. You would have seen some housing complexes. I'm not sure if you had a chance to drive around Whitehorse, but clearly there are some low-income housing programs on the go, and they will have a very busy agenda over the wintertime here, not just in Whitehorse, but throughout many of the communities in Yukon.
Thank you to the witnesses. My name is Greg Rickford, and I am the member of Parliament for the great riding of Kenora of northwestern Ontario--or “Mantario”, as we prefer to call it.
We share some common elements in terms of our size and some of the challenges with respect to transporting materials to isolated and remote communities. Certainly, Mr. Austin, I hear you on a number of key municipal issues. I'm going to flesh out some of that, but unfortunately within the confines of five minutes I may not get there.
I do want to say, gentlemen, that one of the things we're finding in the Kenora riding is our region can't sustain the kinds of companies that are required for some of the larger-scale projects. We accept that to a certain extent. So what we've done, Mr. Austin, which you might have some appreciation of, is we worked within the towns and cities and we have inventoried the projects that have evolved from the Building Canada fund, the infrastructure stimulus fund, recreational infrastructure Canada program, and Canada's community adjustment fund on a community-to-community basis to understand the province's and the federal government's employment programs, the people who have been awarded those contracts in cases where that's already been completed, and obviously anybody else in the private sector in those communities to understand how we can get the most out of local people for local projects. That's a context thing.
My questions may be for Mr. Austin and Mr. Holmes. I want to talk briefly in the last couple of minutes here about tourism, predominantly as the chair of the all-party tourism caucus and working closely with the Canadian Tourism Commission and TIAC, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. Today we're hosting a wonderful event I can't be there for.
Mr. Alexander, you raised some issues around human resource capacity and capital access with respect to first nations and tourism. I'm going to refer to Mr. Holmes's comments about the number of settled land claim agreements, which I know have provided significant resources for things like tourism and mining in the process of settling those claims. I would think of the southwest Yukon project that established the settlement of a land claim in the Alsek Renewable Resource Council that identified specific dollars for those communities to develop those sectors.
Can you speak more specifically to both if there's time on what existing human resource capacity issues and capital access issues are out there when these resources were made available through part of those land claims, in significant amounts, in my understanding?
I get a real sort of optimism when I'm listening to you. I know that we're discussing barriers and challenges. But when you talk about an unemployment rate of around 6%, which is lower than the Canadian average, when you get more skills and a trained workforce, and when you talk about the investments in infrastructure, although we need more....
I think we have to be very careful when we're talking about investment and infrastructure money related to stimulus money. We're talking about two-year periods and what can be spent in that two years. We won't meet, I don't think, all our infrastructure needs in that two-year timeframe. It's going to be a nice boost, and there will probably be a little acceleration of infrastructure development, but we're going to have to look beyond the two years and what's going to be there then, from a federal government perspective, in terms of investment.
I just wanted to say that while some good things are happening, and you report that good things are happening, I think we have to be cautious about where we're going to be.
What is the unemployment rate in our aboriginal communities? What is the human resource capacity in our aboriginal communities? Because while I get a sense of optimism, all our people--the original people, the indigenous people--have to share in that optimism too. What's your sense? What's happening? We are going to get some first nations' perspectives coming up pretty soon.
From the Yukon government's perspective, when we talk about lack of housing and we talk about infrastructure, is it more exasperated in our predominantly aboriginal communities? And what do we do to overcome those barriers that exist?
Yes; I don't know that we have it there.
Anyway, that's maybe some indication, at least. It was a very good question.
All right, gentlemen, thank you very much. This has been an extremely worthwhile hour and a half. I think we've learned more in this hour and a half than we have up to this point--in no way diminishing, of course, Mr. Brooks' appearance before our committee several months ago--to contribute towards good, solid recommendations for our study in the months ahead. It has been extremely beneficial and helpful.
We thank you very much for your time.
We are going to suspend now, committee. We'll come back to a new panel of witnesses.
We're back, and I'll ask members to take their seats and we'll reconvene.
We're resuming consideration of our study on northern economic development and in particular identifying the barriers or obstacles that stand in the way of advancing economic development for the north and for northerners. We're delighted to be in Whitehorse, in Yukon.
Today we have with us five representatives. We have Mr. Andy Carvill, who is the Grand Chief for the Council of Yukon First Nations. We also have Chief Peter Johnston and Victoria Fred from the Teslin Tlingit Council. We have Mr. Stephen Mills, who is the president of the Vuntut Development Corporation. As well, we have Mr. Gary Wilson from the Trondek Hwechin First Nation.
We are delighted, ladies and gentlemen, to have you before our committee today.
The customary track is that we open with five-minute presentations from four of our witnesses today. After that we will go to questions from members. They also will be five minutes. In fact, I think we do have enough time, members, to go with our first round being seven minutes.
If you've been at one of these standing committee hearings before, you'll know that in the time for questions and answers from members the seven minutes is both for the question and the response. So we encourage you to keep those responses succinct.
Let's begin with Grand Chief Carvill for the Council of Yukon First Nations.
Chief Carvill, welcome. We're glad to have you with us this morning. You have five minutes.
Thank you. I want to begin by thanking you for the invitation to do a presentation before the committee.
For Yukon first nations, most of our past efforts have been focused on building in our traditional lands and our governments to provide our citizens with the core infrastructure and governance that are enjoyed by the rest of Canada.
With these efforts largely in place we are focusing our attention on economic development, with the goal of reducing our dependency on the crown and the long-term goal of becoming more self-sufficient. In both cases, of building governance capacity and economic development, funding for the most part has been sparse for Yukon first nations. Although the Yukon Territory receives hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development, most of these funds are consumed by the capital of Whitehorse, with limited amounts of money flowing to the smaller communities in the Yukon.
This is becoming a greater concern. An example is that our highway infrastructure and many of the communities are getting older, and if not properly maintained could, once again, create significant barriers for commerce. There was a report not too long ago on the state of the bridges. There is some concern with the bridges coming up north, as that's how we get our food here in the north. That's just one example.
The lack of moneys flowing to our communities also makes it difficult to provide the core essentials of life such as housing, heating, and clean water. Many of our communities receive only enough housing dollars to build a few homes a year, and some have to do it every second year or so because of the limited amount of funds. With substandard housing in these communities already, their world becomes a cyclical environment of continued dependency on the federal government.
With changes in our traditional lifestyle for food and food-gathering caused, for example, by the critically low salmon runs, some of the moneys that could be spent on economic investment to build our economies get shifted to help to provide food, especially for elders. Scientists have yet to clearly identify the cause of these renewable resources disappearing, but they are having a negative impact on our environment both economically and socially.
Again, medicines that our people harvest on the lands, and the lack of meat in the communities are causing hardship because of the limited amount of economic opportunities or employment in the communities. A lot of people depend on moose, for example, to help offset and put food on their table. If there's a limited amount, then they have to spend more money coming into Whitehorse, and there's a limited number of jobs and economic opportunities in the communities.
We struggle to maintain our college graduates in the communities. Like many third world countries, we are experiencing brain drain. We believe this is caused because our communities can never seem to reach critical mass to encounter the paradigm shift where growth and economic development will occur naturally. Essentially, for many Yukon first nation communities, we end up getting just enough funding to survive, but not enough to have an impact on creating an environment where both people and businesses can flourish.
Yet as a people, we remain resilient and committed to making Canada a stronger nation. We have successfully demonstrated that with our limited resources and support. We can create a viable commerce in our communities using our best and brightest. We have identified and developed businesses in low-cost niche markets for building Canadian commerce. Successful examples of these, as was mentioned earlier, can be seen in businesses such as Vuntut Development Corporation and their partnership with Air North, wilderness mountain biking in Carcross, and world-class mountain sheep hunting in Kluane, and these are only a few of the examples that are shining proof that first nations can be successful not only in business but also business designed to attract foreign dollars.
Through the efforts of INAC, the majority of our communities have both community and economic development plans, but limited or no dollars for the implementation of these plans. Of Yukon's current budget for economic development dollars, INAC's contribution to this pool is 2%, which INAC strategically delivers to 14 competing Yukon communities. INAC's regional office approach to distributing their funds has been to select projects that will provide return on investment or have the greatest economic impact on the region of the Yukon.
The larger pools for economic development are the Yukon government, consisting of economic development and tourism dollars at 17%, and Infrastructure Canada at 81%. These two larger dollar pools are delivered largely not by strategic initiatives to make Yukon a better place to attract business, but by political pressure.
Often these projects do an exceptional job of creating economic opportunities and wealth for a few locals in the region, but, like the 2007 Canada Winter Games, once completed tend to leave behind debt, more debt than economic benefit. Over the past several years Ottawa has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Yukon, with very little impact on creating an environment where both business and people can flourish. This has occurred largely because the moneys are not tied to specific plans for building long-term commerce.
Part of the problem is that INAC dollars distributed for strategic impact are small, and the politically driven dollars for the Yukon government in Canada in infrastructure are too high. To complicate the problem, federal programming is designed in Ottawa by people who often have limited experience or have visited the rural communities in the Yukon. The result is often a disconnect on how program dollars can be used, versus the implementation that will work in our human-resource-limited environment.
We are ever hopeful that the new Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency will help to reduce these program design flaws. We have been invited to have some representation on the committee that's to help to steer this project, so we are grateful for that.
Last, instead of honouring our treaties that give the crown legal and legitimized access to Yukon's non-renewable resources, the crown appears to be focused on bleeding us dry financially by continually challenging our treaties in court. As a case in point, we were recently in Ottawa attending the Little Salmon and Carmacks court case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada. Moneys that could be used to build our communities go to lawyers and others to provide the crown with legal precedents on first nation treaties. This was never the intent of the treaties. The crown's current strategy of constant litigation does not put roofs over the majority of our citizens' heads or food on our tables.
In closing, Canada and the Yukon need to strategically identify specific industries in which the Yukon can compete in a global marketplace. Once identified, we need to build an environment that will attract investors from these industries yet look out for the long-term interest of the nations. An example is environmental issues. An economic development plan needs to be developed that focuses on building an environment where Yukon can compete in a global marketplace for business. Economic development dollars would be strategically assigned for implementing each element of the plan, not allocated by political whim.
Finally, as the second-largest landowners in the Yukon after the crown, Yukon first nations also need to be part of the planning process as crown to first nation governments.
Thank you for hearing my presentation.
I'm trying to take full advantage of my five minutes. Okay.
We are a population of roughly 450 in our community, which is made up of about 65% first nation population. We are a traditional self-government in Teslin. We have five clans that represent the government body: the Yanyeidi, the Daxaweidi, the Xooxetaan, the Ishketaan, and the Daishetaan. We signed our self-government and land claim agreement back in 1993, then incorporated in 1995, on February 14.
We are a traditional territory of approximately 10,000 square miles. Agreements we have signed on to cover a wide range of issues, such as citizenship, land use plan, economic development, heritage, water, fish and wildlife, forestry, taxation, etc. Self-government agreements provide for the recognition of Teslin Tlingit Council's exclusive and concurrent and paramount authority to govern their own lands and their citizens in regard to sections 13.1 and 13.2, the citizen-based laws of the self-government agreement, as well as providing for programs and services funding arrangements.
The Teslin Tlingit Council's objectives and priorities are to incorporate the Tlingit ways into all operations of the government, to maximize Tlingit control, jurisdiction, and accountability, and also to achieve economic self-sufficiency and exercise good common governance. With economic development, we created an economic development arm called the Tle’ Nax T’awei limited partnership back in 1998.
The mission statement for the Tle’ Nax T’awei group is to provide us with a financial return and promote self-sufficiency for the Teslin Tlingit First Nation and its people, well incorporated in Ha Kus Tayea, the Tlingit way. Tie' Nax T'awei--
Tle' Nax T'awei maintains majority ownership in twelve different businesses, located through western and northern Canada, primarily here in Whitehorse. We own such things as the Coca-Cola dealership in the Yukon. We're also the Canon dealer for the north in copiers and printers. We are part owners in a hotel chain here in Whitehorse. We also own some copier companies in southern B.C., in Kelowna and Kamloops, which are helping to diversify our portfolio and to get us into different sectors within the economy. We have invested in some prime lands here in Whitehorse, which has given the Tle' Nax T'awei Council an opportunity to have a front in the community of Whitehorse.
Unfortunately, in the Yukon most of our economic base is in Whitehorse, because of its population and its status as the capital. This has caused some serious situations for us with regard to our local economy in Teslin. As a self-governing nation, we employ about 80 people, and we are the primary place to work in the Teslin community. But with the lack of an economic base in the smaller communities, we have to invest a lot of our resources in the community of Whitehorse.
The Tle' Nax T'awei group follows an approach towards business focused on pursuing and acquiring stable, prudent business. We have successful management teams in place and use performance-based compensation and extensive benefits packaging to encourage aggressive future growth from our workforce. TTI, our business arm, has approximately 95 full-time jobs and seasonal employees throughout the organization. TTI's holdings are involved in many different sectors. In the business world, we maintain an association with several major global suppliers. One of the challenges that we face as a business arm is the access to venture capital. Traditional lenders such as banks are requiring first nations to guarantee most of these loans. There are not enough opportunities for first nations governments and businesses to access government programming. We need this programming to provide substantial capital and capacity-building within our nations.
Our citizens are in dire need of private equity funds. These funds would assist us in promoting entrepreneurship and in supporting the smaller businesses we are trying to grow. Also, the access to opportunity through government contracts is minimal within the communities. Most of these contracts involve high risk and rigid tendering. They attract established businesses. This makes it difficult for first nations businesses to compete. We need more access to management and greater employment capacity.
Northern strategy needs to reflect that there are first nations lands, resources, wildlife, and jurisdiction. First nations interests need to be recognized, respected, and reflected in any northern economic study or strategy. We also need to recognize that a strong and stable economy for the north means first nations involvement at all levels. All development has to be relevant to first nations interests, principles, and values, with investment in the Tle' Nax T'awei families and community. We need healthy citizens who are going to be able to move forward in the economic world.
I want to make some points in regard to our administration of justice. We have been negotiating for 12 years towards a comprehensive justice agreement. Complementing the self-government agreement we signed with Canada and Yukon, the comprehensive agreement would allow for the establishment of a traditional justice system based on Tlingit values and customs. It provides for a Peacemaker Court and corrections, which will advance conflict resolution and adjudication of Tle' Nax T'awei laws. The AJA provides for the coexistence and strengthening of the territorial and federal system.
In April 1993 the Teslin Tlingit Council ratified a land claims and final agreement, which came into effect on February 14, 1995. The final agreement is a treaty constitutionally entrenched under section 35.3 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The agreement also recognizes a 12-year negotiation process that has reflected a host of challenges along the way and has affected the parties' ability to complete the negotiations in a timely manner.
The agreement provides us with a recognition of aboriginal human rights, greater access to justice, public confidence in the known government and justice system that is culturally relevant, an investment in family and community, and good governance. It also bridges the gap between the traditional and conventional justice systems.
At the end of the day, it provides us with accountability to not only the government, but to the community we live in. That has been lacking, since the conventional system took over the effect of our citizens. We're well aware that a lot of the challenges we face today deal with some of the social factors that our people have been plagued with over the last 100 years. We are feeling very positive and optimistic that we'll be able to conclude these negotiations so our people can move on with their right to self-determination, and have success within their lives.
With that I will conclude. I apologize for speeding things up.
Honourable members, chiefs, and others who are here, I wear a few different hats, but with regard to our first nation and our development corporation, I'm both working as president of our corporation and also assisting my own first nation in Old Crow in trying to implement some of the capital programs, trying to utilize some of the federal funding that's coming forward as well.
I'll give just a really brief history. The Vuntut Development Corporation is about the fourth corporation over the last two or three decades—probably three decades—in our community. The other three ended in failure, basically bankruptcy. We started this corporation in 1999 and tried a slightly different approach with strategic planning and followed one basic rule. The first basic rule of our corporation was “Do not invest in the local store as your first investment”.
Because of that, we were able to actually look elsewhere, as Chief Johnston mentioned. One of our first key investments was Air North, and that has been a very important investment for us. I believe I'm going to speak on that this afternoon as part of your transportation discussion.
It just goes to show what was occurring in aboriginal communities when it came to economic development. We knew we needed corporations to spearhead certain economic initiatives, but we weren't quite sure how to properly implement them and the necessary funding wasn't always behind them. So the failures taught us a lot in our community. It's easy to do business—or I should say it's easier to do business—in maybe more southern locales where there is higher property tax revenue, higher property values, and more opportunities. But ours is an experience of a small corporation still being successful—and I would say profitable—in a community with very limited resource development potential. It has been baby steps since 1999, ones that have allowed us to nurture our various investments, whether it's Air North, whether it's one of the top air-viewing-potential operations in the world, whether it's our heavy equipment or operations or some of the property investments we have in Whitehorse. Our corporation intends to be on the leading edge of the revitalization of the waterfront here in Whitehorse.
Now, one of the things some people have talked about is that it is hard to access funding through the different federal envelopes, and those envelopes are forever changing. I would say, though, that our corporation has been quite successful, since about 2000, in accessing federal economic development programming. It hasn't been without hitting our heads against many walls, but we have accessed funding in probably seven different initiatives, including a very substantial one around Air North's assistance in acquiring our second jet aircraft.
So there are opportunities there. There are many hoops and many hurdles, but you can work through some of those. I would say, though, that one of the things I've noticed is that from 1993—when we go back to our agreements being negotiated—I think we've slowly been losing some of the community economic development focus. So our corporation can access funding, and we have been able to, but individual entrepreneurs in our own communities find it very difficult. And it's not our role as a development corporation to do that. It's a role that exists between the first nation government and our community and the Yukon government as well as, I believe, the federal government. So we have a lot of entrepreneurs who can't get the business start-up, can't find the seed money, or can't get some of the business backup that's necessary for a good successful business.
One of the things I see is that the new Northern Economic Development Agency.... I think the money could be used elsewhere, but I also think there's a benefit to the agency, and part of this benefit may be to assist our entrepreneurs. What's still missing, though, is some of that key start-up money that I think has sort of disappeared, especially at the individual level.
Back in 1992 or 1993, there were economic development officers in almost every Yukon community, funded through economic development agreements between the Yukon and the federal government. They were of great assistance at the community level.
What we do now--and I'm sure Gary will speak to this too--is try as much as we can, through our corporation, to provide some support, but we recognize that we can only do so much as a corporation.
I have a couple of other points on our community, if I may.
My name is Gary Wilson. I'm the director of business development and strategic initiatives for the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in. I work for the government, but I also serve the development corporation around many initiatives. So I wear several hats, as many of us do. I work for the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in. They're a self-governing first nation. They've been self-governing now for 11 years. We're in Dawson City, Yukon, which is the heart of the Klondike gold rush. We have different circumstances from several other first nations communities. We have a very strong tourism industry that exists there, and of course placer mining has existed there for 100-and-some years.
I think this is one of the points I want to make, that there is a differentiation of communities in the north. Our first nation is the largest employer, at about 200 people in the community. We pay very good wages. That's why our community can afford two grocery stores; it's because the first nation exists there. I think these things are forgotten in the process, how much economic wealth we bring to communities currently and in the future.
The first nation owns and operates five businesses, and operating businesses is different from investing in businesses, as many of us know. We've invested in about another half dozen businesses here in the Yukon. So we have a mixed portfolio. We have largely no unemployment, frankly. Capacity issues for us are different from other first nations. We have very little social assistance. As a community, our housing is actually pretty good. I would say part of that is reflected in the fact that Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in has been able to bring capacity to the first nation for several years because Dawson City is actually a community people will come and live in. It's very vibrant; it has a very strong arts community and a very strong music community. So people like myself...I'm an outsider; I'm from Saskatchewan. I've worked in the United States. I spent more of my adult working life in Dawson City than anywhere else. I come back to Dawson City because there's something about it.
Having said that, on a very broad basis I think the key issue for us is that in the Yukon there's not a really good distinction between government and business. Government is so top heavy here. You asked the question earlier, and you know the number varies, but it varies between government being somewhere between 48% and 69% of the actual people who are employed in the Yukon, depending on who you talk to. And then another large percentage of businesses exist to actually serve government. They're not out there to actually produce something that other people buy; they're there because government exists. So we have a government-based economy, and most people don't want to speak to that very strongly, but because of that, we also seem to not be very—one of the key issues—strategic in our approach. As governments, we don't seem to work very well together. The territorial, federal, first nations, and municipal governments always seem to find reasons not to work collectively and partner in long-term strategies. We're unfocused in our approach to economic development. We're a territory of approximately 32,000 people and we get probably over $1 billion a year, and part of the reason why we have barriers to economic development is because collectively we can't seem to be able to figure out how to work together.
Andy stated it very well by talking about the court case, the litigation. It's always about trying to hang on to control and not figure out how to work together in order to benefit the greater good, and often, if we bring that down to the community level, it really doesn't necessarily always reflect community needs or desires.
Talking about resource development, there are some first nations communities that are not interested in having an open-pit mine in their backyard, especially if it's foisted upon them and they have to fight tooth and nail the entire way to get any sort of return for the community, or environmental benefits, or to have environmental issues dealt with appropriately.
We have all these things that have been put through land claims. YESAA is an example. It was supposed to make it easier for all of us to work together, and it really hasn't made it easier to work together; it's brought local control to a political body that, frankly, doesn't necessarily reflect first nations or community needs.
Frankly, the federal government has abdicated its responsibility through that process, and now first nations have to litigate in relation to all those issues if they want to actually stop mining projects coming into their territory, or even just to get the benefits they should from that.
Having said that--
[Member speaks in Gwich'in]
I would like to thank the Ta'an and Kwanlin Dün first nations for having us on their traditional lands today.
My first question is related to land claims. Perhaps the biggest issue for aboriginal people in the Yukon, or for a lot of them, is the implementation of land claims.
Peter and Victoria, you brought up your justice file, and the Auditor General has brought up some concerns related to implementation of land claims. Perhaps you could describe it. In Yukon land claims, you have this unique, pioneering, and excellent procedure to build or take down certain powers, which you're doing in justice.
But perhaps you could describe briefly the experience you have had with that and your recommendations, because this is a huge issue that is just starting for all the first nations. Could you describe for us how that process might be improved in the future for you or other first nations who are trying to take down the powers, which constitutionally they have the right to do under the land claim?
Thank you for that question, Mr. Bagnell.
Just quickly, as we tried to make clear in our presentation on the importance of capacity, it is an important element in economic development within this jurisdiction, and partly what Teslin Tlingit is doing is trying to facilitate that via their justice negotiations, for which we've provided a handout. Maybe you'll get it later.
The handout speaks in more detail about the challenges that Teslin Tlingit dealt with in trying to achieve their administration of justice agreement, in large part because of the challenges associated with implementation policies that undermine our agreements and that are not necessarily an efficient, effective process. This affects many of the chapters, including chapter 22, and other aspects such as the justice arrangements, so we've made some recommendations that any policies that affect first nations should have first nations involvement.
You've heard across this table about the importance of government-to-government relationships and about not expending our resources on unnecessary litigation but on what is for the better good.
What we've put forward is that it's important for Canada to recognize that these agreements are with governments, and to have more accountable, transparent approaches in the way we do business, so that it provides for more productive, contributing members in a community, members who can help build self-sufficient communities such as VGFN. VGFN has identified some of the important things on the ground in providing resources to their individual members to become entrepreneurs so that we all have a stake in the success of these agreements.
Yes. We are given the ability through chapter 22 of our self-government agreements. It does allow us the privilege, in regard to traditional territories, of having priority over that. However, in order to incorporate it, it has to be the will of the government of the day.
We struggle from time to time just to be relevant as a government in the Yukon, let alone a government within our own traditional area. We are sometimes overlooked in regard to opportunities that come forward, in regard to million-dollar projects. We have to fight against the current, if you will, not only to be recognized but also to be part of the opportunity.
I relate it back to the government of the day. It's all in their will to include us. Unfortunately, outside of having a government-to-government protocol that identifies this--which we think is irrelevant at this time because we do have self-government agreements that allow us the opportunity--basically, it's the will of the government. And if it is onside in regard to building partnerships, opportunities will come.
However, the present-day successes we've had, even dating back to the last 15 years of self-government, have been very minimal due to the fact that...just the recognition of being a self-government, let alone having the opportunities to engage in investment within our own community. So we are well ahead of ourselves, I guess, in the sense of providing opportunities to our citizens, but it's been on our dollar.
I believe a lot of our members are moving in those areas with respect to change. You asked if they are ready to change from more cultural activities into various sectors, various economic opportunities, that come into our area. They are adaptable to the change while at the same time maintaining a lot of their traditional beliefs and culture.
However, it is difficult. A lot of my colleagues have spoken about it, and I'll touch on it as well. A large part of the difficulty around economic development, as Chief Johnston said, is the recognition of first nations governance and implementation. The lack of implementation policy, as I think Victoria mentioned, is undermining our agreements.
We're part of the LCAC, Land Claims Agreement Coalition. We've had various meetings, and we have presented an implementation policy for the Government of Canada's review. It hasn't to this point in time gone anywhere, which is unfortunate.
It's not just us in the Yukon. It's those with modern treaties who have these difficulties around the implementation of our agreements, the agreements we entered into that we felt would give us the tools to make a difference in our communities.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.
I'm going to direct most of my questions to Grand Chief Carvill.
I'd just like to make an opening comment about the uniqueness of some of the rounds of funding that have come out of Canada's economic action plan that have, for the first time in some instances, very much included first nations. I'm thinking of the recreational infrastructure program and the community adjustment fund. I can say that in the Kenora riding there was more than equal distribution, identifying that the success of the riding really depends on the full participation and integration of the first nations community in the economic development model that emerges from the region. That's objective feedback that I've been getting from more than 42 first nations that reside in my riding, and three treaties of adhesion, including Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Treaty 3.
I very much respect the work you have in terms of gaining consensus with all of the first nations in the Yukon. I want to just flesh out some issues you raised. I don't want to quote you per se, but it seems to me there was a concern that funds were primarily flowing through the Yukon government and perhaps municipalities, which might suggest a policy disconnect between first nations and this territorial government. One of the observations I would have made in the last round is that there were not any senior bureaucrats from first nations. I know there is certain and absolute value in self-government, but I also know that the participation of first nations people in senior bureaucratic levels can be an essential way of shoring up some of those policy disconnects when you're dealing with a region.
I'm wondering if you work closely with any of the levels of government to do things like secondments, where people from some of the first nations communities can go into senior bureaucratic positions. What kinds of consultation exercises might you engage in? When I say consultation, I'm not necessarily referring to the lawful ones that you're dealing with now, that the courts are dealing with, and other partnerships. Take a few minutes just to expound and perhaps share your thoughts on some of those ideas.
I'll take a couple of minutes, if I may. I think these are questions that Chief Johnston and some others in the communities dealing with these issues around capacity matters are better to answer. I can just give you a quick CYFN perspective.
First, when you talk about funds, and funds being delivered or coming into the Yukon government, and then you tie that into policy and how it affects first nations governments, we are able to sit down with the Yukon government and work on some of the funds that have come in from the federal government to the Yukon.
One example goes back a couple of years. It's northern housing allocation. We were very appreciative of the fact that this kind of money came north to assist us with our lack of housing in the communities. However, we had to go into a long, drawn-out process negotiating these funds with the Yukon government. At first there was some miscommunication. We were under the understanding that a lot of these funds—the concept came out of the Kelowna accord—were to be funds for first nations. Then it changed along the way and we got mixed messages saying, yes, it was first nations funds, and then it changed to, well, it's northern housing funding.
Anyway, when we're talking about funding coming north, a large portion of it goes to the Yukon government. We're beyond that now. The first nations governments are very capable of taking care of these funds. They don't need the Yukon government to be acting like a big brother and doling out these funds or sitting down to negotiate with first nations governments as to how these funds can be accessed and then you report back to the Yukon government.
I think Chief Johnston spoke quite eloquently about that earlier with respect to first nations accountability. We're the most accountable governments around, yet we're still having to answer, I guess you could say, to the Yukon government. And it's just not right. As I said, there are first nations governments, and the chiefs have said that we need to start removing that barrier, getting more funds to the people in the communities, where it makes more of an impact on the ground, instead of going through the various lines of bureaucracy.
Okay. I'll talk quickly.
We do have a representative service plan, which is an agreement between first nations and the government with regard to capacity building, where we're not only able to second government officials into our communities and into our governments to assist, but we're also able to take our citizens and bring them into the larger government to get the abilities there.
However, it comes back to the will of the government. They're not pushing these opportunities forward, and they are not making a big campaign, in a sense, to bring these opportunities to the communities. So everything we have to do is always above and beyond what we're currently doing. We do suffer from a lack of annual funding coming to the government, which causes us to be overworked to a certain degree, but if we had adequate funding, then the capacity issues and everything else that comes with that would I think be a mirage in that sense. Not only would we be able to fulfill our requirements for self-government, but we'd have educated citizens within those positions of government also.
I'll just use an example of the Infrastructure Canada and the Building Canada funds over the last couple of years. Because we're self-governing first nations, we don't have access to the Indian and Northern Affairs funding for first nations infrastructure. So when Infrastructure Canada came to the Yukon to negotiate the Building Canada funds, first nations weren't included, yet those are the funds we have to utilize to build infrastructure in our communities.
Supposedly there was a process put in play in order to create a business plan that would reflect our needs. That, frankly, didn't happen, because all of a sudden we had a depression on our doorstep and we had to get the money out the door. Now we don't have any real access to any infrastructure dollars in our community. We have a hospital being built in our community, a sewage treatment plant being built in our community, some housing being built in our community, and a new college being built in our community. I can tell you that the first nations are involved in one of those projects because we brought the right team to the table, not because government came to us, asking us how we could participate.
So not to put a fine point on this, but a very blunt and direct point, in lots of ways, although the land claims are there and they exist to make it work in partnership, you have to have the will of the territorial government.
There are several agreements in place right now with different first nations--the Kaska--and we're currently in negotiation with two mining companies.
I think they're getting better. I mean, first nations are starting to understand the benefits that can come from that.
I believe that you, certainly, are moving forward quite strongly in oil and gas.
I think there are lots of opportunities in relation to resources, but economic development is as much about creating jobs in community as it is about wealth generation, about whether you can create wealth in community. You can through large resource projects--mines, oil and gas--but they don't always happen, and they don't happen overnight.
So it's the creation of jobs in community versus the creation of wealth, as Teslin has been very good at doing. They've gone outside of their community to create wealth, because it's just a matter of economies of scale. When you start talking about economic development in the north and in the Yukon, it's this huge, wide continuum of things and factors that don't always happen at the time you want them to happen.
I'm dealing with a group right now, working with Liard First Nation on a mining agreement. The mine is not likely to come into play for another 30 years, just because the amount of infrastructure that has to be developed to get it to that point is so incredibly large. It's a huge ore body, but at the end of the day, it's not going to happen overnight.
I'm a new member to this committee.This is the first opportunity for me to actually address some of the concerns, and I'm very interested in hearing things.
I know that we did have one witness back in Ottawa who said that the people who are south of 60 don't really understand what is taking place. Of course, some of us think that perhaps those who are south of the 49th parallel don't understand what is taking place.
I think, too, in the discussions that I've heard this morning, we do have a disconnect sometimes between perhaps the territorial governments and the aboriginal communities. I think that's what you have been trying to address.
Chief Carvill, you mentioned the brain drain and the types of concerns you have with respect to your communities. I'm wondering if you could perhaps expand upon that somewhat.
In terms of what we're dealing with right now.... One of the challenges we had in dealing with an effective and efficient process, if you will, is that within government we found the departments were a bit fragmented. There's a lack of recognition that the agreements are agreements with the crown, they're not agreements with departments. So that created obstacles for us to move forward in a good and efficient manner. We always impressed upon governments that we needed to have all departments at the negotiation table because it affected those departments.
It's always to ensure that any decisions being developed within government that affect our lives, our jurisdiction, the success of our relationship...we want to inform that process. We want to make sure that we remove those obstacles, whether they're policies or moving a government mentality, if you will. These are government-to-government relationships.
We've made some progress. We want to use this experience that Teslin has achieved over the 12 years as a way to open up from that experience, to remove those obstacles for those who are coming behind, because there are other Yukon first nations that are negotiating administration of justice.
At the end of the day, it's about working from a government-to-government relationship. We want to ensure that we can coexist and that our laws will uphold an environment where our people can work, be accountable, and be respected. So that was one of the biggest obstacles.
Then those sort of trickle into policies. We found that some of the policies were incongruent. They were not in line with the way the agreements were meant to be. We found one policy, the first nations policing policy that was removed from north of 60, would have undermined elements of our agreement for us to move forward. There was no consultation about the impact of that policy, on how it would impact on the work we have done thus far.
So it makes us start at the starting line sometimes, which is not a good use of resources and time. The impact is that we lose people in the community, we lose confidence in government relationships, and we question the effectiveness of doing business in this fashion.
I apologize. I'm not aware of the First Nations Finance Authority.
We do have mechanisms here in the Yukon that allow us the opportunity for capital. As an example, we made a submission to Aboriginal Business Canada to borrow $100,000 because we were told that we fit within the criteria. We invested $70,000 of our own money to put towards this project and at the end of the day found that we were ineligible for that funding.
So we know very well, very much, about the opportunities that are here for first nations in the Yukon. However, just the bureaucracy, the level of due diligence, and so on and so forth, that's needed to apply for a dollar is incredible. In some cases, it's easier to leverage our own money through a financial institution and go the conventional way rather than utilize the first nations opportunities out there.
I have done some things with Kamloops, so I have a basic understanding of it. But it's not something that the Yukon first nations have really been involved in or know much about.
Backing what Peter had to say, it's difficult sometimes for our development corporations to receive financing, but it's much more difficult for our first nations citizens to get financing if they're entrepreneurial.
We had a case in our community where a couple of young guys got the contract to provide all the garbage collection and recycling. They had a signed contract with the municipality, but at the end of the day, the bank wouldn't give them financing, even with a signed contract, because they were in a northern community and they were first nation.
So there are all sorts of barriers, not just for first nations who have money in the bank and capacity. Certainly for individual entrepreneurs it's incredibly difficult.
Thank you, Mr. Bagnell.
It depends on who you talk to, and I think there's some discussion about us appearing before your committee in Ottawa in December.
YESAA came out of the land claims agreements in the Yukon. YESAA is different from what it is in other jurisdictions, because first nations in the Yukon have self-government agreements. First nations in the NWT didn't have self-government agreements until quite recently. So the assessment bodies in those other areas also had an arm that would issue the regulatory approvals. That isn't the situation in the Yukon.
So the purpose of YESAA is to assess any project, no matter where it's located--whether it's on federal land, such as in a national park, territorial lands, or on first nations settlement lands--and issue recommendations that can mitigate the potential effects. It's a unique model that recognizes and defines traditional knowledge. It requires YESAA and our assessors to integrate both traditional and scientific knowledge in our assessments. We look at both environmental and socio-economic effects.
A five-year review was completed, not quite on time, by all three parties--first nations and federal and territorial governments. The recommendations are still working their way through as to the outcome, what's going to happen. But the purpose of that review is to improve the process, and I think there are some pretty good recommendations coming out of it.
There are definitely some valid criticisms of YESAA. Some deal with implementation and some deal with the legislative framework. Some can't be fixed, because that's what the umbrella final agreement said.
I'm not sure what else to say about YESAA. I don't want to open that door. I think we'll have more time to discuss it with you at a.... It's one that's recognized, and I think it's a good process, but it can definitely be improved.
Maybe the device needs to be changed. We'll work on that.
As I was saying, we'll start with a five-minute presentation from each of the witnesses, after which we will then go into questions from members. Those are also five minutes, including both the question and the responses from the various members, and we go around the table in a sort of preordained fashion.
We have actually, as I said, three organizations and a total of four witnesses today. Today we welcome Ruth Massie, the chair, and Pearl Callaghan, the operations leader for the Alaska Highway Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. Welcome.
We also welcome Mr. Randy Clarkson. Randy is an engineer with the Klondike Placer Miners' Association.
Then we also welcome Jennifer Byram. Jennifer is the vice-president for Pelly Construction Limited.
And as I said, we will also be welcoming, hopefully, through the course of our session, a representative from Northwestel.
Let's begin with Ruth Massie, here from the Alaska Highway Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. You have five minutes.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members.
My name is Ruth Massie. I'm the chair of the Alaska Highway Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition. I am representing five self-governing first nations along the proposed Alaska pipeline route. I am also a citizen of the Ta'an Kwäch'än council, and I welcome the standing committee members to our traditional territory, which we share with Kwanlin Dün First Nation.
We thank you for the invitation to present to you our experiences with the barriers and challenges of economic development for our organization and our communities within the Yukon.
Since day one of settling our land claims and establishing our own self-government structures, Yukon first nations have experienced many challenges and setbacks in our efforts to meet our obligations within our agreements. It has been a constant struggle to keep up.
Now we are faced with another challenge: the largest proposed project in our history at our doorstep. We recognize the need to prepare ourselves and our communities for a new industry, oil and gas, of which we know little.
Our biggest challenge to date is plain and simple: the lack of human capacity in our communities and the lack of financial resources to support our efforts. The Alaska Highway Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition submitted a multi-year business plan proposal to the Government of Canada over four years ago, asking for support to flow the information and communicate to the first nations communities, and we still haven't heard or received a reply.
The Government of Canada has fully supported the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and has ignored our requests to support us in regard to the Alaska Highway pipeline project. It is our intent to try to avoid the mistakes we have heard about with the Mackenzie Valley pipeline.
We need to be prepared and proactive and we need to participate as key stakeholders with industry, governments, and other first nations with regard to the proposed mega-pipeline project, which requires adequate resources. This project will inevitably impact our lands, water, environment, fish and wildlife, and our people's way of life--forever.
Our operation has received $200,000 annually from the Yukon government, and periodically we receive funds to accommodate our workshops from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
Our question is, when is the Government of Canada going to consult and accommodate first nations in the Yukon with regard to the proposed Alaska Highway pipeline project?
Our organization is still seeking a face-to-face meeting with the Government of Canada. They have been meeting regularly with the Yukon government and industry officials for some time now. We need to discuss the importance of first nations being proactive now in the preparation of this megaproject.
First nations do not have adequate resources to address all the aspects of this project. What the aboriginal pipeline coalition had asked for was long-term financial support for each community to hire one person as a community liaison officer to focus on this megaproject and communicate with everyone involved on a regular basis.
After all, this project will affect every person's life, and right now there are a lot of fears in the communities. The communities have expectations, which are to capitalize on the opportunities that arise while minimizing the issues and risks involved. Oil and gas is a new industry in our region and we need to educate ourselves about it.
In closing, I thank the standing committee for this opportunity to speak to you and wish you a safe stay and a good trip home.
Pelly Construction is headquartered in Whitehorse, Yukon. We are an earth-moving business primarily in contract mining and road reconstruction. We currently employ close to 200 workers year-round. Though we're based in Whitehorse, we often work in British Columbia and sometimes in the Northwest Territories and Alaska. One of our most adventurous projects took us to Antarctica to build an airstrip, hangar, fuel storage tanks, and water system for the British Antarctic Survey.
We have grown into a very successful northern business doing approximately $60 million to $85 million of business per year. At the moment, our two main projects are in the Minto mine in Yukon and the Brule mine in British Columbia. We have several first nations agreements in the Yukon or joint ventures with the development corporations here, such as Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Selkirk First Nation, Vuntut Gwitchin, and Ta'an Kwäch'än in the Yukon. Many of our projects are in these people's territories, and we work within their local first nations representation.
We are very proud of our relationship with the Vuntut Gwitchin Limited Partnership. I believe you heard from Stephen Mills this morning. We own a company, Porcupine Enterprises, that is 51% aboriginally owned. Porcupine operates out of Old Crow and completes earth-moving projects up there, such as river bank stabilization, rock crushing, and hauling gravel from their mountain. The partnership is so successful that we decided to continue this and become partners with the Ta'an development corporation as well, and we're going to develop the waterfront property here with condos and commercial property.
Our location in the Yukon is an obvious barrier for us in trade. All our parts and equipment come up the highway. In the last few years, money for the reconstruction of the Alaska Highway from Public Works has lessened. The route from Alaska to Anchorage is even in worse shape. The permafrost is destroying the highway. Our clients at the copper mine are able to get their product to the market, though, by trucking the ore to Skagway, Alaska, through the South Klondike Highway, and loading it on to ships from the local port. A railroad is always something we talk about. If we could construct railroad tracks to meet up with Fort Nelson, 1,000 kilometres away, that would help. Our experience has shown us it's easier to move to Alaska, which is in a foreign country, than it is to compete in NWT or British Columbia. In NWT the territorial government includes BIP and their determination on who gets government contracts. The BIP, or business incentive policy, applies to local hires and purchasing locally. Even products not available in NWT, not manufactured or even sold there, have to be sourced through a BIP-certified company. It's impossible for us to compete there because our prices start off at 20% higher than those of the local people. We have tried, and we probably will not go back unless they have a trade agreement with the Yukon, because it's too difficult. We've had enough of losing money there.
In B.C. we're fortunate enough to work in coal mines, where our equipment and parts are exempt from PST. However, if we take a project outside the coal mining industry, we would be subject to paying PST on our equipment when we move into the province. Even if it's 20 years old, we would have to pay PST on 50% of the purchase price, and that's a barrier. Another barrier for which I don't think there is a solution here today is that our competitors do not live in the north. They have their headquarters in Vancouver. To lobby potential clients, they just walk across the street and maybe go for a cup of coffee, or perhaps they meet at a hockey game or a social function. We're simply not part of that group.
We would like to see more money spent on the Alaska Highway. There are at least 100 miles that follow the old war trail. When we brought our triple-7 haul trucks up to the mine, we had to cut the haul boxes in half to get them through that portion of the road. We are able to haul those truck boxes in Alberta and British Columbia, but once we hit Muncho Lake, we can't haul them any further because the road's too narrow. We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on that. That's one of my solutions.
That's all I have to say today. Thank you.
Good afternoon. I am Randy Clarkson. I'm here on behalf of the Klondike Placer Miners' Association.
Our requests are fairly simple. We're asking this committee to recommend to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans that she include the KPMA directly in the development and implementation of the fish management system for placer mining. And we're asking you to recommend to Transport Canada that they transfer regulatory authority of the Navigable Waters Protection Act regarding placer mining in the Yukon to local Yukon placer inspectors.
The KPMA represents the 130 family based placer gold mines operating in the Yukon.
Placer mining has been ongoing throughout the Yukon since the 1860s. It has continued unabated through the Great Depression of the 1930s, through the recent recession in 1980, and through the current recession. In 2009, these mines cumulatively produced about 54,000 ounces of gold. That's worth about $50 million. The indirect impact of placer mining to the Yukon economy, including supplies, services, and other spinoffs, is in the order of $150 million. Therefore, placer mining is undoubtedly the most reliable, and one of the largest, sources of privately generated wealth in the Yukon.
Fortunately, in 2009, placer miners were blessed with record high prices for gold, stable fuel prices, and an abundant source of labour, thanks to the current recession. Unfortunately, the placer industry continues to be burdened with a seemingly endless barrage of regulations. In the past few years we have seen the number of permits and regulations increase dramatically. This has delayed the start-up of new mines and has added unnecessary operating and capital costs. We at the KPMA are hopeful that the efforts of this standing committee will help to remove and/or streamline current and future regulations for our industry.
The most recent regulatory hurdle for the industry has been the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which was recently taken over by Transport Canada. Transport Canada does not have sufficient personnel in Canada, and none in the Yukon, to execute these regulations, and they are unfamiliar with the local streams. They have decided unilaterally that a vessel is as small as a kayak, and thus many non-navigable historic placer streams are considered by them to be navigable. Transport Canada expects detailed engineering drawings of all stream-works and crossings. These are not generally available, and they're not required by any other regulatory body. Transport Canada considers some of the stream rehabilitation works required by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to be impediments to navigation. So we have two departments in conflict. This has led to long delays in permitting works that are essential to modern placer mining.
The solution is fairly simple, we think. It is to transfer regulatory authority for the Navigable Waters Protection Act regarding placer mining in the Yukon territory to local Yukon placer inspectors. They are familiar with the local streams and with placer mining.
We should consider a vessel to be at least the size of a boat you could go fishing in. That would reduce the number of small and intermittent streams considered navigable by Transport Canada. We should use existing screening and water licence applications instead of creating an additional paper trail and drawings, as required by Transport Canada.
The fish habitat management system of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was drawn up to save a failing industry that was about to die in December 2002. Luckily, we brought it back with this management system. In the early stages, the KPMA was part of the committee. We have been weeded out of it now. We're the ones directly affected, and we would like to be put back on that committee.
In summary, we have just two recommendations. We would like you to recommend to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans that the KPMA be included directly in the development and implementation of the new fish habitat management system for placer mining. And we would like you to recommend to Transport Canada that it transfer regulatory authority for the Navigable Waters Protection Act regarding placer mining in the Yukon to local Yukon placer inspectors.
We have a whole list of other issues, but I don't believe they're within the federal purview.
I must apologize in advance for my French translation of this English paper. It was done with my computer, and it probably is full of errors.
Thank you very much.
It hasn't been that long since we 11 first nations settled our land claims, and we are the original inhabitants of the Yukon, before the gold rush. Thinking about this project coming into their communities, they often think of and fear the worst of the project, thinking about the oil spill in Valdez, Alaska, and of course that being an earthquake zone as well.
They have a lot of strangers in their communities, and without a constant contact in the community, a lot of visitors in the communities just go and knock on somebody's door. It's quite frightful, and we've had complaints to our office from elders who open their door to a total stranger and they don't know what to do.
They all watch TV and they see all the frightful things that happen south of 60, and they're very, very worried about all these strange people coming. What's going to happen to their land? What's going to happen to their lifestyle? What's going to happen to their grandchildren in the communities?
They all experienced the Alaska Highway being built, which was a negative impact for many, many of our community members. Once the highway went in, a lot of the kids were taken from the communities and sent to Whitehorse or Dawson City to go to school, never to see their parents for years to come. Some of them didn't go home for six to twelve years, and the parents were never ever informed what happened to their kids, other than they were going to school.
So there are a lot of worries. We have a lot of community members who still live off the land. They trap, they fish, and now they have this project coming through. What's the damage going to be? There are so many questions.
And then they don't know what this industry entails. Their questions a lot of the time are why the government isn't protecting us and why we don't know more about this project, because people are starting to go into the communities, industry people. That was one of the reasons we started the coalition, so we could get information out to the communities.
But we don't have a constant contact in the communities either. And if the government is not helping the communities to prepare, why should it be a priority for them in the communities?
And my other questions are for Jennifer, in my short time.
I don't think people can underestimate that we're looking for success stories, and the fact that your company in this far, remote Yukon could actually win a contract that was open to anyone in the world to build an airport into Antarctica is fantastic. Could you tell us how you did that?
Also, can you just elaborate a bit on the facts of permafrost, what it's doing to our infrastructure and our roads, because it's affecting the north more than elsewhere?
And my understanding on that $5 million railway feasibility study was that there wasn't enough business to make it practical. Could you comment on that study at all?
First, the Antarctic project was open to worldwide bidders. There were bidders from Belgium, another Canadian bidder from Montreal, and England. My father, Keith Byram, went down there, and I think he spent a month talking to the people who finally awarded us the contract. Because of our northern experience and our experience of being isolated from service centres, we were able to win that tender.
If anyone watched the news a few years ago...that was instrumental in evacuating that American doctor from the Antarctic. They used Rothera strip, and that was the strip we built.
The permafrost is destroying our highway, especially north of town, but also south. We haven't been able to get a handle on how to prevent it. They've spent millions of dollars reconstructing the highway, and ten years later it's hard to drive on because the frost heaves are so bad. I remember when we were out there building the highway, it would be frozen and you'd almost want to blast it. We'd rip it with the dozers, and then all of a sudden, when the sun came out, it was a mud puddle, it was soup, and it would fall off the trucks. So within a few hours it goes from a frozen state to soup, and it was very hard to handle. Once you start to thaw that stuff, it's really hard to maintain. We tried putting geotechnical fabric down. There was a study done to put those frost tunnels in, but nothing seems to be working.
The study you're talking about, is that the study north of town?
Ladies, it is rare for the men to be outnumbered here.
Ms. Massie, in terms of land claims, from what I understood from this morning's first nations witnesses, almost all the communities are autonomous and can exercise self-government.
During your presentation, you talked about the difficulties you have had in making yourselves heard. Beyond that, it is mainly a matter of the knowledge you have in order to negotiate with the companies that are going to set up on your land.
Even before these companies start setting up shop, are they required to talk to you and find out what your needs are or what your vision is for your own development?
I think I'll adopt the Bagnell strategy: I'll ask all the questions first, and then you can respond to each one of them in turn.
Ms. Byram, you're really talking about relationships between provinces and territories, and incentive programs to maintain businesses within territories. We have those in the Northwest Territories; I guess maybe you don't have them to the same extent in the Yukon.
When it comes to Alaska, moving forward here, we're seeing that there's been a pretty remarkable change in the currency over the past four or five years. That's going to impact your ability to work in Alaska. Alaska has state provisions for infrastructure programs.
I'd like you to talk a little bit about that as well, because that is a national issue.
To Mr. Clarkson, we just went through an exercise where we changed the Navigable Waters Protection Act. What's your experience with those changes?
Finally, to Ms. Massie, in the Northwest Territories we've moved ahead...and great expectations have arisen around the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. Those may cause us to...or that expectation may not be met.
We have a $500 million fund from the federal government, the socio-economic fund, that will only come into place when the pipeline is actually permitted to build. The arrangement with the first nations in the Northwest Territories on the ownership of the pipeline will only accrue benefits if the pipeline goes ahead. There are many things here that are really out of the communities' hands. The focus on the pipeline means that, perhaps in many cases, those communities have not looked at other opportunities.
I'd like you to comment on that as well, because that's the situation right now in the Northwest Territories.
I'll turn it over to you guys now.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses here today.
There are two people at the table I'd like to question, but I may just deal with one and perhaps revisit it in the second round.
Mrs. Massie, you spoke about the need to develop some capacity with respect to this process. I wonder if you might take the opportunity to talk a little bit more specifically about the kind of person you would be looking for, for each community. The reason I ask is that before I was elected, I acted as a lawyer exclusively for first nations communities, and in a consultative capacity in other sectors. Nonetheless, I understand that can be problematic sometimes as well, whether it's a consultant who may have interests that perhaps are in conflict, or doesn't really bring much capacity to the community but simply does the work that's asked of him. There isn't much residual benefit for community members.
My questions are specific in these regards. What kinds of specific technical expertise would this person you have in mind require? Is there the potential for a local person or persons to receive the kind of training you think they might require to advocate and consult effectively for your communities? Has the coalition visited that at any great length? Perhaps you could take a couple of minutes to flesh that out for me.
If I could get all the members to come back to the table, we'll get under way again.
May I start by welcoming our witnesses here today. And we welcome back Mr. Mills; he was here earlier today as well, but this time with a different hat on.
I'd like to welcome, first of all, Sandy Hachey and Mary Ann Ferguson from the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon. Welcome.
Also, we have Mr. Marc Johnson, who is a member of the board of the Yukon Historical and Museums Association. Welcome, Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Mills is back with us now representing the organization Air North, which we heard a little bit about this morning and will hear a little bit more about in the course of our questioning.
For our witnesses who are just joining us, and you may have seen this earlier, we typically start with about a five-minute presentation. We're doing simultaneous interpretation, so I would ask you to speak at a pace that our interpreters will be able to translate properly. You don't have to feel yourselves rushed. Just take a normal pace and we'll give you a little bit of extra time if you go slightly over the five minutes. After the opening presentations we go to questions from members. Those are also five minutes in duration, which includes the question from the member as well as your response. We try to keep those as succinct as possible and that helps us learn a lot more in the space of a one-and-a-half-hour meeting.
Let's begin, then. We'll start with Sandy or Mary Ann. Which of you would like to begin?
Mary Ann Ferguson will start off from the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.
My name is Mary Ann Ferguson. I'm the second vice-chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon. As you said, Sandy Hachey is here with me. I want to thank you for inviting us to participate on this panel.
I will get right to it.
You've asked us to speak to the barriers and solutions that face northern economic development from a tourism perspective. There are a number of points we'd like to address.
Currently there is no real land use certainty. Without this, it is extremely difficult to attract investors and new operators to conduct their business in Yukon. There needs to be a balance with respect to land use planing and environmental and industrial concerns so that all industries have access to opportunities to grow and to protect land assets in the territory.
I'd like to speak about air access. The plethora of taxes, fees, and charges that are in addition to the high cost of flying in Canada, particularly in the north, puts us at a direct disadvantage when compared to other destinations. A recent study completed by Deloitte indicates that consumers are 80% more likely to practice brand loyalty for everything from toothpaste to soap, except when purchasing airline tickets. Consumers purchasing air travel will look for the least expensive fare 80% of the time. They have no dedication to a specific carrier or destination. Again, this puts Canada, and Canada's north, at a direct disadvantage compared to competing destinations.
On infrastructure and access, particularly airports and highways, Yukon is again at a disadvantage when looking at direct flights to the destination and at the sheer distance when travelling by road. We have short-haul flights directly from Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver and one long-haul flight from Frankfurt directly to Whitehorse in the summer. Lower airport fees and improved airport status would allow us to attract more frequent long-haul, direct flights to Whitehorse, which would increase access to the destination and would stimulate growth in the industry. Improvements to highways would aid in setting aside preconceived notions with respect to road travel, which in turn could increase the frequency of travellers.
On a qualified workforce and immigration, with a population of less than 30,000 people, access to a qualified workforce is a challenge. Immigration laws make it increasingly difficult to hire qualified labour from outside the country. Small business competes locally with government at all levels--municipal, territorial, federal, and first nations--for qualified workers. Government jobs typically offer a higher wage, year-round employment, and some level of security. This makes it hard for our industry to compete, making it all the more necessary for our operators to look at bringing in qualified workers from outside.
Looking at debit and credit card fees, currently there is no regulation or cap with respect to fees that can be charged for using credit/debit card machines. It can be argued that if a business is to remain competitive, it must offer these services to consumers. These fees can be raised at any time, increasing the cost of doing business and decreasing profit margins for small operators in a business climate that already sees them operating at a higher cost by virtue of their location.
On INAC and access to capital seed funding, in other areas in Canada, a number of business development and entrepreneurship programs can be accessed through Industry Canada agencies such as Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. It has seemed that the only department northerners have had access to for similar types of programming has been INAC. The tourism industry is seen as a strategic industry in the territory, and we fought hard, with other supporters, for the development of our own Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
With the announcement of CanNor--again, part of INAC--we have yet to gain any knowledge with respect to how tourism fits into the big picture, what percentage of funding will be made available to tourism-based initiatives, and if seed capital will be included in funding programs, particularly for those with first nation partners.
We had some other issues for consideration as well.
First, there are the fuel prices. This, of course, impacts rubber tire traffic from the south. High fuel costs equal fewer road travellers.
There are also Mexican visa requirements. This was a market that Yukon was beginning to tap into, but the new visa requirements are challenging those efforts.
Lastly, there's the cellphone and Internet service. I don't know how many of you do not have Bell phones with you today--those services are generally good--but not all cell providers are supported here, only Bell. It's a hindrance for travellers who do not subscribe to a Bell service.
I would like to agree with everything Mary Ann said. I have to point out that heritage and tourism work hand in hand. We like our customers in the museum, our patrons in the museum, and they're mostly tourists. Yes, I agree with everything she said, and perhaps I can add to that specifically from a heritage point of view.
First, I should say that my personal pursuit is fixing boats, old boats in particular. A couple of weeks ago I was working on one with my son, who is a mechanical engineer, or almost a mechanical engineer. We couldn't get it going. I finally diagnosed it as something the matter with the distributor, and from that, the points. He looked at me as though I was from outer space and asked what points are. I said, “You're a mechanical engineer.” He said to me, “Doesn't it have an electronic ignition?” Well, in 1932, no, it didn't. It came home to me that was an example of a skill I had simply because of my age that he didn't because of his age. And it applies here.
For instance, they have plenty of spoken word recordings in the archives, but nothing to play them on, no cassette players, no reel-to-reels, no cart machines, no eight-tracks, no turntables. They actually have these things, but they break down from time to time. What they don't have is analogue technicians in a digital world. These are skills that need to be taught today.
Other museums around the territory.... For instance, the Dawson City Firefighters Museum need somebody to fix or rather reassemble a steam engine fire pump. They need log buildings rebuilt. They need log constructors who are familiar with older methods. We have found recently that something called HPI funding--heritage properties initiative funding through Parks Canada--has done remarkably well in training people, sending them out for courses and what have you, in terms of creating the skills we need to maintain the material we have in the museums, to maintain the knowledge we must have that goes with some of our material in the museums. HPI runs out this year and we in the museum sectors need it and need it very much to be reinstated this year. HPI is but one fund available to the heritage group, and its demise is, to say the least, worrisome.
In a nutshell, the barrier to economic development in the heritage sector is funding or lack of it, and the solution is perhaps, simply put, more accessible funding. For instance, CHIP, the commercial heritage investment program, was a pilot program designed to increase heritage preservation, particularly in the private sector. I know of several projects that leveraged this program to create significant economic development--none of them were in the Yukon: hotels, restaurants, small businesses that refurbished old buildings to operate within those buildings. The payback was remarkable. They preserved their heritage as a byproduct, if you will, of creating economic development.
The fund is being discontinued. Whether it comes back as a direct federal investment in heritage or maybe in terms of tax incentives or some other incentive, the operative word is incentive. I think the federal heritage department has facts and figures on the success of that program in terms of economic development created as a direct result of heritage investment.
Heritage museums or private preservations create economic development, especially in the Yukon. Heritage is a backbone of tourism, or maybe it's the other way around. Without visitors the museums would wither, and without museums, the preservation of our heritage, the tourists would be less likely to come. We know of the Klondike as a brand. People use the word Klondike all over North America, if not the world, because they relate it to the Klondike right here and all the branding that goes with that word.
So barriers to tourism are also barriers to heritage, things like accessibility to the north. My compatriots have just gone through this.
Expensive infrastructure, gas prices, passport requirements—all these are barriers to the preservation and conservation initiatives. These issues are addressed through different federal departments, but they affect day-to-day lives as well as museum and heritage pursuits. It is simply more expensive to live and work in the north.
Museums are mostly non-profit societies who rely on federal funding. I find it a little awkward here, because almost our entire industry of heritage relies one way or another on federal funding, so cuts to funding hurt, specifically cuts to MAP funding, the museum acquisition fund. Cuts to any program hurt the museums, but these cuts also hurt tourism, and tourism is our number one industry.
As for solutions, I don't know. A national museums policy would help. We have aboriginal working groups; we have cultural centres; we have the museums that come under the YHMA, the Yukon Historical Museum Association; and we have private museums. All of them are running on proposal-driven initiatives. It would be very handy if there were some sort of program that would allow all these museums to operate independently and together at the same time.
I also sit on the working group of Heritage Canada, representing the Yukon. They are heavily involved in the creation of a national trust, something we don't have, something we've talked about, something that people would agree with. There was at one point $5 million in the federal budget put aside for the creation of the heritage trust, or a national trust of some sort. What happened to it, I don't know. Speaking as a member of that working group, they don't know either. It was there in the budget and disappeared. Certainly it would be helpful in a number of projects that would fit into the national trust category.
I would like to point out that all of this funding relates to job creation. There are a lot of people in the museum sector here in the Yukon who take training to work on heritage material. Sometimes they do this through Parks Canada, sometimes they do it through HPI. It is a very strong specialty concept to work on heritage material. You can't just build a log cabin. If it's a heritage log cabin, you need to do it the same way they did it a hundred years ago, and that takes special training. We have those people here, but we don't really have the work for them, because we don't have the money to employ them.
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson and all the honourable members. I appreciate the opportunity to be here this afternoon.
Just quickly, Air North is owned by the Vuntut Development Corporation—which has approximately 800 beneficiaries based in Old Crow, Yukon—Mr. Joe Sparling, who's the president, and also 600 other Yukoners who have bought shares through small business investment tax programs. We probably represent 1,500 to 2,000 Yukoners as shareholders in one way or another. I'm not going to argue with the presentation, but we do have people who choose to fly on Air North and there is some brand loyalty to Air North.
One of the things I'm going to talk about here is that our airline is going through a similar situation to that of some of the other northern airlines. Basically, there are six carriers in Canada that provide domestic service by jet. Three of those are based in the north: First Air, Canadian North, and Air North. There are three mainline carriers in Canada: WestJet, Air Canada, and Air Canada Jazz. I would kind of group Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz due to their arrangements for purchasing: basically, one simply buys the capacity of the other one.
I would also say that the situation in the Yukon is very different from that in the other territories and the current market conditions in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Maybe later we'll speak to that as part of the questions. One of the things that's really different is that we brought the low fares to the Yukon, not the other way around, which has happened in other jurisdictions. When we launched our jet service in 2002, we launched $195 one-way fares that are still available. That is from Whitehorse to either Vancouver, Edmonton, or Calgary. That was significant at that time—less than half of the average fares being charged by Air Canada. So when we entered the market, we brought a good alternative and it resulted in a very steep decrease in air rates in what I believe was a highly overcharged market. We have, since 2002, increased our market share to close to 50%.
We are also facing some pretty serious competitive challenges from our competitor, which is Air Canada. We have argued in the past that it is quite predatory in nature. It's something we struggle with. A good example is that, in about 2007, Air Canada managed its capacity as we did, and we saw load factors in the 80% range or higher, especially in the summer. Both carriers were doing quite well. Before 2007 and since then, Air Canada has gone back to a practice of flooding the market with capacity and last summer they flew four daily flights into Whitehorse from the south. What happened is that all our load factors have dropped by 10% to 15%. Some people argue that that's competition, but I also know that when you look at the amount of federal funding that has gone to Air Canada since about 2000 to help it survive, including current additional funding that, I think, was just given quite recently through loan funding to Air Canada, it is being provided funding that assists it in continuing to conduct predatory pricing and other practices on our airline.
We're not receiving that type of funding and we're not backstopped by the Government of Canada. I think it's something we really seriously have to continue to look at. We believe Air Canada is essential as a national carrier, as WestJet is. But we don't believe it should be able to attempt or continue to run the small airlines out of business and especially be backstopped to do that.
Here are a few things with regard to us. We have a small fleet. We're a small airline. We have three 737-200 aircraft. One is a cargo combi capacity. It can also fly onto gravel strips. For those who have been watching the torch relay, it was our first time flying our jet into Old Crow ever, the first time for a jet ever to go in there, and it carried the Olympic flame and the Olympic torch as part of the relay. It also carried that torch across Canada, and we are very proud to see not only our aircraft but to see “Yukon” on the tail of that aircraft and our flight crew taking it across the country.
That is something we're quite proud of, but also the fact that we have worked on and now have jet service, and we are going to build that into our schedule, into smaller communities. It helps to reduce air fares in communities and it also improves the transportation infrastructure in these communities.
When we talk about barriers, one significant barrier to us continues to be the fact of gravel airstrips. There are no new aircraft, especially of the turboprop nature, that are being designed and built to land on gravel strips. We have four Hawker Siddeley 748s. We use those on the gravel strips. We also have, of course, our 737 equipped for gravel. But we're not able to actually upgrade to more fuel-efficient turboprops, because of current conditions of our runways. If we want to improve infrastructure to reduce costs, we should start to look at improving the infrastructure to allow for more fuel-efficient and more reasonable equipment.
There are a couple of other things that I will speak to.
One of the things we had in our jet service early on was interline arrangements with Air Canada. Those were cancelled due to a competitive decision by Air Canada to stop interlining with us. Of course, that prevents people from coming from Ottawa to here and interlining their bags and checking right through, and that's a competitive disadvantage. One of the things we talk about when the federal government is providing funding or backstopping the airline is that some assistance in re-securing these interline arrangements, as well as some assistance in trying to ensure that we simply have a level playing field within the Yukon for air travel, would go a long way.
Just showing how effective your committee is, I just got off the phone; I heard that Air Canada may be interested in re-establishing the interline arrangement. So I thank you for your assistance on that front.
Good afternoon to each of you.
Thank you for those presentations. I tell you, they were pretty direct, and that's they way we like them, I think, for the most part. Some things I think are maybe a little bit beyond our control, such as gas prices, to some extent. Some would argue that we have more control than we do. But some of these things are very direct.
Now I want to get to a couple of points. In regard to the comments around CanNor made by Ms. Ferguson, I know CanNor is a new agency with a new mandate, but you were saying that you don't know where tourism is going to fit in that new agency. So I want to go back a little bit. The SINED program has of course been renewed and that $90 million is now going to come out of CanNor for direction and for spending, that type of thing. What was your experience with SINED, and how might that inform how CanNor is going to develop its policies and its funding rollout and that type of thing?
The other thing I'm interested in, from a tourism perspective, is Parks Canada. We haven't heard any mention of Parks Canada. I'm just wondering what their role is here, in Yukon. What type of driver are they for the tourism market? Are there things there that we can bring back from a totally federal perspective? I'm interested in that.
To Mr. Johnston, in Labrador we had a fantastic project. It was the reconstruction of an entire fishing village. It's called Battle Harbour, and it was the 18th and 19th century fishing capital at one time of Labrador. A lot of their funding came through ACOA, which was the regional development agency, very comparable now to CanNor. Maybe there are opportunities that will present themselves there. They went through an extensive training process in order to rebuild this community. You talked about skills that are no longer existing, and they just developed those skills, such as heritage carpentry, for instance, and those types of things. So it might be something to look at, that particular model. But I'd like you to comment on Parks Canada, on SINED. And certainly the suggestions made around not pulling funding for heritage investments and things of that nature are very well taken.
I don't know who would want to start.
I'll take the question for SINED and then I'll pass the question on Parks Canada to Mary Ann. SINED funding is there. It has been available to us and there have been people in the tourism industry who have accessed that funding. The feedback that we have from our constituents, because TIA Yukon is a membership-based organization, is that the funding is difficult to get. When it does happen, it takes forever to get it, and the reporting requirements around it are quite strenuous. So that deters a lot of people from actually going after that fund.
That's the feedback we've had from our constituents. So there's that. I think the other thing with CanNor is that we know there's the $90 million for SINED but we don't know if there's any structure to that money in terms of what industries will be allowed to access it or if there's a percentage of moneys that are being allocated to specific industries based on what they bring into the territory, etc.
So the feeling in the tourism world, if you will, is that there's a lot of knowledge within the federal government with respect to the mining industry, and forestry and agriculture, but not necessarily a lot of knowledge with respect to the tourism industry. That being said, there need to be better linkages made there between our industry association and the federal government department, and I think this has been happening over the last couple of years. But again, there's still no real understanding, or even of whether there's the opportunity to have that understanding, of what the split would be between the industries or if there even is one, or how does the money get divvied up, out of that pot.
Ladies and gentlemen, Marc talked about the price of gas. When we got here yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the price was 87¢ a litre. When we left Montreal, the price was $1.14 a litre. I am not sure if it is due to the fact that the gas tax is lower here; I do not know enough about it to say.
I was part of an association called the FQCC. It organizes trips from here up to Alaska. A friend of mine passed through here a couple of years ago. He spent two weeks here. He let the rest of the caravan go ahead so he could stay here. He found things in his field, in his area of interest, and he wanted to see them. I worked in regional development before I became an MP. Without trying to give a lesson, I can tell you that we looked into what we could do to attract tourists to our region. Being closer to the centre of the country, we may have more opportunities to do that. It is probably harder in the far reaches of the country. The main objective is to keep tourists in our area as long as possible so they can spread the word to those they meet afterwards.
I do not know what kind of infrastructure you have—apart from Dawson, which Marc just talked about—to keep tourists here. Whitehorse and Yellowknife are the two big hubs of the most remote territories. People want to know what there is to see. This is the first time that I have seen visitor's guides for the two cities and looked at them so closely. I am sure that you can explain to me whether better adapted, more structured roads would be an advantage, or even an immediate necessity.
In addition, Stephen, do you provide the Air North cap on flights? We have flown Air North before, and they forgot to give us a cap. I am a guy who likes his caps.
Yes, so long as you pay our fuel surcharge on our aircraft.
Actually, yes, all members can have a cap. I understand you're flying out tomorrow to Yellowknife. I'll make sure there's a cap for everyone so that no one is treated unfairly.
I would like to point out one thing on the fuel, if I can, to one of your comments. There's a different taxation regime here. The fact is that for aviation fuel, it costs us close to 10 cents per litre to transport from the south.
When you look at fuel costs for our airline here, where we purchase more than half of our fuel in Whitehorse, we have a bit of a disadvantage to the other air carriers. We have seen some very large increases in fuel charges. It is nice to see the lower fuel, when you can see it around town, for purchasing. For our airline industry, we have to bring it in.
We also recognize that this is more of a taxation issue with the territorial government than it is somehow access to cheap fuel.
I want to thank the presenters here.
I certainly recognize with Air North that we have the same very sincere issues with our carriers in the Northwest Territories. We all hope that out of this cherry-picking that's going on right now with the gateway routes that we don't lose our carriers. Some of them provide such a massive service to the rest of the north that, let me tell you, if we lose them....
In the Northwest Territories, there are twenty-some communities with nothing but air access. In Nunavut, there are 33, I believe, that have nothing but air access. If we lose the carriers that are providing the service to those communities, you'll see that the burden will be shifted over to government and to all kinds of other areas. We're all united on this, I think across the territories, that we need attention paid to this.
On the tourism side, I'd like to go on with the national parks issue. That is one area where we can influence a national policy. With the national parks, intrinsic within their policy is the recognition of the surrounding area, yet we don't see that with their approach to tourism. We've seen massive increases in the presence of national parks in all three northern territories over the past 20 years, yet they're not selling a product--the northern product. They may sell somewhat the individual parks, but they don't come out and support the kind of effort we need for recognition of the north.
Can I get your comments on that, one way or the other?
Perhaps I could speak to that.
I'm here representing the YHMA, but this is clearly a Dawson issue, because that's where the Top of the World Highway goes.
Yes, there is a question of winterizing the booth, and I think there are some technical requirements in terms of water and sewage disposal that need to be addressed to allow those things to work in the wintertime.
More important than that is whether or not the Americans plow the other side of the road. You can have a lovely winterized booth, but if it's not plowed on the other side, nobody's going to use it. And it snows up there around mid-September.
This year it was particularly important because they appeared to close the border, more or less without warning, very early because of winterizing problems from the previous year. This year we didn't need it for another two or three weeks, so we lost two weeks or three weeks worth of tourism.
So some infrastructure development at the border crossing would help a great deal, so it isn't so weather-dependent.
Only a comment, especially with regard to our neighbours in Alaska.
With regard to Air North, over the last seven years we've had to end our flights into Juneau. It used to be year-round—and it's not a moneymaker—in through Fairbanks, Alaska, and we provide a gateway to the Yukon through Fairbanks. We face ever-changing customs requirements, as well as flying requirements, for our aircraft that make it almost impossible--especially our turbo-prop planes--to meet their requirements.
If you fly from Old Crow on those days when we fly to Fairbanks, anybody on our planes has to clear customs, get back on the plane, then go to Dawson and clear Canada customs in Dawson, simply to get to Whitehorse. It makes it very unfeasible.
The second side is that there is some potential for the American government to require Nav Canada security screens in all airports where any airplanes may originate or fly into the U.S. That would require full security screening in Old Crow, Dawson City, and other locations. So it's not just the highway. It is a very difficult issue with regard to the changing requirements. Something that would be very useful for your committee and for the federal government is to continue to explore these issues, because it does close a gateway to the Yukon for tourism, but also for business travellers and other travellers.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. You're doing a fine job.
Thank you all for coming.
Just so the committee knows, on the rental cars—I've been working on this for years—it was partly reciprocal: the Americans couldn't do it either. But recently the Americans put in regulations so that Americans can do it across the border, so there's no reason Canada couldn't do that. I've written to the minister recently about that.
On Air North, Steve, I was interested in your comments about Air Canada funding. I wonder if—not now—you could give any information you have on funding they have to the clerk. I think it would help the committee if the clerk could then take that and elaborate on it for the committee on any funding that Air Canada has, because it would affect our recommendations.
On the point on the interline, I'm not sure if you're aware, but I wrote a fairly strong letter on the cost to Canada of Air Canada refusing to interline. I had someone from Air Canada—I don't think it was management, I'm not sure, an employee or someone—who wrote to me and said, “It's awful what these northern airlines do. They're putting in excess service and they're not charging the full fee, what it really costs, to undercut us in Air Canada, and we can't make it”, and everything. I almost fell off my chair. Is that not the exact opposite of what's happening?
Yes. Our fare structure, on the lowest end it's at $195, but we also have fuel surcharges and other Nav Canada fees and so on. What we also do on the upper side is we never raise our fares as high as, say, some of the other carriers. If you walk in and purchase a ticket, you may pay $1,000 for a one-way ticket. We set ours significantly lower than that because we know we'll be asked on the street how we can possibly charge $1,000 for a one-way ticket. So our fare structure is very different.
However, what we've noticed and what is absolutely the situation is that Jazz does charge significantly lower rates, and you can see those in the Northwest Territories, but even in the Yukon, at seat sale rates of $149. Then what they of course will do is max some of the other rates up to very high amounts. How they're able to do this is they increase capacity, so that there are additional conveniences for certain travellers. So they can flood a market with capacity, and they can also undercut the market. You can see the loads: there are planes with 20 people on them. But that's part of the business. That's what has happened.
Mr. Bagnell, you'll remember that when we launched our jet service, the day we announced our jet service in 2002, Air Canada flooded the market with capacity and lowered their rates to fares they had never charged before that. So there's definitely a predatory practice. We charge what we believe is fair and would stand up to any anti-competition tribunal. We charge a fair rate.
Air Canada gets a benefit because Jazz itself shows a profit because Jazz is paid for the capacity that it feeds into Air Canada. Whether their plane is full or not, they pay a certain rate. Air Canada, the main company, takes the hit on its books. So it doesn't matter if Jazz flies out with 20 people, they still receive well over $200 per segment from Air Canada per seat on those aircraft.
There are certain practices that are difficult to deal with. A good example of that is this year. It's a very difficult year, and we haven't seen or analyzed the financials, but I believe we're at about a break-even point for this year. Just we, WestJet, and I believe Southwest are the only airlines in North America that are at a break-even point. We don't charge too much, but we charge what we believe is the fair market rate. I can easily point out that we do fair comparisons all the time with regard to us and our competitors. There are at times very big price wars that take place.
The economy has been a bit down over the last year. We saw close to 100,000 passenger segments in 2007 drop to around 97,000 passenger segments in 2008. Our cargo is an integral part of our airline. We have two elements to our airline: one is the jet service; the other is turboprop service to the northern communities.
Our service to the north relies heavily on a combination of cargo and passengers. This allows us to fly larger aircraft, so that the rates that we charge into these northern communities are probably one-half of what you would get with turboprop service in other northern territories. It is probably the same turboprop rate as you would get with Air Canada Jazz or others in the south. We charge a significantly lower rate, but we rely on cargo. So if you have 30 people on the aircraft, you also have one-half of the aircraft full of cargo. On a weight-by-weight basis, it's about the same to fly people as to fly cargo—you just don't have to feed it.
From the south, we also rely on cargo. We do what we call, for our stats, our cargo-adjusted load factors. We may fly our aircraft with fewer people, but we provide all the air-bound cargo of all couriers and others into the Yukon. For the mining companies, we provide key cargo out of Dawson and other towns.
We also do quite a bit of charter work, including flying people out of Vancouver to the Queen Charlotte Islands. We fly people home from the oil sands, and we also fly people from the south into Churchill and other areas for polar bear viewing. We've tried hard to stay diversified and run an effective charter program. I would say charter is about 8% to 10% of our business.
Passenger service is the largest amount of our business, but cargo is a key part. That's what makes our planes profitable, even though we may be facing some fairly serious competition in getting people into the seats.
Funding of this type definitely would be of great use to our airline given that we provide both a turboprop service and the jet service to our communities.
I would say, though, that one way to lower fares is to better manage capacity. We have attempted to do that as much as possible. Any time you flood a market with excess seats, the price per seat will in the end have to go up in order for the companies to make money. We found that in a more stable environment, where it's properly managed, airfares can decrease.
On the northern schedules, it's a little different. The fact is that the smaller the aircraft, the more expensive it is to fly, so I'm thinking that in some communities, even in the Yukon, unless you improve the infrastructure, you can only use smaller aircraft. It is the same within the Northwest Territories, where the runways are even shorter.
So that's another way: to improve infrastructure and allow more affordable and more cost-effective aircraft into these communities. That's another way to improve the economics and reduce prices.
I used to think our airfares were really high until I flew from Ottawa to Sault Ste. Marie on Bearskin Airlines and realized that these guys are actually charging more per passenger mile than we are experiencing in a lot of places in the Northwest Territories. The small aircraft flights are just out of line.
I want to talk a bit about tourism. Somebody visiting the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, or Yukon...that's a net addition to the rest of the country. I just want you to elaborate on that, because it's an important point for us right across this country. The attraction in the north of Canada...people come through the south to the north. Tourists to the south are not going to impact on our economy, but our economy is always a great addition to the southern economy. That's something that needs to be highlighted.
There is just another point you might want to talk about in terms of heritage. We have these huge territories and very small populations. There is great history and great geographic, historical perspectives; yet, as you say, there are 25 museums up here to try to capture that history. When we have these federal programs that are on a per capita basis, they simply don't work here.
Maybe you could comment a little bit on that.
First of all, if Stephen will abide, we do have direct flights where people come here from Frankfurt once a week, directly into Whitehorse. So we don't actually have to add to the southern tourism point of view.
In relation to your other point, a lot of people have suggested that, yes, we actually get a lot of heritage funding up here, and frankly, it's paid off. I have worked quite a bit with national groups and other groups, all of whom know about (a) Dawson, and (b) the Yukon government historic sites branch. And they're tremendously impressed with how that works. I can't give them enough accolades in terms of how the Yukon government, in particular, operates their heritage department. It works very well and it's known across the country.
On the other hand, from a purely financial point of view, in dollars per person, heritage works under the same restrictions as other things. Your phone company in the south charges according to how much it costs to get to your house. My house is 200 kilometres from here, and it costs a lot for the phone company to get there; consequently, the phone rates are high. Infrastructure costs are high. The cost of heating a building to hold your artifacts is high. So that extra money that we get is consumed remarkably quickly.
If I can make that, that would be great.
Increase funding to the Canadian Tourism Commission. Obviously they're the body that markets Canada as a whole for tourism--Canada as a destination--so that would be great.
There's one thing, actually, Larry, that wasn't on your list, and we were remiss in bringing it up, but I'd like to ask for your indulgence now, if I may. The marquee festival and events program is one that would greatly benefit the north. The way the program is currently set up, it is not conducive to any event that happens in the north. I think for the bottom tier funding—and you probably experience this in Atlantic Canada as well--you need to attract 50,000-plus visitors in order to access the funding, and there are not even 50,000 people living here. There's no way we could accommodate 50,000 people.
If that funding could be re-examined, that would be great, because there are events here that are world class and would benefit greatly from accessing that funding. Events in Dawson City, the International Short Film Festival, Rendezvous, and Yukon Quest are all world-renowned events, and it would be great if we could access that funding.
My name is Todd Russell, and I'm the vice-chair. I'm not Mr. Stanton. I'm much better looking than Mr. Stanton, and that will prove itself out when he arrives. I'm from Labrador, and I want to welcome you all to this session.
Certainly, we've had a very productive day thus far. We've heard from a lot of witnesses and there have been a lot of questions that we've addressed to various panel members. Tonight we'll go for an hour and a half. I'm sure all of you are aware of the time we have together.
We have with us Dan Curtis, executive director with Skills Canada Yukon; Andrew Finton is the founder of Sundog Carvers; from the Yukon Film and Sound Commission, we have Barbara Dunlop, commissioner; and Alex Furlong and Ron Rousseau are with the Yukon Federation of Labour.
I want to welcome you all here. The format is that each organization will have about five minutes for their presentation. We'll be a little bit lenient with the time, but we want to keep it to about five minutes, and then we'll open up the floor for questions, and there'll be five-minute questions and answers. When I turn to one of the members, the five minutes will be both for the questions and the answers.
We'll start with Mr. Curtis, if that's okay.
Go to it, sir.
I'd like to thank you for inviting me and my colleagues. That's wonderful.
I don't want to spend a whole lot of time explaining who we are. Hopefully you've already heard of the organization, Skills Compétences Canada. We are throughout Canada. I've given notes for everyone to give a bit of an overview, and I hope you'll have some questions about how we run, and I will answer them.
The national organization started in 1998 and we're in every province and territory across Canada, governed by a volunteer board of directors. We are a non-profit organization. We do this through interactive programming; events offered through our provincial-territorial member organizations; skills clubs, which I'll probably spend a little bit of time on today, when we get to the recommendations on what we're doing and how we're doing it; skills camps, with youth exploring trades; first nations career events; young women conferences; try-a-trade and try-a-trade interactive demonstrations; and Skills Canada competitions at a provincial, territorial, national, and of course international level. Hopefully you've all heard about or seen on TV the WorldSkills Calgary that we completed a couple of months ago. It was quite an event, and we're very proud of how Canada did, and the Yukon as well, because we had our first representative in Team Canada.
In terms of the competitions, the annual representation within the territorial and provincial competitions is 100,000 youth. It's important to mention as well that when we talk about youth, we're talking about youth up to 30 years of age. Some provinces do engage people a little bit older--35, even 40--but in the Yukon we're primarily up to the 30-year mark.
There are approximately 600 competitors at the Canadian Skills Competition, which is held somewhere different in Canada every single year. We expect between 5,000 and 7,500 visitors.
What makes the programs work are the dedicated individuals and volunteers throughout the Yukon communities. We're in a lot of the communities. There are very few where we don't have representation. We'd like to talk a little bit about that as well, when it comes to our recommendations.
Regarding the interactive elements, the sensory experiences, we find a lot of people we work with--they're of first nations ancestry--are really optical learners. They may not read or understand or really embrace the written word as much, but that's not to say they don't have a lot of skills and a lot of ability and capabilities and desire to learn various trades and business aptitudes.
The programs are relevant to industry and community needs. Again, that's something we'd like to talk about in our recommendations. We talk about relevance, not only to gainful employment but to the various regions in which we're offering the services. They can vary a great deal, as you can well imagine, not only across Canada, but across the Yukon territory. We find the relevance of what they want to do and what they need to learn to do that varies quite a bit, and that's why we'd like to talk a little bit about that in our conclusion, how we do that and how we would like to do more of that.
In terms of programming sectors, we at Skills Compétences Canada and Skills Canada Yukon have a set of guidelines that are industry-driven and relevant to the Canadian economy, and to the Yukon economy, of course. We have 45 different trades and technologies that we represent and rely on to keep this country going, in sectors such as construction, information, communication technology, manufacturing, service, and transportation.
What makes the skills programs appealing to youth? Obtaining practical experience, working with the community technical experts, meeting new friends and industry people, team work and problem solving, and tangible accomplishments, which we'd like to get back to you on as well, in terms of the measurable results we've had.
Skills Canada Yukon's skills clubs are really the lifeblood of what we've been doing and showing a lot of success in getting people engaged in trades and technology and into jobs and employment. With the interactive, hands-on, practical experiences and the cultural component.... I think something should be said about the cultural component--and I'm getting very close to our recommendations. We've found that the cultural component really engages a lot of our youth in the communities, because, keep in mind, a lot of the trades and technologies that are used in our country right now have been around for thousands of years, so a lot of the non-traditional trades do align quite well with many of the things we're doing today.
The cultural component is something that we have found really gets a lot of youth engaged and interested in staying with their education, and hopefully getting into more of a formative education when they're finished. They at least have a bit of a perspective of what it is they're getting into.
The ability to reach rural areas and form numerous ongoing skills clubs...most rural areas have been running for four consecutive years. Again, that's really, really important, because quite often, when going out to the communities, we find something that has happened for far too long: a lot of organizations or government bodies may come in and first explain what it is they're going to provide in the communities and not necessarily ask what the community is looking for, what it needs or is receptive to. And then it is not sustainable. That's a big problem, I think, in a lot of communities across Canada--something not being sustainable. When a program does come in, it may not be the one that's being asked for, required, or needed, and then it goes away.
And it's not money. It's not necessarily coming in with a whole bunch of cash and saying, “This is what we're going to provide”, because it doesn't work, quite frankly.
The community consultative approach and the continuity and relevance is something I've talked about a little bit already. The community consultative approach means that when we have gone to the communities, some of them we've had to go to three or four times, just because there has been some history. But when we do get in and we find out exactly what that community is looking for and is really hungry for, we've had a lot of support and a lot of success, with people furthering their education into the trades. Robotics may not be something Ross River needs, if they need to heat their homes or keep the electricity on, or for a livelihood, for instance. So the relevance in that community is something we'd like to recommend, and it has worked.
Experimental learning opportunities, the hands-on approach.... We don't have a whole lot of prerequisites when it comes to our programs, but we'll go in, and it's more of a hands-on approach, to get people engaged, and that in itself works quite well.
We've talked to you a little bit about the cultural relevance.
The try-a-trade and interactive technology demonstrations have worked very well in our skills clubs.
The biggest thing that's come from my peers and my colleagues from around Canada when it comes to the rural communities like these is that a mobile training facility would be encouraged and desired and really well received. We don't have that, and we're finding that there are a lot of distractions in the larger centres. If we had that stay in the communities where people wished they were and where they wanted to stay, it would be a lot better received. I guess that's our biggest recommendation, and kind of a wish list, if we were to have some more mobile opportunities for our youth.
Good evening. Thank you for inviting me.
The Film and Sound Commission is a branch of the Department of Economic Development of the Yukon government. We cover three general areas in our mandate: we support musicians and the development of the music industry in the Yukon; we support filmmakers who are taking on a managerial and ownership role in a film product--directors, producers, and writers; and we also market the Yukon as a film location for production servicing, and, directly relevant to that, we develop the crew base in the Yukon.
As I'm sure everybody is aware, the state of the film and sound industries has changed quite rapidly in recent years. Particularly with the Internet, distribution channels are changing very fast. Local Yukon filmmakers and musicians are struggling to keep up and struggling to work in the new world. At the Film and Sound Commission, we are also struggling to make sure our programs remain relevant.
Being in the north, distance is always considered an issue. As you can imagine, if you're down in Vancouver and you're a musician, you have a lot of opportunities to gig; you have a lot of opportunities for training and development of your career. Not so much in the Yukon. It's very expensive to travel anywhere and to get any kind of training. Similarly, it is a challenge for filmmakers to get training up here in the Yukon.
Accessibility of the Yukon for national and international filmmakers is sometimes perceived as a barrier. We like to think we're very close to Vancouver. We also like to think we're not that far from Los Angeles, but until you've been here, you don't really know how close we are. You might think we're a little bit remote. We don't have a film studio in the Yukon. We have some music studios so musicians can record up here. It's an ongoing challenge to maintain a large and robust crew base, and that is to do with employment continuity in part, particularly in the film industry. There are peaks and valleys. Productions come and go, and it's hard to keep a crew working all the time to keep it in the industry.
Some of the solutions we work with on an ongoing basis are funding programs within the Film and Sound Commission. We have two that are focused on music. One is the sound recording program, and that provides financial support to Yukon musicians to cut a CD so they can use it as a saleable product and also as a marketing piece. We have four funds for our filmmakers. Three of those are focused on Yukon filmmakers and take them right from the beginning of their careers up to and including production of a feature film or a dramatic series. We also have a fourth film funding program, and that is our location incentive. We provide a rebate for people who come into the Yukon and use Yukon labour on their film productions here. We put resources toward training and marketing and also developing our filmmakers.
We work very closely with industry organizations. We have MusicYukon, the Yukon Film Society, and the Northern Film and Video Industry Association, and we try to keep in touch with what they're looking for and what their membership needs to develop their careers and make sure our programs meet that.
I'd like to share some examples of things we have worked on in the past to help develop the industries overall. We have worked with the federal government in collaboration with some of the programs. We attend the Banff World Television Festival on an annual basis. We have a jury process where we take six Yukon filmmakers. We have a mentorship component and a workshop component leading up to that, to help them have an appropriate product to pitch to broadcasters while they're at Banff. We also support them while we're at Banff.
Last year we supported the Yukon Film Society and the Northern Film and Video Industry Association in the mise en scène and crew workshop series. That was a parallel series of workshops for producers, writers, and directors, who are above the line, or managerial people with the financial and creative control over the production, and parallel to that stream, we had workshops for people who were interested in being crew members on a film set. At the end we adjudicated three short dramas into the program, and the crew came and worked on them and the writers, directors, and producers actually produced the film. So at the end we had a bunch of crew people with a credit to their names and experience and some training, and we also had three sets of writer-director-producers, who actually had a calling card they could use for marketing. It was a great experience.
Showcase Yukon 2009 was aimed at our music industry. We brought a number of buyers from around North America and I believe one from Europe. They had an opportunity to see Yukoners perform and they gave them some critiques. A number of the Yukoners had opportunities to perform at various festivals and venues around North America because of that experience.
We're currently working on something called Film Fantastic, which is a concept development workshop. It is aimed at our writers and producers, and it is to help them understand story structure, development of concepts, and how to pitch those concepts to the people with the money who will be able to back their project. That was supported by the Community Development Trust.
I should just go back to the mise en scène and the workshop series. That was supported by the TIP program, the targeted investment program, through INAC.
Coming up, we're just getting under way with what we're calling a webisode series, which will end up being 13 one-minute commercials for filming in the Yukon, but it's primarily a training opportunity for Yukon filmmakers. That was very strongly supported by the community adjustment fund. We will call for concepts from Yukoners for the 13 episodes. They will each feature a different area of the Yukon and a different season of the Yukon as a film location, and there will be a dramatic thread linking the 13 together. So there will be a variety of things we'll be able to do to place them after we're finished.
Looking to the future, MusicYukon, which is our music industry association, is interested in putting in a bid for 2011 for the Western Canadian Music Awards, and it would be the first time that event came north of 60. We think that may in fact be an opportunity to collaborate with you as well.
Yes, I will, thank you.
I want to thank you on behalf of the federation and affiliate members here in the Yukon for the opportunity to present on what we perceive to be obstacles to economic development in the north, particularly here in the Yukon.
We represent 4,000-plus members, and we're also a charter member of the Canadian Labour Congress, representing 3.2 million workers in Canada. Yukon is the westernmost territory of Canada located north of the 60th parallel. To the south we have the province of British Columbia; on the western border we have the state of Alaska; and to the east we have the Northwest Territories. It stretches to the north all the way to the resource-rich coast of the Arctic Ocean. We are home to approximately 26,000 people, and most of that population—23,000 or so—resides in the city of Whitehorse, the capital city. We're scattered over several small rural communities such as Haines Junction, Dawson City, Mayo, Watson Lake, Carmacks, and Ross River.
The vast majority of aboriginal people live in communities other than Whitehorse. There is a stark difference in living conditions between Whitehorse and the small communities. It's easily visible to the casual visitor. It's not as well documented as it should be. Statistics Canada does not do extensive research in the Yukon or any of the northern territories, due to a lack of resources. The economy has for the past several years been based on public services and to a lesser degree on tourism. The territory has a long and well-documented history of resource extraction, and this aspect of the economy has been relatively dormant over the past 20 years or so. However, it is showing signs of renewed vigour, with the price of commodities reaching record highs.
The biggest obstacle to healthy and sustainable economic development is the persistent frontier mentality, which has—
Okay. That's my Newfoundland heritage getting in the way.
The biggest obstacle to healthy and sustainable economic development is certainly the persistent frontier mentality, which has produced a cycle of boom and bust that started in the latter part of the 19th century with the fur trade industry and was followed by several waves of mining activity in the earlier part of the 20th century. Aboriginal people in particular, whose only home is the Yukon and who have resided in the Yukon from time immemorial, have sustained wave upon wave of colonial incursion on their traditional territories while receiving next to nothing in benefits from the wealth being extracted from their lands.
As of 2009, first nations people, Métis, and Inuit in the Yukon, by and large, live in poverty. The rate of unemployment is two to three times greater than the national average, and they suffer from conditions reminiscent of countries in the Third World. So if we are to embark on a new wave of economic development in the north, it is imperative that we do so with an eye on history and put in place the mechanics that would prevent the old pattern from happening again, where wealth is pumped out of the local economy with little to show for it when the boom is over but massive environmental and social damage that no one is willing to take responsibility for.
The YFL, as an organization concerned with the rights and welfare of workers and the communities they live in, does believe in sustainable development that will bring real jobs for local people as a priority. This means that all and any plans for industrial development in the Yukon must include full consultation and partnership with first nations and central bodies representing aboriginal people. It is central to any plan that these partnerships include a clear road map to achieve local employment targets at all levels. This means that it's not acceptable to set local workers in low-skilled jobs, low-paid jobs, just to show that employment is taking place. Employment equity must be demonstrated at all levels.
It's also of prime importance that the principle of prior and informed consent, as per the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, be adhered to when approaching any activity that takes place on land of first nations and other aboriginal groups.
Furthermore, we'd like to impress upon the committee members that immediate measures need to be taken by the central government to fund programs designed to bring aboriginal peoples in the Yukon out of poverty. Otherwise, there is little hope that the citizens of first nations will be able to reach the capacity needed to fully participate in the next wave of industrial development here in Yukon.
In a brief presented to the parliamentary standing finance committee in October of 2009 in Yellowknife, the regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Jean-François Des Lauriers, called for transfer payments to the Yukon to be immediately increased by 20%, with the increased funding aimed at food subsidies, housing, and health and social services.
Please take the time to review the companion document that provides some background figures on living conditions in the north.
I want to point out to you, as I mentioned earlier in regard to Statistics Canada, that some of these figures that are the most recent we could obtain date back to 2007, so you'll see the disparity.
You may note that the figures for Yukon are not as dramatic as are those for the NWT and Nunavut. It's important to keep in mind the caveat that we referred to in our fifth paragraph. As I said, the statistics are skewed by the disproportionate size of the population in the Yukon capital.
I want to thank you again for taking the time to travel to the Yukon, and I hope this is only the start of a comprehensive dialogue on the issue of northern development. The YFL extends an invitation to the committee to keep the lines of communication open in the future, as we see continuing consultation of all stakeholders as a vital part of a sustainable approach to industrial development.
I apologize. I did bring documents; unfortunately they're only in English. But there are some there if later you want to look at them.
We are a non-profit organization. We started five years ago with funding through the federal government, through Service Canada, on a very small pilot project. We're basically still sort of in a pilot phase. We've expanded. We run an initial beginner project for students; it's an 11-month program, and it's basically starting with the basics of our first nation artwork. We start with nine students, and it's 11 months full time.
After a couple of years of running that, we realized it wasn't nearly intensive enough, so we extended it. We went to the territorial government and got funding for a three-year advanced program. Again, it's three years, full time, 30 hours a week, and it's 12 months of the year. We've been running that program now for about two and a half years. The third partner we have that helps support the program is the first nations governments. At present we have about 24 full-time students and 10 part-time students.
A third program that we developed a couple of years ago was with the public schools. A couple of the principals came to us and asked if we could start teaching the traditional carving within the public school system, so we also do a small program with public school students. Last year we had around 20 or 24 students at all times who we're working with.
We're not only an art program. I think the one thing that distinguishes us from Emily Carr, for example, is that we try to offer wraparound service. The program through Service Canada that we get our funding from initially is for youth who have multiple barriers to employment. So we're not getting high school graduates who have straight As who want to have a career in art. Most of our students are not graduates and have a variety of other barriers to being successfully employed. We employ a full-time counsellor; we have addictions counsellors who work with us. We have some training in business, and we also do a fair bit of work in the social issues, in terms of housing issues. So we try to offer a wraparound service as well as the art.
In terms of some of our accomplishments, this summer we took a group of 19 students on the land for 70 days and built a 30-foot canoe. It was well documented in Whitehorse—there's a video on the Internet if you want to see it. It was quite an accomplishment for our students. The other thing is that in our shop downtown, which anyone is welcome to visit—it's open Monday to Friday—we presently have two of our senior students who have been with us now for four years, and they're working on about seven-and-a-half-foot totem poles that were commissioned by a gallery in Toronto. They're both commissioned for $10,000 a piece. So the artwork that our students are doing is not arts and crafts; we're not making dream catchers. They're doing substantial artwork.
As I said, we're still, in some ways, a pilot. We're still struggling for funding. In the context of the Auditor General's report that came out last year that said approximately 60% of first nations students aren't graduating, the question is, what are those students going to do? Without grade 12, it's hard to move too far forward. I think the cultural industries represent a unique opportunity. It's an unimpeded opportunity for people of first nations background to be, one, financially independent, because there is a good living to be made from first nations artwork; and second, it offers a preservation of the traditional arts and crafts. At the same time, it offers pride through awareness of their rich cultural heritage.
I could talk for days about the accomplishments. As the chairman said, I think the artwork speaks best for itself, so if you have time, the Arts Underground has a great display of both our beginner and our advanced artwork.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good evening, again.
I was just thinking as you were going through your presentations, and this is kind of a paradigm shift for us as a committee, that it feels as though each of you, in your own way, is tearing down barriers to economic development and building something, whether it's on an individual basis or a group basis, or from an advocacy perspective from the Federation of Labour.
What are the messages you want us to take? Mr. Curtis, you were talking about a mobile unit that would go around. That's advocating for something that solves a barrier of location or geography and makes things more accessible.
I'm fascinated by the Sundog Carvers pilot project. It seems like something we might want to have a little bit of a greater look at, because there seems to be teaching in it that could be given to other areas across the country. I'm sure there are some similar programs, but that one probably has some uniqueness to it that the others can learn from.
As a committee, we don't want to create something that doesn't exist, because you ask, what are the barriers?
From the Sundog perspective--I want to focus on that for a second--coming from your experience and from the arts community, the film industry, what would be your recommendation to us?
We have some recommendations as well from the Federation of Labour, which is quite a strong document. It certainly talks about the aboriginal situation here in the Yukon, and we've heard from many aboriginal witnesses as well.
Maybe I'll ask for one recommendation from each of you. We have one or two from the Federation of Labour.
Let's look at it from a positive perspective.
As I said, our project is still a bit of a pilot project. In the document we produced this summer, we were talking about the next steps and what they are. What we identified is that the Northwest Territories has done a very good job in terms of developing soapstone carving as a cultural industry, or at least as part of that; it's become a big industry over there. The last document I saw said that the Northwest Territories alone has about $13 million coming in from soapstone carving.
So I think the potential is there. In the Yukon, it's a much fuller artistic background. Not only is there the woodcarving, which is what we took off with as a pilot, but there is the beadwork, the leather work, the drum making, the jewellery making, the printmaking, etc.
So one of the things that we and our board have worked on is a vision of what we could do if we had the resources. What we see is that you would have a cultural school. That would be training, so people could have jobs. Right now, as I said, we have 24 full-time students. We basically turn people away every week because we don't have resources. We don't even really have the resources to deal adequately with the students we have. For example, we have a business trainer who helps each of the students develop a business plan, a bio, and a portfolio. I think we have him for two hours a week and we have 24 students.
In order for this to evolve to the next phase and go beyond a pilot, I think what we need is a larger facility so that we can make it available to maybe 125 students instead of 25.
What's really unique in our program is that we have students who have graduated.... I can think of one of our students who graduated from F.H. Collins who is illiterate. He can't read or write. He graduated with a leaving school diploma. Last year, we were connected with a company out of Toronto called the North West Company. When the buyer was here from Toronto, he saw a panel that this student had made. It was a 32-inch panel, circular, with a design on the front. It was called “Eclipse”. It has a sun and moon facing each other. It had already sold for $1,700, but he ordered two so that next time he came up.... Basically, he commissioned two.
So the art industry is uniquely--
It's very good. The measurable results are most certainly there.
It's not to say that we have 100% people retained, but for a lot of these people, they didn't have the skills to begin with, and they become very employable after taking our programs, be it at an entry level or even a bit more. We have many success stories of people who started through the program.
It's our hope to get people engaged in a trade or technology, and from there take the fear away from a post-secondary level or whatever level it is they may decide to move on to. That's what we really try hard to do. We try to get them engaged in the beginning.
We can just go so far in a club with a mentorship, but from that, with the tangible knowledge they have received, they typically go on to employment, most certainly.
There are a couple of different levels that this question can be answered on. Five years ago, if you had asked who were the master carvers in the Yukon, you would have been given three names: Keith Wolfe Smarch, from Teslin; Eugene Alfred, from Pelly; and Kenny Anderson, who lives here in Whitehorse. They were considered the three best master carvers. These three gentlemen were making their incomes from carving, and they were fairly good incomes.
The idea of the carving program was to try to expand that. Now we have five or six senior carvers in our carving program. Although Keith and Kenny might disagree, these new carvers are pretty close to matching the skills of the older ones. They're certainly gaining on them, and their abilities are increasing dramatically.
At a different level, I was talking to an elder here in town, Anne Smith. She and her husband went to Ross River a few years ago and did an informal census within the community to see how many people self-identified as artists. Brian and Ann said that it was over 90 people in the community of Ross River. It's a relatively small community of, I don't know, 200 or 300 people. But there's a very strong sense of identification as artists. Most of them aren't making a serious income from it, and one of the big problems is the lack of training, which Keith, Eugene, and Kenny all suffered from.
In the past, if you wanted to be a carver, you found an uncle who might teach you for a few weeks here and there. At the Sundog, we have trainers who come in and train, and the response has been overwhelming. We always have a waiting list. I don't know what the actual industry figures are, though, and I think it would probably be fairly hard to track.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to the witnesses for coming and joining us this evening.
I have questions for Dan Curtis and Barbara Dunlop.
Dan, I wanted to give you an opportunity, for the benefit of the committee, to describe this mobile training facility. In the great Kenora riding, we're floating this idea. We're actually involved with another riding next to mine. Together we cover a vast area of northwestern Ontario. We've been looking at this as a serious option, because it brings short- and long-term training to isolated communities. I have more than 25 isolated communities in my riding, not accessible by road, so this is a key strategy for some long winters.
Can you, in 90 seconds or less, fill out a little bit more space on this? You alluded to it and I think the committee members would benefit from hearing about it. This is an important addition to skills capacity.