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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 5 - Evidence - February 18, 2008 - Morning meeting


WHITEHORSE, YUKON, Monday, February 18, 2008

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:15 a.m. to examine and report upon rural poverty in Canada.

Senator Joyce Fairbairn (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Good morning, honourable senators and good morning to all who have come to listen and hopefully participate in the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee's hearing on rural poverty and rural decline. We are pleased to be in Whitehorse this morning, our first stop in the committee's travels in the northern territories.

This committee was first authorized to examine and report on rural poverty in Canada in May 2006. Since that time, we have released an interim report. We have traveled to every province in Canada. We have visited 17 rural communities. We have talked to more than 260 individuals and organizations, including experts from other countries.

We are in the final stages now of the report, but the committee has yet to visit the northern territories. The committee believes strongly that to study this subject properly, we must make sure that no province or territory is left out of our discussions. We are here today to listen first-hand to your stories, your concerns about your communities, and the people who experience hardship within them. In our travels in the provinces, we were truly touched by the wonderful and diverse group of Canadians who have shared their passion, their knowledge and their concern for rural Canada with us.

In this light, we look forward to gaining a perspective here in the Yukon, here in the Northwest Territories and also in Nunavut. We have said throughout this country that every part of it has a rural part, and the North is no different than the South in the importance of that rural piece. To go from coast to coast to coast, we need to come to the North and not only share some of our thoughts with you, but more importantly, listen to what people in the Yukon say.

We have a full roster of witnesses so I will end here and give a chance to our distinguished witnesses to speak. Welcome. We are pleased to start off this morning with Bev Buckway, the Mayor of Whitehorse and First Vice- President of the Association of Yukon Communities. We are glad you have taken the time to speak with us today.

Also here today is someone we know well, the Honourable Larry Bagnell, who is the Member of Parliament for the Yukon. Good morning and welcome as always.

Another witness today is someone close to our hearts, Ione Christensen, who was with us in the Senate for several years and was a tremendous voice for the Yukon in Parliament.

With that, we will start with the mayor.

Bev Buckway, First Vice-President and Mayor of the City of Whitehorse, Association of Yukon Communities: Good morning, honourable senators, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Yukon's capital city this morning.

Before I start with my formal comments, I want to thank you for coming to ask Yukoners for input. The Yukon is a vast geographical area and it provides great challenges for the 32,714 individuals who are charged with the stewardship of our territory and of our people. We are so often left out. It is disappointing to read a Statistics Canada report and find that the Yukon is not included, or to read a report on Canadian housing to find that Yukon is not represented. Worse yet, it is disappointing to see a map of Canada that has only 10 provinces.

Living here, we become sensitive to these slights so we appreciate that you have come to the Yukon to hear our views.

On to the more formal proceedings: On behalf of the Association of Yukon Communities, thank you for this opportunity to address your committee.

The Association of Yukon Communities represents all eight incorporated municipalities and five elected local advisory councils in Yukon. More than 90 per cent of the population of Yukon reside in member communities of our association.

We understand that your committee is concerned about the dimension and depth of rural poverty in Canada and the committee is looking at measures to mitigate rural poverty and reduced opportunity in Canada.

While municipalities in Yukon are not directly involved in social programs or education, municipal governments have a responsibility for community building. We see education, public transit, affordable housing and alcohol and drug education and treatment as important steps toward reducing poverty.

I see from your interim report of December 2006 that you recognize that rural poverty extends beyond the farm. Such is the case in Yukon. Only a small part of the economy is based on agriculture, but with our largest community having a population of less than 25,000 people, all of the Yukon can be seen as rural.

As you have recognized about the poor in the provinces, the poor in the Yukon also are often single mothers, Aboriginal people, people with low education attainment and elderly, disabled or unemployed individuals.

All the people, poor and not so poor, who live in Yukon are important to the sustainability of Yukon communities, and sustainable Yukon communities are important to Canada. Yukon's mineral resources, its boreal forests and pristine rivers are a significant Canadian economic value. Yukon communities are the protectors of the sovereignty of these resources and the gateways to them.

Although occurring on a significantly smaller scale, the problem of declining populations in the smaller rural Yukon communities is similar to the problems caused by declining populations in rural southern Canada. As populations decline, the municipal tax base suffers, limiting services that can be provided and causing businesses to fail, producing more unemployment and causing further decline in our population.

The cost of basic food and shelter is high in rural Yukon. Transportation costs, construction costs and availability are all factors. The more remote the community, the higher are the costs and thus, the higher is the poverty line. Municipalities can play a role in ensuring affordable housing through local strategies, but there must be federal and territorial funding support.

The climate and geography have a significant impact on the poor in our communities. Distances to services are great and again, the cost of travel is high. Poverty in Yukon can be life threatening, especially in winter.

Education can play a significant part in reducing intergenerational poverty. In Yukon, municipal governments do not play a part in funding schools or colleges, but should be able to influence the effectiveness of educational institutions by providing safe communities with constructive recreational opportunities for all youth. We will support any order of government or non-governmental organization that can raise awareness of the need for education for rural Yukoners.

The Association of Yukon Communities appreciates the focus that this committee brings to the subject of rural poverty. We are pleased that you have included Yukon in your study. Thank you again for inviting participation by the Association of Yukon Communities.

Larry Bagnell, P.C., M.P., Yukon — Official Opposition Critic for Northern Affairs, as an individual: Thank you, senators. It is great to see you all again.

The Chair: It is great to see you. I want to say to the mayor that the Yukon is not forgotten in southern Canada on Parliament Hill. We hear a lot from Larry. He has the best will in the world and it is educational for folks who are on that Hill.

Mr. Bagnell: I want to echo exactly how the mayor started. I wanted to start the exact same way, even referring to Statistics Canada. We are often forgotten up here so we are delighted that you made the effort to come here because some traveling committees forget the North completely. As critic for the North, it is important to me that you also go to Northwest Territories and Nunavut. We appreciate that. We do not appreciate being left out of reports like those from Statistics Canada.

I have also read your excellent interim report. As Chair of Rural Caucus in the House of Commons, I can tell you there is information in this report that the Government of Canada and our House of Commons does not have. The work of the Senate is value-added in producing detailed research in some areas where we do not have time in the House of Commons or where we are working on other studies. We appreciate the work of the Senate and we will use your report. I have distributed this report to a number of members of Parliament who are working on rural issues. That information will be helpful to us.

I will try to give you an overview of the Yukon. You will hear from a lot of great speakers today on poverty issues. I will put into context what they will talk about so you know how that information fits into the Yukon in general. They can talk about rural poverty and I will talk about where they come from, and a few miscellaneous points in your report that struck me.

I have given you this map. The Yukon is the part in white, bigger than any country in Europe. As the mayor said, there are almost 33,000 people but it is notable that 23,000 of those live in Whitehorse. The area is bigger than any country in Europe and there are 10,000 people in most of it. The Yukon is rural and remote, which leads to a lot of problems.

About 25 per cent of the population are Aboriginal people who are primarily First Nations. Roughly, 4 per cent of the population are French. There is also a small but strong Filipino group, some Chinese and some people from India.

There are 14 First Nations and they are all different. I cannot describe them all now, but they are entirely different. It is not like they are cast in one mould. It is like Europe in that sense. They all have their different cultures, songs, traditions and traditional governance styles.

As you are probably aware, the Aboriginal people have a different way of governing. They are sort of a collective culture. When you come to solutions, their solutions to poverty and their way of governing their people is different than the way we traditionally know. As you study more sophisticated remedies for poverty, you must keep that difference in mind.

In spite of the fact there are so few people, fewer than would fit a big stadium down South, we have 24 governments here. There are eight municipalities, as the mayor said, and also a few towns and villages and the 14 First Nations and their governments. So there is a lot of potential if governments are part of the answer.

As some of you know, Ken Dryden is due on Wednesday. He will hold a town hall meeting on poverty. His theme is, ``It takes a country to solve poverty'' which means all levels of government working together. We have a lot of potential to do that here in the Yukon.

The base employer here, by far, is government. As I said, there are 24 governments and I do not know how big the working population is — 16,000 or something — but 3,000 or 4,000 alone work at the Yukon government. There is the private sector. There is mining, but it is boom and bust. In 1982, all the big mines closed here and it had a dramatic effect on the nature of the economy. Tourism is the other big industry.

I would not normally mention agriculture and forestry, except that is the name of your committee. We had a relatively strong forestry industry, especially in the southeast, the bottom right of your map, at one time. However, the battle in the U.S. over our softwood lumber has not helped any, nor have a number of other things so our forestry industry is not strong at the moment.

We have an active agriculture community here, which I am sure you will hear about from others later. For one thing, we have a lot of hay for outfitters.

In your report, you commented on transportation and it is a big issue here. You can go from Whitehorse to the South with not many problems. There are three flights a day, probably more flights than in the rural communities in the northern parts of the provinces. There is a flight from Whitehorse due north to Dawson, which is halfway up the Yukon. Virtually no one lives in the whole north half of the Yukon. You can probably count on your fingers and toes how many people live there, except for Old Crow, an exciting village that is near the top of the Yukon. Those flights are daily. Other than those flights, there are no flights internally in the Yukon.

There are roads to every major community except Old Crow, but we can reach Old Crow by flying. In that respect, the Yukon is better served than the Northwest Territories or Nunavut because they do not have any roads to speak of. We are way ahead in that respect.

However, for people in one of these rural communities that has a road, but does not have flights, and they are poor, how do they access any services? They do not have any services except maybe a grocery store, a gas station, and a couple of other things. How do they go to a dentist if they are poor? There is no bus service from these communities. Gas is expensive and if they are poor, they probably do not have a vehicle. Obviously, they do not have a psychiatrist in any of those little communities. To access health services, services related to poverty and all government services, it is difficult if they are in one of these small rural communities, except for Dawson and Watson Lake, which have less than 1,000 people.

The rural and urban populations, as I am sure the mayor can attest, are like night and day, as I suppose is true in a lot of Canada. Whitehorse is a thriving northern city. It may have more infrastructure per capita than anywhere in the world, and it is a busy city. If you walk down the main street, you will not be run over because people are polite here, but there will be a lot of cars around you. You can look straight down the main street in some of these rural communities on your map and not see a car in the middle of the day. Economically, it is depressing a lot of times unless there happens to be a mining project in the area.

The lifestyle and needs are like night and day. People can be hidden in poverty in one of these small communities and no one would know.

Some of them are single-industry towns. On the map, on the right, partway up is the town of Faro, which was simply a lead-zinc mine. They are carrying on with great courage now that the mine is closed. Even their gas station closed recently. You can imagine being way out here, miles from anything and you do not even have a gas station. Their biggest grocery store closed. As the mayor said, it is hard to maintain a community when services start collapsing.

The environment for a rural poverty strategy in the Yukon is different with respect to First Nations in that the Yukon has signed their land claim for the entire Yukon, and 11 of the 14 villages or areas have settled their land claims. Without going into great detail, every inch of the Yukon is covered by a traditional territory of one of those 14 First Nations, which affects decision-making. We also have these 14 governments that serve their people and can be helpful in developing anti-poverty strategies.

As you are probably aware from some of your meetings, social assistance for Aboriginal people is tied to the provincial and territorial rates. Unless the province or territory puts up the social assistance or welfare rates, the First Nations rates cannot go up because the federal government must match them so that everyone receives the same amount.

At present, the Yukon government is trying to put up social assistance rates and it is meeting resistance from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. I am not sure where that issue is at the moment, but we do not want that process to slow down because social assistance rates have not increased here for some time.

You will meet all sorts of groups in the Yukon that are fighting poverty, which is great. We have a strong NGO group here. Each individual First Nation provides services in Whitehorse itself. There is the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre for urban Aboriginals or those who have migrated to Whitehorse. A lot of these groups are members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, of which I was one of the founding members. Probably the widest breadth of knowledge is in that group, and you will hear from them today, which is great because they receive input from all these different groups.

We also have a larger population than some parts of Canada with fetal alcohol syndrome, FAS, and the attendant problems that need support. That is a perfect example of what you are doing: A strategy to deal with the root causes is even cost-efficient. The program looks expensive, but it is more cost-efficient. A person with FAS can cost taxpayers and governments over a million dollars in their lifetime. However, if we prevent that problem at an early stage, then we save all that money and human suffering. That prevention would deal with all the poverty issues and the enormous costs to society, so it is great that you are working on a strategy.

In the entire northern half of Canada, there are no universities, including in the northern parts of the provinces and territories. We have an active college here though that provides university courses I noticed in your report that you talked about campuses spread out through rural areas, and Yukon College is effective in that respect, with campuses all over the Yukon.

There is problem though for high school students. This year, I went to every graduation in the Yukon. Sometimes, I have gone all the way to Ottawa for a graduation for one graduate. You can imagine that in a small village of a few hundred people, the high school class is small; the grade 12 class is small. Imagine the choice of courses they can provide when they need specialist high school teachers on each of the topics. Not many can be provided so students are limited in what they can do if they stay in rural Yukon. A number of students come to Whitehorse for more comprehensive high school, but then, they lose the family support that all of us probably had when we went to high school. It is hard at that young age not to have family support so education is a difficult situation in that respect.

The one thing that helps is distance education. More and more things are taught with distance education. Although the Yukon is better connected than most parts of Canada — everywhere is connected by high speed Internet — a lot of places in Canada are not connected and that connection would be useful. Also, it would be useful in health care where we send imaging to doctors in Vancouver and Edmonton to make diagnoses, or images can come into Whitehorse through the Internet from rural parts of the Yukon.

Once again, because we are a small population, there are no specialists to speak of in the Yukon. They always come from the South. We borrow from the provinces, and they are not required to give us their health care system. That is always a problem. We have medevacs that cost $10,000 to $15,000 a time for someone to see the doctor from the rural area. That money could be better spent, but that is part of life in the rural area.

The Breakfast for Learning program, which I am sure you have all heard of, is active here and important for hundreds of kids who are not fed properly at home. Everyone knows how literacy is important to alleviate poverty so we need to keep up funding that program. It is active in the Yukon, but it could be more active if there was more funding.

Programs such as Head Start for Aboriginal children, early childhood education, daycare, child care, et cetera, were hugely successful here for probably the last 20 years. Because they are so successful, the villages have been asking for more. I do not know how many we have now, four, five or six, but every community wants them because they are so successful in changing the lives of young students, many of whom are Aboriginal, at a time in life when we can have the most effect on them.

We have lobbied for years to obtain more funding for Head Start because it changes lives and it is a type of support that some children in rural, poor areas would not have otherwise. It is so successful. Once again, for so little investment at an early age, it would save us hundreds of thousands of dollars later in life when someone goes the wrong way.

We, of course, have climate change problems, four times more than the rest of Canada and the highest in the world, with Northern Russia. We do not have the pine beetle, but we have the spruce bark beetle and all sorts of shifting infrastructure and melting permafrost, which is hugely expensive. Normal infrastructure programs cannot apply. We need a lot more money here because we have few taxpayers in this huge area, huge climate problems and expensive infrastructure problems. Obviously, per capita funding does not work.

For people on a fixed income such as disabled people, seniors and anyone on a government-fixed income, the money does not go far because of the high cost of living here.

A good example is phone rates. As the mayor said, the phone in the North can be a matter of life and death. It is not a luxury. Yet, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, CRTC, has made decisions over the years that increased the phone rates for poor people and decreased the long distance rates for those of us who can afford them, which does not make any sense in alleviating poverty.

There is a huge women's homelessness study, which I am sure you will have witnesses on. It was recently finished and it covered Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. It had excellent information on the determinants of homelessness for women in particular.

We also have what is called relative homelessness in the North. We had two or three weeks of 40 below temperatures before you came. You are lucky you missed it. At those temperatures, people do not sleep on the streets like they do in Toronto or Vancouver. That means they are sleeping somewhere warm and somewhere where they should not be. Young girls are put in houses where they are with someone they should not be with or, in fact, they even must provide sex so they do not freeze to death outside.

We have all sorts of crowding and kids in situations they should not be in. It is a different type of homelessness. It is invisible and it may be more insidious because of that invisibility, but it does not mean that it is not there.

We had the wind initiative to reduce global warming, as an example of how federal programs do not work without extra money here. There was not enough money because it costs more here. We have a northern allowance, but it has not changed for years. We want the northern tax allowance for income tax increased.

Finally, addictions are a major issue. Addictions in any part of Canada cause the majority of crimes. Either people are on a substance or trying to obtain the money for a substance. It is important, once again, to deal with that root cause. Addiction leads to poverty in food as well because they spend their money on their addiction and not on food. We do not have any full-time year-round facility with major beds. We have addiction programs here, but we could do more locally.

Talking about the corrections system, not necessarily in the Yukon, but in other parts of the territories, if we take someone thousands of miles from their home and put them in jail, they have lost their whole family support system once again, putting them maybe in a life of endless poverty.

The last thing you might think about in your strategy is the 80-20 rule identified a group that has done some work on poverty: 20 per cent of the people cause a vast majority of the problems and the other 80 per cent do not live in poverty long. For the 80 per cent, simple solutions worked okay, but the other 20 per cent needed a much larger investment. The 20-per-cent group cost millions of dollars in health care and everything, and they had lifelong problems, so a larger investment was needed to bring them out of poverty, and that investment tended to work.

Hopefully, you will hear from a lot of groups. There are two issues in the Yukon. One is to deal with the symptoms, poverty itself. We cannot leave someone in poverty. We must feed them. You will hear from groups like Maryhouse and the Salvation Army, the outreach van that goes around at night, taking food to teenagers, et cetera. Two is to deal with the root problems, the causes of poverty so that we do not need all these other services to deal with people in poverty.

Hon. Ione Christensen, Former Senator for Yukon, as an individual: Welcome, Senator Fairbairn, Senator Mercer, Senator Mahovlich and Senator for Peterson. Thank you for coming. I have an interest as I sat on this committee before I retired. The importance of this particular study I think is long range. Hopefully, it will be a pattern that governments will look at in the long-term planning because that is what will be needed to solve some of these problems.

As we know, major migration to all the urban centres is leaving rural Canada poorer and poorer, with fewer and fewer people. Agriculture and forestry, the subjects of this committee, are hit more and more because of a number of things, global warming being one of them. Having everybody concentrated in urban Canada is creating major problems for the rest of Canada. This migration is something we need to address.

Looking at the North, we are pleased that you have come. I know there has been some discussion about there being no agriculture in the North, and why you are coming to the North. You are looking at more than a third of Canada's land mass. How can you eliminate a third of Canada and not take it into account in your study? It does not make sense. We may not have a lot of people, but we have a lot of resources in a number of areas.

As global warming continues, rural Canada will become more and more important. We will see reductions in the energy available and travel being reduced by energy needs and requirements. They will not have a 100-mile diet in downtown Toronto so they will need to look at the rural areas to provide those things and those areas must be healthy areas. Rural areas need industries so that people can work. Lack of employment causes a lot of the poverty.

Agriculture is what we looked at first, but the problem is not only people moving off the farms. When people move off farms, in those communities that depend on those farmers, the stores close and the gas station closes. The movement off the farms has a rolling effect and that is what we need to look at long term. We need to find ways for government to encourage people to stay in the rural parts of Canada because it is important for the health of our nation to have that rural population.

I wish you well on this study. Your interim report was well received. In addressing this subject, it should be stressed to the government that this study is long term. You cannot look at it only for a five-year election term. This study is long term if we are to have a healthy Canada.

The Chair: In the beginning of this adventure we are on, Senator Christensen was a strong voice from this area, which made the rest of us, at least those who are around the table today, insistent that it was important to come to the territories. People in southern Canada see the territories covered with snow as not being rural. The territories are rural so we have insisted that we hear the voices in a way that we could never hear them in Ottawa.

We managed to start this part of the study and we are grateful for that start.

Senator Mercer: Your Worship, Larry Bagnell and Senator Christensen, thank you for coming here. It is good to be back in Whitehorse. The last time I was here, Senator Christensen was my tour guide and she did a great job.

I have four questions and I will try to be quick.

Your Worship, you mentioned in your report how poverty in the Yukon can be life- threatening, particularly in the winter because of the extreme weather. Are systems in place throughout the territory to help prevent life-threatening situations? If temperatures reach 40 below zero or worse on occasion, people do not have the wherewithal, the heat, wherever they are living, it will not take long for trouble to set in.

Ms. Buckway: We have a well established emergency response system in the Yukon. Someone mentioned to me this morning that their car froze, and the cord to the block heater cracked and fell apart. If you can imagine driving to Whitehorse when it is minus 40 or worse — the rural communities have it far colder than we do in Whitehorse — if they have car troubles on the road, they are at the mercy of Mother Nature out there and there is no system that can help them in a case like that other than the people who are traveling on the road.

Some of our distances are long to drive. We have people who think nothing of driving 300 miles for services in Whitehorse. In some senses, in the communities, there are supports, unless someone walks out of their home and succumbs to the weather outside. I think we are fairly safe that way. However, the long distances can be hazardous.

Senator Mercer: Mr. Bagnell, you also talked about transportation problems. When we were in Picture Butte in Alberta at a community centre where we met, we saw signs of people coming together and providing bus service for each other, I think probably on a fee-for-service basis, to go into Lethbridge for the kinds of services that people would have to come into Whitehorse for. Have those types of services sprung up in some of the smaller communities around the territory?

Mr. Bagnell: I think there might be informal ones. There was once a bus service that went to Dawson, and then it closed down. Other communities bus to some of the smaller communities, and in busier times, had airlines. People come together sometimes only on an informal basis. It is not as organized as it could be or should be.

The other thing related to what the mayor said is that there is no police patrol of our highways. If their car breaks down at 40 below in the middle of nowhere, they hope that someone else comes along.

Senator Mercer: The police do not patrol highways?

Mr. Bagnell: No, they have RCMP stations in each community, but they seldom go outside their community, unless they come to Whitehorse for meetings or whatever. There is no highway patrol.

Senator Mercer: Mr. Bagnell, you also mentioned the spruce bark beetle. Our first stop on this trip was in Prince George many months ago. When we were there, we saw the other beetle. How bad is the spruce bark beetle? Have any attempts been made in the community to harvest the damaged trees, as we saw in Quesnel, British Columbia, where they are trying to build an industry on harvesting the dead trees that the beetles killed?

Mr. Bagnell: It is bad enough that Senator Hillary Clinton and John McCain who is leading the Republicans both came here to see it. There has been some harvesting. There was some grief over the long time it took to obtain the permits to harvest. They are trying to harvest them, but it causes another problem here. Because we are in a semi-arid climate and because we have coniferous trees that burn fast, it makes for a high forest fire danger. Not only do we lose all that timber, but we have a huge forest fire danger. Around the town of Haines Junction, for instance, at the bottom left of the map, it is dangerous because of the hundreds of square kilometres of dead trees due to the spruce bark beetle.

Senator Mercer: Of course, it is a danger to the park.

Mr. Bagnell: When they tried to harvest them, as I said, because we must transport our timber so far, we are at an economic disadvantage to start with. Then, the Americans imposed the tariffs. How can the greatest nation on earth be afraid of a tiny area like the Yukon which has few trees? However, they are and they put those tariffs on us, and that hurt our industry, too.

Senator Mercer: You talked about the small population in a large area, and then you talked about there being 24 governments. I assume that out of those 24 governments, some of those are from the 14 First Nations.

Mr. Bagnell: There are 14 First Nations, eight municipalities, one federal government and one territorial government.

Senator Mercer: Is that too many governments? That may not be a fair question to ask either of you. Perhaps, Senator Christensen, you might want to answer since you do not need to worry about being elected.

Ms. Christensen: I would not say we are over-governed, but we have a lot of governance. As Mr. Bagnell pointed out, there are the 14 First Nations with councils of perhaps five persons each. Then, the municipalities have five to six persons each. Then, there is the territorial government. Then, there are a lot of boards and school boards.

Divide that number by 30,000 people, and there are a lot of elected people out there. People are well represented from an elected point of view. The number of governments creates some problems, but it also makes government much closer to people. Perhaps people can have much quicker action. There are pluses and minuses.

Senator Mercer: They can have a highly politicized population as well.

Ms. Christensen: That is correct, yes.

Senator Mahovlich: There is a lot of governance, but are you united? This is the key. Is everybody agreeable with what is happening in the Yukon?

Ms. Christensen: There is a huge effort in trying to reach consensus on a lot of things. It does not always succeed, but a lot of consensus-building is taking place. In fact, if you ask any two Yukoners, you will not receive the same answer. Everybody has an opinion because we are so politicized. It is healthy because we have all this discourse, but it is difficult for any politician to reach a consensus and to move forward because of this diverse field of political interest.

Senator Mahovlich: They must be smart, I guess, and that is why we have Mr. Bagnell.

Ms. Christensen: That is right.

Senator Mahovlich: I was also wondering about health. Your hospitals in Whitehorse, are they competitive with, say, Edmonton? Is there an MRI here?

Ms. Christensen: No, we do not have an MRI.

Mr. Bagnell: There is one major hospital in each territory, in the capital city. There are tiny ones. There are two problems. One, we do not have major surgery here. People needing surgery go South. You can imagine taking someone from a rural community who has never been outside their village and dumping them at the airport in Vancouver. It is a nightmare. Two, if they have something like severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, there is not another hospital. If you remember when it came to Canada, it closed a couple of hospitals in Toronto, but they can go down the street to the next hospital. But here, people will die of other diseases because they will not be allowed in the hospital if it is closed.

That situation is a dangerous result of having only one hospital and no major surgery in the northern half of Canada. Because health care is provincial, it means we must borrow from the provinces so we are at their mercy. If they do not want us in their beds at their hospitals, if they do not want to send their cardiovascular specialist to the North, they are not required to because health care is paid for by the provinces. They have been good to us, but the relationship is informal.

The Chair: Thank you all very much for your presentations. We will now hear from our next group of witnesses.

Kim Lawson, Employer Liaison, Job Coach, Yukon Council on disABILITY: When I speak of table 1 and table 2, they are in the back. You can look at those tables when I speak as they will help you understand what I will talk about.

I have worked at the Yukon Council on disABILITY for the last two years as an Employer Liaison and Job Coach. I help people with disabilities find employment. If they need support once they have job, I can also be with them on a day-to-day basis or as needed. That is my role.

I want to thank my colleagues, Julie Dufresne and Kim Hague for helping me with this presentation. We are a small group and we worked hard on it.

I start with a quote from our friend, Lucy McGinty from Selkirk First Nation in Pelly Crossing:

Poverty exists here in the Yukon and quite obvious in our small First Nation community and it will not go away overnight. It will take time and funds to bring it to an end or where we can safely say, yes, we have it under control. Poverty affects us all in the community from inadequate housing, education, literacy, training, employment, social and health, and spiritual and emotional wellbeing. I believe communities should be given seed funds to work on combating poverty. To look for solutions that will overcome poverty and build a healthier and safer place for all. I would say the Aboriginal group is hardest hit because they were stripped of their independence and this will take a long time to change, but I am of the mind that we can do it.

Next, I want to read our mission statement from the Yukon Council on disABILITY:

To be a resource for Yukoners with disABILITIES on issues of equity, community awareness, government policy and employment.

Thank you for inviting us today. We feel honoured to represent so many organizations. For our presentation, we talked to our community partners, as well as the First Nations, and governmental and non-profit organizations.

Poverty and disability are complex issues. I have two diagrams at the back that I think will illustrate the connections between poverty and having a disability. These two documents are based on a document entitled Chronic Poverty and Disability, written by the Action on Disability and Development in the UK.

As table 1 shows, there is a bilateral direction between having a disability and poverty and the many variables linking the two. I will not elaborate on all these variables, but please let me touch on a few.

In table 1, you will see that having a disability can have an impact on your personal income. Yukoners living with disabilities are vulnerable to poverty for a number of reasons. For example, persons with disabilities face many barriers in accessing higher education and in entering the workforce. Making it difficult to access education and employment also means being excluded from those social networks and sometimes, becoming isolated.

Also, individuals with disabilities often incur additional costs resulting from their disability. They may require assistive technology and special equipment. Most of the time, specific equipment is costly, and access to funding is limited here in the Yukon. Also, rural Yukon is not accessible particularly for individuals facing mobility issues. Lack of transportation can also have an impact on their capacity to have an active lifestyle, meet people, go to work, see a doctor, et cetera. Having limited social contacts can lead to low self-esteem and this is something that I see on a daily basis with my clients.

In fact, people with disabilities often find themselves in a vicious cycle as seen in table 2. A disability can have an impact on income but also, being poor can have a huge effect on living daily with a disability. For example, low economic status affects people's ability to maintain good health. Limited health facilities for individuals with disabilities are also a challenge in rural Yukon. Health and social professionals do their best with the resources available to them. Even here in Whitehorse, we face a shortage of some professionals like psychiatrist — we have one — audiologists, nurses and doctors. A lot of our clients go south for medical care. Also, access to a variety of nutritional food and affordable fruits and vegetables in rural Yukon is a constant challenge.

Affordable and accessible housing is desperately lacking in the Yukon. Our clients — and this is daily — speak about struggles to find adequate and safe accommodations without mould and pests, with appropriate heating, with water and with no drug-dealing neighbours. During our community visits, we have been told that the situation is dire. The rent for an apartment in Yukon is high. Consequences from a poor living environment on physical and mental health are enormous. People are more at risk of developing injuries, illness or impairment in the presence of unhygienic, unsafe and stressful conditions.

Furthermore, all people need and have a right to social, recreational and cultural experience, activities and relationships. However, when their daily needs are barely met, it is difficult to find money for recreational activities. Consequently, they become socially isolated. We think that social isolation both contributes to and is caused by health problems and low economic status.

Transportation is also an issue for people with low income in Yukon since the territory is vast. Being able to afford and operate a car is difficult for people with limited funds. A transportation network linking all the communities is absent. Even in Whitehorse, walking to work, school, or your doctor's appointment at minus 40 is not an option. The issue of transportation becomes so much more complicated for someone with a disability.

We conclude this presentation with recommendations to help alleviate poverty and those underlying factors as presented.

First, implement more inclusive social housing units in the Yukon, particularly in rural communities. Seniors, youth, single-parent families, women at risk and certainly, persons with disabilities should be able to access secure and affordable housing.

Second, employment and education is one of the main tools against poverty. People should be able to afford education even in small communities. The youth exodus is felt throughout our territory. We need to ensure that the kids stay at school.

Third, implement or support the implementation of a private or public transportation network system linking the entire Yukon.

Fourth, there are a lot of health prevention programs in Yukon on many subjects including alcohol, tobacco, healthy baby programs and drugs. Sending positive messages is a good idea, but people also need the opportunity to fulfill the needed changes. Particularly in communities, people should have access to affordable, healthy food, recreation and cultural events.

Fifth, support the creation of economic and social projects in rural Yukon that will allow people to be more self- sufficient and sustainable. Rural communities do not offer a lot of employment opportunities. In addition, communities need social projects that will help to build stronger social networks.

Sixth, accommodations in the workplace should be available for all individuals with a disability.

Seventh, governments should continue to develop the health care system in rural communities. People with disabilities then could live in the entire Yukon. They would not need to move to Whitehorse to receive the support, medical, social or any other services they need.

Kate O'Donnell, Director, Maryhouse: I thank the committee for inviting Maryhouse to be present on this panel. I am the current Director of Maryhouse Apostolate. I think it would be good to have a little history of Maryhouse, and how we came to the Yukon and are touching the poor.

In 1953, Bishop Jean-Louis Coudert, OMI, invited Madonna House Apostolate to open its first field house or mission house here in the Yukon. Madonna House Apostolate is a community of laymen, women and priests under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church. In November of 1953, Catherine DeHueck Doherty, our foundress, came for a visit and agreed to send a team here. In 1953, Whitehorse looked a lot different. In May of 1954, our three primary staff started out from Combermere, Ontario and arrived here on June 13, 1954.

When Bishop Coudert invited us to Whitehorse, he asked us to provide for basic needs, both physical and spiritual, for the people of the Yukon. Our first and primary goal, initially, was to provide shelter for the men and women of the Yukon who needed to come to Whitehorse for medical reasons. Many people who came were pregnant women from the various communities as the doctors felt it was safer to have their children in Whitehorse. Bishop Coudert realized that there was little safe shelter for the people who came to the city. At that time, many people were moving into the Yukon, especially men looking for work. Often, these men did not have the means to put themselves up in a hotel. I believe that the day we arrived or the next day, shortly thereafter — we have a picture of it — a group of folks going from the State of Missouri to the State of Alaska became stranded in the Yukon and there was no place for them to go. That night or the following night, we had four or five people living with us until they could go on their way.

Bishop Coudert also asked us to respond to the needs of whoever was living around us at that time. Maryhouse is in a house in one of the neighbourhoods of the city. How do we live? We live by donations. We do not receive salaries, and still depend on the generosity of benefactors to do our work. Throughout the last 54 years, we have helped a variety of people including travelers stranded here, especially from the States, which still happens. There is little access to help for people who are traveling. The responsibility to help people often falls to the churches or Maryhouse. Because we live by begging and we support the people who stay with us, other people hear about us and ask for help. Those are the people who we touched. It was often people who might not have been on social assistance rolls, but they needed help.

We learned that people who came to us would come individually. We did not have a program that said, ``We are open, come and help us.'' Over the years, one thing we have been involved in is the distribution of food. Whitehorse does not have an authentic food bank. We have food programs that assist. The Salvation Army is big. They really help too. They have a food kitchen five days a week. However, people came to us looking for food. So we have, at this time, what we call an emergency food program. We are only allowed to distribute non-perishable foods. That is what we give. People can access it. We do not have many criteria. Basically, we ask for identification to know who they are.

People have come to us through the years for various things, for example, someone who has run out of fuel and is in a crisis situation. They may have a job. People may be working one or two jobs. The clothes washer dies. Their car has problems. They run out of wood. They have not been able to pay their heating bills and they need something. We try to listen and respond, as we can. We heat by wood and we share our wood.

Anytime during the week, any night, people will knock on our doors. Often, it is single men on the street looking for shoes, boots, hats and mitts for the winter. In the summer, they ask for articles of clothing. They ask for things as simple as a drink of water. We do not have a lot of access for people who are on the street so they come to us. Simply, we are there and we can give them a drink of water.

We often work in cooperation with other agencies in Whitehorse, especially the Salvation Army, Kaushees Place, the Victoria Faulkner's Women's Centre and the various churches.

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting where the Mayor of Whitehorse, Bev Buckway, was speaking. The topic was the housing situation in Whitehorse. Mayor Buckway noted that often, people speak of homelessness and relative homelessness. I think that Maryhouse touches people we would classify as the relative or hidden poor. A lot of people appear to be functioning well or to have something, but really they are having problems. They are poor. It is a much more hidden poverty here. Many of the people that we come in touch with, as I said, may have jobs, but they may be working two jobs, minimal jobs. Oftentimes, they are working in minimum wage jobs. Oftentimes, they are working in part-time jobs with no benefits. This lack of benefits affects them as far as accessing health care and things like that.

One thing I am aware of is, if they are in a minimum wage job, they do not have any dental care. Dental care is minimal. It is one of the few things that affects people's health and everything else.

Some people we meet live this subsistence life because of addictions or mental health issues and some because of physical disabilities.

For 54 years, we have tried to be present for those in need at this time. I would say that outside of our food program, those who come most often to us are single men, who appear to have the least amount of resources available to help them.

Ross Findlater, Co-Chair, Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition: Good morning. Thank you for hearing us. I am the Co- Chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and also Chair of the Whitehorse Planning Group on Homelessness.

``Larry'' was 17. He had been in foster care and group homes all his life. But now, he was fortunate because he was in a life-skills transition care situation.

This day was the first day for him to go grocery shopping. Larry was found after about 15 minutes wandering in the store. When asked if there was a problem, he admitted that he had never been shopping before. When asked what he liked to eat, Larry said, ``tomato soup.'' He was directed to the soup aisle. Ten minutes later, he was spotted again, this time, with a cart full of tomato soup. He was 17 and he had no experience in grocery shopping.

Imagine never having gone grocery shopping with a parent or never having an opportunity in the kitchen. Imagine never having been to a bank or having been taken to a furniture store, and all of a sudden, there you are on your own.

Larry's true story has had a happy ending, but not everyone is so lucky. There are many kinds of poverty in the Yukon, including poverty of opportunity and experience.

Last November, the Yukon territorial government announced its intention to increase social assistance rates, which have not changed since 1992. One objective for the increase is to improve a recipient's opportunities to become independent of financial assistance. The territorial government has indicated that the accommodation and rent component for a single adult will be increased from the current $390 per month to $490 per month. The most recent rental survey of the Yukon Bureau of Statistics for December 2007 indicates that the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Whitehorse is $690, and a one-bedroom apartment in Riverdale is $725. These two areas in Whitehorse have the vast majority of apartments.

Whenever the proposed rates come into effect, the situation where a renter is already about $200 behind on his or her monthly rent will not improve the opportunity to be rid of dependence on government assistance. It will mean digging deeply into the food component to pay for the rent with result that the person runs out of food money by the second or third week of the month, a reality that we and politicians have heard about for several years.

This reality has resulted in a greatly increased usage of emergency food programs and hot meal programs in Whitehorse, especially by women and children. It has also resulted in the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition forming a new Whitehorse Food Bank Society, which plans to implement a full service food distribution in Whitehorse. These services are available to low-income Yukoners from outlying communities if and when they are able to go to Whitehorse.

The interim report of your committee states that both a cause and a consequence of rural poverty is lack of transportation. That is certainly the case in the Yukon. Last November, I and another co-chair of the coalition conducted consultations regarding poverty issues in communities outside Whitehorse. We heard about elders and young single moms in outlying Yukon communities struggling to access a wide variety of services and goods, including groceries. When they have the opportunity for a ride with someone into Whitehorse, that opportunity is all too frequently dashed when they are held ransom by the driver who demands payment, or more payment, with the threat of not taking them back to their home community.

Longitudinal studies have shown that lack of a well-balanced nutritious diet results over time in diminished health, both physical and mental, so the downward spiral of poverty continues.

One contributing factor of poverty in the Yukon is the lack of understanding and the lack of treatment options for people with mental health issues. People who cognitively process things differently find it hard to obtain and maintain adequate, well-paying employment. As a former member of the national board of the Canadian Mental Health Association, I am aware of the impacts of stigma confronting Yukoners with mental health issues in their day-to-day lives.

As cited in your interim report, small population size has been a factor in the lack of necessary and desirable treatment options in Yukon. For example, a day treatment program has been suggested since my arrival in Yukon over 30 years ago. If such service and supports were developed locally, we project that more Yukoners with mental struggles could be assisted to maintain consistent employment.

What works? What works is to ask those affected by poverty and to listen to them. A clear example of this approach is Yukon's highly successful and appreciated Kids Recreation Fund, which levels the playing field of opportunity significantly, funding children from low-income families to participate in recreation, sports, music and dance. Low- income parents were clear on their priorities when asked.

What also works? Over a number of years, the coalition has proposed to the last three territorial governments an inclusive, multi-sectoral approach to the development of a comprehensive Yukon anti-poverty strategy.

In the area of homelessness, the federal government's Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative, SCPI, and now, the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, HPS, programs were bang on. The community-based multi-sectoral approach has proven to be effective in communities across Canada, including Whitehorse.

Poverty and the connected issue of homelessness are much like an iceberg. Only a small portion is visible to most people. Yukoners are, by and large, caring and concerned individuals when they know the reality of poverty and its impacts on Yukon families, as evidenced by their generosity this past October during the Poverty and Homelessness Action Week that we sponsored. When we let people know the facts, they respond.

We believe we need to all work together to build a caring society that provides fair and equal opportunity for all citizens to prosper, and for wealth to be fairly distributed.

In closing, I would like to quote Norman MacEwan:

Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Thank you for your time and attention.

[Translation]

Claude Gosselin, Priest, Groupe de concertation Solidarité Pauvreté: Thank you for your invitation, Madam Chair. I represent the Groupe de concertation Solidarité Pauvreté. It is a group that has been in existence for barely four years and that consists of a free coalition of various organizations concerned with poverty among francophones.

The group curiously began with this question: ``are there poor people among francophones?'' One gets the impression that francophones in the Yukon are here for the fun of it. So we asked ourselves some questions about this situation and that made it possible to bring together people from various communities, such as the Association franco- yukonaise, of course, people from the health field, women's groups, people from the church where I work, groups concerned with the economy among francophones and school groups.

Our thinking concerns the same issues as those of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. The issues are the same for everyone. Francophones who have chosen to live here have additional difficulties as a result of their language. Those difficulties are hard to name because people say that, if francophones have come to live here, well let them endure the language situation. We are all living in Canada, and we all have a right to the same services. There are hidden realities, and that is what is hard to name or to put figures on.

One of our objectives is to increase awareness of poverty among francophones because it is a fact. Can we in fact say that there is a type of francophone-related poverty? I will name you a few causes we have been able to identify: the isolation experienced by francophones, as a result of either language or distance from their families. We lack networks outside the family, since our families are not here.

There is a kind of poverty that I call hidden poverty, since people do not necessarily dare ask for help, since they say to themselves: ``I wanted to come here.'' But when reality hits, either they get sick, their family grows, they lose their jobs or they have trouble finding one, at some point, they will be forced to live with less and to go looking for services.

Of course, the language barrier is another cause. Whether it is health services, social services or legal services, that is always a right that has to be defended. At that point, we can always get by in English, but when we are sick, we really like to know what we have in French. Social services, especially those concerning the family, are not necessarily bilingual services. All those services have made some efforts, but we are nevertheless forced to admit that we do not have any French-language services for solving family, economic or legal problems, and that brings an additional degree of poverty.

francophones in the Yukon represent only 1,200 to 1,500 persons in the same territory with a population of 30,000. Those francophones are actively involved in various sectors of the population, and they mix with the anglophone community. There may nevertheless be an inequality of opportunity. If you come to the Yukon and you are a government employee, you may not have too many problems. You will even have trouble identifying poor francophones. But if you come here without a job, to start over and live more simply, I am not sure that you will have the same rights and the same opportunities. It is for that poverty that we are trying to find solutions.

The simplest solution is to talk to each other, to promote joint efforts and common thinking to develop networking among various organizations; to discover together the resources that are available in English and perhaps direct people toward existing resources that are not necessarily visible to francophones.

Identifying the needs of Yukon francophones living in poverty and housing problems. As Ross said earlier, these are the same needs. However, the language barrier creates more isolation for these individuals and will remain one of the major points. To offset isolation and to help people express their needs, one of the mandates of the Association franco- yukonaise is to bring francophones together to hear what they say about their situation. They organize cultural gatherings, Friday community suppers, which enable us to target newcomers, to identify their needs, to identify those who have stopped coming. Usually it is not because they are doing better, but perhaps because they are having trouble. So that makes us more sensitive to all individuals and their situations.

It is very hard to identify solutions tailored to poverty among francophones because we do not necessarily want to ghettoize francophone poverty. In the past year or two, we have adopted the objectives of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, and we are trying to outline what francophones may be experiencing with regard to these specific situations. The food bank will be bilingual: I mean that people eat in all languages. But will francophones feel welcome at that food bank? When we can do basic work in constructing these objectives, so much the better.

Promoting the introduction of common solutions to fight poverty. We can develop by talking to each other: ``Oh yes, so and so is doing this; we are going to open that to everyone. So and so is doing that and another could do this, but we need help, we need support from another organization.'' Then we have a place where we can join forces to a greater degree to put support networks in place for births, bereavement which sometimes is hard to cope with, and encourage bilingualism in existing organizations, open soup kitchens, provide more community meals free of charge on Friday evenings. There are lots of little things that make a difference at some point because there are places where people can express themselves and what they are experiencing.

Ensuring representation and promoting the fight against poverty. We are simply sticking to the objectives of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition to develop what we hope for one day, the Free Younger Whitehorse; one day, in five years, or indeed we could think of a Yukon free of all poverty.

I have a few more recommendations that are based more on observations than studies: promote bilingual first-line services, because that is where we have the most needs, whether it be social services, health services or legal services. If we are served in our language at the first-line level, solutions will definitely come more quickly.

Promoting joint action among francophone organizations and with all organizations in the territory so that we can harmonize our resources to a greater degree. Where we often come up against a barrier is that there are a lot of services in the Yukon; we lack for nothing in the Yukon. I have trouble saying that, because I find it hard to believe, but they apparently receive $900 million a year from the federal government for all the services offered in the Yukon. How could we decompartmentalize those services so that we could have a creative area so that we would stop saying to each other: ``Oh, that is not my field; you have to speak to someone else,'' or, ``For that, you have to speak to another person; you have to speak to another service.''

There are only 30,000 inhabitants here. We can all kill our caribou, our moose, fish year-round, stock up on salmon, and still some people do not eat and some people still find it hard to house themselves. It seems to me we could be a much stronger creative place that would enable us to switch from Utopia to reality. That is often what brings people here. Everyone has that vitality for inventing something, and we often come up against administrative constraints that kill that creativity and force us to come to the same realization, as if we were in a big city. Everyone knows everyone else. Things go well when you have friends here. But when you are poor, you have fewer friends.

[English]

Senator Mercer: First, thank you for your presentations. It is always informative. I have a number of questions that I scribbled down at the beginning that the next presenter answered for me. I wanted to talk about housing. I want to talk about the availability of housing in general. Perhaps, I will ask Ms. Lawson. Of the available housing, what percentage of the units is accessible for the disabled?

Ms. Lawson: If you are talking about the community of Watson Lake, one place, one apartment, is accessible. In the territory or in Whitehorse, our city, I do not know a number, but the number is extremely low. We constantly have clients come in asking for funding to help modify the existing homes. We have people who are in wheelchairs and are physically confined to two rooms, and those are people with mobility issues.

Accessible housing is a huge issue in the Territory. I am sorry but I do not have a number.

Senator Mercer: I anticipated you might not, but I was trying to get a feel for the situation.

Ms. Lawson: The number is extremely small.

Senator Mercer: Are there any public housing units in Whitehorse, either for seniors or families?

Mr. Findlater: Yes, there are. We have about 480 in total. They are operated either by Whitehorse Housing Authority or Grey Mountain Housing Society, which is a First Nations housing program. We were fortunate to be beneficiaries of 48 new units for seniors from the Canada Winter Games held last year. We have beautiful new public housing units for 48 different senior groups, families or individuals.

Senator Mercer: Would the 480 units make up the bulk of the available rental units in Whitehorse?

Mr. Findlater: I have the December statistics. In Whitehorse, 851 apartments were listed for rent. I do not think those apartments are public housing. I think they are private. The 480 public housing units would make up about one third roughly of the total available apartments in Whitehorse.

Senator Mercer: There are about 1,300 altogether.

Mr. Findlater: In relation to Ms. Lawson's answer of one accessible unit in Watson Lake, there are 35 apartments in Watson Lake.

Senator Mercer: Everywhere we go, we hear about the issue of mental health and the lack of mental health professionals. It becomes even more acute because of the distance from the major centres.

It seems to me that medical schools in this country receive millions of dollars in funding from the federal government and the provincial governments. Would it help, or has the territory, to your knowledge, ever tried to make arrangements with the medical schools in the South, that part of the training of their residents include a rotation through Whitehorse? There is a cost to send someone south. Also, as Larry Bagnell said earlier, someone landing in Vancouver Airport by themselves, someone who may never have been out of the territory and may be from a First Nations, the process is a frightening one. It is frightening for those of us who travel regularly and land in Vancouver Airport.

Has contacting the medical schools ever been tried to your knowledge?

Ms. Lawson: I think not. Also, in regard to the mental health issue, we were fortunate to have the Canadian Mental Health Association bring the Canadian Human Rights Commission to the territory. We had a Mental Health Week last week and we had three workshops. Over 100 people attended the final workshop, and it talked about people with mental illness, which could be one in five people. Look around our table here. How many of us will suffer, or have suffered, from mental illness?

The workshop was trying to support people with mental illness back into the workforce. Many people come in and say, ``I have a back pain'' but once health care workers know them and they build the confidence and trust of these people, health care workers realize that they do not have only a back injury. They have a mental health issue. They can be struggling from bipolar disorder, depression or many things.

Our friend, Brian Eaton, works for the Second Opinion Society here in Whitehorse. He has a wonderful document to give you as well and he has made copies. It is specifically about mental illness in the territory. The problem is enormous.

Senator Mahovlich: I have a couple of questions. Regarding the cost of living, you said that social assistance funding since 1992?

Mr. Findlater: That is true. We are in our sixteenth year for social assistance funding. During that same period, the government indicates that the cost of living has gone up 25.6 per cent. Currently, people are operating on about 74-cent dollars. They are increasing the components, they say, although they announced it three and a half months ago and they still have not implemented it. All the increase does though is bring an inadequate level equal to the increasing cost of living, but it does not close the gap.

Senator Mahovlich: The cost of living changes every year.

Mr. Findlater: Yes, it does.

Senator Mahovlich: Someone has drawn the attention of government to that fact. As the cost of living changes every year, so does the cost of poverty.

Mr. Findlater: Yes, the Anti-Poverty Coalition was pleased two years ago to support the government plan to index the minimum wage. Every year now on April 1, based on the cost of living, the minimum wage goes up a certain percentage. We are encouraging the same thing directly with the minister for social assistance because people cannot wait another 16 years before the rates go up again.

Senator Mahovlich: Mr. Gosselin, you said some things must change. Have we ever travelled, say, to Finland, Norway, or maybe Siberia because it is a northern country, to see what they do with their poverty? Do they have poverty like we do in our North? Have you ever thought of anything like that? To change, maybe we need to go outside our borders to find out if other people have better solutions than ours.

[Translation]

Mr. Gosselin: If you have a little money to give me to go there, senator, it will be a pleasure to take a little time to go and see in Norway or Siberia. But I had never left Quebec before coming here.

Studies have no doubt been done, but we have to trust in our local vision, our local resources and the creative potential of the people who are here.

As Ross said, why is he required to repeat it every year? Why are we forced to repeat the same realities every year? We can go to Siberia to find out that they have found an answer, but I am not sure that Mr. Putin has a lot of answers on the subject right now.

[English]

Senator Peterson: Ms. Lawson, you spoke of the disability aspect. If someone needs a wheelchair or specialized equipment, is there a provincial department they can access for assistance in obtaining this equipment?

Ms. Lawson: We have home care through Yukon Health and Social Services. There are not a lot of people, for one. If they have a spinal chord injury, we can count on one hand how many people can stay in the territory. That is the first thing.

For instance, Judi Johnny right beside you has had problems with her wheelchair. We have someone in the territory that can help modify it. However, most often, people must go out to be fitted for their chair. There is nothing here. People must go out for many weeks at a time, and sometimes even months — I have a client who has been out for months — for their equipment to be modified to their body.

We have two great suppliers here. One is Northern Alpine for orthotics and things like that for people with disabilities. If people need rehabilitation or they have had an injury, anything significant, they are sent out. We have nothing here that can accommodate them.

Then, when we talk about living in a community, in Dawson City, the streets are made of dirt and there are wooden sidewalks. The wooden sidewalks have steps and are not accessible. Many buildings in our city are not accessible on the main street such as our bookstore. The city is aware of this lack and they are trying, but things are grandfathered. Ms. Johnny cannot access many buildings in our city.

Senator Peterson: Ms. O'Donnell, you talk about not having a food bank here, but you have food programs. Are the programs turning into a food bank? Do you find people rely more and more on your program?

Ms. O'Donnell: Yes, people rely on us and the Salvation Army and that is why the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has worked to start a food bank. It is in the process. It will happen. When it was first starting, somebody said, ``You will be out of work.'' I said, ``I do not think so.'' People will probably still fall through the cracks and need all of us. They will need the regular food bank and the two assisting programs.

I do not see that need going down.

Senator Peterson: Mr. Gosselin, you talked about the francophones who have come here by choice. Are there any francophone communities per se in the Yukon where there is a strong support group, or are they scattered throughout the territory?

[Translation]

Mr. Gosselin: According to the statistics, some 700 to 800 francophones live in Whitehorse. The others are scattered across the Yukon territory and do not necessarily have support. In Dawson City, I would say there is a volunteer coalition of a few individuals, but the francophones living outside Whitehorse curiously feel less of a need to identify with the francophone community and to have specifically francophone services.

The communities are small and the most significant community where there may be some French-language programs is Dawson City. But the hard core of the francophone community is in Whitehorse and surrounding areas. What is being sought in terms of support for bilingual service, among other things, is sought for the Yukon as a whole, particularly first-line services. We are talking about social services and health services.

Earlier I forgot to say that there is a new phenomenon. People living here are inviting their aging parents to come and live here because they do not want to go back east to take care of them. So elderly parents are coming here. I have known seniors who watched Télé-Métropole Montréal all week because they thought they were still in Montreal. They were living in isolation in their home. They had a visit from home care once a week. Here again, it is hard to get French-language services. The isolation is very hard for seniors to take because they do not want to say they regret having come. It is also very difficult for caregivers who care for their elderly parents. It becomes a heavy burden to bear, but, once again, they will not seek help because they chose to have them come.

In some cases, situations occur that are hard to bear, physical or psychological violence, manipulation, isolation or great solitude. Curiously, we have to talk about these specific cases because they are not numerous, but the number of individual cases is increasingly growing in the situation regarding seniors who come to the Yukon to live with their families.

[English]

The Chair: We want to thank this group for coming together. They are telling us stories that normally we would not hear. It is important for us to know that, here in the Yukon, the difficulties happen here too that people take for granted will happen in the large community centres and in the other parts of Canada. They do not think of those difficulties happening way up here. You are doing a wonderful job and we are grateful you have come here.

We are delighted that our next group of witnesses from the Government of Yukon here. When I was talking to a nice gentleman in the media the other day who phoned me in Ottawa, I was telling him all the things we want to talk about. I started talking about some of the more difficult parts that we have been through already and one of the most difficult ones was flying in to Prince George. I talked about the pine beetle, and he said, ``Are you going to talk to Tony Hill?'' Mr. Hill is the Director of the Agriculture Branch in the Government of Yukon. The man from the media told me that the Yukon is having an incredible difficulty here with pine beetle.

We are eager to hear what you all have to say.

Lesley McCullough, Director, Intergovernmental Relations, Government of Yukon: Good morning, senators. I am here today with Tony Hill who is Director of our Agriculture Branch, Diane Reed who is the Director of the Forestry Management Branch and Bob Holmes who is the Director of Mineral Resources, Energy, Mines and Resources.

We do not have a formal brief to present to the committee. We are here at your request. Specifically, you asked for Mr. Hill, Ms. Reed and Mr. Holmes to attend. My thought is that I might give you a bit of background to give you general information about the Yukon, the government and its relationship in particular with Yukon First Nations, its legal relationship, with the thought that the information might provide context for my co-presenters and for other presenters whom you might hear.

Some of this information may be new to you and some you might already have in your briefing package so I will try to be quick.

If you have any questions that we are not able to answer amongst the four of us, we will take those questions with us and I will commit to getting back to you with answers.

The Yukon is one of Canada's three northern territories. It was established as a separate territory in 1898 and has had an elected government, an elected council, at least since 1910. We have a long history of political development in the Yukon. I am not sure if you have already attended in the other territories or you will go there, but you will have the chance to see, and I am sure, hear, from the presentations that we share a lot of things in common with the other territories, but as well, a lot of things are unique.

Yukon alone amongst the territories has a party system of politics, and over the past several years, each of the three main political parties has formed the government. Yukon also negotiated a devolution transfer agreement with Canada, which took effect in 2003. Under the terms of that agreement, Yukon has authority and legislative jurisdiction over its natural resources, including the lands, mines and minerals, water and environmental assessments. The Yukon Act was amended to make that state of affairs law. That is important here because it means we are the only territory where that is the case. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut are still negotiating devolution.

Because of the devolution transfer agreement, Yukon's relationship with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs is not the same as that of other territories. The department no longer makes the land and resource decisions that it does in the other territories.

The department retains responsibility for northern economic development. However, Yukon would like to see a northern economic development agreement to that effect. However, our relationship is different than the other territories.

Yukon's population is roughly 32,000, almost 33,000. Of that population, three-quarters of the people live in Whitehorse, our capital city. The remaining 6,000 reside in one of Yukon's other 16 communities. That means that from Old Crow in the north to Watson Lake in the southeast Yukon, our population in these communities is small; the maximum is under 2,000. Two or three communities have a population of a few hundred. Some communities are even under 100.

Seven communities are incorporated and have local government. The rest are thought of as unincorporated communities under the Municipal Act, although — and I will talk about the role of First Nations and government here — that it is not really accurate.

Whitehorse is the only city in terms of population under the Municipal Act. All our communities have been growing at a steady level. Usually, in winter, populations go down somewhat, but our statistics tell us that over the past couple of years, populations have gone up in the winter, stayed up and moved up at a low, but stable rate.

Approximately a quarter of Yukon's population is First Nation or of other Aboriginal descent. That fact has led to the Yukon having a unique political framework in Canada. There are 14 Yukon First Nations. Of these 14, 11 have negotiated their land claims agreements, or final agreements as we call them, and have also negotiated self-government agreements.

I believe Senator Peterson, you also sit on the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. I believe you heard from representatives of Yukon First Nations last week in Ottawa when Yukon representatives were there.

From our perspective, and we are probably patting ourselves on the back a bit, we are ahead of the country in addressing outstanding land claims by Aboriginal people. We addressed land claims through the negotiation of a single template agreement, an umbrella final agreement, which acts as a framework for all negotiated land claims in the Yukon. That agreement ensures a high degree of consistency in a relatively small population. It also allows for each Yukon First Nation to negotiate provisions that are specific to the nation, and that meet its own priorities.

The Yukon First Nations final agreements speak to a variety of constitutional and protected treaty rights including financial compensation and land ownership. The agreements confirm First Nations' ownership over the identified settlement lands, and I believe that ownership comes to approximately 9 per cent of the usable non-mountainous land in the Yukon. The agreements also speak to harvesting rights and involvement in public government bodies. The agreements are comprehensive in that respect. However, Yukon First Nations also have self-government agreements establishing them as legal persons and allowing them to carry out business directly on their own behalf and on behalf of their citizens.

They establish First Nations law-making power in respect of citizens and land, and these laws displace Yukon laws dealing with the same matters so that a valid First Nation law displaces a valid Yukon law.

The Indian Act does not apply to those 11 Yukon First Nations who have final agreements or to their settlement land. Although there are some reserves in the Yukon, there is actually no Indian Act, or no reserves to which the Indian Act applies.

First Nations usually provide services directly to their own citizens in respect of much of their land, but also in respect of matters such as social assistance, housing and post-secondary education. That situation in the Yukon means we have three levels of government providing a variety of services. First Nations deliver many services to their own citizens. Canada delivers many services to those three Indian Act bands that remain, and to non-Yukon Indian people who are Status Indians. Yukon delivers services to the remaining population.

A First Nation has the ability to negotiate with government the transfer of services and we are undergoing that program right now, with First Nations negotiating for services. We have in the Yukon something called the Yukon Forum, which allows First Nation governments and the Yukon government to meet regularly to discuss their areas of joint priority; things over which they have concurrent jurisdiction where they wish to act in a cooperative manner.

We are trying to bring together all these many levels of government in a way that makes sense in terms of providing the best services possible to people. Some Yukon communities consist primarily of First Nations. Given that the local area is primarily settlement land in these communities, the local First Nation provides most of the services since it is the local government authority, although not under the Municipal Act in that area.

The primary employers in the Yukon continue to be government, the mining sector, tourism and renewable resource development. You will hear more about that employment from the other Yukon government speakers today.

We also have a thriving arts community that exports arts to southern markets.

I heard the senator talk about education. We have a fairly high level of education in the Yukon. We have good broadband and Internet coverage throughout the territory.

I heard you talking to other speakers about the transportation network. Compared to the other territories, you will see that transportation is extremely sophisticated, relatively, with only one community not accessible by road. That means that in some ways, some of our communities, though still isolated, are not as isolated as those in the other territories.

Many Yukoners, particularly those living outside Whitehorse, still live a subsistence lifestyle. Sometimes that lifestyle is because of cultural factors, sometimes because of economic factors, and sometimes because of both.

I think, senators, what you will hear today from the Yukon government, but obviously from other speakers, will probably lead to a realization, as you go across the North and form your recommendations, that the Yukon is a land contrasts. In some ways, it is extremely sophisticated, and in some ways, as I am sure you will hear, there are still a lot of challenges. I hope that I and the other Yukon government speakers can provide you with the information and some of the context that will help you in assessing those contrasts.

Tony Hill, Director, Agriculture Branch, Government of Yukon: I will provide a little information on Yukon agriculture. The Yukon is over 483,000 square kilometres in size. It is about 75 per cent of the size of Alberta, with only 1 per cent of its population. In total, only about 2 per cent of the land in the Yukon is deemed to have agricultural potential, and this land is generally located along the major river valleys in the south and central parts of the territory. Because of the need for water and suitable climate conditions, the land suitable for agriculture is far less than 2 per cent.

Currently, a little over 100 square kilometres are used for agriculture, but only a little less than 40 square kilometres are used for hay and field crop production. There are 148 farms reported in the last Census of Agriculture in 2006. The industry largely serves local territorial markets for food and feed, and this industry is led by the hay and forage producers, animal production and vegetable farming.

In the handout I provided, a pie chart shows the various sectors and the breakdown of the various sectors. You will note right away that about 45 per cent of the total farm income is derived from hay production, and this production reflects a large horse population in the Yukon.

The vegetable industry plays an increasingly important role in agriculture. Livestock production, red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and other animal products as well as sod and horticultural products also play significant roles.

A number of associations represent the various agricultural stakeholders including the Yukon Agricultural Association, the Growers of Organic Food Yukon, the Fireweed Community Market and the Yukon Food Processors Association.

Farm production practices in the Yukon vary from organic to more traditional intensive input operations. In general, Yukon farmers rely on irrigation, and they use commercial fertilizer, but low levels of herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, animal hormones or antibiotics.

In terms of irrigation, 1,851 acres were reported as irrigated in the 2006 Census of Agriculture. This figure represents about 20 per cent of the cultivated or cropped areas.

Organic production has grown in the last five years. In 2007, there were four certified organic producers in the Yukon and one producer is in transition to become certified. This number has increased from the 2006 census only a year earlier when there were only two certified producers and two others in transition.

However, many other producers report using organic or near-organic practices. The availability of organic feed and organic fertilizers are two issues that are constraints to growing the organic sector, although organic feed is now produced in the Yukon.

Farming in the Yukon appears to be marginal from a financial perspective. Overall operating expenses of $4.26 million are greater than the total farm receipts of $4.08 million in 2006. The spread between operating expenses and farm receipts has decreased compared to 2000 when receipts were valued at $4.19 million and expenses were valued at $4.75 million.

A number of studies have been commissioned on the costs and returns of agricultural production in the Yukon that support the notion that high costs and low productivity continue to be the major challenges facing the industry. In particular, labour costs are viewed as significant constraints in the current market. The small scale of production and high capital cost are likely two of the more significant causes of marginal financial conditions.

In 2006, the industry reported that for the 148 farms, there were 215 farm operators. These operators are full- and part-time. The average age of farm operators in the Yukon is 51, which is a year older than the national average. The average farm operator is becoming older, with the number of operators between age 35 and age 55 declining more than other categories. This trend is a common theme in agriculture, and issues of succession planning and training will need to be addressed for any future industry success.

More than half the operators have full-time or part-time work off-farm. The statistics indicate that farming in the Yukon continues to be a hobby or lifestyle choice for many producers. Statistics also point to the high demand for labour generally in the Yukon.

The majority of products produced in the Yukon are sold using the farm-to-farm or farm-gate channels. Approximately 75 per cent of the farm production is sold this way.

Consumers in the Yukon show a strong desire to buy locally. This desire can be seen in the support for community markets and in strong farm-gate sales. This desire has also translated into high premiums for a limited amount of Yukon production. This local premium may be as high as two- to four-fold over imported production. Marketing local production has also been driven by the 100-mile diet that encourages a diet of food produced within 100 miles of where it is consumed.

Virtually all Yukon agricultural production is sold in the Yukon. While support for local production has helped to encourage local producers, it is not the reason why products are not exported from the territory. The high cost of production and limited quantity has restricted Yukon products to local consumers. Only limited amounts of elk antler velvet, sod, hay and honey are exported.

Development of the agriculture land base is supported by the Government of Yukon agriculture policy. The policy allows access to Crown land for both agriculture production and grazing purposes. Fee simple title can be obtained in exchange for developing the land for soil-based agriculture and making improvements on the land that equal or exceed the market value. Grazing tenure is provided through a lease program.

The Agriculture Branch also provides extension services to farmers in many areas of farm management and northern production methods.

The Yukon participates in the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Agriculture Policy Framework aimed at advancing and improving agriculture across Canada. The agreement provides for five years of federal and territorial funding to cover the costs of implementing the agreement here in the Yukon.

Last December, in 2007, a five-year development plan was finalized for the Yukon agriculture and agri-food industry, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Yukon Agriculture Branch. The comprehensive multi-year development plan presents strategies for industry-wide issues related to infrastructure, regulations, financing, marketing and information gathering. As well, the plan supports development in specific sectors such as meat and vegetable production. Most of the industry-wide strategies reflect issues that will benefit all sectors, from hay and meat production to organic production.

The overall goal of the multi-year development plan is to increase and sustain production, sales and profitability in the Yukon agriculture and agri-food industry.

The Chair: Thank you very much. That information was beyond what people in Ottawa talk about when it comes to agriculture in this part of the country, which is one reason why we want to hear from you. Otherwise, we would think there was not a thing growing here.

Diane Reed, Director, Forestry Management Branch, Government of Yukon: I want to give you a quick overview of the forest industry potential in the Yukon.

We have 27 million hectares or 57 per cent of the land base forested in sub-Arctic boreal forests. Of that, 5.4 million hectares are considered productive, so a small portion of our forest land base.

Three major factors shape forest management and development in the territory. As previously mentioned, one is the devolution of the resource management authority to the Yukon. Since 2004, we have engaged in public policy discussions and we are now ready to proceed to public consultation on a new forest resources act that will modernize the industry.

We have the First Nation land claims and Aboriginal rights, as was previously mentioned. There are 14 First Nations with overlapping territories in the Yukon. The 11 First Nations with settled land claims administer settlement lands within their traditional territory. Our focus has been collaboration with these First Nations as a key focus for our present administration of the land base.

The third and final factor shaping forest management policy is the impact of multiple user groups and ecological considerations for the land base. Currently, over 30 per cent, almost 40 per cent of the land base is undergoing integrated forest planning. We are planning this use with the Champagne and Aishinhik First Nation, the Teslin Tlingit Council, the Kaska Nation and the Dawson First Nation.

We are developing a modern resource analysis to complement our planning and investment in forestry. We are also actively developing solutions to several challenges that have impacted the development of a forest industry in the Yukon. As discussed previously, we are establishing a regulatory framework and this modern policy and regulatory framework is creating a better investment environment in the Yukon. We are establishing the forest land base and currently completing allowable annual cuts, AACs, for the areas where our forest planning is completed.

We are working hard at monitoring and predicting our natural disturbance regime. We are developing monitoring and risk assessment tools and response to fire and insect outbreaks so that we can salvage the fibre before the value is lost. An example of this response is that recently we have been dealing with a 400,000-hectare spruce bark beetle outbreak. In 2004, 1.8 million hectares were burned in the territory. We are actively making opportunities available to salvage this wood.

One challenge that makes developing a large forest industry unlikely in the Yukon is the fact that we have northern boreal fibre; economies of scale do not exist in Yukon and we cannot compete with the large southern mills.

Another challenge is that we are at a competitive disadvantage in our woodlands and manufacturing costs. We have long distance to markets. We have high energy costs and we have no current markets for waste produced by milling. Those waste products, the chip markets, are what a lot of producers in the South rely on to improve their bottom line.

What is possible in the Yukon? It is possible to have a forest industry and an AAC based on the biological carrying capacity and community acceptability. The community is involved in setting AACs in Yukon. We think we will have small local or proximate niche markets such as log home building, fuel wood, local lumber and siding. Potentially, there are opportunities in non-standard non-commodity marketplaces like non-standard dimensional lumber, biomass or any type of stump-to-shelf business models.

We want a working partnership between government, industry and the communities to plan the timber harvesting land base, to develop access and engineer blocks, meet the reforestation requirements, and engage in research and development. Government will be heavily involved to support the small businesses that we see here and to protect the public good.

We also hope to capitalize on consumer sensitivities. There is a potential to develop a ``use-Yukon-wood'' campaign to develop a local market.

We have the baseline pieces in place. We have our forest management planning close to completion. We have our forest statute ready to go out to public review. We have AACs established in Haines Junction and Teslin, and we already have 350,000 cubic metres of permitted wood available in the Watson Lake area.

We are currently supporting an active firewood-cutting industry and we are in the midst of developing a forest industry action plan in partnership with the industry stakeholders and other government departments like Yukon Development Corporation and the Energy Solutions Centre. This forest industry action plan is focused on finding new opportunities in the bio-energy field for our wood products.

Robert Holmes, Director, Mineral Resources, Energy, Mines and Resources, Government of Yukon: I want to tell you a little bit about the Yukon's mineral industry.

As Ms. McCullough mentioned to you, the Yukon is a special place. Changes are happening here that other places in Canada would love to have achieved. For the most part, few people outside the Yukon even know about them. I have always been amazed at the ability of Yukoners to argue and fight for what they think is right, but in the end, to move ahead for the good of the Yukon.

Our branch, Mineral Resources, is responsible, among other things, for the administration of mineral rights throughout the Yukon. The Yukon is large. It is twice the size of the U.K., and about the same size as France or Spain. We operate four mining recorder offices in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Mayo and Watson Lake. Currently, nearly 90,000 mineral claims and leases are recorded in the territory. These claims are located on less than 4 per cent of the overall land base.

Although the Yukon has always been known for mining, it has seen a resurgence in the last few years. I would call it a new mining industry because there is a new social fabric in the Yukon now. First, we have devolution, which means that the Yukon has provincial-like authorities over resources. That authority is different than the other two territories.

Second, as others have mentioned, we have land claims that are largely settled, with self-government agreements. This relationship between public governments and First Nation governments is somewhat unique in Canada. We cannot look elsewhere for examples of how to implement these new relationships.

Third, we have a new environmental assessment act. The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, YESAA, which replaces the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in the Yukon, is unusual in that it is the sole assessment process for federal, Yukon and First Nation governments. We do not have the issue of harmonization of federal and provincial assessment processes that are difficult south of 60. YESAA is also unusual in that it must not only consider environmental effects, but also socio-economic effects of projects and proposed mitigation. It is also able to consider the effect of development proposals on Indian peoples and on treaty rights of Indian peoples.

These three examples are of the new social landscape in the Yukon that has been put in place in the last five to ten years. When we put it all together, Yukoners have much more say and influence on development occurring in the territory now than they ever did before.

Mining traditionally has been the largest contributor to the Yukon economy, apart from government. It was a result of the influx of people during the Klondike gold rush in 1896 that the Yukon was created by federal statute in 1898. Since the gold rush, the Yukon has seen the development and closure of many mining camps. Surprisingly, the Dawson gold fields are still active. Placer mining in Dawson and other centres employs around 1,000 people in the territory, and the industry has seen, in recent years, production values around $50 million a year.

With regard to hard rock mining, historically, there have been wild swings in exploration, development and production activity, with boom and bust cycles. For example, the Faro mine that was developed in the late 1960s closed permanently in 1998. That closure resulted in the town of Faro declining from about 1,800 people to perhaps 200 people, and a lot of other negative effects throughout the Yukon.

As well, the closure and, in some cases, abandonment of mines has resulted in large environmental liabilities that are now addressed at the public expense. Active reclamation and closure planning and implementation under government direction are occurring at Faro, Mount Nansen, Clinton Creek and Elsa.

The Yukon's mineral industry almost disappeared in the late 1990s except for placer mining. We were down to no producing hard rock mines and exploration levels of $5 million. However, a number of factors including record metal prices and new technologies have meant that currently, we are experiencing a resurgence in mineral exploration development. Last year, Yukon's exploration expenditures reached $140 million and our development expenditures were roughly $60 million. These investment levels — and these are only hard rock levels — amount to nearly $7,000 per capita, which, in the Ontario context, would be equivalent to an industry of $70 billion.

This per capita number does not include the value of mineral production. We currently have one producing copper gold mine near Pelly Crossing owned by Sherwood Copper which will generate revenues of nearly $200 million this year. We also have a healthy placer mining industry, which I mentioned.

These changes have a potential to create big economic impacts on the Yukon economy. The Yukon has tremendous mineral potential and several world class deposits. As one example, the Mactung deposit currently under development by North American Tungsten Limited is the largest undeveloped tungsten deposit outside of China and tungsten is a strategic metal. There is no other producing mine in North America other than the one on the Yukon border.

However, a major challenge we face for long-term sustainable growth of the mining sector is infrastructure. Transportation of product to market and supplies to mining products can create a high barrier to entry in the Yukon, preventing some projects from proceeding that could have proceeded in more developed parts of the country.

It is important that local benefits are provided to Yukon communities and First Nation members. For the most part, companies genuinely try to provide these benefits. We encourage companies to engage strongly with local communities and to enter into socio-economic agreements with First Nation communities. These socio-economic participation agreements, SEPAs, are sometimes called impact benefit agreements, IBAs. They are not required under law, and government is not a party to them most of the time. The agreements are contractual. Normally they include measures for local training and hiring, local business development and participation in environmental monitoring among other things. When an IBA is in place, the number of regulatory hurdles that seem to melt away is amazing.

In the past, companies constructed company towns, which tended to isolate the workforce and the benefits of a mine from local communities and the local economy, but those days are now over. Faro, Clinton Creek and Elsa were all company towns. Employees now are transported on regular rotations with temporary accommodation at the mine site. Employees may have their permanent residence in local Yukon communities or they may live in larger centres like Whitehorse, Edmonton or Vancouver. Some skilled workers are even flown in from Atlantic Canada now. With the challenge today in finding skilled workers, employees are sought all over the country and may be transported from anywhere in Canada. A tremendous skills shortage faces the mineral industry in this country.

The supply and service sector benefits greatly from mine developments. Whitehorse has become a centre for supply and service for Yukon and northwestern British Columbia. For example, several branch offices of major environmental and civil engineering consultants are now located in Whitehorse.

To help train Yukoners for jobs in the industry, the Yukon Mine Training Association was created several years ago to work with First Nations, industry, Yukon College and government to develop training programs. The Yukon government is working with the Yukon Mine Training Association to identify funding sources and to provide advice on upcoming opportunities in the mining industry.

To conclude, I leave you with the following thoughts. The Yukon's mineral industry is growing rapidly. Government and industry are working hard to navigate through the new governance structures in Yukon to create projects that bring real value-added to Yukon. They are trying to create local employment and local Yukon benefits, and avoid future environmental liabilities. One challenge is infrastructure and a second challenge is the shortage of skilled and willing labour in communities, but we are addressing these challenges through training strategies and encouragement of impact benefit agreements.

There is a lot more to say, but I will close at this point. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Senate committee.

The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentations. It probably would not surprise you that sitting in Ottawa, one would not think that the Yukon had much to do with almost everything you said. That is one reason why it is important to leave Ottawa and come and listen to the people who are doing what you are doing.

Senator Mercer: I am impressed by the numbers we see on agriculture. When we were preparing to come here, we had difficulty with some people telling us that while we are here to study rural poverty, we are not here to study agriculture necessarily. However, in rural Canada, one talks about agriculture.

Is there a plan to talk about what the local farmers will grow for the local market? A variety of things are grown here. You say that with the exception of a small number of products, everything is consumed in the Yukon. Is someone saying, ``We do not have this product, it is expensive to import and it can be grown in the Yukon. Maybe we should go into that business''?

Mr. Hill: A lot of agriculture started in the Yukon because we had a high horse population. Agriculture was started to supply feed for horses and also to feed other livestock because it was expensive to bring up a bulky commodity like hay from Alberta. The closest hay growing region is 1,000 miles south of here. It might cost $80 a ton to buy the hay, but it costs $250 to ship it here. Therefore, it becomes lucrative to grow it here.

We have a five-year development plan that we came up with in December 2007. We are aiming at producing more food, not only animal feed but also developing the food market, the vegetable market, the greenhouse industry and field crops like potatoes to a greater extent than we do now. Agriculture is only hitting a development stage now where we have enough land base that we can supply more of those commodities.

Senator Mercer: You mentioned that the local premium may be as high as two- to four-fold over imported production. Yukon may be the only place in the world where money is o be made in farming. Are people who farm also working off the farm because they need to?

Mr. Hill: I would say over 90 per cent of the farmers work off the farm. There are few full-time farmers. Even though Whitehorse is not the best region for farming, the full-time jobs are here, so about 70 per cent to 75 per cent of the farms are located around Whitehorse. That concentration reflects the need for off-farm income.

Senator Mercer: You talked about making opportunities available to salvage wood from the spruce bark beetle and from fires. How are you creating those opportunities?

Ms. Reed: We are providing all the engineering, road-building, layout, the laying out of permits in a variety of sizes and the planning necessary to harvest the wood. Then, we will also take on the reforestation. The government is trying to encourage people to salvage the wood by picking up the preplanning and the post-harvest activities.

Senator Mercer: What do they use the wood for? You talked about using it for heating.

Ms. Reed: We have two small mills in Yukon; one in Dawson City and a retail yard in Whitehorse. The mills make things like siding and dimensional lumber rough cut. We have another small mill in the Haines Junction area. The mills mainly serve niche markets in Alaska right now for non-standard dimensional lumber.

The recovery rates are low in Yukon because the capital investment required to have a high efficiency mill does not exist here. For that reason, we are looking at finding markets for the waste products from those mills in terms of bio- energy and bio-fuels.

Senator Mercer: You talked about reforestation requirements. We have major reforestation plans in my province of Nova Scotia and they are tight. What do you plan to plant and is there a plan to change from the forests that were there in the beginning?

Ms. Reed: Yes, we are developing a sophisticated research program to deal with climate change because we find that the Yukon is the canary in the mine shaft around climate change. We currently replant with seedlings from the area as they do in most parts of Canada, the right provenance. However, we are also looking at establishing trials for other species and other provenances to try to get ahead of the curve on climate change.

Senator Mercer: I am always worried about the canary in the mine shaft because of what happens to them sometimes.

Mr. Holmes, I have two quick questions. Skilled workers are flown in and this is happening south of the sixtieth parallel too in places like Fort McMurray. There are now direct flights from Halifax and St. John's, Newfoundland to Fort McMurray weekly, mainly because of crews being rotated in and out. What do you see as the economic advantage to Yukon because these people come in, they work, they take their salaries and they leave? Other than the food they consume and a few other things, and the fact that the mine operating, is it economically beneficial to the Yukon if all the money leaves town?

Mr. Holmes: We prefer to see, of course, local Yukoners hired as much as possible but it is not possible in the mining industry. It is sometimes looked at as a low tech industry, but in fact, it is probably one of the highest tech industries in the country. The kinds of people who are needed have high skill levels and high education levels. Although the average education is high in Yukon, a lot of those skills are not available. I think, over time, that situation will improve. As we start to build an industry again and we have a few more producing mines, that critical mass of expertise will appear again in the Yukon.

Senator Mercer: One thing we see cropping up in other parts of the country is the shortage of skilled workers, and you have talked about it here with respect to mining. Have you examined the possibility of immigration as part of the answer to the problem? Skilled labourers are available throughout the world who have hard rock mining experience.

Mr. Holmes: Personally, I am not aware of anything we have done.

Ms. McCullough: The Department of Economic Development is working with Canada to improve the rate of immigration to the Yukon for precisely that reason. The Yukon government has signed several immigration agreements, some that are investor oriented and some that are skilled-worker oriented. I can find out and provide the nature of those agreements to the standing committee. Immigration is something that has been recognized as a need.

Senator Mercer: My point is that those people come and stay for a period, and the economic spinoff becomes a little greater.

Senator Peterson: Mr. Hill, the growing season here is much different than in the rest of Canada. Does that difference provide any opportunities to grow specialty crops here?

Mr. Hill: The summer is short, but because we have the added benefit of long days, for example, in June, we calculate our effective growing degree days and then we take the growing degree day number and increase it by 18 per cent because our days are 19 or 20 hours long. We produce a crop faster here than a crop is produced on the forty- ninth parallel. For example, a crop that takes 90 days to grow there, we can often grow in 70 days here. That is a bit of an advantage.

Senator Peterson: I am onto the story of Yukon gold potatoes. I grow them in Elbow, Saskatchewan at Lake Diefenbaker and all my friends in the city demand that I bring more and more in. Do those potatoes come from here?

Mr. Hill: No, they do not.

Senator Peterson: I thought I was going back with a real story. The potatoes are good.

Ms. McCullough, you mentioned the First Nations. Obviously, I am interested in that subject as I am on the Aboriginal Peoples committee. We recently returned from New Mexico where we met with the Apache, the Pueblo and the Navajos. They are all descendants from the Athabasca tribe, which originated in this area. The Navajo language is similar to the Dene. In Mexico, the Pueblo Nation is 19 tribes and the Navajo is 67, but they operate as a nation. As they told us, when they talk to the government, they do not talk government to government; they talk nation to nation.

Is there any commonality with the First Nations in this area where something like that could be achieved, because that might be where the solution lies?

Ms. McCullough: Eleven of the 14 Yukon First Nations belong to the Council of Yukon First Nations, which is essentially a political group, but formed on the basis of moving common priorities forward. Beyond the relationships set out in the self-government agreements and the land claim agreements, there is also a formal Yukon Forum under legislation. A governance act in the Yukon stipulates that the elected Yukon government and the governments of the Yukon First Nations collectively meet a minimum of four times a year, I believe, to identify matters of common priority, et cetera.

If you are asking, is there a body similar to a tribal council, there are tribal councils. The Northern Tutchone First Nations have a tribal council as do the Kaska First Nations and the Southern Tutchone First Nations. I think a lot of First Nations — and I am not really in a position to speak on their behalf — are in the situation where right now, they have worked for self-government for a long time and they want to exercise that self-government and determine on their own how best to work with other First Nations through political and other bodies.

The Council of Yukon First Nations, to which most Yukon First Nations belong, has been active a long time.

Senator Peterson: The Pueblo and the Navajo have their own school system. The curriculum is approved by the state, but they run it. They have immersion and can put language in. It gives them a sense of who and what they are, and it gives them pride in themselves.

I know in my own province of Saskatchewan, the First Nations people are fractured there. We have all these different bands and they do not seem to work together to achieve those things that would make them a strong nation.

Ms. McCullough: I do not think the situation here is analogous to Saskatchewan, from what I understand. I think, to a great extent, Yukon First Nations have chosen to work together in terms of negotiating land claims and developing a common template in respect of getting their agreements through legislation, both at the territorial and federal levels. As you know, most Yukon First Nations attended in Ottawa last week to meet with ministers, members of Parliament, et cetera. The meeting focused on the issue of implementation. They did that in consort with the Yukon government.

Again, I speak as somebody outside observing, but I think, historically, there has been a real recognition on the part of Yukon First Nations of the need to work together to move forward with a common agenda. I think in that case, it would be much more like the situation you describe in the southwest United States.

Although, there is one thing I would say about the Navajo and the Pueblo, and common language groups. You are absolutely right. They are descendants of the Dene and the Athabascan people, but they have larger populations, larger language groups. It sometimes makes those types of unities easier. However, Yukon First Nations have a history of working together.

The Council of Yukon Indians was founded, I believe, in 1974 from what was the Yukon Native Brotherhood and the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians. The CYI was the first organization of First Nations in Canada to say, ``Let's put aside the issue of status, we are not based on status.'' Out of the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians and the Native Brotherhood representing Status Indians, they formed the Council of Yukon Indians to work for common interests.

The importance of working together has been recognized all along.

Senator Peterson: I wish them success.

Mr. Holmes, on the minerals and the resources here, there is a lot of talk now about the Northwest Passage, and that it could be open soon. We hear about Arctic sovereignty and possible deep sea ports. What impact would that passage have on the Yukon?

Mr. Holmes: I think you are referring to the push in the Northwest Territories to create a port at Bathurst Inlet.

Senator Peterson: I am thinking of the whole North. You say transportation is a problem here, transporting your resources out. If a Northwest Passage opened and you had a deep sea port, what would that do to your mineral resources?

Mr. Holmes: To be honest, I have not heard a lot of discussion about a deep sea port in the Northern Yukon. For one thing, much of the Yukon at the coast is park. A deep sea port in the Northwest Territories probably would not be much help here because we would need to cross the mountains and the MacKenzie River to reach it.

Most Yukon mines and metals look south for shipment. Historically, they have been shipped to the Port of Skagway in Alaska. The Port of Skagway has recently been reopened for mineral products with the Minto mine I mentioned near Carmacks. They have worked with the village of Skagway and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Agency to reopen the Port of Skagway for mineral shipments. Most producers look toward that port. A good highway system to move product to the Port of Skagway would be a much more effective approach in the Yukon, I think.

Senator Peterson: Spending on highways makes more sense than spending money on that type of infrastructure.

Oil and gas in the Beaufort, is there anything off your coast?

Mr. Holmes: Yes, there is. I am not knowledgeable about the oil and gas industry so I cannot really speak much about that.

Senator Peterson: Nothing has happened though? No development is taking place off your shores that you are aware of?

Mr. Holmes: There is off the Alaska coast.

Senator Peterson: I know that.

Senator Mahovlich: I guess we could start with Robert Holmes and minerals. I know that diamonds have become popular throughout northern Canada recently. Have any discoveries been made in the Yukon?

Mr. Holmes: Of diamonds, no: There are tantalizing little hints that there might be diamonds somewhere. The Yukon is made up of geological terrains that have come in from parts of the earth and collided, so a whole series of terrains over millions of years have collided, but the rock is young. The Northwest Territories are made up of ancient Archean rock that has been there for billions of years, and that is the kind of setting needed for diamonds.

Possibly, there are diamonds at great depths in the Yukon, but no hint of anything commercial. We have an emerald project in the Yukon that is moving along, hopefully, but nothing for diamonds, unfortunately.

Senator Mahovlich: I wondered about the pine bark beetle. How are we protecting our trees, chemistry-wise? Are we attacking this beetle or are we only cutting down our trees?

Ms. Reed: Right now, we do not have pine bark beetle in the Yukon. We have spruce bark beetle. Pine bark beetle is kept out by our colder temperatures.

Several of the major universities are working on controls for all kinds of bark beetles, but right now, nothing is available. They have tried injecting certain arsenic-like pesticides into the trees. The problem is that we cannot use the wood because there is worry about worker safety and the tree will still die. Right now, the populations have gone up at such an exponential rate that we are into a salvage situation. Not a lot can be done to stop it. We need weather conditions.

Senator Mahovlich: You do not have the pine tree this far north?

Ms. Reed: We have pine trees, but right now, our cold temperatures in the Yukon provide an effective barrier against mountain pine beetle.

Senator Mahovlich: The other day, when it was minus 50 degrees, that was good.

Ms. Reed: Yes.

Senator Mahovlich: On agriculture, I am from Northern Ontario and we often wondered what to do with some of our mines. The idea came up about agriculture and going down there and supplying light. The mines would be great to grow miniature trees and things of that nature. Have we done anything in the Yukon, experiment-wise?

Mr. Hill: We have done nothing that I am aware of, although one grower grew sprouts in a controlled environment. It was not a greenhouse, it was only a container. He used all artificial light and was able to grow sprouts and supply the market here, but nothing has been done in terms of mining.

The Chair: I am becoming paranoid about the pine beetle partly because, as you know, it comes through Prince George, across the border and aims itself at our boreal forest in northern Alberta. It is also sneaking down into the south area of BC and is putting its beady eye on the gorgeous Crow's Nest Pass, which is close to where I live.

When we travelled across the rest of the country, it was startling almost that because of the distance, this issue was not a big newspaper issue or whatever in Quebec or in Northern Ontario. However, when we arrived there and talked to people in the industry, there was an incredible feeling of fear that once it moves, if it does move, if we cannot stop it through Alberta, it will move like fire all across the country to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Is your beetle different from ours?

Ms. Reed: The Yukon spruce bark beetle?

The Chair: Yes.

Ms. Reed: The spruce bark beetle attacks spruce trees, and the mountain pine beetle attacks pine trees, both of which are boreal species. Right now, the spruce bark beetle populations have not hit the huge epidemic that the mountain pine beetle has hit, where the area affected has become so large, it is sweeping and has managed to cross the mountains, and it is into the Jack pine.

The area affected by the spruce bark beetle currently is large. It has spread across the southwestern portion of the Yukon, but we have healthy spruce trees further inland. Right now, the spruce bark beetle is hitting trees that have been impacted by drought and climatic change.

We have no way of knowing if it will hit the same sort of exponential growth as the mountain pine beetle. What we are doing is monitoring it. We are looking at risk assessments of the forest to see how likely the potential is that it will keep going. However, like any natural science, all we can do is project, use computer models, and hope for the best.

The Chair: I thank all of you for helping us with this because it is a frightening problem that we cannot seem to get a grip on.

Senator Mercer: To follow up on your question, Madam Chair, I think this subject is fascinating. When we were in British Columbia and we saw the mountain pine beetle, we saw the devastation. We flew over the mountains when we left Prince George and we could see all of the mountains.

The local people in Prince George told us that if they had two weeks of temperatures, minus 30 degrees to minus 40 degrees, as they used to have, that weather would solve the problem. I am amazed that the spruce bark beetle can live because the Yukon still has periods of minus 40 and minus 50 weather, even though it is affected by global warming.

Is there a temperature that kills this thing?

Ms. Reed: I am not an entomologist, but my understanding of the life cycle of both mountain pine beetle and spruce bark beetle is that as the weather becomes colder later in the winter, they develop an antifreeze. What we need then is cold temperatures early on. The later the cold temperatures, the less likely they are to kill all the beetle population. In B.C., the temperatures are probably not cold enough early in the season. Here, we are still normal enough that we have those cold temperatures early and it keeps some of the bark beetle under control. Probably, the area that has been hit had a warmer winter or two.

The Chair: I thank all of you. You have given us a different picture — and it is a good one — of the Yukon than the one we have in the south of Canada. Even in some of our internal discussions in Ottawa, there is still a vision that agriculture is not an issue here, and it clearly is an issue. We wish you well.

I was talking to a nice gentleman in the media here a few days ago and he said how terrific your potatoes are. We were both wondering why we could not have a lot more of them instead of going to Idaho. I leave that with you. If you come up with an answer, let us know.

Welcome to our next group of witnesses.

Charlotte Hrenchuk, Coordinator, Yukon Status of Women Council: Thank you for the opportunity to present to your committee on behalf of the Yukon Status of Women Council. We are a small non-profit organization that has existed since 1973. We are not connected with the government body.

The situation of women's lives north of 60 is a world apart from life in the South, economically, socially and culturally. Isolation, a harsh climate, lack of resources, lack of accessible and affordable transportation systems, underdeveloped infrastructure, a high cost of living, a high rate of social issues, limited opportunities for employment and training, the legacy of residential schools and colonization contribute to poverty and homelessness for Yukon women. These conditions contrive to keep many Yukon women living in the cycle of poverty without much hope of escape.

Some things are the same. The gender inequities women face all over Canada are apparent here. Women in the Yukon receive, on average, 85 per cent of the income received by men. This wage gap is not as great as in the rest of Canada, but that statistic is deceptive. High wages paid by the territorial and federal governments keep many women out of poverty. However, the income gap is growing between those working for the government and the mining sector and those working in the service and tourism industries. The seasonal nature of these sectors leaves many women without work in the winter. Many tourism and service sector jobs are part-time with no benefits, pensions and security.

The gap between families with the lowest and highest incomes, an indication of income inequality, has widened during the past decade. Women in rural Yukon communities have fewer opportunities to obtain training for these jobs, which are mainly available in Whitehorse, thus contributing to poverty for rural Yukon women. First Nations women face the added barrier of discrimination.

For the past two years, the Yukon Status of Women Council researched the issue of women and homelessness in the Yukon. Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Homelessness in the North is largely hidden, especially among women. Because of this fact, we have no numbers to quote. What we did find is that every woman is vulnerable to homelessness and the attendant poverty, given the wrong set of circumstances.

We know that, per capita, shelter use is highest in the North. Our housing prices have risen drastically in the past few years. The median rent in Whitehorse in December 2007 increased 3.7 per cent from the previous year. The vacancy rate for Whitehorse was 2.8 per cent at that time. This vacancy rate is 1.6 percentage points higher than the national rate. While the Yukon minimum wage rate was indexed against the Consumer Price Index in 2006, allowing minimum wage rates to be adjusted annually, the 2008 wage increase of 2.5 per cent is less than the percentage of rent increase over the same period.

The annual rate of inflation in Whitehorse is 4.1 per cent. Social assistance rates, both territorial and at the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, have not risen in ten years. Present rates for shelter, food and the bare necessities leave women caught between paying the rent and feeding themselves or their children. One of the women I interviewed for my study, A Little Kindness Would Go A Long Way, said, ``A lot of days I go without eating because I'm feeding my boy. I don't care if I starve, he needs to eat. How do they expect a single parent who has no income, no child support, nothing, to get through the month on $500?''

As in the rest of Canada, lone-parent families headed by women are disproportionately represented among the poor. The situation for Aboriginal women is even worse, with 73 per cent of lone-parent mothers living below the low income cut-off in 2000. Employment inequities, discrimination and part-time work, piece work and seasonal work are the ingredients of poverty and homelessness.

The rules and regulations for social assistance seem to be structured to punish and penalize poverty rather than to help women break the cycle. If a woman manages to find a job, she is left to her own devices. Medical problems, dental bills and unexpected expenses will often thrust her back into the social assistance system. The system seems to be based on the principle of charity rather than fulfilling basic human rights.

The Yukon does not have a graduated system to support women's independence. Poverty forces women to make decisions no one should be required to make. Women lose their children to the child welfare system if they do not have adequate housing or cannot afford to feed and clothe them adequately. Disabilities can condemn women and their children to a life of poverty. A life of poverty that may lead to loss of health, debt and a deep feeling of despair are all parts of the cycle that often includes addictions and living with abuse to survive. In the Yukon, survival sex is a common way for women to keep a roof over their heads.

What are the solutions? Canada has signed on to several international treaties that outline the right to adequate housing and food. Canada needs to do more to honour its responsibilities under the treaties. The federal government can require the territory to end the clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement. The government can create a national housing policy that includes women's needs throughout their life cycle, as well as increasing funding and support to housing and homelessness initiatives.

The federal government can raise and index the social assistance rates of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. It can change the Employment Insurance rules that put seasonal and part-time workers, mostly women, at a disadvantage. The federal government can also change the reliance on per-capita-based funding formulas for housing and homelessness funding to a formula based on need and that reflects the higher costs of living in the North.

Most of all, the federal government can increase support to community organizations working to alleviate poverty, dispel myths about the poor and change the systems that contrive to keep women trapped in the cycle of poverty, homelessness and despair.

Barbara Powick, Executive Director, Kaushee's Place — Yukon Women's Transition Society: She is a hard act to follow. We were organized by a First Nations woman from Tagish. We proudly receive fish from her grandson every fall. We have a nine-room transition home with 15 beds.

One reason I will not have such an elegant speech as Charlotte is that the home is full. One of the normal responses to trauma is that the immune system shuts down because people do not need it for immediate survival. What we find in the transition home is a lot of women and children catch a lot of colds and flu. The facility is a 24-hour one and the staff are fighting colds and flu too. I went in this morning and five of my five staff were sick. It is a pleasure to be here to talk to you. Those are the realities of running a transition home.

We try to have a sense of humour in an environment that, for a lot of women, is like a war zone. In the North, women are 2.9 per cent more likely to be a victim of sexual assault or to be killed by their partner. If they are an Aboriginal woman, the statistics show that they are much more likely to be assaulted than a non-Aboriginal woman.

The rates are much higher than the national rates. About 58 per cent of the women that come to stay at the transition home are Aboriginal women. There are many more reports from the Aboriginal women. At the transition home, they can stay about 30 days free of charge. Imagine if you are a woman who has a couple of kids and the RCMP are called because there is an assault and you are taken from the family home and placed in a transition home. In that 30 days, you have to find child care, have your health condition looked after, bring legal services into play, find a house and be ready to move in 30 days. I do not know about you, but I could not do it and I am high functioning. I have a car and a supportive family.

We have those kinds of challenges on a day-to-day basis, and as we go into each individual case, the complexities are astronomical.

One thing we see a lot in the North is, I am going to use the words, ``a mobbing mentality'' because I do not know how else to say it, especially in the communities. I have worked in other transition houses in the South and we did not see this as much in the South as we do up here. If an offender will enrol their family into abusing the women also and containing it, concealing it, maintaining this silence around it. The women's responses, of course, are normal. They might pull out of activities. They might have a difficult time engaging. They may have suicidal thoughts. They may be depressed. They go to the doctor. Those are common signs of depression. Many of these women who experience violence in the North are so misrepresented. They go to the doctor and obtain antidepressants that will numb their ability to respond quickly to an onset of violence. One normal response to violence is they do not sleep well. Of course, they do not. They need to be a light sleeper to survive. The medication only complicates things. Then, a woman may go to a lawyer who, again, may misinterpret who she is and what she has gone through. Can you imagine that incredible state, living in a town of a few hundred people and a third of those people are connected to the family of your abuser, and they conceal things and turn them around so that the whole framework of how you perceive things is compromised? You start thinking, ``Am I crazy?'' This whole contextual thing happens in the Yukon that really affects the mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of women in the Yukon.

When you go through this process, Legal Aid is limited, there is no division of assets and your mind has a difficult time thinking straight. There are pretty much no mental health services in the communities. Mental health services here are limited so our staff are required to deal with mental health issues that we are not even close to being trained for.

This whole lack of services in the life of a woman who has experienced violence undermines her stability, and poverty is pretty much inevitable because she cannot advocate for herself. The framework is missing. Her health starts to be compromised. I wanted to give you a picture of the experience.

Education in the North: of course, there are limitations if you are a woman, especially in the rural area. When I started at my agency eight years ago now, we had one computer. The other two transition houses that I wanted to connect with did not have any computers. For a lot of women, going online for education is not realistic, especially with limited child care.

There is no transportation in the other communities and it is limited in Whitehorse. If women are fleeing an abusive situation in Dawson or somewhere, there is not even a bus that can bring them here. A lot of times, we ask some well- meaning community member to bring somebody that has a huge safety risk into the community.

Then, they go to the college and for some of the courses, it is all or nothing. They are either in full-time or not in at all, which really affects women's ability to access education. They need to put child care together, process everything they have gone through and be able to integrate education.

In the scenario I was talking about before, not many women can function in the education system until they have supports to reframe their experience and to find housing, which Ms. Hrenchuk talked a bit about.

Some of our communities do not have a high school up to grade 12 so we see youth coming into Whitehorse to continue their education who not ready to leave their families and their traditional land to come into Whitehorse, the big city. We see young boys dropping out at a high rate. Women in the North are improving as far as higher education goes, but we still make only 70 cents for every dollar that men make.

Women are entering many non-traditional jobs in the North and we seem to be fairly good at managing those jobs. I was in mining for several years and I found that I lost a piece of my femininity working there. I dealt with things like sexual harassment, and people not educated in gender differences and what is appropriate and not appropriate at a job site. I find women compromise who they are as women to make a living; to make the good dollars.

We see a lot of trading sex for housing and food for their children. We see that trade in the transition house.

Right now in Whitehorse, the RCMP responds well to domestic violence. However, it is like Russian roulette. Right now we have a few RCMP officers who set the bar high for conduct. When they leave here, though, we never know who will come. Some of the horror stories that I have heard, in terms of the responses, language and attitudes of RCMP officers, especially towards women with drug and alcohol abuse problems, when officers respond to domestic violence, are criminal. We do not have any independent place where we can take a claim. We can tell you stories where women have lost their jobs and lost a place in their community because they have tried to stand up for themselves and not conceal the level of violence that they have endured.

We need to work on the relationship with the RCMP, especially in relation to Aboriginal women.

I could go on, but I better stop here.

Cate Innish, Program Coordinator, Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre: The Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre is more of a friendship centre. It is a drop-in centre that provides programming for all women in Whitehorse.

I would like to touch on a few aspects around health and poverty.

I will cite statistics from an old report because it is the most recent report, Yukon Health Status Report 2003. It states that 22 per cent of Yukoners reported having financial difficulties in securing food in the previous year. Ten per cent did not have enough food to eat; 14 per cent were worried that there would not be enough food due to lack of money; and 17 per cent were not able to eat the amount or kinds of food that they wanted.

Fifteen per cent of urban residents reported experiencing food insecurity, as compared with 30 per cent of rural residents, that is, outside Whitehorse. Thirty-one per cent of single-parent families experienced some food insecurity as compared to 21 per cent of couples with children, and food insecurity increased as income lessened. Fifty-two per cent of low-income residents reported food insecurity, compared with 6 per cent of high-income residents; not a big surprise.

The Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre houses one of nine Yukon projects under the Public Health Agency of Canada's Prenatal Nutrition Program. Unlike its counterparts in southern Canada, this program serves all pregnant women and mothers up to six months after the birth of the baby. The reason that this service is not limited to a certain category of people is because of the isolation here and the peri- and post-natal issues.

In the North, isolation and lack of transportation often prevent women from receiving services, the information and vital networking, especially low-income moms. Many women are separated from their families geographically. Up here, they do not have the support that they might have if they were closer to their families. The Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program assists in monitoring health of moms and babies. At the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, a nutritionist attends weekly to provide nutritional counselling. The program coordinator holds twice-weekly drop-in lunches where women learn low-budget cooking and share recipes. Food vouchers are also provided.

Another issue, access to fresh nutritious food during the delicate periods of growing and feeding a baby, is a major health concern, particularly again for low-income moms and especially in the communities outside Whitehorse. The cost of milk and safe water in Old Crow, which is our only fly-in community, and water must be delivered there, means that things like juice crystals and Kool-Aid are cheaper to ship than juice. That is what people use.

Depression among females has been related to economic hardship, multiple role strains, violence and discrimination. Depression also varies according to income and level of education. Yukoners in the lowest income bracket are almost twice as likely to report symptoms of depression as are high-income earners, and Yukon women are twice as likely to report depressive symptoms as men.

The issue of post-partum depression is enhanced in the North by seasonal affective disorder, SAD, and it often goes undiagnosed because in many communities, there are no doctors. The cost of a light that offsets the effects of SAD is about $200 but for people who are unable to secure enough food, the light is not an option.

This point brings me to another project at the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. It is called the Rural Pregnant Mom's Suite. This project is funded by the Yukon government. It is a two-bedroom suite and it has been in service for about a year. It provides free accommodation for pregnant moms and their partners who live in the communities and must come into Whitehorse to deliver their child. They come about two weeks before their due date. Unfortunately, there is room for only two couples. It is one suite and there are two rooms. The need already exceeds the available spaces.

Last, I want to address the issue of child care in relationship to poverty. For women to work outside the home, they must be assured of adequate and affordable child care. Unfortunately, women working in low-income jobs, often single parents, cannot afford even the top-up after the subsidy. Also, Whitehorse and the communities lack child care spaces, and virtually no care is available after 5 p.m. Recently, Watson Lake had no child care at all available during a period of time.

Judy Pakozdy, Executive Director, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon (FASSY): I will talk to you about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon has been in place since 1986.

Up to three per cent of the population of the Yukon lives with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Six per cent of newborns every year have had enough prenatal alcohol exposure to predispose them to one of these disabilities. Fifty per cent of new babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome were born to moms who have fetal alcohol syndrome.

Our mandate is preventing more babies from being born and in our present environment, that mandate is a joke. Our mandate is also working on housing for people with this disability. This disability is the result of brain damage to the fetus when the mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.

We have a disproportionate number of First Nations people as our clients because for non-First Nations people, it is easier to live with a child with a learning disability, autism, or some other disability than to have fetal alcohol syndrome. A great deal of guilt surrounds people with FAS. In communities, we are told that although people in the communities realize that maybe 30 per cent or 40 per cent of the population lives with this disability, no one will admit it because it is too hard for the birth moms.

We work primarily with adults who have this disability. They have been through the foster care system, the school system, the jail system and they now live on the streets. Probably 50 per cent of our clients, and we have 55 at the moment, have spent a piece of the last two years either living on the streets or couch surfing for sex. Their brain damage causes them to present behaviours that are unacceptable. No one says they do not, but it makes it difficult for them to maintain housing.

Even if they find an apartment, they are unable to follow the rules well enough to keep it. They often move four or five times a year. Moving costs money even when they do not have any. If they must leave all their clothes behind because they are sneaking out in the middle of the night, it means they start over with absolutely nothing.

People with FAS, because the disability has been disparaged for so long, are constantly told from the get-go, ``If you try harder, you will do better.'' This advice is absolutely not true because we are talking about permanent brain damage. What we need to say is, ``You have a disability. Lots of people have disabilities. We can help you learn how to manage this disability and how to have a good life.''

What happens now is people grow up and they do not want to ask for help. They do not want to accept help so the only help they receive is jail. They do well in jail because the environment is consistent. They are fed. They have a bed. They are not beaten nearly as much as they are on the streets. For some of them, jail works better. But guess what? They are released early for good behaviour.

I realize that this picture sounds negative, but I have a son who is 27 years old who has fetal alcohol syndrome. I did not do it right all the way, but I did a few things right. He lives in Victoria. Thank God for the B.C. government that provides him with a disability pension and pays for a full-time caregiver to live with. He teaches dance six nights a week and he goes to University of Victoria studying choreography, all with support people. All this success is because he can ask for help and because he was identified early.

The Yukon has recently started diagnostic teams. It is in its infancy. We have 37 diagnosed adults from the adult team. The child development centre and the school system have more difficulty bringing their teams up to speed because they are trying to train a team that will stay in the Yukon with those skills. The adult team decided that there is no way that people with that degree of expertise will live in the Yukon. Sorry, we all love the Yukon, but that is the reality. They will stay a couple of years, make their name and move on. We bring a team to the Yukon from Calgary two times a year with a geneticist, a pediatrician and a whole bunch of other psychological team members. It works well for the adults.

What does not work is that there are minimal resources afterward to implement the supports people need for the damage that has been identified through that assessment, but we are working on that, too.

What can I tell you? Fifty per cent to seventy per cent of adults with FAS eventually succumb to addictions. A lot of research is taking place now about whether that addiction is due to a genetic factor, familial, environmental, or whatever the heck it is. No treatment centres in the whole of Canada are specifically designed for people living with this brain injury. That is not fair.

I think I need to tell you that we need a Canada-wide pension plan for people with disabilities, not only people with FAS, but people with all disabilities. My son manages well because B.C. has been reasonably good to him and because I support him still.

Most parents believe that when their kids reach the age of 18, especially when they are troublemakers like these kids are, it is time for them to move on, and these kids do move on. They move on to the streets. They become murderers, rapists and victims. They become people nobody wants to know but they do not start out that way, and they become those people because we let them. We need to do something about it.

Senator Mahovlich: Listening to all these ladies, the one thing I never heard mentioned was religious instruction. Do we have any churches in the Yukon?

Ms. Powick: Yes, we do. We were talking about churches at the transition house the other day. In other places in Canada, the churches open up their basements, especially when it is 40 degrees below or 50 below and we do not have a shelter for women.

Senator Mahovlich: They feed people. Sometimes, there are food banks in the church basements.

Ms. Hrenchuk: There are soup kitchens here. We do not have a real food bank. The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition birthed an organization that is in the process of trying to get one up and running in the next year or two. We have piecemeal soup kitchens. The Salvation Army supplies a soup kitchen on a daily basis. For the churches, it is usually once a week. As for emergency food, the Salvation Army gives out food to last maybe two or three days, every five to six weeks. Maryhouse, which is a lay part of the Catholic Church, gives out food once a month; also only a grocery bag that lasts for a couple of days.

When people run out of money by mid-week, either the working poor or people on social assistance, they can maybe receive food for another couple of days, but that is it.

Senator Mahovlich: I was wondering about instruction. Do people who have this alcohol syndrome problem, do they receive any religious instruction? Would that help?

Ms. Pakozdy: They cannot read. They have been through the entire Yukon school system and they cannot read. They cannot read the bus signs so they cannot use transportation, not that they have the money anyway.

They live with permanent brain damage, as if they had a major car accident in utero. Few of them have facial features that are different from yours and mine. They are considered to be normal people and normal expectations are placed on them. They cannot possibly meet the expectations because their brain is so damaged.

Senator Mahovlich: Do abused women go to their churches for help?

Ms. Powick: Some do. With the Internet, a growing number of Internet brides come to the Yukon and a lot of times, they have no access to legal or health services. Lots of times, they have had a child by then. They cannot obtain social housing. They have literally nothing. One of the best ways we have teamed up with the churches is that the churches have played a supportive and appropriate role with a lot of consultation and supports.

Senator Peterson: Ms. Powick, I can assure you that violence against women is not only a Yukon phenomenon. It is everywhere. The issues related to that violence are a difficult battle in Saskatchewan. I spent a lot of time with Ranch Ehrlo when I chaired the board there and dealt with those issues. However, the situation there is that if people have a short window, they will not come forward because they know they cannot solve the problem. They know what they will go back to and they are reluctant to leave. The only ones who came were the ones who were concerned about the safety of the children. That is when they finally come forward.

We extended the length of stay there. I think they can stay up to six months in the transition house and then work toward a safe home. I think you would have to go in that direction. Thirty days is too tight.

Ms. Powick: You are right. In other jurisdictions, they have self-contained apartments within the security of a building and they have supports so that women can transition back and have all those things in place, such as handling all the legal matters and the court system.

We have five self-contained apartments within our building at the transition home. They are full with a waiting list. The social housing department, Yukon Housing Corporation, has 60 to 70 women on the waiting list for social housing and probably, 60 per cent of that waiting list is single-parent women, many from abusive backgrounds.

Yes, I think we need to have second-stage housing in Watson Lake also and here. It would give a longer period of time. We find more older women coming. When I first came to the Yukon in the 1970s, people always asked, ``When are you leaving?'' Nobody stayed here when they retired. Now, for a lot of people, this is their home and they are not leaving. This is where they are retiring. We see a lot more older women come to the transition home and it is heart- wrenching because a lot of them have worked hard all their life and come in with literally nothing. Everything is in their husband's name. They have no access to the bank account, no access to a vehicle, no access to their home and limited access to anything for legal aid.

We are looking at an older woman who has walked away from everything she has worked for and everything that she has endured. There will be more health concerns for the woman. These women need more time than say somebody in their 20s or 30s.

Senator Peterson: Ms. Pakozdy, on FAS, you are absolutely correct in your assessment. There is no cure. They must deal with it. I mentioned the Ranch Ehrlo Society to Ms. Powick. I do not know if you are familiar with that society in Saskatchewan.

Ms. Pakozdy: No.

Senator Peterson: We have dealt with troubled and disadvantaged children for the last 50 years now. One group home deals only with FAS clients, concentrating on life skills and trying to manage them so they can manage their emotions and deal with society. We keep them up until they are 18 years old. A lot of times, they come in when they are 12, 13 or 14, which gives us enough time to deal with that problem. We try to bring the parents in as well because we have accommodation for them.

We have clients I think from this part that the bands will send to us. I think it is a template that has been as successful as it can be with this difficult issue.

Ms. Pakozdy: It has not been as successful as you can be, but it has been successful for that age group.

Senator Peterson: I think that program could be expanded.

Ms. Pakozdy: Unfortunately, because the disability lasts until they die, those supports need to be in place. We have a process here when the kids are 18, where occasionally, they are allowed to stay until they are 19. They live in special group homes. Then they are aged out. They are aged out onto the street. They are aged out into apartment buildings that I would not walk into without an RCMP guard. Then, within days or weeks of being aged out, they are involved in criminal activity trying to survive.

Senator Mercer: You continue to remind me how privileged I have been. Thank you for that.

Ms. Powick, you used a word, ``mobbing'' that has helped crystallized the greater problem that women in rural small towns in Canada have. That was an interesting description. I grew up in a big city, Halifax. You can become lost in Halifax if you are trying to be lost, I guess. However, it would be impossible to be lost in a small town if a woman left an abusive situation.

You said something that I found curious though about the college. You said they are either a full-time student or they are not a student. Are there no part-time programs at the college?

Ms. Powick: There are some. I know that Winetap is strict. That is the teacher program at the college. They are either full-time students or they cannot attend the school. They can pick up courses here and there, but to take the teaching certificate, they are either full-time or not. There is no flexibility of entering into a program and taking it part- time while she stabilizes all the other issues that an abused woman has in her life, and spend time with her kids.

Ms. Hrenchuk: I think part of the issue too is what financial support is available. For most programs through the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, they must be full-time students. If they are trying to obtain support from the Yukon Department of Education or some other place, usually the requirements are that they be full-time students. That requirement limits poor women. It is either one or the other.

Senator Mercer: Are these discussions that you have had with the administration at the college, and with the college and with the Yukon Department of Education? Have you sat down and said, we have people that we might be able to help. We do not know if we can, but we might be able to help them if part-time education programs were available to them.

Ms. Hrenchuk: I have not as yet.

Ms. Powick: One major issue in the Yukon that inhibits a woman from being prosperous is the lack of daycare, especially after hours. Watson Lake had no daycare for a while, none. If they do not have support systems in that town and they are single parents, that lack affects their livelihood.

To utilize the space at the college, they offer evening courses, and until about a month ago, there was no daycare available even in Whitehorse after hours, after five o'clock. Now, it is limited to one daycare if they can get in.

Senator Mercer: Cate, you mentioned food distribution. Would a formal food bank help in Whitehorse? We have heard from numerous groups this morning that this group gives food this time and this other group gives it another time. It seems to me that if all the food were given a little bit at a time, if we had a more formal food bank, you would be able to service the clients better and you would know the clients better. Is that solution practical?

Ms. Innish: Yes, the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition conducted a feasibility study and came up with results. A food bank society has been formed and it is in the process of trying to get something up and running, but as you can appreciate, it takes a while to find a location, a distribution system and the funds to start such a food bank.

There is a lot of community support. Yukon Electric has donated a van and a sizeable amount of money. There is community support, but because we are so isolated, the systems of distributing the food are different. We do not have as many places to draw from here. The cost of sending food up the highway is extremely expensive. There are a few different dynamics to the whole food bank situation than there are in the South, but people are actively working on it.

Ms. Powick: I am passionate about this issue because I see more and more women who need it more and more often. I applaud the efforts of the non-profits, but we need to increase the social assistance rates because we see more and more high-functioning families that cannot meet their rent and their utilities. That inability cuts into their food budget and compromises their ability to feed their children.

I am talking about high-functioning people. Somebody with disabilities is victimized on the street and money is taken; somebody has taken $40 from them, then they are really limited. We see that a lot. There is so much need at the food bank that they restrict how often someone can go there. That says to me that we have a systemic issue with social assistance not meeting the requirements for families right now.

Senator Mercer: I can appreciate that. I was not looking at food banks as the solution. I was looking at them as a possible service.

I draw the attention of my colleagues, particularly our researchers as we start to write this report, to the recommendations in the study, You Just Blink and It Can Happen: A Study of Women's Homelessness North of 60, which covers a whole range of the things we have talked about. I want to make sure that we have that study on the record so that when we write the report, we ask ourselves if we are including a recommendation or not including it. I think the recommendations are excellent.

Ms. Innish, it is me and not you, but I did not understand the issue of post-partum depression being enhanced in the North by seasonal affective disorder, meaning the absence of sunlight. Studies recently suggest taking vitamin D. Since it is a new phenomenon, is it having any effect? I take vitamin D, but I live in Nova Scotia where we have reasonable daylight. Is taking vitamin D having an effect on communities affected more by lack of sunlight?

Ms. Innish: Definitely; when I was growing up, the only thing my father gave us was halibut liver oil for the vitamin D. However, a proportion of society is more affected by the lack of sunlight than other people. In that case, I do not know that any formal scientific studies have been done, but I think something needs to be enhanced over and above the normal amount.

Senator Mercer: It seems to me that if there is a place to study SAD, north of 60 is a good place to do it.

Ms. Innish: It would be a good place to do a study, yes.

Senator Mercer: You also talked about the lack of child care spaces. We need to talk about the availability of early childhood educators in a community where wages are out of sync with the rest of the country because of the isolation and because of high-paid government and mining industry jobs. Are the wages of early childhood educators competitive in the Yukon?

Ms. Innish: No, that issue is another one we have not addressed, the wages for child care. They are low.

Senator Mercer: It always fascinates me that we call these people early childhood education teachers, but we do not pay them the same rates as we pay a person teaching in a formal school.

Ms. Innish: They are required to take early childhood education courses at the college. Expectations are set up that they improve their education to perform their jobs, but still, the wages are low.

Senator Mercer: I thank all of you.

Ms. Pakozdy, my colleague, Senator Peterson, is much more experienced in talking about FAS because of his background as a volunteer in Saskatchewan. I have been a volunteer in a lot of things but not in this field. Help me with this issue. You said the 55 clients that you have now are all adults. At what point do we identify people with FAS and at what point should society intervene in some way with programs to help them?

Ms. Pakozdy: The ideal time to diagnose kids is between six months and two years. We have a child development centre here that, once the child is diagnosed through their team, the team puts programming in place in the daycare and makes recommendations when that child transitions into school for support programs in the school. At the moment, the school has few resources to implement those programs.

When we first started diagnosing adults, everyone said to us, ``Why are you wasting your time?'' We are wasting our time because these people fill our prisons. They are dying in front of us on the streets. No matter how hardened they appear, once that diagnosis clarifies which part of the brain is able to function and which part is not, we can figure out what we can do to help the parts that do not function well. They change to totally different people as long as we can find the resources to keep those supports in place.

Senator Mercer: Thank you for your work.

The Chair: I thank all of you on behalf of the committee. I know what a tough issue this one is. These presentations have been educational and we have had heart-wrenching speeches from you. We can only observe that they are lucky to have the four of you here in this community with the attitude that you have on this issue, and we thank you for that.

The committee adjourned.