Question re: Emergency 911 coverage - December 11, 2013

Hansard, December 11, 2013

Mr. Silver:   When will we have Yukon-wide 911 services?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      It’s unfortunate that members don’t recall answers that are given to questions in this House. As I indicated to the Member for Klondike before, this is an area in which we’re very interested in working with all of our partners.

I also pointed out to the member the concern that we’ve heard from some municipal governments, and we are currently waiting for some additional information from Northwestel. We, in fact, are in the process of lining up the exact dates for when there will be recordings in all Yukon communities, which I referred to previously as an interim measure.

As I noted, we have asked Northwestel to come up with a system to allow us, as an interim step, to put in place a system whereby someone dialling 911 in a community not serviced by it will get a recording telling them which numbers they should be calling rather than the current situation where they do not go anywhere with that call. Northwestel has indicated they will proceed with that and we’re in the process of confirming the dates for when that will be tested in Yukon communities.

Mr. Silver:   The government often says that if we get a straightforward question, we’ll get a straightforward answer. I’m not sure that that’s necessarily the case here.

Since 2009, the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs has been trying to get a Yukon Party government to move forward on this safety issue. Our 911 services end just outside of Whitehorse. In rural Yukon there is no 911 service. The fire chiefs put the blame squarely on this government for what they call unacceptable delays. They can’t even get the Yukon Party to tell them whether or not the government supports expanding the service.

We know that our Member of Parliament is on board. He wrote a letter in the fall confirming — and I quote: “… my wholehearted support for this proposed project”.

Let’s just start with that. Is the government committed to 911 services Yukon-wide? Yes or no?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      It’s amazing that this appears to go right over the Member for Klondike’s head. He’s coming out with emails that are really quite outdated from earlier this year. I’ve met with the chair of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs. I have discussed this process. I’ve met as well with municipalities and with the Association of Yukon Communities. I pointed out to the member that we’ve had official concern expressed to us by the Association of Yukon Communities and the president about the potential impacts of 911. We are currently in the process of — we remain very interested in exploring the expansion of 911 services to all Yukon communities.

But the concerns we’ve heard from municipalities on the effect of dispatch — and the technical issues and potential challenges we’ve heard from Northwestel about the capacity of phone lines to indeed ensure that calls from communities are not interfered with by other usage of those lines — are things that have to be addressed and worked out. As I’ve said before, we are very interested in proceeding toward this, but only if it is technically feasible and if the partners that are affected by this are also in agreement that it is an improvement, not a step back. As I noted, the interim step — the 911 recording in communities — is in fact underway and we are currently lining up the dates when that will be tested in Yukon communities.

Mr. Silver:   It sounds like we have an “almost maybe” there out of the minister.

Newfoundland is in the midst of setting up a province-wide 911 service. In that province, they put a project manager in place to oversee this work. It is that person’s only responsibility. They are not trying to manage this off the side of their desks. The Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs has made the same request here in the Yukon: make it a priority. The stall is at the minister’s office. Put the resources into it that are needed to make this happen. So far that wish has been basically ignored by this government.

The question is: will the government dedicate a project manager to this job in order to give it the attention that it deserves?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      The only stall going on is on the Liberal express over there. The member does not seem to recognize that his information is very outdated. I have met with the president of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs. He has my phone number any time he wishes to discuss a matter like this. At our last discussion, he indicated that he agreed that putting in place a 911 recording was a good interim step and also provided his views about how to advance this process. As I’ve noted previously, we have heard concerns from municipalities, and the Member for Klondike, the Liberal member, dismisses the concerns of Carmacks and other municipalities as being irrelevant.

It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t give recognition to the concerns we’ve heard from some of our smaller municipalities, which feel that 911 service at this point in time, based on the information they have, might actually have a negative effect on response times. While I believe that there would be a way to put in place 911— that it is a positive effect — we have to treat those concerns we’ve heard from mayors and others seriously. We have to hear the information from all of the partner agencies who would be affected by this. Again, Northwestel has to address the technical issues in a manner we’re all satisfied with.

I want to thank Northwestel. We made a specific request that we look at recordings in all Yukon communities for 911 and that would list the proper numbers to call, and they are in the process of determining the dates that will be tested.