Question re: Emergency 911 coverage - December 11, 2014

Mr. Silver:   Yukoners have been waiting for the Yukon Party government to implement a territory-wide 911 service for over a decade now. In the last couple of years, after repeated criticism from the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs, municipalities and on the floor of this House, the government has reluctantly moved forward this file. We have been told by the government excuses like, “it’s in Northwestel’s hands”, and “the community lacks proper numbering on their houses”, as a result of the lack of progress.

Yesterday the CRTC, our national communications regulator, put the blame for the delay squarely on this government, saying that it was behind the curve on 911 services.

Just to make sure that the government gets the point, CRTC also said — and I quote: “We are not happy that the Yukon has been lagging behind in implementing this.”

Does the minister accept the criticism of this government from the CRTC?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      Well first of all, the member is, in fact, mischaracterizing what was said by the CRTC. The CRTC has a mandate and expectation, as part of the role they play — they encourage all jurisdictions to implement 911 within those jurisdictions. That is part of what they strive to achieve.

But from the very commissioner who spoke on this issue — he acknowledges the fact that many areas within the country, including within the other territories and within some rural areas in provinces, 911 dispatch is not in place. They, again, encourage everyone to make progress. Of course they would always rather progress was made more quickly. We, in fact, have, been working on this area.

I remind the member that adding to his record of misstatements in the House — this is the same member, the Liberal leader, who said unequivocally in the spring that the CRTC would never approve our interim 911 solution. Well, once again, the Liberal leader was wrong.

Mr. Silver:   It’s hard to misrepresent a direct quote — but whatever.

The Yukon Party has simply failed to deliver on bringing 911 services to the entire Yukon. The CRTC put the blame for this failure at the feet of the government, saying — and I quote again: “We are not happy that the Yukon has been lagging behind in implementing this.”

The CTRC also criticized what it referred to as the government’s stop-gap interim 911 service plan — stop-gap interim 911. The CTRC said — and I quote: it “turned itself inside out” to accommodate the government’s plan and praised Northwestel for its work. The only group that the CRTC had any criticism for was this government.

When will Yukon communities have basic 911 services, instead of stop-gap 911 services?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      What the member is either unaware of, or is choosing to misrepresent in this House, is the fact that we received a specific request from Yukon municipalities and from AYC itself to work with them to ensure that they are comfortable with the logistics and what is involved with 911 dispatch. Yukon municipalities have, in some cases, expressed a concern to us directly that they feel that moving to a dispatch centre may lose community knowledge of areas. We have respected that concern and — at the direct request of AYC — provided them with a commitment that we would work with them and would not be seeking to force 911 dispatch down municipalities’ throats.

Again, the member is either ignorant of the facts or is choosing to misrepresent them. In fact, the CRTC plays a role as a national regulator — they have approved this innovative solution. We will continue to make progress toward full territory-wide 911, but once again, the Liberal Leader is either unaware of the facts or is choosing to misrepresent them.

Mr. Silver:   Oh, I assume, Mr. Speaker, there is a third option there.

It is very rare for a public regulator to criticize government. You really have to mess things up pretty bad to find yourself being publicly called out in this way. Given this government’s bungling of this issue, the criticism from CRTC is well-deserved. The Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs has also been critical of this government’s foot-dragging on 911. It has publicly condemned this government’s attempt to characterize the stop-gap solution as something to be proud of.

I will quote here. The Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs has said: “This isn’t the be-all for a 911 system, because it isn’t a 911 system.”

We know this government has a hard time accepting responsibility for its inactions and it is a standard response to lash out to anybody who is going to ask any questions and we are seeing that once again here today.

Here’s a question that maybe the minister can answer: Will 911 be rolled out in waves in rural Yukon, or will it be all at one time?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      Again, I do have to point out and again criticize the Liberal leader for being wrong about the facts. I remind the member that when we heard from municipalities — perhaps the Liberal leader would ignore municipal concerns and not work with them — but in fact we respect their concerns. We have been working on this issue and will continue to do so. We have also made unprecedented investments in improving emergency medical services, investing in our ambulance service, investing in fire across the territory — every dollar of which the Liberal Leader has voted against.

I would encourage the Liberal Leader to call the president of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs and I would point out to him that the president of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs called me to thank me for the work that we had done and expressed his appreciation. I also thanked him and expressed appreciation to him, as I did to the president of the Association of Yukon Communities for their partnership, their support and their continued efforts in working with us to find the solutions that address the needs of all Yukoners across the territory.

When we do implement full territory-wide 911, I am sure the Liberal leader will vote against that too, as he has voted against every dollar of capital investment in his own community.