Question re: Yukon College - November 9, 2015

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have a number of questions for the Minister of Education about Yukon College. I would like to start with the future of the endowment lands that have been identified for many years. This is an almost 100-hectare piece of land that surrounds the current campus.

Mr. Speaker, the college’s most recent strategic plans says that some of the issues facing the college in the foreseeable future include securing endowment lands. Despite the fact that this land has been identified and set aside for many years, it continues to not be protected against encroachment. It would put everybody’s mind at ease if the government protected this land for the college.

During Committee of the Whole debate, the minister did commit to getting this settled sometime in the future, but didn’t say specifically when.

Why has the Yukon Party, after 13 years of office, not settled this yet and when specifically will these endowment lands be figured out?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Mr. Speaker, it’s an interesting question. This issue goes back almost — well, it does go back to 1978 when the college site was first chosen in its current location. At that time, a proposal was made for endowment lands for the college. So, contrary to what the member opposite says, it actually goes back a whole lot longer than 13 years. It has taken a number of years to progress to this stage. We have just recently completed a land use plan with the college as part of one of the phases of transitioning Yukon College to become the University of Yukon. The land is protected at the present time. It has not formally been turned over to the college, but I envision that happening at some point in the future.

We can’t jump ahead without going through the phases in a very careful and logical manner, thereby protecting all those involved in the process.

Mr. Silver: I am going to move on to another issue at the college. It hasn’t been up in the air for as long as the future of the endowment lands have, but the college has been under an order from Workers’ Compensation to fix a leaking roof and a mould problem in the main campus building envelope since early 2014. The Government of Yukon owns this building and is responsible for the repairs and remediation. Although there has been progress made, it has still been at least 18 months since the order came in from WCB to remediate the building, including the root cause of the mould, which is a leaky roof. Now I understand that the immediate problem with the mould has been addressed, but when can the college expect that this project, including fixing the roof, will be completed?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I’m responding as Minister of Highways and Public Works, as this falls under the Property Management Division. Design work has been completed for repairs to the college and construction is planned for the summer of 2016. I think that answers the question that the member opposite asked.

HPW has contracted for snow removal to ensure that snow and ice does not build up on the facility’s roof to reduce the potential for water infiltration until the repairs can be completed.

Mr. Silver: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The roof leaks and the promise of the endowment lands are just promises that bring me to another outstanding promise from the Yukon Party government. Remember this is the party that the Premier did get up and say that after four years in government, all the work has been done; that the campaign commitments had been completed — so again it does beg the questions that we’re asking here about the Yukon College.

Let’s go back to the platform commitment from the Yukon Party: “Create a Yukon university by developing Yukon College into a northern university.”

Mr. Speaker, we have hit the four-year mark of this government’s mandate and it is obvious that this commitment will not be fulfilled within the next year. We’ve had an announcement; we’ve now got a name, but that’s about it — so this a broken promise; no doubt about it.

Why did the government make this commitment and then fail to make this happen?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely amazing to me to sit here and listen to such a question and see the member opposite with a complete lack of understanding about what is happening between this government and Yukon College. All you have to do is take a look at some of the things we have done with Yukon College over the last few years.

We have created a master plan, we have done a new trades facility, and we’ve worked out an agreement for the Northern Institute of Social Justice. The first-ever degree from Yukon College is expected to be offered in the next year or two, but Mr. Speaker, there are some things that must be done in order to become a university. One of those things is to become a member of Universities Canada, but also you must go through a quality assurance process in order to ensure that any newly created institution in this territory is accepted throughout Canada.

Mr. Speaker, the process that we are currently in is seeking an Outside agent to provide that quality assurance. We are working very closely with the college and with the Board of Governors to ensure this happens, not only for government, but for all Yukon people.

This is not something that you rush into and declare yourself a university overnight in order to satisfy the whim of a member in this Legislature.