STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Mr. Russell MacKinnon
Today we are having an agenda-setting meeting. I believe each of the three caucuses have received each other's list of potential witnesses. The one with the Liberals, I think the third on the list, it should have said Nova Scotia Museums, not Nova Scotia Museum. That having been said, I am at the wish of the committee on which caucus we would like to start off with.
MR. JOHN HOLM: We also have on the agenda, don't we, the committee report. That is going to be on today, is it not?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Do we have that ready?
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator): The new set of recommendations is not ready yet. I haven't received the transcript.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Not as of yet, John.
MR. HOLM: I am sorry. I thought that was going to be dealt with today as well.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps we can look at the three simultaneously and find out if there are some commonalities here that we might be able to agree on.
MR. BARRY BARNET: There are none. I reviewed them all . . .
DR. JAMES SMITH: There was agreement on the Resource Recovery Fund Board, No. 2 there, I think, isn't there?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, let's start off with the PC one then. Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, does everyone have a copy of the PC recommendations? The Department of Environment, and this is something I believe some of the Opposition have brought up, the testing and monitoring of drinking water. I would think that the Opposition would be in agreement with that. That is a topic that we have agreed to put on the agenda of the Resources Committee as well. So I will put that out to the floor and possible witnesses, Kevin McNamara and perhaps some appropriate department staff. (Interruption) A friend of the chairman's, yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: He served as my deputy minister.
MR. DEWOLFE: Yes, he did indeed.
MR. CHAIRMAN: A very able member. Just, if I could throw this out before I open it up to the floor, we have to bear in mind we are doing Public Accounts, value for dollar. Keep that in focus there. Some of the items I see probably veer onto other committees very easily, as you mentioned, Jim, with regard to the Resources Committee.
That having been said, Mr. Holm.
MR. HOLM: You really made a key point that I was going to bring up and that is, if we are looking for value for money, is looking at the monitoring of the water really looking at that topic within the mandate strictly of this committee? I mean it is something that certainly should be and needs to be looked at but I am just wondering if, since it is being dealt with at the Resources Committee - and I don't know exactly when - quite probably or possibly that is really the more appropriate place and as my colleague, Howard, pointed out to me in an aside, this may be more of a budgetary process looking at where additional monies need to be expended. Really, that is looking forward, not looking back. I just wonder if that really fits within the mandate of this committee.
MR. DEWOLFE: I was just wondering if the Liberal caucus would have a point to make on that subject as well. Perhaps the honourable member is right that it would be best suited for the Resources Committee that we already have it on the books for.
DR. SMITH: That sounds reasonable to me. I think it is to ensure supply. No. 1 is an important issue, but one that may be better looked at in another area and it is really maybe a future allocation of resources as opposed to looking backwards.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I might add, Mr. DeWolfe, because you are Chairman of the Resources Committee, I believe that particular item is on the agenda there just pending approbation from the Conservative caucus as to whether to proceed with that.
MR. DEWOLFE: I will point out, though, Mr. Chairman, if I might, it is No. 9 for consideration with the NDP in their proposals.
MR. ROY SALMON: Mr. Chairman, could I comment on that issue?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure.
MR. SALMON: This subject has been dealt with by other Auditors General and was the subject of a report by the Provincial Auditor of Ontario a number of years ago in which he raised issues with regard to deficiencies in the testing and monitoring of drinking water. He has continually made the point since then that if they had acted on his recommendations, perhaps Walkerton would not have happened. I would suggest to you that this is a value for money issue from the perspective of the fact that if a particular government is not meeting its responsibilities under legislation and regulation to test and monitor a resource like drinking water, then it is opening itself up to liability, which is a value for money issue in terms of potential lawsuits and other avenues of claim against the government. So I just wanted to add that perspective that it may be a bit of a stretch, but it is a value for money issue from that perspective.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Of course, bearing in mind that as the Public Accounts Committee, we deal with the past expenditures. We don't deal with anticipated expenditures . . .
MR. SALMON: And perhaps the issue here is the adequacy of resources that have already been allocated to testing and monitoring drinking water, which makes it a value for money issue.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, it is certainly the call of the Conservative caucus.
MR. DEWOLFE: It is very topical these days, the future quality of our water.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would you like to deal with it? We are quite agreeable.
MR. DEWOLFE: With agreement of the Opposition, I would certainly be prepared to put it on the agenda.
MR. HOLM: Can I just ask this question? Who is coming to the Resources Committee and when is that happening?
MR. DEWOLFE: Well, if I might, Mr. Chairman, that will be discussed by the Resources Committee.
MR. HOLM: It hasn't been put on the agenda yet?
MR. DEWOLFE: No. The direction I was given was to clear it with my caucus and if they okayed it, to immediately call the Committees Office and have it added to the agenda. That was the direction I was given by the Opposition members and that is exactly what I had done. So it is on the committee agenda.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So is it the wish of the Conservative caucus to have it on both?
MR. DEWOLFE: I see no problem in doing that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Could we have a motion to that effect?
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, before we make a motion to that effect, I think we should perhaps wait until Jim's Resources Committee deliberates and if they do bring in witnesses, to save time, energy and duplication, possibly, we could be furnished with the minutes, so to speak, of that particular meeting, as Public Accounts Committee members. If we wanted to, would you have any objections to that? I mean if you decide, it is up to your committee.
MR. DEWOLFE: Again, the committee has to make that decision on when they want to put that forward. Right now, we have some scheduled topics to deal with so this could be down the road before we get to it.
MR. TAYLOR: All right, that's fine.
MR. HOLM: We, as a committee, certainly have the ability to reconsider agenda items and Roy does make some very compelling arguments. What we could do is agree - and we are not putting things in order yet - about how we would have presenters appears before this committee. So I would certainly have no objections to us approving the topic - not necessarily number one but that is something we have to talk through.
Should we discover by the next week or two that the Resources Committee has slotted it for a high priority to deal with and they have their meeting, then we could, for example, decide that we feel the issue has been properly addressed. Although, I think that this committee would get more high profile attention, maybe, than the Resources Committee. That isn't always the case but . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: They are all high profile.
MR. HOLM: I know. I am just thinking, where it is held in the Chamber and broadcast, that it may get a little higher profile. I would certainly have no objections to us putting it on the list.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Without tying ourselves down to a priority, in terms of first, second, third and so on, can we have a motion to have this topic approved?
MR. DEWOLFE: I certainly move that we approve that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Okay, do you want to look at the next one, Jim?
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Taylor, I think, will take the next one.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, we are hoping that committee members will agree to the Resource Recovery Fund Board as a possible witness. There are a number of responsibilities that the Resource Recovery Fund Board has, as an arm's length agency.
Without even getting into specifics, if we could bring in, possibly, the manager of that board and another appropriate witness, we could get to the bottom of some of the concerns to see if, in fact, Nova Scotians are getting value for their dollar. There is the so-called liquid tax; the tire tax; the Resource Recovery Fund itself, how it is being managed and its relationship with the Department of Environment, et cetera. I would move that we approve the Resource Recovery Fund Board as a witness at a hearing for the Public Accounts Committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, on the motion, Mr. Epstein.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: I have a question, Mr. Chairman. I have a strong recollection that the Resource Recovery Fund Board has been looked at fairly recently, either by this committee or by the Resources Committee. I can't remember which it might have been but it seems to me that that kind of examination has been done fairly - well, I don't know how recently but I thought within the last year or so. I didn't know that there was anything that had happened in such an extraordinary fashion since then. Can I be helped out here by the committee staff? Does anyone remember whether it has been done?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, we did have the Resource Recovery Fund Board before the Public Accounts Committee in the latter part of 1998.
MR. EPSTEIN: So, that was two years ago, okay.
MR. HOLM: Again, it is one of those niceties that one might wish to talk about but I think that there are some other items that are far more pressing to look at in an immediate sense than that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would it be agreeable just to leave it in abeyance for the time being and then we can come back to it, or do you want to move on it now?
MR. TAYLOR: Well, Mr. Chairman, I would make a motion that we bring the Resource Recovery Fund Board in. I believe that there are some questions relative to value for dollar and my motion does stand. I would like you, Mr. Chairman, to call the question, if there is no further debate on the issue.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Now, No. 3 on the Conservative caucus list, procurement of legal . . .
MR. BARNET: I would like to move that we . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Actually, I think it is a good one.
MR. BARNET: Mr. Chairman, am I recognized?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, Mr. Barnet.
MR. BARNET: I would like to move that we include on our agenda the procurement of legal services and have as a possible witness, Deputy Minister Douglas Keefe to examine, particularly, any savings that could be realized as a result of coordinating our legal services.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just for the sake of clarity, when somebody puts a motion or they speak to any particular topic, could they give us a little background? It helps the other committee members to understand the rationale.
MR. BARNET: I guess, in this sense, what we are looking at . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Personally, I am very much in favour of this particular one because I have . . .
MR. TAYLOR: You should speak to it then, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, I will, if I am allowed by the committee. Mr. Barnet.
MR. BARNET: In this sense, it is looking at the total use of legal services across the province, you know, the amount of services that are contracted out, the hourly rates, that kind of thing, and trying to see if there are some economies of scale by not necessarily a corporate services unit type of thing, but using a pool of legal services.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. On the question, are there any interventions? Mr. Epstein.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, no, I will support it, having been invited, specifically, to comment on this. I have been acting as our Party's Justice Critic and I remember, I think, a year or so ago, the department announced that it was going to put the procurement of legal services on a different basis. I think the plan was to withdraw the power from individual departments to procure legal services and there was going to be a central tendering process that took place out of the Department of Justice. It was projected at the time that this might bring savings to the government.
It was hard to measure because, I think, there was no central knowledge, apparently, at the time of exactly how much money the government spent on legal services. It will be interesting to see if that information has been pulled together and whether there is any baseline information against which differences and possible savings might appear. So, sure, that will be interesting, I guess, although I don't imagine it is a huge big budget item, I have to say, but it is interesting nonetheless.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any other interventions on the question? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Okay, No. 4 on the Conservative caucus list.
MR. WILLIAM LANGILLE: Mr. Chairman, as you know, the Nova Scotia offshore exploration is one of the topics that will be around for a long time. There have been deals made by the prior government and our government. But I think we should take the word future out of it.
MR. HOLM: Was that a motion?
MR. LANGILLE: No, it is a vote for discussion. (Laughter) If it is value for money, and like I say, we don't go into the future . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I disagree with removing the word future because I think we have to be looking ahead to the future and, yes, there were some deals made in the past. We have to ensure that some bad deals aren't made in the future. We have to ensure that the taxpayers' money is spent appropriately as we develop this vast resource and develop it in
the best interests of Nova Scotians. It is certainly Nova Scotia's fuel and we want to ensure that we benefit from it as best as possible.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Holm.
MR. HOLM: Yes, certainly the whole issue of the offshore I think is something that needs quite a bit of delving into, in terms of the agreements from the past and the implication to the future. I mean, Bill had suggested that maybe the word future should be removed. Well, you can't look at the future without looking at the past. We are locked into agreements and we are locked into royalty rates. We are locked into regimes about what we do or don't get in terms of benefits, whether we are talking royalties or spin-off benefits as a result of agreements that have been entered into in the past.
We have implications for the province about lawsuits that are still wending their way through the courts over the pipeline. There are all kinds of issues that are locked in so as we are dealing with the future, I don't care what phrasing we use but we just have to realize that the questions and the impact in the future will depend a great deal upon what has happened in the past.
MR. LANGILLE: Mr. Chairman, if I may, when I said take the word future out, I wasn't saying not to proceed into the future, I was just saying the way this reads it is only the future.
MR. HOLM: It can't be.
MR. LANGILLE: That is what I am saying and that is all I said, not that it is not going to include the future but rather . . .
MR. HOLM: My comments were directed more toward your colleague than yourself.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have to bear in mind that the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee is past expenditures and just to do a prospectus on future would kind of go outside our mandate. Maybe, perhaps, if you would like to kind of reword it just slightly, Nova Scotia offshore exploration value for dollar, keep it general, that would . . .
MR. LANGILLE: That is what I was referring to when I said . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure. If you are in agreement to just a slight change in the wording, I think that would allow us some latitude in understanding that we have to examine past expenditures in the context of . . .
MR. LANGILLE: I would say to explore the Nova Scotia offshore exploration both past and . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just if you would word it value for dollar.
MR. LANGILLE: To ensure that we have value for dollar.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would you like to move that in a motion?
MR. LANGILLE: I will move that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Are there any particular witnesses that you would foresee, Mr. Langille, because this a pretty wide-ranging topic? Would we be looking at, let's say, the Nova Scotia Resources Limited, the board, senior directors, as we have in the past, or some of the stakeholders?
MR. LANGILLE: I think the witness should be done at a future date to see who would be best . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, so in general we have approved this but we are not tying ourselves down to a particular date. Is that okay?
MR. TAYLOR: Agreed.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, let's move on . . .
MR. HOLM: It might be interesting to just throw this out in terms of discussion. Not only the NSRL board but also the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, maybe the deputy minister of the time. It might even be interesting to bring in senior people from SOEP and it might also be interesting to bring in some independent oil and gas experts.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps what we can do is generate a list of different stakeholders within that entire (Interruption) Prospectus, sure.
MR. LANGILLE: I was going to say, how long do you think this would take in this particular one?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, we have had various representations before the Public Accounts Committee on the offshore before, rather extensive and elaborate presentations by the Nova Scotia Resources Limited as well as some other stakeholders, if my memory serves me correctly. What we can do is have our staff provide that to the committee members, the list of the witnesses, so we don't become redundant. It is an opportunity to re-examine some of the past - yes, Mr. Chataway.
MR. JOHN CHATAWAY: If they can provide a list of possible witnesses, we can decide which ones we would like to hear, this person and that person.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure. Would that be okay, Mr. Langille?
MR. TAYLOR: Just a quick question, Mr. Chairman. I am calling on your sage advice or based on your experience, the National Energy Board and the group that essentially made up the Canada-Nova Scotia agreement, I am wondering if we have the ability, where it is a federal-provincial body, as the Public Accounts Committee - I know federal, we have been more or less snubbed by some of the federal people regarding Transport, whatever, and they say no and we don't have any powers - if there is a federal-provincial group or body, we feel as a committee we would like to have the representatives come in, do we have any more jurisdiction over something like that than we perhaps do over just a federal individual or organization?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Unfortunately, by law, we don't but we can extend the invitation and we can make sure that public notice is given that they have been extended the invitation and afforded the opportunity and we will correspond the same as we would with any witness that would come under the provincial purview. Your point is well taken. They have not been very responsive in the past on a number of issues.
MR. TAYLOR: I did note, Mr. Chairman, and would point out, and with no disrespect to some members opposite, when we are talking about bringing witnesses in, it seems to me as if so far, at least, as far as the Tory-suggested agenda items go, that because, for example, the Resource Recovery Fund Board was brought in two or three years ago, we essentially were told by some members that, you know, well, it is too soon to have them brought in again to question value for money. But I recall not too long ago, probably within the last year and one-half, Mr. Jim Dickie was in so if we are going to be fair about this, let's be fair about it. (Interruption) Like you say, it is more perhaps glitzy and glamorous, of course, but still value for dollar is value for dollar.
MR. CHAIRMAN: All four have been approved . . .
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thought I should make that point.
MR. CHAIRMAN: . . . and I think perhaps we will move on to the NDP caucus list at this point. Who wishes to start off on the NDP caucus list?
MR. HOLM: It doesn't matter, Mr. Chairman. A couple of things, in just looking at the Liberal list as well. For example, there are, I think, a couple of crossovers. For example, the whole issue of the Department of Health and Pharmacare, the Liberal list - and I am not speaking for them - has the formula committee and our caucus' first proposal is a little bit broader than that but looking at the whole issue of the Department of Health and Pharmacare and Pharmacare costs, that would include things like the formula committee. I would move that this committee invite Department of Health officials to appear before the Public Accounts Committee to deal with the issue of Pharmacare.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does anybody wish to speak on the question?
DR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, that was around that area. I think the NDP have broadened it a bit but that is fine with us. It is certainly an issue that there have been some changes, there are some projections whether it is sustainable, the whole Seniors' Pharmacare Program, and those relative to it for disabled persons. That is the general consensus of ourselves. We feel there is enough concern regarding value for dollar to have that as a priority. Those are my comments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Barnet, then Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. BARNET: I don't remember clearly - I mean, I haven't been on this committee all that long - but I am pretty sure that the first time I was on the committee that Pharmacare was an agenda item. I don't think it was all that long ago, less than a year ago that we had Pharmacare on the . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: June 2000.
MR. BARNET: June 2000, so here we are six months later we are adding it again.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, that was exactly my sentiments on the subject that six months ago we dealt with Pharmacare and I think it is time to give it a rest.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am going to stick my finger out just a bit. Mr. Auditor General, is this one of the issues that is being dealt with in your annual report?
MR. SALMON: The upcoming one?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. SALMON: No. It was in a previous one, the year before, I believe.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is the EHS. We just wanted to make sure, in fairness, that there is no retracking. On the question. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is defeated.
The next one for the NDP caucus . . .
DR. SMITH: What about the formulary committee alone? This is an issue of Alzheimer's disease with Aricept and the other new one that is out and the rejection of that and how the government might be saving money or getting value for money and who is paying for those. That is why we focused in on the narrow, rather than the whole Pharmacare issue.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is not the Pharmacare issue, it is the formulary. Perhaps, Dr. Smith, you could explain that a little more for the members of the committee.
DR. SMITH: It is a committee of advisors to the Department of Health who evaluate new medications. The ones that have really been in the hopper for quite a while are the drugs for Alzheimer's. There is more evidence now, even over the last six months or more, on these drugs and how that might be cost-effective for the government not to be covering them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is that the one dealing with generic drugs versus . . .
DR. SMITH: A bit of that but no, these are brand name drugs, they are not generic drugs yet but would be later, maybe.
MR. CHATAWAY: I would like to be corrected because I didn't attend the House last fall but I understand that homes for special care are being replaced or being improved on by the continuing care bill and they are changing one to bring it up to date. What Dr. Smith has just mentioned, I do know there are certainly opinions in homes for special care and things like that. Has that bill gone through yet?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I don't believe.
MR. CHATAWAY: Homes for special care is changing to continuing care.
MR. TAYLOR: It is single entry access . . .
MR. CHATAWAY: Yes and that is involved in all that thing. I believe there are certainly improvements there.
DR. SMITH: John, would it be the bill that was the overall social assistance bill that we passed last time? I think that is what it was.
MR. LANGILLE: I believe what Dr. Smith is talking about is the access to certain drugs that are not being given out by the Department of Health, not covered by it, where there have been groups that have lobbied for this drug and the government has not seen fit - for whatever reason - to administer them.
DR. SMITH: Yes, it was very much the same situation we faced as government for multiple sclerosis when one of those drugs weren't being covered and we gave it to a group, Jock Murray, and so on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Was it this advisory group that you referred to?
DR. SMITH: The formulary, no, we dealt with a separate group on multiple sclerosis. So you are faced with Alzheimer's disease now with the same type of problem. The point is are these people getting no treatment, are they paying for it themselves, or is another department of
government paying for it, so is this cost-efficient? I think the evidence now is such that it is time this be revisited and I think it is a matter of value for dollars, certainly it is a matter of value for quality of life.
MR. BARNET: I am not going to disagree with Dr. Smith, I certainly understand where he is coming from but again to reiterate, just over six months ago we had Pharmacare on the agenda, there was plenty of opportunity then and I think there was discussion around the Alzheimer's drug. To my recollection, the witnesses did speak to that, there were questions that were asked about that. How often do you bring these things up and do you ask particular witnesses to appear? Someone said it was a biannual thing where every six months you bring in Pharmacare and indirectly, members of the Opposition lobby for additions to the formulary. I support that we continue on and look for other departments and other initiatives.
DR. SMITH: We just wanted to have it done like George Moody and all the others lobbied us so strongly for. Your members lobbied strongly when we were government, we just want to see this come about.
MR. HOLM: We can go back and forth, tit for tat, and talk about what something was before this committee whether it was six months ago, a year ago, whatever. I just point out if we are talking about consistency that is one thing and we can also talk about what is really extremely important for this province and what the big ticket items for this province. We did deal with the offshore before, we dealt with that since the last provincial election. Just because this committee has dealt with something before, is not any reason why we shouldn't do follow-up sessions on a topic that is of extreme importance to the province.
Pharmacare certainly is an issue that is extremely important to an ever-increasing number of people in this province and there are new developments being made, there are new drugs coming forward. We are one of the few provinces - now we are in the minority - that don't provide the particular drug and I can never remember the name, Aricept. We now are probably one of three or four that don't, others have come onboard.
DR. SMITH: Eighty-five per cent of the people in Canada get covered, put it that way.
MR. HOLM: Put it that way (Interruption) No, more than that now. (Interruption) No, not now.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe Howard's motion on Pharmacare was defeated. Jim, you kind of added in the Pharmacare Formulary Committee, it wasn't in the form of a motion. Do you just want to let that pass for the time being?
DR. SMITH: I would make that from the point of view of the precedent has been set. We have had casino hearings on Ralph Fiske for four meetings in a row, I don't think there are any problems with repeats. I think this is a good news story for the government, they should be championing the Pharmacare Program and their great function formula committee, I think it would be a great news story for the government that we had these people in to tell about all the
great things being done. The fact that 85 per cent of the people in Canada have coverage for some of the medications, they shouldn't follow the rabbit tracks on that, good things are being done.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is that a motion?
DR. SMITH: It is a motion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: On the question. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is defeated.
Let's go back to the NDP caucus list. Mr. Epstein.
MR. EPSTEIN: On the list, No. 2 is the Department of Economic Development and their policy on subsidies. As the list appears here it particularly focuses on call centres but we would be interested in hearing from the department as to what its current policy is, as to when it offers grants or loans and what the current policy is overall with respect to job creation. Since the change in government I am not aware that this has been looked at in any detail. I know it has come up a little bit at the time of estimates but I remember thinking, in terms of the questioning that was done at the time, that it wasn't clear what the overall policy was and how the department considered it worthwhile to make an allocation and in what form and in what amount. So, that seems to me a really crucial question, given the size of the departmental budget, to have a look and try to clarify what the policy is and whether - looking back on the money that has been spent - there has been any good follow-up as to what the returns have been, in terms of the investments made. That is the reason for this item showing up here and I hope we get some support.
MR. LANGILLE: I just noticed on the NDP submissions, No. 2, the Department of Economic Development subsidies for call centres and No. 8, the Department of Economic Development for Sobeys subsidies, that they are lumped in. Can you lump No. 2 and No. 8 in together?
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, isn't this a topic that is more suitable for the Economic Development Committee? It would appear to me that that would be its rightful place.
MR. HOLM: This is a committee that looks at value for money and we have expended monies, we have given grants, we have given loans, we have given incentives. I would think that since the provincial taxpayers' dollars have been expended in that manner and commitments were made, that we should be looking at not only the policy statements made by the current government when they were seeking elected office less than a year and one-half ago, but also we could look at what actual value we are getting for the dollars we are expending. I think this is a topic that is extremely appropriate for this committee.
MR. BARNET: I understand the rationale for putting this on the agenda but I guess what disturbs me a little bit is the fact that in No. 2, it is described as the Department of Economic Development subsidies for call centres. I suspect - and rightfully so - the NDP caucus wants to examine the whole philosophy around subsidizing call centres and it is not specific to any particular call centre, it is just this idea of how we get value for money for all of the money that has been spent over the past number of years.
In No. 8, it is specifically to a company, they have identified Sobeys as being a company that they want to examine. I find it disturbing that what has happened here is there is political hay being made. I could see if in fact they said in No. 2 they wanted to examine the subsidy to Staples, as a particular issue, and then the subsidy to Sobeys. What they are doing is actually identifying a particular corporation in this province and saying, we want to examine what the province potentially has done for you, not what they have done for an industry. On one hand they do it one way but on the other hand they do it another way. I am a little bit disturbed by the fact that they have done that. Quite frankly, I don't mind examining these types of things but . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I recognize Mr. Holm, I think in fairness, that is the intent of the committee. If there is any expenditure of government money to any particular entity or groups of entities or individuals, that is within the purview of the committee and that is the mandate. I am not taking issue with your point, I understand, but just so . . .
MR. TAYLOR: You are not taking sides.
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, no, I am not taking sides, I am just simply being helpful because the argument could be made in reverse the next time around by another caucus, in fairness. I do understand and that is your right . . .
MR. BARNET: I certainly understand that and I recognize the fact that it is this committee's mandate to do that, but the point I am trying to make is there are substantial inconsistencies in what the NDP have put forward as their list. They identify a company on one hand and then when they are examining a different sector, they identify the entire sector. I think that it is somewhat unfair that they are either looking at economic development or they are looking at particular companies. Quite frankly, from my point of view, I don't see any problem with examining the subsidies for call centres but when we identify a company in one sector and then in another sector we identify the entire sector, I think it is very inconsistent and it just shows that the intent is not to prove whether or not Nova Scotians are getting value for money, it is to try to embarrass the government or embarrass a company and I don't think that is right.
DR. SMITH: You guys are only a year into your mandate, you are gun-shy, you won't put anything on the topics. Maybe we could simplify the process, Mr. Chairman, and just let them tell us what they want us to put down for them. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is it the intent of the NDP caucus to attach No. 2 and No. 8 together or keep them separate?
MR. EPSTEIN: Just going back to Mr. Barnet's point, I don't think there really is a fundamental disagreement here and in fact, I tried to address the balance between particular industries or segments of the economy and the general philosophy in my first remark on the motion. The intent of the motion really was to look at what the policies are in the Department of Economic Development, as to making grants and loans to whatever segment of the economy it chooses and to invite them to come to us and say, here is what our policy is, here is where we have expended money and here is why we chose to expend this money.
Let them choose the examples that they want to give us, but I would think they would come to us with a sort of fairly extensive list because they would want to show us whether, in their view, they are getting value for money, whether they are good investments that have been made for Nova Scotians. That is really the point, it is not to tie it down necessarily to one particular company or one segment of the economy. (Interruption) I understand that the list does that but I addressed that in the opening motion. The idea there was to look at what the framework of analysis is, what the policy is in the department overall and whether there has been value for money, that is really it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are you saying that you are amending your motion just to include No. 2 and not No. 8?
SOME HON. MEMBERS: No, no.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I'm just asking.
MR. EPSTEIN: What we gave you was a general one, to look in general terms at what the framework of policy in the Department of Economic Development was, so far as making grants and loans. It wasn't limited to a particular segment of the economy or a particular company. If they want to come forward and talk, I can't think how they would talk about their general policy without giving us specific examples and it is easy enough to see from the public record that Sobeys, the call centres, and blueberry enterprises and whatever, are sort of current examples. They may well want to look back at things they have a history of now.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So that is your motion?
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, please.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just one little footnote to that, No. 2 that is included on your list, this is one that was approved on a previous date and then they were all wiped out last fall with our closing session. On the question?
MR. HOLM: No, Mr. Chairman, on your comment. I would like to point out that what we did on the initial list we put forward, we put forward simply all the list again of items that had been approved and cancelled. We just put them back on the table and Howard (Interruptions) I know. So the motion put forward has expanded that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would ask Mr. Epstein for greater clarity, to read the motion and then we will call the question.
MR. EPSTEIN: The motion is that as part of the agenda of the Public Accounts Committee, the Department of Economic Development be invited to speak to the subject of their policies and framework for making grants and loans.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
[The motion is defeated.]
MR. HOLM: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman. I thought the motion that was just defeated was what government members spoke to and said that they were in favour of doing, what they wanted to do.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is true but they voted accordingly, so . . .
MR. HOLM: I had to point out that little bit of inconsistency. Dr. Smith asked a question a few minutes ago and I think it was a very valid one. Is there anything on either of the two lists - we can spend some time and we can propose suggested topics, we can go through that exercise and have them all voted down or we can have the government members tell us which ones their caucus has discussed and have agreed to come before this committee. Let's just cut to the chase, what do you agree to and what don't you? We will answer questions.
MR. TAYLOR: I would just point out that the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid is very observant and clearly understands how democracy works. If we could perhaps take some of these suggested topics by the Liberal and NDP caucuses under advisement and come back to expedite things, due to the lateness of the hour, I think we would be more than prepared to do that. It would possibly save all honourable members and, of course, our dear friend Roy some time and energy, so perhaps I could throw that out. If it has to be in the form of a motion, Mr. Chairman, I would be prepared to do that.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to point out to all members that we do have an agenda in place that takes us right up to approximately the end of February and it is quite an interesting agenda. Also, built into the agenda is an opportunity for further recommendations.
We do have some approvals to date at this meeting to add to this list. I would suggest we are really plugging it in, well into the end of March now. Having said that, I would agree with Mr. Taylor's recommendation that we now take these back and review them, the recommendations from the Liberal and NDP caucuses. We will review them, take them under advisement and come back.
MR. TAYLOR: Could I rephrase that motion, Mr. Chairman?
DR. SMITH: I would like to speak to my recommendations, Mr. Chairman. I think I have come here this morning - I didn't come here to just listen to the rant and ravings of the government. I would like to have the opportunity to speak to our own.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure.
DR. SMITH: I knew they were going to be dismissed but . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order.
DR. SMITH: . . . I don't mind being neglected.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Holm.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Chairman, certainly, I do understand the workings of majority partisan democracy sometimes. I am not so naive as to think that the majority, being on the government's side, will determine, eventually, what the agenda of this committee will be. However, I mean, if you take a look at it, this committee has talked about being non-partisan, before and we have made some very, I think, important efforts to be non-partisan to deal with issues that are extremely important to Nova Scotia.
We can go through, as Jim suggests, and speak to each individual item but if the majority members on the government side have not been given the approval and have taken the position that they have to have the caucus approval before they can approve anything, especially anything that might conceivably be embarrassing to government, even if it would result in better value for money for Nova Scotians, if they have to go back and get everything approved by caucus or whoever does the approval for them, that is the way it is going to be. (Interruptions)
MR. TAYLOR: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman.
MR. HOLM: However, if they are going to do that . . .
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order.
MR. HOLM: . . . maybe they can also have them reconsider those items they have already voted down. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please, order.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I was merely, by making the motion, agreeing with the honourable member. He suggested that the Tories might want to take the suggested list, the respective list back and I was agreeing with him, trying to comply with his
recommendation. His recent rantings were basically just a duplication of what he said previously with a few extra adjectives thrown in. So the motion still stands.
Due to the lateness of the hour, we were told today we would be meeting from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. to consider a witness list, Mr. Chairman. We are well into March now with our agenda and I would suggest that we do take these back and come back at a future date for further discussion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. It is certainly a point of clarification but not a point of order. Dr. Smith.
DR. SMITH: I can see the way this meeting is going. It is a friendly gathering of very intelligent people but it is amazing how it gets off the rails sometimes. The paranoia is taking over. This government - it is going to be interesting to see them in their fourth year, if they are hunkered down now.
I think, Mr. Chairman, our recommendations are a mixture of, probably - there are some sensitivities to the government on some of the issues but, basically, there are others that are not, that are looking for information and value for money. I think, for instance, the regional school board issue here of supplemental funding - I am getting e-mails and some representations made relative to how that was dealt with. It is an issue.
On the sale of Sysco - I know the NDP has that down as well - we had a witness before us that said that the current government was going to sell Sysco. We couldn't do it, our previous government could not do it. He brought that before the committee. We were delinquent in some way, obviously. We want to just see the successes, get the government to explain their successes in that endeavour.
The museums are a concern, certainly, the Museum of Industry and, certainly, in my community, Fairbanks Centre is now essentially closed due to the - not any warning of any cutbacks from that department.
Then, finally, there are some issues; waterfront will not cost taxpayers, where corporation head says project will be self-sustaining. We have some concerns on the Waterfront Development Corporation; particularly in the Bedford community. That is before the media these days and, certainly, very much on our constituents' minds.
That is a summary of ours. I don't think there are any great areas - the government shouldn't have any embarrassments. They have only been government for a year, so there shouldn't be a lot of embarrassments in those areas.
MR. HOLM: Do we have a motion on the floor?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, we do.
MR. HOLM: I would like to make one afterwards, too.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I may, if I am allowed, with the approbation of the committee, just make clarification on one line item that we do have from the Liberal caucus. Is that okay? On what Dr. Smith said, with regard to the Bedford waterfront, that is in response - the local yacht club, which is 100 per cent privately funded and self-sustaining, they are complaining about government subsidies creating an uneven playing field in that whole jurisdiction. That is the primary logic behind it, so you will understand where we are coming from.
MR. LANGILLE: Just for clarification, if I may, from Dr. Smith, on your third item, Nova Scotia Museum. . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: It should be museums.
MR. LANGILLE: I was going to say, should there be an s there?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I clarified that when we opened the meeting.
MR. LANGILLE: Oh, you did. Okay, I'm sorry. I thought you were maybe targetting one museum there, I didn't understand. The Halifax Regional School Board Superintendent, re: condition of schools, that is condition of schools only?
DR. SMITH: No. Then I added supplemental funding.
MR. LANGILLE: Okay.
DR. SMITH: I apologize. We put this together - we had a longer list and we summarized it this morning. Our typist was probably not up to scratch this morning at this hour.
MR. BARNET: Who would that have been?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Me. (Laughter)
MR. BARNET: I understand. That explains it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Better I take the rap.
MR. LANGILLE: Thank you.
DR. SMITH: Well, considering she was making tea at the same time. (Laughter)
MR. TAYLOR: Well, it's after 10:00 a.m., Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, on that motion, would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Actually, just quickly, before I recognize Mr. Holm, we do have a pretty good agenda lined up. January 31st is cancelled. That was supposed to be the Auditor General's Report and I will ask Roy to make a comment in a moment. Wednesday, February 7th, we have a public hearing, the fuel tax issue, with representatives from the Department of Finance. The week after that, Nova Scotia credit rating in the Department of Finance and the Auditor General's Office, and so on.
Before I recognize Mr. Holm, I will recognize the Auditor General. Perhaps you can give us a snapshot.
MR. SALMON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I couldn't resist, picking up on Mr. Holm's comment about big ticket items. This may sound like some frustration and, perhaps, a bias but it really isn't, it is just a general concern about the people of this province.
I think there is one big ticket item and that is the efforts of this government to balance the budget. I believe that the government took that issue seriously and more than a year ago appointed, under the auspices of Voluntary Planning, a fiscal management task force that was composed of a group of very concerned citizens who gave a considerable amount of time, on a voluntary basis, to a major effort to assist the government, and tabled reports more than a year ago, the last final report in January 2000. The government has been making efforts to respond and we have been doing some monitoring of that. But that task force did make 29 significant recommendations. The government is acting on some of them.
I believe that that whole issue needs some thoughtful public debate. I firmly believe that the forum for that is this committee. It is a year since the report was released. There has not been very much public discussion since it was released and I believe it is time. There is a vehicle to do it and I am sure the chairman of that task force would be willing to come here and testify and provide background to his task force's recommendations. I believe that the central departments of government can and would be prepared to come forward and report on the status of their actions. But the public doesn't really understand the significance of the fiscal dilemma of this province. So I throw it into the hopper.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We could probably include in that the restructuring of government, that Cabinet document, the court order issued as well. When do we expect your report?
MR. SALMON: We are struggling to finalize a couple of very significant audits that have caused us quite a bit of delay in finalizing them and we are working through them. That has an impact on the whole structure of the report, particularly on Chapter 1 and how that is
focused; that is under way. I am forecasting we will be in the hands of the printer by the end of next week and it is going to take the printer two to three weeks, I believe. I would suggest that with the agenda you have before you, we could target to have my annual report ready to present to the Legislature and to provide it to you by the end of February.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will try to arrange our meeting date around that but we can fine-tune that a little more next week, if that is okay. So on that, one final note, John.
MR. HOLM: I would just like to make one final motion and that is that future agenda-setting meetings be held in the Chamber.
MR. CHAIRMAN: They are all public.
MR. HOLM: And not in camera, of course.
MR. CHAIRMAN: This is not in camera.
MR. HOLM: I know.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The location is not a big factor from my perspective but on the question. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
MR. HOLM: I think the Ayes have it, Mr. Chairman. Maybe we could have a show of hands.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please raise your hand. Contrary minded, please raise your hand.
The motion is carried. (Interruption)
No, it is carried. I issued the deciding vote.
MR. DEWOLFE: It was not a big issue with me, I just think it is more comfortable to be in a close proximity.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Exactly, we will play it as it comes.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, you issued the deciding vote?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. Four voted in favour. Four voted against. I was the deciding vote.
MR. TAYLOR: I just wanted that clarified a little bit.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:09 a.m.]