The Nova Scotia Legislature

The House resumed on:
September 21, 2017.

 

 

 

HANSARD

 

NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY

 

 

COMMITTEE

 

ON

 

PUBLIC ACCOUNTS

 

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

 

LEGISLATIVE CHAMBER

 

 

 

 

Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations

Heating Assistance Rebate Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services

 

 

Public Accounts Committee

 

Hon. Keith Colwell, Chairman

Mr. Howard Epstein, Vice-Chairman

Mr. Clarrie MacKinnon

Mr. Gary Ramey

Mr. Mat Whynott

Mr. Brian Skabar

Hon. Manning MacDonald

Mr. Chuck Porter

Mr. Allan MacMaster

 

[Mr. Maurice Smith replaced Mr. Howard Epstein]

[Mr. Andrew Younger replaced Hon. Manning MacDonald]

 

In Attendance:

 

Mrs. Darlene Henry

Legislative Committee Clerk

 

Mr. Terry Spicer

Assistant Auditor General

 

Mr. Gordon Hebb

Chief Legislative Counsel

 

WITNESSES

 

Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations

 

Mr. Kevin Malloy, Deputy Minister

Mr. Cameron MacNeil, Executive Director, Program Management & Corporate Services

Ms. Catherine Smith, Director, Consumer & Business Programs

Ms. Marianne Hakkert-Lebel, Director of Finance

Ms. Rhia Perkins, Research & Statistical Officer

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, MAY 16, 2012

 

STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS

 

9:00 A.M.

 

CHAIRMAN

Hon. Keith Colwell

 

VICE-CHAIRMAN

Mr. Howard Epstein

 

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning. I'd like to call the meeting to order. We will start by introducing everybody and I'll start with Mr. Ramey.

 

[The committee members and witnesses introduced themselves.]

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: I'd like to welcome our guests this morning to our meeting. I will start the proceedings by asking Mr. Malloy if he would like to make a presentation.

 

MR. KEVIN MALLOY: Good morning and thank you. Before I proceed, I would just like to reintroduce my team with their titles, so that we can have a better understanding of what they do in their day job.

 

Cameron MacNeil is the executive director of Program Management and Corporate Services; Catherine Smith is the director of Consumer and Business Programs; Marianne Hakkert-Lebel is director of finance and Rhia Perkins is a research and statistical officer.

 

I'd like to thank the members of this committee for giving us an opportunity to make some opening comments. Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations is as diverse a government department as you will find. We cover everything from marriages, births, liquor licensing and geographic information systems, to consumer rebates like the Heating Assistance Rebate Program.

 

 

1


 

As we all know, higher fuel prices are a worldwide concern. This province is no exception. Through initiatives like the Heating Assistance Rebate Program, we're helping lower-income Nova Scotians, who are struggling to make ends meet, to heat their homes. The Heating Assistance Rebate Program was first launched in October 2008. The program was, and continues to be, application-based. Single persons with incomes of less than $27,000 and families with incomes of less than $42,000, as well as Nova Scotians receiving income assistance or Guaranteed Income Supplement, are eligible to apply. All must have paid some form of heating bill to quality for the rebate.

 

The program was changed somewhat for the 2009-10 winter season. The budget for the program was set at $15 million and the rebate was set at a maximum of $200 for all forms of home heating to help as many Nova Scotians as possible. Income thresholds remained the same.

 

In 2010-11 the budget for the program was set at $14.9 million. Rebate amounts and income thresholds remained the same and the province issued about 50,000 rebates. For the 2011-12 season the budget remained at $14.9 million and to date we have issued more than 51,000 rebates.

 

Now I would like to talk a little about how we're getting the word out about this program and making sure that Nova Scotians who need this assistance can access it. One of the most significant ways we're reaching Nova Scotians is by sending those who received a rebate for a previous year's program, like Keep the Heat, a pre-populated application form, to make it easier for them to apply for assistance.

 

For the 2011-12 season we sent out about 50,000 pre-populated applications to Nova Scotians who had received the rebate in the previous year. In addition, we also make application for the Heating Assistance Rebate Program available on-line, at Access Nova Scotia centres, at Department of Community Services offices, at all MLA offices and at more than 100 community groups, resource centres and other locations throughout the province, including Feed Nova Scotia, Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank, family resource centres, various seniors' organizations and farmers' markets.

 

We also work closely with the Department of Community Services to put inserts in clients' income assistance cheques to help them learn about and access the Heating Assistance Rebate Program. Income assistance caseworkers also receive applications to give to their clients. Efficiency Nova Scotia receives copies of the application and also works with Nova Scotians to help them make their homes more energy efficient.

 

Historically, we’ve always advertised the Heating Assistance Rebate Program when it begins in the Fall, usually in late October. In 2011 we advertised the Heating Assistance Rebate Program in print and on radio in both French and English and we also advertised it on-line. We sent out a press release on November 2, 2011 which received no pick-up in the media at all. In January of this year government was criticized for keeping the existence of the available Heating Assistance Rebate quiet instead of outwardly promoting the program.

 

Since the program was not earning any media coverage through press releases, the minister committed to investing in a second round of advertising to get the word out and to ensure as many Nova Scotians as possible received help through the program. To that end, we did a second round of print ads in February and March, again in French and English, and we added television spots to the campaign. The ads worked. In the last weeks of the campaign, requests for applications increased over the weeks preceding the advertisements.

 

The Heating Assistance Rebate Program is a good, targeted initiative that helps thousands of Nova Scotians every year. But don’t take our word for it. To assess the effectiveness of the Heating Assistance Rebate Program, department staff conducted a survey of past rebate clients, including clients who received the rebate in 2010-11 and a sample of clients who received the rebate in 2009-10 but who did not reapply the following year.

 

The survey found general satisfaction with the program and the application process; 92 per cent of those surveyed were satisfied with the program. Among those who did not reapply for the program, more than half cited changed or improved circumstances. According to survey respondents, awareness of the program came primarily from newspapers, approximately one-third of the respondents; and community groups, approximately one-fifth of the respondents.

 

Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations also helps Nova Scotians heat their homes through the Your Energy Rebate Program. Through this program the entire provincial portion of the HST - 10 per cent - is automatically taken off home heating bills. The department also works in partnership with the Salvation Army through its Good Neighbour Energy Fund. The Good Neighbour Energy Fund was started in 1997 by the Nova Scotia Power employees. The province came on board in 2008 and has made donations to the program every year since. The program runs from January to April and is administered by the Salvation Army.

 

As you can see, government has a number of programs in place to help Nova Scotians in need cope with the rising cost of home heating. These range from rebates to helping to make homes more energy efficient. Through initiatives like the Heating Assistance Rebate Program, we are committed to helping as many people as possible stay warm through the cold winter months. Thank you.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We’ll start our first round of questioning with Mr. Younger, you have 20 minutes.

 

MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: I know you’ve said this, I’m not sure if I heard them correctly, could you tell me what the budget allocation was for 2008-09 for HARP. I think it was 15 and 14.9 or something like that. I just missed the exact numbers.

 

MR. MALLOY: For 2008-09, the budget was $29.3 million. The budget for 2009-10 was $15 million and the budget for 2010-11 and 2011-12 was $14.9 million.

 

MR. YOUNGER: Okay. When the maximum rebate was dropped from $450 to $200, the budget was cut in half, basically.

 

MR. MALLOY: Generally speaking, yes.

 

MR. YOUNGER: Give or take a few numbers. The minister has repeatedly said in the House that the reason for cutting the rebate by more than half, from $450 to $200, was so that more people would be able to apply and it would be able to serve more people. That’s the rationale given but in fact the budget has been cut in half. Can you answer that discrepancy? You’re not going to help that many more people if you cut the budget in half.

 

MR. MALLOY: I’ll get Cameron MacNeil to respond.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: When the changes were made to the program from the 2008-09 year, basically what occurred was the maximum allowance for heating oil was reduced from $450 to $200 and the allowance for non-oil heating applicants was increased from $150 to $200. That basically brought the budget down by about $14 million.

 

As far as the application of the program, none of the other parameters were changed so the income and all of the threshold requirements remain the same with those changes. It did increase, if you will - it was beneficial for those people who were not using oil, but using electricity to heat their homes.

 

MR. YOUNGER: Yes, because depending on their income, they would have qualified for up to $50 more than the maximum that was there before, correct? They went from $150 to $200 maximum potential rebate.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: That is correct.

 

MR. YOUNGER: I’m going to table - and since the ChairMAN asks for a hundred copies of everything, I’ll give you the hundred copies.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: That is correct, Mr. Younger.

 

MR. YOUNGER: This is data supplied by your department so this isn’t something that was pulled out of a hat. This was given to us by your department the other day, which actually shows that not only - for oil, for example, when it went from $450 to $200, the number of applications and the number of rebates actually dropped. The minister has spent the past three years saying that more people would be able to apply, more people would be helped, but actually in real terms, the number is still lower than it was when the rebate was higher. So in 2008-09, there were 61,000 applications and 54,000 were approved. In 2009-10, the first year of the cut, there were 55,000 applications, which was 6,000 applications less. Obviously some of those people might be people that just realized they didn’t qualify, so more important are the rebates. There were actually 4,000 less rebates issued and then oddly enough, last year it stayed basically the same, 50,000, but it’s still lower than it was in 2008-09. So I’m just trying to reconcile two messages.

 

When the deputy minister referenced the fact that the minister has been asked - well, it’s two different ministers, I guess, it started with the previous minister when the cut was made - but was asked about this in the House and her rationale in Question Period was that more people would be able to be helped. But you are saying that the income cut-offs didn’t actually change so there are no more people who would have been eligible, right? If people on electricity or non-oil sources of heat could conceivably have got $50 more of the rebate, but anybody on oil would have been $250 less and so really this was about cutting the program budget.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Mr. Younger, it’s difficult sometimes to answer these questions when they’re out of context. another change that did occur, generally, with providing Nova Scotians with heating assistance in that year was the government changed the application of the Your Energy Rebate Program and made it more widely available by removing some limitations that had been placed upon the program for eligibility. In essence what the new incoming government did was provide a 10 per cent rebate on the provincial sales tax for all electricity consumed in the province. It is possible, I suppose - and it’s a bit of conjecture on my part, I admit - that the minister may have been referring to that, that by doing that it did expend heating assistance to a broader base.

 

MR. YOUNGER: I’m not trying to get you to explain the minister’s comments. I’m just trying to put context around it. It wasn’t a 10 per cent reduction; it was an 8 per cent reduction. I know the semantics there, but the provincial portion of the HST also wasn’t at 10 per cent so it got raised at the same time so it would have been at 8 per cent. I’m talking about oil at the moment and the majority of households in Nova Scotia heat with oil, according to data. I think everybody accepts that, but there’s plenty of data out there that shows that the vast majority heat with oil and that was reduced from a $450 rebate to $200. At the moment we’re still at $200 and the price of furnace oil is at record highs. As far as I can tell, it has never in the month of May, for example, or for the month of April, ever been as high per litre, on average, in Nova Scotia, as it is right now. So it's less assistance, right? If I heat with oil and I'm low-income, it has made it harder for me. Some places won't even give me a minimum delivery of $200.

 

MR. MALLOY: Again, there are a number of programs that were put in place and taken away and that's part of our annual budget process. The fact is that the oil allocation was reduced in 2009, in the first budget in the Spring. The changes to the energy rebate, translate, on average, into savings of about $239, if you look at it from that perspective. The average person heating their home, and assuming someone in the low-income category also receives that average, the refund or the benefit to them from the two programs combined would be about $439.

 

The other benefit, or the other program that we started down the path of in 2008-09 time frame, was the Good Neighbour Energy Fund. I think trying to be responsive to those people who are most in need - to your point - the increase that we gave or the amount of money that we gave to the Salvation Army to allow them to provide more funds to constituents out there who were in, what we would consider perhaps, dire or urgent need of support. We look at all of these as trying to address the whole situation and trying to be as responsive as possible.

 

I would contend that the deck chairs do move around sometimes and they don't always come out equal and exactly where they began but I would state that for the most part, I think we're not too far off what was originally the benefit of an oil heater in Nova Scotia.

 

With respect to the Good Neighbour Energy Program, there's an additional $350 available per person there. My understanding - and it's not our program, the Salvation Army program is not our program, we contribute to it - my understanding is that initially someone could benefit from that program once every five years. Because of the contribution that comes from the province, it's now down to enabling an individual to benefit once every two years. So from that point of view, clearly if you look at it over a longer period, someone is able to access far more funds for those people who are in urgent need of that.

 

The other thing is that if someone is eligible for all three programs, which clearly if they're going to get the energy rebate to pay heating costs, if they meet the income test for our program, they're going to be entitled to $200 and if they meet the income test for the Salvation Army program, they're going to get an additional $350. So that equates to just under $800 of benefits that someone meeting the program criteria can access.

 

This certainly doesn't pay for their heating costs but the three programs, you have to look at it from the perspective of three programs combined. What we're trying to do is continually put that money in a situation where it can be accessed by the people who are in most desperate need of it.

 

MR. YOUNGER: Thank you. I don't have an expectation that all of somebody's heating costs are going to be able to be covered by government, I don't want to suggest that. Let me just say that you talked about the average savings of $239, it would actually be much, much less than $239 for somebody heating with oil. There's no way that they were spending $239 on the provincial portion of the provincial HST on electricity in a year if they were heating - well they would have, probably more than that, if they were heating with electricity, but they wouldn't have if they were heating with oil. So when we're talking about the oil people, because that is an average, as you said, they would be on the low end of that and the people heating with electricity would be above $239, I would assume, so you average those together and you get the $239. But even using your numbers, they're getting $20 less than they were getting before.

 

The change in the Salvation Army, which you talked about, from every five years to every two years, was already in place when $450 was available because that happened in either 2007 or 2008, I don't remember exactly which year it was, but it was before I was in this Legislature, that’s the only reason I know it was before then because it happened when I was on city council.

 

So what we have is a situation where, from my perspective, if you’re heating with oil, which is the vast majority of people, and more the vast majority of low-income household owners sometimes because of the age of the housing stock and so forth, they’re actually in a worse position. The other element is that $350 they can get from the Salvation Army, as you said, they can only get every two years. That’s a product, I guess, of the funding. That fund has run out twice.

 

In fairness, I know it was topped up at least once this year by the provincial government, so I want to recognize that, but it ran out again a few weeks ago, I can’t remember the exact date but it ran out a second time very quickly and the word from them is that the reason it’s running out is because there is less money available now on the heating rebate from the province. It’s almost like a downloading to the Salvation Army program for people who heat with oil.

 

I guess I’m just trying to understand, even with your own average, the amount available between 2008-09 has dropped for somebody heating with oil. Even using the average number and not saying it is lower, the total amount available including the Salvation Army and everything else has dropped. I’m just trying to understand what the rationale was, whether it was simply just a budget issue, that the province is in bad shape we have to save money, we’re going to cut this program in half, which is basically what happened in terms of the budget item, or whether there was another rationale.

 

Whichever way you add up the numbers, between 2008-09 a low-income family heating with oil, when they take all the programs combined, has access to less rebate in 2009 and today than they did in 2008 and heating oil prices are higher. I’m just trying to understand. If it was a budget thing, that’s a government decision but I’m just trying to understand, was it just a budget thing or is there some other reason why - there has to be a rationale where somebody said this is the right thing to do?

 

MR. MALLOY: My understanding is that in 2008 when we were providing the initial grants to the Good Neighbour Energy Fund it was a five-year program. People were only eligible every five years. It was only after a couple of years of funding from the province that they took it down to a three-year rotation and then subsequently a two-year rotation.

 

We’re working with the Salvation Army because, in fact we found out recently as well that they were running low on money and we’ve asked them for a bit of a report on what happened and why the take-up has increased. Just anecdotally, what I’ve heard is not that there’s a downloading from the province but that the program is better known, better understood, and with going to the two-year rotation, the second year has more people eligible for it because of the way the program came in. So they’re in that second-year cycle where they’re going to get more applicants for it and just generally they are picking up more people for the first go-around. I’ve not spoken to anybody from Salvation Army; we do intend to meet with them and get better information around that.

 

Around the budget, I can really somewhat surmise that in 2009 it was actually the Progressive Conservative Government that brought in the budget where the HARP was reduced from $29 million to $14 million budget. That one was not passed, but my understanding at that time was it was affordability; government has been under a restraint for some time and had to make tough decisions.

 

When the budget was passed in September of that year, the reason, I suspect, that government didn’t bring the rebates back to where they were is because of the changes that they made to the Your Energy Rebate Program to provide the savings to a broader number of people through the rebate and the provincial sales tax. Like you say, does the average lower-income person get that average of $239 or do they get something different? I really don’t have any information to demonstrate one way or the other. I suspect that you’re probably right; they’re probably on the lower side, not the higher side.

 

I do believe that if you were to do the math and look at the fact that, I received today my portion of the Your Energy Rebate and I’m eligible for an annual grant of the provincial Heating Assistance Rebate Program, perhaps I’m eligible for the Good Neighbour Energy Fund Rebate Program every second year, I think if you were to look at it over a five or six year period and I have not done the math - like I say, I’m just going here - I would say that they potentially could be even a little better off than they were under only receiving the rebate from the Good Neighbour Energy Fund once every five years because that’s actually a $350 grant. So that’s fairly substantive.

 

MR. YOUNGER: And depending on when that change happened and I will check - I was pretty sure it happened before, but you could be right and I’ll check. I don’t disagree with you that some of the - I think there are a number of factors that contribute to the Salvation Army program running out and I think the ones that you addressed also do factor in that. I have a substantial percentage of families who would qualify for this rebate in my constituency. We go through a heck of a lot of these applications in a year. In fact, so much so that we actually distribute them to the - there’s some independent oil companies in around my riding that we distribute them to as well so that they can hand them out to the customers that they know are going to qualify and it gets it out to a few more people. They might get them also from you at the same time - who knows - but at least they have it.

 

I do know that some of those people call and say, well listen, they won’t even deliver me $200 because the minimum is $250. I will - between everybody speaking - check to see when that Salvation Army change was because you might be right, but I was pretty sure of the change before that. You’re right, part of that was because the province at some point started contributing some money now and again to that, so I do recognize that was one of the things that allowed them to do that and Nova Scotia Power contributed a bit more and so forth. I also give Mel Boutilier at Parker Street a bit of credit because he raised a bit of hell over that issue. I’m sorry if that’s unparliamentary.

 

Very briefly I would just say that I think there is a question as to whether that should - have you ever looked at linking the rebate amounts somehow to the average price of furnace oil or something like that, because it seems random. It seems like - it’s buying power, right? This isn’t about, we need $200 to buy groceries, which also go up in price, but this is the fact that heating oil has been on the rise on average.

 

MR. MALLOY: To your question, no, we have not looked at attaching some type of inflationary or deflationary measure to the program in relation to the cost of home heating oil or electricity. The overall program . . .

 

MR. YOUNGER: I’m going to interrupt you. The Salvation Army just told us that it was never five years.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Mr. Younger’s time has expired.

 

Mr. MacMaster.

 

MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: My first question - and we’ve spoken already about it a bit today - there was a decrease from the 2008-09 year to the 2009-10 year. Why was the rebate decreased so drastically?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: We were directed, in the lead-up to the budget process, the finalization of the budget by the prior government, we were directed that monies would be reduced for the program by approximately one-half to $14.9 million, so it was really an affordability issue.

 

MR. MACMASTER: Right. How have you found the change, now that it has been reduced? The number of applicants is the same, but it's - I guess it is saving the government money, because the government is not putting out as much money.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: That's correct. With the reduced allowances, the program has come in at less money, and also we're seeing a consistent take-up over the three years since the budget was reduced.

 

MR. MACMASTER: We see that the price of oil has been increasing. I was looking at the price of it yesterday - it's actually down a little bit. Has there been any discussion in the department about the rebates being offered currently relative to the change in the price of oil from that point in time until now?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Each year, Mr. MacMaster, as we approach the Fall, there's a review done on the program, and things such as the price of oil, the price of electricity, and so forth are considered. We look at our budget situation and options are presented for consideration. Basically from there, program parameters are set or maintained.

 

MR. MACMASTER: From your experience, I get the sense that a lot of it is dependent on the government's ability to provide a rebate.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: That's correct.

MR. MACMASTER: There's not a lot of analysis of what the homeowner is facing, in terms of energy costs. There was a round number chosen and it has changed a bit over the years, but it's basically based on the government's ability to afford to provide the rebate.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I would say affordability is definitely the dominant factor. However, I think consideration is also given to the other circumstances, such as where the price of oil stands, where the price of electricity stands, what the changes have been over the past year, and so forth.

 

MR. MACMASTER: When we look at the rebate that's offered - and I know that if you're a single person and you get a rebate, it would be different than, say, two people cohabitating. The income barriers are different.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: That's correct.

MR. MACMASTER: If there are two people applying together and there's a possibility that there could be children in the home as well, would it make sense that their power needs might be greater than, say, a single person living in a single dwelling? I guess what I'm getting at is, has there been thought put into determining the rates for somebody who is single versus a couple of people who are cohabitating, who may have children and may have higher energy needs and may really have a need for a higher rebate?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Yes, and I suppose that's why we sort of have a single rate and a family rate. We have a $27,000 maximum income threshold for single and $42,000 maximum income threshold for families.

MR. MACMASTER: I think what I'm trying to get at here is, where there's more people living in the home, there's more energy being consumed. It would stand to reason that they may be eligible for more of a rebate, if we're trying to be fair to everybody. I don't sense that there has ever been much consideration for that.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: No, I can't say that we've looked at options where the rebate would be linked to the number of occupants in the home.

MR. MACMASTER: Sure, okay. Removing the HST was good for everybody, of course. Nobody is going to complain about having to pay less tax on the power bill. It was good for all Nova Scotians, because all Nova Scotians were paying the HST, but also more beneficial to those who use a lot of energy - people with larger homes, for instance. What was the reasoning behind giving such a tax break to the general population while at the same time reducing the amount that is being offered through the rebate?

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I don't know the rationale behind that. I wasn't a party to those discussions. It was a decision made in the prior administration, because the budget that was brought in by the current government was - when it came to HARP - a continuation of what was proposed in the initial budget that was voted down. I believe that the current government did come into office with a promise to expand the application of the Your Energy Rebate Program, and that’s what they did. So I’m not sure if there was a linked consideration of the two, if you will.

 

MR. MACMASTER: The program has been around for a few years now. Have you experienced any efficiencies in the way the program is delivered?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Efficiencies? Oh, yes.

MR. MACMASTER: Can you explain some of those?

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Actually, when the program was initially offered under the Keep the Heat banner, we had a review done. Out of that review there were several suggestions made of how we could make the administration of the program more efficient and have better controls in place. All of those things were implemented. We actually developed a rebate system to facilitate the delivery of the program, and as a direct result of that we saw things such as reduced turnaround times. I think initially we were looking at anywhere from eight to 10 weeks before the person would actually get their cheque from the program. That has been reduced to six to eight weeks, and less in many instances, depending upon how complete the application and the associated documentation are. So we’ve seen considerable improvements in that area, just generally automating processes that were once manual.

 

One of the benefits of our program is that an individual is required to produce proof of income to qualify. Sometimes this documentation can get lost and so forth, and it presents a challenge to the individual. Well, our program has a direct link to CRA, and so long as the person approves and gives us full permission to do it, we can actually contact CRA through an electronic means and get the proof of income, just on the power of their tick to a box. So that was a major step ahead.

 

The other thing is on the notification of the program. We send out pre-populated application forms to prior year participants, and it makes it very easy for them to get back into the new program, if you will, through simply checking the box, signing a few things. So yes, we’ve seen considerable efficiencies on the administrative side.

 

MR. MACMASTER: That’s great, and I guess the example with the Revenue Canada connection - in a way, you’re helping to remove a barrier for people who are trying to make application, which I think is great.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Yes.

MR. MACMASTER: Are there any other barriers that people have found that you’ve been seeing as the process is being improved along the way? Are there any other barriers that have been removed or that you foresee removing in the future to make it easier for people who are applying?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Any time you work with an application-based program, you often get feedback that folks, your target audience, have difficulty with the documentation or so forth. That was a major challenge for us at the outset of the Heating Assistance Rebate Program, and particularly Keep the Heat program, which was its immediate predecessor. We took that situation in hand. We met with community groups. We met with folks who could assist us in making the application form as user-friendly as possible so that the folks, the target group that this program is intended for, could easily understand and complete the form and get it back to us with a minimum of frustration.

 

We also worked collaboratively with social work groups - social workers and social community groups - to get them to lend their assistance to folks who wanted to participate in this program but might be challenged due to educational background or so forth. I think we’ve done a pretty good job. We’re quite pleased with the survey results. We did a survey of folks who participated in the program last year - 200 people who participated in the program and 200 people who were not successful in participating in the program due to not meeting the eligibility criteria - and the results back were quite impressive. We got a 92 per cent satisfaction rate back on that survey. I think it’s indicative that the program has come a long way from its initial introduction.

 

MR. MACMASTER: It’s good to see the communication between the people finding out if they are benefiting and if there are any challenges they face, so that’s good. I’m thinking about the numbers in my head. The program last year was - I think the costs were a little above $10 million last year. I guess I was just thinking if things are becoming more efficient, there would be some savings that might be able to be passed on to increasing the rebate. I know the savings, if you translate into an increase in the rebate, might only be $5 or $10 more per year for people. Has there been any consideration of trying to increase the rebate after saving costs and making the program more efficient?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: We actually have reduced the amount of administrative budget by, I believe, about $200,000 from $900,000, which is a pretty significant cut when you look at it on a percentage basis. However, I think it’s also important to point out that those adjustments were made in the larger context of fiscal restraint and it’s a fiscal decision of government how those savings get reallocated.

 

MR. MACMASTER: Sure, maybe they find their way into the Salvation Army Program, for instance, or something like that.

 

Speaking of that, the Good Neighbour Energy Fund that is distributed by the Salvation Army - is the waiting list around 200 people in that program?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: On the Salvation Army program?

 

MR. MACMASTER: Yes. I can appreciate perhaps you wouldn’t have the information on that.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I don’t know the answer to that.

 

MR. MACMASTER: Maybe this question is irrelevant, but I was going to ask, is there any work being done to decrease that list? I guess to decrease, you would need to provide more funding into the program. Is there any discussion on that in your offices?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: What I can say about our support of the Salvation Army program is that generally we communicate back and forth throughout the course of the program and determine where things stand. Up until this year, the Salvation Army program either had some surplus funding left at the end of the year or was in pretty good shape overall. This year, to my knowledge, is the first year that the Salvation Army program came up short as early as they did in the cycle of their program.

 

When they notified us, we immediately conveyed that information on to our minister and so forth and that resulted in an additional appropriation if you will, or grant for $400,000. When they ran out the second time, which was very late in the cycle of their program, we were not aware that they had reached that point where the funds had been depleted.

 

MR. MACMASTER: Have you considered partnering with Efficiency Nova Scotia? Maybe by way of on the application forms - when people are applying for rebates, their attention is piqued; they’re focused on getting the rebate; there’s certainly immediate value for the minute. Have you considered partnering with Efficiency Nova Scotia to try to promote their programs that would be specifically to help people on low or fixed incomes to consider taking advantage of other government programs to reduce their energy usage?

 

I know if people are saving a couple hundred dollars a year, but the price of energy is going up - and that seems to be the general trend, especially now with the changes in the energy policy - if those people were able to take advantage of programs offered by the demand-side management charge on our power bills, it might help to offset the ongoing increases in power rates in the province.

 

I guess just to put the question around it again, have you considered partnering with Efficiency Nova Scotia to try to promote those programs with the end goal being to reduce the cost of energy to Nova Scotians?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Actually, Mr. MacMaster, when we initially introduced Keep the Heat, one of the main components of that program involved a partnership with what was then called Conserve Nova Scotia. You might recall that we had some boxes of compact fluorescent lights and aerators, energy-saving devices and material that was distributed in that program. The idea was not only to provide folks with some money to help them with the increase in heating costs, but also to save some money through efficiencies.

 

That theme has carried through into the current program. Basically we do a couple of things. First of all, on the application form we ask the applicant if they would like us to share their information with Efficiency Nova Scotia and that the information may, indeed, be used to qualify them for programs that are offered by Efficiency Nova Scotia, directly. Efficiency Nova Scotia then takes this information and they'll make some contact, in many cases, and it could very well lead to a range of things occurring, from some information being sent out to the individuals, to actual grants being provided to the individuals to improve the energy efficiency of their home.

 

In addition to that, right at the point of application, we actually give a brochure that is published by Efficiency Nova Scotia. That is kind of a long answer to say yes, we partner with Efficiency Nova Scotia and, as a matter of fact, we also try to partner through consultation and work through other groups such as Community Services to get the word out. We also work with the Ecology Action Centre, from time to time, when we're developing the forms and so forth for the program.

 

MR. MACMASTER: That's great. What about for people - the area I represent is a rural area and some people find ways to procure their own sources of energy. It might be paying somebody to cut some wood for them, that kind of thing, they might have a wood stove. How do people like that access the rebate program?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Well if they buy their wood, they provide us with a receipt for the purchase of the wood and they qualify and they are eligible for the $200 rebate. If they cut their own wood, then there is a process in place where they can submit documentation and signed declarations that they use wood to heat their home and they would qualify for the rebate as well.

 

MR. MACMASTER: That's great, that's good that the program is flexible to be able to help those people.

Mr. Chairman, how much time do I have left?

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: You have less than a minute.

 

MR. MACMASTER: I think I'll conclude with that and we'll carry on in the next session.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Whynott.

 

MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm glad to see everyone here today, thank you for coming. I know, oftentimes, in this Chamber and in this committee some members like to make up numbers and timelines so I just want to take us back a step in time here. Were you provided with a copy of the piece of paper that Mr. Younger passed around? Okay.

 

In 2004-05 and 2005-06, we have the Keep the Heat program; then we jump a couple of years to 2008-09. When was the Keep the Heat - because I remember there was one year when the Keep the Heat program, one aspect of it, was cancelled. Can you tell me what year? There was a time when the Keep the Heat program - was it not the case that you could apply to get a portion of the HST removed from your power bill? Can someone comment on that? What was the Keep the Heat program around that time?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I think there are two distinct programs at play in your thinking. There's the Your Energy Rebate Program and the Keep the Heat, which became the HARP, but they are distinct programs.

 

Yes, in the Your Energy Rebate Program, there was a scale-back of the rebate that was offered for the consumption of electricity. The rationale behind that scale-back was that the government of the day, I guess, looking at the affordability issue that they were looking at, scaled the application of the rebate back to what was considered to be the heating portion of the electricity bill. That was the scale-back for this.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: What year was that in?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I’m going to say 2008-09.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Okay, so in that time, just by looking at this sheet that was provided to us, with $23 million for HARP, the new version of HARP - I guess at that time it would have been a new program, correct? It went from Keep the Heat to HARP in 2008-09.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: In 2008-09, yes, there was a transition from Keep the Heat.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: So in that year Nova Scotians saved approximately $23 million, those who had applied through HARP. Those who were eligible through HARP saved about $23 million on their heating bills.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: They were provided . . .

 

MR. WHYNOTT: With a rebate.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: That’s right, rebates of $23 million.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Okay, what other programs in that year on top of HARP were in existence?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: The Your Energy Rebate Program in modified form.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Right and how much was that approximately? How much in the budget year?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I don’t think I can give you a qualified answer to that question, basically it’s a rebate program and so therefore it’s really something that’s sort of a contra revenue and dealt with by the Department of Finance. That’s my first reasoning and the second reasoning is because we had sort of a fit and start to that program, we had the reduction but then when the new government came in, they changed it so I’m not sure if have a full . . .

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Okay. So then in 2009-10, the program HARP saved Nova Scotians about $11 million off their heating, those who were eligible for HARP saved about $11 million on their heating bills.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: They were given grants for about $11 million.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Plus the HST removal in that budget year which I think started in September of that year?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: That’s correct.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: How much was that in 2009-10?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: The program allowance was $52.8 million for 2009-10.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: So at this point we’re saving approximately $53.8 million. Nova Scotians saved, approximately $53.8 million in 2009-10.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Are you combining the two?

MR. WHYNOTT: Yes, combining the two.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: My math tells me about $63.8 million.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Great. Then in 2010-11, from the numbers that are provided here, Nova Scotians saved $10.5 million, those who were eligible for HARP plus the HST removal - that’s a full year of the HST removal - how much was that?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: It was $87.5 million.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: That’s $87.5 million. That’s approximately $98 million Nova Scotians saved on their power bills, on energy.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: That’s correct. I’m sorry, I’m referring to the chart.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Yes, exactly.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: To your earlier question now, I can state that the 2008-09 savings from the YERP was about $49 million.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: Thank you. I guess we don’t really have the table for this, but in 2011-12, it’d be approximately the same, I would assume, as far as combining the two programs. It would be about a $98 million savings to Nova Scotians.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: It's about an $11.9 million expenditure for HARP and for the Your Energy Rebate program. I think we're getting into sort of an increased rebate, due to the changes in the HST and the provincial portion of the HST. It's a $102.2 million program.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: So in 2011-12, $102 million was the HST removal?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: It was $102.2 million.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: So in fact, Nova Scotians saved another $113 million on their energy bills, combining those two programs?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I would say $114 million.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: So if I'm correct, in 2009-10, with those two programs combined, Nova Scotians saved $63.8 million on their energy bills; in 2010-11, Nova Scotians saved $98 million on their energy bills; and in 2011-12 Nova Scotians saved $113.2 million on their energy bills. Is that correct?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: That's what the numbers would say.

 

MR. WHYNOTT: What is interesting is, on top of that - in fact, a couple of weeks ago we had Efficiency Nova Scotia here, and the CEO of Efficiency Nova Scotia said that because of the programs that Efficiency Nova Scotia runs, Nova Scotians saved $100 million last year alone.

 

So if you add those three programs together - those three envelopes of money - last year Nova Scotians saved $213.2 million on their energy bills. I want to point that out to the Opposition, for the record: $213.2 million in energy savings.

 

Mr. MacKinnon, I believe it's your turn.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon.

 

MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Looking back to the initial program, where the allocation, the rebate, was $50, and we had 17,500 actually get rebates, and we've evolved over the years to the last three, where there have been at or over 50,000 rebates. I'm wondering if you have any statistics on 2011-12, because we're well into the year, and still a lot more applications to process, no doubt.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I do. It's about 1,000 more applications to process. I know that off the top of my head, but I have to find - just to be certain, you're asking if I have stats for the last three years for the program?

 

MR. MACKINNON: No, we have the stats for the last three years. I'm just wondering where we are right now in this year, how many we've looked after through the program.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: We have received 55,119 applications that have been entered into the system. We have approved 51,091 of those applications, and the cheques have been sent or are in the process of being sent. We have declined about 3,092 applications. I think if you work the math through - I did this last night - that means there's about 1,000 applications that are pending in the system.

 

MR. MACKINNON: So we're going to be higher than the last two years, at least?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: We are.

 

MR. MACKINNON: Okay. Now I'm wondering, did HARP use all of the monies allocated to it in past years?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: No, it did not.

 

MR. MACKINNON: Can you sort of recap how we've done each year, and if not, why not?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Okay. How far back would you like me to go?

 

MR. MACKINNON: Three or four years.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Okay, how far back would you like me to go?

 

MR. MACKINNON: Three or four years or to the beginning of Keep the Heat. I’m just wondering about monies left over.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Mr. MacKinnon, I can go back with what’s here in front of me to 2008-09 and that’s the initial HARP program. We had a budget of about $29 million. We spent about $23 million that year. In 2009-10 we had a budget of $14.9 million and we spent $11 million. In 2010-11 we had a budget of $14.9 million and we spent about $10.5 million. Then this year, we’re headed for, we had $14.9 million going into the year and it looks like we’re headed for just over $12 million, about $12.1 million.

 

MR. MACKINNON: So we’re looking at an increase there. One of the things that I have difficulty with, some people - and it’s even worse with some of the housing grants because there is a substantial amount of money we’re dealing with, thousands of dollars. When someone is slightly over like, for example, if someone in fact showed an income of $27,006, they don’t qualify because it is a rigid program. I’ve always advocated, particularly with some of the other programs where you’re talking thousands of dollars, that there might be some consideration some day of that person perhaps having a little clawback and receiving $194 or something like that, right?

 

I mean you couldn’t have this going for any great distance because you’re only talking $200 but I find in my constituency office somebody says, well, I’m just a few dollars over and it’s very disheartening for them. I’m just wondering if there has ever been any consideration to that?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: There has and I think it’s noteworthy, Mr. MacKinnon, to say that perhaps the most challenging part of administering this program is when we encounter those situations where someone is hard up against the line, just over the line, and we have to decline. I know a lot of consideration goes into what we can do to increase income thresholds so that we can help more people with this program and that occurs, as I said, every Fall when we look at it.

 

The thresholds that were established are based upon LICO, low income cut-off, as stated for Statistics Canada for Nova Scotia. Initially when the program was introduced, we took those LICO income levels and that’s what we used. Then we took an average between the urban and the rural LICO lines and that worked in the favour of applicants, and we rounded up wherever we could. So I can say that, you know, there’s genuine desire to try to increase the capture of the program.

 

As far as the roll-off goes, and that is the absolute threshold, what we did, to qualify for the full allowance for this program, your income can’t be over $25,000 for single or $40,000 for a family. What we established was sort of an off-ramp or a roll-off that for every $500 of income over that threshold, we would reduce your cheque by $50. The reason we didn’t do it sort of dollar for dollar is that if we did it that way, then if somebody earned $46,998, we would be sending them a cheque for $2 and that would be kind of insulting I think and not very efficient. So we did it in blocks of $50. So for every $500 in income increment we would reduce the allowance by $50 and that kind of feathering to the threshold was done for exactly the reason that you just noted.

 

MR. MACKINNON: Thank you for explaining that. One of the other problems that I’ve run into a number of times, and I would like to have aired as well, is with the wood rebate. We have all kinds of situations where, “I bought my wood from my brother-in-law and I don’t have a receipt” and we say, “Well you must have a receipt.” So the person goes back and usually gets a receipt and tries to resolve this. My constituency is, by and large, rural and I run into this quite often and something that you indicated, that I would like to have clarified, is that a person can actually cut his or her own wood and still qualify, which is something that I think you just stated. That is an area I would like to explore, because that happens quite often.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL : Before we will approve a rebate under those circumstances, we require the individual to provide us with a sworn affidavit that, indeed, they have cut their own wood and use it, but yes, we will provide the rebate with that proviso.

 

MR. MACKINNON: That’s very comforting, I think, to know that there is that kind of flexibility within the program, for sure. Getting the message out is something we’ve heard a lot about and I think you’ve improved the situation there considerably. It is my understanding that you actually distributed 13,000 more applications this year than in the past. I believe you’re doing a very good job in that regard. It seems that from the survey that you did, most people who became aware of the program, the newspaper was the best approach in return, right?

 

The fact that you send out the application to everyone who qualified before is excellent and that reaches so many people, but there are still some people who are not aware of the program and I don’t know how we reach them. You try everything imaginable and I think you’ve even tried to get some freebies with sending some releases out to newspapers and there isn’t much uptake on those. Is there anything else that we can, in fact, be doing?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: If there is, it escapes me. We are certainly open for suggestions. With this program, at one point or another, we’ve done everything from advertising on buses; radio, both English and French; newspapers across the province; what they call “rollies” on the TV; we’ve done TV advertisements. We’ve promoted the program at the grassroots level through community groups, through the Salvation Army, food banks, through all these . . .

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Mr. MacKinnon’s time has expired. Mr. Younger, you have 16 minutes in the second round.

 

MR. YOUNGER: I want to start with a clarification. The Salvation Army just called back and when they first called and said that it was never five years, it was five years back when the rebate was $250, but when it was $450, it was three years. So it was five years significantly further back, but every three-year period in 2008-09 when the available assistance from the government was $450, so you could get $450 plus $350 plus, assuming it was a year that you were eligible for - oh, actually as you just said to Mr. Whynott, plus in the low-income group you could get the HST back. Now you can get $200 plus $350 plus the HST back. If you’re in that low-income group, your net amount available is less than it was before. If your income in under $27,000 and it’s the year that you’re eligible for the Salvation Army Good Neighbour Fund, your assistance you could potentially get back is $250 less than it was in 2008-09.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I’m going to have to break that down a bit, Mr. Younger, to make sure. On the Good Neighbour program, just to sort of put a lock on it - when we provided a donation of $400,000 to the Good Neighbour Fund, their cycle was a five-year cycle. Then they moved to alter their rules and I can’t say with total clarity when that occurred, whether it occurred in the first year or not, but I can tell you that . . .

 

MR. YOUNGER: I’m sure that’s why.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: When that donation was done and I think the deputy was answering to that question.

 

MR. YOUNGER: I’m sure you’re right. That’s what allowed them to do that, I don’t dispute that at all. I think you’re probably absolutely right on that. What I’m talking about is, in the year that happened, you could still get $450 from the government and according to the government’s own press releases on the site, it says that was because heating oil prices had spiked to, ironically enough, $0.917 and now they’re like $0.99. The following year, it was reduced to $200 and the government gave $800,000, according to the government’s Web site.

 

All I’m really just pointing out is the member for Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville just talked about all these other amounts and the totals, but we’re talking about the program for low-income families and the numbers he’s giving apply to millionaires. So, today we’re here talking about the HARP which you have to have a single income of under $27,000 or a family income of under $42,000. For that group of people, between what was available, if they heated with oil, the amount of assistance available to them today, versus the year before that change went in and the year after that change is $200 less.

 

We can debate all the reasons but I just wanted to clarify that because even on the Efficiency Nova Scotia changes, the member is absolutely right. There’s $100 million in savings of energy efficiency to people in businesses and of all income groups, but that also cost ratepayers $43 million to pay for that instead of shareholders paying for that. That’s another department, not your worry, so I won’t even get you to answer that.

 

The one thing I will ask about is - I asked you earlier about the minister and the reason and so I’m going to table Hansard here. I apologize, Mr. Chairman, I only have one copy because we just printed it now because it came up earlier but maybe some copies can be made?

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: I’ll get the clerk to make copies.

 

MR. YOUNGER: The minister had said it was Minister Jennex, and I know I’m not supposed to use names but I just wanted to indicate it was the previous minister to the minister who is now, had stated in the House that one of the reasons that this was being done - she acknowledged that part of it was a budget cut, but one of the reasons she said this was being done was because they would then be able to assist 70,000 families instead of 54,000. That’s the number she uses in her response.

 

But here we are - instead of going from 54,000 to 70,000, we’ve gone from 54,000 to 50,000. Do you know where that 70,000 number came from?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I do. It came from myself as one of the staff members that were involved in putting together the estimates. Yes, that was a number that we believed illustrated the potential of where this program could go and that’s what it was funded up to.

 

MR. YOUNGER: Okay, so it hasn’t gone there obviously.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: No, it hasn’t.

 

MR. YOUNGER: That’s fine, I know you make estimates and estimates work out, they don't work out. The minister had said that we're going to fund 70,000 people at $200 in round numbers, which works out to - somebody can quickly do the math.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: $200 per.

 

MR. YOUNGER: Thank you. It would be embarrassing to do the math and get the number wrong. That didn't work out. It has been pretty stable, by the looks of things, 50,000 rebates given out each year since, so that's - my colleague next to me says it's 51,000 this year, so 50,000-ish. The numbers we got from your department for last year were 50,000, but 50, 000 - 51,000. Since the program was intended to be funded for 70,000 people at $200 and you are consistently now getting 50,000 or 51,000 people, have you considered increasing the rebate to use those funds to support low-income families, by a proportional amount that you had intended to use anyway?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: That was certainly an option that was calculated but again, I think it comes down to affordability.

 

MR. YOUNGER: Well you had already budgeted for 70,000 people.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Well this is the first time that we can sit with some comfort on those numbers because prior to - there's been a three-year run now, with the stable program where we've used the same income factors and the same allowances and so forth. I think you'll see that 50,000 - 52,000 is a very consistent uptake on the program, so we have some comfort.

 

Now that explains a bit of why we left a bit of margin on top of what we expected the program to consume. It's very difficult to estimate what the uptake will be in the absence of that experience because I can go to Statistics Canada and I can tell you how many households there are, by income, in the Province of Nova Scotia. I can go to Nova Scotia Power and I can get a pretty good idea of how many households heat with electricity in the Province of Nova Scotia and I can also go to Stats Canada to find out how many heat with oil.

 

What I don't have is something that ties all of those numbers together, so it becomes a bit of a guessing game, to some extent, because then you also have to tie it into home ownership as a proxy for who is paying for their own heat, versus somebody who is renting and not paying for their own heat directly, and so forth.

 

We now have the three years; we now have a consistent number, around 50,000 and so forth. We've looked at various options and iterations, how we could change this program. At the end of the day it does come down to, I think, the fact that government has made a decision that it's going to - it has made changes to the YERP - the Your Energy Rebate Program - the rebate made in those programs and that has been a considerable revenue cost. It's supporting the Salvation Army and it's investing in efficiency programs and so forth. So it basically is looking at the affordability issue and it's saying well, we can't put more money out. Actually this year the budget has been decreased for HARP, down to $13.1 million. There's still a bit of a margin there, to allow for potential for more take-up in the program, but it's hardening, those numbers are starting to harden.

 

MR. YOUNGER: I don't have any criticism for estimating it at 70,000 people originally. I mean you're right, you have to make an estimate somewhere. I don't criticize the minister for saying that - because that was from when the change was made - listen, we think it's 70,000 people, we'll take this.

 

I guess my concern is that the Your Energy Rebate Program - I didn't even know the HST reduction had a program name, now I do. That HST reduction is great, except if I was low-income, I was getting it anyway, in a roundabout way. It was done in a different way and I understand that because that's what the member for Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville was asking about earlier. I know that's a very big budget line item. I understand that, it's a big budget line item in part because - you want to correct something? And that's okay, I want to let you correct something if I'm misunderstanding it.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Sure. Actually if you heated with oil, there was a good chance that you didn’t get a rebate on your electricity before the latest changes were made if you were in a low-income group. The reason being is that the threshold that was set, which would exclude you from the rebate, was set on the basis that you didn’t heat with electricity. Now by removing that, then you get a rebate on all the electricity that you’ve consumed. So, therefore, you would get benefit from the removal of the threshold. So, yes, indeed, you would benefit.

 

MR. YOUNGER: You’re right, you’re right, there would be potentially, and we will never know how much that benefit is because what has happened is a low-income family that heated with oil is now receiving $250 less. There is no way that, if $239 is the average that everybody is getting as a result of that HST change, obviously when you do an average, there are people at the bottom end and people at the top end and the people at the top end are going to be the people who heat with electricity because obviously they use more electricity. Then you average that in with the people who don’t heat with electricity and that’s what happens, is you end up with the average of $239. Even if they did get the $239 average, they’re still getting $20 less at the end of the day.

 

So I can use the $200 oil rebate, the $239 average HST rebate they now get, and I’ll use the average, even though I think that’s probably generous for someone who heats with oil, but we’ll use the average because we can at least agree on that number. Then I’ll add the $350 they get for the Salvation Army. Even under that scenario, they’re getting $21 less and oil is 10 cents - if you’re lucky and you can afford to pay cash and you don’t have to go to Irving or something and you can get someone to deliver that small amount of oil - you’re paying 11 cents a litre more for oil. I know it fluctuates. It depends where you buy it but when the minister was talking about this, it was like 90 cents a litre or something and I know because I filled up, and I always hunt around for the cheapest one, I filled up the other day and it was like 98.5 cents or 99.5 cents, it was almost $1. So they’re paying more for oil and even by the most generous numbers, they’re getting $21 less in potential assistance.

 

That’s where I’m trying to say the problem is and so what I’m saying is that the government had always assumed that 70,000 people would take up this program, and they didn’t, and I don’t criticize - I don’t want this misinterpreted. I’m not criticizing the 70,000 estimate, I understand where it came from and that’s fine, but it was budgeted at some point to that amount. What I’m saying is I think there was an opportunity to help more low income families. Maybe it would have allowed an extra $25 on the program. I know it wouldn’t have been huge but I think there was an opportunity.

 

Instead, what we’ve seen is oil prices have gone up. The budget for the program has actually gone down and that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me when you’re trying to help low-income families who are struggling under electricity costs and not only oil, I might add, because obviously this program also helps people with electricity. Electricity costs have risen 20 per cent in three years, 40 per cent in 10 years, more than 40 per cent, but I’ll be generous and say 40 per cent. That’s where I don’t understand the rationale because it’s a program designed to help low-income families who are obviously the ones who are most impacted by increasing prices. Yet the amount of the budget for the program has decreased at the same time that the costs, and the income cut-off and everything else has stayed flat at a time when all those costs that they’re trying to help people with are actually increasing. Which means the amount of buying power that they’re getting for that amount of rebate is actually decreasing, right?

 

MR. MALLOY: If I could just make a comment, first of all, going back and forth here on the BlackBerry, and I think it’s all in how you ask the question sometimes but what we’ve heard is that . . .

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately, Mr. Younger’s time has expired. Mr. Porter.

 

MR. CHUCK PORTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Malloy, please carry on, I’m going to give you an opportunity to answer that because I’m quite interested in the numbers as well, so please feel free to carry on with your comment.

 

MR. MALLOY: Thank you. The interesting thing is, as I said, it’s all in the way you ask the question and our staff are saying that in 2008-09, the policy of the Salvation Army was every five years and that decreased as funding became available. I have contact information that I can share with your staff here on who we talk to. I guess the number game, you really have to sit down and go through. There are so many variables and so many unknown pieces of information that it’s impossible to come to a number we’ll ever agree upon.

 

I do believe that with the Salvation Army grant being available more frequently that in total, someone in the most dire need or urgent need of support is getting better support by having us put that money into the Salvation Army than to put $25 onto everybody’s cheque. To me, the program, there has got to be a certain amount of flexibility there from our department’s perspective and having some funds available to us just helps us ensure that we are doing our very best to help those people in urgent need.

 

MR. PORTER: Thank you for that answer, Mr. Malloy. I have a few questions and whoever wishes to answer is fine - Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Malloy or whomever on your panel. I appreciate you being with us today because this is an important topic that we’re talking about here and I think it’s worth looking back to see how well we’re doing or how we’re not doing and how we can do it better. I think that it’s good, we’re very fortunate that the prior government had put a plan in place and if we continue to build on that or whatever we do with it, I think we need to think about that because it’s the people out there that we’re helping that do matter here. I think sometimes that gets lost. I know coming from an area in the Valley, there have been a lot of people who have been applying for this thing.

 

I did hear maybe, Mr. Malloy, in your opening comments early on you talked about advertising things that took place and there was no pick-up or a small amount of pick-up in the beginning stages of this. I know that we have a lot of - I don’t want to call them regulars, but we see people who came in last year. They remembered, oh, I have to get in before the end of March and get this thing filled out, or at a number of events that I’m at people are asking and we say, well yes, drop in the office, we’ll give you the form.

 

We don’t send that out? Just correct me - I know some programs, if you’ve taken them up before, you’ll get a notice that they’re available again. Do we send out to all of those - I see one of the ladies saying yes, and you can confirm this on the record then. So we send notice if John Doe applied last year and got the heating rebate in some format, he gets notice this year that it is again available to him, possibly?

 

MR. MALLOY: I’ll let Rhia respond.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Perkins.

 

MS. RHIA PERKINS: We do send each recipient of the program in one year the blank application, which is completed with their name and address at the beginning of the next program year, so they just need to indicate their household size, heating type and sign the form and they’re ready to go. That’s with a self-addressed envelope, postage paid as well.

 

MR. PORTER: That goes to every single one of those people?

 

MS. PERKINS: Every single person who received it.

 

MR. PORTER: And maybe some of those get lost along the way. The reason I ask this, I have had others come in, when I say repeat customers - they’ll come in and say, I didn’t get my whatever this year. It doesn’t matter to us, we’ve got copies of the forms, we mail them, we do whatever is required because it is a program that does get quite a bit of uptake and when you talk about 50,000 applicants, that’s a lot.

 

I’m surprised it’s not three times that or more, in all honesty, when I think about the number of households in the province, the number of families that I deal with just alone in my constituency and in talking with others in other constituencies. Times are very tough. Thousands of jobs have been lost in this province and specifically in the Valley, and my area of Hants West is no exception. Severance packages you know - Fundy Gypsum Company was an example - then they’re on EI. That runs out and you’re talking about guys who have worked there their whole life. They’re now 50, 55 years old and what are they doing? Unfortunately, the times get even harder.

So I can see the growth in this program and more uptake, and that’s why I’m a bit surprised that we didn’t see the estimated 70,000 and beyond take part in this program. I hope that we continue to get that word out. I know that my office does everything we can to promote that program because we know, unfortunately - and I say that strongly, unfortunately - there is a need for this program. The more money that can be invested in it, especially with the rising cost of energy - and we’ve heard others talk about that, whether it be electricity, oil, et cetera. We know they’re not going down.

 

We see again recently the high cost of energy is going to take yet another jump in all likelihood unfortunately, unless somebody steps in and says no, and of course we’ll fight that as we need to, but at the end of the day we may have no ability to control that, so this program remains vitally important and there is no room for decreases right now. At some point, hopefully there will be. It would be great somewhere down the road if this program wasn’t even needed, but I can't see that, given where we are.

 

I'll get on to a couple of other questions here. I have a couple of constituents and, Mr. MacNeil, I think you might have given the number who were refused or turned back, over the number that applied - 50,000-odd applied - and how many were turned back out of those?

 

Maybe just in the essence of time, I'll carry on with my question as you look for that. I know you quoted it at one point. Okay, go ahead.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Declined to date - 3,096.

 

MR. PORTER: So 3,000-plus were declined. Can you just give me a couple of examples why they would be declined.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I would say mainly due to not meeting the threshold requirements, so that would be over-income, and not being able to provide proof of purchase, or the energy source, would be one.

 

MR. PORTER: Good, I was hoping you would mention that because I want to go there for just a minute and I'll take the first one on, it's about threshold. It's interesting when we look at estimated 70,000 and I can appreciate that process, budgeting and so on, there's a number that you were working with, you wanted to stay within because of the capability that you had - 50,000 took part in this so there's a big window there.

 

I know that Mr. Younger had broached this as well and you gave some explanations, there was still an ability to put out a bit more money, if necessary. So it's about the threshold. Obviously the threshold - you've got to pick a number somewhere, I suppose, when you look at this but if you didn't have the full uptake, what difference does the threshold really make? If the threshold were higher, would that not open the door to more people applying and reaching that 70,000?

 

What I'm finding - and I hear from a whole variety of different age groups and income-level people, working families, non-working families, two people with families, you can appreciate the whole demographic - the people, generally speaking, who are making more money are spending more money, have bigger homes, have two cars maybe instead of one, or one instead of none, so they're actually spending more money. They would say to you right now, you should up that threshold and allow us to be part of that because we are spending an incredible amount of money, investing it back in the province through economic measures and so on, buying fuel and buying electricity and all that.

 

I don't know whether that's something that will be considered in the future or not, but if you're not getting the full uptake at the lower income levels that you've set, some consideration should be given to that. Maybe it has, I don't know and I'll give you a minute to speak to that. I know we don't have a lot of time but I'll offer you an opportunity to speak to that.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: The program thresholds are based on LICO, the low income cut-off, as published by Statistics Canada, so that's kind of the basis of the program.

 

Yes, we have modelled what would happen if we increased by certain increments, over the low income cut-off, from time to time, and it gets very pricy very quickly because once you start to do that, your population growth within those income brackets expands quite rapidly. So yes, we have modelled it, we have looked at it; we have costed it out.

 

MR. PORTER: Thank you. I want to go back to the other one you mentioned and that was about the proof of purchase of your fuel source or whatever it might be. I had a constituent come into my office, he completed this application and he was living in a residence where he qualified without any problem. He purchased the oil. Because he has no ability to have a credit card, based on his almost zero income - I mean you can just appreciate where he's at - he pays cash for his oil. So he gives his oil money to the landlord who was there the day the oil was delivered, $200 or $300 or $400 or whatever it was. He buys it, he gets a receipt, he even gets a letter from the landlord who said, “I paid on behalf of this gentlemen, the oil bill”. He sends it all in and he is refused because he is no longer living at that residence but he still purchased the fuel oil for that residence. Why would he not qualify? The purchase was still made.

 

MR. MALLOY: We’d like Rhia to respond to this.

 

MS. PERKINS: The aim of the program is to provide assistance for people in the heating area in which they apply. While we do accept bills from the January previous to when we open the program so the people can apply early in the heating season before they might have purchased fuel, we do need the address of the fuel bill to match the residence where the person is living. He would have been eligible the previous year for fuel purchases at his previous address.

 

If people move very close to the start of the heating season, we might consider that but where people move early in the year we’re not able to do that.

 

MR. PORTER: This actually wasn’t that far apart; it was a Fall date and then he applied into the new year. I guess what it really comes back to, the goal of the program is to help people who are low income or within a threshold who are having a hard time making ends meet who need a little assistance in purchasing. Again, it’s a good program.

 

I can see where there’s some risk in what you’re saying, I don't take that away at all. Anybody could get a receipt and say, I lived there. I’m sure we run into a whole variety of problems. I guess what I found troublesome with this is he actually had the receipt from the purchase of the oil, he had a letter from the landlord who actually paid it and said, yes, this gentleman lived at this residence from this time to this time, he did actually pay for and purchased the oil. We sent that back and there were questions when it came back and we helped him out and sent it back in. Again, he was still refused.

 

He raises a very good point - yes, I still purchased the fuel. The money still came out of my pocket and I still burned the fuel, I don’t live there now. If you’re going to have a program that allows you to file from one date to the next date, I guess I struggle to understand - he much more than me probably. It seems pretty simple. Why isn’t that working? I think we need to look strongly at how we’re doing that and maybe there’s another qualifier mechanism you need to make that work, I don’t know. I’m interested in what your thoughts are on that.

 

MR. MALLOY: At Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, we deliver a ton of programs like this. Unfortunately, regardless of how much thought and effort goes into building the parameters around any program, you will always run into difficult circumstances. What I will do for you today is I will follow up with you on getting the particulars on this situation and we’ll re-examine it and get back to you with our answer, rather than taking up time here today.

 

I just want you to appreciate the fact that when you have programs and you get 50,000 and 60,000 applications, if we don’t give staff sufficient parameters upon which to make decisions, there will be unequal treatment to citizens and that is not something that’s great either.

 

MR. PORTER: I can appreciate that. I know there are a wide variety of programs and God only knows how many one individual will go through to have to look at and process and so on. I’m okay with all of that, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that. I guess there will always be circumstances whereby it’s not an everyday run of the mill application, yes, approved, thanks, cheque’s in the mail. There were 50,000 of them and 3,000-some-odd others so the focus obviously is we’re looking at these 3,000. I hope we look at these 3,000 a little differently, not just the simple everyday application, that goes here for a bit, we’re going to come back to that and say, okay, why doesn’t this work?

 

Maybe this is a good application but something is missing so it’s sent back; you say it’s missing a, b or c, whatever it might be. It’s quite a simple application, by the way, which makes it good for people. It’s just straight up, it’s two or three things, bang, you sign it and off you go and that’s good. That’s the way they all should be in all honesty. People will be deterred when they look at these lengthy applications for things. It’s stressful for them and they don’t know what to do with them.

 

We spend a lot of time in my office offering assistance with filling these things out, even though they are straightforward. We try as many as we can and I tell people to bring it in, we’ll send it in for you if need be because we want to look at it to make sure that a lot of these simple things are completed, that they haven’t missed anything, but we’ll still miss them on occasion too. But there’s this piece that’s very important to this gentleman. Maybe I’ll forward that to you a little later. It would be great if we could have another look at it and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

 

I think there’s a lot of value in this particular case as with this resident, knowing his financial status and knowing that again he’ll apply next year if he’s living at the same residence, I’m certain he’ll qualify as he probably has in years past. At the same time it is worth mentioning.

 

The other thing - how much time do I have, Mr. Chairman?

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: One minute.

 

MR. PORTER: I just wanted to mention the one on wood. I didn’t realize that piece about the affidavit, for some reason I missed that somewhere along the line. As I said, we hand a lot of these out, people come in and we tell them, oh, you don’t have a receipt for the wood, obviously you can’t submit and you need it. A lot of times folks will pay cash for their wood and maybe get a better buy on that than they would if they were getting the rebate included, because wood is indeed expensive right now too. So just for my own clarity on that again, if a woodlot owner is cutting his own wood, there’s an affidavit that he or she can sign and send in for a claim? I’m getting a yes from the young lady there.

 

MR. MALLOY: Yes, on the record. I would like to respond in a different way, though. The fact that I’ve had two or three members say to me “I’m not aware of that” is a problem to me. So I’m just asking staff over here, are we advertising this? How are we making people aware of this? So to me, the simple fact that it’s not known about is something, to your earlier point . . .

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately, Mr. Porter’s time has expired, but I’m going to address that issue at the end of the meeting. Mr. Ramey.

 

MR. GARY RAMEY: Mr. Chairman, I have to say it would be hard on somebody’s head who was numerically challenged to listen to this this morning. I mean, I don’t know how many numbers have been pounded around in here, but quite a few.

I would like to just say very quickly that part of the reason I got into politics, which I sometimes ruminate on, was to try to do something for people who most need our help. One group of people who most need our help are the people we’re talking about this morning.

 

I’m not very interested in any kind of partisan discussion about it at all - I couldn’t care less about that, quite frankly. The people I’m concerned about are the people who are eligible for this program and who get served by it. I would like to commend you for trying to come up with the best possible way of doing that, because it’s a very complicated thing. I know one of the members over there suggested that when you change something even by a couple of dollars and you multiply it by a big number of people, it comes out to a very large number of dollars. So I don’t envy you the work that you’ve done, and I think you’ve thought long and hard about this. I think you’ve come up with a good plan and it helps an awful lot of people. I for one am very pleased to live in a province where we care about folks.

 

Forgetting all this stuff about numbers and everything, my question goes back to the people who are served by the program. You mentioned, I think at the very beginning or very close to the beginning, a survey that had been conducted among the people whom I care about the most, who are the people that are served by the program. So if you don’t mind, I would like you to just say a few things about the types of questions that were on it and, again, what the people said. As I indicated at the very beginning, these are the people I care about. They are the people that we should be paying attention to.

 

MR. MALLOY: I would like Rhia to take this one.

 

MS. PERKINS: We ran this program about this time last year. We had two of our contact centre staff who alternated between taking calls on the program and making these outgoing calls on the survey. As Cameron and the deputy have mentioned, satisfaction from the survey was very high - 92 per cent said that they were either satisfied or very satisfied from the program. We called a total of 400 applicants. Half of those were people who had applied in that program year and half of those were people who had applied the previous year but had not reapplied.

 

Some of the other key findings were that 94 per cent indicated that they had found the application form clear and easy to fill out; 97 per cent said that the application process was simple. People were very anxious to see the program continue. Most of the people, as we’ve said, found out about the program through either newspapers, which was about 30 per cent, and a combined 43 per cent through word of mouth, so either directly word of mouth was their response, or through a community organization or a family member. Only two respondents reported finding out about the program through their MLA, although we’ve heard from MLAs that they’re telling people, so they must just be forgetful. (Laughter)

 

For more than half the people who did not reapply, it was because they had changed or improved their circumstances. More than half of the applicants from two years prior had more income, 42 per cent had more income and another 13 per cent who had moved and didn’t pay heat anymore.

 

We also heard that 21 per cent had missed the deadline and may have benefited from a reminder halfway through the program, which is part of the reason we chose to do a second round of advertising this year. One hundred and five of the 157 respondents who applied in the program year that we had just finished indicated that they received their pre-populated application so we find that is working as well. Very few of our applicants were renters.

 

Because we heard so much about community organizations as a useful method of accessing the program, we did a review of organizations across the province and had a staff member actually contact these organizations by telephone and solicit their help in distributing application forms.

 

In terms of comments from the program, there are several along similar lines. One person said that they were very happy. “Please continue the program.” “It’s a good help, just keep it going.” “It’s a big help, hope it’s back next winter.” “A wonderful program, thank you.” A lot of comments along those lines.

 

MR. RAMEY: So for me, that is the most valuable piece of information I gleaned this morning. You had a lot of stuff there and it was all good and it was all very high percentages. You mentioned there were a group of people who hadn’t applied who were - I think you said that because their circumstances had changed, for the most part, in a favourable way. What percentage of people was that?

 

MS. PERKINS: Forty-three per cent.

 

MR. RAMEY: Forty -three per cent had improved?

 

MS. PERKINS: Yes.

 

MR. RAMEY: Wow, okay, that’s absolutely terrific. The second question I have, which is really a quick snapper here is, I did see on TV a home heating rebate ad. I don’t know how long ago. It was back in the middle of the program probably. I’m surprised. TV is not one of the best ways - am I gathering that correctly - to get the word out? I know you said newspaper and word of mouth. Is TV not that successful?

 

MS. PERKINS: This was the first year we had used television advertising so we didn’t have any statistics for that for the survey year.

 

MR. RAMEY: So you’ll know by next year.

 

MS. PERKINS: So we’ll know next year.

 

MR. RAMEY: I don’t want to take up any more time. I know my colleague, Mr. MacKinnon, wants to ask a couple more questions. Thank you very much.

 

MR. MACKINNON: I just want to take a little bit of issue with Mr. Younger’s line of questioning this morning because I think - I’m not going to say that he was confused, though he was on a couple of areas - but the point that he was trying to make was, I believe that he was trying to take a very fluid program that has, in fact, existed in one form or another for almost 10 years under three different names, and this very fluid program with so many changes in it, with so many variables over those years, and it seemed that the line of questioning was trying to take a fluid program and turn it into something that was static or fixed or picking some time frames of comparison and so on.

 

There were so many changes in the increases in availability and the amount of outreach and the changes in the amounts starting with $50 and the changes that took place in relation to that, even the Salvation Army program, which at one time was, in fact, five years and it was three years and it was two years, the confusion that surrounded that.

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Salvation Army allocation actually changed at one point, as well, and what we have is, I believe, that Salvation Army Good Neighbour Program is a great expenditure. I am so proud of your department putting $400,000 shots into that program because from my constituency office - and I can extrapolate that to other constituency offices throughout the province - that program is fundamentally different from the Heating Assistance Rebate Program because the Good Neighbour Program is an emergency; it’s a last-ditch effort. It reaches out to people who are really in distress.

 

What we're dealing with with HARP is we're going a spectrum, from low to moderate income, and I don't think that was being factored in. Can you just tell us the changes, probably based on the fact that there is departmental support, but the changes in the allocation that the Salvation Army comes up with, if you would?

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: When we first approached the Salvation Army with an offer of support to their program in 2008, their program at that time consisted largely of donations provided from the employees of the Nova Scotia Power Corporation, through a donation set-up, and matched by the power company, and some fuel credits that were provided by heating oil providers in the province.

 

It was very restricted in its ability to help impoverished Nova Scotians. It did at that time have a five-year cycle, meaning that if you were a recipient of a grant from that program, you couldn't reapply until five years had fully elapsed.

 

First of all, the program was very attractive to us on a couple of fronts. It had province-wide reach. It was integrated at the grassroots level with community groups, churches and so forth, right across the province. It had a very lean administrative component to it but a very effective administrative component to it. They had established clear criteria as to who was eligible, and also had established clear communication networks with energy providers.

 

Basically when someone was in distress in an emergency situation - a single mom with small children, out of heat in the middle of the winter - it could be called into action immediately. A phone call was made to a heating oil provider and that house was warm within a very short period of time. That was very appealing to us, because as you pointed out, Mr. MacKinnon, that's not the way our program worked.

 

So we provided the $400,000, and actually, I believe that might have even been increased for that one year, or the following year, and we were very clear that we did not want to interfere with the Salvation Army's protocols or program in any way. We piloted that for a year. They ran it and it was most effective. The feedback on it was very positive. Their administration is incredibly efficient and comes at a bargain rate. I think overall their program has maybe $27,000 associated with all administrative costs - I believe that to be the case.

 

Over the years, as we became more committed with budget for the Salvation Army, the program grew in both volume and outreach and also further networked with other community-based groups, and really proved to be a very effective outreach program. It also integrated more with our Department of Community Services, so the communication channels were improved on that basis.

 

To your point, it really gives a quick response in emergency situations. Frankly, as administrators supporting the program, we're delighted with the way it's working.

 

MR. MACKINNON: And the amount also increased as well over the years, right? I remember it was a much lesser amount years ago - the actual amount of individual assistance.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: I believe that at one time we provided $800,000 to the program early on and then from there it was $400,000 each year afterward, and this year it went to $800,000.

 

MR. MACKINNON: Sorry - for the individual receiving the emergency funding, the amount increased over the years.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Right. I don't have that information readily at hand. I can tell you that I know it has varied in the amount they provide. I've heard as low as $200 at one time.

 

MR. MACKINNON: That's what it was when I was first involved with it.

 

MR. CAMERON MACNEIL: Right, and I believe I heard as high as $400 and it's currently around $350 is what the maximum is. I think there can be gradients in between, depending on the circumstance. They are very flexible that way.

 

MR. MACKINNON: It was the increase that I was drawing out there because I remember when it was $200. I was going to share time with Mr. Smith but I have to apologize to him because I don't think there's anything left to share - sorry.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Just before we conclude, I wanted to address this again, you did mention the sworn affidavit for someone who cuts their own wood. Would you make that available to all committee members, how that process works and how it would be done?

 

Mr MacKinnon just asked about the breakdown of the Salvation Army, what the grant was originally and what it evolved into or from. There was also some discussion about the $500 increments above the threshold, was that actually put in place? If it was, could we get a written description on that as well, how that works?

 

With that, and we have only a few minutes left, I'd ask the deputy minister if there are any final, short comments you'd like to make. Oh yes, the wood, Mr. Younger.

 

MR. YOUNGER: Sorry, a number of people - I think the deputy minister pointed that out - how you apply if you cut your own wood.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: That was the affidavit I was talking about.

 

MR. YOUNGER: Oh, sorry.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Porter.

 

MR. PORTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I know we're pressed for time and maybe instead of getting it just to committee members, I wonder, deputy, if you could send that to the members' offices, the constituency offices, given that most of us are probably dealing with the issue. I would just as soon get it there and then I would have a copy of that, as opposed to going through the process of committee and then having to disperse it out to others, anyway.

 

Would there be some value in that, Mr. Chairman, having it go to all offices?

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, if that would be possible. We also have to send it to the committee, though, to keep us all legal.

 

MR. MALLOY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank you all. I just want to reference very quickly that our young technology people have given me our Web site and there is actually a section in there that says: I heat with wood. Do I qualify for a rebate? It says: If you do not have a receipt or if you cut your own wood, please see below for a copy of our invoice sheet and statutory declarations.

 

Both those documents are available on our Web site but due to the confusion, I will commit to sending out an information circular to all MLA offices, with clarity on this, so that we can benefit all Nova Scotians.

 

Just two further points, Mr. Chairman; first of all, I'd like to thank staff. We don't often get the opportunity to thank the people who spend many hours in the Maritime Centre processing applications on behalf of these people, to move the money and get the rebates through as quickly as we can, so I'd like to thank everyone.

 

Finally, the Your Energy Rebate Program - this was to an earlier point that was raised - it was initially an application-based program. We looked at that and we said there's no way that a lot of people are ever going to get the benefit they are entitled to if we make it an application-based program. We worked very well with the oil industry and with Nova Scotia Power to find other ways. What we ended up doing was coming up with a direct credit on their bills, whether it be delivery of oil or the electricity.

 

As Service Nova Scotia we constantly strive to build a process that allows our rebate programs to benefit as many people as we possibly can and we will continue to look at this program to see if there are any other alternatives that we can put in place to ensure that every single Nova Scotian who is eligible for this program receives this rebate. Thank you very much.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: I'd like to again thank your staff for the great work they are doing in this regard. I know many of my constituents, as I believe all of our constituents, have benefited from this, so again thank you for the fine job you're doing.

 

Just a couple of things - there was some information sent out to all caucuses, Better Care Sooner information that was sent out on April 4th, hopefully all caucuses received that. Our next meeting is May 23rd, Capital District Health, Overtime Costs for Nursing Staff in Capital Health.

 

Unless the members have anything else, a motion to adjourn would be in order.

 

MR. MACKINNON: So moved.

 

MR. CHAIRMAN: We stand adjourned.

 

[The committee adjourned at 11:00 a.m.]