Mr. James DeWolfe
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will call this meeting of the Public Accounts Committee to order. I notice that we have a couple of substitutes; we welcome you here, Mr. Olive and Mr. Gaudet. Thank you for your attendance this morning.
We don't actually have a formal agenda. We have two items of business, and I would like to get the first one out of the way by informing the committee that the St. John's, Newfoundland, conference for Public Accounts - we don't have the final details on it - goes from Saturday, August 24th to Tuesday, August 27th. Mora can point out the usual travel arrangements. I would like to bring to the committee's attention that I will be unable to attend due to the fact that when you have a daughter who works in the Far North and doesn't make it home for Christmas but makes it home for two weeks in the summertime, I would say that my priorities would be with this young woman from Iqaluit.
MR. KERRY MORASH: You're a wise man.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Wise beyond my years? Could you also say that? Yes, anyway, it's not even a matter of choice. I have given the opportunity for the first refusal to my colleague from Halifax Fairview.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: I mentioned to the chairman that, as I think everybody knows, we're having a baby this summer, my wife and I. I would like to go to St. John's, but it really all depends on how things are going with the baby. I would like to go as a probable, with the possibility of looking for a substitute, depending on how things are going with the baby if that's okay with everybody.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think that's an even wiser man, don't you, Kerry?
MR. MORASH: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Jim, I assume you are going to go.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Yes, that's my intention.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I'm just wondering, should we get an alternate at this point or do you want to set . . .
MR. STEELE: We could set an alternate now. Were you thinking that it would be one of the other Opposition members?
MR. DEWOLFE: I don't know.
MR. STEELE: I'm quite happy if we want to name an alternate in case I have to back out. That's fine with me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon, Mr. Gaudet, do you have any opinions on this topic?
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: I believe the Speaker is going to rule as to whether he's going to involve the Third Party or not.
MR. STEELE: You mean involve them in any way? Send three people.
MR. MACKINNON: Yes, one from each Party.
MR. DEWOLFE: I'm just wondering if it would be appropriate, just in the event that the Speaker doesn't . . .
MR. MACKINNON: I think there should be an alternate. Let's say if the Speaker agrees to send one from each caucus and the NDP can't go, then we should pick an extra one from the Conservative caucus, if that's not a problem with you folks.
MR. STEELE: Otherwise, if there are only two places, one of the Liberals would go. Is that the idea?
MR. DEWOLFE: The problem arises that here we are, this is our last meeting until after that event. So it would probably be a good idea for the members who are going to get together at some point in time before that meeting just to get their heads together on the event.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, do you know when we will know from the Speaker's Office whether there is enough funding for a third person?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, I don't know that. Do I? I don't believe we've received anything, right?
MS. STEVENS: No. I am putting together a budget of what it would cost for one person to go and then send it over to the Speaker saying - we haven't even received the official invitation as of yet - this is what we have for the outline of costs. This is when it is and this is the contingent that normally goes, and then lay it all out for him and then he makes his decision.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. How are we with this? Jim, you would rather . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: So perhaps you will just leave that with us and if Graham can't go, we can canvass our members and, if need be, do a draw.
MR. STEELE: I promise I will let people know as soon as I can. It won't be a last minute thing, I promise.
MR. DEWOLFE: Okay, that's fair enough.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would say, based upon the fact that when it comes to funding that the Speaker's Office rules that there is not funding for the members of the Liberal Party - maybe I'm out of line by editorializing - but I would believe that a member of the Opposition should go before a member of the government.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, if there isn't funding, then we could look at that scenario, leave it to Jim.
MR. DEWOLFE: That wouldn't be a problem.
MR. MACKINNON: If there is, if Graham can't go, I think there should be a second member of the Conservative Party who goes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Russell MacKinnon's suggestion is, I think, consensus.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Thank you. Now to the item of business, our primary item of business, setting the agenda for the fall. I would like to stick to an hour for this meeting. It is now 9:07 a.m. It could go on a little bit longer but if we can put some consensus again through the suggestions, I would appreciate it. I will recognize Mr. DeWolfe to begin.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, just for the benefit of those who weren't here when I passed out an update, in the form of this memo, it's an update of our agenda from the Conservative caucus, a tentative witness list. So perhaps discard the one of last week, which was a short list.
MR. MACKINNON: Through you, Mr. Chairman, what about the Petroleum Directorate? We had agreed they were coming in.
MS. STEVENS: That's already on my list of approved topics. This is for additional topics.
MR. MACKINNON: Oh, okay.
MR. DEWOLFE: I wonder if it would be appropriate at this time to just review what we have on the existing list and see where we go from there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you. Mora.
MS. STEVENS: On the existing list that will be scheduled: the energy strategy with the Petroleum Directorate; the illegal trade in fishing; Pharmacare; the Sport and Recreation Commission capital contribution to facilities; Occupational Health and Safety, Department of Environment and Labour; there is the Department of Transportation and Public Works, the airports, the various facilities such as Yarmouth and Cape Breton, air transportation, Halifax International Airport, that's what it was.
MR. DEWOLFE: I think that was expanded upon at that meeting when we put that topic forward because of the other smaller airports like Sydney and Yarmouth.
MS. STEVENS: That's what I have on that list.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I may, those are six, according to my list, topics.
MR. DEWOLFE: That's right.
MR. CHAIRMAN: First of all, since they are on the existing list, do we have any priority for those? Of course, it comes down to, with the lead time we have available in the Fall, who can come and when, but do we have any agreement on priority of those six before we move on to the second? The order they were given to me was Petroleum Directorate; the illegal trade in fishing; Pharmacare; Sport and Rec; Occupational Health and Safety, a division of the Department of Environment and Labour; and then airports with Halifax and the regional airports in there. Opinions?
MR. MORASH: Let's try to get them in that order. If we can't then we will shuffle them around and take them as they come.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. I will take silence as endorsement of that, if I may.
MR. MACKINNON: Two out of the three that are submitted are already approved anyway so we can just scratch those off.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Pharmacare board, Petroleum Directorate . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: Through you, Mr. Chairman, I wonder if Mr. MacKinnon could expand on that Agricultural Development Institute.
MR. MACKINNON: I stand to be corrected. Wayne may have a little more experience on this than I, he served as minister, but my understanding is after a year of the shift of policy toward a lot of privatization, see if we are getting the value for dollar and the way the department was restructured and how that institute is functioning. That's my understanding.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Anything to add to that?
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: I think that's pretty well it.
MR. MACKINNON: Just to see if it's working out as well as the government had said it was going to work out. Now that one year has passed, we can look back and see if we got the value for dollar that we thought we were going to get in the farming community. Just an exploratory type thing. Some of the Valley members here might have a better sense.
MR. JON CAREY: I think that's a good idea.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would add the addendum if I may, having gone through this once before, it's no reflection on who we add for witnesses, but we can't come in with the Department of Agriculture, we have to come in with a minimum number of witnesses.
MR. MACKINNON: We're open on that. It's just a general examination on that value for dollar, whether that process is . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: As in the past, sometimes we sort of do a general overview. We may find areas that we would like to zone in on at a future meeting.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Steele, anything to add or anything to suggest from your list - our list - excuse me.
MR. STEELE: I think maybe it would be more fruitful if the other Parties gave an indication of what, if anything, on that list they would like to see. If there's any interest, then I can explain what we were getting at.
MR. DEWOLFE: The Strait Regional School Board is one that we've all agreed to. Wasn't that on our list? You didn't read that one off as one of the six agenda items, but we were going to move forward with that one following the RCMP investigation.
MR. STEELE: I think we were waiting for things to happen and the reason I put it on our list was just more so it doesn't get forgotten, but I don't know if we're in a position yet . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: I don't think we are yet, but that's not to say that we can't put it on our active list and move it down on the agenda.
MR. STEELE: Why don't we do that Mora? Why don't we add it to our "active" list and then we can revisit it in the fall and see if the timing is right to actually talk about witnesses.
MS. STEVENS: Yes. I'm sorry about that. Of course, it's on my desk, I have a file for it. As soon as something happens, the committee said as soon as there's a completion of that, to bring it back on to the committee's list to say what would you like to do with it.
MR. STEELE: If I could identify one or two that maybe I could suggest could take priority.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Please.
MR. STEELE: Number 9, the Campaign for Fairness has been going on for a couple of years now. It started off with all-Party support and it might be worthwhile to have an examination of just where it stands, what has been accomplished in terms of value for money and then where it's headed. That's one that might be worthwhile.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any response? (Interruptions) Yes, Mr. Barnet.
MR. BARRY BARNET: Who do you propose we bring in to examine?
MR. STEELE: I really haven't anybody in mind although I suppose the Premier, if you wanted to, somebody from Intergovernmental Affairs, I don't know who inside government can speak most knowledgeably to it. I would expect the Deputy Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, at the very least, or the Premier if he wants to address it, but really it was more a topic, I hadn't really gone the next step to say, well, who exactly would we bring in. Whoever is the most knowledgeable inside the government on the Campaign for Fairness I would say.
MR. BARNET: I guess my concern is twofold. One is that I suspect it's a relatively small amount of money in terms of the actual overall cost compared to government. The second one is that, you know, I don't believe that the intent really is to examine whether or not we're getting value for dollar. It may be more the intent to try to use it for political persuasion and I don't believe that it's the purpose or intent of this committee to do that. The best thing that we can do is examine those large ticket items that give this committee an opportunity to examine value for dollar so that the constituents and Nova Scotians see how their money is being spent best.
MR. STEELE: What I was thinking of when I proposed it is the description of what the Public Accounts Committee does. It's established "for the purpose of reviewing the public accounts, the annual report or other report of the Auditor General and any other financial matters respecting the public funds of the Province." What I was thinking of, in terms of an initiative to boost the revenue of the province, there are a few things going on more important in the long run than that. That's what I was thinking of.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I agree with some of the comments that have been made thus far, but I do feel that it's hard to put a dollar value on something like that. It would be most difficult to know whether indeed the Campaign for Fairness triggered a certain event that benefits the province or not, but certainly the Campaign for Fairness is a very worthwhile exercise. Anything that we can do, and I can relate back to when I was in Opposition, we were all the time trying to get the government side to have more dialogue with Ottawa and try to get more funding for our transportation system, our resource-based industries and so on in the province. I mean that's what government is all about. It's to try to get more fairness from Ottawa and the dollars that we provide them, try to get more money back, and indeed we're just doing our job by continuing this type of campaign.
MR. MACKINNON: Just a good exploratory?
MR. DEWOLFE: Like a good exploratory, I don't really see it as a major topic for this, you know, maybe down the road when we start running thin on agenda items it may be something to consider, but I don't see it as a priority right now.
MR. STEELE: Is there anything else on the list that the government caucus thinks is worthwhile pursuing?
MR. MACKINNON: Well, number 4 has already been . . .
MR. STEELE: Yes, that's right.
MR. MACKINNON: Number 2 is in suspended animation for lack of a better phrase.
MR. DEWOLFE: Yes, that should be wrapping up by the time the Fall rolls around I would think, that being the RCMP involvement.
MR. STEELE: Number 3 I think I would probably take out on my own because it probably belongs - it's obviously an important topic, but it probably belongs - in a different committee.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, it's an ongoing issue at this point.
MR. STEELE: I will take that out on my own. Is there anything else there that the government . . .
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I would like the number one topic, special education policy and funding, something that affects all of us around this table. I think everyone recognizes the need for funding for special education. In terms of how much or what, technically, the department's policy is available to help school boards determine how much funding is actually allocated to special education. Just recently the NSTU made some comments with regard to special education. I think it would certainly be something interesting for this committee to report back to the House - how much funding is available, is the same formula used by all the school boards around the province, are some school boards providing additional funding to special education than others, or is it pretty well provincial policy that everyone, no matter where you are in the province, is following the same formula?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Wayne. I say that from a previous career, but also as the chairman. Any comments on number 1 of the NDP's suggested list, aside from Mr. Gaudet's?
MR. DEWOLFE: We can support that topic.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Other comments? Other suggestions? Do you have anything more to add, Mr. Steele, from the NDP list?
MR. STEELE: No, the list speaks for itself. I'm just waiting for any other indication from the government caucus.
MR. BARNET: How long do we let our list go? How many items are we expected to put on this?
MS. STEVENS: As many as you want.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The more advanced warning that Mora can have, the better it would be for her in the organization for September, October, and November. Right?
MS. STEVENS: Yes, and December, January, February.
MR. MORASH: On number 10, what would we expect to accomplish or learn?
MR. CHAIRMAN: On what list, Kerry?
MR. MORASH: The NDP list, number 10. I'm just directing that to Mr. Steele.
MR. STEELE: That's the issue that has come up a little bit lately about the profile in terms of age, gender, and race in the Civil Service, the degree to which it does or doesn't reflect the population at large, whether there is any desire to improve the demographic profile, and if so, how that might be accomplished. Since salary for civil servants, obviously, is the number one item in any government department, that's why I felt it fit within the mandate of this committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Barnet.
MR. BARNET: That one, other than trying to tie in based on salary, I really can't see how it does fit. In fact, our role is to examine value for dollar. The only way you can remotely tie it in is that we pay our civil servants an amount of money. There's no way to determine whether or not we're getting value for money based on the demographics. Do you get additional value from younger or older, that kind of thing? Again, it would be a hard one to really nail down in terms of who your witnesses are and how you can determine whether or not the government is getting true value for dollars. It's not like a program. It's the entire government, basically. I guess it's my understanding that, for the most part, it's our duty as a committee to examine programs, and this one doesn't really fit into that category.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Other comments on this suggested topic?
MR. DEWOLFE: I haven't been a civil servant for 30 years. I feel that we get pretty good value for our dollar with the civil servants in this province. Over the course of - I will go back to the last eight or so years, the Public Service has been downsized, mainly through attrition, and streamlined. I think the value for dollar has no doubt improved over the past years. As I say, I'm going back to the previous government as well because the downsizing and the streamlining started back then and I know it well.
MR. STEELE: No. 6 and No. 11, in my mind, are tied together and I will explain how and see if there's any interest in the government caucus in pursuing them. Over the last sitting of the Legislature, changes were made to the freedom of information program and the Arts Council based on certain positions taken by the government, but what value for money was being received in respect to both of those programs? In both cases, the value for money information was disputed. So the reason No. 6 and No. 11 are on there is because the Public Accounts Committee would afford an opportunity to find out, well, the truth about value for money. Were the government's assertions about value for money correct? If so, that will become apparent in the committee or if they weren't correct, what is the real story?
So I saw those both. I know those could be controversial, but I also am mindful of the fact that in both cases what value taxpayers were getting for their money was put in issue in both cases. I just thought it would be useful to clarify those. So I just wondered if there was any interest in the government caucus of pursuing one or both of those.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I think there would probably be an interest in looking at the Arts Council in a year or so when we can properly assess what has taken place with the changes that have been made. It would be premature to deal with it in the very near future.
MR. TIMOTHY OLIVE: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to be here. I'm not a regular, as you know; I'm sitting in for Richard Hurlburt. But when I go down the list of the NDP caucus proposals and the ones from the Liberal Party, I note that given the mandate of this committee, I look at the Liberal list - the Pharmacare board, re the formulary, the Petroleum Directorate and the Agricultural Development Institute - they are all matters probably directly related to the mandate of this committee.
I looked at the list of the NDP caucus and I guess my concern was substantiated when the member for Halifax Fairview wanted, as a first thing for this committee to look at today, was number 9. When I look down the list given the mandate of this committee, and I wasn't going to get involved in the discussion at all, but when I see items like numbers 2,6,8,9,10, and 11, I would suggest that all of those are political in context and in intent as opposed to the remainder, which certainly appear to be in the mandate.
I find it somewhat disconcerting that when I look at that list and pick out numbers 2, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11, that the member for Halifax Fairview would in fact pick number 9 as the one that he wanted a decision on early. I think it's unfortunate that if that's the kind of agenda that the NDP put forward, that they wouldn't be more concerned with matters of economic advancement of this province rather than try to set a tone for a political discussion which their sole purpose would be to score political points. I think that's unfortunate. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Olive. Before you respond, Mr. Barnet on this same topic.
MR. BARNET: Just briefly, are we going to go down each list, I guess, individually and then toss out the ones we don't want and take the ones we do want?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, I assume that's what we're doing now because the Liberal list is done and we're doing the NDP one now and just the response and the direction back and forth to the government caucus because, let's face it, inevitably, the government caucus is going to make the decision for the topics out here. Let's call it like it is. Mr. Steele, you're on the list now.
MR. STEELE: I was just going to say, in response to what Tim just said, the economic advancement in the province is fine, but that's within the mandate of the Economic Development Committee. What we're trying to do here is find things that fit within our mandate that aren't more appropriately dealt with in other committees. At our last meeting, a couple of Conservative members were complaining that this committee seems to have veered from its mandate and is examining things that are not clearly within our purview or that more properly belong at another committee.
So I'm just trying to bring things back to where we are which is, and I will read it again, " . . . established for the purpose of reviewing the public accounts," so that part of it is backward looking, looking at the Public Accounts, " . . . the annual report or other report of the Auditor General . . .". That part of it is backwards looking as well for value for money, " . . . and any other financial matters respecting the public funds of the Province;" I felt, with the exception of number 3, which in hindsight I agree doesn't fit with that, I thought they all fit within one or the other of those three branches of this committee's mandate, but if Tim doesn't agree, that's fine. We can move on to the Progressive Conservative list then.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I think before we move off there, looking at the NDP list here, my colleague, the member for Halifax Fairview, isn't doing all that badly. Number one has been approved as I understand, education, am I correct?
MR. CHAIRMAN: With the endorsement of the former Education Minister incidentally.
MR. MACKINNON: Oh, yes, and lots of teaching experience around the table. Number 2 is still in the hopper.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Right.
MR. MACKINNON: Number 3 is a contemporary issue.
MR. STEELE: I withdrew that anyway.
MR. MACKINNON: That's right. Number 4 has been already approved, okay. Number 5, as I understand from the general consensus, that is an okay one?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, it wasn't discussed specifically.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, I guess I'm referring to Mr. Olive's comments, the way he phrased his issues. Number 6 is out. Number 7 has really been previously approved because that can be tied into the issue that we raised before and that's on our agenda as number 1on previous approvals. Numbers 8, 9, 10 and 11 are out. So the NDP haven't done too bad, you know, fared too badly. The only outstanding one on that list is Finance - tax policy and only the member for Halifax Fairview can speak to that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for putting that in capsule form. Do you have anything more to add to the list, Mr. Steele, before I go to the government proposals?
MR. STEELE: No, I think I've been looking for any interest from the government caucus. I think we've identified the ones that they have an interest in pursuing and I don't think we need to beat a dead horse.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I don't know if that's an appropriate expression anymore - to beat a dead horse. Would you withdraw that, please.
MR. STEELE: I mean I'm interested in number five and obviously it's important to the public finances of the province, but I don't know, is there any interest in the government caucus in pursuing that?
MR. MACKINNON: Maybe if you could give us a little more explanation of what your focus is?
MR. STEELE: Well, the focus is on . . .
MR. BARNET: Tax policy is everything, isn't it?
MR. STEELE: Tax policy is a pretty broad topic, we've had things like the tax credit review over the last little while, just inquiring into - I don't know, I guess I meant it to be a broad topic, inquiring into the overall nature, programs, standards and fairness of our tax policy.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, as a compromise in fairness to all members on the committee, if some day we were just to have the Auditor General in a briefing session, just to discuss that generally, whether it be in camera or something, without having to have it on a list for potential witnesses in the Chamber, just so we would have a broad range of discussion and questions and answers between members of the committee and the AG's Office.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Claude, would you respond to that.
MR. CLAUDE CARTER: On tax policy?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. CARTER: I think you would get a fairly superficial briefing from our office in regard to that. You would really need to talk to the people at Finance, the Fiscal and Economic Policy Division in terms of what the government's policies are with respect to taxation. (Interruption)
MR. MACKINNON: We're just looking for some clarity as to whether it would fit in here. It seems like it's too broad and maybe it's better just to let it sit for the time being. That would be my thought.
MR. CAREY: On our list, which we haven't gotten to yet, we had a debt and credit rating which we're certainly willing to (Interruption) advance, but to go to finance tax policy, let's face it, some people are going to disagree with what we're doing and some are not. I don't see what's going to be accomplished. From a taxpayer's standpoint, what questions are we going to ask about value for dollar? Nobody wants to pay any more taxes and the province needs revenue.
MR. MACKINNON: Especially after the last budget.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that comment, Mr. Carey. I'm going to move from the NDP list. Now, Mr. Barnet, are you taking the lead here?
MR. BARNET: Well, I can start anyway. Let's go to the bottom of the list first. Under air access we actually have already agreed that transportation and airports be there. I
wonder if it may not be worth their while to have somebody from the Department of Tourism and Culture be there at the same time. Obviously, there's a connect or inter-connect between these two departments in terms of the overall public policy and expenditure of money, that kind of stuff. I wonder if, rather than having two separate meetings, that we not consider having a witness from Tourism and Culture talk about the relevance of this issue to them.
MR. STEELE: I just wonder if somebody could explain why this topic is more appropriate for Public Accounts rather than Economic Development.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I may editorialize and respond on that, Mr. Barnet. As a member of the Economic Development Committee, last year or the year before, I recall the regional people being there from Yarmouth and the regional people being there from Cape Breton and then Halifax did come in for a separate hearing. Is it the intent to have those same people be here from the regional?
MR. BARNET: I didn't put the first one on the agenda. I'm just trying to say that if we're going to do this issue at all, we may as well marry the two of them together, that's all.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Seeing you have returned, if I may draw attention to that, Mr. DeWolfe, we're talking about government lists. We're talking about the Department of Transportation airport connection and Mr. Barnet's suggestion that tourism people be there at the same time.
MR. DEWOLFE: That probably would be a good idea. Just on the surface, without giving it a whole lot of thought, I don't know how the debate was going around the table, but I would sort of favour that suggestion. As I said earlier, if we get into an area of great interest, we could always expand our meeting agenda to include another meeting on that topic.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, so, Mr. Barnet we will take your suggestion and have a tourism connection with that particular topic. Is it agreed? Okay.
MR. MACKINNON: It's an excellent opportunity. Sure, I agree with combining both of them because it's an excellent opportunity to do a value for dollar on tourism marketing at the same time - find out if we're really getting our value for dollar as the government says we are.
MR. CHAIRMAN: With regional airports especially.
MR. BARNET: I'll work from the bottom up. The other item that we had in tourism is the archival and genealogical information and Sport Nova Scotia. We all know that we run the Public Archives for Nova Scotia in Halifax and there's a significant amount of money spent there and there had been issues surrounding the public's access to that information and
the fact that it's centrally located in Halifax and some people have expressed concerns in the past that it was an unfair advantage to people in Halifax to be able to access that information. It's not a huge program of the government, but I know it's certainly something that people have addressed to me, because it's something that I'm interested in, the fact that it's here in Halifax.
MR. CHAIRMAN: As opposed to being in regional offices?
MR. BARNET: I don't know how else you do it. I just know that others think there's a disadvantage to them, from rural Nova Scotia.
MR. MACKINNON: How do you tie that in on value for dollar, on past expenditures?
MR. BARNET: It's a program that we have that we spend money on. I know . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Is there a question of not getting value for dollar? I understand the issue of whether it should be in point a, b, or c.
MR. BARNET: Or whether we should spend more money or less money, or whether we should do it in a different way, through the Internet or e-mail or any of that kind of stuff.
MR. MACKINNON: But we're talking about in terms of reference on Public Accounts, which is past expenditures. Is there a question of inappropriate expenditure? Is there a question of . . .
MR. BARNET: I don't have a question. Let's just say that - I didn't put it on the list either.
MR. MACKINNON: I understand, because to me it would seem - it's a good topic - like it should perhaps be in one of the other committees, whether it be Human Resources, Natural Resources, or something like that. It doesn't seem appropriate for here.
MR. STEELE: Maybe I can try to move things along here by identifying the things that seem to me to be topics of interest and that do fit within the mandate of this committee. The ones that would be of interest to me are the ones under Finance and under Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, property assessment and taxation, and equalization. The other topics under that heading are clearly of interest, I'm just not sure that they fit under the value-for-money mandate of the Public Accounts Committee. For discussion, I would just put out those three topics as ones that I think would be of interest to this committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: On those three topics . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I would be interested to know whether, to make things move ahead a little faster - I know we're getting quite a few items on our agenda list already - would the Liberal caucus agree with Mr. Graham Steele's suggestion?
MR. MACKINNON: Property assessment and taxation, and equalization, and debt and credit ratings, yes.
MR. DEWOLFE: The debt and credit ratings included there under Finance?
MR. MACKINNON: Yes.
MR. STEELE: I have a question for Jim, Mr. Chairman, if I may.
MR. MACKINNON: If I could just finish off. The reason why we're questioning Registry 2000, civic addressing and e-government, they're ongoing right now; in fact I received an e-mail yesterday to attend a conference because they are just in the process of setting all this up, tying in the 911 and going from the land registry to the land titles system, that sort of thing. So all that is current, and we really won't be able to do a value for dollar in the e-government. We're ambivalent on that, because the bill was only passed in the last session; we haven't even had one full year with it yet.
MR. DEWOLFE: You're talking about the Registry 2000, is it all there, because it's part of the streamlined electronic service?
MR. MACKINNON: It's all tied in. You would almost have to wait a full year before you would be able to determine whether that's value for dollar or not.
MR. DEWOLFE: The Registry 2000 was there to . . .
MR. MACKINNON: The legislation was passed and now it's going to take up to two years to get that system up and running, and that's why these seminars and courses are ongoing - in fact, I believe there's one this week in Truro.
MR. DEWOLFE: Yes. Okay.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Other comments on the suggestions from Mr. Steele?
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you for those suggestions, Mr. Steele. As you can see, we're in agreement with them or we wouldn't have had them on our agenda. That makes things move a little faster. Are there any other items that the Liberal caucus, Mr. Chairman, would suggest that they would like to see us move forward on?
MR. MACKINNON: What about Nova Scotia wine strategy? Not that I have a particular interest in wine, but . . .
MS. STEVENS: That's our field trip.
MR. DEWOLFE: The clerk suggested a trip to Jost in Grand Pre?
MS. STEVENS: I did not.
MR. MACKINNON: My colleague from Clare says yes. (Interruptions) Since the recent report that came out and said that white wine is good for your heart.
MR. DEWOLFE: We have to investigate this firsthand. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Let's get a little order here. A little order here. The next thing we will be on a brewery tour somewhere. Yes, I'm on the topic of the wine strategy.
MR. STEELE: It is an important topic to those involved in the industry, but it seems to fit right within the mandate of the Resources Committee, which oversees Agriculture and Fisheries. I don't see the wine strategy as being a value for money thing. It's more an economic development thing. Really, it is a good topic, but more properly fits in another committee and maybe we could even recommend to the other committee that they may want to pursue it. I'm just not sure that it's a Public Accounts Committee kind of topic.
MR. BARNET: I thought it was the NDP political strategy too.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Now I expected something like that from Richard Hurlburt, not you, Barry.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, as Chairman of the Resources Committee, I can accept that recommendation.
MR. STEELE: It is well worth pursuing in the Resources Committee.
MR. DEWOLFE: And considering the clerk is also the clerk for the Resources Committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Other responses to the government list, please.
MR. MACKINNON: I'm curious, initiatives for access to justice, perhaps if someone from the government caucus could explain what the focus is?
MR. BARNET: Keys to the jail.
MR. MACKINNON: How does that tie in to value for dollar?
MR. MORASH: I wasn't directly involved, but I was thinking restorative justice and some things like that; programs that have been used to help reduce, probably, costs overall with a better benefit to people involved.
MR. MACKINNON: What witnesses would you be looking at?
MR. DEWOLFE: We can throw that out for discussion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Awkward pause, let the record show. Would anybody like to respond to the question?
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I have to admit, it's not an area that I have much expertise in. I'm just wondering if our caucus chairman might have some thoughts on that topic himself; perhaps he has more involvement, certainly in the justice system. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Olive, please.
MR. OLIVE: I would just like to give the clarification that that was in my professional capacity as a police officer, not as a participant in the system.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Tim, do you want to respond to that?
MR. OLIVE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I think just to follow along with what the member for Queens said, initiatives for access to justice is, from the way I look at it, the options that are available to reduce recidivism, for example, and work in the community, that kind of thing. It probably should read initiatives for access to alternatives to the regular justice system, that being confinement. I think that's what it means.
MR. DEWOLFE: That is what we mean.
MR. OLIVE: I don't think it's quite clear. I think it does mean (Interruption) Yes, restorative justice and things like that. I'm not sure how that fits in other than if in fact work in the community, that sort of thing, is shown to be more cost-effective and does result in less recidivism in the jails, then that would probably fall under the mandate of the committee.
MR. DEWOLFE: Well it definitely falls under.
MR. OLIVE: I guess that's where I'd see it coming from.
MR. CHAIRMAN: But suggested witnesses, Tim. That's what I think we were going to you for.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, why don't we leave that open. It looks like we're getting into a log-jam or something. Then we can plug it in if we (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, just hold on. Mr. Barnet, do you have anything to add to what we were saying?
MR. BARNET: No, just that we're now at 12 or 13, I think. That gives us three to four months' worth of stuff.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I agree. We are quite a bit ahead and I would suggest that the clerk keep our copies on hand and we can review those again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm going to ask Mora, if she could, to provide us what we've come up with, in addition to the original, or if you wish to add those two for perspective, the original six from the existing list, what consensus have we reached today, if it's possible?
MS. STEVENS: From the originals, the six that we had, we've added the Agricultural Development Institute, and I will just go through them as we have dealt with them today. We are going to, again, revisit the Strait Regional School Board. As I said, that was a file on my desk. What I will do is I will keep that open. I've already asked the Department of Education to update me when they do reports and things like that and what is happening there, so I will just revisit that with them just to make sure that we're one of the first contacts that they do make once something has happened.
Education - the special education policy and funding has been approved. We've already done occupational health and safety. Then we're adding the Tourism and Culture aspect to the air access that we had dealt with in our previous list for Transportation and the regional airports and facilities. We've added the debt and credit ratings from the Department of Finance. We've added, from Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, the property assessment and taxation, as well as equalization. Wine strategy is going over to Resources, and that is it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, is there anything to add to what Ms. Stevens has just brought to our attention?
MR. MACKINNON: And the one under Justice that's in the hopper as a fill-in.
MR. DEWOLFE: I want to thank the Opposition Parties for their input into this. I think we're way ahead of where we were last year. I think the clerk will agree, very much so. I'm looking forward to an interesting Fall schedule.
MR. STEELE: Should we set a date now for our next meeting or leave it?
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I may interrupt on that topic, I was talking to Mora about that and we were saying that we're looking at, would you say mid - of course, the conference is usually held - anyway, you can comment just as well as I can and answer that.
MS. STEVENS: The conference is usually held the second week in September, so we usually start Public Accounts Committee up at the end of September. But, of course, that is different now with the conference actually being in August. So usually any time after the Labour Day weekend would be fine. I've outlined the Wednesdays in September as being the 11th, 18th or 25th. That is sort of middle to late September.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think we will avoid September 11th, okay?
MS. STEVENS: Yes, that's probably a very good idea.
MR. STEELE: September 18th?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can we look at September 18th as a tentative date for beginning of Public Accounts Committee in the Fall? Is it agreed? Okay. Is there any other business?
MR. MACKINNON: I move to adjourn.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will call for an adjournment, and I have one. Thank you.
[The committee adjourned at 9:54 a.m.]