The Nova Scotia Legislature

The House resumed on:
September 21, 2017.

[Page 1]

HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2002

STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS

8:00 A.M.

CHAIRMAN

Mr. William Estabrooks

VICE-CHAIRMAN

Mr. James DeWolfe

MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to welcome those present to our meeting of the Public Accounts Committee this morning.

Just prior to beginning our introductions and our usual format, I want to take a special opportunity this morning to introduce to members and the public who are in the gallery, we have two distinguished visitors from the Canada-Ukraine-Baltic Economic Management Training Program. I have had the opportunity, in fact, it was like deja vu all over again as the old history teacher had an opportunity to take our two guests on a quick tour of our historic Legislature. I would like them to stand in their place as I introduce them. They are the Parliamentary Budget Committee Consultant, Mr. Yuriy Kovbasiuk, and Mr. Petro Koshmaniuk who is the Head of the Department Studies for the Ivano-Frankivsk Centre for Continuing Studies. I welcome you to our Legislature this morning. Thank you for being in attendance. (Applause)

As I said to our visitors, I know we all have very busy days ahead of us with a tight schedule today with some other commitments but if at the conclusion of our hearing this morning you could take a few moments, it would be certainly welcomed on behalf of our guests. Of course, we also have here from the Auditor General's Office, Mr. Salmon, Mr. Horgan and Mr. Hicks and we thank you for being present. I would ask that the MLAs now introduce themselves. Could my colleague, the member for Halifax Fairview, begin.

[The committee members introduced themselves.]

1

[Page 2]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. My name is Bill Estabrooks. I'm the MLA for Timberlea-Prospect and I have the privilege of being the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. This morning we have witnesses from Occupational Health and Safety and I would ask them to introduce themselves. I have spoken for a moment in advance to our witnesses and reminded them that I would like for them to keep their comments into the 12 to 15 minute range and it has been agreed. If you could introduce yourselves, gentlemen, and begin, it would be appreciated.

[The witnesses introduced themselves.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you and welcome. Mr. L'Esperance, I believe you have some introductory comments.

MR. RON L'ESPERANCE: Mr. Chairman, we are indeed very pleased to be back here today to follow up on the report that the Auditor General completed on occupational health and safety last year.

I want to start by saying that it's not insignificant that the first thing that appears in the Occupational Health and Safety Act is a description of the Internal Responsibility System. The fundamental foundation of that particular piece of legislation is the Internal Responsibility System. The IRS system acknowledges that workplace health and safety is a shared responsibility, primarily of the workplace parties. It recognizes government's role in defining those responsibilities and ensuring that it is implemented appropriately in all work places in the province.

Nova Scotia is a safer place for people to work today than it was 10 years ago. We believe this result comes from the commitment of employers and employees and I want, in my opening comments, to highlight a couple of what we think are success stories in terms of the way in which government, industry and workers have pulled together to really have a very positive and beneficial effect on occupational health and safety in the province. We believe this is illustrated in the Dorsey report which noted that the average injury rate went from 4.7 per cent in 1991 to 3.2 per cent in the year 2000.

Environment and Labour is in the business of maintaining and improving, when appropriate, the regulatory systems to protect both our environment and the health and safety of workers and individual citizens of our province. Meeting our regulatory responsibilities always has to be balanced against supporting opportunities for small business to create wealth, in simplifying procedures for business and citizens in our province and also in not creating an onerous burden on business and citizens in Nova Scotia.

This review of Nova Scotia's occupational health and safety regime comes at a time when all jurisdictions are considering how best to develop effective regulatory systems that are responsive to workplace health and safety and recognize the needs for innovation as we

[Page 3]

enter the global economy. Effective regulatory development contributes to our provincial priorities of protecting health and safety in the environment, supporting economic growth and harmonizing rules between jurisdictions in Canada and internationally. One of the underlying principles of effective regulatory management is a system of risk management based on criteria that have been agreed upon. This principle ensures that resources are placed where they are needed and that regulation development gives full considerations to a broad range of policy alternatives.

One of the goals of the department's 2002-03 business plan is refining and adjusting, where necessary, the overall model for regulatory management to follow best practices and to focus on a cycle of continuous improvement. This is being done in consultation with our stakeholders, including industry, other government partners, NGOs and our public.

A systematic approach to risk management engages the public and other stakeholders in an ongoing dialogue about what constitutes an acceptable level of risk, it improves data collection and sharing, it enhances our analytic tools to measure results, identify hazards, identify trends and continuously assess levels of risk. A systematic approach to risk management allows us to adapt our programs and resources to respond appropriately.

An ideal example of this systematic approach to risk management is in the efforts made by the Nova Scotia forestry sector to reduce workplace injury and illness. The industry approached government in the early 1990s to help it with this task and I think we all reflect and understand the importance of this industry to the economy of the province. They provided us with data on their accident experience and their projected cost based on this performance, the experience rating system with the Workers' Compensation Board. In this case there was general agreement that the best solution was to address skills enhancement.

So the government, with the assistance of WCB, helped industry fund an association, notably directed by the industry to improve training and skilled levels of workers in that industry. The results of that initiative are now paying dividends with the first reduction in WCB rates in the forestry sector for many years. This was coupled with a drop in incidents from over 15 per cent in 1993 to just over 6 per cent in the year 2000. So I think this example illustrates a different approach to helping an industry really improve its performance in the area of occupational health and safety and one that illustrates the importance of that kind of partnership between workers, industry and, of course, government.

Government recognizes that in some circumstances regulation development is the correct policy instrument. For instance, in the early 1990s, we recognized that we needed to do something to address fall protection and fall accidents. Although industry was aware of the risk, they appeared to be unwilling or unable to address the hazards. So in 1996, new regulations were introduced. In the five years prior to their introduction, the industry had experienced over 2,000 incidents at a cost of $4.2 million. In the four years following the implementation of these regulations, incidents dropped by 20 per cent to just over 1,600 and

[Page 4]

claims costs dropped by a significant 38 per cent to an overall cost for that industry sector of $2.6 million. So again here is another example of an intervention that was regulatory in nature and which had the desired impact similar to the non-regulatory intervention of reducing not only the incidents of industry but the overall cost to industry and the concomitant costs for that industry sector within the workers' compensation system.

Environment and Labour has more than 60 per cent of its workforce committed to conducting and supporting inspection services. We have 30 frontline inspection staff in the field compared to 18 in 1993-94. In addition we have five other inspectors who specialize in occupational hygiene. Over the past 10 years, government has increased inspections and enforcement of workplace safety. Clearly, we're always going to be challenged by resource issues, but we have come a long way by efficient and wise use of the resources that we do have. There has been a steady drop in provincial accident rates as reported by the Workers' Compensation Board. Our success rate in prosecutions has jumped from 44 per cent in 1997 to 83 per cent in the year 2001, and because of increased enforcement activity, orders issued under the OH&S Act went from almost 2,700 in 1997 to more than 8,800 in 2001.

Effective and efficient use of existing resources requires innovation. As a department we are looking to new ways of delivering programming. We also recognize that our activities must support technical and operational advances in industry to allow for economic growth and health and safety improvements in the workforce. I think many of the members would be familiar with the federal government's paper on innovation and their attempts to develop a national innovation strategy within the country. I can say that we're working very closely with federal colleagues, and our role in that, as the department, is around the issue of regulatory climate. The federal innovations paper clearly speaks to the importance of good quality regulation, better regulation as part of the fundamental underpinning of creating the right kind of stimulus conditions for economic growth and economic development. So we're doing a lot of work in that area as well.

To raise the level of compliance, we're using partnerships within industry associations and not-for-profits to deliver programming to industry. Again, this is another important illustration of the partnerships that we're using. We're communicating with our clients in new ways, such as through our Web site and electronic e-mail list to raise awareness and provide information to help them understand and apply our regulations. We are also involved in partnerships with specific industry sectors to develop more user-friendly documents that take the laws and interpret them for their day-to-day use. Providing alternate sources for workplaces to get information allows us to channel our resources to high-risk industries and areas of poor performance. In conducting inspections and investigations, priority is given to both high-risk areas and in dealing with complaints.

We recognize and appreciate the suggestions made by the Auditor General. We have taken action in each of the areas where he had suggested improvements. At the time the audit was conducted there were other initiatives underway and since that time we have continued

[Page 5]

to identify opportunities to help us serve our clients better. I can tell you that I'm about six months in as deputy of this department, and there's absolutely no question that the staff throughout the department and particularly since we're examining the issue of occupational health and safety today, under Jim's leadership and with the team that we have in both the inspection and compliance side and the professional services side, they do a great job, they work hard, and they're working very diligently to make our occupational health and safety system as strong as it can be in the province.

The division has an ongoing process for the development and implementation of new policies and procedures. Existing policies and procedures are being reviewed to standardize them with current best practices in a number of areas, including re-inspection practices and a revised accident reporting and investigation format. We've improved our internal process for creating and reviewing regulations, appointed a full-time manager of law reform, and are creating detailed work plans for each of our active regulatory initiatives, including milestones, time lines and accountability measures. This, of course, responds to a concern that the Auditor General had raised in his excellent report.

[8:15 a.m.]

Within the province we continue to work with other departments and other levels of government to deliver value-added services. One initiative that we're particularly proud of is the work with the Department of Education to develop curriculum content and course materials to implement in the public school system on workplace health and safety. This speaks to the concern that in many cases young people, many of whom are working more now on a part-time basis, don't always have the experience and the depth of understanding in the area of safe workplace practices. This is a proactive, preventive measure to try to make sure that young people are properly prepared for the workplace. As well, we've continued to define a more appropriate framework for health and safety in the offshore. We continue to pursue the development of an industry guideline document for the fisheries sector with our sister department, Agriculture and Fisheries. We've integrated inspection activity with the Department of Natural Resources and with our own colleagues within Environment vertical in our department.

At the international and national level, we're participating with various organizations to develop standards, review programs and develop initiatives in occupational health and safety. Our partners in this area include other Canadian jurisdictions, both federal and provincial, standard-setting agencies such as the Canadian Standards Association, and agencies and organizations such as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada. In the offshore petroleum sector we're working with Newfoundland and Labrador and our federal counterparts to revise legislation to clarify the question of jurisdiction. Given the courts' recent confirmation of provincial jurisdiction in relation to the business of fishing, the division in co-operation with Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Fisheries Sector Council, and the Aquaculture Association

[Page 6]

of Nova Scotia proposes the development of guidelines to address health and safety issues in this industry. In relation to fishing by members of First Nations, we are also working in that area as well.

In the non-government areas, we maintain active programs with private and public sector organizations. We have partnered with groups like the Safe Communities Foundation, the Nova Scotia Safety Council, and the Farm Health and Safety Committee to support educational and training activities. With the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee, an advisory committee for the minister, we have defined and implemented a research grant program to support innovation in health and safety in the province.

The implementation of the Dorsey report, respecting the workers' compensation programming, will give rise to some changes, coming from the work of the review committee that travelled the province last year, program changes relating to workplace health and safety, prevention and education will be coming. We've developed, in consultation with the workers' compensation folks, a detailed work plan to manage the transition for some of these activities. Our accident prevention and promotion activities will transfer to the Workers' Compensation Board, and that process, as I've noted, will advance forward.

The health and safety of Nova Scotia workers is and will continue to be a top priority for our department. At this point I would be pleased to answer, with my colleague, Jim LeBlanc, who I will rely on for the deep details, any of the questions or observations that you may have arising from this session. Thank you.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. L'Esperance. You were 29 seconds over but I was just trying to catch your eye on the 15 minute deadline. I appreciate your assistance. For the note of Leg. TV and Hansard, I would like those groups to notice that Mr. Taylor has changed seats, as he should have, and we've been joined by Mr. Morash and Mr. MacEwan, and I welcome them here this morning. I would point out to the latecomers, as MLAs, that we have visitors here this morning who are attending this session, as we agreed earlier, from the Canada-Ukraine-Baltic Economic Management Training Program. They are on the floor here.

The next 20 minutes belong to the official - Mr. MacEwan. (Interruptions)

I'm sure that afterwards they will have a few moments to meet our legendary MLA from Cape Breton Nova. The next 20 minutes belong to the Official Opposition, and I would ask Mr. Steele to begin. It's 8:20 a.m.

MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Thank you. What concerns me most is the disconnection between the fairly rosy picture that Mr. L'Esperance has just painted of Occupational Health and Safety and what the Auditor General actually said in his last report. In very polite auditor's language, I think the Auditor General is fairly scathing about what's going on in

[Page 7]

Occupational Health and Safety. What he says in his report - and these aren't his words, these are my paraphrases - is that there wasn't a good system for identifying the highest-risk employers. When employers were identified for inspection there was inadequate documentation of what had happened during those inspection visits. When compliance orders had been issued, in over half the cases, there was inadequate documentation in the file to demonstrate whether there had in fact been compliance.

So you can issue all the compliance orders in the world but if you don't know that they've been complied with, you've got a problem. Especially when, according to the Auditor General's random survey, over half the files were missing information about compliance. Now that doesn't mean - as Mr. Horgan pointed out in May - there wasn't compliance. What it does mean is that the Occupational Health & Safety Division has no information about whether there was compliance or not.

Mr. L'Esperance, in your opening remarks you made the rather strong claim, I think in the circumstances, that it is safer for working people to go to work today than it was 10 years ago. I kept waiting for the proof of that, for the evidence that would back up that rather strong claim. I wonder if I could ask you more directly, what proof can you offer to Nova Scotians that it is safer for them to go to work today than it was 10 years ago?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Well, certainly as I had noted in the opening comments, there is a variety of measures that we use to document that. Some of it comes from the Workers' Compensation Program and I believe I cited the statistics, noting the decline in the average industry rate going from 4.7 per cent in 1991 to 3.2 per cent in the year 2000. I think that that's one measure, there are certainly other measures.

As you know, the Workers' Compensation Program tables a quarterly report to this House, detailing the picture from the previous quarter. I recognize that the Workers' Compensation Program penetrates perhaps only roughly 70 per cent of workplaces in the province but notwithstanding, it's a pretty strong and viable measure of trend lines, in relation to workplace accidents, workplace injuries. On the softer side, I think as time has gone on, occupational health and safety legislation and formal systems in all jurisdictions are, in many ways, a work in progress. This is legislation that continues to evolve. The understanding of new areas like ergonomics and those kinds of areas where we recognize that there's quite a bit of research required, science needs to be brought to bear in dealing with some of these kinds of issues.

On the areas where there have been gaps in workplace health and safety noted and notably, the need for clarification of jurisdiction in respect to the offshore, in looking at the farming and fisheries sectors, there has been a great deal of work proactively done both by government and by NGOs and industry associations to attenuate risk in those particular sectors.

[Page 8]

So the answer really, Mr. Steele, in my view, is that there is both hard information arising from some of the trend line statistics in the Workers' Compensation Program but there's a great deal of anecdotal evidence that industry understands inherently the need to take these issues seriously. They understand that it's a matter not only of occupational health and safety, it's a matter of good corporate citizenship. It is a matter of reducing their own liability, their own costs associated with managing their industries. In making my opening comments I wanted to make sure we did provide some examples of where some of those softer approaches are really, I think, bearing fruit, in trying to wrestle this issue to the ground.

I guess the last point I would make in response to your question, I go back to the first point that I made on the fundamental precepts of the Act and that is the Internal Responsibility System. The leadership that needs to be provided not only by government, but by industry, by labour, by workers groups, on the importance of occupational health and safety and continuing to drive those messages out to workplaces in this province so people do return home safe.

MR. STEELE: I don't think that anecdotal evidence is sufficient for dealing with this kind of issue because for every anecdote that you can give of employers understanding and implementing the responsibilities, I will give you another one of an employer who doesn't. So let's talk about the hard evidence we have.

Frankly, workers' compensation figures are not adequate for measuring the safety of workplaces. Let me give you one example and that is the global figure of the number of accidents reported to the Workers' Compensation Board over the course of a year. After the revised Workers' Compensation Act came into effect, there was a substantial drop in the number of claims, a substantial drop. Is that because Nova Scotia workplaces became safer overnight, when the new Act was proclaimed? No, it's because compensability of industrial accidents changed and a waiting period was reintroduced. Benefits were significantly reduced.

What happened was people stopped reporting accidents and injuries that had previously been reported. That's the reason why the numbers went down. So in terms of figuring out whether there are more or less injuries or accidents or near accidents, which I would think the OH&S division would be just as concerned about as actual accidents, I really do question the applicability of workers' compensation figures, certainly in terms of the overall number of accidents.

Let me ask you about another one because you cited a figure again that frankly, I hadn't heard before and I don't understand and I wonder if you could explain - and this was part of the evidence that the department has that Nova Scotia workplaces are safer - you said there has been a decline in the average industry rate from 4.7 per cent to 3.2 per cent. I don't understand that figure and I wonder if you could explain, what does that mean?

[Page 9]

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I'm going ask my colleague Jim, who advises he has some other data on trend lines in occupational industries and their costs by province and territory and I . . .

MR. STEELE: Just before Mr. LeBlanc does that, I would like to get an answer to that specific question. You cited a figure, 4.7 per cent down to 3.2 per cent. I need to understand what that means.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: That is a figure, Mr. Steele, that arises from the Dorsey report, of the review committee that looked at workers' compensation last year. It is a figure that he cites in his retrospective look at industry and trend lines in Nova Scotia from 1991 through to the year 2000, which was the window that he looked at.

MR. STEELE: But what does it mean?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I don't have the actual verbiage here from the Dorsey report . . .

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: We have it here.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I would like though to have Jim address the point on the hard evidence associated with - and I do want to come back to the point of anecdotal evidence. We certainly don't rely exclusively on anecdotal evidence, nor do we discount it because I think there are many, many examples of situations where there is real leadership being shown. I think it's important from the point of view of our relationship management with all of our key stakeholders to acknowledge and to celebrate some of the success that's being achieved by innovative ways of addressing health and safety in the province. I would fully respect that we require the hard evidence but the anecdotal evidence is, as well, quite important.

[8:30 a.m.]

MR. STEELE: Okay, now, before Mr. LeBlanc starts, I'm still looking for an answer to that specific question. Mr. L'Esperance cited a particular figure as evidence that Nova Scotia workplaces are safer today than they were 10 years ago and I simply want to know what does that figure mean, that specific figure?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. LeBlanc.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: My understanding of that figure, and it was reported in the Dorsey report, is that it's the percentage of the workforce and the industry sector that suffers injury. Basically, if you look at the Dorsey report, I believe in Table 8.1, the trend of incident reporting is continuing down, recognizing that there were changes in 1996, the legislation that may have affected accident reporting but notwithstanding that, the trend prior to 1996 was

[Page 10]

downward and the trend after 1996 is still downward with the odd blip in years where it has gone up a bit but the trend, generally, is downward.

In terms of some additional information relative to accident trends in the province and recognizing that these statistics are produced as a result of the Workers' Compensation Board data, in the package I believe that was distributed to the members of the committee, there was a report that is compiled by the federal government on occupational injuries and their costs in Canada from 1993 to 1997. On Pages 10 and 11 of that report, Table 2, there is a review of provincial accidents for the period from 1993 to 1997 and in the far right three columns, they look at fatalities, the incidence of time-loss injuries per 100 workers and the incidence of injuries per 100 workers. Starting at 1993, the incident rate for injuries, generally, per 100 workers was 9.52 and by 1997, it was 5.54. So that would be 5.4 injured workers per 100 workers in the workforce and the rates for time-loss injuries per 100 workers went from 3.61 to 2.23 for Nova Scotia.

MR. STEELE: But if I'm reading the same table that you are, Mr. LeBlanc, that is for occupational health and safety falling under federal jurisdiction.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I believe the front part of the table, basically, addresses the whole jurisdiction and the reason I would come to that conclusion, if you look at the left-hand side of the table when it looks at the number of claims, for all claims, basically the total claim number looks pretty much like the provincial claim total and then the back half of the report is specific to federal industry sectors.

MR. STEELE: Let me ask you another general question, Mr. LeBlanc. In your opinion, is your division allocated enough money by the Legislature to do its job?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I guess from my perspective it isn't a question of whether there is enough, it's a question of doing the best we can with the resources that we do have. Government always has competing priorities relative to the programs it has to deliver. We basically take the resources we have and try to find effective ways of delivering our program mandate.

MR. STEELE: Mr. LeBlanc, as you know, I have a great deal of respect for your knowledge and experience in this area and you and I have worked together in the past on this, so I'm sure you will take it the right way when I say I'm not going to let you wriggle out of it that easily. Does your division get enough money from the Legislature to do its job?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I guess, coming at it another way, when I look nationally, and I do participate on national committees relative to occupational health and safety, I don't believe that any jurisdiction has found the right level of resourcing for occupational health and safety. There are various strategies that have been tried in jurisdictions across the country and

[Page 11]

internationally and it isn't a question of how much you have, it's a question of the use you make of it.

MR. CHAIRMAN: That's an awkward pause, Mr. Steele. You have the floor.

MR. STEELE: Okay, the first answer you've given me is that you make do with what you are given. The second answer you've given me is that other jurisdictions are struggling with the same resource issues. My question is, do you get enough money from the Legislature to do the job that the division is required to do by law?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: Let me try it another way. The issue of improving and preventing accidents and improving occupational health and safety in the province does not singularly fall to government.

MR. STEELE: Mr. LeBlanc, that is not the question that I asked you. I understand that the division is not the only player in occupational health and safety in Nova Scotia but you do have a role to play. Does your division get enough money from the Legislature to perform the role that it is given by law?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: The only answer I can give you to your question is it isn't for us to decide whether it's enough. The issue for us, as program managers, is to make the best use of the resources that we are provided.

MR. STEELE: The response of the department to the Auditor General's Report, which is quite an extensive response, it covers 17 pages, although that includes reprinting the excerpts from the Auditor General's Report, it is peppered with references to the limited resources that you're working with. Over and over again it says - and I'm paraphrasing here - we are doing what we can within the limited resources that we're given. So the message that I take from that is that not enough money is being allocated for occupational health and safety and I'm surprised that I can't get you to commit yourself one way or another to that proposition.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I personally believe that that is a debate that needs to be held in the Legislature. Basically as a program administrator, my responsibility is to do the best that we can in terms of programming and to find innovative and alternative ways to increase health and safety in the province using the resources that exist that are not necessarily always government's.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Steele, you have two minutes.

MR. STEELE: I hope you understand the difficulty that we would have as legislators when we can't get the top occupational health and safety official to say whether he needs more money or not. If we are going to have a debate in the Legislature, we need input from

[Page 12]

people who are doing the work because if we don't get the signal that more is needed, you know in this environment of restraint, you are not going to get any money if you won't send that signal. I guess what I'm looking for is some signal about whether you are getting enough or whether you need more to do the job that you are given by law.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I would understand that process to be the budget development process and from the perspective of program administration through the budget development process, that information would be provided.

MR. STEELE: I just have a little over a minute left so I'm going to ask a couple of short snappers before I get back to more questioning later in the day. Mr. L'Esperance, you said in your opening remarks that there are partnerships with not-for-profit organizations and industry associations. Does the department audit the use of the money that's given to those outside organizations?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: That's an area that we actually have under discussion. It's a good point to raise, Mr. Steele. I think I'm correct in saying at the moment that we don't.

MR. STEELE: We, in the NDP caucus, have been receiving persistent allegations of - allegations I underline - the misuse of funds by a particular body that receives funds from your department and I'm just wondering what the department is doing to look into those kinds of allegations when they surface.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I'm not aware of specific allegations at this stage of the game because I want to be very clear that were there to be those allegations raised with us, we would deal with them vigorously and immediately.

On the broader issue of the audit function, it is something that we are looking at. We believe, as part of our accountability requirements, that it's something that needs to be looked at. Certainly, I think in many ways the Auditor General's Report has been quite helpful in this particular area, helping us to focus. I note your acknowledgement of the extensive response that's been prepared in respect to the Auditor General's Report. There is no question that the current government is very strong on accountability from the point of view of external organizations that are utilizing government funds, and that's an area that is very much under our microscope at the moment, broadly looking at all of the agencies, boards and commissions that are associated with our particular department.

MR. CHAIRMAN: It's 8:41 a.m. and the next 20 minutes go to the members of the Liberal caucus.

[Page 13]

The honourable member for Cape Breton West.

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, my first question is for Mr. L'Esperance, deputy minister, in part because of some of the points he made in his opening remarks. I guess literally translated the word l'esperance means hope, but one of the things that seems to be lacking in the department is faith. I'm going to set the tone and we'll move from there.

In the latest workers' compensation annual report, contrary to what you've suggested, the rosy picture that is, the average duration of short-term disability claims has gone from 61.59 days to 102.41 days, so it would appear that the severity of the injury is becoming an issue. As well, the total number of compensable claims has actually increased from the previous year. It has gone from a little over 9,000 to 9,200. How do you reconcile those figures with the rosy picture that you've painted for us here today?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I don't have that information in front of me, Mr. MacKinnon, as you would . . .

MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I will provide the deputy minister with the annual report, which I think would be in the department. Page 34.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The deputy minister is prepared to answer?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I think, on the specific detail, I'm going to ask Jim. Jim has a much closer knowledge of the detail associated with this, he would do a much more effective job of answering the member's question.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: In terms of the two issues around the severity and number of claims that are being reported to the Workers' Compensation Board, I believe there are many other considerations that come into the issue of claim duration in addition to the severity of the claim. It's a valuable observation, I guess, that the accidents may be more serious, but I think we need to look, basically, at claim management as well to see what the underlying cause might be for the increase in duration. There is no doubt that over the past number of years claim duration has increased.

MR. MACKINNON: So it's getting worse not better, according to that report. Is that correct, yes or no?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: The duration is increasing, yes, and in terms of the accident frequency, when you're looking at real numbers, you need to basically look at it also from the perspective of the growth that's occurring in the workforce. So rates are usually a better measure of trend relative to accident frequencies in the industry sector.

[Page 14]

MR. MACKINNON: I can appreciate that. I just wanted to make the point that things are not getting better, they're getting worse according to that report. However, one of the issues that was raised by the Auditor General in his report was a concern, I guess it was the overall tone that seemed to be pervasive throughout his report, and that is the lack of paper trails on certain issues. The deputy minister indicated that you're in the process of transferring part of the occupational health and safety responsibilities over to the Workers' Compensation Board. Has there been a ministerial order or a formal request made to WCB to that effect, or to the effect of the stakeholders, anything formal?

[8:45 a.m.]

MR. L'ESPERANCE: The government released its response to the Dorsey report within the 90 day time line that had been set, and it had been indicated that would be the time line that it would respond to the report in. In that report it details the specific initiatives being taken, one of those being detailed was the transfer of prevention and education to Workers' Compensation Board. In terms of notifying stakeholders, certainly notifying the Workers' Compensation Board, all of that was taken care of. I personally had conference calls on several occasions through our process with associations representing injured workers' groups in the province. We had discussions with the workers' compensation folks and indeed our Advisory Committee on Occupational Health and Safety. I went before the committee and asked them actually to look at the Dorsey report and give some advice.

MR. MACKINNON: Mr. L'Esperance, was there any official documentation, other than reading a press release in the newspaper, which is the minister's response, how it was communicated, and other than a few phone calls between yourself and the board, was there any official paper trail or documentation?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Absolutely.

MR. MACKINNON: There was? Would you provide that to members of the committee.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: We have a working committee established between the two organizations and a work plan prepared detailing the transition process, what kinds of things need to be done, and so forth.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon, I just wanted to clarify. You made a request for a written - could you put that on the record for my benefit at least, what you've just asked the deputy minister to commit to?

MR. MACKINNON: The deputy minister has indicated they've commenced the process to transfer responsibility from the Department of Environment and Labour over to the Workers' Compensation Board. What I was trying to find out from the deputy minister,

[Page 15]

in fact, was there any official order, was there a paper trail to that effect. He indicated a press release and some phone calls and a working committee, but still nothing substantive. Is there anything with the ministerial signature on it that says this is what we're going to do and how we're going to do it and when we're going to do it and who's going to assume the responsibility for the cost?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: There is certainly a work plan associated with it. The minister has met with the board chairman on several occasions.

MR. MACKINNON: So he hasn't signed anything is what you're saying.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: It doesn't require it. It's simply an initiative to make the transition.

MR. MACKINNON: So you're saying no; the answer is no, that's what you're saying. Aside from whether it's required or not, you're saying no, it doesn't exist.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Well, no, I'm not saying no, it doesn't exist. A very detailed work plan associated with the transition of the education and prevention program to workers' compensation . . .

MR. MACKINNON: Let's move one step beyond this spin doctoring. You say you've consulted with the stakeholders. Have you consulted with industry?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Insofar as the primary mechanism for the minister to receive input on occupational health and safety from both industry and from labour, it is through the minister's Advisory Committee on Occupational Health and Safety, and insofar as that committee includes an equal representation of folks who are interested in labour issues, the labour caucus, so-called, and industry caucus, there has been broad consultation with them. Many of the people who sit at that table draw through representation to other organizations, whether it's CFIB or Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters or others, so that it's a very inclusive committee and it's reach and breadth, both on the labour side and on the industry side, is substantive.

MR. MACKINNON: Let's focus on that then. What is the feedback from industry, given the fact that the Department of Environment and Labour is now asking industry to assume 100 per cent of the financial responsibility for these new duties? Bear in mind, Mr. L'Esperance, that 60 per cent of the workers in Nova Scotia are covered by WCB, and the Department of Environment and Labour has a responsibility for 100 per cent. Now you're going to transfer education and safety training over to WCB which means, the employers of this province are now going to be paying for 40 per cent of the entire industry that do not pay into the workers' compensation system. Is that fair?

[Page 16]

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I'm not quite sure, Mr. MacKinnon, the nature of your question. I think you would be well familiar with the financial structure for the Occupational Health and Safety Division, the fact that a good portion of the overall cost of occupational health and safety in the province is borne through the accident fund and that . . .

MR. MACKINNON: I'm aware of that. We're going to 100 per cent assumption here.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: On education and prevention there's no question. When the education and prevention folks move over to the Workers' Compensation Board they will provide service to employers who are not necessarily part of the workers' compensation system at this point in time. But as you will appreciate, the Dorsey report is a pretty far reaching document, it raises some interesting future possibilities, future states for the publicly-funded system in the province. Decisions have not been made on that yet, but I think most of what we're doing in Nova Scotia really harmonizes with what most other jurisdictions are doing. I don't think there's any question that when you look at the unfunded liability at the Workers' Compensation Board, there's a strong belief I think on all sides, industry, labour and others, that a very focused effort on prevention and education perhaps is the thing that can yield the greatest dividends and we've seen that . . .

MR. MACKINNON: Through you, Mr. Chairman, with all due respect. The deputy minister is skating all over the ice here and not answering the question. My question quite to the point is, what feedback have you received from industry? Do they support this position of dumping 100 per cent of the cost on the backs of the employers of this province who pay into the workers' compensation system? Have you received any official feedback from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business on this particular point? I'm fully apprised and knowledgable on the structure of the advisory council and what the percentage is and the clawbacks from workers' compensation. You know that I know that and vice-versa.

I want to know if you've received any official feedback from the Federation of Independent Business and/or the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: As you would be no doubt aware, Mr. MacKinnon, when the Dorsey report was officially released by government -which would have been back, I don't have the exact date in my mind but go back 90 days from something like July 17th and you would have the date - we extended the opportunity, insofar as during the review committee process there were consultations held throughout the province, as you are aware. People had an opportunity to provide their views and observations to the review committee. Until the report was released, nobody saw the full document. We extended the invitation to all stakeholders, we gave them, I think, 30 or 45 days in which to provide some further observations of issues that they didn't feel were properly covered, well covered, or points that were missed in their particular interest and advocacy around changes to the Workers' Compensation Program. While I can't specifically, I don't have the dossier in front of me with all of the responses, I can say with absolute certainty that I know that something came from

[Page 17]

the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. I know that something came, in fact, from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

MR. MACKINNON: So you will make that available to members of the committee?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I'm not precisely sure what the status of those documents is. I certainly take it under advisement.

MR. MACKINNON: Okay. Let's focus on this Dorsey report, vis-à-vis the workers' compensation system. My understanding at this point is that the CEO of the board has taken a six month sabbatical, is that correct?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: The CEO of the board is on study leave. I'm not sure if it is a six month - I'm not sure the exact tenure of it.

MR. MACKINNON: So you're not even sure of how long he's gone?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I'm not sure of the exact tenure of it, as I've said.

MR. MACKINNON: Well, I'm a little curious, we have the Dorsey report, we have a new chairman of the board, we have, as I understand, a number of governance issues over at the board that have to be dealt with, we have the possibility of a transfer of responsibility of occupational health and safety issues over to the board. These are very, very significant issues and we have one of the key stakeholders in this process take a six month sabbatical, as I understand. How in the name of heavens are you going to be able to proceed? You don't even have your documentation in order at this point, it is in somewhat of convoluted state. That goes back to the point that was made in the Auditor General's Report about having a proper paper trail and really, having your house in order. How can you reconcile dealing with these rather significant issues when one of the key stakeholders has just packed up and left for six months? So for six months you're going to be either spinning your wheels or double tracking. How do you reconcile this?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I guess I want to make a couple of initial observations, then I will answer the question directly about the CEO. As the member would know, there is significant review underway across the country with respect to workers' compensation programs. Jim Dorsey has done reviews in a number of different jurisdictions. A lot of provinces are in the same position as we are, looking at how to make these programs the most effective they can be in a modern era, dealing with some of the key issues linking the occupational health and safety education and prevention piece into the work of the compensation board.

[Page 18]

One of the key elements coming out of Dorsey is the need for holistic systems planning and for various parts of the system to work effectively together. All of those issues were very clearly detailed in the government's response to the Dorsey report, up front, unequivocal, very clear. There are well-established administrative mechanisms that have been put in place to manage the transition to these various future states. As recently as this week the heads of the four organizations, Workers' Compensation, Occupational Health and Safety, WCAT, WAP, have been meeting with respect to that holistic planning and coordination amongst the various parts of the system.

I want to be very clear here, when there are aspersions cast on the administrative capability of an organization and that gets subsequently reported in the press, it really belays the public's confidence in what we do within government. I think it unnecessarily targets our staff in the department so I want to be absolutely clear, in correcting the record, that there's a very strong administrative process associated with the management of the transition.

On the CEO issue, Mr. Stuewe, this study leave is not unanticipated, it has been scheduled for some time. The hallmark of an effective administrative organization . . .

MR. MACKINNON: Excuse me, Mr. Chairman. With all due respect the deputy minister has already indicated that he wasn't aware of the details and now he's saying that it was planned, that it was anticipated he was leaving. So either you knew about Mr. Stuewe leaving and the details of it or you didn't. You can't say it both ways.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: The only hesitation I had, Mr. MacKinnon, was around your referring to it as a sabbatical.

MR. MACKINNON: He left for some education.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I didn't view it as a sabbatical. I saw it as part of his ongoing efforts to continue his study leave.

MR. MACEWAN: It's the same thing.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Well, okay I will take your point . . .

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. L'Esperance you have the floor.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: But the point that I was trying to make was the hallmark of a good administrative organization is that you have an effective management team, that you have people who are able to stand in when a particular individual - none of us is indispensable. If I go out of town for four days, I leave the department in the hands of an acting deputy, and during that period of time I'm assured - and in every case it's the case - that the department is in good hands during that period.

[Page 19]

[9:00 a.m.]

In Mr. Stuewe's case, Leo McKenna, who is the CFO, is the acting CEO at the present time. I have every confidence that the Workers' Compensation Board is in good hands. Mr. McKenna is a member of the Advisory Committee on Occupational Health and Safety. He is well acquainted with all the stakeholders and has been part of the public consultation part where the advisory committee has been looking at the recommendations of the Dorsey report. The organization, in my view, is in very good hands.

MR. CHAIRMAN: It's coming up to 9:02 a.m. I will turn the next 20 minutes over to the government caucus.

The honourable member for Pictou West, the deputy chairman of this committee, Mr. James DeWolfe.

MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: First of all a welcome to Mr. Kovbasiuk and Mr. Koshmaniuk, I hope I pronounced them fairly closely. Mr. L'Esperance, Mr. LeBlanc, welcome to the committee. I guess I will start off with Mr. L'Esperance, could you explain, just so we have an understanding, the basic structure of the department? I'm of the understanding that you have an inspection and compliance section, and then professional services, would that be correct?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Yes.

MR. DEWOLFE: Perhaps you could explain the roles of those and the chain of command there - are there executive directors, directors, managers? - just so I have an understanding of how many bodies are in each of those sections.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Yes, I will make some initial comments and turn it over to Jim to again give you the deep detail on the division. The general structure of the division is one that the inspectorate is one part of the division. It operates the field services component, doing the primary field-related interface with employers. The professional service side is the part of the department that supports the inspectorate. It stays current on research trends and trends in the field. It provides professional support by way of specialist positions, whether they're the ergonomist or others who . . .

MR. DEWOLFE: Air quality and that sort of thing.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Air quality. When an inspector is out there and has some questions or needs a draw-through of additional data and so forth, the specialists are able to provide that kind of assistance. The professional service side of the department, as well, supports a number of the organizations that are advisory to the minister and to the division, the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Group, the blasters group and so forth. Again,

[Page 20]

it's a division that provides that professional support. They, as well, will brief the minister and the deputy minister on key issues, indeed on matters relating to broader corporate interests relating to occupational health and safety. Intergovernmental, interdepartmental sorts of initiatives, they will work on those as well.

I didn't mention in my opening comments but I will here, we have an ongoing working group which myself and Howard Green, the Director-General of HRDC, head up in looking at clarifying some of the areas of jurisdiction and process improvement, joint staff training, those kinds of things, between ourselves and the federal government to make sure that we're not confusing the citizens of Nova Scotia on some of these initiatives. Again, the professional services side of the division would deal with that.

On the specific detail of numbers, and we have 30 inspectors, I believe, Jim, who are working throughout the province. I will turn it over to Jim, with the chairman's permission, and let him fill in some of the stronger detail.

MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. LeBlanc, just so I have an idea of, I call them the foot soldiers, the people who are out there doing the day-to-day work activities, the inspectors, the engineers, the air quality specialists and all those sorts, they come under the professional services but then the inspections that I'm familiar with come mainly under the compliance group, is it?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: That's pretty much correct.

MR. DEWOLFE: Could you tell me how that's structured, the compliance group for instance?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: The compliance side of our organization, the inspection and compliance services, basically reports through a provincial manager for those programs.

MR. DEWOLFE: Directly to you as executive director?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: Yes.

MR. DEWOLFE: Is there no director position there?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: No, basically there was a job description change. There actually is a title change for my position, which was a revision to the Occupational Health and Safety Act as a result of some omnibus legislation that went through the House to restructure government. My title in the legislation is director. I have provincial managers reporting to me, and there are four regional managers who report through to that provincial manager. Each of the provincial managers is basically responsible for the field staff who deliver the core service from the Occupational Health and Safety Division.

[Page 21]

In each of the regions there would be officers, as we call them, or inspectors, occupational hygienists who deal with chemical and physical agent exposure and support staff for their operations. In the Halifax metro area, the central region, there are 11 officers and two industrial hygienists, one clerical support and one regional manager. Each of the other three regions of the province have roughly six officers, one clerical support and one hygienist.

MR. DEWOLFE: The managers are all in Halifax are they?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: No, the managers are located in each of the regions.

MR. DEWOLFE: In each region?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: Yes. On the professional services side, and I always like to think of those as the services we provide collectively across the province and across regions, there would be specialty services, such as issues around ergonomics, mining engineering, statistical support, computer support, policy development, regulation development, support for the advisory council and for our various boards that administer licences within the division. So the professional services side tends to support not only the operation of the division in terms of outreach with our partners but also in terms of providing the expert support that's required for our field representatives when they run into issues that sort of exceed their technical capabilities.

MR. DEWOLFE: I understand that. On the inspection end, how many inspectors do we have across the province?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: There are 30 officers and five occupational hygienists.

MR. DEWOLFE: You're referring to them as officers. Then in the professional services, we have . . .

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I stand to be corrected on the number, I believe there are 16 individuals in that division right now.

MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. L'Esperance, in your opening comments, I was impressed that the numbers of workplace injuries have been on the decline, a downward trend is a positive trend. One of the comments you made was with regard to the forest industry. That was a real bone of contention when we travelled the province with the Workers' Compensation Select Committee back in the late 1990s. I was wondering why I haven't been flooded with complaints in recent months. I guess it's because the rates have gone down, because forest industry is quite prevalent in Pictou County, as you well know. The high cost of rates was a serious consideration for the employers in those regions.

[Page 22]

Are you involved in training in forestry? I can remember we used to have a training officer who came under workers' compensation, I think. One of those people retired in my area. Safety training. Is that type of training still conducted where you would actually go out to the sites in the forest industry and put on little workshops and that sort of thing?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: That's correct, Mr. DeWolfe, it's primarily done by the industry association, with help from ourselves and Workers' Compensation Board and so forth. If I could just make a quick supplementary point, I think it's an excellent observation because when you look at this particular example, this is a situation where the industry association, the industry leaders themselves, government and workers, are sort of enjoined in a kind of virtuous circle around this issue. The results are clear, the impacts are immediate, not only have you got a safer workplace but you also have workers who are - or at least the industry is experiencing a reduction in the workers' compensation premium requirement. It's again, a great example and I think it is illustrative for other purposes, in terms of looking at broader approaches.

I think the work we have underway with the federal government, because as you are aware the federal government supports a broad number of industry sector councils, I think this is a real growth opportunity for us to start introducing the occupational health and safety message and the opportunities within the various industry sector councils as well. Some of them are already very much on message with this and quite robust on it, obviously, the Construction Industry Safety Association and a variety of others. It is an opportunity and probably one of the more effective ways of actually changing behaviour.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Before you continue, Mr. DeWolfe, I notice that our noted linguist from Cape Breton Nova is holding a bit of a conference and I would appreciate it if our guests, I guess I can put this politely without interfering with the hearings, Mr. MacEwan, I was wondering if we could continue with the hearing. I understand you have a point of interest there, we could continue afterward. Excuse me, if you don't mind. Mr. DeWolfe.

MR. DEWOLFE: How important and to what advantage to your department, the joining with Environment, what has that done for the government and the people of Nova Scotia? Is that an important marriage?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: It's one on which everybody has an opinion. I think it's an excellent opportunity to build a really very strong regulatory affairs department. As you look across the country at the way in which different jurisdictions do this, it's a very different approach across the country. There is no uniformity associated with the approach but I think one of the things that it does that positions us extremely well as a province is to enable us to drive through that department a very strong approach around regulatory management, best management practices in regulatory management, better regulations, those kinds of imperatives.

[Page 23]

If I could digress for just a moment, I had an opportunity to attend a national conference last week and I will tell you that I don't attend too many conferences. It was a national/international meeting put on by the Institute of Public Administration Canada, IPAC, in Toronto. It had folks from far away an Namibia and Australia. A lot of OECD representation there both from the Paris headquarters and we had an opportunity to get briefed very extensively by the individual who has been tapped on the shoulder by Prime Minister Tony Blair, to head up an initiative out of the Prime Minister's Office in the U.K., on regulatory management and best practices in regulatory management. I brought back with me a lot of the material from the U.K. and there is no question that they're doing some ground-breaking work in this area.

I guess my point is and to make it brief - I know the chairman will be looking over at me, admonishing me shortly - I think there's an entirely new thinking taking place and it's a national/international movement around best practices and regulatory management. Having 80 per cent of provincial regulation enjoined in one department in the province, I think, was a very farsighted move and one which positions us well, as we try to deal with the issues of both protecting the environment, public health and safety but also doing it in a way that enables us to consistently provide best practice, best management practice within that department. Are we there yet? No.

[9:15 a.m.]

I think we are doing a lot of work internally associated with that but just let me illustrate a couple of those things. For example, inspection and inspection tracking. One of the key issues that the Auditor General raised in his report and other members have noted it today here, the issue of making sure we get back to people, having good systems in place, good business practices, a strong IT infrastructure to be able to drive a lot of this stuff. These are areas where we really need to improve and we're working vigorously on them. There are all kinds of analogs out there that will allow us to emulate and replicate good practices here in Nova Scotia. So there is a great deal of work left to do but to answer your question directly, fundamentally we're on the right direction.

MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you, Mr. L'Esperance. Mr. Chairman, so not to hog the floor I would like to pass very quickly to my colleague for the beautiful Musquodoboit Valley.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Taylor.

MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, it seems that in spite of growing opposition and concern, the Prime Minister of this country is going to forge ahead with ratifying the Kyoto protocol. Earlier on, I think Mr. L'Esperance spoke about the federal/provincial meetings relative to jurisdiction and things of that nature. I know there are various inspectors in the Occupational Health and Safety Division but I'm especially concerned about potential

[Page 24]

additional responsibilities for, let's say, air quality specialists, given that the accord seems to imply that this country is expected to reduce its emissions by some one-third over a decade. I'm just wondering if the Occupational Health and Safety Division is perhaps as uninformed as a lot of other sectors.

Just recently we had the opportunity to speak with the agricultural community. I know the forestry sector is expressing some concern now and I'm just wondering if, in fact, the department has some concerns about this, as to whether or not they are fully educated on the topic; I know many of us aren't.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Thank you, that's a very timely comment, Mr. Taylor. Let me respond in a couple of ways. Quite aside from the ongoing debate around the merits of the Kyoto convention, if you will, I think we all recognize that climate change is a front-of-mind issue for virtually everybody. I think as we have watched the news coverage over the past quarter, with forest fires rampant in the U.S., with drought in Alberta and continued issues around water quality, availability, all of those issues, the smog alerts in the Annapolis Valley, the air quality issues in downtown Halifax and many of those issues, this is an area where the department has some fairly advanced work underway.

It is work that is being done in conjunction with our colleagues nationally and it is one of those areas - going back to Mr. DeWolfe's point - about if there is a perception of seeming incongruity in terms of having environment and occupational health and safety perhaps conjoined, it illustrates a point within our environmental assessment and management division. We have a number of air quality specialists who are actually working both within the province and as part of a national network in monitoring air quality and they, in turn, work with our occupational health and safety folks.

There are obviously broader linkages involving the Department of Health because one of the things that we want to do is to is make sure we're tracking air quality incidents with rates of admission into hospitals and increases in symptoms around things like respiratory problems and so forth during particular incidents. There is quite a bit of work underway on that file generally. We had a federal/provincial meeting of CCME, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, deputies in P.E.I. a couple of weeks ago. We have a national initiative underway on air quality which will serve to refine the science around this. Right now it's relatively linear, the results that come out of that. You can't test for a broad range of parameters. The work that's underway, going forward, is to look at that work in terms of the broader parameters of what are actually some of the key pollutants and what are some of the challenges that they create.

What was very interesting for me is at the tail end of our meeting we had an opportunity to meet nationally with Deputy Ministers of Health and to talk about some of these issues, because of course they are issues that do cross over particular verticals within government and require horizontal management within government. There is a lot of work

[Page 25]

underway in this area. It's an area that involves Jim's division as well as the Environment folks, and it's going to be an increasingly strong area of focus going forward.

MR. CHAIRMAN: With the agreement of the committee, we will go to the second round now. I'm going to ask you to restrict your comments or questions to about eight minutes which will allow our witnesses a wrap-up, and we have a couple of items of business which shouldn't take any more than five minutes or so. The next eight minutes I'm going to assign to the honourable member for Halifax Fairview. Mr. Steele.

MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, first a comment before I get to questions. During the time that my colleagues on the committee were doing their questioning I had a chance to review the statistics cited by Mr. L'Esperance and Mr. LeBlanc. I have to say they do not support the proposition that workplaces in Nova Scotia are safer. They do not support that proposition. For example, the average injury rate cited by Mr. Dorsey, apart from the fact that there's no explanation of how he obtained those figures, the simple fact is that since the new Workers' Compensation Act came into effect, which severely restricted compensation for injured workers in Nova Scotia, there has been no change. The rate in 1996 is exactly the rate for the year 2000. So in the last five years, even if you accept that this is a legitimate way of measuring the safety of workplaces in Nova Scotia, which I do not accept, but even if you do, there has been not one iota of change in the last five years. That's my comment.

My question is related to the violence in the workplace regulations. A few years ago there was a fairly horrific murder at the Big Ben Convenience Store in the Sydney area. There was a woman on duty there who was relatively new to night time shift work, she was working alone and she was killed on the job. Then more recently there was the young man in Antigonish - same story, relatively new to shift work, working alone in a convenience store, he too was killed.

Meanwhile, the violence in the workplace regulations have been kicking around the Department of Environment and Labour for at least five years. Every time the topic comes up, the answer is not very satisfactory. But why are they stalled? Where are the violence in the workplace regulations and why are they not being implemented?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: The violence in the workplace regulations - the general, broad strokes of the regulations have been completed. They've gone through the minister's Advisory Committee on Occupational Health and Safety. They've come out of that with a recommendation, positive, and they're now with our Department of Justice for drafting instructions. On your broader point on the convenience store issue, that's an issue that's of concern to the department. We have put in place, in the interim, guidelines associated with ways to make not only convenience stores but places that are open at odd hours and where there may be a minimal number of employees available, and that information is on the department's home page and it's by way of a guideline on best practices around safety, security, those kinds of issues. This is progressing forward. The regulations as I understand

[Page 26]

them are fairly broad. Jim can give you quite a bit more detail on them if you wish the detail, but the process is moving forward.

MR. STEELE: That would be fine in the course of a normal regulation-making process. What sets these ones apart is that they've been in the system now for six years. At least there's been a draft regulation. When are we going to see them? When are we going to see those regulations? I understand there's a process, but when are we going to see them? It's been kicking around for six years. When are they going to come into force? What is your best estimate of when those regulations are going to be enacted?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: My best guesstimate of when the regulations are going to be enacted, well, Graham, that's very difficult to say. If I give you a date and the date is missed, then you will accuse me of having misled you. The bottom line is that they've gone through the various parts of the process. They are working their way to the end point. In the interim we've taken proactive and robust action on making sure that those areas that require attention immediately are dealt with. We expect the process to be completed within the next several months.

MR. STEELE: Another topic that the NDP caucus raised probably about three years ago now is health and safety in the offshore. We used as an illustration the case of another workplace fatality on a ship working in the offshore and how neither the provincial nor federal jurisdictions really took control of the issue. In fact, the best, saddest illustration of that was the story that we heard, on the helicopter that was going to go out to the ship to investigate there was actually a dispute among the officials of the various jurisdictions about who was going to sit in the helicopter. The helicopter sat on the ground because the various officials couldn't agree who should be in the helicopter to go out to investigate.

Now, here we are, 2002. If there were a workplace accident in the offshore today, is it crystal clear who's responsible to investigate and, if necessary, enforce compliance? Is it crystal clear to everybody involved?

MR. L'ESPERANCE: Let me begin by saying that there is no file that has received the kind of attention and vigour that this file has received within the department, both before I came and after I came to the department. The government of the day is absolutely focused on this issue and has been working vigorously to move it forward. It is progressing, actually, quite nicely. Graham, you would be well aware of the complexities of this in that there need to be legislative changes that are mirrored not only within this province but within Newfoundland and Labrador, and as well with the federal government. We're at the point, I believe, where the issue is being considered by the federal Cabinet.

We have our provincial position very clear. My sense is, and one can never be absolutely certain on these issues, that there is a common understanding amongst the three governments of what it is that needs to be done, how it needs to be structured, and what's the

[Page 27]

best path forward. I think we have agreement on the key issues to in fact move it forward. There will likely be a short consultation process with respect to the provisions that the legislation will provide for.

In the interim there is, and on the question of crystal clear, certainly clarity in terms of the interim management regime associated with offshore occupational health and safety with the regulatory bodies, the NSOPB, and with the department playing a facilitative and leadership role in terms of providing support to that advice and through one of our inspectors, actually, assistance in facilitating any concerns with respect to ongoing occupational health and safety. Is it to our satisfaction? Not entirely. It's the best approach that we've been able to put together under the circumstances and we are all working very hard to get to the point where there are appropriate legislative measures put in place.

[9:30 a.m.]

I had a report, incidentally, on my e-mail last night of the results of a meeting between the federal/provincial team, positive report on progress, so it is something we want to wrestle to the ground very shortly.

MR. CHAIRMAN: It's 9:31 a.m. The next eight minutes belong to the member of the Liberal caucus. Mr. MacKinnon.

MR. MACKINNON: What's the status of the mining regulations?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. LeBlanc.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: Currently, the mining regulations, we are in discussion with Justice in terms of completing the draft and there are a couple of policy issues that require clarification relative to some recommendations that have come forward from the industry and also that have been raised with government in terms of certification that need to be addressed.

MR. MACKINNON: We don't even have a draft set of mining regulations at this point.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: With the exception, I guess, of those two areas that still require some decisions and some policy direction. The substance of the regulation is complete, yes.

MR. MACKINNON: So what you are telling me, Mr. LeBlanc, is that currently we are operating with the old regulations which are about 30 years old. They are effectively obsolete.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: There are three Acts that we apply. The Coal Mines Regulation Act for that industry, the Metalliferous Mines and Quarries Regulation Act for that type of

[Page 28]

industry and overarching both of those is the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which is a much more current Statute.

MR. MACKINNON: Are the staff within your purview, your division, then given training for these new regulations?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: The underground mining engineer who basically would be the lead for underground mines, comes with a wealth of experience. That is the reason he is there. He actually has worked on the underground mining regulations so he is completely familiar with the content. The staff training side will sort of follow once we finalize the content of the regulations.

MR. MACKINNON: But the answer is no.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I wouldn't say that. We have trained the staff who have worked on the regulations, yes.

MR. MACKINNON: We have one.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: We haven't trained the staff who have not worked on the regulations.

MR. MACKINNON: Out of 30. Okay, now looking at this complement of 30, are they all presently working? Are any of them off due to sickness or vacations?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I believe we have one individual on leave. Just one.

MR. MACKINNON: Are there any off on sick leave, stress leave?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: Not that I can recall.

MR. MACKINNON: You don't have any inspectors on the South Shore, the Valley area, who are off?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: There's nothing that is coming to mind. The only individual who is on leave, I believe, is out of our Cape Breton office and it was a requested leave and it is coming due.

MR. MACKINNON: You don't have one out of your Halifax office who is off? First name Shelly?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: Oh, sorry, yes. She is not on sick leave. She is on secondment to the federal government.

[Page 29]

MR. MACKINNON: I see.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: She works for Health Canada.

MR. MACKINNON: But not for the department. Has anyone replaced her?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: We have hired some additional staff but we haven't replaced her position. We have actually taken the occupational hygienist, who serves another part of the province, into the Halifax region just because of the work demand.

MR. MACKINNON: How would you describe the morale within your division, Mr. LeBlanc?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: What we have done in the division is we have created a committee of front-line staff and basically they have an executive that meets on a quarterly basis. The management of the department has made a commitment to meet with the executive of the employee group quarterly. So there are feedback mechanisms within the division to identify the concerns and issues that staff would like to describe.

Referring back to the last morale survey that was done within the former Department of Labour, the sense of that report suggested that staff within divisions were reasonably comfortable with the support and direction available within the organization.

MR. MACKINNON: Has there been one done since the merger?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: No.

MR. MACKINNON: I will turn the rest of my time over to my colleague, the member for Cape Breton Nova.

MR. CHAIRMAN: You have about four minutes, Mr. MacEwan.

MR. MACEWAN: Mr. Chairman, that doesn't give me much time to get warmed up but I would like to say that I'm happy to be here this morning and I'm happy to see in our midst, Mr. Yuriy Kovbasiuk from Kiev and Mr. Petro Koshmaniuk. I didn't find out where he was from because you interrupted me at that point. (Laughter) Anyway, I'm glad to have them here this morning since they're seated down here on the floor as deputies, I welcome them to the Assembly.

As far as the Dorsey report goes - that's named for James and not for Tommy, Jimmy Dorsey - a large report, I forget how many pages it runs, it runs 390 pages. Now the government has responded to that so far with one press release. Would you care to indicate how many pages that press release might have been in length?

[Page 30]

MR. L'ESPERANCE: The government responded with more than a press release. There was a press release and there was a detailed summary that ran about six pages of the findings of the government review in response to the Dorsey report.

MR. MACEWAN: Well, I can't explore this issue here this morning. I found this meeting very educational because we're going to go back into session on November 1st, we're told and there will be a fall session, we're told. If there is, this will be a fine opportunity to put the government's feet to the fire to see what they have done.

It was the government who commissioned this committee and is therefore, I think, responsible for its contents to respond in some significant way, to 390 pages of recommendations. There must be some meat there in all of those pages worthy of some response other than what you indicated. But that's more of a political issue than a staff issue but I do thank you for your enlightening comments on the subject, indicating that there is much to explore there.

Mr. Chairman, I could also go into mining regulations, this is the Department of Environment and Labour that we're dealing with here this morning, so there's a wide range of concerns one could get into under the environment. I happen to represent the community of Sydney. I don't represent just Whitney Pier, that's a misnomer, I actually represent everything from New Waterford to Reserve Mines, like an L shape. But that does include the site of the Sydney Steel plant, the site of the former coke ovens operation where there's much cleanup work and remediation now underway.

The government is sitting on a fund, I believe, of some $325 million which carries forward from year to year for the remediation and site cleanup of Sydney Steel but doesn't spend. I guess that's now Neil balances his budget, but anyway.

Perhaps in the last moments of . . .

MR. CHAIRMAN: Forty seconds.

MR. MACEWAN: Could the deputy minister take 40 seconds to explain to us what plans he knows of that the government has to spend that $300-some million for the Sysco site cleanup?

[Page 31]

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I'm glad you asked that question, Mr. MacEwan, because I happen to think that this is - notwithstanding all of the challenges associated with this project - going to be, in 5 to 10 years, a benchmark initiative that others will make a pilgrimage to look at and to see the excellence that has been done there.

I had the opportunity in July to go down and I spent a Friday there with my staff in the Cape Breton office, they took me around on Friday afternoon. We went all through, I expect, much of your riding. I was over to Whitney Pier and I haven't spent a lot of time in Whitney Pier in my time, notwithstanding the fact that my wife is from Cape Breton. We had a great day, they took me all through the various sites. At that time they were taking down that great stack with that innovative technology that kind of chews it and (Interruptions) Yes.

As far as the plans go, as you know there is a separate corporate entity set up to coordinate government response. I think that's been a very effective tool to do this work. I was extremely impressed with the work that's underway, the nature of it, the sensitive way it's been done, taking into account the obvious concerns of the members of the community, well-founded concerns of the members of the community, and I think it's something that, as a province, will be a beacon of some considerable interest by other partners going forward.

MR. MACEWAN: I don't think Neil LeBlanc could have done a better job answering . . .

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for your intervention, Mr. MacEwan. You're always welcome at this committee, as you well know. I have the next eight minutes assigned to the government caucus. I'm under the impression that the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley is going to lead off.

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, earlier on when I asked Mr. L'Esperance about the potential impacts for air quality specialists, for example, relative to the Kyoto Protocol, jurisdictional and responsibility-type concerns, I was left with the impression that perhaps the division hasn't really had a whole lot of information and consequently is as uninformed as the rest of us Nova Scotians are. That aside, I also understand that there are still concerns regarding jurisdiction with the offshore oil and gas industry. I learned recently that a safety officer position that was advertised by the Canada-Nova Scotia board back in June has not yet been filled. I just learned that last week, in fact. I'm wondering whether or not maybe Mr. LeBlanc in his capacity has concerns or any intervention status regarding a position like that. Obviously it was advertised, there must be a void. I'm wondering, is it federal, provincial, who's encouraging the sector or the board to fill that position?

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I can address some of it. We're not involved in the day-to-day operation of the board, but I had seen the position advertised as well earlier this year. My understanding of the staffing of that position was the board preparing itself for increasing activity in the offshore off Nova Scotia. It isn't a question that they don't have the expertise

[Page 32]

in occupational health and safety to administer the program, they were looking at increasing that level of expertise. From the other perspective, we do have a memorandum of understanding with the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board on resources. We have two officers who are trained to administer our role, the oversight role for the offshore. We would certainly be prepared to assist them with resources if it actually came to a question that they felt they needed additional resources. My present understanding is that there are health and safety officials at the board, and this was a staffing increase based on an anticipation of increased activity.

MR. TAYLOR: Just by way of comment, Mr. Chairman, I guess I can take from that reply that the division, Occupational Health and Safety, doesn't then have any concerns regarding their ability, their capacity to comply and ensure that safety is being met based on the present activity in the offshore sector.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: I personally don't have any concerns, and we do communicate with the board in terms of the delivery of their program.

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. LeBlanc, Mr. Taylor.

The honourable member for Preston. David, I would remind you that you have to stand if you're in the back row.

MR. DAVID HENDSBEE: Mr. Chairman, with the limited time I have I will ask my questions first and get the answers second. One of the government's commitments in its blue book was restructuring the Occupational Health and Safety Division and the Workers' Compensation Board to operate under one board. Could you please tell us the current status of that? My second question would be in regard to the prosecutions table, Table 6. In the last year you had a total of 50 charges of which 25 were withdrawn. Can you tell me why there was a 50 per cent withdrawal rate in regard to the prosecutions? Also, could you tell me the status of the latest shift work appeal that is currently being undertaken?

[9:45 a.m.]

My last question is in regard to Tables 9, 10, 11, in regard to the various 18 industry sectors. There's a correlation of the top six, basically retail, construction, manufacturing and government services, and a combination of food and beverage. It's quite self-explanatory, the construction and manufacturing, but could you explain the type and nature of orders or injuries that may be related to the retail trade and government services that do not include Health and Social Services? Those are my questions.

[Page 33]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Hendsbee, leave it to you to get around the fact that I restrict the number of minutes. For the answers, I'm going to cut you off at 9:50 a.m., so I would remind you that at this stage - I'm cutting into it right now - you have just over four and a half minutes.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I'm going to answer a couple of those questions, Mr. Hendsbee, and I will get Jim to answer the other two. On the blue book issue, restructuring of Occupational Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation to bring them under one board, that really has been given effect as a result of the initiative set up by government to have a multi-stakeholder review committee established to look at the workers' compensation system. It came forward with the Dorsey report. The Dorsey report recommends a number of things, several of them have been taken up immediately by government and the others are under study by the board. The specific things that have been accepted immediately by government is, as we've discussed here this morning, the movement of the prevention and education division. It brings us much more in line with other jurisdictions and provides that opportunity to have a real impact on prevention with the workers' compensation program.

On the sleep maladaption syndrome issue, my understanding is that it's working its way through the appeal courts. I do not have specifics on the actual date. I know there are a number of groups who always line up on this one in respect to intervener status. It's one on which there's a watching brief because of the potential implications on a variety of fronts. That one is working its way through the system.

On the two questions around the prosecutions, the 50 per cent withdrawn, and the issue of the 18 industry sectors, I will turn it over to Jim.

MR. JIM LEBLANC: In relation to the prosecution information, basically when the officer lays charges, the Crown then takes control of the file in terms of its ultimate resolution. Very often during the process of the Crown's consideration of whether a trial is warranted or whether there's a negotiated settlement that can be reached, charges are withdrawn and there's a negotiation that goes on. Normally withdrawing charges is a function of the Crown negotiating a plea relative to a fine. I would point out, in terms of our activity relative to the prosecution, we've increased our success on prosecution, where we've taken those files forward from roughly around 50 per cent to about 80 per cent over the last five years.

You may have to clarify a bit the question on the tables. The tables, in terms of being structured into 18 industry sector groups, are based on the standard industry classification system that Stats Canada has provided. They have a four-digit code system that is based on the activity that an industry is in, that allows an individual to code a business as a certain type of activity. We've used that standard industry classification code system to look at where we're doing our inspections to develop some information around our programs and where they're at. If I haven't fully addressed that question, perhaps you could clarify it for me.

[Page 34]

MR. CHAIRMAN: My advice to Mr. Hendsbee is get up in the pecking order. Those are great questions but your time is up. At this stage I would call upon Mr. L'Esperance or Mr. LeBlanc to make a few wrap-up comments. We have a couple of items of business, so the floor is yours, witnesses.

MR. L'ESPERANCE: I do appreciate the opportunity, Mr. Chairman, to do that. I think it's been a quite useful and interesting discussion this morning. It's helpful for us to gauge where the concerns of members are in respect to some of the issues that we're dealing with. I think people recognize that these are very tough issues and that we're making good progress. I think the Auditor General's Report, in many ways has been instrumental, in focusing our attention, not only within occupational health and safety but more broadly - as a result of a very significant restructuring of the department - looking at ways that we can better improve our business process, the IT infrastructure that underpins that, our ability to provide good services to businesses and citizens in this province. I think all of this discussion helps inform that debate.

On behalf of the department and my colleague, Jim, I thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I thank you for being here. If we could take a quick recess as our witnesses leave and reconvene in two minutes.

[9:51 a.m. The committee recessed.]

[9:52 a.m. The committee reconvened]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, I would ask that we take conversations outside please at this stage. We have a couple of items of business for the committee. I'm going to ask the committee to reconvene so when our witnesses leave if we could have the Chamber back to order it would be appreciated. Again, I remind committee members that our visitors, Mr. Kovbasiuk and Mr. Koshmaniuk, will be here for a few moments afterwards. I encourage committee members in the middle of a busy day of commitments to take a few minutes to speak to our visitors.

Now I would ask Mr. MacEwan to take his seat again please and I know I'm going to be in his bad books for interrupting him. Thank you.

One quick announcement - not we, I didn't have a thing to do with it although as chairman I should be made aware of the fact - our clerk has compiled the report for the Carleton University professor and those are going to be circulated. So that's the regular members of the committee and the good work you did in our last session.

The item of business comes from Mr. DeWolfe.

[Page 35]

Mr. DeWolfe.

MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I've noted that the last agenda-setting meeting for this committee was June 5, 2002. In reviewing the Hansard of June 5th it doesn't appear that any clear direction was given to our clerk as to the scheduling of witnesses, what priority that scheduling should take. I feel it would be best, therefore, for this committee to meet as soon as possible, perhaps next week, Wednesday, October 9th, in place of the scheduled Pharmacare to discuss the agenda setting for the upcoming fall session of the Public Accounts Committee. At that time we could identify the scheduling of witnesses and add any witnesses as necessary, that may have arisen over the summer. I know our caucus has some input there and I'm sure some of the other caucuses do.

Certainly, I will give my arguments now as well because timing is important and it's best to have an agenda-setting meeting next week since our caucus will be away the following week, so there will be a delay of a week between the agenda setting and the witnesses, otherwise it's going to be way down the road. I know that next week our members have a commitment immediately following the meeting, there's just not going to be time. We're going to be very tight next meeting, removing ourselves from this Chamber. A separate meeting would allow more time for discussion of witness scheduling.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon. Sorry, I thought you got my attention there because you wished to speak. I'm going to recognize you anyway, Russell.

MR. MACKINNON: The only concern I have - and I mentioned this to Mr. DeWolfe off record - would be the fact that we've already made arrangements for Department of Health officials to come in. My understanding is that the June meeting was an agenda-setting meeting, and that's why, even though the Conservative caucus didn't want to go into June, towards the end of June there was a bit of a trade-off with the three caucuses. I believe that's why we had the agenda setting on June 5th, to allow some latitude for our clerk to be able to schedule those who could come on certain days. If we delay it next week, it will actually be three weeks before we even come back to have a witness here, unless the Conservative caucus is willing to double up somewhere along the way. I think we're just looking at delay tactics. Maybe I'm wrong.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Steele.

MR. STEELE: I would be very reluctant to bump next week's topic. As Mr. MacKinnon said, the purpose of the June meeting was to set the agenda for the early part of the fall so that we could really hit the ground running in the fall and not spin our wheels by starting the fall with more agenda-setting meetings. I don't know what Mr. DeWolfe is hearing on the doorsteps of his constituency, but I will tell you Pharmacare is an extremely important topic. I just think it would really be an inappropriate choice to bump such an important topic in order to decide what topics we want to discuss. I would really encourage

[Page 36]

the Conservative caucus to think, if nothing else, about the optics of bumping such an important topic in order to continue to spin our wheels. I really think we should go ahead with Pharmacare next week.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe.

MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, in response to that I'm not suggesting for a minute that we put it on the back burner. It is one of the topics that we have identified as a witness. The honourable member will have lots of time to deal with Pharmacare at the doorsteps over the next 12 months or so before the next election. I would suggest that all we did in the June meeting was deal with agenda items, not an order of priority. As far as I'm concerned as vice-chairman of this committee, it doesn't matter who has been booked or who hasn't been booked, we need an agenda-setting meeting for our fall schedule of events. (Interruptions) I will make that a motion.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe, I don't sense consensus here. I'm going to ask for a motion to that effect. I've been consulting with the clerk here for a moment, but before I recognize you, Mr. MacKinnon, I have to recognize the fact that, Mr. DeWolfe, you're making the motion that says . . .

MR. DEWOLFE: I move that we defer Pharmacare - it is one of our agenda items that we've identified - to a later date, so as to have an agenda-setting meeting to deal with the order of witnesses, the priority of witnesses I guess I would change that to, and adding any new witnesses as necessary that may have arisen over the summer months.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion has been put and we're now discussing the motion. Am I recognizing Mr. MacKinnon at this stage?

MR. MACKINNON: Obviously the government members have the numbers here and they can pretty well do what they want, they know that. I believe that if any of my colleagues who were at the June meeting will look, quite clearly that was an agenda-setting meeting. We left it to the clerk to be able to make arrangements and the batting order, upon the availability of various witnesses. She has gone through an extensive amount of work on that issue and the Department of Health officials are prepared to come next week, so that's about all I can say on that.

[10:00 a.m.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Steele.

MR. STEELE: One last thought, Mr. Chairman. Over the course of the summer Mr. DeWolfe, Mr. MacKinnon and I had the occasion to attend the conference of Public Accounts Committees in St. John's. One of the very important things that I learned there was I think

[Page 37]

we're the only jurisdiction in the country where the agenda of Public Accounts is set by vote. Even in the other provinces where the government members have a majority, it's done by consensus, usually by a subcommittee.

The government has a majority here and if they want to use their majority in order to not deal with an agreed-upon topic, in order that we can talk about topics that we want to talk about, they can do that. To me it is almost unbelievable that they would bump such an important topic to talk about what we're going to talk about.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I recognize the MLA for Preston. Mr. Hendsbee.

MR. HENDSBEE: Mr. Chairman, as our motion says, we're just asking for a deferral of this important topic because I believe we are also waiting for a very important report, the Romanow report, coming out in November. I think there might be some ramifications in that report about Medicare and in regard to Pharmacare. I think it would probably not be prudent of us to have a discussion about Pharmacare before that report comes down because it could have some significant impacts to those recommendations in that report about perhaps federal and provincial cost-sharing of Pharmacare, where it is not cost-shared at the present time. I, personally (Interruption)

MR. CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, Mr. Steele. Mr. Hendsbee has the floor, although I'm going to ask him to wrap up.

MR. HENDSBEE: Thank you. I would like to second the motion and call the question.

MR. CHAIRMAN: To our visitors here, this is what the Public Accounts Committee is really about. The question has been called and I am not going to ask for a recorded vote, I'm just going to ask for a verbal vote.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

Our next Wednesday meeting will be for agenda setting and will it be next door?

[Page 38]

MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator): Traditionally, agenda- setting sessions are next door in the Committees Office just because it is more convenient and a better atmosphere, committee members are closer. But it would certainly be up to the committee where they would like to hold it.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe that we have a consensus that we will meet in the Committees Office.

The committee now stands adjourned.

[The committee adjourned at 10:04 a.m]