MR. CHAIRMAN (Mr. James DeWolfe): I think we will call this meeting to order. The chairman has asked me to sit in so that he can assume his responsibilities on the side bench. The purpose of this meeting is agenda setting and perhaps organizing our thoughts for a priority list of the agenda items.
Now you have before you a list of all the past and held over items that are still on the agenda. Some of them you may want to scratch at this point because they are perhaps not in the forefront but we should review those first, I would think and just discuss what your pleasure is on those. On the first page you have the energy strategy/Petroleum Directorate. This is going back to March 6, 2002. Does anyone have any comments about that one? Is it an agenda item that you still want to deal with?
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Sure.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, agreed?
MR. MACKINNON: Is that agreed?
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Perhaps, Mr. Chairman, I could ask Mora to tell us, do you tentatively have anyone set up for the upcoming Wednesdays?
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator):I have taken the list over the summer and contacted people, research has been started on these and then as they get closer I firm up the dates of when they will be appearing so people know but that's not to say that they couldn't be juggled around. What usually happens is, depending on what their schedules are, that determines when they come but people have been contacted with the initial contacts once they have been approved in the items.
Just to say one thing about this list, I just went through all of the last two agenda-setting sessions and the comments on the side were the comments that came out of the meeting like put on the back burner or do in late spring. That was the feeling from the meeting itself. Those aren't my comments. I sort of explained that in the e-mail that I had sent to the caucuses. So I just basically went through the transcripts and picked out the items that we hadn't had as witnesses yet and just went through. They weren't in any order, just how they came up in the transcript.
MR. ESTABROOKS: If I may, Mr. Chairman. Who have you contacted?
MS. STEVENS: Pharmacare was next up. They were due in today. Then we were looking at the illegal trade of fish and then it was going to be transportation authorities. It was tentatively booked through the end of October, into November but now not only do we have the Tory caucus out of town next week, we have the Liberal caucus going out the following week. So our next meeting would be October 30th. I just put everything on hold as of last week until I found out what was going to be determined through this meeting.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is everyone in agreement that we should just review the list and see what we want to go with to get our new list in order so we only have one to work with?
We have the illegal fish trade. I think, Richard, you may have brought that up, if I recall correctly, that particular item.
MR. RICHARD HURLBURT: I don't think so. No, it wasn't me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does anyone have any comment on that one?
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, it certainly would be interesting to see the impact it would have the on the province's bottom line. If it's something that's been in the mix for a while and nobody has any objections, we may as well proceed.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: No objection from the Musquodoboit Valley folks, I'm sure.
MR. MACKINNON: So moved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Agreed? Agreed.
Department of Transportation, the relationship concerning the overseas role of transportation in Nova Scotia, interface between the federal Minister of Transport with regard to the airline services, licensing of carriers, Department of Transportation.
MR. MACKINNON: I believe that was a PC proposal from a previous day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Does everyone agree with that?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I'm in agreement with it but are we talking a priority list here or are we . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, we are just finding out if we are going to go through, if these are still current enough that you want to . . .
MR. ESTABROOKS: Okay, I understand. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If it's what everyone is agreeable to do. The Airport Authority, concerning privatization and relationship with Ottawa, CEOs of the Halifax International Airport, Sydney Airport Authority, Yarmouth Airport Authority.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that looks like a very interesting issue because they have been privatized for a few years now and it would be an opportunity to see what value for dollar we were receiving, particularly in some of the smaller rural communities.
MR. HURLBURT: You might not want to hear it.
MR. MACKINNON: That may go over your head, Richard.
MR. HURLBURT: No, it didn't go over the top. I caught a little bit of it.
MR. MACKINNON: You're flying low. To see how those particular operations are functioning.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Taylor.
MR. TAYLOR: I just would offer, Mr. Chairman, that at the Standing Committee on Economic Development we have had the various CEOs in and generally, without getting into detail, I guess the situation is such that the feds have divested themselves pretty well of all responsibility and the various CEOs bring us up to speed as to how the individual airports are
dealing with it and the concerns that they have but it was certainly enlightening when we met with them. They have been in, anyway.
MR. MACKINNON: So we will withdraw that Conservative proposal?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, we will withdraw. So that just includes the airport authorities. So then the air access, Department of Tourism and Culture, value for dollar in this market was another agenda item. What would your feeling be with regard to that?
MR. MACKINNON: It's up to the Conservative caucus because they are ones that proposed both of them. If we withdraw one, I guess we are withdrawing two.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is it something that we could deal with at the same meeting, have another witness, have two witnesses in at the same time? Is that a possibility, or would you rather see it split up?
MR. MACKINNON: It would be interesting to see the impact on tourism, in terms of the value for dollar, post-September 11th.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Then perhaps that would be a good idea.
MR. TAYLOR: Just a helpful suggestion, Mr. Chairman, if it didn't bother Mora too much, seeing as we're going through these, we're having difficulty discerning who might have put them forward, it may have come from the PC caucus as Russell has suggested . . .
MR. MACKINNON: It did. From your colleague.
MR. TAYLOR: Well, if it's colleague Hurlburt, then I'm just wondering if in the future we shouldn't indicate somewhere in brackets or parentheses, who put it forward and then we could find out why. We seem to be having difficulty understanding . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Well, no, actually we don't, because we did that before and we approved them three times.
MR. CHAIRMAN: These are all approved anyway.
MR. MACKINNON: The Conservative caucus decided at the last meeting to cancel them all.
MR. TAYLOR: Well, I misunderstood. I apologize, Mr. Chairman. I was just trying to be helpful.
MS. STEVENS: Sorry, I didn't realize I didn't put the original things on. I could have done that.
MR. JON CAREY: I'm just wondering, Mr. Chairman, if maybe on Transportation, we approved to have them come in, if maybe this couldn't be combined with this because there seems to be a connection. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Agreed. Then we have Pharmacare, Department of Health. I assume that everyone agrees that's an agenda item. I think that goes without saying, would you all agree? Agreed.
The Nova Scotia Sport and Recreation Commission, the capital contributions to facilities. It's just something that I think was brought up - I recall that being brought up, Mr. MacKinnon - by Barry Barnet. The discussion was, and I think Mora is quite right, that it's just on there, to just keep it in mind. That's all it was. It's not really one that we approved, but we didn't disapprove of it either.
MS. STEVENS: There was a general discussion and people nodded in agreement, but they said to just keep it in mind if you need an agenda item.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We can put that at the bottom of the list somewhere, then, if you're in agreement.
MS. STEVENS: I would never bring them forward unless I had talked to the committee. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: On the next page we have the Agriculture Development Institute, concerning privatization, restructuring functions and value for dollar. That is an agenda item that's coming before the Resources Committee this fall.
MR. MACKINNON: Which one is that again?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Agriculture Development Institute, concerning privatization, restructuring functions and value for dollar.
MR. MACKINNON: Perhaps we should deal with that at the Economic Development Committee before we bring it here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Resources already has it coming up on their agenda We can see how that goes and then leave it for consideration later on.
MR. MACKINNON: Sure.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Special education policy and funding, Department of Education.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, for value for dollar, I would say that this would be an issue of consequence, particularly when it comes to the policies of mainstreaming children in school classes. It's a topic that I think would be worthy of a look.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any other comments on that particular agenda item?
MR. TAYLOR: I would comment to you, Mr. Chairman, that with special education, that whole issue, I don't know if the honourable member is going to speak to inclusion or whatnot, but it's still pretty topical out there in many of the schools. I don't know who you foresee as a potential witness there.
MS. STEVENS: The department - the deputy minister.
MR. TAYLOR: The minister probably won't be coming in unless you try to. (Interruptions) Mr. Chairman, I think we would like to know who might be requested to come in, who would be appropriate to speak to that.
MR. ESTABROOKS: If I may, I'm not specifically saying, of course, that we should be dealing with the minister on issues such as this, but I know there are people within the department who have the specific responsibilities for the inclusion policy. Of course the bottom line is the dollars involved. I would leave that to Mora, if the committee thinks it's suitable. I don't have anybody in mind, to answer your question, Brooke.
MR. TAYLOR: The reason I raised that was last night at the Halifax Regional Council one of their agenda items was special education and supplementary funding. They're trying to make some type of distinction about monies that they put in the various units.
MR. ESTABROOKS: You weren't watching that on TV, Brooke?
MR. TAYLOR: Unfortunately I was in the audience, in the gallery. (Interruption)
It's an issue that certainly needs some attention brought to it. I was just curious as to who you might have had in line for a witness. Anyway, that's my two cents' worth. I support it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It seems that everyone is in support of that.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Property assessment, taxation and equalization, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
MR. MACKINNON: I don't know who put it on the list, but it would seem to me that it would be an interesting one anyway, particularly down through Lunenburg and that area, where there was a lot of concern about high assessments and the impact on the province, revenues. I have no problems with it. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other comments on that agenda item?
MR. MACKINNON: That's fine.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Our caucus certainly would support this as a topic.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed?
MR. MACKINNON: Is that a yes from the PC caucus? There's absolute silence over there. Is it a yes or no?
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, moving along here, we're hitting and missing items, and on top of this memo we have past agenda-setting sessions. As a substitute member, I had asked earlier on if we had some idea or if we could have some idea who submitted these suggestions. Were they approved in principle earlier on?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, these are all approved. We're just reviewing them to see if they're still current.
MR. TAYLOR: Sure, if they're approved, then obviously the intent must have been to bring them in.
MR. CHAIRMAN: This is our fourth agenda-setting meeting this year. (Interruptions) Eventually we will get the agenda-setting session right.
MR. TAYLOR: I apologize, Mr. Chairman. (Interruptions)
MR. MACKINNON: Somebody in the Premier's office is not quite satisfied.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We're just doing a quick review to see if they're still current. (Interruptions) We've already scratched one or two. So it's still a current issue that you want to deal with, is that my understanding? Okay.
Debt and credit rating, Department of Finance. We will just move right along here. Agreed.
Initiatives for access to justice, restorative justice, reduced recidivism, and working in the community, access to alternatives, Department of Justice.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Taylor, did you put that on? No, you're just a sit-in member. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Use as a fill-in, so I guess that one will move to the back of the pile. (Interruptions)
MS. STEVENS: That's what it was when it was originally approved on the 5th, you said to use that just as a fill-in.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Strait Regional School Board. Are we ever going to get that thing finalized with the RCMP? Does anyone know the status of that at this point?
MR. TAYLOR: Let's bring in Jack Sullivan.
MS. STEVENS: They've released little bits of the report and, as they come out, we're gathering them, but that's all that we know. Nothing has been put forth by the RCMP as of yet. That's the status that I have. Other members might have something further.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It's still on our agenda. It will probably move right to the top of the list whenever the opportunity comes up.
MR. MACKINNON: This agenda we've just approved, Mr. Chairman, is this the PC caucus' final offer?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have some more items here to . . .
MR. MACKINNON: This is the fourth time this year that we've set this agenda.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have some new items, and I don't know whether the other caucuses do at this point. You will see this combined list that we've put together and you will see the items in bold. The ones in bold, we're going back to the air access, regional airports and facilities, and we're looking at the Department of Economic Development and the Halifax Metro Chamber of Commerce. That is in conjunction with the air access that we've already discussed, the air access and the Department of Transportation relationship.
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Do you want approval or . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: We're looking at air transportation as a topic.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, fine.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It just gives us something more to work with there. Agreed? The other one is Registry 2000, new land registry, witness Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, you may be aware I'm quite familiar with that process from my background. I think there are too many current issues there. We would be talking more about contemporary and futuristic, rather than on the issues of past expenditure but then again, if it is the wish of the committee, I mean we could certainly look at the value for dollar. It's really not a past expenditure. I receive monthly updates on this issue because of my professional background and I would say it's a rather unusual form of osmosis that is taking place, let's put it that way. We are moving from a land registry system into a potential land title system and I think we would be doing more with those details than we would on finance.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Any other comments on that particular agenda item?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Russell, are you telling me it's too complex for this committee?
MR. MACKINNON: Not at all. You're not dealing with value for dollar as you were with other aspects. It's something that has been addressed during the budgetary process. If there was some focus in terms of value for dollar, I could certainly support it but I mean there are so many aspects to it that are not financially related.
I'm not sure if people follow what I'm saying in terms of land titles versus land registry. Presently in Nova Scotia with the system we have, there is no requirement by law to register your deeds, or wills, or anything. The only purpose of the land registry system is to give public notice and whoever gives public notice first ensures their position in the pecking order, so to speak, seniority of deeds. Whereas land titles, there's a requirement by law that you record your deeds and with that there's a certain quality assurance and title and the insurance system that is proposed to go with that to guarantee title, it's a government insurance plan that goes with that. That essentially is the essence of it.
So we're going through the process right now of going from a land registry system to a land title system. That was one of the primary reasons for proceeding with the LRIS, the establishment of LRIS, which is now LMIS. Before it was Land Registration and Information Service and now it's Land Mapping and Information Service because it changed who accepted the responsibility. That was originally established by the Council of Maritime Premiers and it was to map every square inch of every province and every piece of property would have a PID, parcel identification designation. It was essentially not only for identification purposes but also for taxation purposes and anything that couldn't be identified and a particular individual or entity's name would go before a public tax sale eventually.
Some systems have advanced quite rapidly and some haven't; for example, HRM and CBRM are more advanced than some of the smaller municipalities. That went through a long detailed process. It took about 10 years for that mapping process to be completed because of funding problems.
MR. CHAIRMAN: This is the 1:10,000 Mapping Series?
MR. MACKINNON: The 1:10,000, the 1:5,000, the 1:2,000, as you know, Mr. Chairman, from your background as well. That has been completed so now they're moving into the next phase. The only difficulty with this Registry 2000 is that the land titles aspect, the guaranteed title, is not insured in this process. There are still certain elements within the system that are still kicking and screaming toward the altar and there are financial implications.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I was wondering is the witness taking questions this morning? (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is an interesting subject, Mr. MacKinnon, but it may be for another time and another committee.
MR. MACKINNON: I would certainly enjoy it but I don't think it would . . .
MR. TAYLOR: This one probably would fall in that same category, Mr. Chairman, would it not? (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think yes, we scratch in the Registry 2000 at this time. Civic addressing project using satellite tracking and GPS, and Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. Mr. MacKinnon, you probably have a comment on that one as well?
MR. MACKINNON: Well, this is the third time around the block for this particular issue as you know, Mr. Chairman. First it was handed out to the municipalities and the province did it and now it's back to the municipalities in conjunction with the province on the 911 system. Perhaps I'm wondering if maybe that should be for another committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Do you want to refer it to another committee, Mr. MacKinnon?
MR. MACKINNON: Resources, I would think.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Do you want to refer that to the Resources Committee?
MR. TAYLOR: I just have a question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Taylor.
MR. TAYLOR: Russell, on the satellite tracking and the GPS, on the civic number, didn't the municipalities carry out, in a lot of cases in co-operation with the fire departments, the civic addressing of every property within their jurisdiction? So you are saying there's something additional now?
MR. MACKINNON: What happened was the first time it was commissioned to the municipalities, they did it themselves, then the province supposedly did it. The third time around the block it was the province in concert with the municipalities who, in turn, tied it into the fire departments because of the new 911 system that came in. I think it's like trial and error, they finally got it right and I believe it's working quite good. Unfortunately it cost a lot of money to get to that but that's yesterday's battle.
MR. TAYLOR: Where is the GPS employed?
MR. MACKINNON: The global positioning? Essentially, as you know, GPS, for those who aren't familiar, they are now installing them in automobiles so that no matter where you are, anywhere on this planet, they will be able to track you down within one meter.
MR. HURLBURT: Controlled by the Americans. (Interruptions)
MR. MACKINNON: Well, the Americans have a large say in that. Your GPS, as you know, Mr. Chairman, it is a question of how fine you would like to tune your digital coordinates, your xyz coordinates, which means horizontal and vertical coordinates. That's why, during the Gulf War - if we could digress for a second - the Americans could zero in on a particular window or door in somebody's home and deliver a missile right to a particular room in that building with absolute precision. That's how precise it is. With this civic addressing and so on, essentially, in a less complicated fashion, that's the format that we're following with the 911 system.
MR. CHAIRMAN: This is an interesting breakfast speaker, but we don't have any breakfast. (Laughter) I suggested that muffins should be available for these early morning meetings. I will bring in my GPS for the next meeting. I guess we're not going to include that one. Everyone agrees on that.
MS. STEVENS: Are we forwarding that to somebody else?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon didn't refer it, he just made a comment that perhaps another committee should look at it.
The Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, agency stores, witnesses, Department of Tourism and Culture. Agreed. This is our submission.
The Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, witness, Department of Health, representatives from the foundation. Is that an agenda item you would like to pursue? (Interruptions)
Do the other caucuses have any further agenda items they would like to put on the table for consideration?
MR. MACEWAN: That's quite a battery that's already been adopted.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Or would you like to call another agenda-setting session for the PCs? (Laughter)
MR. MACKINNON: Is this your final offer, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hearing none, I'm sure that as time . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, just for clarification, I think part of the rationale for having this agenda-setting meeting today was that we didn't have clarity on our priority process.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That's right. That's our next . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Issue on the agenda?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will have that at our next agenda meeting. Mr. MacKinnon, I'm only kidding. We're going to deal with that right now. I'm sure other agenda items will come up as time goes by. Now we have our list finalized for the moment, and we will consider a priority list.
MR. MACEWAN: Mr. Chairman, like Brooke, I'm a substitute member here, I'm the honourable Don Downe. So I will put on my gown and be Downe. I don't know how often you meet. I guess that's one big part of the picture. Unless one or two or three of these items have been targeted as priorities, I would think that it's more or less the job of the chairman to get groups lined up and ready, to get dates and to set it up, rather than the committee as a whole.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think it's important that the committee discuss priorities and work co-operatively to that end. (Interruption) Yes, indeed. Thank you, Paul, for your comments. We will certainly take that under consideration. Mr. Taylor, did you have some thoughts . . .
MR. TAYLOR: I was just thinking, when Paul was raising that concern, that on the Standing Committee on Economic Development we prioritize our witness list collectively. I'm not saying this committee should emulate that committee, but it seems to work well. You're not caught somewhat surprised or flatfooted. The chairman can speak for himself and it is a different committee, but I think it's important that all members work together. I think that goes on here for the most part. You have a list that everybody agrees on. Is it a given now that it's at the beck and call of the chairman, or are you not now going to discuss your priorities as a group? I don't know. I'm just asking a question, Mr. Chairman.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, it's a good point, but generally what we do is ask the clerk to try to get hold of the different witnesses to find out what their schedule is, because perhaps one week they can come if we schedule them and maybe they can't. So then we go on to the next. It's good to have a sense of what the priority is, but there's no hard and fast rule. Our caucus is fairly easy on that. They're all good potential witnesses and the fact that we put them on is an indication that we're going to hear from them sooner or later.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, if I could, you do leave enough latitude that if something is timely and a consensus is reached, you can sort of rework your priorities a little bit. Is that the way it works?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We are fortunate to have the chairman sitting here. Perhaps the chairman would like to comment on this topic. Mr. Estabrooks.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I'm not setting up the deputy chairman by being here today. Aside from the fact that I've heard Mr. MacKinnon's comments about the number of agenda-setting sessions - the first time I mentioned that, Richard - I think basically how it has to work is I have my priorities and I've brought them forward to my caucus. I'm sitting here today saying to you that there are a couple of topics I would like to see done before Christmas, but when I'm the chairman it's a different situation because then I'm at the wish or the whim - if we want to put it that way - of the committee. I think we can decide - aside from the fact of the example I used - we've had Pharmacare ready to go. So out of courtesy to that group and the fact that they're prepared - and this is the other thing too, and I know you and your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor - and our people have some work to do too because they have to put things together, they have those excellent booklets which we have the opportunity to view in advance.
I'm saying that before Christmas, if you're asking me as a member of the NDP caucus if there are some priority items, I would relish the opportunity. Although I usually haven't
been in the situation where I ask questions from the chair, I don't think it's appropriate to do that. I will take my seat and have Mr. DeWolfe sit in when that happens. I would suggest that we definitely have Pharmacare as a priority and that we have the special education issue as a priority. There are other topics that are very attractive. I understand where Russell MacKinnon's coming from. Those would be my priorities, and I'm speaking as a member of the caucus, not as the chairman.
MR. TAYLOR: That brings me to another question. I understand this committee meets on a weekly basis, does it not? I'm just throwing it out there. Has it ever been discussed that perhaps the committee would meet twice a month or something like that? (Interruptions) I just asked the question, I didn't mean to set off . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps we could have two agenda-setting meetings a year rather than four. I think that is a good point, Mr. Taylor. I know that in other provinces they have varying numbers of meetings. Some meet only during a House sitting, as a matter of fact. We have among the highest number of meetings of any province in Canada. That is a consideration. I know some members have to travel a great distance to come to these meetings, and it may be something that could be considered at another time, perhaps when the chairman is in his seat. Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: If I could add to that, my experience, as limited as it may be, is that the metro members are the ones who have had the greatest difficulty attending these meetings not those who travel the furthest distances. Public record will show that by their comments before this committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That's a very good point.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, to piggyback on that, I think, irrespective of where you live in the province, you're expected to attend your standing committee meetings. My concern was primarily about the agenda, the issues, the topics and the value, quite frankly, of holding a meeting because it's been a tradition and a practice to meet every week. That's fine and dandy if you have issues that are priorities and priorities of Nova Scotians. Why do you want to meet every Wednesday, once a week because that's what the committee did or has done?
When you go through the list, quite frankly (Interruptions) Mr. Chairman, if I might, if you do give the list careful examination, a lot of these issues have certainly been well discussed and some of them are not relevant now. They're agreed to, sure, we bring them in. I'm just wondering, what is the objective? If you met four times to set a witness list, obviously there must be some difficulty ascertaining the priorities.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, on the first point, in terms of meeting every week, I think if the member for the beautiful Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley would review
Hansard, the public record will show that this is a rather unique committee in the sense that we have briefing sessions with the Auditor General, unlike any other provincial jurisdiction in Canada, to prepare individual members for questioning and to enlighten members as much as possible on the financial implications of the topic about to come before the committee. That's something that was established under the very capable chairmanship of the former member for Queens, the honourable Minister of Environment and a number of other portfolios, John Leefe, now Mayor of Queens. The subcommittee and eventually the committee agreed with that. There's a great deal of thought process put into that.
In terms of questioning the witness list, we can only respond to the fact that as an Opposition, we considered these witnesses on three previous occasions and it was a motion by a member of the Conservative caucus that decided to review it once again. We've come back and we've put the same witness list in again. The wisdom on this side of the floor has been that we think they're good potential witnesses and we're willing to proceed. Perhaps, maybe, some internal reflection may be an issue to be considered.
MR. TAYLOR: I might just quickly add I don't think there's too much need for internal reflection. The fact of the matter is the Legislature is required by law to sit twice a year now, and that wasn't always the case. There's lots of opportunity for the Opposition to raise questions in a timely manner. I'm certainly, like I said, just substituting this morning but I feel, from having served on this committee and a few other committees and have had the opportunity to be around a little while, that a lot of topics and a lot of witnesses who come forward at the Public Accounts Committee meetings may not be, in the minds of Nova Scotians, as appropriate, perhaps, as some committee members feel they are.
I'm just thinking that if we can do something to, not lessen the workload but, give MLAs an opportunity, when you're talking about attendance and transportation and things of that nature, which isn't the primary concern, to direct their resources at other issues that they feel are more important, i.e. their constituency, then I just feel it would be a responsible thing to do. However, I think it's an opportunity to suggest that, and that's an expression I felt I had to bring forward.
MR. MACKINNON: I would suggest that this is perhaps the most important committee in the House of Assembly next to the Law Amendments Committee. It's perhaps one of the most productive committees. I don't mean any disrespect to any other committee, but because we're dealing with value for dollar, I think every member of this committee, regardless of political Party, has seen, participated, given considerable input and would agree that there are significant accomplishments for all Nova Scotians. We've seen the issue of universities, the fact that concerns were raised about the federal government not putting enough money in for the infrastructure, and doing the value for dollar on how the provincial
government allocates its funding, and the issue, vis-á-vis, student loans and grants, and the Millennium Project. That's just one, and that took a considerable amount of time and energy.
I think to try to diminish the operations of this committee in any way is a very regressive step. It may serve the value and the opportunity, politically, in one perspective, today, and I'm not suggesting that's the motive behind the honourable member's thought processes, but on balance the table turns pretty quickly. I think if we go back and look at the activities of the subcommittee, with myself, the honourable John Leefe and Robert Chisholm, when we brought that before the committee, all these issues were thoroughly vetted. It's in the best interest of all Nova Scotians to protect this institution as it's functioning now. It's looked at as being a model of Public Accounts Committees not just across Canada, but now they're looking in the United States at the way we function. Even yesterday, as we met with representatives from Great Britain, they gave consideration to how well we're functioning. (Interruptions)
MR. TAYLOR: I'm sure they would be impressed with us this morning, it was very timely and topical.
MR. MACKINNON: Absolutely. As much as the Opposition may be a little cynical about the fact that this is the fourth agenda-setting session, that's part of the process for this year.
MR. CHAIRMAN: This year's not over yet. (Laughter) Mr. MacKinnon, is there anything else you can bring to light on this?
MR. MACKINNON: Seriously, Mr. Chairman, be as it may, on balance, that's what the democratic process is all about. I think it's a good, fair process. We may complain about the fact that it's the fourth agenda setting, but it's working well. The fact that it has only been in operation for perhaps four or five years, to start kind of putting gag orders on it, I think, is absolutely a shame.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. I think it's time we brought this (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon, I think this is a topic for perhaps another time.
MR. TAYLOR: Another meeting.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Another meeting. Could we pick a few priorities that we could give direction to our staff here to try to come up with? Out of the mix now, we have identified the items that we want to run with that are still topical and current. Would we like to pick four or five priorities for Mora to contact?
MR. MACKINNON: I think we already agreed on Pharmacare, didn't we?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Pharmacare is on the list. (Interruptions)
MR. ESTABROOKS: Special education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Special education. Policy and funding? What about . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Is that three now, Mr. Chairman, policy and funding?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, that's all in one. What about the whole issue of air transportation? I think that's a good topic. We're still paying a great deal of money to travel to Sydney and so on in this province.
MR. MACEWAN: I can't afford it, I have to drive.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I can understand that. I think that would be interesting, in my mind.
MS. STEVENS: May I ask for more clarification? Since we've taken out bringing in the CEOs of the airport, so that would now be the Department of Transportation, as well as the air access through Tourism and then was added in the Department of Economic Development and the Halifax Metro Chamber of Commerce, and it says at the end of the list here, perhaps over several weeks. So that would be a two-tier type of meeting with Transportation, and Tourism and then following that, Economic Development and the Metro Chamber of Commerce, is that the idea of the committee?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mora. Does anyone want to comment on that? I know the Metro Chamber of Commerce made a comment about air transportation yesterday, during the State of the Province Address.
MR. TAYLOR: I know according to newspaper reports the federal Liberal caucus is apparently lobbying the federal Minister of Transport, Mr. Collenette, to remove that $24 fee for . . .
MR. KERRY MORASH: Are you suggesting they be witnesses?
MR. TAYLOR: We could bring in Geoff Regan or something. (Laughter) No, air access is a big problem, I don't know who the witness would be but all levels of government now are . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: We can try it and see where it goes and if we decide we want another meeting on that topic, it may grow out of that one. Would you agree?
MR. HURLBURT: What are we going to accomplish with the chamber of commerce? It should be the federal Department of Transport here.
MS. STEVENS: They won't come.
MR. TAYLOR: We tried before and they wouldn't come.
MR. HURLBURT: So what are you going to do, sit here and listen to the chamber of commerce tell you what you already know?
MR. TAYLOR: That's about it and cry with them.
MR. HURLBURT: Icelandair is not here because of the federal regulations.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I agree with Mr. Hurlburt. We are going to have - not to get off on a shotgun analogy, and I have my shotgun registered incidentally. The point that Mr. Hurlburt brought up is that we are giving direction to Mora to look at potential witnesses, we can't have everyone from the chamber, to department officials, to federal people. I recall one of the more unfortunate meetings we had during my time as chairman, when we had seven witnesses in the Legislature one day and it was just chaos, to be truthful. The more successful witness sessions that we've had, you had two people at most, three if necessary but we certainly don't need the great plethora, if that's the appropriate term, of witnesses here. Let's specifically give some direction to Mora so that we know if this is a relevant topic, who are we going after and if they can't come or won't come, I guess we won't get into that. I just don't see the chamber of commerce in the mix to be truthful.
MR. MACEWAN: We could call Vince MacLean, chairman of the Sydney Airport Authority, I know he's dead against this fee and will give you a long lecture on the subject. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are we giving some clear direction here to the clerk?
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I agree with the member for Yarmouth. As you recall last year when we invited the Halifax Port Authority representatives here, the chairman of the board, I think it was, he didn't even have the decency to show up. He left his CEO standing unannounced in the lobby of the Legislature waiting for him. We held up the committee meeting for 15 minutes or so waiting for him to show. It was shameful, really.
I mean that's the type of contempt sometimes the federal agencies show for our provincial agency. I agree with the member for Yarmouth, we can invite them and if they don't acknowledge they are going to show, or at least give us the courtesy of a response, then why bother.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed we will try to pursue that then?
MR. MACKINNON: If we get something in writing that they're going to show.
MR. HURLBURT: What are we after here? Are we after the fees or are we after transportation links between Transportation Canada? What are we after here?
MR. CHAIRMAN: That's up to the committee.
MR. HURLBURT: Are you looking at the security fees they are imposing on passengers now? Are you looking at new carriers coming into our country and our province?
MR. MACKINNON: The impact on the economy, yes.
MR. HURLBURT: That's the problem. We have a carrier right now that wants to come to Yarmouth but they cannot make it financially just coming to Yarmouth, they want to go to other destinations in Atlantic Canada. With the regulations by the federal government they are not allowed to. At their point of entry they have to depart from there. So, what are we talking about here, are we talking about fees or are we talking about services?
MR. TAYLOR: I think perhaps if I could, Mr. Chairman, you would need, I'm not saying a series of meetings, but you would certainly need more than one meeting. When we're talking about value for dollar - and the member for Cape Breton West uses that terminology quite frequently, with justification I believe - I think you would find it very topical. The member for Cape Breton Nova just mentioned he can't afford to fly back and forth anymore. It's extremely expensive and everyone around this table knows that but I wonder if we could explore in a productive-type manner . . .
MR. MACEWAN: I could fly cheaper to London, England than I can to Sydney.
MR. TAYLOR: Well there's something wrong if you can do that and I'm wondering who the appropriate witness would be, just in that sense, Richard.
MR. HURLBURT: Then that's your carrier, the fees are by your carriers. They are not by the chamber of commerce, they're by the carriers.
MR. TAYLOR: Well, I didn't suggest the chamber come in, I'm just saying if we want to get to the crux of the matter on fees, let's bring in somebody if they will come.
MR. HURLBURT: At least you have a carrier in Sydney, we no longer have one in Yarmouth.
MR. TAYLOR: Then if you want to talk about air access in Yarmouth, for example, we will have to have another meeting. You can't do everything in one . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is everyone agreed that we try to bring in someone in to discuss the fees?
MR. MACKINNON: Like the federal agency, you know.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will see where it goes from there and . . .
MR. MACKINNON: See if they'll come, great, if not, well, let's move on. Is that agreeable?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Estabrooks, do you agree with that?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Agreed, yes.
MS. STEVENS: So the federal Department of Transport?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MS. STEVENS: And they're located in, I do believe, Moncton, New Brunswick. We have tried to get them in before for other committees and they have said no but I will certainly call.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any other suggestion for our immediate priority list? What about the agency stores, Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation?
MR. MACEWAN: If you want to add that on as another item, sure.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I would certainly concur with the fact that I think it would be interesting to see how the agency stores have done thus far and if there are appropriate people to respond to some of our questions. It would be a good topic, considering how the tourist season went.
MS. STEVENS: That might be something the AG could also brief us on because he has done audits of the liquor commission. I'm not sure when the last one was but that would be a briefable one.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any other topics, gentlemen, that stand out, that you would like to give the clerk some direction on?
MR. MACKINNON: There is one and I'm not sure if it goes to value for dollar or not but it's something I think we should keep an eye on and that's Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. As we noticed last week, there was a senior official or an employee from the department that was dismissed or at least charged for manipulating registry documents -
perhaps there were two employees. Ironically - and I've seen a memo to the effect - there have been some rather questionable activities going on within that department. I don't have it here and I will give the undertaking to the committee that I will provide it, that dovetails on to that.
Then the day before yesterday, when I was renewing my automobile insurance and checking the profile of our driving records in my family, we found that there was a rather significant error in one of the documents that could have created one of my family members problems if they were stopped on the highway, indicating that they didn't have a driver's license. This particular member of my family does have a driver's license, in fact I have a copy of the latest document saying that it is good until the year 2006. I'm starting to become a little perplexed as to what is going on over there.
As we recall, we did have a representative from Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations before the Public Accounts Committee, who gave an undertaking to provide some documentation on a number of recommendations for improvements in that department. Then we were gagged from that information, eventually. I'm not sure if it's an issue for the Public Accounts Committee, but it would seem to me that there is a problem in that department, whether that's an issue of value for dollar, I think perhaps because licensing fees and the revenues and so on and so forth, I thought I should flag that with members of the committee because you read, see and hear, sometimes, but when it strikes home it's a different situation. I was really taken aback, because . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon, it sounds like it's an error in the data entry in that case.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, it could very well be, but it would create considerable problems. I have seen the experience where a gentleman could have lost his license for two years because of that type of error. If it wasn't for somebody in the insurance industry who went to bat for him by digging up old records, that particular gentleman would have been adversely affected. That would have had an impact on his ability to drive to work every day, to work to feed his family. I think each and every member knows the implications. I'm flagging it now because I think it's something - whether it's something we should direct on to the minister or the Auditor General - that we should keep in the back of our basket for a future date.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We can give that consideration another day. Out of the list that we have, I guess that's what we're talking about right now.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I certainly would like to recommend that we have somebody in from Agriculture and Fisheries on that particular topic of the illegal trade
of fish. We hear about all of these ongoing horror stories - I hear them - at the end of the government wharf. I don't know who to direct it to, Mora. I think this is a topic that we should have a good look at. I would just suggest it. I don't even know where we are with the priority list.
I come back to this topic - it was earlier said, when Mr. MacKinnon brought it up - of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. His example is one that is noteworthy and very personal but I also think we should not forget the property assessment issue. It has sort of been put aside. Again, I'm in a situation where I'm speaking for my caucus but also, on this occasion, for myself, particularly when it comes to the illegal fishing. Let's give Mora some specific direction here, folks.
MR. CHAIRMAN: With regard to Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, the property assessment taxation and equalization, who would you like to have in from that department?
MR. MACKINNON: I would imagine, Mr. Chairman, the director from that division.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, if you wish, I can direct Mora to a couple of specific names, but I'm sure that within the department, having met on occasion with people in the department, they, as Mr. MacKinnon suggested, have specific people within that division of the department. Again, as a minister, he's aware of that more than I.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Morash.
MR. ESTABROOKS: More than I ever will be, too, I read your mind.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Morash, you have the floor.
MR. MORASH: On the topic of the illegal fisheries, I'm just wondering what provincial responsibilities Fisheries and Agriculture have for that. (Interruptions)
MR. MACKINNON: It's a revenue issue.
MR. MORASH: They are responsible for licensing, I know, onshore, but this activity is taking place offshore. I'm certainly interested in the topic, and I would like to hear someone speak on it so I would have a better understanding. I'm just trying to get clear, provincially, where our responsibilities are, I guess, in preparation for the witness.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The province is responsible upon receipt of the catch.
MR. ESTABROOKS: If it does land.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And if it doesn't land here and it goes elsewhere, then it's a loss to the province.
MR. MORASH: But the enforcement for the illegal fishing is a federal responsibility,
is that correct?
MR. CHAIRMAN: It's correct.
MR. MORASH: That's more or less what I was trying to find out.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess the question comes up, is this a topic that we should pursue?
MR. MACKINNON: I think so for a couple of reasons, Mr. Chairman. Not that I have any specific motive or intent, but from a revenue point of view (Interruptions) I'm personally wounded every time you speak like that. (Interruptions) It's a revenue issue, and I think we all recognize that. It impacts on the province's bottom line, and the Minister of Finance has indicated that on a number of occasions, on this issue.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mora, do you have enough to work with for the fall agenda?
MS. STEVENS: I do. I have Pharmacare; special education from the Department of Education; air access, to work on getting the federal agency in; Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation and their agencies; illegal trade of fish; and Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, the property assessment tax and equalization.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Gentlemen, would you agree that that gives enough direction to the clerk to continue on? Unless anyone has any other comment, then I suggest that we adjourn. (Interruptions)
MR. MORASH: Those are all of equal priority, and we will get whoever we can get.
MS. STEVENS: What will probably happen with air access is it will take longer to even contact them and all that, so that will sort of go a little later but the contacts will certainly be made today. Now I have the Pharmacare packages basically ready to go. They were willing to come in this week, so that would probably be my next call, to say does this date work. Then I would just go down through that list.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I would suggest that we should look forward to October 30th, if everything is according to Hoyle, Pharmacare will appear at that time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Or an alternative, whatever she can come up with. It's in your good hands, Mora.
MR. MACEWAN: The next meeting would be October 30th?
MR. CHAIRMAN: October 30th for our next meeting.
MR. MACEWAN: So are we going to meet at 8:00 a.m. on October 30th?
MS. STEVENS: Yes, it's always 8:00 a.m.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We're prepared to entertain a motion to adjourn.
MR. MACKINNON: So moved.
[The committee adjourned at 9:09 a.m.]