STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Mr. Howard Epstein
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, we do have a quorum now. We would like to start today's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. You will recall that we set as our agenda today, two aspects of determining our own procedure for the immediate future of the undertakings of the committee. I believe we agreed we would deal with this in two parts. First, we would turn our minds to how matters stand with respect to our investigation of matters having to do with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation and after that we would deal with other matters.
If we may turn first to questions having to do with gaming, I believe that we have roughly three areas that we might discuss. In saying that, of course, I am not meaning to preclude any others that anyone else might think relevant. What I am trying to do is direct our thinking a little bit. The three areas that seem to me to require at least some formal attention from the committee would be first, whether there is any interest in hearing from any other witnesses; second, whether there are any documents we feel we still want to obtain; and third, whether we wish to turn our minds to writing a report as a result of the hearings we have had. That seems to me roughly the nature of the points that we have to discuss. Of course, if there are any others, I would be happy to hear from them. With those few introductory remarks, I will invite comments. Mr. Dexter.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Well, with respect to any documents, I think the instruction from this committee in the past has been that if it came to our attention that there were documents which had not been released, then the chairman was able to request that those documents be released. At this point, I couldn't pinpoint whether or not there are additional pieces of information out there, that I am aware of. So, if in the course of preparing materials something came up, then I guess what I would see the individual committee members doing is requesting that you request them from the Gaming Corporation.
I know that the Gaming Corporation has also said that if there was anything else to be released, they would want to meet with us before that. I would suggest that that is, again, a role that the chairman of the committee can fill. If the Gaming Corporation has a concern about the release of some document, then they could meet with the committee chairman and it could be discussed with him. That is my thought on that. Literally, I haven't sat down and mapped that out in any way other than just what makes sense.
With respect to the issuance of a report, I have done a fair amount of thinking about that and I guess the way I see it going is like this, I would think that the individual caucuses would want to bring together the information that they have first and then, from there, I would suggest that there would be an informal meeting of the representatives of each of the caucus groups with that information to see if it were possible to work out areas of agreement. If there are areas of agreement, then that could be brought together in the form of a report and there might be lists of either recommendations, there might be areas of disagreement, and all of that could be noted in a report form.
If there is no possibility of agreement on any of what we have heard, then I would suggest that, at the very least, each one of the caucuses ought to put together their view of what happened and the information we received which then could be incorporated perhaps with a covering note and issued under a form of report. In any event, I think there ought to be some closure to this whole issue, some summation of what we have heard.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just to go back to your point on obtaining documentary materials, there has been at least some mild sensitivity expressed by some members of the committee about the chairman of the committee entering into agreements or acting on behalf of the committee without close reportage back to the other members. In deference to those sentiments that have been expressed from time to time here, I would like to say that if the procedure you suggest is adopted, it would be my intention to circulate immediately to all members of the committee, details of any actions that I propose to take so that all members of the committee would know what was going on. Of course, that would give everyone an opportunity to make suggestions if they thought anything was not being done in a way that they thought it ought to be pursued. In any event, that is a footnote and it is very contingent on what the committee decides to do today. I had Mr. LeBlanc down next for comments.
MR. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I was listening to what Mr. Dexter was saying, that he wants to have the caucus generate reports and bring it to the Public Accounts Committee and so forth. As much as I appreciate that he is just trying to make the best case in his mind, when I hear that, it kind of concerns me because it gets to be - this is a committee and as much as we don't always agree in this committee, it is a committee. It isn't three caucuses. If we start taking that attitude, we will never get a report that anyone will agree on. I tend to think that, although his intentions are in line, the approach is wrong in a sense that we are starting this that we are going to have an NDP report and then we will have PC report and we will have a Liberal report. That was never my intention, when we brought this thing to a head that that is the way we should go.
Now I don't have a legal background, as Mr. Dexter, and when I hear the comments, and I am not trying to be out of order here, I have the sense that you want to prepare a court presentation as to what the evidence was and a submission. Whether that is the role of the committee or whether that was ever the role of the Public Accounts Committee to go in that direction, that is the kind of question that I am putting on the table as to whether we should. So for us, if we are going to have a report from this committee, I would rather have it done as a group and then go from there. I am just making that point. When I heard that, that has never been my envisionment of what a committee is supposed to work like and maybe Mr. Dexter can come back and clarify that a little bit more. I guess, in a sense, I am just trying to get a feel for where we are going.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Could I just seek some clarification from you about your comments? I take it you are raising the initial threshold question of whether members of the committee are even interested in seeing a report issued as a result of the hearings we have had or is it beyond that?
MR. LEBLANC: Well, I am going by Mr. Dexter's comments because basically, if you listen, and maybe Darrell can come back and clarify that but what I heard is that the caucus wants to prepare a report and then from there see whether or not it agrees with the other reports or the other caucuses and whether we have a consensus. Maybe you can clarify it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Dexter.
MR. DEXTER: No, not exactly. I was just suggesting that the easiest way for us to bring our materials together was if we did it individually by caucus first and then got together informally instead of this. This is not a working setting for purposes of preparing a report. Then we could, after having brought materials together among the caucuses, come together and see if there was some possibility of agreement.
I have to say, having sat through all of the evidence that has been presented here, I think something as simple as trying to come to an agreement on what the facts are is going to be a substantial hurdle because, let's face it, the fundamental part of this is that the facts are an issue; what happened and when it happened may be very much the contentious part of trying to sort through all of this; who do you believe and why?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fage.
MR. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I do believe the committee should strongly consider that we put together a report, but the report should be under the auspices of the committee and the chairman. I would be greatly disturbed if all the facts, witnesses and presentations were not now in the hands of the committee, but in the individual caucuses. I thought that was what the process we went through here was, by calling witnesses, by requesting documents, that everybody has the information now. If we don't, then the committee process is quite seriously flawed I would say.
I think that generation of the report should be a collective effort as all of the reports I have seen generated in my short time on the Public Accounts Committee over the last two sessions, rather than individual caucuses. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fraser.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: Mr. Chairman, it is going to be a difficult task to write a report without a conclusion. If we are going to write a report, we are going to write what people said. So, we can draw a line down the centre of a page and say, Mr. Fiske said this, this and this and witnesses said this, this and this, and let's let the public decide because that is, in fact, what we have to do. I don't think we can draw a conclusion whether people were untruthful coming to the committee, or we didn't ask the right questions to get the right answers. I think it is for the public to decide, in the end, who is right and who is wrong in this. The evidence that was presented to us was different points of view from how people saw things happening and unfolding as time went on over a period of a couple of years.
I think we will not have problems, as a committee, writing down what we were told. The problems are going to come if we are going to have to strike a conclusion, as a judge would, and I do not think that is the right of our committee. I think we can put down the facts, present a report to the public and say, this is what we were told, and move on to something else.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess there are at least two kinds of conclusions. One, of course, would be conclusions that might attempt to reconcile the different factual accounts that we heard, but another notion of conclusions would be whether there are any lessons to be drawn or any recommendations the committee might make. I take it your comments address the first problem.
MR. LEBLANC: The other thing that concerns me, Mr. Chairman, is that we have had how many meetings now - I am sure you have a better handle on it than I do - 12, 13?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Fourteen.
MR. LEBLANC: Fourteen, good, I am losing count. The witnesses have come forward and there has been testimony that has been made to this committee, some of which is directly contradictory to one another and upon subsequent reflection, we have realized that this has been said and that did not agree with this. Is it this committee's role to do that? There are other things on the agenda too that I want to do. I am not a legal authority for dissecting information and going through it. So, it comes in as to what the role of the committee is.
There are some other witnesses; we talked about NSRL, we talked about QE II. It is very strange in making this conversation. Before the committee started, we were talking about the time being spent on workers' compensation which has been a huge task, and the amount of time that the members have had to put into it, and then we talked about the Community Services Committee which has been another huge task in itself.
It comes down to, is the committee going to spend a lot of its time trying to dissect this information and do it, or are we going to put time into getting more witnesses before this committee that has just been sort of precluded because of the activities. That is the major question that we have to ask ourselves. We have to say how are we going to proceed with this, how much time and effort are the committees going to be putting in to making the report and does that preclude us from having other witnesses come forward? I am putting that on the table because I think we should really address it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is a very good point. Mr. Dexter.
MR. DEXTER: I guess we all have our own approach as to how this stuff happens but I mean certainly for my part, when the information came forward, I inventoried it, I referenced it, I extracted the stuff that I wanted and I did it on a meeting-by-meeting basis and I have that information which I can now refer to. In fact, as I was saying yesterday to somebody, when I have nothing to do on a Friday or Saturday night, just for a good time, what I do is I sit down and I go through this stuff and I start putting it together. I don't mean to make light of this.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I don't think we have to confess how bleak our personal lives are here this morning.
MR. DEXTER: My point is that there are two distinct parts of this. Part of it is extracting the information that we have and although I agree that there are parts of the facts, as they are presented, that could be contentious, there are, in fact, a great number of things that were said and presented which are undeniable facts that just exist and that Parties agree on. The first problem that I had in trying to address the material is to try and sift out those facts which we have received from all the Parties on which there should be general agreement. Then there is a second part here of the facts which may be an issue, that is fair ball. The third thing here is whether or not we come to a conclusion.
I have to say, I would be loath to go down the road of trying to assess individual credibility issues. I think there are some obvious credibility issues but it is a difficult road to go down and whether the committee wants to do that or no is an open question. It doesn't stop us or preclude us from coming to at least identifying what we see as problems and perhaps coming up with recommendations at the conclusion of the report which we could say to the Legislature, we carried out this examination; these are the facts that we agree on, these are the facts that are an issue, these are the problems that we have identified and here are the recommendations that we want to make. That, to me, seems to be a common sense approach about how this committee can wrap up its work and present something of value to the Legislature and to the public at large.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fraser and Ms. Godin.
MR. FRASER: Mr. Chairman, it is too bad Mr. Dexter doesn't have another life. No matter how many times you go through this, it is hard to keep up the witch hunt when it is difficult to find things. I agree with Mr. LeBlanc. I think it is time that other issues are brought to the public. I think the media are to be credited for bringing a week-by-week, play-by-play of information that was presented here and it would be nice to tidy it up into a report where it could stand the test of time, I guess, and sit on shelves where people could refer to it as need required. I think the public would like information and like us to spend our time on more pertinent things that are before us on a daily basis. I would like to bring closure to it and I would like to move on to something else. I think the public interest is out there in hearing other things and doing an in-depth study and report and questioning of other issues that are important as well besides the Gaming Corporation.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Godin.
MS. ROSEMARY GODIN: Yes, sorry I was late for the committee, Mr. Chairman. It has probably all been said that there are reams of information and facts that came before us and some of that information and some of what was said was contradictory. I am pretty positive that we are not in a position to say who was right and who was wrong. However, this is the Public Accounts Committee and I would not feel comfortable unless we do come up with some kind of recommendations out of what we heard and I would hope that there would be recommendations and I would prefer to put the emphasis on recommendations than to
spend a lot of time coming out with a very lengthy or comprehensive report. I think we owe it to the public to come up with recommendations.
MR. LEBLANC: I think Rosemary has brought up a very good point, as to what we could do as a committee that would be constructive. I appreciate where Mr. Dexter is coming from, spending his Friday and Saturday nights sitting down and chronologizing the information and making reference and that brings up his keen, analytical, legal mind that perhaps some of us aren't so fortunate to have.
In all seriousness, if anything can come out of this, it is to say that the situation occurred - and we have differences of opinion with the government as to whether this was appropriate or inappropriate or whatever and we can sit here and debate that all day and I am sure they will debate until they are blue in face or red in the face, whichever colour it is, but if we could come up - and make suggestions as to how the Gaming Corporation and how Cabinet should deal with any agency, whether it be this agency, or perhaps some other agency that they supposedly deal with at arm's length and come up with some suggestions as to how to clarify the roles of ministers, clarify the roles of Premiers, how they deal with it, how their staff would deal with; if we did that, then we could come across from this session and say that we did something positive. The other side if it, the information that is there, analyzing it and trying to prove who told the truth and who didn't tell the truth is a long process that I don't think is for the members of this committee to do.
I go back to Mr. Dexter, perhaps he has some training in that field and that is fortunate for him but for most other members of this committee, we don't have the expertise to do that. So my inclination, and I will leave it to the committee to debate, if we could come across along the lines of what Ms. Godin is saying, and say that we had some recommendations to ensure that this can't occur again - or shouldn't occur again because there is no perfect world or perfect rules, there is always something perhaps you forgot - then at least we would have accomplished something that would be, in my opinion, beneficial. At least it would prove that the work was worthwhile.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fage.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I agree with Ms. Godin and with Mr. LeBlanc in their view that a list of recommendations or suggestions on procedure and conduct regarding the dealing of corporations or Crown Corporations, ministers and the Premier would be the most appropriate route. I want to remind the members of the committee, deciding right or wrong in the context of this country is generally for a judge or a jury or a more legal body than we are. Going to a committee to try to agree on writing a report, voting whether somebody is right or wrong, hardly seems fitting for the members of this Legislature or proper for this committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good point. I have Mr. Samson and then Mr. Dexter.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I, too, want to echo my support for Mr. LeBlanc's proposal of having some recommendations. I think the overall concern that we must all have here, as elected officials and as representatives of the province, is to keep in mind the fact that there is pending legal action on this issue. I think we would all be foolish if we didn't realize that a great portion of our 14 meetings that we have had in this Chamber will be used as part of the evidence and testimony given as part of that lawsuit.
Right from the start, as far as I was concerned, we were being used as a preliminary inquiry and if one looks at how info was released to us from every side - I am not going to point fingers but the way it was released from each side - it was done one step at a time with one build-up coming up. If we look at each Party, you can see that in the history, that after each testimony, we would see information that hadn't been released before that. I don't know if I would want to say we have been used as pawns, but in the end, as far as I am concerned, there was an abuse of process here in how this committee operated in light of the fact that there was pending legal action on this issue.
I think for us to reach any conclusions would be doing a disservice to our legal system here in the province, it would be doing a disservice to the people we represent. In the end, it will be up to a judge to decide Mr. Fiske's claims, where it appropriately should be decided. I do believe that it would be helpful for the committee to look at government's role in this issue, how it interacted, how the procedures took place.
How we are going to do it, I am not quite sure, but if the committee can sit down and put forward some concrete recommendations as to how the relationship should be, as Mr. LeBlanc said, without reaching conclusions, but reviewing some of the testimony and just saying that concerns were raised as to some of the relationships or some of the roles played, and then as a result of that make recommendations. I think that would be more than adequate.
For us to reach conclusions or to say that based on these allegations we have decided that this person was right, this person was wrong, we certainly should not be getting into that. It is not the forum for it. It was not our intention in meeting on this issue. Our intention was to look at the allegations, to look at the government's role, and in the end to make recommendations on what we have heard. By all means, again, I would support Mr. LeBlanc's position as to putting forth recommendations. I am interested in hearing some suggestions as to how we get there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is a good cautionary observation.
MR. DEXTER: Well, as usual, Mr. Samson takes a view that must be from the moon because it makes no sense whatsoever. The powers of discovery in a lawsuit are far more investigatory than what we have done in this forum. Mr. Fiske can call all of those people,
have them in and go into much greater detail than we did or had the time to do, and in a much more organized fashion than this. This silly notion of some kind of a preliminary inquiry is well-pickled tripe, as far as I am concerned. It really bugs the living daylights out of me that you have a guy who comes to this committee and consistently tries to tear down the work of the committee that we are doing, the work that we do on behalf of the people of Nova Scotia. I am really tired of it.
How it is that you can come to a committee and have a Premier come as a witness and tell the committee that although there were at least three meetings held on an issue like this, and yet not one shred of evidence exists in the provincial bureaucracy around those meetings. There is not a piece of paper, not a minute, not a recommendation, not a briefing note - nothing - and we say we shouldn't draw a conclusion from that? We should make a recommendation. What is a recommendation, Mr. Chairman? The Premier should keep a file? Come on. We should draw a conclusion when we see that kind of evidence come forward because that is ridiculous. That is a load of bunk. We do have a certain responsibility to do a little bit of analysis on this.
If you are going to make recommendations, you also have a responsibility to set out at least the context in which those recommendations are made. You cannot just come in here and say, poor overworked MLAs; our job is just to make a few recommendations; I am not a legal scholar, so I cannot make these kinds of recommendations, when every single day we are dealing with the legislation of the province. Come on, it is just not realistic. There is a job here to be done. We have carried our way through this process. Let's bring it to a conclusion. That is all I am asking for.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. LeBlanc again, and then unless there are other pressing observations, I might try to sum up what I have heard from members of the committee.
MR. LEBLANC: I am listening to what Darrell is saying and in a sense he is agreeing with what we are saying. He is saying that there are many things that took place, and the fact of the matter is, even if there were meetings that took place and there were no records being kept, then that is something that is inappropriate. That is the type of thing, and I agree with you in a sense. There should never be meetings taking place with the Premier and other groups and, supposedly, research done on a file as to whether it was right or wrong, whereby when we ask for records whether they were there or were not. Those are things that we hopefully could incorporate into some recommendations that are here.
I guess in a sense, to try to wrap up the conversation, the only problem, and I will stress it again, is whether we have the expertise to do the other side of it. I think we have at least the expertise on the side of making recommendations to try to make sure that the Premier's Office is accountable for this type of transaction and other types of transactions, and then also how the Gaming Corporation should be dealt with.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Samson.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, it goes back to my initial argument. What Mr. Dexter has just said in regard to the Premier's Office is basically that he wants the committee to come to the conclusion that there was either intent, willful negligence or something of that nature in regard to not keeping records.
What he wants to do is for this committee to come forward with legal arguments and to make legal conclusions, which I think is completely inappropriate. I think in no way, shape or form does it consider the fact that there is a pending lawsuit here. Mr. Fiske is suing the province in order to get money from the province. That is the final analysis of it, the people of Nova Scotia are being sued. What Mr. Dexter wants to do is to give him evidence to go to court with to say yes, the Public Accounts Committee agrees with you Mr. Fiske, you were wronged and here we are going to outline where you were wronged and where we saw the wrongful things and that we are agreeing with you on with these allegations. Now that is my concern, Mr. Chairman.
I think there is a place to make the recommendations and if Mr. Dexter wants to go back to his constituents and stand proud and say, we met 14 times on the casino thing and I am proud of the fact that we spent 14 meetings doing it in light of the QE II, the Y2K bug and other issues around us, then he can do so. I know I certainly won't go back to the people of Richmond and stand proud of what has happened here.
In the end it goes back to the fact that there is a pending lawsuit and we cannot forget that. We must be responsible here, the media has been asking, what about the fact there is a pressing lawsuit? People know there is a lawsuit out there and for us to make conclusions even in any way that are close to legal conclusions, you know that will be part of the case put forward by Mr. Fiske. Naturally, that is just going to be a natural reaction from him and that is why I am very concerned we are coming to make these legal conclusions on this case.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think that some of the points you make, particularly the admonition to be aware that there is a lawsuit is appropriate. The further observation that suggested that even if this committee were to come to a conclusion and a written report that took a view of credibility, the suggestion that that would be admissible evidence in a lawsuit, I think, is mistaken. Mr. Dexter.
MR. DEXTER: I just want to make this point, there are different standards from a lawsuit that is applied in the court of public opinion, completely different standards. What we are doing is pulling together information that is to be disseminated, as Mr. Samson has said and as Mr. LeBlanc has said, so that the people of Nova Scotia might feel informed on the subject, I guess that is the first thing. The second thing is Mr. Samson and members of that caucus were very critical of condemning a budget before it was seen and yet Mr. Samson feels free to condemn my opinion and the work that I might do on this report before it has ever
been done. He assumes that I will simply accept blindly everything Mr. Fiske has said and condemn all other information and that is not the case, so I resent that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I wonder at this point if we are not generating a little more heat than light. Let me see if I can sum up what it is that I think I have heard the committee say. So far, I believe there seems to be general agreement that a report would be a desirable step to take. Given the amount of the time and the seriousness of the allegations and the extensive investigation that we have made, that it would be appropriate in fulfilling our duties to attempt as a committee to come forward with a report dealing with what we have heard. The second point I have heard is that at the same time we do have other potential pressing matters coming up that we, as a Public Accounts Committee, have to deal with. It was the hope of some members of the committee that the process of generating a report would not itself be so time consuming that it would interfere with our ability to do effective work on other fronts.
I have also heard from members of the committee this morning that it would be desirable for a report to attempt to come forward in a form that would be comprehensive narrative of what we have heard, that would attempt to draw out public policy issues that have emerged from the evidence that we have heard. Also, we should do our best to try to reconcile the evidence but at the same time recognize that there may well be points on which the evidence is irreconcilable and that we should be particularly careful when it comes to questions of trying deal with individual credibility, that this just may be problematic. I am talking that there is at least some desire of some members to clarify that last point and after I am finished summing up, maybe I will open that up again.
I gather it would be desirable to work toward a consensus document. I gather as well that committee members feel that if there are conclusions, that they may well be in terms of lessons that might be drawn on the specifics of interactions between the Cabinet or the Premier's Office and entities like the Gaming Corporation, and that that might well be the focus of any conclusions.
I think two other points were at least discussed in passing. One was the observation as to how we deal with documents. I take it that unless I hear differently, that the question of getting additional documents would probably only arise if in the course of writing the report, we found we were missing some documents. I would undertake to consult with all members of the committee about an appropriate procedure at that point.
I think that is what I have heard now. Mr. Fage, was there something I said that made you uncomfortable?
MR. FAGE: Yes. My understanding of what Ms. Godin put forward and that the majority of us agreed to was that we weren't doing a report, that we were putting forward a list of recommendations. Mr. Chairman, I move that we put forward a list of recommendations so that this does not happen again, and that is where we can achieve some
consensus, that is where we can sift through the material that is put in front of us, and when that is all distilled, this committee will report a list of recommendations to the House - which this committee is, a committee of the House - on what procedures should be changed so that the minutes, whether it is the example that Mr. Dexter had, that there was no minutes of the meeting, that those should be kept, all those types of things.
That was my interpretation of the discussion we had, not a report that sifts through the evidence and that we spend a lot of paper and time on, trying to come to an agreement and decide who is right and wrong. That is not what we agreed to. In my estimation, we were agreeing to a list of recommendations of how this, what is perceived to have happened, could not happen again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. LEBLANC: I am agreeing with Mr. Fage. Maybe you could just clarify for the committee's sake, what your recollection was again, because what I am understanding from what you are saying is that the report would encompass the different testimony, it would incorporate getting into the analytical thing. That wasn't what I picked up from what Ms. Godin said. I won't clarify it, she can speak for herself.
The fact of the matter is whether or not we were talking about how we could make recommendations, but not get into the different testimony, about trying to clarify who said what, and whose testimony could be corroborated, because that gets into a field that I don't think that this committee itself has the expertise to do.
I have been clear about this. I have said this before, and I am saying it again today. I don't think that that is where this Public Accounts Committee should be headed. I think we should be headed toward making some concrete recommendations to make sure that this event doesn't happen again, and the role of the Executive Council in dealing with agencies outside, like Crown Corporations or these types of agencies which are supposedly at arm's length. That is what I was suggesting, and maybe other members of the committee can do it. I think that we have to make sure that we all understand, if we make a motion, that we understand what we are voting for so that there isn't any ambiguity to it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure. That is why I tried to sum up. I think it certainly is a starting point. I think there is agreement that any report would include recommendations. I see that as universal throughout the committee, certainly we would work towards that. Where we seem to be focused at the moment is whether a report in its format would include what Mr. Dexter described as a narrative that gave a context to the conclusions.
It is not clear to me whether those comments that I have just heard from Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Fage would object to that, or whether they would object to that only if it got into too much detail that tried to sort out, as I think they just said, the details of differences.
MR. FAGE: The motion that I put forward was to list the recommendations as a report, not that we are going to do a report. We are going to come up with a list of recommendations and that will be the summation of the work, so that we can recommend to the House ways to hopefully stop or perceive . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Your motion is that the report be recommendations not a narrative.
MR. FAGE: Exactly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay.
MR. FAGE: And there seems to be some misinterpretation with your interpretation of what I have said each time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. You have clarified it very clearly. Now, Ms. Godin, and then I have Mr. Samson.
MS. GODIN: Mr. Chairman, I feel so uncharacteristically middle of the road at this point. When I had spoken before, I certainly do support seeing recommendations, however, I think Mr. Dexter said something that made a very good point earlier, that those recommendations cannot be made in isolation, and that there would have to be some form of report that goes with those recommendations.
Having just come through the WCB committee and going through the WCB report experience, I would just caution against trying to come up with a report that was too comprehensive and too full of detail. We do have a lot of other things on our plate, a lot of other things to tackle. I would certainly like to see those recommendations with, perhaps, an abbreviated type of report.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Samson and Mr. Dexter.
MR. SAMSON: I think, myself and Mr. Fraser being fellow members on the Workers' Compensation Committee, we can certainly support Ms. Godin's concerns on writing the report. It is quite difficult, workers' compensation certainly is not the contentious issue that we have before us here today, yet it still provides difficulty to find a report which highlights all the concerns.
Just in summing up, and summing up some of the recommendations we would be looking for, I think one area which we haven't touched on, but I think most certainly needs clarification is the role of the chairman of the Gaming Corporation or the chairperson of the Gaming Corporation. I think in that light, not as a personal attack but I don't think that role was clearly defined, and as a result there were more people getting involved in this situation
than should have gotten involved. I think we should certainly turn our minds to maybe trying to clarify that role as to who they should report to and who they should be limited to report to, and their role in relation to reporting back to the board.
On the other issue, I think what Mr. Fage and Mr. LeBlanc have said, I think if we can sit here and say what recommendations we want to bring forward, I think it will be a process that we can much easier reach agreement on recommendations. If those recommendations are going to be followed by a report which highlights the situations behind these recommendations, that is where you get into contentious issues where, naturally, there was disagreement when that evidence was presented, there will certainly be disagreement now.
I think we would certainly be willing to seriously consider the idea of putting forward a list of recommendations based on what we have heard, without having to get into a lengthy or a contentious report on each of those recommendations.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Dexter.
MR. DEXTER: Well, I am disturbed that having gone through all of this, that the one thing that we are going to chuck out of this process is analysis. That is what I am hearing from Mr. Fage. I am sure the members of the government caucus will support that, I have no doubt. If that is where we are at, if there is not going to be any analysis offered of the evidence that has been tendered before this committee, then it seems to be that the next most logical position that we take is that, if you are going to make recommendations, you at least start with a statement of what the agreed-upon facts are, what issues have arisen out of those facts, and then what the recommendations are, so you are not just issuing a piece of paper with a list of recommendations without context.
If the committee, if Mr. Fage, wants to go down the road of recommendations, then at the very least there should be the two other sections, which would be a brief statement of facts and a list of the public policy issues that have arisen out of those facts that give rise to the recommendations.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fage and Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. FAGE: As Mr. Dexter knows, every statement that was made during the 14 meetings is a public document. So they are all on record now.
The actual recommendations are the distillation of the facts. That is what you would move forward and that is the summation of what we would come up with. Obviously, as Mr. Dexter said, the abbreviated explanations would normally go with the facts anyway. One would assume that. I guess most people would anyway. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. LEBLANC: I will say this, Mr. Chairman, we should try to bring this to a head because we have members who sit on workers' compensation. The only reservation that I have is that I am listening to what Mr. Dexter is saying and I have a strong inclination that it is a way of starting to bring the committee to where he wanted to go in the first place. So when I say that, and I am imputing perhaps some motive there and I apologize if I am incorrect, for ourselves, when we make the report, that I think that when we make a recommendation from here, we should have an understanding where we are going. If it is to make specific recommendations and basically try to contain the report, that this does not become a three month exercise, or something like that, then that is what we should be doing because I said before what my points are and I am not going to go over it again.
I think that the motion should be to make recommendations and then from there if the committee, once it sits there, wanted to change its mandate, if it goes there and is a majority in that committee and its work would want to change it and maybe add a few comments to it, to making context, that is something but I want to know exactly what we are voting on today so that we do not start a process that is supposed to take two or three meetings to get accomplished which end up being 15 or 20 meetings and on and on.
I think, today, we decide what we want to do and then from there, if the committee would want to change its focus to even extend it a little bit, I could live with that overall but, today, we are making motions on recommendations that we are going to do and I think that is the one that we should vote on. I can appreciate everyone's comments here today and I think a lot of them are valid but let's vote on something that we know exactly what it is and so that there are no misconceptions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am reminding members of the committee that a number have to leave but I have got Mr. Fage and I think Mr. Fraser.
MR. FAGE: I just wanted to remind the chairman that I have put the motion and the motion is very direct. The motion is that it will be recommendations that we would put forward.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, I understand. Mr. Fraser.
MR. FRASER: Mr. Chairman, I will second that motion and in doing that, in a second I will ask for the question, but in practical terms who is going to write these recommendations? Are we going to have some staff involved to come up with a draft that we can discuss or how do we proceed from here? I do not want to make it a long expensive process but we need someone of a fourth party, I guess, since we have got three here who may not agree and would like to see some draft come forward. If we can answer that, I would ask for the question and then we can move on.
MR. LEBLANC: I will make a suggestion that one member from each caucus would meet to bring up some recommendations and upon the completion of the report would come to the full committee and vote on it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think, in fact, Mr. LeBlanc's suggestion has been the usual practice of many committees in the past, that that is exactly the way it has operated, and it sounds as if that would be appropriate. All right, I think we have had a good thrash through on most of these points. At the moment the motion that is in front of us is that really the main thrust of the report be in terms of recommendations. (Interruptions)
The motion was that the report take the form of recommendations. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Good, that direction is taken and I would ask the three Parties to appoint a representative so that we can go forward with this. Thank you very much.
The second aspect of the procedural matters to be dealt with today is how the committee wishes to proceed in terms of other subjects that we want to turn to, including a timetable. You will recall that as early as September 22nd I circulated a notice to the committee listing a number of possible topics that we might investigate. I will just refresh your memories.
One was the QE II situation, including hospital funding, a suggestion which has been reinforced by a letter circulated to members of the committee by Mr. LeBlanc; P3 schools construction was on the list although, of course, in the meantime we have looked at the O'Connell Drive lease; Y2K preparedness; Nova Scotia Resources Limited and you will recall that the clerk of the committee has had at least some contact with the possible witness about that. Next was a proposal from the Nova Scotia Department of Finance to come to us about revisions to their accounting methods. Originally they had thought that they might come and be prepared to do this by the end of October but I gather they have now indicated that they may well not be ready to do this until early in the new year.
Sable gas benefits was on the list, although to a certain extent that will be related perhaps to Nova Scotia Resources Limited or could be combined with it. The operation of the Freedom of Information Office was on the list. The Public Service Superannuation Plan and other government pension plans was on the list although, of course, in the meantime we have dealt with legislation in the House that has at least had some effect on this. The Resource Recovery Fund was on the list, but in the meantime, of course, we have had a
session on the Resource Recovery Fund. I think I have heard suggestions as well - Ms. Godin, did you have a suggestion? It had to do with housing, is that right?
MS. GODIN: Yes, Mr. Chairman, thank you. I had also suggested that perhaps Residential Tenancies Board be put on the list.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I did not remember it exactly. The Residential Tenancies Board was another possibility. Mr. Fage.
MR. FAGE: I would like to see the Nova Scotia Gaming Commission added to that list as well, certainly in relationship to . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: This would be the Alcohol and Gaming Authority?
MR. FAGE: Yes, the Nova Scotia Gaming Commission, in relationship to our participation in Atlantic Lottery and what is the best deal for Nova Scotia.
MR. DEXTER: Do you mean the Alcohol and Gaming Authority or the Gaming Corporation?
MR. FAGE: The chairman is Elwin MacNeil.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is the Alcohol and Gaming Authority. I think we can sort out the details of their lines of authority. Is there a particular focus to that? It is the Atlantic Lottery part that you were concerned about? All right.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, could you inform us as to what discussions have taken place on NSRL so that just before we have some discussions as to whom we want to choose, we could perhaps be better informed.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will do that in just a moment. I wonder if Ms. Godin could just amplify what the focus of the proposed Residential Tenancies Board inquiry might be?
MS. GODIN: I am sure that the government members are going to mention that there is an ongoing process right now being undertaken by the Department of Business and Consumer Services. However, that has been ongoing for three years and people who are tenants in this province are getting very frustrated since there is no end in sight to this process and there are real problems, especially in the mobile home park area that I would like to have, if possible, if there was time that it could be looked into. I think there is a problem all across this province where mobile home park owners feel that their rights are, perhaps, not being recognized as they should.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there a financial dimension to this problem?
MS. GODIN: Yes, they are tenants in an unusual sort of way in that they rent property that their own mobile homes sit on. Lot rents can be raised, at this time, and they are being raised, incrementally raised, and there is a sense of - there is a word in my head I am trying not to use and I don't know how - there is a sense of desperation there in that they are not being heard and the rents keep going up and there is no recourse for them to stop this.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I think I understand better the nature of the problem.
MS. GODIN: There is no control that is in place.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The request was to the committee clerk if we could be brought up to date as to how things stand with Nova Scotia Resources. Actually, just before we do that I might add one other item to the list, which is that we are now almost at the end of November and at some point the Auditor General's next annual report will come forward and the normal expectation would be that this committee would meet to hear from the Auditor General a review of his next annual report and I wonder, Mr. Salmon, can you just remind us what timetable you have in mind?
MR. ROY SALMON: Yes, Mr. Chairman, as members will recall, the amendments to the Auditor General Act that had been passed at the spring session established a deadline of December 31st for my annual report. We are aiming to meet that deadline and table it by December 31st. So I would suggest that if it is the committee's desire to have a session on that report, the appropriate time would be early January to do that. So that is my timetable.
A significant number of the issues that you are considering for your agenda are going to be dealt with in that report so that there will be more up-to-date information.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, that is helpful. Mr. Fage did you have a question?
MR. FAGE: If I may just ask a quick question. Mr. Salmon, when that report is tabled or before it is reported, can you give a list of those areas so that we can correlate our schedule maybe a little more precisely? If they are going to be addressed in your report it may change the priorities of this committee.
MR. SALMON: Certainly, the QE II and the situation with regional health boards will be dealt with. The Y2K issue will be dealt with. The plan that the Department of Finance wishes to brief you on will be discussed in the report. We will summarize the Workers' Compensation Board special audit in it and there are a number of other topics.
MR. FAGE: Thank you very much, I appreciate that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, Mora, on Nova Scotia Resources and our contact with Mr. Livingstone?
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator): I spoke to Jim Livingstone and he was more than happy to come before the committee. We had tried to arrange it in October or early November, he had already been to Nova Scotia and has shut his cottage down so he wasn't planning to come back, but he said when he is in Toronto he can arrange to hop down to Nova Scotia at the committee's desire when they would like to set an appointment for him. I can contact hm and get his schedule. The one thing he did ask though is we at least outline exactly what we would like so he can prepare to come before the committee. So he is more than willing to come at the committee's convenience.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, perhaps the caucuses can come up with some ideas and forward that to you, as Chairman, is that correct?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think so. I think the idea would be to help Mr. Livingstone prepare for his testimony by focusing a little bit on what it is we might hear from him. Okay, that is our range of topics and I see Mr. Dexter, then Mr. Fraser.
MR. DEXTER: Well, first of all, I had raised in the last meeting and certainly Mr. LeBlanc's letter, I think, is very timely in that it suggests that we ought to move ahead and I think as soon as possible with looking at those issues arising out of the QE II. I would be in favour of having that happen as soon as possible. If that were next week or the week after that would certainly be fine with me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You are discussing the QE II?
MR. DEXTER: That is right. The second thing is, since we haven't been able to finalize when Mr. Livingstone is available, I would make my pitch that before he comes, to call on someone from NSRL now to give us kind of the state of play, where Nova Scotia Resources Limited is at now and to have them in first and then talk to Mr. Livingstone.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I have got Mr. Fraser followed by Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. FRASER: I was just going to mention that the QE II, that was an item that I think we got copies of a letter that one committee member sent to you and I guess that is a pertinent issue now and I would like to have Mr. Keating in to interview. On the other item, on Nova Scotia Resources Limited, I think we would like to put some thoughts together as well for Mr. Livingstone. I would like to hear from him first and then we will move on if we need other evidence from Nova Scotia Resources, we could move in that direction then.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You are suggesting hearing from Mr. Livingstone before hearing from officials of NSRL?
MR. FRASER: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, Mr. MacKinnon and then Mr. Fage.
HON. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We are just thinking aloud for witnesses and I thought the possibility of inviting someone like Mr. Bill Hayward, who prepared the report for the regional government concept in the metro area. Perhaps he may want to come and enlighten us.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are you talking about municipal amalgamation?
MR. MACKINNON: Precisely.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would enjoy that.
MR. MACKINNON: We will have to go to Florida to find him now, bear that in mind, but I think if we plan early, probably in six months time we (Interruption) The early bird gets the worm.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. LEBLANC: I would like to say that the QE II is one that I would like to bring forward to the committee. As I indicated in my correspondence, I think it is a timely one and the biggest reason is that we are getting frustrated trying to get some answers and perhaps it would be best if the people from the QE II could come here and perhaps give some direction as to what the hospital board itself is giving and I would look at perhaps even the CEO or the chairman of the board, even the finance director; someone along those lines I think would be appropriate.
I would like to say I would like to have NSRL come forward and even if Mr. Livingstone would come after, that would be fine with me, but the Bill Hayward suggestion by Mr. MacKinnon is intriguing and I think is one that would be good because, of course, it is a timely one. I think people, especially in the metro areas and the other amalgamation, the Cape Breton one would like to sometimes take a look at this in retrospect and where we are going into the future. So that would be my selection if I had a choice. That is my motion, Mr. Chairman, that we try to bring the witnesses forward in that order. The only thing, Mr. Livingstone would have to come in per his schedule but as long as he is subsequent to NSRL coming forward first, then that would be the way that I would like to have it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am sorry, could you repeat your last point about . . .
MR. LEBLANC: My suggestion would be to bring forward the QE II first.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, I think that is currently a motion from our discussion.
MR. LEBLANC: And NSRL, that is two witnesses and then subsequent to NSRL coming, having Mr. Livingstone come.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Fraser.
MR. FRASER: Just a comment on the municipal amalgamation. I believe Mr. Hayward was only involved in the Halifax Regional Municipality, a Charles Campbell was involved in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. So if we are going to talk about that one, then it is a different individual. On the Nova Scotia Resources Limited I still feel that there has been talk since I have come on the committee to have Mr. Livingstone in. I am still suggesting that he come first and if we need the board to come in, let's have them afterwards. Let's hear what he has to say.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Dexter and then Mr. Samson.
MR. DEXTER: I am going to second the recommendation made by Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, just on the motion made by Mr. LeBlanc, I certainly fully support getting the QE II in. On the issue of NSRL, I fully expect that when Mr. Livingstone is going to appear before us, he will raise some matters of concern to him and I guess my view of it is that once he has raised those concerns, I want to see NSRL come in after so that we can ask them, what have you done to address those concerns or if you have done anything. I think the idea of bringing them in first to see what NSRL is doing now, then having Mr. Livingstone coming in to highlight his concerns while he was there, or some of the aspects that he had problems with, I think it is just going to force us to call NSRL back in afterwards anyway to say, look, have you guys done anything to address Mr. Livingstone's concerns?
I think it would be more appropriate to hear what he has to say first. Then let's get NSRL in and say, look, what have you done to address Mr. Livingstone's concerns? So I think just as a time factor it would be more appropriate to hear his concerns first and then get NSRL in to discuss some of his comments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. LeBlanc, did you have a comment in response or are you just calling for the question? The motion is that the committee business in order of preferred priority at the moment be that we deal first as a matter of priority with QE II. (Interruption) It was offered as one motion but I guess a vote against - the point of difference I think is clear and that next we turn to Nova Scotia Resources Limited with the recommendation that we invite representatives of NSRL first, and then hear Mr. Livingstone. That was the nature of the motion.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Let me just observe that I think we have really set our agenda now for probably the next couple of months, because given that the Auditor General's Report will be coming out at some point, given that the Department of Finance has a recommendation for us that they want to bring forward, it may well be that that will take care of it. There is a problem about dates, and I want to ask the committee members how frequently they are prepared to meet and how late into the year they might have it in mind to meet. Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Samson.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I was just going to suggest that the Chairman have discussions with caucuses as to trying to set up dates, because as the session moves towards its completion, whenever that will be, I don't know, but we are in a situation that we should try to accommodate some of the members that have not been able to spend any time in their riding. A lot of the metro members are able to spend a lot of hours here, but obviously, they have a constituency office in here. So we would try to accommodate some of that, so that some of us can at least get some work done in our constituency.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You are vulnerable, are you Neil? That is nice to know.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I always feel vulnerable to the people I serve, because - I can give you the political speech or whatever you want. I do want to say that we should try to use a little bit of common sense in this, because we also have the report to weigh upon. The biggest thing for us is to try to get these witnesses forward on a timely manner, but there is also the Christmas holiday, which we would like to spend with our families, and different things. I am just trying to say that if we had conversations with all three caucuses and with some dates that would be appropriate, then I think we would be responsible, and we would move forward, and everyone would be able to accommodate them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can I just ask, are the committee members prepared to meet next Wednesday? If we have witnesses available, are we prepared to meet next Wednesday, December 2nd? I hear yeses. Are there enough yeses to make this? I certainly agree with your suggestion, and I gather that you are agreeing with it as well, Mr. Samson.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, what I would suggest, is maybe get the subcommittee, one member from each Party, to meet with you at some time during this week, and maybe discuss possible dates. Certainly, I echo Mr. LeBlanc's concerns. I know Mr. Fraser has about a three hour drive and both Mr. MacKinnon and I have over four hours of commuting in order to make it to the city. Not only considering the Christmas holidays, but considering our good old Nova Scotia weather, I would certainly ask the committee to be aware of that fact, and try to be considerate of that in setting dates. I think, as this session is winding down, we should certainly be considerate of those concerns and limit how far into the month of December we are going to go.
MR. CHAIRMAN: This seems clear. Fairly obviously, there are a number of restrictions: one is that it will require more detailed discussion with all of the caucuses; and the other, of course, depends on availability of witnesses. I take it that we are on for next week, if we have witnesses that we can get for that session. Otherwise, everything is subject to detailed discussion. Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. LEBLANC: I know that for us, as a caucus, we will be here on December 9th and December 16th. Those two days would be days that would be good for us too.
MR. CHAIRMAN: December 9th and December 16th?
MR. LEBLANC: Yes. Anything else, I am not really sure what is going on. I would make the point that those dates may be good.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is fine. I am sure Mr. Fraser will enjoy chairing the committee. Thank you very much. We stand adjourned for today.
[The committee adjourned at 9:19 a.m.]