Assemblée Législative de la Nouvelle-Écosse

Les travaux de la Chambre ont repris le
21 septembre 2017

Hansard -- Tue., May 23, 2000

First Session

TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2000

TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS:
Transport. & Pub. Wks./EMO - Provincial Highways: Distance Markers -
Erect, Hon. R. Russell 6340
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION:
Res. 2236, Health - RNANS: Life Members - Congrats., Hon. J. Muir 6342
Vote - Affirmative 6343
NOTICES OF MOTION:
Res. 2237, Aboriginal Affs.: Aboriginal Awareness Week - Recognize,
Mr. Robert Chisholm 6343
Vote - Affirmative 6343
Res. 2238, Health - RNANS (Ex. Award): Mary MacIsaac - Congrats.,
Mr. R. MacLellan 6344
Vote - Affirmative 6344
Res. 2239, NSP - Safety: Corporate Citizenship - Recognize, Mr. T. Olive 6344
Vote - Affirmative 6345
Res. 2240, Educ. - Schools: Hfx. Co./Bedford - Overcrowding
Endurance, Mr. Robert Chisholm 6345
Res. 2241, Culture: Coal Dust Days Festival (New Waterford) -
Congrats., Mr. Manning MacDonald 6346
Vote - Affirmative 6346
Res. 2242, Sports - CCAA (Academic All Canadians): NSAC Students -
Congrats., Hon. J. Muir 6346
Vote - Affirmative 6347
Res. 2243, Fin. - Gasoline Tax: Windfall - Rethink, Mr. J. Holm 6347
Res. 2244, Educ. - Lun. Academy: Unity (Can.) Trees/Flowers -
Congrats., Mr. D. Downe 6348
Vote - Affirmative 6348
Res. 2245, Health - Huntington Soc. (Can.) & Pictou Co. Co-op:
Fund-Raising - Congrats., Mr. J. DeWolfe 6348
Vote - Affirmative 6349
Res. 2246, Tourism - VICs: Cuts - Busking (Min.) Assist,
Ms. E. O'Connell 6349
Res. 2247, Health - Nurses: Hiring - Commitment Fulfil, Dr. J. Smith 6350
Res. 2248, Culture - CBC Info. Morning: Anniv. 30th T-Shirt Designer
(Kate Layton-Colby V. Elem. Sch.) - Congrats., Mr. K. Deveaux 6350
Vote - Affirmative 6351
Res. 2249, Exco - Code of Conduct: Legislation Delay -
Apologize (Premier), Mr. K. MacAskill 6351
Res. 2250, Sysco - Sale/Pension: Accountability - Commitment Fulfil,
Mr. F. Corbett 6352
Res. 2251, Zion Presbyterian Ch. (Louisbourg): Anniv. 100th -
Congrats., Mr. R. MacKinnon 6352
Vote - Affirmative 6353
Res. 2252, Sports - Basketball (LRHS Festival): Warrior Awards -
Recipients Congrats., Mr. D. Dexter 6353
Vote - Affirmative 6354
Res. 2253, Educ. - Univ. Sainte-Anne Centre Acadien: Director
(Gerald C. Boudreau) - Congrats., Mr. W. Gaudet 6354
Vote - Affirmative 6354
Res. 2254, Nat. Res. - Lewis Lake Prov. Park: Service - Thank,
Mr. W. Estabrooks 6355
Vote - Affirmative 6355
Res. 2255, Econ. Dev. - Glace Bay: Economy - Improve, Mr. D. Wilson 6355
Res. 2256, Health - Hospitals: Administrators Role - Fulfilment Permit,
Mr. H. Epstein 6356
Res. 2257, Econ. Dev. - Bus. & Commun. Ldrs. (Can. Under 40):
Recipients (N.S.[3]) - Congrats., Mr. B. Boudreau 6357
Vote - Affirmative 6357
Res. 2258, Human Res. - Pub. Serv. Week (Can.): Proclamation
(Premier) - Role Cynical Congrats., Mr. J. Pye 6357
Res. 2259, Human Rts. (Internat.) - CIDC (Sydney): Contribution -
Commend, Mr. Manning MacDonald 6358
Vote - Affirmative 6359
Res. 2260, Premier - Role: Expected - Fulfil, Mr. J. Holm 6359
Res. 2261, Environ. - Port Morien: Clean-Up - Volunteers Commend,
Mr. R. MacKinnon 6360
Vote - Affirmative 6360
Res. 2262, Health - Epilepsy: Advice - Source Reveal, Mr. D. Dexter 6360
Res. 2263, Sports - Basketball (AAU Tourn.-Connecticut): N.S. Wave
(Under 16) - Success Wish, Mr. D. Wilson 6361
Vote - Affirmative 6362
Res. 2264, Housing & Mun. Affs. - HRM: Pesticides Control By-law -
Good Wishes, Mr. H. Epstein 6362
Res. 2265, Environ. - CBRM: Clean-Up - Dedication Congrats.,
Mr. B. Boudreau 6362
Vote - Affirmative 6363
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS:
No. 767, Health - Care: Access - Loss (2000-01), Mr. Robert Chisholm 6363
No. 768, Econ. Dev. - PEP: Info. - Release Update, Mr. R. MacLellan 6365
No. 769, Health: IWK-Grace - Cuts, Mr. D. Dexter 6366
No. 770, Health - Budget (2000-01): Patient Care - Effect,
Dr. J. Smith 6367
No. 771, Sysco - Sale: Rail Mill - Shutdown, Mr. Robert Chisholm 6368
No. 772, Health: Reg. Bd. (W-Dist. 1) - Bed Closures, Mr. D. Downe 6370
No. 773, Fin. - Procurement: Tenders - Limits Increase,
Mr. Robert Chisholm 6371
No. 774, Fin.: Atl. Loto - Benefits (N.S.), Mr. D. Downe 6372
No. 775, Fin. - Purchasing: Tenders On-Line - Discrimination,
Mr. J. Holm 6373
No. 776, Sysco - Sale: Pensions Fairness - Promise Fulfil,
Mr. Manning MacDonald 6375
No. 777, Health - Emergency 911: Dispatchers - Strike,
Mr. W. Estabrooks 6376
No. 778, Sysco - Sale: Pensioners - Negotiations Resume,
Mr. R. MacLellan 6377
No. 779, Pet. Dir. - Sable Gas: C.B. - Inclusion, Mr. F. Corbett 6379
GOVERNMENT BUSINESS:
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:
No. 47, Education Act 6380
Hon. R. Russell 6380
Mr. D. Downe 6380
Mr. K. Deveaux 6388
Mr. D. Wilson 6403
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 6408
Adjourned debate 6416
ADJOURNMENT:
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5):
Educ. - Students: Special Needs - Cuts Unprotected:
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 6416
Hon. J. Purves 6417
Mr. M. Samson 6420
Mr. W. Gaudet 6423
GOVERNMENT BUSINESS:
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:
No. 47, Education Act [debate resumed] 6423
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 6423
Mr. R. MacKinnon 6427
Mr. J. Pye 6437
Mr. P. MacEwan 6452
Mr. J. Holm 6465
Adjourned debate 6472
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES:
Law Amendments Committee, Hon. M. Baker 6473
ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Wed., May 24th at 2:00 p.m. 6473

[Page 6339]

HALIFAX, TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2000

Fifty-eighth General Assembly

First Session

2:00 P.M.

SPEAKER

Hon. Murray Scott

DEPUTY SPEAKERS

Mr. Brooke Taylor, Mr. Wayne Gaudet, Mr. Kevin Deveaux

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Before we begin the daily routine, the subject for this evening's late debate was submitted by the honourable member for Halifax Chebucto:

Therefore be it resolved that the government explain to Nova Scotians why students with special needs will not be protected from the devastating effect of its budget cuts to Education.

That will be heard this evening at 6:00 p.m.

We will begin the daily routine.

PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS

PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES

TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS

6339

[Page 6340]

STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today to announce a joint project between the Department of Transportation and Public Works and the Emergency Measures Organization. This project, which involves erecting distance markers on provincial highways, is aimed at improving highway safety, particularly in relation to emergency reporting.

The distance marker pilot project was developed in response to requests from emergency agencies for a consistent reference point along our 100-Series Highways. For the pilot, we have selected Highway No. 102 and a section of Highway No. 101 between Sackville and Ellershouse. These highways will be marked every two kilometres, with even numbers displayed in one direction and odd numbers in the opposite direction. The distance markers will be highly visible and provide a consistent location identification system along these highways, whether it be for reporting emergencies or potential emergency situations.

Mr. Speaker, this project has significant implications for emergency response. Currently, 15 per cent of all 911 calls are made by cellular phone users reporting emergencies along Nova Scotia highways. Unlike wireline calls to 911, automatic location data is not available for cellular calls. Therefore, it is up to the caller to give the exact location of the emergency. With the addition of the distance markers, cellular callers can now refer to the number on the nearest marker to assist the 911 call taker and emergency responders to pinpoint where the emergency is. With having odd numbers posted in one lane and even numbers in the opposite lane, emergency response vehicles will know which direction they must be heading when they enter the highway. This accurate information will save seconds in situations where seconds can mean saving a life.

The pilot project will run from June to December. During that period, we will monitor the use of distance markers in reporting highway emergencies and we will also be asking emergency response agencies for feedback. Based on this evaluation, we will determine whether to expand this program to the remainder of the 100-Series Highways. The main impetus for this program is to enable quicker response times in emergency situations on our major highways but the distance markers should also be used to identify the location of road hazards that could potentially cause accidents. For example, if a motorist were to notice a downed traffic sign, black ice, or some other road hazard, they could use the distance marker as a locator for our Transportation and Public Works crews.

Mr. Speaker, we live in a technological age. Cellular phones are becoming a way of life and we might as well use that trend to our advantage. By implementing this location reference system on our main highways, we are not only responding to the needs of those men and women who provide emergency response, we are potentially saving lives.

[Page 6341]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for responding to the request from EMO. It is after all something that is very appropriate and I think that, in addition, the project between Sackville and Ellershouse will be particularly well received. I congratulate you on that choice for the pilot project.

I would like to point out to the minister that I think it is of some importance that he work with the Minister of Tourism to make sure that for tourists who arrive at our primary tourist locations - I think particularly of the Yarmouth gateway and the Amherst Information Bureau - that perhaps there should be some notice to the fact that along these particular sections of the 100-Series Highway that this pilot project is in effect. I am sure it will not only just be well received by tourists, but well received by motorists who regularly use this line. I congratulate your department on its initiative and, particularly, the Emergency Measures Organization for their foresight in this manner.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Victoria.

MR. KENNETH MACASKILL: Mr. Speaker, I too want to first off thank the minister for sending over notice early so that I was able to go through it, but even if he had not, just one glance at this statement would indicate that it is good news and I thank the minister for that.

I travel Highway No. 102 quite a lot and I see the markers and I am not quite sure if they are now at every two kilometres and odd numbers on one side or not, I am not quite sure, but this is a step in the right direction, Mr. Speaker. I recall when I was minister responsible for EMO, the Opposition Parties at that time were trying to find holes in EMO to criticize, but today we realize the great service that they have provided to our province over the last number of years. Any move to enhance that or make it better, we certainly applaud. At the end of the seven months I hope that the minister will move forward on the results of this pilot project and maybe work diligently with the providers of wireless service on some rural areas of Nova Scotia who do not receive a service by cellular telephone. Cellular telephones have saved a lot of lives in this province by the fact that they can report instantly from the scene of an accident. So, again, I want to thank the minister for sending the release over to us and for moving forward on this very important initiative.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Fairview on an introduction.

MS. EILEEN O'CONNELL: Mr. Speaker, I am particularly grateful since our visitors, today, cannot stay very long and have to pick up their children at 2:30 p.m. We have again a group of students from the Metro Immigrant Learning Centre on Dutch Village Road with their instructor, Jayne Geldart. Once again, I am going to take the plunge and try to pronounce everybody's name, Nabila El-Mashharauei, Argirios Bistekos, Qamile Velija,

[Page 6342]

Nijazi Elezi. I would ask the House to give them a warm welcome. Maybe they would stand up to identify themselves. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Preston on an introduction.

MR. DAVID HENDSBEE: Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure, today, to introduce a couple of constituents of mine from the riding of Preston, Mr. Patrick Colley and Mr. Wendell Thomas. Mr. Wendell Thomas is one of those invaluable student support workers within the Halifax Regional School Board. He also has the distinction of being the past president of the East Preston Ratepayers Association; the past president of the Preston PC Association and was the last Liberal candidate in the election. I would like to welcome them to the House. (Applause)

GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Health.

RESOLUTION NO. 2236

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Registered Nurses' Association of Nova Scotia held its 2000 Annual Conference May 17th and May 18th; and

Whereas at the 2000 banquet and awards presentation, Phyllis Boutilier, Kay Buckler and Evelyn Grew were made honorary life members of RNANS; and

Whereas during the meeting Hope Graham, Charlene Day, Isobel Cream, W. Dennis MacDonald, Mary Elizabeth MacIsaac and Marielle Whynot were honoured with Excellence in Nursing Practice Awards;

[2:15 p.m.]

Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize the great contribution RNANS makes to the health of Nova Scotians, and congratulate the individuals honoured at the 2000 RNANS banquet.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

[Page 6343]

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS

NOTICES OF MOTION

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

RESOLUTION NO. 2237

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas May 23rd to May 26th is Aboriginal Awareness Week; and

Whereas Aboriginal Nova Scotians' contributions to our province are many; and

Whereas this is the first year where an Aboriginal Nova Scotian is present in this House as our Sergeant-at-Arms for this special week;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House recognize Aboriginal Awareness Week and the significant contributions Aboriginal people make to this province each and every day.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.

[Page 6344]

RESOLUTION NO. 2238

MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Mary MacIsaac has been awarded an Excellence in Nursing Award by the Registered Nurses' Association of Nova Scotia; and

Whereas Mrs. MacIsaac operates the Diabetes Education Department of the Cape Breton Regional Health Care Complex located in the Northside General Hospital; and

Whereas with more than 44 years experience, Mrs. MacIsaac was selected in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the nursing profession;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House extend heartfelt congratulations to Mrs. Mary MacIsaac for her outstanding contribution to this province's health care system.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Dartmouth South.

RESOLUTION NO. 2239

MR. TIMOTHY OLIVE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas May 15th to May 21st was North American Occupational Health and Safety Week; and

Whereas safety is the first priority of Nova Scotia Power for 52 weeks of the year; and

[Page 6345]

Whereas the establishment of such programs as NSP's 24 Hour Safety and Nova Scotia Child Safety and Injury Prevention Program is proof of Nova Scotia Power's commitment to safety;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House recognize Nova Scotia Power for its good corporate citizenship and its concern for the safety of all Nova Scotians.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

RESOLUTION NO. 2240

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas in the 1999 election campaign, the now Premier and his colleagues made a special appeal to the residents of Halifax County and Bedford; and

Whereas the Tory campaign highlighted education and the needs of children, promising more money for schools and a plan to end overcrowded classrooms; and

Whereas enough of those voters believed that John Hamm had a plan, to elect the five MLAs needed to secure a Tory majority;

Therefore be it resolved that residents of Halifax County and Bedford, who are now being forced to endure the most overcrowded schools, have learned that some politicians see a majority as a licence to break faith with those who elected them.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton South.

[Page 6346]

RESOLUTION NO. 2241

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas New Waterford Coal Dust Days festival takes place this year from July 15th to July 23rd; and

Whereas this annual event is an excellent opportunity for the people of the community to celebrate their uniqueness and their coal mining heritage; and

Whereas the organizers of this year's event will be coordinating more family-type events so all members of the family can partake in the festivities together;

Therefore be it resolved that the organizers of the Coal Dust Days festival in New Waterford be congratulated by the members of this House for their time and commitment in coordinating this community event.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable Minister of Health.

RESOLUTION NO. 2242

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association has honoured nine students at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College with Academic All Canadian Awards this year; and

Whereas this award recognizes student athletes who have achieved an honours standing while demonstrating excellence in college athletics; and

[Page 6347]

Whereas these Academic All Canadians include Joshua Kingsbury, Erin Horne, Constance Spacek, Gerald Russell, Ryan Schofield, David Fisher, Billy MacKenzie, Trudy Naugler and Jenna Tingley;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House extend congratulations to the Academic All Canadians at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and wish them as much success in the years ahead as they have enjoyed this year.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

RESOLUTION NO. 2243

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas gas prices at the pumps continue to spiral out of control; and

Whereas the blended sales tax which adds 4 cents to the price of a litre of gas is contributing to the high cost; and

Whares large gas companies continue unabated in gouging consumers in this province and across Canada;

Therefore be it resolved that this government act immediately to offer some much needed relief to Nova Scotians by returning its gas tax windfall.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

[Page 6348]

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Lunenburg West.

RESOLUTION NO. 2244

MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas on May 12, 2000, 30 Grade 4 students from Lunenburg Academy planted 14 trees and flowers representing every province and territory in Canada; and

Whenas the Town of Lunenburg was selected in this project as part of its Millennium Gardens Program; and

Whereas this educational project allows students to learn about other parts of Canada while at the same time fostering a sense of national unity;

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House recognize and congratulate Grade 4 students at Lunenburg Academy for their outstanding contribution to a stronger and united Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Pictou East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2245

MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

[Page 6349]

Whereas the Pictou County Co-Op has joined the Huntington Society of Canada in a fund-raiser to fight this horrific disease; and

Whereas Huntington's disease is a fatal brain disorder that cripples both the mind and the body through a very slow process; and

Whereas the Pictou County Co-Op is selling amaryllis that will be available in the fall, with net revenue expected to be nearly $80,000;

Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly extend our best wishes to Store Manager Leo Barker of the Pictou County Co-Op and the Huntington Society of Canada for their efforts in making this fund-raiser a financial success.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.

RESOLUTION NO. 2246

MS. EILEEN O'CONNELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the South Shore Tourism Association feels it must turn to donation boxes in order to secure adequate funds needed to operate this summer; and

Whereas the Minister of Tourism feels tourists will donate a few pennies to help the tourism industry in Nova Scotia to survive; and

Whereas those tourists will already be paying high fuel prices to get here;

Therefore be it resolved that if the Minister of Tourism had any heart at all, he would take his busking act on the road to the South Shore and other regions to fiddle up the money needed to sustain the job creating tourism industry after the Tory cuts hit home.

[Page 6350]

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2247

DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas last week, two newly released studies indicated that Nova Scotia is in dire need of more than 600 additional nurses; and

Whereas this same study concludes that "the point is quickly approaching where public safety will be at risk"; and

Whereas the Tory Government continually claims that they are committed to more nurses at the same time they are gutting our health care system;

Therefore be it resolved that the Tory Government live up to one of their many commitments and hire new nurses before our health care system is damaged beyond repair.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.

RESOLUTION NO. 2248

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Kate Layton of Colby Village Elementary School won the CBC's Information Morning's 30th Anniversary Commemorative T-shirt contest in the P to Grade 6 category; and

[Page 6351]

Whereas Kate's design for the T-shirt won out over hundreds of contestants from around the province;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate Kate Layton on her winning design in the CBC's Information Morning's 30th Anniversary Commemorative T-shirt Contest and wish her well in her future endeavours.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Victoria.

RESOLUTION NO. 2249

MR. KENNETH MACASKILL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Premier John Hamm committed last fall that his government would introduce code of conduct legislation during the spring session; and

Whereas the Premier recently admitted that this legislation would in fact not be introduced this session and then said that it would be introduced this session; and

Whereas the Premier then apologized for misleading the House on the issue of code of conduct legislation;

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier be prepared to start making similar apologies every day because he has been misleading the members of this House for so long that he has a lot to catch up on.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.

[Page 6352]

RESOLUTION NO. 2250

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas on Monday, May 22nd, the last rail on the order books at Sysco rolled through the mill; and

Whereas the government still has not held meaningful pension negotiations with the steelworkers; and

Whereas the state of bids to buy the plant is still not available to the union for consultation;

Therefore be it resolved that this government act on its own commitment to be open and accountable and start with the steelworkers by being open and accountable both with pensions and the sale of the plant.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton West.

RESOLUTION NO. 2251

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Zion Presbyterian Church in Louisbourg celebrated its 100th Anniversary of the congregation this weekend past; and

Whereas this weekend also marked the 68th Anniversary of the church building; and

Whereas the anniversary celebrations began with a worship service and continued with special Sunday services at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., with the 7:00 p.m. service followed by a fellowship hour in the church hall;

[Page 6353]

Therefore be it resolved that this House extend congratulations and best wishes to the congregation of Zion Presbyterian Church in Louisbourg on the occasion of their 100th Anniversary.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

RESOLUTION NO. 2252

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Owen Hamlin, Charles Ernst, Leo Campbell, Dave Pottie and Mike Vandertoorn received Warrior Awards and certificates on May 11th from Liverpool Regional High School; and

Whereas the award recipients were recognized for their work in organizing and promoting the annual Liverpool Regional High School Boys Basketball Festival; and

Whereas the LRHS basketball festival is one of the premier high school basketball invitational tournaments with a reputation for both great hospitality and great athletic competition;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of the House of Assembly congratulate Owen Hamlin, Charles Ernst, Leo Campbell, Dave Pottie and Mike Vandertoorn on their awards and thank them for many years of entertaining basketball enjoyed by participants and spectators from across the province.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

[Page 6354]

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Clare.

RESOLUTION NO. 2253

MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Mr. Gerald C. Boudreau has been appointed by L'Université Sainte-Anne as the new director of the Centre Acadien; and

Whereas Mr. Boudreau will replace outgoing director Neil Boucher in August of the Centre Acadien which is the university's Acadien historical and genealogical research centre; and

Whereas employed by the university since 1973, Mr. Boudreau will continue as secretary to the board of directors;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Mr. Gerald C. Boudreau on his appointment and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.

[Page 6355]

[2:30 p.m.]

RESOLUTION NO. 2254

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Lewis Lake Provincial Park on the St. Margarets Bay Road is now open for another year; and

Whereas this park has been well maintained for years by loyal Department of Natural Resources staff; and

Whereas the Lewis Lake Provincial Park, which is wheelchair accessible, is appreciated by all;

Therefore be it resolved that this House offer its thanks on behalf of area residents to the Department of Natural Resources officials for their good service at Lewis Lake Provincial Park.

I ask for waiver, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Cape Breton East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2255

MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas after 10 months in office the Tories have not assisted one significant project to help alleviate unemployment in Glace Bay; and

[Page 6356]

Whereas ever since the announced EDS call centre in Sydney, criticisms of the government's job policies have been met with don't complain, remember we gave you a call centre; and

Whereas besides ignoring the fact that the EDS centre will be located in Sydney, the government is ignoring the fact that unofficial unemployment in Glace Bay is around 50 per cent;

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier and his government immediately take steps to help improve the Glace Bay economy, instead of telling people to be satisfied with their meagre lot from an inadequate portion of government largesse.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

RESOLUTION NO. 2256

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Premier and the Minister of Health have never been senior administrators at a large medical facility; and

Whereas the Admiral of Acrimony and Captain Chaos now consider themselves to be experts on such matters, telling hospital administrators, doctor knows best; and

Whereas the Admiral of Acrimony and Captain Chaos have decided that senior, qualified, experienced senior administrators should not be trusted when they comment on health care needs in this province;

Therefore be it resolved that the Admiral of Acrimony and Captain Chaos turn their ship around and let the experts do their jobs.

[Page 6357]

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.

RESOLUTION NO. 2257

MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas three Nova Scotians have been selected for Canada's Top 40 Under 40 Award; and

Whereas Jay Forbes of Nova Scotia Power, Glen Hynes of Sobeys and Lynn Loewen of Air Nova Incorporated, were selected as this year's recipients; and

Whereas the Top 40 Under 40 Award is a nationwide program that honours the achievements of a new generation of business, academic and public service leaders;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House recognize and congratulate this year's recipients for their outstanding contributions as leaders in our communities.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Dartmouth North.

RESOLUTION NO. 2258

MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Premier and the Leader of the Government in the Senate collaborated today in signing a proclamation that designates the third week in June as National Public Service Week; and

[Page 6358]

Whereas through partnership and cooperation, professional Public Service employees at the federal and provincial levels are developing innovative ways to deliver improved services to the public; and

Whereas the quality of our daily lives is significantly enhanced by the service provided by Public Service employees in both their work and volunteerism;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate the Premier for his excellent but cynical role of paying lip service to public servants while he cuts their numbers to the bone, and wish him well in the next Oscar nominations.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton South.

RESOLUTION NO. 2259

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Canadian International Demining Centre, CIDC, a Sydney humanitarian organization, has been assigned to train six landmine detection dog teams in Bosnia for Entity Army de-mining units; and

Whereas this initiative, to contribute further to mine clearance in Bosnia, represents international cooperation at its best; and

Whereas the training program will be carried out by CIDC's Canine Countermine division, and is expected to take six months to complete at a cost of more than $200,000;

Therefore be it resolved that the CIDC be commended by the members of this House for its contribution to international human rights through landmine detection and de-mining.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

[Page 6359]

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

RESOLUTION NO. 2260

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas this past summer Nova Scotian voters thought they elected John Hamm, a kindly country doctor; and

Whereas what they have discovered instead is that John Buchanan was actually inhabiting the body of that kindly country doctor, returning us to the "hay days" of pork-barrel politics; and

Whereas Nova Scotians thought they had rid themselves of this vile ghost;

Therefore be it resolved that this House should exorcise the ghost of John Buchanan from the Premier and return the kindly country doctor to this province.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton West.

[Page 6360]

RESOLUTION NO. 2261

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas keeping the environment clean is the responsibility of each and every Nova Scotian in order to preserve the natural beauty of this province; and

Whereas the people of Port Morien realized this and recently spent two days cleaning up their community, ending up with over 150 bags of garbage; and

Whereas 15 people responded to the call for volunteers to help clean up the community of Port Morien which hosts summer events such as Gowrie Days and Morien Memories;

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House commend the initiative shown by the organizers and volunteers of the Port Morien clean-up in their efforts in keeping this province beautiful.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

RESOLUTION NO. 2262

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas due to funding cuts at the QE II, the Director of Medical Diagnostic Services and Epilepsy Program Coordinator has been cut; and

Whereas this cut leaves just one doctor and a secretary to handle a department that already has a six month waiting period; and

[Page 6361]

Whereas the job of the program coordinator was to examine each referral, make recommendations on the urgency of each case, direct patient care, coordinate and recheck appointments, and organize referrals to other departments;

Therefore be it resolved that this government explain to Nova Scotians and to the sufferers of epilepsy who they should now turn to for this advice and care.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2263

MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas MacKenzie Turner of Glace Bay and Kaitlin Taylor of Sydney will be competing in an Amateur Athletic Union tournament in Connecticut as part of the Nova Scotia Wave under-16 basketball team; and

Whereas this will be the first season for the under-16 program and gives the youngsters much-needed exposure to high-calibre basketball competition; and

Whereas the under-16 team will compete at a second tournament in Vermont in July;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate MacKenzie Turner and Kaitlin Taylor and wish the Nova Scotia Wave under-16 basketball team success at these tournaments.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

[Page 6362]

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

RESOLUTION NO. 2264

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas this evening the Council of the Halifax Regional Municipality starts public hearings on a by-law that has been proposed for the control of pesticides on urban lawns and gardens; and

Whereas the jurisdiction of HRM to deal with this matter was set out in a clause of the Municipal Government Act adopted with all-Party consent in 1998; and

Whereas this clause illustrates some of the benefits of Parties working together in this House;

Therefore be it resolved that this House wish the HRM Council well as it proceeds to consider what by-law to adopt, if any.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.

RESOLUTION NO. 2265

MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

[Page 6363]

Whereas by the end of June, all residents in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality will have the opportunity to participate in the blue bag program; and

Whereas the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is expanding its blue bag program to include Sydney, Glace Bay and Dominion; and

Whereas all recyclables will be collected and delivered to a material recovery facility to be used with the municipality's expanded blue bag program.

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate the Cape Breton Regional Municipality for its continued dedication to cleaning up our environment.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

ORDERS OF THE DAY

ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS

MR. SPEAKER: Oral Question Period will begin at 2:40 p.m. and end at 3:40 p.m.

The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

HEALTH - CARE: ACCESS - LOSS (2000-01)

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question through you to the Minister of Health, who just learned that the IWK-Grace is realizing a shortfall this year of $16.8 million as a result of the budget this province is bringing down. The minister's definition of acute care obviously doesn't cover a lot of what other Nova Scotians think should be covered. Already we have reduced access to many clinical services, the IWK-Grace and other facilities, and this is not the end. That is clearly pointed by the IWK-Grace. Clearly, this is not the end, it is only the beginning.

[Page 6364]

I want to ask the Minister of Health, the minister knows that access to acute care and clinical services has already been seriously reduced in the province, why will he not tell Nova Scotians how much access to health care they are about to lose this year?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for Halifax Atlantic for that question. First of all, I guess I should inform him the difference in the budget number shortfall he gave is probably not the correct one. What that represents is really the difference between what they received and what they asked for, which is a difference between estimate and estimate or budget to budget, just to clarify that. Secondly, the IWK-Grace has submitted a business plan, which the department is still reviewing. In answer to his question, once the department has a chance to put the business plans from all across the province and, in particular, the capital region, into perspective, then we will be able to answer the question more directly than we can today.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: The way the Minister of Health talks about the difference in their figures and his figures you would think he is talking about a contractor who is trying to pad their tender. We are talking about a tertiary care health facility that delivers first-rate services to children and to mothers in the Province of Nova Scotia and in the Maritime Provinces. Parents deserve to know, mothers deserve to know what these cuts mean to them. I want to ask the Minister of Health, why will he not tell the parents of Nova Scotia, why will he not tell the mothers of Nova Scotia exactly what he is doing to their health care?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, what we are trying to do for the health care, for mothers and for children in this province is to bring in a health care system which maintains excellence but is sustainable and affordable, and will protect the health of these people in the future.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: I think Nova Scotians, mothers and parents are shocked again today that this government that ran for election saying they had a plan - health care was a number one priority; they were going to ensure the investments were made - once again this government has turned their back on them. It is becoming clear that under this so-called administration, this government is engaged in the shutdown of preventative and out-reach health services like the Well Woman Clinic, and Poison Control. I want to ask the Minister of Health, why does he and his government and the Premier consider these important services non-essential?

[2:45 p.m.]

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, the programs and services that the honourable member has mentioned are indeed important to Nova Scotians and they will be continued.

[Page 6365]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.

ECON. DEV. - PEP: INFO. - RELEASE UPDATE

MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, the presidents of two Tory ridings in Victoria and Richmond had information on the Provincial Employment Program days before the successful applicants had it. The Premier has said that he is going to undertake to find out why that happened. I have not heard that CSIS has been called in and I have not heard anything else that may have happened. Maybe the Premier has even taken upon the initiative to make the bold step of calling the Tory Party to find out how these presidents were able to get this information. Could he update us on the success of his investigation?

HON. JOHN HAMM (The Premier): To the member opposite, the member did bring this to our attention the other day and the minister responsible had undertaken, during Question Period, to look into the matter and I will refer the question to him.

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, as I said in response to the question on Thursday, I would look into it and convey in terms of the time line in which the information was transferred. On May 8th the recommendations from the list were forwarded to my office; on May 10th I authorized that that was the approved list; on May 11th the person responsible within the department drafted the letters and they were signed off by that individual; on May 12th the information was conveyed on a request by phone regarding the status of certain projects and that was conveyed and that is how the information was transferred; on May 15th the packages were prepared and mailed out to those proposals that were successful; and on May 16th the information was put up on the website.

MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, the saga builds, the suspense deepens and this is really, truly a mind-bending experience for the honourable minister I am sure, to try to get to the point of finding out how the Tory Party was able to get this information. I will give the minister a little clue. The phone number for the Tory Party is 429-9470, and if he wants the 800-number, it is 1-800-595-TORY. All he has to do is pick up the receiver and ask. Would he call the Tory Party, or the presidents of either two constituencies, or perhaps if he is in a frivolous state of mind all three, and find out how this information was passed along?

MR. BALSER: Mr. Speaker, to the member opposite, I did, in fact, make those phone calls, and can, in fact, verify how the information was transferred. What happened is, as a result of the proposals being reviewed and after I had approved them, the information was placed with my constituency worker because that individual had received a number of calls related to the status of the projects. Oftentimes on any given day there are calls and, unfortunately, through an error in judgement, or just a mistake, that information was conveyed as a result of a phone call, but I will remind the members opposite that it in no way reflected the selection process, that in fact I had authorized the list and, while it happened, it is just a reflection of perhaps enthusiasm more than any underhanded intent.

[Page 6366]

MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, I think we are coming to the conclusion of this mystery. My question is to the Premier. The Premier knows that a minister, under his code of conduct, clearly must stipulate that his department cannot be used for partisan political purposes. Obviously, the minister's department was. I want to know what action the Premier is going to take having heard that the Minister of Economic Development has used his department for partisan political purposes? What is he going to do? This is in violation of his own code of conduct.

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the issue here is, how do people find out once, through a legitimate process, they have been approved for a provincial employment grant? The process was handled appropriately by the department, and once the process is finished, once the organizations that are in receipt of the workers, once that has been determined, I believe they have a right to know. They have asked, and the information has been provided. I see nothing wrong with that.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

HEALTH: IWK-GRACE - CUTS

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, we have just learned of lay-offs at the IWK-Grace Hospital; 45 full-time equivalent positions will be lost which means more than that number will actually be out of work starting this Friday. The IWK's news release says, clearly, that clinical services will be affected by these changes. This news should humble the minister and destroy any credibility he has when he claims that health cuts will not affect patient care. I want to ask the Minister of Health, when will you tell Nova Scotians the truth, that front-line health care is being damaged by your budget?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for that question. For his information, the IWK-Grace, the institution to which he is referring, employs about 2,400 staff, somewhere around 1,800 full-time equivalents. The business plan that was submitted is still under review by the department and we will make an announcement in due course about what portions of it will be authorized by the department.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, we understand that the Well Woman Clinic is being closed. This cut hurts deeply, because there is mounting evidence that more, not less, gender-based health care services are important and necessary. The inequality in research and attention paid to women's health was identified earlier this year in a study released at the Maritime Centre for Excellence in Women's Health. I want to ask the Minister of Health, how can you stand there and tell Nova Scotians that prevention is a priority when your budget is destroying programming that is aimed at prevention?

[Page 6367]

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I would go back and indicate that the clinic services portion of business plans have not yet been approved or disapproved, but what I can tell the honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour is that this government has allocated about $900,000 this year in new money to wellness programs. I would also tell him that one of the things people have to understand is that, when it comes to wellness programs like that, certainly, regardless of the work that the IWK-Grace does, in this case the Grace component of it, they don't have a monopoly on well women's health.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, my final question to the Minister of Health is, will the minister now admit that his budget will result in terrible damage to the health care system beginning with, but not ending, at the QE II and the IWK-Grace?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, this government believes that the steps we are taking this year with regard to health care are important to preserve the health care system in the future. We are very interested in sustainability, and we are also interested in affordability. As a gentleman said to me on Friday or Saturday, I guess it was, he said, Nova Scotians would sooner have a good health care system than no health care system. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

HEALTH - BUDGET (2000-01): PATIENT CARE - EFFECT

DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health. Daily we learn of health care workers lost to our system and again, today, as others have mentioned in this House, 45 people at the IWK-Grace Health Centre for Children, Women and Families. Among the cutbacks also is a reduction in the hours of the Well Woman Clinic.

Mr. Speaker, my question to the minister is simple, is the minister going to stand by his statement that front-line patient care will not be affected due to budget cuts?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for Dartmouth East for that question. Our statement was that we would try to protect front-line health delivery services as best we can. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

DR. SMITH: This government's own blue book emphasized, Mr. Speaker, that the focus of the initiatives will be on preventing environmental or lifestyle inducements to poor health; the minister knows that. This government has discarded this concept and is focused solely on budget cuts, certainly at this juncture. My question to the minister is, how can the minister justify cuts which contradict his own Party's election platform?

[Page 6368]

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that question but one of the things that people are saying is that wellness programs can only be delivered in acute care facilities. I can tell you that our government continues to be committed to wellness promotion, indeed, about $900,000 this year is being added for wellness promotion, disease prevention. We will continue to work with the IWK-Grace, public health and the communities to ensure that wellness programs are available throughout the province.

DR. SMITH: The way that government is going, there will be nobody left to either direct or deliver those services that he is so proud to say that he is putting money in. There are 45 people gone today from the IWK-Grace, 418 from the QE II, the Well Woman Clinic is reduced. Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce the minister to actual front-line health care and to let him know that he has just cut that and he has cut it big time. With the reduction of 45 health care workers, will the minister continue to say that front-line health care will not be affected?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, as we have said, we would like to protect the core services that are being delivered for Nova Scotians in our health care system. We are doing everything we can to see that those core services are maintained and enhanced and we will continue to do that.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

SYSCO - SALE: RAIL MILL - SHUTDOWN

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I want to talk again about commitments unmet. I want to go to the Premier this time. Sysco has produced its last rail, effectively shutting down the rail mill and soon will also be shutting down the finishing operation. The government has gained no new rail orders, despite pretending that it wants to sell Sysco as a going concern. The Premier knows the concerns about his Cabinet's decision to support one bid at the cost of 300 jobs before the bids for Sysco have even been evaluated.

I want to ask the Premier, why should Nova Scotians believe that you are giving fair consideration to bidders who want to produce rails and expand Sysco's business when you have gone ahead and shut down the rail mill?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, what has happened over the recent months, as the member opposite is no doubt aware, is that the rail mill continued to operate to complete those orders that had been taken by the plant up until the end of last year. Those orders, as the member opposite has indicated, have been successfully completed. What the government has undertaken to do is to sell the steel plant if at all possible to an organization that shows fiscal strength and marketing ability that will allow it to run a privatized steel industry in Sydney. That has been the objective of government, has been, still is and we hope - we hope - we can accomplish that.

[Page 6369]

[3:00 p.m.]

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: It is going to be interesting to see how successful they will be at selling Sysco as a going operation when they have seen the rail mill shut down. I want to ask the Premier, when he announced his Sysco policy back in March of 1999, he made a commitment, another one, he committed himself and his Party to full pensions for everyone working at Sysco, including remediation jobs for anyone who did not have enough time to qualify for that full pension. Despite that commitment, nobody should be surprised, the government has now walked away from pension negotiations, claiming that it needs to know the outcome of bids for Sysco. I want to ask the Premier, why has he not instructed his representatives to implement his own commitment and that of his Party to take care of the Sysco workers by ensuring a full pension for everyone working there?

THE PREMIER: I would ask the minister responsible to give the member opposite an update as to where we are with Sysco.

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, negotiations have moved on involving the province and the unionized workforce. They reached the point last week where it was obvious that we needed to have a clear understanding of which of the scenarios would be the one that would play out and that is whether or not it would be sold as an ongoing operation or it would in fact be closed out. If it is sold as an ongoing operation, there may be an opportunity for a workforce of 200 to 300 to 500 and the union recognized that at some point they would have to wait until that final determination was made before they can complete negotiations.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I didn't think it was possible, but I think this government is fumbling this file worse than the previous government did. That is shameful. It was the Premier who said shut her down because the workers are all hitting retirement age anyway. The Premier said that. In fact, it was the Finance Minister who added that those costs have been fully identified. Now the Premier has walked away from the table once again, but who should be surprised? I want to ask the Premier, who is preventing him from keeping his very clear commitment? Who is preventing him from keeping that very clear commitment to ensure full pensions for Sysco workers, come what may?

THE PREMIER: I can assure the member opposite that we will be keeping our commitments to steelworkers and as well, we will be doing that in the full realization that the best solution for the people of Nova Scotia, the best solution for steelworkers and the best solution for all of the people in industrial Cape Breton would be a sale of the plant. We are working very diligently to see if that can be achieved. Once that is achieved, I believe we will be in the position then to accommodate the remainder of the workforce that are not taken up by a new employer.

[Page 6370]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.

HEALTH: REG. BD. (W-DIST. 1) - BED CLOSURES

MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. Last week, the Minister of Health was giving details of budgets throughout the Province of Nova Scotia and those budgets indicated the effect that it will have on the health delivery system. District 1 in the western region includes the Lunenburg, Bridgewater and Liverpool Hospitals. I understand they are going to lose $2.6 million from their budget. I have been advised that 15-some bed closures will happen in Bridgewater this week. My question to the minister, could the minister confirm or deny if this case is actually true?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for the question. The answer regarding the temporary bed closures is correct.

MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, 15 beds out of the Bridgewater area are going to have a dramatic impact on Lunenburg, Bridgewater and Queens Hospitals. These cuts are not in administration and it is not because of summer slowdown. It is because of the lack of money and a lack of nurses within the system. How can the minister say to the residents of Lunenburg and Queens County, losing one-third of the medical-surgical beds, a $2.6 million loss from acute care budget, is good for health care in our region? How can he say that?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I can tell the honourable member the beds that are being closed, are closed temporarily for sort of a summer shutdown.

MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, that is a falsehood because the minister knows all too well that it is not summer vacation at this point in May. The minister knows, in spades, it is because of a lack of money and the lack of nurses that those beds are being closed. My final question to the minister, what will the minister do to assure the people in my region of the Province of Nova Scotia, that is now below the national average of beds per population, how the health care delivery system in Nova Scotia and in Lunenburg County will be properly maintained for the people of my community?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I will assure the honourable member, the same as I will assure all Nova Scotians, there will be a quality health care system available for all Nova Scotians, and the steps we are taking are going to ensure we have a quality health care system in the future.

[Page 6371]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

FIN. - PROCUREMENT: TENDERS - LIMITS INCREASE

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I want to direct my question through you to the Minister of Finance. During the election the Tories promised small-business people they would change the tendering process to make it more open. Instead - I have evidence and I will table it here today, it is called Procurement Branch, The New Model - the government wants to open the door to sleazy spending, like their untendered polls from Dr. Butler. They plan to increase, to crank up departmental spending limits to $10,000 before they have to go to public tender. I want to ask the Minister of Finance to explain to Nova Scotians how he can lecture them about financial responsibility and then give government carte blanche to shop at Tories R US?

HON. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, I am rather amazed at the question because obviously the member opposite has not done his research. I will say, obviously every policy we have in the government is reviewed periodically. This is one where those levels were established for some length of time and we are reviewing those thresholds, but for the honourable member to make those assertions is totally irresponsible.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Let me go back and make a few more. Mr. Speaker, the Tories promised small businesses they were going to Buy Nova Scotia First. What they really meant was buy Tory first. You see, the new $10,000 spending policy means fewer small tenders, and that means small businesses are losing what little protection fair tendering practices involved. I would ask the minister, why is he taking away opportunities for small businesses to participate in a fair tendering process?

MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, first of all, I have already emphasized to the member that a decision has not been made. Their thresholds are being reviewed, as any government should review them. They have not changed in some length of time, but for the member to say that small business will not be able to participate, that is not the truth. This government is dedicated to making sure, across this province, people have a fair chance at participating in work and we will not follow through on some of the things that happened in the past, especially bundling of schools where many small companies in Nova Scotia didn't have a chance to participate. That is not where we are going in this government and for the member to say otherwise is not the truth.

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am going to give the minister a few more truths. You don't get rid of patronage by getting rid of open tendering. What happens is, you end up having to make cuts at the IWK in order to pay for closed tenders. Shameful. I want to ask the minister, why won't he drop the responsibility act and admit that he is inviting his friends to belly-up to the trough and that it is Nova Scotians who are going to pay for it with higher costs and with fewer services like the ones at the IWK? Admit it.

[Page 6372]

MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, this level of debate helps no one and I want to say to the member opposite, for that member opposite to say the things that he has today is totally irresponsible. We are reviewing the policies of the government and I think for us not to do so would be irresponsible. I am committed, as our government is, to make sure that people across this province have a chance to partake in the tendering process and for him to say that we are directing these contracts to certain people is not true. We are trying to open up the system so that everyone can partake. For him to make those statements is totally irresponsible.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.

FIN.: ATL. LOTO - BENEFITS (N.S.)

MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. After the Atlantic Provinces Premiers' Conference a few weeks ago, Premier Lord of New Brunswick was interviewed by ATV. He was basically bragging, I think twice during the interview, about Atlantic Canada's cooperation and how it has worked for Atlantic Loto and the fact that downtown Moncton now has the 300 jobs that they have always wanted. Could the Premier elaborate on how he believes that Atlantic Loto has benefited Nova Scotia?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite understands that by participating in Atlantic Loto, we have actually maximized the profits for all participants, including an additional $4.9 million of revenue that we were able to achieve through our negotiations with the other provinces and in coming to an equitable solution in how we are going to handle lottery sales in Atlantic Canada.

MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotians are being treated like serfs by the lord of the manor. Nova Scotia wagered $22 million more at ALC than it did in 1996 yet Nova Scotia received $2.5 million less in revenue. That is $24.5 million leaving the pockets of Nova Scotians for whatever reasons we do not know. Will the Premier today release the details of the new ALC arrangement so that Nova Scotians can judge for themselves whether or not we got a better deal by this government?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, there is no question we got a better deal and I would leave it to the minister responsible to give us some details of how much better the deal was.

HON. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, in regard to the negotiations with ALC, the previous administration was not able to come to an agreement. This government did and I want to say that two of the points that we wanted to have is a change in the profit-sharing formula with the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, which was achieved, and also the fact that we wanted to have an agency agreement whereby Nova Scotians' unique type of circumstances where when we have an agency which monitors especially the casino, but gaming overall, which is not prevalent in other provinces, we wanted to have those types of agreements. Both

[Page 6373]

of those will be finalized very shortly and when they are, they will made public, not like the previous administration that did surveys and refused to make them public to the people.

MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotia is the largest province within the region. The Premier is acting like the Mayor of Trenton when it comes to negotiating on behalf of Nova Scotians with the Atlantic Lottery Corporation deal. Pat Binns is getting more respect than the Premier of Nova Scotia and we all know that Brian Tobin is running circles around this Premier when it comes to the offshore. My question to the Premier or the wannabe Premier of this province, when will they put forward the agreement they made at ALC to show Nova Scotians if, in fact, we have been taken to the cleaners by this new arrangement? I believe we have been.

[3:15 p.m.]

MR. LEBLANC: I have been informed by staff that early in June, once that agreement is finalized and it is signed off, it will be made public, and I stand again, Mr. Speaker, we will make that public, the same reports that honourable member refused to make public. We will show Nova Scotians what really goes on. (Interruptions) (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. (Interruptions) Order, please.

The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

FIN. - PURCHASING: TENDERS ON-LINE - DISCRIMINATION

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the applause, and I hope that the answer of the Minister of Finance is half worthy enough to get a partial one as well.

The Nova Scotia Procurement Policy states that all businesses are to have an equal opportunity to compete for government tenders. Well, that doesn't appear to be the case anymore, Mr. Speaker. The tender call went out last week, for some computers. It says that as part of a pilot project, bids will only be accepted on-line. No hard copies will be accepted. That is quite contrary to provincial policy, since it discriminates against businesses who are not yet able to bid electronically. So, I want to ask (Interruption)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. (Interruptions) Order, please. The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid has the floor.

MR. HOLM: Why is the government allowing tenders to go out that are discriminatory and, more importantly, Mr. Speaker, are completely contrary to the government's own procurement policy?

[Page 6374]

HON. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, I am going to try to be calm and answer this one. (Interruption) The member says that somehow he feels we have discriminated against people. I don't believe that we have. I think it is reasonable. He brings up whether or not there is some manner in which we have discriminated against people. I will take that under advisement, but I want to be candid with the member. To me, it seems to be reasonable to ask computer companies who want to bid on a tender to do so on-line, but I will give the member the benefit of the doubt. I will review it. On the face of it, I think it is reasonable, but I will take it under advisement.

MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his patronizing comments. If the minister, who is responsible for the procurement policies of Nova Scotia, was doing his job and understood what the guidelines said, he would know that all businesses are supposed to have equal access and that this pilot project is going to discriminate against businesses that do not have that expertise. This will then be moved on to all other government areas. I want to ask this minister why it is that he is discarding the procurement policy in favour of the big corporations that have the access to that kind of information and expertise at the expense of medium and small Nova Scotian businesses?

MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, I want to say to the opposite member that he is basically belittling small and medium-sized companies in this province, to say that they don't have access to computers and don't understand it, that is not the case. That is how most of these companies access that information in the first place, and for him to say that that doesn't happen, that is not the case. To his first question, I told him I would review it and I will still do that, even though I think the question is somewhat unreasonable.

MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, maybe I should provide the Minister of Finance with a copy of the ACOA report, which points out that many small businesses in Nova Scotia are not yet, indeed, ready to do that which the minister says. The minister is upping departmental discretionary spending - I guess the next polling contract will be for $9,900 instead of $4,900 - which means that small businesses can't count on the rules of fair public tendering to get business, and he is now allowing tenders to go out which violate his government's own policies. I ask the minister, how can businesses have any faith that, under your rule, anyone without good standing in the Tory Party will have fair access to any government contract?

MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, I repeat my comment to this member that he is pretty low in the gutter when you go that way. I will say that we will treat Nova Scotians fairly; that was my belief before I came into government and it is my belief today. We will treat people fairly across this province, and I categorically refute what that member has said, that we will give a few benefits. We will not. The changes, if there are any changes, they will be done in conjunction with a review done within the department.

[Page 6375]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton South.

SYSCO - SALE: PENSIONS FAIRNESS - PROMISE FULFIL

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. The soon-to-be-retired Leader of the New Democratic Party took almost six months to ask his first Sysco question. (Interruptions) I might say it must be pay-off time for the international donations that went to the NDP in the last election.

Continuing with the question regarding the lack of rail orders at Sysco, the last rail producer in Canada, there are no more orders on the horizon and the minister still refuses to indicate when a buyer for the plant will be announced. Steelworkers are being laid off and marketing has come to a halt. What we do know is that June 29, 1999, the current Premier stated, "I can't protect Sysco jobs, but I promise to protect the steelworkers." Will the Premier fulfil his promise and ensure adequate pensions once and for all for steelworkers and Mr. Premier, will there be more financial support on the table for pensions?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, nothing would suit, I believe, all members of this House, including all members of this government, to come up with a purchaser for Sysco who would employ all of the steelworkers, would run the steel mill, would run the finishing mill, and would have all of the workers working 50 out of the 52 weeks of the year. I believe that many of the problems inherent with the steel mill can be overcome with a private owner, and that is the road down which we are travelling. What steelworkers have said to me, and many steelworkers have said to me, is our first priority is a job. They have asked me, continually, look and see if you can find a purchaser because our number one priority is a job, and that is the road down which we have travelled.

It may very well be that even with a successful sale of the plant that many of those workers will not be accommodated. We have already indicated we will accommodate those workers above and beyond the contract that is in place now.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, it is apparent that the Premier doesn't seem to care whether these employees have a pension or not. I think that is evident by his lack of participation in the discussions that are ongoing. He has shown a lack of commitment to the workers at Sydney Steel, and his personal commitment has been broken. Again, on December 31st, the Premier promised to look after the steelworkers when he announced the sale to Rail Associates, a sale that lasted all of 12 days. My question to the Premier, will the Premier personally intervene and meet with the steelworkers' union to ensure pension and contract issues are settled prior to any sale or closure?

[Page 6376]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, it may well have been that the member opposite didn't catch the answer the minister responsible gave to a previous question, which answered that question specifically, so I would go to the minister responsible and ask, for the benefit of the member for Cape Breton South, to repeat your answer.

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, as I said in answer to a previous question, we did have negotiations. Unfortunately, we reached the point late last week where there was a recognition that until such time as we knew which of the two scenarios would be the one we would have to deal with, we couldn't really sit down and negotiate any further. My understanding is that, while the negotiations ceased, it was amiable.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, they can't negotiate any further, because they are not prepared to put any more money on the table. They have been fooling around with this now for six months trying to get the plant disposed of before they come to any conclusion with the steelworkers. The steelworkers are interested in getting the Premier to the table, face-to-face in these discussions, on the issue of pensions and on the issue of their contract prior to the sale. Mr. Premier, will you sit down with the steelworkers and negotiate these issues prior to the sale of the plant?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I believe that the minister responsible and the staff who are handling this file are doing an excellent job, and I am quite prepared to support the actions they have taken up until now. I believe they will do a good job in the weeks to come.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.

HEALTH - EMERGENCY 911: DISPATCHERS - STRIKE

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Minister of Health. There is a group of people we rely on every day, and maybe we don't even realize it, at least until there is an emergency and we have to dial 911 and then pay the fee. I am talking about the paramedics and the firefighters who dispatch ambulances and emergency response around the province. The problem is that these people and their union have been negotiating for a year for a first collective agreement, but without success. Now their employer is preparing for a strike. My question to the Minister of Health, what are you doing to make sure that emergency dispatchers aren't forced to go on strike?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for that question. There is a negotiation process going on between EMC and the CUPW members who are involved in the dispatching at the 911 dispatch centre. This contract actually involves one group of people. It is not quite as complex as the negotiations were last year when we were dealing with the paramedics from all over the province. The talks with the union and the employer are moving along fairly well, and there were more bargaining days scheduled for this month and also in June. It is a first contract, and as a first contract it usually takes a little bit

[Page 6377]

longer to come up with something that is acceptable to both sides than if you are renewing a contract.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, this government and this minister, through a combination of indifference and incompetence, have already brought us a paramedics' strike.

You remember that. Now EMC seems quite willing to let their dispatchers go on strike. The dispatchers say they are frequently short-staffed. Sometimes they tell us there are only five dispatchers in the whole Province of Nova Scotia, one for each of the five regions. When this happens, they cannot move from their phones during a 12 hour shift. My question to the Minister of Health, what steps are you taking, Mr. Minister, to make sure that we don't have to learn all about short-staffing during a 911 emergency call?

[3:30 p.m.]

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, as the honourable member knows, the negotiations are going on between EMC and CUPW. That particular question that he has just raised may be an item that is on the bargaining table and I don't know the answer to that. Therefore, I will not comment on it.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I will ask the Premier my final question. These workers, members of CUPW, believe that EMC is trying to break them through overwork and overstress. They believe EMC wants to make them give in at the bargaining table by making working conditions more difficult. Here we have low wages, poor working conditions, short-staffing and an employer who apparently would rather break a strike than strike a deal. Mr. Premier, what are you prepared to do to make sure that emergency dispatchers are not forced to go out on strike?

THE PREMIER: I can assure the member opposite that I have had an opportunity to talk to a number of paramedics since the resolution of their contract dispute with their employer and by and large the majority of those workers are very happy with the solution that eventually was found. I believe that the same process, negotiations around the table, will result in a resolution that will be satisfactory to the remainder of the workers who are working for EMC.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.

SYSCO - SALE: PENSIONERS - NEGOTIATIONS RESUME

MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. The Premier is misleading this House. He is misleading steelworkers and he is misleading the people of Nova Scotia. He knows, and everyone in that government knows, that the number of pensioners who are looking for pensions cannot possibly be hired by anybody who is making an application for Sysco. He knows these people have to be looked after separately

[Page 6378]

and apart from the possible sale of Sysco. Why doesn't he come clean, why doesn't he admit that regardless of whether the plant is sold or not, these pensioners are going to have to be looked after as he promised last June 29th? Will he get back to meaningful negotiations with the pensioners at Sydney Steel?

THE PREMIER: The government is committed to the process which it is following and I believe it is the process that has the greatest opportunity for success and that is a successful sale of the steel industry in Cape Breton. As the minister responsible has said, on two occasions now during this Question Period, we cannot take it any further until we know exactly what is going to happen with a new owner.

MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, this is totally incredible. The pension question and the sale of Sysco are two entirely different questions. You don't have to sell the plant to know what the pensioners should have in the way of a pension because they are not going to be employed. The Premier and the Minister of Economic Development both know that one of the biggest obstacles in the sale of Sysco would be a new owner having to take on steelworkers who only have a few years of work left and have to train these people for the few years of work they would have. They want a younger workforce.

MR. SPEAKER: Question, please.

MR. MACLELLAN: The Premier knows that. He is misleading the steelworkers in this House. Why will he not do the honourable thing and reach an honourable and fair settlement with the pensioners of Sysco?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the minister has answered the question twice. I will now give him an opportunity to answer the question the third time.

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, the issue is exactly as the member opposite spoke, whether or not we are going to have a workforce of 500 or 200, he is absolutely right in terms of any purchaser coming in, needing to be reassured and being able to talk to their workforce. Part of the restructuring will involve negotiating an ongoing contract, under new management, and at the same time, dealing with the issues that exist around the agreements that are in place as a result of the province having operated Sysco.

MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, this is really extremely unfair to steelworkers. If the government doesn't want to offer more money, they should just say so. They have walked away from the table. I want to ask the Premier, why doesn't he just admit to steelworkers, and pensioners particularly, that what he is waiting for is the sale of the plant so that he can just walk away completely from the pensioners and say, look, you are somebody else's problem now, we don't owe you anything? Why doesn't he just admit that?

[Page 6379]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the members opposite know, as well as members of the government know, it has been a long and difficult road for steelworkers. For 30 years, they have been living with a great element of insecurity. I believe that we will, if our sale of the plant is successful, give at least a number of these steelworkers a sense of security for the first time in three decades, and the others will be looked after by this government as we have committed to in the past.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.

PET. DIR. - SABLE GAS: C.B. - INCLUSION

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. Mr. Premier, you will recall that in December 1997, the former government signed an agreement with the Sable gas pipeline and its provider. The agreement committed the government not to support any third party in connection with the review and appeal or rehearing of regulatory approvals. In the year since that the federal court has heard that appeal asking it to require examination of the consequences of Sable gas on industrial Cape Breton, I ask you, Mr. Premier, what are you doing to support industrial Cape Breton's efforts to be included in the Sable gas project?

THE PREMIER: I recognize the concern of the member opposite to make sure that people on the Island of Cape Breton, as in the rest of Nova Scotia, will have an opportunity to participate in all aspects and benefits of Sable Gas development, however, after I get beyond that understanding, I am not quite sure exactly what it is the member is specifically asking me about Cape Breton Island.

MR. CORBETT: Mr. Premier, the coal industry is in a shambles, you are ready to give away the steel plant, nobody is listening to you on your Laurentian gas proposal, nobody wants to take you up on that. Will you take at least one step by urging the parties to the federal court case to do whatever they can to gain a decision from the court, now that a year has gone by since the case was heard?

THE PREMIER: The member opposite is now getting to the question, which allows me to get to the answer. What we are committed to doing is putting forward to the federal government, as we have, that we feel as Nova Scotians the proper position is that the line is as delineated in the accord which was signed in the mid-1980's. If the member opposite is suggesting that we take a position that in any way, shape or form undermines that legal position, I am very disappointed in the member opposite.

MR. CORBETT: He has gone from arrogance to arrogance to arrogance, because he didn't understand the question again. It is about the Sable gas pipeline, John; I will say it slow, Sable gas pipeline. What are you doing to protect Cape Breton's interest in the Sable gas pipeline? Can you tell this House, what are you doing?

[Page 6380]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.

The honourable member for Cape Breton West on an introduction.

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce to you and through you to all members of the House, a long-standing member of the past Cape Breton County Council, as well a present member of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. He is in the west gallery, Mr. Ivan Doncaster. He is also my councillor, as well. (Applause)

GOVERNMENT BUSINESS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.

PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 47.

Bill No. 47 - Education Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, at the close of debate on Bill No. 47 on the amendment, I moved that the previous question of the question be now put and having made that contribution to the debate on second reading of Bill No. 47, I will take my place.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.

MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand again to speak on Bill No. 47. Bill No. 47 is a very important bill for all of us in this House to be able to stand and debate because the impact on education in the Education Bill is an important one to us all.

Mr. Speaker, I don't plan to spend a long time going through this today as I have already spoken for about an hour on this bill previously during a debate that was to deal with an amendment to the bill. I want to say that it becomes more apparent as time goes on in this Legislature, that this government continues to be a government that is bringing forward bills

[Page 6381]

and measures that do not have a plan or a function other than the fact that this is a last minute approach to how they want to dictatorially drive the agenda down the proverbial throats of Nova Scotians, whether it is education or health care. The list goes on.

We have seen today and we have seen in the past that this Education Bill and the changes in the Department of Education with regard to the budget have had a very profound effect and a very negative effect on the public of Nova Scotia. We have seen, time and time again, demonstrations outside this House, in fact, outside many of the constituencies throughout the Province of Nova Scotia. We have seen children and we have seen parents and we have seen teachers come forward, pointing out the concerns with regard to the changes in the Education budget.

At the same time, we have seen this government, that promised that there would be a tremendous infusion or a benefit if they voted for the Tories for education and for health care, today, we found that the cuts to health care and the cuts to education are, in fact, the opposite of what this government promised it was going to provide to Nova Scotians. It is opposite of what they committed during their campaign. It is opposite of what they said they believed in that would benefit this province's long-term stability. This is a government that seems to be a government that wants to choose one day to say one issue and what their commitments are, only to be able to say the next day an altogether opposite point of view. This is a government that, to me, is out of control with regard to where they see and what they want to do for the benefit of the future of this province.

This is a government that brings in Bill No. 47 that says, we are not going to fire any teachers, we are not going to let any teachers go and yet they bring in a bill that says they don't have to let anybody know until sometime in June before lay-off notices go forward. That is the same government that said that 911 calls were brought into a bill that was brought in earlier, a year ago, they said, well, we are just doing it because we will never use it. It is just there for the fun of it. It is just there in the event that some future minister might want to be able to invoke a fee for 911 services. I believe there is, if there is nothing else, no plan with this government but when they do bring a bill in, they have a point of view, they have an idea that they want to, in fact, go forward with changes that will have an impact, they want to hold back lay-off notices until June 16th.

[3:45 p.m.]

Lay-off notices have always been, historically, around May 15th, the middle of May, giving time for teachers, for family members, for parents to plan their future; giving time for school boards to go forward with trying to understand what the impact will be in the following year; giving time for the whole educational system to plan out where they are going and how they are going to manage their affairs in the future. Well, this move within this bill - I believe it is in Clause 6 and Clause 7 - makes it very clear that they don't want any long-term planning. What they want to do is make sure that the next time they get into the

[Page 6382]

Legislature in the spring, that the Legislature is closed and shut down long before they have to notify Nova Scotians, parents, children and teachers that they will no longer be requiring their services in the upcoming year. They want to make sure that they silence the concerns of Nova Scotians from the public domain. They don't want the media to run stories about the impact of closures of schools and the reduction of services to the education system.

I stand in my place in this House today and I look across at individuals reading newspapers and doing other things - thank goodness they can read - but if they can read that, they can read this bill. If they read this bill they would realize in spades, which is exactly the plan this government has to undermine the education system in this province. If they can take time to read those initiatives, they should read this bill and stand up and speak about the impact that will have on their individual area and riding.

There are a few of the frontbenchers who are formerly educators. Some of those educators realize all too well what I am speaking about when I talk about the potential change of date from May 15th to June 16th for lay-off notices and the impact that will have on the education system. So I am standing here today, I ask the Premier and/or the Minister of Finance or both to reconsider - this isn't a budgetary item - the issue of the date when lay-off notices would be given, to give some respect to the system to allow for people to have proper notice.

Now, I am sure the Premier and the Minister of Finance really don't see this as being maybe a big issue. If that is the case, then reverting to May 15th should be very easy, unless they do have a plan to further reduce the number of teachers in the future. By doing so, allowing the date of June 16th to be the predominant date, will mean that nobody, or very few people, will be able to stand in this Legislature and complain and to allow Nova Scotians to know that they are going on the wrong track.

We have said all along that this is a government without a real plan; this is a government that has targets, no plan. This is a government that has targets financially, fiscally, but no plan. This is a government that has the ideology of the far right that says we don't care about the rights of individual children or about the rights of individuals across this province as long as we make our agenda and we meet our target and our target number.

We hear about the far right and we hear about the agenda of the Party that is the far right in Canada. We hear about what they call the so-called Red Tories provincially. I am sure there are a few backbenchers who have an understanding of what that means. It means that yes, they want to be fiscally responsible but they also have a little compassion and a little sense of fairness and a little sense of integrity, a little sense of caring and pride and a sense of fair justice to people in the education system. I think there are a few in there, Mr. Speaker, who would agree that that would be fair and that would be an appropriate way to analyse or to say that this government has those values. I question whether or not the frontbenchers have those values, in light of the fact that Bill No. 47 does not allow for anything more than the

[Page 6383]

ability to shut down quietly, make quiet the system by allowing that notification doesn't have to happen until June 16th.

When I see members on the front bench who formerly were educators, they know the implication of that, and I am sure they must have sat down with the Minister of Education whom, I don't know if she ever had a career in or had the pleasure of being an educator, but she understands all too well the implication of what this change in the bill means to the system. I would challenge the frontbenchers who are educators and the backbenchers who are former educators to come and talk to the minister and convince the minister how wrong they are on that one aspect of the bill, go to the Premier and the Minister of Finance to point out to them that they have made a mistake with regard to those changes of May 15th to June 16th for lay-offs.

I understand the backbenchers could probably forgive the Minister of Education for saying 50 in a classroom is okay. They know that is absolutely bizarre. It is bizarre to ever think that our education system would have to revert back to 50 children in a class to make it work. I am sure they can forgive her for that; she might have made a mistake on that. She might have made one of those flippant remarks that she regrets ever making, but I am sure that the minister strategically understands the importance of changing the bill from May 15th to June 16th, because that is an absolute change to how they are going to treat the educators in the Province of Nova Scotia.

I would ask that the Minister of Education, during the next period of time on the debate on this Bill No. 47, reconsider what she or her staff or the back-room individuals of the government try to drive down the proverbial throats of educators in this province, and that is changing the lay-off notice date. I believe that there is not the need to go forward with that today in light of the fact that the powerful Minister of Education was able to convince the Minister of Finance that more money was required, realize the errors of his ways in not giving her the proper money in the beginning, and repent by giving her additional money.

I can just see the Minister of Finance on bended knee, begging for forgiveness from the Minister of Education for not listening to her earlier and providing her the proper funding for the education system. Now that the Minister of Finance has received that forgiveness from the minister, he should go one step further and suggest, minister, now that we were able to bail out some of the problems in education - not all of them, but some of them - maybe we should reconsider an amendment to that bill and change the lay-off notice date to a more appropriate time.

This bill is also a bill that does not address many of the concerns that parents and teachers and students are having with regard to the area of special needs students in the province.

[Page 6384]

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to ask these government benches to stop their talking while I am trying to get a point across to them. I know that they like to heckle periodically, but I would appreciate if they would at least try to pay attention to the discussions we are having in this debate.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. There is too much chatter in the Chamber. Maybe I could ask the members to either pay attention to the honourable member or take those discussions outside the Chamber, please.

MR. DOWNE: Turn around, Minister of Finance, and you will see two or three of that, behind you there. Do you want to turn around? He is scared to turn around.

Okay, I will continue, Mr. Speaker, with Bill No. 47. The Minister of Finance is trying to take me off track because he knows that he has been wrong on the funding formula for Education. He knows he was wrong to tell Nova Scotians, in his budget, that nobody would be hurt by the Education budget. He knows he was wrong when he informed all Nova Scotians that his budget was not sound when it comes to investment in education. The Minister of Education knew that as well. That is why she, being as powerful as she is, was able to take money from that slush fund to reinvest, to help fortify some of the Draconian measures that would have had to come forward to cut on education.

Now the big question will be how the Minister of Health will do in regard to the challenges he has, or any other frontbenchers in regard to the problems they face. We know the Minister of Education obviously is very powerful because she was able to correct some of the problems. Not all of the problems, I might add, just some of them. I would hope the Minister of Education, in her wisdom, will see fit to make changes to the lay-off notice time period, Clauses 6 and 7, and have those deleted so they revert back to the original date that was set, and seemed to be set, with a certain amount of logic and fairness that was brought forward in previous administrations.

This minister has many challenges before her in dealing with children with special needs. I am sure the compassionate side of this minister, or, of this government if they have one - I am sure they do, they just have not been able to show it lately, but somewhere deep down inside, when you scratch away the veneer on the front, you might find an ounce of compassion there, and that compassion - should come forward in regard to this bill in addressing the issue of those children who need special assistance. I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say with regard to the children of special needs and how that will work.

This minister has also brought in changes to the Southwest Regional School Board, by saying we are going to divide and try a trial program in regard to setting the boundaries in different areas of this region. For example, Lunenburg-Queens will be one area, and the Tri-county will be another. It will be interesting to see how that works. Mechanically speaking,

[Page 6385]

the CEO, who has now been quieted, the new CEO who will probably be somewhat politically positioned, will only report directly to the minister or deputy minister. I understand Peter McCreath, the former Tory MP, is one who is running for that position and looking for that job with bated breath because he is finding it hard out there, I am sure; but he is interested in that job. Whenever the announcement is made of who that will be, it will be interesting to watch their pedigree. Be assured, this government will try to appoint somebody they can quiet whenever they want to, and the fact that the CEO now will report directly to the minister without going to the board, it is almost like they don't trust the board. They don't trust a duly-elected, democratically-elected board.

They are scared they might tell Nova Scotians just exactly what the agenda is of this government. In fact, this so-called trial program has done one thing, and that has quieted the CEO within the western region. So they have made their progress. I note the members, for Yarmouth and down in that area, will be happy because they have nobody else to argue with now. They have only their own government people to argue with. They don't have to worry about somebody going out and telling their constituents the disastrous situation this government is putting people in with regard to educational cutbacks. In fact, they have gone to the extent where they don't even allow the CEO to report to the board anymore under these changes. It is almost like the board that is duly elected, democratically elected - they run campaigns - will not have a voice with the CEO. The CEO is not responsible to report back to the board on the financial matters of running the Southwest Regional School Board. So Nova Scotians will be kept in the dark again and again.

[4:00 p.m.]

There is another area that the minister brought in that I find intriguing and interesting, this change to the bill, to run a pilot project for the year 2004. It is pretty vague after that. We don't know what is going to happen after 2004. Hopefully we will have a provincial election and this lot will be cast out, kicked out, set aside, thrown away, discarded like a Bic lighter when it runs out of gas, it is gone. I hope that maybe this will happen. Maybe that is what the minister is looking at, possibly only being able to stay in power to the year 2004 and they will be gone; nevertheless, the minister has not made it clear how they are going to handle this trial pilot program for the Southwest Regional School Board past the year 2004.

I note that the minister is patiently waiting for my suggestions and I will be happy to make a couple of common sense suggestions to the minister. One would be why not do an analysis of whether or not this has been financially beneficial, socially beneficial, education-wise, that we have been able to benchmark the benefits of education and programs currently and to determine in the year 2004 whether or not we have actually improved the educational delivery system in a cost benefit point of view to students in that area, from a business point of view, from a corporate point of view, from a right-wing agenda point of view, from any kind of a non-compassionate point of view that they might want to look at that would make logical sense. The minister would put in some measure of assessing this pilot project and if

[Page 6386]

that assessment would come forward to the board members and to this Legislature on a year- to-year basis, or a bi-yearly basis, to determine whether or not this pilot project is working and if it is working, then I am sure the minister would be able to move even further forward in that initiative.

At this point in time, before any changes are made after 2004, which happens to be a very important date in the history of this province and in the history of this country, it is when Champlain landed in Nova Scotia some 400 years ago and we are going to celebrate that in the year 2004. That will be 400 years since Champlain came and discovered Nova Scotia; in fact, discovered Canada. In fact, his first landing was in Lunenburg County and, in fact, it was in Lunenburg West.

AN HON. MEMBER: That is where it all started.

MR. DOWNE: It all started in Lunenburg County, in Lunenburg West. The Green Bay/Crescent Beach area is where he first landed and, in fact, his first maps are right there. So Canada began right in my own riding and I am very proud of that. As long as we continue to educate our children, we should be educating them how this country got started, right in Nova Scotia, right in Lunenburg County and, more specifically, very close to Crescent Beach. The minister knows all too well, as a young girl some number of years ago, maybe not that many, I am not sure, probably walked those same beaches where Champlain actually came and mapped out, at least he had a plan, he had a plan for this country and for this province.

So I would suggest that the minister, I cannot go by parts of this bill, but in the bill that the minister would allow for a review of this pilot project after the year 2004, that the minister would be wise enough to realize that we need to analyse the decisions she is making today and making sure it has a long-term benefit to the students and the people of the Province of Nova Scotia. I think once you scratch through that veneer of this government, somewhere down there, there has to be a little common sense and fairness when it comes to that side of it. Maybe the good minister would think about that.

Another area in this bill that I have some concerns about is the ability for the teachers to be able to have successor rights brought forward into this restructuring in this pilot project of the board. Now, historically speaking, the Liberal Government, not that many years ago - the great government that it was - brought in many of those provisions. (Interruption) I note the member for Yarmouth is laughing. I can't understand why the good backbencher would be laughing, because it was through our government that economic growth happened through all parts of this province. Now we are starting to see the demise of the economy to some degree, because people are starting to lose faith and hope about this province. It took a long time to rebuild that, but it won't take long for this Tory Government to take it away.

[Page 6387]

Back to my point on Bill No. 47, and that is the successor rights of teachers. They should be enshrined in this bill. I think the minister might have forgotten that those teachers do have rights. Under previous changes and restructuring of regional boards, we allowed for the rights and the successor rights of teachers to go forward. I see one, two, three frontbenchers that were formerly teachers. I am sure those teachers would have appreciated successor rights carrying forward. (Interruption) I only see three in the front benches that are here. Are there five? Five altogether, but they are not all here. Even the ones that are here, it is questionable if they are all here. But I am talking about the ones that aren't here.

I am just saying, the backbenchers got it all together, it is the front benches I worry about. It is the backbenchers I know who have it all figured out. They are just never allowed the right to bring it forward to the front benches the same as Nova Scotians aren't allowed to bring their concerns forward. That is why we have this Legislative Assembly so at least the Opposition, whether the front benches want to listen or not, are going to hear the concerns of Nova Scotians.

I think the former teachers, maybe after the year 2004 will have to go back to teach. My gosh, they will have to put them in a special cell. They will have to put them into protective custody in a special cell, because when they go back to teach, the teachers are going to tear them apart for what they have done with Bill No. 47. They are going to have to put them in an area within the education system where they don't talk to anybody. It is like being put away in solitary confinement. They are going to be so scared to go back, especially the younger ones.

The younger ones, undoubtedly, will never make a career out of politics for sure. They will have to go back, and they will have to look the teachers and their students in the eye and say, this Bill No. 47 was ill conceived, ill prepared, it was wrong, and we had the chance to change it. The Opposition told us to change it but we didn't have the guts to do what was right. (Interruption) Pardon me, intestinal fortitude. I will take that word back and use intestinal fortitude. Maybe they are starting to come to the realization they can make a couple of very small changes to this poor bill and make it better.

I look toward the former educators in this province, who understand the importance of this, to make their voices heard within Cabinet. If they have any strength at all, they will make some of these changes. Otherwise, they have no power, they have no voice and no strength within their own government. Isn't that a scary thought, that the Cabinet that is made up of a mosaic of backgrounds and those who have that background in educating our youth, the privilege of being an educator, cannot even come forward to the minister and make the very strong suggestion that these changes this Opposition member is bringing forward are reasonable? They are fair and they are reasonable. I am sure that the Minister of Finance realizes all too well they will not cost any money to the government, which is the big issue of the day.

[Page 6388]

Successor rights are only giving people the right to be able to be treated with dignity and fairness. They are all busy over there counting, thank goodness they can count. If they could read and think, they would read Bill No. 47 and think about the impact that this bill is going to have and, hopefully they will be able to come forward. I see one member standing up and ready to come across the floor. Maybe he is prepared to come forward, maybe he has seen the light of the day, and he is prepared to come forward to repent and change some of the aspects of this bill. Successor rights should be enshrined in any piece of legislation that this government brings forward to show integrity to the individuals who work for them. This is a reasonable issue, one which this government should be able to come forward to support.

Mr. Speaker, I am going to close my few remarks today by asking this government to reconsider some very simple aspects of this bill. One is to start treating people with dignity, with integrity, with honesty and openness, to allow for some compassion to come forward by treating people with dignity, as any other employer in this province would try to do, by allowing teachers to retain the successor rights in this bill, which is not there now, to make changes to the date of notice of lay-off back to the original date, which is fair and just. I am sure some of the frontbenchers who were in the eduction system support it and would like to see it back, to allow the pilot project that is to be completed in year 2004 to be reviewed so some measure of review can be brought forward to this House, so that any changes in the future, will be made with logic, will be made with an understanding that this assessment that has been done will benefit the educators and our children within the educational system.

Mr. Speaker, what this government is playing with in Bill No. 47 and in education, they are playing with the future of this province. They are playing around with the future leaders of this province, and they are playing around with the future economic opportunities of this province, when they start fooling around with education. My hope is that this minister will show the leadership to at least allow that Bill No. 47 treats people with the fair amount of dignity they deserve, but equally importantly, they treat this educational program and Bill No. 47 as the basis of future economic growth and prosperity and not simply a bottom line measure. Thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have an opportunity to speak on the main motion with regard to Bill No. 47, an Act to Amend the Education Act. It is with honour that I was able to speak after the member for Lunenburg West, whose fine photo is in the Farmer's Focus, I think, in the most recent edition, showing how spending some time in Cabinet, Mr. Speaker, can clearly add many years to someone's life I guess.

[Page 6389]

[4:15 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, I want to take some time to talk about, being the principle of the bill, education and why this particular piece of legislation will result in philosophically and then through that, structurally, and then through that, educationally, to a very different form of an education system in this province. Education, it is a funny thing about how children learn it and I am not a teacher and I don't profess to be one.

My experiences predominantly, like I have heard others in this House say, we all believe we have an opinion when it comes to education because we all went through the school system. I was lucky enough to go to school in Nova Scotia, in Eastern Passage and in Cole Harbour. I took that opportunity to, obviously, learn and be able to grow. What was most important in my mind was when I was going to school, from 1971 to 1984 in this province, we had an education system with a fair bit of equity. What do I mean by that?

I mean we had an education system that it didn't matter where you came from, and in my case I came from a working class community, with not a lot of advantages in the community with regard to the schools that were there or to the teachers that we might have or what have you, but based on that I was able to achieve something, much like others in this same room, who probably with pride can talk about what they have been able to achieve through the education system. Education is the great equalizer and it provides an opportunity for someone whether they are wealthy or whether they are poor or whether they are middle class, an opportunity to get an education.

In my case, I don't think I ever really understood that enough until I went away to law school in Toronto. It was there where I was up against people who went to Upper Canada College or Lower Canada College or Jarvis Collegiate or a lot of the good schools in Central Canada that I began to realize that the education I received right here in Nova Scotia, right here in Eastern Passage and in Cole Harbour gave me the opportunity to be able to compete and to be able to learn with people from some of what we would consider the best private and public schools in Canada.

That, again, is something that I think every one of us in this Legislature would be able to equate with through their own story. From my perspective, I think it is important to note that that is my personal experience, that I have always believed that we had a fairly equitable education system in this province. It is a system that has been based historically on school boards having certain controls over the education in their region and principals having a fair bit of autonomy in how the schools are run and teachers having a fair bit of autonomy in how their classes are operated and children having a fair bit of freedom in the way that they learn within certain structures.

[Page 6390]

It wasn't a top-down system, in many ways, Mr. Speaker, it was quite the opposite. It was a system built on having each child's individual needs met and ensuring that the children were being educated to a certain standard, through a certain curriculum but with the flexibility to ensure that each child can accomplish what they were best able to accomplish. Do you know what? That system has worked.

Some can say we are not funding the system enough. I wouldn't disagree with that. Some can say, Mr. Speaker, that our education system does need more money. I wouldn't disagree with that either. When we look at the world and we look at the education systems across the world, Nova Scotia holds up fairly well, until now. Not necessarily because of the amount of funding we put in, because other countries do more; other countries provide less per capita funding and maybe they achieve more and achieve less than us, but it is because we have developed a system with the flexibility to ensure that every child's needs are being met. That's what important.

That has been done through a grass-roots form of education. There is the vignette you see on TV, Mr. Speaker, it is the school trustees in P.E.I., there is a famous painting, I forget who did the painting, but the painting is about the school trustees and their battle with the teacher, a young, female teacher in P.E.I. and how the trustees were unhappy with the form of education she was providing. She pointed out that she was giving his children a chance to read in a way that that person never did and that the trustee system, with the independence of our teachers has resulted in a system in Canada, historically, for 100 or 200 years that has done us well, has allowed every region, every community, to have the ability to adapt the education system to the needs of their community, to their region, and has enabled individual children and families to be able to adapt the education system to their needs. Again, grass-roots education. That is what has made Nova Scotia's, and I would argue, Canada's education system a success. Maybe it could be better, maybe funding could be better, but in the end, it is the fact that it was grass-roots based and not top-down that has made it successful.

That is what is so wrong with Bill No. 47, is that it is putting all of that at risk. It is moving from a grass-roots system to a controlled-from-the-top system. Moving from a system in which trustees, school boards and teachers have the independence to a system in which everything is under the thumb of a Minister of Education and a provincial Cabinet. That is a real problem with how we are addressing education. It is a philosophical change in how we deal with education. This was tried in New Brunswick, and it didn't work. They are moving away from it, Mr. Speaker. I would hope this government would learn now from the mistakes in New Brunswick instead of waiting for us to have to experience the same problems they have experienced.

I guess on a personal note, as well, and I know many others here have children in the school system or children who may be approaching. I know the Minister of Tourism has a young child as well. This is not just about the type of education I might have had, but what

[Page 6391]

I want for my son or what the Minister of Tourism may want for his child. The fact is, Mr. Speaker, the system will change, just by technology, just by curriculum. There have been massive changes in the school system. But, I think what has made our system work, and what I hope would be there when my son goes to school in three and a half years, is that we have a system in place that allows that adaptability for each child to learn to the best of their ability. That is what is the basis of our education system. That is what must not be destroyed, but unfortunately, that is what Bill No. 47 will destroy, because the minister will take control.

The minister will have absolute power. Everyone will be under the thumb, either by threat or by actual coercion of the minister, and it will result in a system where the independent thought, the independent adaptability of the system will be lost, and it will be all within the Minister of Education's hands. That minister, whoever that may be, I would suggest, no matter how benevolent, no matter how intelligent, is not as benevolent or as intelligent as a collective of a society, of a province, of a community, of a family, and of an individual who can learn in a more adaptable system. That is why Bill No. 47 is so dangerous, Mr. Speaker. That is why I am opposed to it, and that is why I will be voting against it on second reading.

Let's talk a little more about some of the other things that might be needed in our education system. Particularly, how a controlled-from-the-top, under-your-thumb education system will result in the inability of these things to flourish. This government likes to talk. It might have talked in the blue book which my friend for Dartmouth North likes to point out from time to time, or in their budget, they use the word lifelong learning. Those are buzz words if I have ever heard them. We hear them over and over again. What does it mean? It could mean a lot of things, Mr. Speaker, but one thing it does mean is that our system only works when we allow people, after they leave school, to continue to learn.

There are many different options. You see some places where it is actually within the workplace. Some of the larger employers may be providing education training in the evenings, at lunch hours, in the mornings, to allow their workers to keep upgrading, to keep raising their level of literacy, and maybe computer skills, so they are better able to operate the machinery. It is an investment, and those workplaces know it, and it is a good system.

We have workers who, on their own will go back and go to community college courses or school programs or university. That is a good thing as well, because they are trying to continually upgrade on their own, motivated by their own needs, not necessarily by the workplace. Whatever it may be, it is again based, Mr. Speaker, on a system in which the individual knows there are options, that the school boards are providing options, and that the community needs are being met. So, for example, if Michelin in Pictou County or in Kings County or in Lunenburg County, has certain needs, they may provide it themselves through their own funding, and they may do it in partnership with the local school board through one of the schools or through the community colleges.

[Page 6392]

Those may be needs that are quite different than what were needed or are needed in Shelburne County, or maybe we have fishermen and women who work in the fishery industry who are moving away from it and trying to find other work. In Yarmouth or Digby County we may have people who are looking for entrepreneurial skills, and maybe there, there needs to be more of an investment in that. It is a lot easier to ensure those investments are going to be properly put in place when we ensure that those individual communities and counties and regions have the adaptability to ensure that their schools and their education system works for them.

Let's talk about the fact that we have certain communities within communities in this province. We have the Acadian community, we have an Acadian community in your riding, Mr. [Deputy] Speaker, of Clare. We have Argyle, parts of Richmond and parts of Inverness County with very large francophone Acadian communities. Those communities have special needs, I mean we have set up a school board to specifically address them. But on top of that, if those Acadians become a minority within an Education Minister's controlled system, aren't we just putting them in a position where their interests are going to become secondary, where they won't have the voice that they might have, that they have now in the Acadian School Board? It is a real concern, a concern that must be addressed and one that I would suggest Bill No. 47 doesn't help, but actually hinders and moves in the wrong direction.

Let's talk about early childhood education. A great example is right here in Halifax, what they call inner-city schools, I think there are five or six of them. There is one in the North Preston I believe, Nelson Whynder. There is at least one in Dartmouth, in Harbour View, there is the Joseph Howe School, there is Rockingstone and I know there is St. Patrick's-Alexandra and there may be a fourth one. These schools have specifically been identified as schools with high special needs.

What do I mean by that? Well, the Halifax Regional School Board feels that the best way to ensure that these children have an equitable opportunity to learn, is by helping their parents to help them at earlier ages. Let's not wait until they are five years old and dropped off at the door at the beginning of September for the school year. Let's ensure that those children are given help, whether it be in a junior primary program, or as it is called here, Four Plus, or maybe in a program that deals with pre-natal or post-natal training, parent and infant programs, ones that ensure both the parents and the children see the school as a good thing, use the infrastructure we have in place and ensures that those children are getting their needs met and are being assessed.

The parents get help, there is a day care there, there is an adult education centre. St. Patrick's-Alexandra is a great example of a full service school. The Halifax Regional School Board recognized that and fought to ensure that that was put in place. It is something that a lot of other places could learn from in this province, both rural and urban. For now, the Halifax Regional School Board has recognized the need and they are trying to ensure that it is there.

[Page 6393]

Would we be able to have that through a Minister of Education-led school system? Possibly. Quite frankly, the adaptability, the flexibility of the needs of that specific community - the north end of Halifax, or North Preston, or the north end of Dartmouth, or Spryfield - would not necessarily be met and I would suggest, would not be met when a Minister of Education and all the bureaucracy that goes along with that and all the layers of decision making that will go along with that top down education system, would not allow for that adaptability in these communities. That is what is wrong about Bill No. 47, it is taking away the adaptability and the flexibility of our school boards to address their needs and focuses it on one office, one person in Halifax who will be making all the decisions.

Early childhood education, I might suggest, is crucial, as is lifelong learning for those who are already out of the school system. But if we are to address things like child poverty, children with special needs and maybe - a classic example, I had some people in my riding talk to me about this - autism. Here is something that if someone shows up at the door of the school at the age of five, maybe they haven't been assessed. At that time, if you have autism, it is pretty difficult to deal with the issue. Yes, you can get resource teachers; yes, you can have some support; but by the age of five, it may be too late to ensure that that person has the active lifestyle or the ability to provide some form of usefulness within society.

Maybe if that were done at the age of two, maybe if assessments were done, maybe if that child and parents had been regularly going to a local full service school, maybe we would have been able to identify that. And do you know that with autism specifically, it is my understanding that the sooner it is recognized and diagnosed, the more likely it is that the child can receive the attention they need, receive the support they need and therefore, more likely to reduce the effects of autism and allow for them to become active members of society - a very simple but classic example of early childhood intervention doing the job and ensuring that our children have the opportunities to do the best they can.

[4:30 p.m.]

Again, can we ensure that a Minister of Education running this system, one person's vision, one person's thoughts, one person's 24 hours a day, seven days a week ability to work is going to ensure that our education system will allow the flexibility and the vision to ensure that these types of programs will be put in place. I suggest not, Mr. Speaker, and that is why I must vote against Bill No. 47.

There is another area that we sometimes hear about and I know that there are now courses in this, called critical learning. It has always been something, to some extent. It goes back to the old debate, Mr. Speaker, are we raising children through education to be good technicians, good workers, good drone bees who will do their jobs, whether it be in a factory or whether it be as an engineer or as a doctor, people who will end up doing their work well, they have the computer skills to operate the machine at the local plant; they have the reading skills to be able to practice law, or they have certain other skills. Are we teaching children to

[Page 6394]

become technicians? It is a good philosophical debate. Many say we are moving in that direction.

As well, Mr. Speaker, we have those on the other side who say the best workers are those who know how to think independently, who have analytical skills and critical thinking skills to allow them to fix problems on their own. Those are the ones who save money for companies. The problem is all the sorts of abilities to learn critically and what comes with that - good citizenship, decent workers, people who want to think and act and discuss and make decisions will be gone. Why? Because we are creating a system in which the ability to think freely, the ability to know that you are going to have debates, the ability to know that you will be able to influence those debates on a local level, through your school board, will be gone. There will be a Minister of Education who will be making the decisions and that will put a chill on debate and on the ability of both those local people at a school board level, who are now only advisory, after this bill is passed, if it is passed, or, Mr. Speaker, the ability of children and teachers to feel that they can develop these kinds of unique opportunities will be gone. That is a real problem. That is one more reason why I think Bill No. 47 should not pass.

In the end, this is all about control. Some would say it is control for purposes of administration. I would suggest it is control for a lot of other reasons, and I am not trying to be paranoid. I think there are a lot of good reasons why the minister wants to take control of the school boards. We are already seeing it. You know before this bill was introduced, school boards were quite vocal in trying to fight the changes this minister was proposing. There could be up to 1,000 teachers lost under what you are proposing in the budget. It was only through the work of parents and students and teachers and school boards that fought this that resulted in this government buckling under and providing more money and more services for the school boards to then help them ensure they didn't have to lay off thousands of teachers.

That is a classic example of democracy, an example of local people at a local level, with the help of their local schools boards, who had the power and authority to fight the Department of Education and the minister, to ensure that that was not going to happen. It worked well. That is what democracy is about.

You know what, Mr. Speaker? Since this bill has come in we have seen a freeze, a chill. The minister said it in her statement when she introduced this bill downstairs, in the Uniacke Room, or wherever the press conference was; I will be taking over the Southwest School Board, it will come directly under my control and if anyone else is not obeying the standards that I set, I will take them over as well. She said it was not a threat, it was just something she felt she needed the power to do - wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Mr. Speaker, what we are really saying is, you better keep quiet, you better stop fighting me with regard to the changes I want to make, whether it be cuts, whether it be administrative changes, whether it be fewer teachers, whether it be standardized testing, you name it. School boards will no longer be a voice of concern, they won't be a voice to fight

[Page 6395]

the department, they will come in line and do what they are told because otherwise, they will lose absolute power and they will be taken over by the Minister of Education. It is those kinds of threats, it is those kinds of direct, top-down, authoritarian use of the education system that will destroy it. We have already begun to see that, and it is the kind of control that will put a chill on our education system and on the ability of our children to learn.

I want to talk a bit about school boards, because this is what this is about. In a democratic society, a school board, in many ways, is the closest to the community. It is a very specific issue. We have people elected, and a lot of people fought for years for this. It used to be that school boards were partially appointed - maybe even fully appointed at some point - then it was two-thirds appointed, one member who was appointed from the county or city council, one-third appointed from the province, and one-third elected; that was when I was in school, back in the 1980's. That system, to some extent, ensured a certain amount of communication between the three parties, the province, the citizens, and the local government, but it was really understood that there was a need to ensure that these school boards were given the power they needed, so we moved to a fully elected school board.

Mr. Speaker, the problem was that these school boards then started saying wait a minute now, I am elected, I have authority, and I want to be able to have a say in our education. In fact, quite frankly, in my area for example, the school board representative, Ms. Walker, could argue that she had more of a mandate to deal with education than myself, because she was elected specifically to deal with education issues where I, on the other hand, was elected to deal with health care and community services and natural resources. Particularly in her case, her position was to deal with education; the school board members were the same way.

We fought to have democratically elected school boards. It is the one area where people have a true intimacy with their elected officials. They know they can call them up, and it is an area where the school board representatives are working on a daily basis with the principals and the teachers and the parent-teacher organizations and the home and school organizations. It works well; it ensure that the people have a voice. I have seen it work. I have seen where communities have met with the school board representative and have had an opportunity to both create a dialogue and to provide feedback.

That is democracy. That is providing that real politic, that real close connection that allows people to know that they are directly able to influence school board decisions and therefore the education of their children. It has worked in this province, and it has allowed for that adaptability, but it all starts with someone knowing that when they go to the polls and elect a school board member, that school board member has authority to effect change. They are not advisers, they are not an advisory board. It is not the Minister of Education who is going to be making the decisions, but a school board. When you get rid of that, when that vote is nothing more than the Russian form of elections that we used to have under the old Soviet, where there might be many names on the ballot but it was always the same people

[Page 6396]

who won, when a vote means nothing, when it is nothing more than a piece of paper with no real political clout, then we are creating a system that will fall apart.

The school boards don't have the power, the people don't have the influence over those school board members who don't have the power, and it is one minister, in Halifax, in an office, who makes all the decisions, and that is why Bill No. 47 should be stopped. I want to give you some specific examples in my area of Cole Harbour, particularly the south part of Cole Harbour, which is Colby Village, Willowdale, Inishowen, and the Bissett Road area, and also in Eastern Passage in Cow Bay, in Shearwater, another part of my riding, and in South Woodside, also known as Imperoyal. All of these have very different needs, and I am going to give you examples of how the school board system has ensured their needs have been met and, where they haven't, they have at least had the opportunity to continue to fight, knowing that local representatives are either fighting on their behalf or at least listening.

Let me start with Cole Harbour, and let me start with the lunch fee issue. A lunch fee is something that was imposed in the former county last year. School boards decided, particularly, that those children who go to school in the county, who are not being bused, should pay a fee to stay for lunch. Some were staying before, many were not, but the point was they thought they would impose a lunch fee. They decided it would be $200 a year. When the math was done, it only came to maybe $40 a year in order to pay for the monitors to keep the children there, but they were trying to impose $200.

Now, yes, there might have been a lot of dispute over why the fee was so high. What is important to know is that there was a concerted effort among parents, children and students to ensure that that fee was either eliminated or reduced drastically. Letters were written, both to myself and the local school board member and to the chairman of the school board, e-mails, press conferences, media reports. Many may remember it because it was during the last election.

It had a lot of impact and then again in September, when the children went back to school and the parents got the memo saying they had to pay, another concerted effort; more e-mails, more letters, more telephone calls and, do you know what happened, Mr. Speaker? What was originally a policy that said $200 flat fee per year per school was changed to the principal can make it up to $200. Then it was changed to, it is up to the principal to decide. Then in the end it became a policy where every school got the decision to decide what their fee was through their school advisory councils. Some charged none, even in my own area. Many others charged $40 which was the break-even point for paying the monitors. Very few had charged more, but every school got the right to decide. Why? Because the school boards reacted to their citizens' complaints.

It worked well and it worked effectively because the local school board representatives, who had real power and were elected by the people in their communities, decided it was important enough based on their reaction to ensure that they did something and reversed the

[Page 6397]

decision. That was real politics working. That was democracy in action and it worked for a lot of communities because the parents, the children and the PTOs stood up and fought against it and that worked.

If we get rid of school boards, which is what Bill No. 47 proposes, if we get rid of the power of school boards when the minister feels at her whim that she thinks it is time for school boards to be gone, Mr. Speaker, we are going to be in a situation where parents won't have that power. A lunch fee could be imposed and there is no one who has the real authority to fix it. Yes, there is a minister, but she or he is in an office in Halifax and can be avoided in a way that prevents any real democratic influence over the decisions and prevents the parents from the local community from ensuring that it meets their needs, whether it be Astral Drive Junior High that charged a bit higher of a fee, or whether it be Tallahassee Community School that charged no fee, or whether it be South Woodside that charged I think around a $38 or $40 fee, the break-even point.

Every community and every school had the power to make those decisions because the local school board elected officials reacted to democratic voices. The Minister of Education is not elected necessarily from across the province, in fact, she isn't or he isn't. The current one is from Halifax Citadel, the other one may be from another riding, but there is no ability for the local citizens to ensure that decisions are getting made based on their local needs and that is what is wrong with Bill No. 47.

I am going to talk about Eastern Passage and Cow Bay, Mr. Speaker, and particularly an issue that came up a couple of years ago. Again, the school board knew that there was overcrowding and they wanted a decision made as to how it was going to be dealt with while they were waiting for a new junior high school. Some suggested that the way to deal with it was through split shifts. Others felt that it should be a form of bussing and still others felt it should be portables put into both Ocean View Elementary and Tallahassee Community Schools. It was a long debate and one that involved the local school board setting up a committee of citizens in the community, having them consult and making recommendations. Do you know what? In the end the school board did not agree with the recommendations of the citizens and they paid a price. There was clearly upset, as many may recall, happened at that school board meeting. A lot of lack of information provided to parents but, again, it was a local school board reacting to the needs of their citizens and when the citizens did not like the decision, democratic processes resulted in changes.

I would suggest to you that Eastern Passage Education Centre, the new junior high school, was built as rapidly as it was and in the time it was because of the political problems that were being caused by that school board as a result of the split shifts that they imposed on a community that did not want split shifts. It is that kind of quick reaction, it is that kind of democratic processes that will be gone if Bill No. 47 is passed. We will be eliminating real political choice and the ability of the citizens to influence their local school board officials because those officials will have no real power. They will be nothing more than an advisory

[Page 6398]

board and it will result in people not having real influence over the decisions the way they do now and their local community interest and concerns and adaptability will be gone.

Let's talk about Woodside, South Woodside specifically. North Woodside is in the riding of the member for Dartmouth South, so not to be confused, North Woodside in Dartmouth South, South Woodside is in my riding.

[4:45 p.m.]

MR. TIMOTHY OLIVE: Beautiful.

MR. DEVEAUX: The whole area is beautiful as the member for Dartmouth South points out. He is right, Mr. Speaker. There is a community school in South Woodside, South Woodside School. It is a school that has done very well at educating its students. It is a school that recognizes they have children with a lot of needs. I think over half the students there have some sort of resource teacher support. That is quite high. Many would argue that it is a school that should be designated inner city to give those children an opportunity to get those services I talked about earlier, whether it be a junior primary program, a Four Plus program, whether it be a full-service school, whether it be adult education and child care, whether it be the ability of those parents to come into the school and feel comfortable there, which is a big factor. A lot of parents don't particularly like schools because they weren't good when they were there. We have to break down those barriers and know that the schools and the government and the public health can be brought to them and their children through those schools, are important enough, and they have to feel comfortable. Again, that is what is happening in a school like St. Patrick's-Alexandra School.

I am working with the parents in the community of South Woodside to try to get the designation of inner city for their school as well. I can assure you, it is a lot easier to do that when I have a local school board representative and a local school board in the Halifax Regional School Board, Mr. Speaker, that know the needs of their communities and are willing to react when the political pressure is there. It is going to be a lot more difficult if it is a Minister of Education and a department that don't even recognize a need for these schools throughout the province, let alone in my community.

It is these kinds of designations, like inner city, that are providing the needs for the students, whether it be in the north end of Dartmouth, whether it be in the north end of Halifax, whether it be Spryfield, or whether it be North Preston, or in my case, South Woodside. It is important that those schools and those communities have their needs met, because as I mentioned earlier, our system is based on equity, and ensuring that every student has the opportunity to succeed to the best of their abilities. That isn't happening. Our system has begun to falter. It is only going to get worse if we allow a Minister of Education to take full control of our school boards, and take full control of our education system. It will

[Page 6399]

eliminate that local decision making, it will eliminate the influence of teachers and parents and students and principals at the local level that ensure those schools succeed.

Another great example of South Woodside is the Principal, Anna Marie Sarto, who does wonderful work there. She went out with some of the local staff, I know Gary Worth was one of them, there might be others. Mr. Speaker, they went out and applied for funding for sort of an artistic project a couple of months ago now. I was there for the ceremony. The children in the school would have an opportunity to go out and, through artistic measures, whether it be songwriting or producing plays or drawings or artwork or videowork potentially, there would be a grant given to them to go out and actually write the history of their community.

It is unique, because South Woodside is actually a very unique community. It was a company community, company built, company run, when it was Imperoyal, when that refinery was built in 1918, it was all company housing, very much like many parts of Cape Breton, but unique for the Dartmouth and Halifax area, because it was on the outskirts of town at the time. It was in the old county back in 1918. There was no housing, and the refinery, in order to run, had to have its workers close by, so it built the housing. Some of those old houses are still there. Some of them have moved to other areas. But this is a community that had a proud history, a history of workers, blue collar workers, living in company houses, going through the problems involved in company houses. Mr. Speaker, it is a community that has local families, whether it be Osbornes, or whether it be Naugle or whether it be others that have lived there a long time, and it also has people who come and go on a regular basis.

That kind of history is not going to be heard in Halifax. It is not going to be heard throughout the province, but I think it is important for the students in South Woodside to know what the history of their community it is. They have the opportunity to write about it and learn about it. Well, Mr. Speaker, the Principal, Ms. Sarto, and as I said, some of the teachers like Mr. Worth, went out and actually obtained a grant, and they did get it, they got the grant, I think it was $10,000, I am not sure about that. They got a fair sum of money to go out and help the students learn about the history of their communities, the assets they have, whether it be the pond in behind Waynewood Drive where they are able to go and maybe do a little fishing or skip rocks, whether it be the playground or the outdoor ice rink . . .

MR. JERRY PYE: Or pond hockey.

MR. DEVEAUX: Or pond hockey, yes, as the member for Dartmouth North points out, or whether it be some of the other things that go on.

I remember looking at the list when I was there at the ceremony, and they pointed out some of the assets, a noontime whistle, at lunch, for the refinery workers. Not many of the refinery workers live in South Woodside any more, but the point is it is still an integral part

[Page 6400]

of the community, and anyone who has been down in that area will know, I have a lot of people who tell me it looks like something out of Mad Max, or something out of a science fiction movie, and it is quite unique, because the refinery is right next to the road; the refinery was built before the road was. Now if you go to a refinery it is usually a mile away from the road, a very distant thing, but in the case of the refinery in South Woodside, if you drive by, particularly at night, and you are within 100 feet of the actual refinery, it is very much a part of the community.

I think it is important that the history of that community be told. It is just as important that the students in that community learn about their community and then develop self-esteem and confidence, whether it be through the operation of video cameras, whether it be through their art work being displayed, or whether it be through the writing of a play or acting in it, finding the various skills and talents of the children in that school and allowing them to feel comfortable and proud of what they are doing. That develops self-esteem, and that gives them the belief that they can do something.

Then, when they go to school at Prince Arthur Junior High School, maybe they will have a little more confidence, or when they go to Dartmouth High School, maybe they will have a bit more confidence, and they will try a few more things and that confidence will build and build and build. Maybe they will go on to university, maybe they will go on to community college, or maybe they will just decide to work out of high school; in fact, maybe they will decide to finish high school. It is that kind of self-esteem that starts with a local school and a local staff and parents and children and their decision. That is what has built an education system that can work.

It is what isn't working now, and will not work to an even greater extent when this Minister of Education takes it over with one swoop of the pen. She doesn't have to come back to this Legislature, she doesn't have to ask permission. With one swoop of the pen, if she feels the standards are being met, if she feels that the school board is not doing what she wants them to do - and what does that mean? Only the minister will know - that minister can turn around and take over that school board. She can take over the Halifax Regional School Board, she can tell the kids in South Woodside that I don't care what you think about your self-esteem, everything is going to be directed from Halifax.

It is going to put a chill on that principal, a chill on that staff, a chill on the parents and the children, and they are not going to be able to learn to a great extent because they are not going to have the ability to learn, they are not going to have the ability to grow and to develop the self-esteem because this minister will be controlling everything from the top, either directly - and legally controlling it - or through fear and intimidation. She will be sending the message: I do not want a system that works on the basis of grass-roots development and local school control, I want it based on my direct control. That will only result in an education system that can't work.

[Page 6401]

I want to talk a bit about something else with regard to education that I think this bill will impact on, and it is a very specific need that has been developed over the years. There used to be three school boards in the metro area - well, there was probably four at one point - there was the City of Dartmouth, the City of Halifax, the Halifax County-Bedford School Board.

The Halifax County-Bedford School Board was its own entity. First of all it didn't have a debt, it didn't have a deficit, and also it had things called area rates. Those area rates ensured that the students could have needs in their community. If Eastern Passage put on an area rate, that could go to the local schools for various means, buying computers or playground equipment or maybe some special needs in the classroom; in Colby Village it could be the same way. What is important is to know that those schools and those communities had the opportunity to impose those area rates on their own, democratically done.

That has changed; when you merged the three school boards, that changed. It resulted in the elimination of the area rates, while the extra tax, the supplementary tax remained in Dartmouth and remained in Halifax. That is a problem, and it is a problem that continues to happen, and it is a problem that will result in, and continues to result in, a two-tiered system. Some don't like that word, some don't like the fact that the quality may be better in the cities than it is in the former county. It is only going to get worse. There has been a lot of fighting going on to try to reverse that in the former county, whether it be Cole Harbour or Sackville or Ketch Harbour or Timberlea or Eastern Passage or wherever, a lot of people are fighting to try to ensure there is a supplementary fund put in place for the county as well, so they can access the funding they need.

Yes, it is a short-term decision. In the long term municipal taxes should not be used to fund our education. We are not at that stage yet and this government surely is not going there. What is needed is a system that ensures the local communities in the outskirts of Dartmouth and Halifax, the former cities, have an opportunity to access the same quality education.

Are we going to get the same ability to effect that change once Bill No. 47 comes in? I doubt it. Who, in their right mind, on a school board is going to fight for an issue like that when it could result in the minister deciding they don't believe instead of saying, well, the school boards are doing the right thing by trying to get supplementary funding? They are going to say no, as the Minister of Education, I think you are not meeting my standards; you are paying too much here, you are not paying enough there, I am going to take it over. Supplementary funding, as an issue, will die because this minister or any other Minister of Education will use the utter ability to threaten school boards to prevent them from doing things like that.

[Page 6402]

What will it mean? Well, we already see a taste of that, based on this budget, Mr. Speaker. There are rumours, and even more are from the school board, that they are going to lose between 70 and 100 teachers in the former county. We are not going to lose them in the former cities because supplementary funding will cover them. What was a two-tiered system, with a better quality education in the former cities, is only going to get worse if you live in the former county. They are going to continue to have the ability to not be as well educated because there will be even fewer teachers. Class sizes are already smaller in the former cities and they are going to remain that size through supplementary funding. In the county, where they are already bigger, they are going to get even bigger.

What does that mean? That means that a child who lives in the county, the former county of HRM, will not be able to learn, will not be able to gain the same level of education as someone in the cities. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people decided to pack up and move to the cities because they will be better able to ensure their children are going to learn. That is a real problem. Those are the kinds of local level education problems that need to be addressed but they will not happen through Bill No. 47 because the Minister of Education will either put a chill on any kind of changes like that, or potentially will take over those school boards to prevent that kind of action. That is what is wrong with Bill No. 47, a system that is already, and a minister who is already, ensuring a poorer form of education in the former county is only going to make it worse through Bill No. 47. That is why it must be stopped, that is why we shouldn't vote for it when it comes to second reading.

It is also around the issue of lunch fees, as I mentioned earlier, all these local issues. Quite frankly, it is the local control, it is the local ability to fight education where they think it is not going well, to promote education where they think it needs to be promoted. It is that local ability to influence the education system that has been a hallmark of Nova Scotian and Canadian education and must be maintained.

One province has tried to do it differently, in New Brunswick, and it failed. That was an utter failure and it was admitted last week by an all-Party committee. It must not be tried here now. This bill is the slippery slope towards direct control from Halifax. My riding is in suburban Halifax; people can always come here within a 20 or 25 minutes drive and complain. What if you are in Yarmouth or Amherst or Sydney or Mabou? Where are you going to get the chance to complain then? There is no one to listen; the local school board has no power. You are going to be stuck with a minister in Halifax who will not be able to really, truly understand where you are coming from. It is not like a local school board rep who lives in your community; not like a school board that is generally representative of the greater region. That is what is wrong with Bill No. 47 and that is what is wrong with what this government is doing.

I started off by saying, Mr. Speaker, that this is a philosophical change that will result in institutional changes which will result in changes to our children's education. It is the truth and it is the problem with this bill. This government believes there is wasteful spending in

[Page 6403]

education, that there are problems with where our education system is going and they think they are going to be solved by making cuts and by saving money. They are probably the only people in this province who believe that, but that is what they believe. Worse yet, that is not what they were elected to do. They don't have a mandate to do that yet they are still going to go ahead, full barrels ahead to do it. It is about control in order to save money. It is about using this bill as a threat to ensure the school boards do as they say or they will take them over in order to save money. It is about saving money over the education of our children. Bill No. 47 is the beginning of a very different education system, one that is more concerned with saving the almighty buck than about ensuring every child has the potential to succeed.

[5:00 p.m.]

That is what is wrong with Bill No. 47. That is why I have concerns with it and that is why I believe this bill must be stopped. Yes, it is a philosophical change, it will result in institutional changes when local schools and school boards have no authority to really affect change in their communities and that will result in educational changes when our children aren't learning the way they should.

When the change is needed in South Woodside to make them an inner-city school, when the changes aren't made in Eastern Passage after Bill No. 47 is passed to ensure parents there have the ability to affect change, or in Colby Village, where they don't have the ability to ensure lunch fees are going to be reduced. All of these are examples of what can be done now, politically, at a local level, that will be gone once Bill No. 47, passes and as a representative of Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, I can't vote for Bill No. 47 and I encourage all the other members of this House to do the same.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton East.

MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to rise today to speak on this bill now before the House. I think it is abundantly clear that this bill that was introduced by the Minister of Education on Thursday, April 27th, is a bill that is about getting rid of the school boards in Nova Scotia. Starting off, I would like to know where, in that famous Tory blue book, did the Tories say they would be getting rid of elected school boards in this province? There are many things that were in that blue book that the government said during the election and now they are doing exactly the opposite of what they said they would do if they were elected.

The members of the school boards in this province were elected by the people in their respective jurisdictions and those school boards have to be accountable to the Minister of Education. Mr. Speaker, if the minister feels any school board is not doing their job properly then it is their duty to modify them, but that is not what this bill is proposing should be done. This bill is giving full authority to the Minister of Education to appoint a person to carry out

[Page 6404]

the duties of a district school board if the minister feels that that district school board is not carrying out the policies and the directives of the Department of Education.

So, Mr. Speaker, the question that comes to mind is, why would the minister replace a school board and appoint a person in charge? It could be because it is one way to tell school boards to behave and not to criticize the Minister of Education or her government, or else she would simply make them disappear. I would suggest that perhaps what that is akin to is a dictatorship and certainly not part of a democracy. Perhaps the Minister of Education is making some sort of a gag order to school boards across the province with this bill. I know we hope not, but if you take a look at the events over the past few weeks it would make one wonder.

Before this piece of legislation was introduced on Thursday, April 27th, the government brought down a budget on April 11th that everyone knows by now was certainly devastating to public education in this province. The Minister of Education directed school boards throughout our province to cut $20 million in teaching salaries and $7.3 million in specified areas. That is a $27.3 million cut to public education in this province. Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, school boards have said they needed an additional $26 million in funding just to maintain the existing system.

The Minister of Education has failed to acknowledge that school boards need that funding in order to cover such things as salary increases, higher fuel costs and even to cover pre-existing deficits as well. In total, with that $27.3 million cut, plus the additional $26 million needed to maintain the public education system, school boards across the province were cut $53.3 million. So, from day one, when this budget was introduced by this Tory Government, there has been a lot of secrecy about the full amount that was to be cut in public education. I think the Minister of Education knows that this Tory budget has been devastating to education in this province and the impact of these cuts will have a destructive effect in our classrooms and throughout the whole system.

In Monday's Chronicle-Herald there is an article concerning the surprise resignation of the Superintendent of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, and again, this is in relation of the impact of these cuts and what effect they will have on our classroom. Dr. Hayes MacNeil, who certainly was a well-respected educator in this province, known throughout the province, has decided, citing personal reasons he will step down.

Also, quoted in that article is the now acting superintendent, Ed Davis. Mr. Davis goes on to say, "Forty-four teachers will lose their jobs within the school board because of recent provincial cuts to education. Some support staff will also likely be laid off, and teaching assistants helping students with special needs will probably work an hour less a day."

[Page 6405]

The article quotes Mr. Davis as saying, " It's even more demoralizing to know there will have to be more cutting next year. 'This is not the end of it.' " In fact, in that article Mr. Davis is predicting, " ' . . . that the worst is yet to come because of a hold on new programs and curriculum.' " Let me quote Mr. Davis from that article, "You're going to see tremendous change with the freeze on the development of new courses and things that are published and already to go, . . . I think the second wave is going to have even more of an effect on the system and people haven't recognized that yet."

By the way, Mr. Davis has been a school board administrator for 35 years and most recently in charge of Programs and Student Services that left him responsible for developing and implementing curriculum. Surely somebody, I think, would know what he is talking about.

Also in Monday's Chronicle-Herald, is an item from the Nova Scotia Teachers' Union which is seeking smaller classes. "The Nova Scotia Teachers' Union says senior high school classes should have half as many students as the Education Minister Jane Purves recently suggested. At its annual council meeting in Halifax over the weekend, the NSTU passed a resolution calling for secondary school classes, under normal circumstances, of no more than 25 students. It also called for elementary classes of 20 students, Primary classes of 15 students, and special-education classes of no more than 10 students."

Of course, we know in April, the Education Minister, " . . . was criticized after she suggested senior high classes of up to 50 students were possible as a result of government cuts to education funding." The reality is many teachers are going to lose their jobs because of this, many support staff will also lose their jobs, secretaries, janitors, librarians, technicians, clerks, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teachers' aides. Mr. Speaker, we can understand why members of the NSTU and the NSGEU and CUPE are upset about this, because over the past several weeks we have certainly heard from parents and teachers and support staff, school board members and everyone else joining them across the province to protest cuts to education.

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, I was very proud to present a petition from Glace Bay High School students and staff with well over 900 names on it to this Legislature. Student council members from St. Michael Junior High School in Glace Bay, who were here not too long ago, took the initiative to gather letters and petitions from 12 schools throughout the area, not only in their area, and that was tabled in the Legislature, a rather large box full of petitions, including a letter which I read at that particular time from a five year old elementary school student in Glace Bay who was calling on the Premier not to lay off her teacher and, indeed, there are thousands and thousands of students, teachers and parents across this province, ordinary Nova Scotians, who have voiced their concern over cuts to education.

[Page 6406]

I have only to look at my own community, Mr. Speaker, and I know personally teachers' aides and support staff who are going to lose their jobs. I have heard from parents of special needs children and they are worried sick about this Education Bill and you know why, because their children are actually growing by leaps and bounds, thanks to an education system that up to this point has been working, but I would suggest to this House that it will not work after this hatchet job is completed.

As I said, these cuts will have an impact on our public education system. You will be looking at larger class sizes. You will be looking at a reduced service to students. Program cuts will be reduced. There will be a higher drop-out rate. There will possibly be school closures, moving students to neighbouring communities, and communities are going to suffer, Mr. Speaker, if we recognize that these cuts to education are all part, as I mentioned at the beginning, of a plan to eliminate school boards in Nova Scotia.

Mr. Speaker, you cannot blame the school boards not to go ahead and make these cuts because they don't want to be the bad guys throughout all of this. So in the end, if they refuse to do as the Minister of Education says, then they are just giving the Minister of Education an excuse to take them out of the picture altogether or if you decide to go ahead and make the cuts, then the public will support the Minister of Education to eliminate them. Regardless of how you look at these cuts and who in the end will make them, school boards in this province are on their way out. That is the whole intent of this legislation. Bill No. 47 will give the authority to the Minister of Education to eliminate school boards in this province.

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned teachers' aides, if I could spend just a few minutes on that subject. Inclusion for all special needs students has been mandated by the Department of Education. I think a lot of people would say that teachers' aides are a necessity if the individual goals and objectives for our special needs students are to be met in the least restrictive environment. Those teachers' aides are needed not only for the five hours these students are in the classroom with the regular education teachers, but they are also needed to assist the teachers with the preparations for those students. For inclusion to work properly, what you need is a combined effort of regular education teachers, resource teachers, parents, administrators and teachers' aides. The role of the teachers' aide has changed greatly throughout the years, from the days of segregated special education classrooms to what we have in inclusive schools of today.

So, Mr. Speaker, the teachers' aide no longer works directly with the special education teacher, but is now the advocate for his or her student in dealing with resource, music, physical education, student and language and regular education teachers. The teacher assistant is the common link connecting those entities together to ensure that the child is receiving the best possible program that will suit his or her needs.

[Page 6407]

Mr. Speaker, in a regular education classroom the teachers' aide works not just with the special needs students either. We don't want the special needs child labelled so every student receives the help of the teacher's aide throughout the day and it is carried out when the regular education teacher is working with the special needs student in a small group setting. The teachers' aide is also responsible for the feeding and the toileting of those students, and that includes everything from catheterization, colostomies, diapering, time training, to minimum bathroom supervision. They also would include assistance with feeding, spoon feeding or tubal feedings as well.

[5:15 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, inclusion means other kids treat the handicapped appropriately, so you need teachers' assistants to make that happen. The teachers' assistants assist the student with proper social behaviour on the playground for instance. Teachers' assistants include the child in play situations by focusing on current trends that all the children would be enjoying and, thereby, encourage similarities among all the students, not just differences.

Mr. Speaker, if I may just move off the subject of teachers' aides now to lay-off notices, and another amendment in this bill would allow the Minister of Education, if this bill passes, to delay the issuance of lay-off notices to teachers to June 16th which is certainly not too far away. Currently under the Education Act, school boards have to issue termination notices to teachers by May 15th. The Minister of Education extended the deadline to June 16th, and the delaying of the issuance of layoff notices accomplishes absolutely nothing. The Minister of Education has said that no teachers would be laid off. More money has been given to school boards to prevent those lay-offs from taking place.

Mr. Speaker, all this bill does is extend the deadline for lay-off notices. For one thing, all of this is raising the stress level of teachers who have already received their lay-off notices and then perhaps had them taken back and wondering if they will be the same people who will receive another lay-off notice on the 16th of June. Some of those people have been living with the false hope of thinking they won't be laid off. Perhaps they will miss an opportunity of getting employment elsewhere, while waiting to see whether or not they are still going to receive a lay-off notice.

Mr. Speaker, I don't intend to take up too much more time, but I think that this bill completely erodes the democratic process with respect to education in Nova Scotia. I think this bill is actually an insult to that democratic process. It centralizes power with the Department of Education, and it takes power away from the people. This bill gives the Governor in Council power to exempt regional school boards from any provision of the Education Act. I would ask you, is that democracy. I think not.

[Page 6408]

Mr. Speaker, as I referred to teachers' aides, the recent declaration, for instance, in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, that teachers' assistants will be cut from six hours per day to five hours per day. I am sure they feel, they have said so, that it is totally unjustified. It will have a direct effect on children attending the schools within the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board and their jurisdiction.

As I mentioned, the Department of Education has mandated inclusion, yet they feel they are justified in not funding an inclusion program. We need increased funding specifically for inclusion and special needs students. The bottom line there is that without budget increases for that inclusion program, for the special needs students and teachers' assistants, several thousand children in this province will directly suffer because the Department of Education has mandated inclusion, as I mentioned, and all regular education classes have special needs students in them. I am wondering, is this what the Department of Education feels the worth of each and every child is?

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I would suggest to you and I would suggest to the people of Nova Scotia that they will see through the shenanigans of this Tory Government and, in the end, they will no longer put up with this Tory Government, and they will not stand for the fact that this bill is completely, as I mentioned, eroding the democratic process with respect to education in this province.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak on Bill No. 47, amendments to the Education Act. I would like to start by saying that this is a very important piece of legislation for a variety of reasons. It is important because education is such a serious matter for Nova Scotians. We saw just how important members of the public feel about education in our province in the last few weeks.

But I think equally as important is this bill is an important piece of legislation because it is the first major piece of legislation by this government, by a new government, in the field of education and, combined with their budget, it gives us some indication of the policy direction that this government will be moving education in our province in, the ideas that they have, that inform what it is that they intend to do as a government in the field of education.

I think that what we see in this bill is a very clear change in direction from what historically has been an attempt to provide a very decentralized, in some ways, a more community-based approach to the provision of education in our province. Bill No. 47 is about the Minister of Education seizing control of education and moving it away from the decision making in communities. Whether or not that is what people in Nova Scotia want, I don't know, Mr. Speaker. I don't think that is what they want. That certainly isn't what our caucus has heard people in Nova Scotia say in the past few years. What people have seemed to be saying is that they want greater control over education, more opportunity to have meaningful

[Page 6409]

input into their children's education and into how the education system runs. So the question is, whether or not these provisions will in fact provide and meet the aspirations of Nova Scotians with respect to their education system.

Now, Mr. Speaker, let's just start by reviewing what it is that this bill does. This is a complicated piece of legislation in some respects. It does not simply do one thing, it does a variety of things in a variety of different areas.

First of all, what this bill does and what the minister laid out when she announced that she was introducing this bill some several weeks ago, is this bill has provisions to establish a pilot project in what we know as the Southwest Regional Board. Why is it a pilot project? Well, it is because the organizational structure, the management of the delivery of education in that particular region of Nova Scotia will be different than the organizational structure and the management in any other region in Nova Scotia right now.

The Southwest Regional Board will be divided into two district school boards. Each district will have a director of education, and the directors of education will primarily be responsible for the educational standards and the delivery of the educational programs. They will report both to a CEO and to the school boards. Now, the introduction of the CEO in this particular pilot project model is something that is different. Right now, all of the other boards have superintendents, and the superintendents are responsible to school boards. What we have here is a change in the lines of authority in the organizational structure, and in the delivery, I suppose in some ways, and the division of labour between who is responsible for the financial management of the school board's affairs in one area, and who is responsible for the educational programming. The CEO will be directly responsible to the minister. The CEO will be appointed, will be hired and appointed by the minister.

So, this is quite a significant change from what is the norm in our system, where right now, superintendents of schools are not necessarily hired exclusively by the minister from the head office in downtown Halifax, but superintendents are hired within their region by the duly elected members of a regional school board. This does, in fact, represent a significant change in the normal process and the normal procedures that we have come to expect in regional school boards.

Now, another aspect of this bill that goes far beyond dividing the Central Regional School Board into two districts and appointing a CEO and two district managers, is a provision in this bill which would allow the Minister of Education to extend this pilot project, the features of this pilot project, that is, a CEO who is responsible directly to the minister, and whose primary function is the financial management of the school district or school regions that would allow that model to be transferred into all of the other regions that now have superintendents. The CEO would be removed from the bargaining unit of the Teachers' Union, and the CEO would not have to be a teacher. The primary responsibilities of the CEO will be financial management, and their knowledge base and the skills they are expected to

[Page 6410]

have will, no doubt, be financial management, public administration, accounting, something like that. These people will not be educators. In others words, it is unlikely that they will come from the educational field. That is quite a serious and significant difference in some ways than what we have right now, Mr. Speaker, where the superintendents of all of the regional school boards have a tremendous personal history as professionals and as educators in the field of education. If you speak to anyone of these people, their knowledge of educational theory and practice is very, very extensive, and they are a very impressive group of people and leaders in their chosen field.

Once again, this particular feature of Bill No. 47, amending the Education Act, is now introducing what could be and what I suggest would be a really substantial structural change in our education system and whether or not this is the direction that we as a province should be going in remains very debatable.

[5:30 p.m.]

There is another aspect of this bill that is quite worrisome, Mr. Speaker, and that is provisions in this bill which will exempt regional school boards from any provision of the current Education Act. What does that mean? When you try to imagine how a provision like that could be used, there are some things that come to mind. One of the things that I think about in the current Education Act, if a school board in the course of planning for the upcoming school year, if they have insufficient funds to operate all of the facilities that they currently have in a variety of communities throughout their region, and they start looking at ways to stretch an insufficient amount of funding to provide the programming for the students who they have to provide, and we have seen this many times in the past seven years or so in the province, they start looking at consolidation of schools, closing schools, amalgamating schools.

In the current Education Act, there are very clear provisions that outline what is the process that a school board has to go through before they can close a school. It is a process that requires some study. It is a process that requires public consultation. It is a process that involves the participation of the various stakeholders, parents, teachers, members from the community. These provisions are set out very clearly in the current existing Education Act and what this means is that this is a process that takes some period of time to complete by a school board before a school can be closed.

If Bill No. 47 passes intact with provisions such as this going forward, then what that could mean, Mr. Speaker, is that could mean that a school board anywhere in the province could come to the minister and could ask the minister to exempt that board from those particular provisions of the Act so that, in fact, that process of community participation and consultation in apportioning the distribution of funds that could result in school closures would not, in fact, have to occur, sort of unilaterally, school boards and school board members can make the decision, therefore, to close particular schools.

[Page 6411]

I can certainly understand why the minister, who has been so focused on the financing end of education, would be prepared to put a provision like this in Bill No. 47. But if you are going to put a provision like this in Bill No. 47, I think you need to come clean with Nova Scotians about what you are doing and why. I think that you have to move away from the claim that what this bill does is it enhances community participation and community control over education because it clearly does not do that. What this does is it empowers bureaucrats and it empowers administrators, it empowers the minister to make decisions about education on the basis of money alone and not on the basis of what is required or what is desired by parents and teachers in the school system. Let's not kid ourselves and let's not try to kid people in the province. They will figure this out sooner or later if they haven't figured it out already, as they see how these amendments will actually be applied in practice.

I can tell you that amendment can result in a very clear cutting out of community participation and involvement and so that is certainly of concern to members of this caucus who very much believe that the process of community consultation and participation is fundamental to a strong education system.

Another provision in Bill No. 47 is the provision to rescind all of the lay-off notices that went out - rescind is maybe too strong a word, but what it really does is that it postpones those lay-off notices for a later date to allow for the number crunching to occur in each of the regional boards and to establish what number of teachers are prepared to accept any of those options for early retirement or some period of deferred retirement in some ways to occur. At some later date, specified in the bill, we may know more about what the actual lay-offs will be in the system.

Again we have to be honest with Nova Scotians. What has occurred here is not no lay-offs. This is not no lay-offs. There will be lay-offs. There will be, first of all, a loss of teachers. There will be a loss of teaching assistants, library assistants and technicians, people who do cleaning, the custodial workers in the school system, people who provide transportation, school secretaries. Those people are very important to the education system. I have had, as I am sure all members of this House have had, an opportunity to meet with and talk to a whole variety of workers, men and women, who work in the education system who are not teachers, who are not providing classroom teaching. Because they are not standing at the front of a classroom, working with the children every day doesn't mean that they aren't of central importance in the teaching and learning that goes on in the school.

If you go into many schools in Nova Scotia today you will find that the custodial staff is already pushed to the limit in terms of trying to provide clean premises, trying to do the rudimentary maintenance work that is required just for the ongoing functioning of these schools. The school secretaries are often the point of communication between the community, the parents and the administration in the school. The school secretaries are the people who are there to answer the phones and find out about the emergencies, to find out about the

[Page 6412]

children who can't be in school because of the medical and dental appointments, various things that are going on.

These particular workers in the education system are the lowest paid workers in the school system, and they perform really important functions. Now what are we going to have? We are either going to have nobody answering the phones, or we are going to have high-priced administrators answering phones. Does this make any sense whatsoever? It is unbelievable, if you think about how you organize your delivery of education, you want to have your high-priced, high-skilled labour doing what it is good at doing.

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that answering telephones, doing attendance and those kinds of tasks are best left to school secretaries, who are very good at what they do, they get to know the families and the children, and this is hardly what you would call a frill in a school system, having people answering the telephones and doing the basic recording of information that is very important and that is part of the process of facilitating the teaching and the learning that goes on in a classroom.

There is another provision of Bill No. 47, and that provision is the representation of African-Nova Scotian persons on school boards. This is a curious amendment to have included in Bill No. 47. While this particular amendment is certainly one that this caucus can support, it is unfortunate that this particular amendment was brought in and included in a piece of legislation that has such significant flaws and such significant problems in terms of the delivery of education, the whole democratic process, that I can't imagine that members of the government could not have predicted that such an important provision would have the support, I am sure, of all caucuses in this House, to bring it in with a piece of legislation for which there would be a fair amount of controversy and not a lot of support, I think, really does a grave disservice to the African-Nova Scotian community, who want this particular provision, and to the implications of having such an important amendment to the Education Act.

I would urge the government to work with us, and either repair Bill No. 47, the amendments that have come before us, in a way that we can support, so that we could provide support for this amendment, or the alternative would be to support the Private Member's Bill that I introduced on behalf of our caucus, which contains the precise wording in the minister's bill and would have the same force and effect to give representation of African-Nova Scotians in each of the school boards around Nova Scotia.

The final provision of this bill is a provision that will levy fees for teachers with respect to their teaching licences, for the first time. I believe, based on information that we have had an opportunity to look at, all provinces with the exception of Quebec are currently in the situation where they provide licensing fees, first time only, and as I had an opportunity to say earlier, we can certainly accept that for the purposes of administration, this is not an unreasonable expectation. However, we would really, I think, have to be very vigilant in the

[Page 6413]

way we watch what it is that occurs with this particular provision because, as we have seen with other similar kinds of provisions, they become a way to levy a hidden tax against different groups and they become more than covering the cost of the administration of a particular service or a particular benefit that individuals might receive as a result of a particular status they have in this society. So, Mr. Speaker, that essentially lays out what some of the features of Bill No. 47 are.

[5:45 p.m.]

I would like to talk more generally about what it is that we would hope to have seen from this government with respect to education and education from Primary to Grade 12. This is a government that campaigned not so long ago; they made a lot of promises, a lot of them around education. When they talked about education, they never indicated that they were going to cut $20 million in their very first year in office out of the education system. There was never a hint of that. They never indicated they were going to fundamentally alter the structural organization for the delivery of education in the province. They never once indicated that they thought all of the power should rest with the Minister of Education in downtown Halifax in the Trade Mart Building. They never said, our plan will be to centralize power in Halifax. They never once indicated to Nova Scotians that that was their objective, to centralize power here in Halifax.

Now, Mr. Speaker, you have to ask the question, does education have to change. Is everything in the education system today just fine? Should there be no change? I think if any of us were asked that question, we would honestly say that of course education has to change, the world is changing. So there are many things that have to be done to keep pace and, in fact, to keep ahead of what it is that is occurring in the education system. So yes, education has to change.

We have to be able to deliver a much more highly trained, highly skilled group of graduates than ever before. We are not living in the era they called the Forties, the manufacturing society where approximately one-third of the young people completed Grade 12 and went on to a university education, one-third left school early but went off and did technical and trades training and one-third dropped out and worked in generally manual or resource-based industries, where physical labour was the order of the day. Those days have passed, those days are gone.

We are now in an economy that is extremely competitive and that requires that every single, solitary person who has anything to contribute in the society, we need to be able to harness those abilities. I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that we also need to understand that our education system is a vehicle to assist every person to realize their potential fully, inasmuch as whatever that potential may be, including the young children with particular special needs, a whole variety of special needs. They have the same right to develop their potential, whatever that potential may be, as much right as any other child. Their parents

[Page 6414]

expect, and they have a right to expect, that their children should have an opportunity to participate in the mainstream of the school system, and in the mainstream of the society, just as much as any other child.

We really need to accept that the world is changing and our school system has to change as well. It has to now produce very highly qualified graduates with high numeracy and literacy skills, with good problem-solving skills, with confidence and the ability to confront a changing world in a way they feel secure and confident they can do. This is a big challenge for our school system. That kind of change in the education system will be difficult in some ways, but certainly not impossible. There is a lot that we know about what will make that change possible.

One of the things that will make that change possible is by investing in the quality of the teachers who teach in the school system; that means in-service. People think in-service, these are days off, these aren't days off. These are days where teachers learn how to be better teachers, where teachers learn new techniques. They learn new parts of the curriculum, and this enables them to go into the classroom and meet the challenges that are very serious challenges in the school system. And what have we seen from this government? We have seen them taking away, significantly reducing the ability of teachers to re-train and update their own level of skills and competencies to meet those challenges. What will the outcome of that be for education and for our children? The outcome will be a lower quality education for our children. Very, very problematic.

Now, Mr. Speaker, what else is required to change the education system to meet the current challenges that are in front of us? Curriculum. Constantly updating the curriculum so that the curriculum reflects what is required in a highly competitive environment. What has this government done with respect to updating the curriculum? All kinds of work that has currently been done has been put on hold; all kinds of curriculum development has been abandoned; and some programs have just been cut entirely, cut right off. This is not the best way to improve our education system, to transform our education system from an education system that was meant for the conditions of a manufacturing age into an education system that has to be based on a knowledge economy.

You know what is going to happen, Mr. Speaker? What is going to happen is Nova Scotia is going to become a drop-out in the knowledge economy. That is what is going to happen as a result of this government's approach to public policy in the field of education. One has to say, well, what are the alternatives. What would be a better way?

MR. JERRY PYE: Turf the Tories out.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: My colleague, the member for Dartmouth North, says, turf the Tories out, and we all know that that would go a long way to making things better, but that is not going to happen, Mr. Speaker, for at least three years. So what we have

[Page 6415]

to do is look for ways to work together to improve the education system as much as possible. One of the things that we really need is to get everyone working together, you know, to get parents, teachers, the Teachers Union, school board members and government working together.

What that would require, Mr. Speaker, I think is a period of consultation. We had the report from the Voluntary Planning Task Force on Fiscal Management prior to this session beginning and although the Voluntary Planning people did not talk about Primary to Grade 12 education, they certainly talked extensively in that report about lifelong learning. One can only assume that if they are talking about lifelong learning, then they are by inference making reference to Primary to Grade 12 education. They say in that report that Nova Scotians need to enter into a public debate about the future of education and lifelong learning, that this would be one of the most important and most central things that Nova Scotians could do to improve the economic health and well-being of our province and to move us from being a have-not province toward being a have province.

I can only concur with that assessment. It is well understood and accepted the world over that investing in people is the most important thing you can do in terms of seeing economic benefit at the other end. The way out of fiscal problems in most countries, in all countries, will be through innovation. It will be through innovation and it will be through creative solutions to problems and the developing of new economic opportunities. That is what you get from a well-educated group of citizens and that starts quite early. Can I continue?

MR. SPEAKER: Another minute, yes.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Okay, not a problem, Mr. Speaker. So I think that one of the most serious flaws underlying Bill No. 47 is the lack of public consultation in terms of reforming education and the structure and the function of education in Nova Scotia. We have no further to look than New Brunswick to see what occurred in New Brunswick. Although I have to say I don't know in great detail what occurred in New Brunswick and I have not examined where they are today, I do know that there was a greater period of consultation - certainly after they abolished the school boards in New Brunswick - than we are seeing here in Nova Scotia. There are discussion papers. There was a select committee of the New Brunswick Legislature that was made up of members of all Parties, who travelled extensively around the province and heard from members of the public.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We have reached the moment of interruption.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I would move adjournment of the debate for the time being.

[Page 6416]

MR. SPEAKER: The draw for the late show was won by the honourable member for Halifax Chebucto, who wishes to debate the resolution:

"Therefore be it resolved that the government explain to Nova Scotians why students with special needs will not be protected from the devastating effect of its budget cuts to Education."

ADJOURNMENT

MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

EDUC. - STUDENTS: SPECIAL NEEDS - CUTS UNPROTECTED

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I have not been in this Legislature very long. It has not been two years yet. During that time there have been some fairly intense debates around a variety of issues that I have had an opportunity to participate in. I have to say there has not been an issue that has caused me more concern about where a government is going in Nova Scotia than this one with respect to the needs of children who have particular requirements in the school system.

[6:00 p.m.]

I almost hesitate to talk about children with special needs. The numbers of children who are unique, who have unique capacities, who have unique obstacles, I don't think I ever really understood, until the last few weeks, and the letters and the phone calls and the e-mails I have received from parents detailing the particular situations their children face and they, as parents, face. I have to say, Mr. Speaker, I practised social work for a long time with many families who had children with disabilities, for example, so I have known a lot of families who have had their own unique struggles and challenges. It has been a profoundly moving experience to talk to these families in the past few weeks; the struggles they have faced, and still face to have their children accepted in our society, I don't think any of us, who don't have a child in that circumstance, can really understand how profound that experience is.

It seems to me that every day, for these families, is a struggle for respect and for dignity in their communities, in the school system, maybe in the social service system, with respect to housing, with respect to transportation, with respect to the health care system. Frankly, in speaking with some parents, I wonder how on earth they get out of bed in the morning. They face such unbelievable odds in receiving basic services. So I have the most profound respect for the parents of these children who have poured their hearts out to us about what their lives are like and about what their aspirations are for their children. It seems to me they are asking for us to try to understand their situation and respond in a respectful and dignified way. They

[Page 6417]

are asking us to apportion some public resources so they can be included in the very basic programs that we all have come to expect and accept as a basic feature of life in a modern Canada, and in a caring province like Nova Scotia.

For these parents and these children what that means is, they want to go to school. They want their children in the school system to be able to receive the educational programming that will allow them to learn as much as they can within their particular capacities, and they want to be accepted as other children and other parents are accepted. They want their children to be able to participate in the school concerts, and to go on the school trips, and to watch the educational audio-visual presentations, and they want the opportunity to be around other children with a whole variety of strengths and weaknesses who are all growing and developing together. For some reason, we as a society don't seem to be prepared to provide this and to meet those basic aspirations.

This government said it would invest in education. This government said that education was important. This government said that children with special needs were important, and that a multi-year plan would be developed and would invest in basic provision for these children. This government betrayed that trust people had when they believed Dr. Hamm, the Premier, when he said these things. I think that this particular situation will be a situation that will be remembered by Nova Scotians. When Nova Scotians are asked, what are the things this government did, that you remember this government did? The number one thing that people are going to remember is that children with special needs lost their teaching assistants; children with special needs had their special supports reduced or eliminated.

I had a lady call me today, I have to tell this story. It is so incredible. She has a daughter who has epilepsy and seizures. Her daughter is nine. I think her daughter was just hospitalized today, actually. She told me that she was very concerned that her daughter was going to lose her teaching assistant. She was actually told that if her daughter continued to have seizures and some documentation could be provided that she was continuing to have seizures, then there could be some assurance that she would have a teaching assistant next year. She said, seizures are a pretty unpredictable kind of thing. Sometimes people go through a period where their medication controls them quite well, and for some unknown reason, they start having seizures and the medication needs to be adjusted. Anyway, she said that she was poised in a situation where she had to practically hope that her daughter would have a seizure so that she could demonstrate the need for a teaching assistant. That is not acceptable, Mr. Speaker, not in our society. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Education.

HON. JANE PURVES: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the motion put forward by the honourable member. It is a very difficult issue. Before talking about special education and education funding I would like to set the record straight about overall education funding. We are trying, in our government this year and next year, to

[Page 6418]

protect as best we can all the students in our school system, all the students from Primary to Grade 12, the community colleges, the universities, the people in need of adult education. We do have some new initiatives in that area, including reading recovery and programs of early literacy, which teachers will receive more training for. This, in fact, is a form of helping special needs students.

I would like to point out that the so-called devastating cuts have to be taken in the context of an overall actual increase in the Education budget, not a decrease, and that the $20 million we feel we can take out of the public education system, mainly through administration, are not devastating. Devastating is something much greater than what we are talking about and I am not sure that kind of hyperbole serves our system well, particularly when we are talking about something as sensitive as special education.

I would like to start off, Mr. Speaker, talking about some of the background for the department's current special education policy. This was something released to schools and school regions in April 1996. Among its many principles is that of inclusion. The implementation of inclusion is focused around helping teachers to program effectively and to have individual programs for students with special needs.

Now these special needs are very different, obviously, and if I may take the liberty of reading from just a list from the special education handbook, we are talking cognitive impairments, emotional impairments, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, health impairments, speech impairments, sensory impairments, multiple disabilities and giftedness. All these need to be attended to by a variety of teachers, not just teaching assistants, although they are a very important part of the system, but we have speech language pathologists, psychologists, special resource teachers, itinerant teachers who travel and set up special classes for students with learning disabilities. So the whole policy is about good program planning for kids, good quality education.

The intent is that wherever possible, children should be able to go to their neighbourhood schools and be with their peers. There are additional options which allow students to take some time out of the classroom and provide support for students in other educational settings but those are usually in combination with regular classes.

Now, Mr. Speaker, there was a recent media report which referred to this program as an experiment. It is not an experiment, it is the result of 20 years of literature, research and study across the world. It is backed by legislation and the Charter of Rights, but it is still a work in progress because it is still relatively new - not the principles but the methods.

Now looking at funding, we do have resources going into education of kids with special needs. There is more than $40 million going in - $41.5 million this year. This is $2 million more than a year ago. We have an additional grant of $1.3 million for severely learning disabled students, about 560 of them in 92 sites across the province. This is mainly for those

[Page 6419]

students I spoke about with the learning disabilities. These services include what they call congregated classes, where the kids can learn better together than they can in the other classroom. The teachers have methods of teaching them that they seem to be able to comprehend very well and they are able to function much better when they are finished with these classes.

[6:15 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, school boards can apply for this designated money, it is in their budgets this year. All the way along our department has been tracking the progress of this policy. We have statistics on waiting lists, on services to individual students. We have student services staffing lists, we have very comprehensive information on what children are being given and what the demands are. We know very well that the demands are growing, and that is one of the reasons that we have decided to review our progress in this area because there are a number of issues that we have address.

One of them, as I referred to, is this growing demand for the number of teacher assistants. It is not true that this government is not providing funding or help to these students, but we look at the number of teacher assistants in the last five years and it has gone up 96 per cent, it has gone from over 400 to nearly 800. We have to look at whether that is the best way to help these children or if perhaps we should have more psychologists, perhaps there should be more itinerant teachers. Is the teacher assistant always the best way to help these children? This is not about money, it is about doing what is best. I have to say that even though I have been accused of lack of consultation with school boards and other people in the system, all the consultations I did with the school boards across the province, from the time I got in this job, every single one of them brought up the need to review special education and whether what we are doing and how we were doing it is always right and always the best.

They weren't talking about money; they were talking about how we can do things better. The fact that we had decided to do that means that we are trying to help an issue, we are trying to help these students, and it has nothing to do with the budget. This was not a budget measure, it is looking at what we do within the department with special needs, with literacy, with many things the department is responsible for to try to see how we can do things better.

Nowadays, at least the last few years, the issue for helping students with special needs has been less on those with physical disabilities, and we know better how to cope with some learning disabilities, but there is a growing number of behavioural problems. That is one of the things that the teachers were getting at with a resolution on the weekend where they talked about violence in the schools and being protected from students with behavioural problems. This is something that we have to try to get at. It is not something people necessarily like to talk about a lot, but it is something that we have to try to do something

[Page 6420]

about. Safe schools, we can have all the platitudes and codes of conduct we want, but pieces of paper are not going to make safe schools, and the students need that and the teachers need it. This is another thing we do have to look at.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to point out that not all parents and educators approach the issue the same way. There are groups who want absolute inclusion, period, and there are other groups who say, no, you have to help us get out of the system and do something different, because they want more flexibility. We will be trying to do all these things. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Richmond.

MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be able to rise this evening to speak on this most important issue. The Minister of Education will know that this issue is dear to my heart and dear to the hearts of many of my constituents; I have raised questions on the floor of this House dealing with this very specific issue. It was with interest that I listened to the minister's comments, and in many ways I am tempted to believe she is sincere, but when I look at the facts surrounding this whole issue, I can't help but ask if this is really not just a nice way of painting the scenario, how she would like us to see it.

First, I want to touch on what she said about this review of inclusion. This minister has been a Minister of Education for almost one year now. Had she walked in in the fall or in the spring of this year, prior to the budget, and said, my department would like to do a review of inclusion, we have been looking at it, we have studies, we have data, we think it is time to have a look at this to make sure our students are getting the best possible education - it is a shame the minister is not going to listen to my remarks. But, Mr. Speaker, I will continue anyway - she hasn't listened to the parents across this province or students, so it should be of no surprise to anyone that she is not going to listen to my remarks. Arrogance, once again, reigns the day in Education.

Mr. Speaker, had she said that before the budget, she would have had credibility. I don't think anyone would have questioned. We would have raised questions and raised concerns, but I think we would have believed what she is saying today would have been sincere, that it was time to have a look at this. But today, she raised this issue in the middle of her Education budget, when she was under pressure, when she was under a lot of heat from both of the Opposition Parties for the cuts to special education. Then she announced, oh, and by the way, we are going to review inclusion to see if these students really need all of these programs or maybe if inclusion is working.

So at that point in my eyes and, I believe, in Nova Scotians' eyes, what she argued tonight bears no credibility, because if she really meant this, this would have come long before the budget. She would not have dumped that on the floor of this House in the middle of debate on funding for special education. So she gets no credibility with me on her argument

[Page 6421]

used today because timing is everything in politics and it is everything in life and she really missed the mark on this one.

Mr. Speaker, the minister, from day one when we looked at the cuts that were going to take place in Education, both Opposition Parties, I believe our first initial reaction was, what are you going to do for special education. It is near and dear to all of us. We know its importance. That was our first question. Had the minister at that point said, we have had to make cuts in special education, we have had to review some of our policies, we have to review if teachers; aides is the right way to go and the 96 per cent increase she talks about tonight, you know what? She would have had credibility. I would have believed her. I would have said, yes, maybe she did have to make these cuts, maybe it is true that these cuts were necessary. Instead, she stood in this House, day in and day out, and said, there will be no cuts to special education, day in and day out.

We all know that we are not allowed to use a certain word about people who are not truthful here in this House, but I am left to question if she was really being truthful to Nova Scotians. The facts to me show me that she was not when she said there would be no cuts to special education, when today she admits the cuts took place. Again, credibility test number two, failed again.

It was only when both Opposition Parties raised the issue of funding to the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority that the minister finally admitted that there was going to be direct cuts to front-line service for special education. It is ironic how she did it. Instead of saying, yes, we had to make these cuts. She said, ha ha, silly Opposition, this was hidden in my budget the whole time and you guys didn't ferret it out. You didn't do your job, so it is your fault that I have cut $500,000 from the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority. For those who are wondering what this body does, known as APSEA, they provide funding and educational training and equipment for students and children who are hearing impaired, deaf and blind. So this is what she cut.

She went on further, after mocking the Opposition for not finding this cut. She went one step further and she said, well, we asked APSEA what cuts they could make to help us in our budget. They came back and said, well, we could absorb $300,000 in cuts and that would cut us down to the bare bone. We couldn't take any more. She went on further and she said, so we decided to cut them $500,000. Mr. Speaker, to me, at that point, that kind of answer and that kind of attitude was nothing short of despicable. First to mock the Opposition for not finding this and laughing at this cut and then to say, they said the maximum was $300,000, so I cut them $500,000. Ha ha on APSEA and these students.

Sandra Scanlon, one of my constituents, called saying that she was given eight days notice that the tutorial service and the servicing of the special hearing equipment for her child in Grade 4 was to be terminated in eight days. That is the notice she was given. That is the care and concern from this minister and from her government, eight days notice and she made

[Page 6422]

it quite clear, she said it is not a matter of them servicing the equipment and the matter of cost. She said, we don't mind paying for that, but we live in rural Nova Scotia. If her phonic ear or the teacher's boom mike breaks down, I have to mail it up to Halifax, it has to be serviced, then it has to be mailed back. Those days lost for that child could add up to weeks or months of regress in the progress that she has made. That is the concern and that meant so much to this minister that she felt eight days notice was fine enough for parents in rural areas and throughout this province to prepare for these changes.

Again, it is nothing short of shameful. The fact that the minister the whole time continued in saying there will be no cuts to special education, no, no, the Opposition is fear-mongering in trying to say there will be cuts to special education. I think that is what has upset parents the most; not just the cuts, but the way in which the minister did it with such arrogance and saying there would be no cuts and then now to turn around and say, yes, there will be cuts, but anyway we were going to look at inclusion the whole time. I just thought I would let you guys know now that I am under pressure and I don't really know what else to do, I will let you know that we are reviewing this anyway and we are probably going to abandon inclusion.

We all know the importance that special education has had for our society and I know myself when I think of learning disabilities such as attention deficit disorder, children who have this, it is not apparent. Many of the disabilities, if a child is deaf one can quickly notice that the child is deaf, or, if the child is blind, one can tell that the child is blind, but ADD is not apparent. You do not walk into a room and be able to point out which child has ADD. That is why you need the people trained to assist these kids and to help them get through the system because they are not bad kids, as may have been taught before. They are kids crying for help and crying for assistance.

Successive governments have realized that and have focused on assisting these children. Now, to see that the minister is prepared to make cuts to that assistance while she is doing a review - well, minister, you do the review first, then you make the necessary changes. You don't cut and then say, oh, by the way, we are reviewing this anyway. That is just not the way it happens and Nova Scotians will not accept that.

Now, the budget deliberations are finished, the budget has been voted on, one can only hope the minister will have the integrity and the honesty to turn around and to restore proper funding to special education until she is prepared to come to this House with a review or a study which shows something different. Thank you.

[Page 6423]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Clare.

MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise just to say a few words on this. Unfortunately with only a few minutes left, I won't have a chance to say too much, but anyway, I want to start off by saying the budget that was tabled here on April 11th was certainly devastating to public education right throughout Nova Scotia.

The seven school boards across Nova Scotia took a hit of $53.3 million and these cuts will be felt directly by our students across the province. Among those cuts, teachers, support staff will be losing their jobs, and reduced services for students, especially those students with special needs.

These students with special education needs need the same type of chance as everyone else. They deserve that very same chance as the rest of the students across the province. These students who are in special ed, they want to go to school, they want truly and honestly, to go to school.

The minister, in her comments, indicated that she was currently looking at doing a review in order to meet children with special needs. It is not about money, it is about doing what is best for our children with special needs. I certainly welcome that review and I hope that all stakeholders will have a chance for an input - from the school boards down to the school administrators, teachers, teachers' aides and parents because we have so many successful stories in Nova Scotia that I just hope that within the review that everyone gets a fair chance. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Time has expired for this evening's late debate. I would like to thank the honourable members for taking part.

We will return to second reading on Bill No. 47.

[PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING]

Bill No. 47 - Education Act. [Debate resumed.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham, you have 20 minutes.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, there are a number of aspects of this bill that I haven't had a chance to speak to, and I would like to do that briefly in my time that is left. One of the things I would like to make reference to is the fuzzy state of labour relations that Bill No. 47 leaves here. I know that at the time Bill No. 47 was introduced, the government and the minister were in a bit of a turmoil. We had lots of demonstrations happening, and many Nova Scotians coming forward to express their concern and their outrage, really, about the Education budget. It was in that kind of a climate that amendments

[Page 6424]

to the Education Act, Bill No. 47, came forward. Perhaps that meant that the kind of attention to detail, in the drafting of legislation and the kind of planning that was required, certainly did not take place. That is reflected in this bill that has a lot of loose ends and a lot of questions that remain to be answered.

[6:30 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, certainly one of the big weaknesses in this bill in terms of the division of the Southwest Regional School Board into two districts, is questions about the administration of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union contracts for the teachers who work in that particular board. I would suggest there may be other groups of employees who aren't teachers, who are also covered by collective agreements that have not been provided for in Bill No. 47 with respect to successor rights and with respect to the transition from this large regional school board into two districts. That is a very big problem because we have labour legislation and we have laws that provide for bargaining in good faith and laying out the framework.

People go through these processes, and they believe they have some protection as a result. They know what the rules are. That gives us some fairness in the system. This is very important. The government is not just the government in this situation, the government is also the employer. It seems to me that as employers, government has responsibility to behave fairly, to behave in a very thoughtful manner, to behave in a way where you are not creating chaos and insecurity among the people who you employ and who you rely on to deliver those important public services that Nova Scotians pay for and hold dearly.

The provisions of Bill No. 47, that would demonstrate what kind of an employer this government intends to be, certainly are not taken care of. I would hope, Mr. Speaker, those provisions would be taken care of, and there will be amendments brought forward that will address a host of concerns and issues that would ensure the continuation of the protections that the personnel, who are employees of this government, currently enjoy in that particular region. This is a very important point, it seems to me, and one that needs to be dealt with in a much more upfront kind of manner.

Now, there are one or two other provisions in this bill that cause our caucus some concern. I know my colleagues will all have an opportunity, as they have time to get to their feet here in this important debate, to layout their concerns around various provisions in Bill No. 47. One thing we have had an opportunity to talk about is the sweeping powers that this bill gives the Minister of Education with respect to dismissing a school board.

In the existing Education Act, the minister, in fact, has power to dismiss school boards. I think there are three grounds under which that can occur. For example, financial negligence and mismanagement is clearly a ground that the minister currently has power to dismiss a school board around. If you think about it, because school boards themselves are democratically constituted, they come into being because people in their areas vote for those

[Page 6425]

who put their names forward and who are prepared to serve as school board members. To remove a school board is very serious and it would have to occur only under conditions that are somewhat extreme. What this particular bill does is go further than the current provisions of what it is that would cause a minister to remove a school board, dismiss a school board. Now it says this bill talks about the provision of educational programs, services and performance standards.

Now, Mr. Speaker, some people might say surely that is a reasonable ground, surely a Minister of Education should be able to dismiss a school board that is not delivering educational programs to a basic standard that is agreed to. However, there are a number of questions one has to ask. The setting and the establishment of program standards, that process needs to be a process that is arrived at through negotiation and discussion and consultation and agreement. If standards are to be meaningful, they can't be imposed by a minister and by a centralized bureaucracy on the province. They need to be built through a process of consensus, I would submit.

I think there is another feature of looking at educational standards. They need to be built through a process of consensus and then there has to be some shared agreement on what resources are required in order to implement and achieve these particular performance standards and quality of service. That, too, is very important.

It seems to me that what is happening here is we are saying that the Minister of Education gets to decide everything; how much money, what the standards are and then gets to hold the regional school boards and the regions accountable for things over which they have no say. They have no say in the degree of financing required and they have no say in the setting of these performance standards. These things are all being done now, will be done now through a process that centralizes power in the hands of the minister, in the hands of the government and in the hands of head office. That cannot be a good thing. That cannot be an approach that will facilitate cooperation, that will not be an approach that will allow for innovation at a regional or local level. It is an approach that standardizes particular kinds of rigidities into a system, I think, that needs more flexibility. That is why there is a lot of virtue to be found in a more decentralized organizational structure, where people at a local level have more control and more say over education.

I think my colleague, the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, talked about the ability of local communities to make decisions about the use of their facilities, about whether or not they were going to charge fees for lunch programs and these kinds of things. Having a much more decentralized process of decision making, where the people making the decisions are locally elected members of the school board, from the local community, who the average person in that community can get access to fairly easily, makes a lot more sense than centralizing power in a head office in downtown Halifax, with a Minister of Education who, inevitably, will be extremely busy and very difficult to get to, particularly by parents and local

[Page 6426]

communities who have, what may be to them, extremely important issues, but in the grand scheme of things, to the minister and the minister's staff, will be quite trivial.

These issues will be quite trivial. They, in the order of priorities, will not get the attention that they require at the local level. So there will be a lot lost in a more participatory and democratic process if we allow this bill to go forward in the way that it has been presented to us, without amendments, that allows for this high degree of concentration of power in the hands of the minister. So I think that this is another concern that we have and it is another flaw in Bill No. 47.

I know, Mr. Speaker, at this stage, we don't talk about individual clauses in the bill and we don't put forward amendments to the bill. We go through a process where we go to the Law Amendments Committee and we have various groups and individuals from the community come forward. They will have, probably, a very good analysis of Bill No. 47 and will lay out what the implications of Bill No. 47 are for the way education is delivered in Nova Scotia and what we can expect. After following that process, we will start on a process of amending the legislation to make it reflect more of what it is that we have heard from Nova Scotians and that is a good process. It is the process that should properly be used, I think, with respect to this legislation.

I feel it important to go back to what it was that the minister said when she introduced this legislation. She talked and she emphasized that this bill really was about dealing with the concerns out of the Southwest Regional School Board and that this was a pilot project. Mr. Speaker, it is very confusing.

If this is a pilot project to deal with a specific situation in a specific board, then the legislation should say that and it should end there, case closed. It should provide provisions in the bill to set up the pilot project, to evaluate the pilot project, to bring that evaluation back here to the Legislature where we can all have access, where it can be debated and critiqued by all members of this House, where the public will have an opportunity to look at it and then through a very thoughtful process we will be able to arrive at a decision that hopefully would be an intelligent and an informed decision about whether or not this pilot project was successful, what parts of the pilot project succeeded, what parts did not succeed, how it might be altered, should it be applied in other regional boards, should it be abandoned or what. To me that makes a lot more sense in terms of a proper process.

[6:45 p.m.]

Again, I point to New Brunswick where in the face of having radically restructured the delivery of education, the abolition of school boards, the establishment of district school boards, in the face of significant change in the education system what the government in that province decided to do was to structure a select committee of their Legislature to actually go out and consult and to try to build the consensus for a restructured education system in that

[Page 6427]

province, one that would retain the features of a democratic, community-based, participatory education system, one that would involve parents, that would respect teachers and others working in the system, that would be financially accountable, that would place at its centre the highest quality educational attainment possible in that province.

It seems to me that that is precisely what it is that we desire here and this approach, which is an approach of a government thrashing around trying to figure out how to deal with the resistance that it found when it introduced its Education budget and looking forward and saying, how are we going to get some constraints on these horrible school boards so that all of the things that we want to do in the future, that we have not told Nova Scotians about yet, but we know they are coming and we know that people will not like them, how are we going to sort of rope in these school boards and minimize their resistance to the changes that we want to bring in.

This is clearly what is at the bottom of Bill No. 47. It is unfortunate that Bill No. 47 is not about improving education in Nova Scotia and doing that through a process that involves all of the stakeholders in building a common consensus and laying out a plan for how to get there. It is unfortunate. The government had that opportunity to move in that direction and they decided to be authoritarian and seize power and control. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and make a number of observations on this particular piece of legislation, Bill No. 47, An Act to Amend Chapter 1 of the Acts of 1995-96, the Education Act.

I think to understand the general principle of this piece of legislation and the objectives that the Minister of Education and, indeed, the government wish to achieve, I think it is important to get a bit of an overview as to how the education system has evolved in Nova Scotia over the last 150 to 200 years. I know there has been a tremendous number of changes and the evolution has been quite significant and dramatic on the education of our children, the impact it has had with regard to how Nova Scotia rates, according to our sister provinces and, indeed how Nova Scotia measures up not only at the national level but at the international level.

Mr. Speaker, it is ironic when you look into the history of education here in Nova Scotia, it is interesting to note that our early education in Nova Scotia was originally under the guidance of the church. That would be of interest to some members because of the tremendous amount of standing the church had in the educational system here in Nova Scotia. "In 1766 the first act concerning schools and schoolmasters was passed by the Nova Scotia Legislature." As well, "Provision was made for the setting aside of four hundred acres of land in each township for the use and support of schools.", that is across Nova Scotia, because at that particular juncture we didn't have a lot of the counties, we had townships. This Act also

[Page 6428]

stated that one could be imprisoned and fined for, " . . . any teacher professing the popish faith." Now they had rather strict sectarian rules at that time. One can only wonder how that evolved into the educational system we have today.

Mr. Speaker, the early schools under the jurisdiction of the Church of England were really the preface for how the church played a major role in education here in Nova Scotia. "In 1780 an act was passed to establish a public school in Halifax." So here we have our first public school in Nova Scotia, here in Halifax. Of course, the first college established in Nova Scotia was Kings College. That was in Windsor in 1789. That Act incorporated a number of issues. In fact, " . . . it forbade the members of the university to frequent the 'Romish Mass or the meeting-houses of Presbyterians, Baptists, or Methodists or the Conventicles of places of worship of any dissenters of the Church of England.'" So it just goes on and on.

Just to fast forward, and I will fast forward eventually, Mr. Speaker, to the essential principle of this particular piece of legislation. But I think it is important for us to have a broad overview and understanding of the depth and evolution of education in Nova Scotia for us to be able to understand where this particular minister is going with this Bill No. 47.

"In 1811 two education acts were passed: one for the establishment of a grammar school in ten of the most important districts and the other for the development of a common school system." So, Mr. Speaker, what we see is a two-tiered educational system here in Nova Scotia. However, it was not, ". . . until 1850 that the first Superintendent of education for Nova Scotia was appointed. In 1864 by another act the free school system was introduced." Eventually, "In 1949 the Council of Public Instruction was replaced by the Department of Education, and a Minister replaced the Superintendent of Education as the Chief Executive Officer."

So, Mr. Speaker, what we see here is the basis for the educational system that we have today. What I believe the Minister of Education is saying to all Nova Scotians, and in particular the Southwest Regional School Board, is that this government has lost faith with the people of Nova Scotia at the community level to manage their own affairs. There have been tremendous strides made in the educational system and in the field of education that has improved our quality of education. I recall back when I first started school, I started at a small community school that had classes extending from Primary to Grade 12, and there were only three classrooms. That was the first year of consolidation in our particular district, and I believe that is when consolidation took place right across Nova Scotia in the late 1950's, 1959 to be exact. I believe it was the 1958-59 fiscal year when the government of the day established the issue of consolidation.

So that fast-forwarded - I know that wasn't yesterday, and I know it is quite surprising because I certainly don't look that old, much to the surprise of the member for Dartmouth South - prior to that, Mr. Speaker, what we had were the small schools scattered throughout, in particular rural Nova Scotia, that were managed for the most part by school trustees. The

[Page 6429]

school trustees were elected at the local community meetings, or if they couldn't find somebody to stand for election, they would generally appoint somebody; the local government representative would find somebody to fill those respective positions.

You had the president, the vice-president, and you had the secretary of the school trustees who played a major role. They would be responsible for ensuring and securing the teachers for that particular school district; as well they would also be responsible in large measure to pay that particular school teacher. The provincial government would provide a small grant for some of the poorer districts, but those that had a great tax base, they would generally be required to fund the teaching position for themselves, so we could see there was a lot of local input when it came to education.

Mr. Speaker, over the years, the issue of education and the demands for more sophisticated and high technology methodologies and techniques and the like were required. It became not just single, community-issue-type situations but, in fact, it became necessary for the government to look at the issue of education from a more global perspective, ensuring we had a standardized level of education, ensuring all students would at least be guaranteed that minimum standard of education across the board. I believe many members who sit in the House will probably remember the days where, after you graduated from high school, before you could go on to university you had to write your exams, better known as the Provincials.

[7:00 p.m.]

That was a standardized testing. (Interruption) I was fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough, I am not sure, to miss out on the Provincials, but we were required, if you were going to go to university, to write another type of test that, essentially, pretty well assured whether you were, in fact, going to be able to meet the minimum standard for university entrance. All in all, I think there were sufficient checks and balances within the system to ensure a high quality of education would be achieved.

Mr. Speaker, I recall as well, when the issue of school boards, that were appointed by the local government, was a major issue of concern. The latter days of the Regan Administration, in the late 1970's, we may recall when the Royal Commission on Education was forthcoming, under the direction of the Minister of Education and the Gerald Regan Government. Mr. Graham, who undertook the stewardship of that particular study and report, made a rather significant recommendation; he basically made one outstanding recommendation that I think was crucial to ensuring that students, whether they lived in rural Nova Scotia or whether they lived in urban settings, such as Halifax or Sydney, would all be guaranteed an equal quality education. His recommendation was that funding be provided to the level that would ensure that students would, in fact, receive that level of education.

[Page 6430]

So if they lived down in Shelburne, or in Pictou County, or Cumberland County or, indeed, in Forchu in Richmond County, they would all be assured sufficient funding to be able to achieve the same level of education as if they were in the urban settings where the resources were far more plentiful in terms of a tax base and so on. Mr. Speaker, shortly after that, when the Buchanan Administration came into power, they commissioned another study, better known as the Walker Commission. Mr. Walker, who was commissioned by the then Minister of Education, the honourable Terence Donahoe, recommended a different funding formula. His funding formula was based on a per student or a per capita basis. So if you lived in an urban setting then, essentially, there would be no problem. There would be sufficient funding, lots of money forthcoming to your particular board. If you lived in some of the poorer districts of the province, you would receive less funding. Some of the poorer districts really suffered because of that.

It is ironic, in coming to that conclusion, there was a rather important study undertaken back in March 1981, that led to the eventual introduction of the piece of legislation that the honourable Terence Donahoe introduced at that particular point in time. Mr. Speaker, that bill was known as Bill No. 49. Well, we are off by two points by this, because this is Bill No. 47 and that was known as Bill No. 49. Essentially, that was an amendment to the Education Act that had a number of rather significant principles to it. Here is where the contradiction in Conservative policy and philosophy lie between the Conservative Governments of the past and the Conservative Government of today. It is quite significant particularly for newer members in the House who may take some interest.

The Minister of Education at that time, the honourable Terence Donahoe, took a totally different position on the funding of education and the economy and self-determination on education issues than the present Minister of Education is taking (Interruption) He was a good minister, but unfortunately (Interruptions), no, I can't agree that the direction - she may be a good member, she may be a good minister, but she hasn't demonstrated it in this particular piece of legislation. To solidify the basis of that position that I hold, it is clearly outlined in the House of Assembly debates on Page 1914, Monday, April 26, 1982.

Here is what the then Minister of Education had to say about supporting the local school boards and the funding of education and I will quote exactly what the minister said, ". . . should point out, of all the concepts in relation to global budgeting indeed, of the whole formula process itself; 'and whereas boards must be free to determine their own priorities, and they then follow those recitals and others, with recommendations relating to the way in which the formula would be developed'", in other words, the funding formula. Further, the minister goes on to state, "That is an essential element and a crucial element to the new formula and to the thrust and intent of the report, and the thrust and intent of Bill No. 49."

What we are seeing today is the Minister of Education dismantling everything that was assembled under the Buchanan Administration through the auspices of the then Minister of Education, the honourable Terence Donahoe. So we have a complete reversal of Conservative

[Page 6431]

policy and philosophy towards education in Nova Scotia and that is critical because what that raises is the question as to why.

One has to ask, why would the minister bring such a piece of legislation before the House? Well, is it because the minister doesn't trust the school boards in Nova Scotia to manage their own financial affairs? If that is the case, she should stand in her place and she should say that. Throughout her introductory remarks on second reading, she has failed to do that, so perhaps it is not with the issue of financial management and accountability. Now, what other reason would she have? It is simply abandoning everything that the Conservative Government has stated, both publicly in terms of its philosophy and in terms of its supporting of legislation giving people at the local level control over their own destiny in terms of managing their own affairs on the issues of education.

It is very concerning. Perhaps the other reason is that it is a political manoeuvre. Maybe very well what we are seeing here is the first step towards politicizing the educational system in Nova Scotia simply for the issue of politics. This is a power play, at least the optics are there. It is a political power play for the Conservative Government to control everything within its reach that it can possibly do legislatively.

If that is not the reason, then I think most members would at a complete loss to figure out what in the name of heavens this minister is introducing this particular piece of legislation for.

Mr. Speaker, further, the then Minister of Education, when he introduced his piece of legislation less than a month later with regard to the School Boards Membership Act, that is May 17, 1982, the Minister of Education of the day, the honourable Terence Donahoe, went on to state that it was important to give more autonomy to the people on the front lines who knew the educational issues better than anyone else; in other words, those in the office towers within the Trade Mart Building certainly would not be sensitized to some of the issues at the local level.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, I will quote the honourable Minister of Education back when he had these two particular pieces of legislation and, yes, that was before the Minister of Finance joined the team but, indeed, the Minister of Education went on to state, "Now, Mr. Speaker, the flexibility, that global budgeting authority, or flexibility is available now at the district school board level, and that makes it possible for those who are closest to the system and running the system on a day to day basis, to make decisions on a day to day basis in terms of the expenditures of their board, and, again, those expenditures are tuned, more than they would be otherwise, to the local need or the local priority."

So, Mr. Speaker, here we have the Minister of Education stating publicly, if he were here today, I am sure he would agree that what the Minister of Education is doing is counter-productive to all the local school boards across the Province of Nova Scotia, in effect

[Page 6432]

counter-productive to all the stakeholders who are the parents, the teachers, the teachers' aides, support staff, busing but, most importantly, the students. We have a Minister of the Crown from a Progressive Conservative Government essentially taking issue with the philosophy that is being put forth by the current Minister of Education.

So, Mr. Speaker, why is the Minister of Education doing this? What purpose does it serve for the minister to have such heavy-handed, I am not sure if you can use the word dictatorial, but authoritarian style management of education here in Nova Scotia, because what is happening is by taking this heavy-handed approach, the minister and the senior bureaucrats - I don't know how many deputy ministers she has, we have been able to identify one so far; I understand there might be two more, you know, under some different titles who are brought into the system, similar to what they did over in the Department of Health - but what will happen is the Department of Education, because the minister is politicizing it at this level, she will push the stakeholders further away. Perhaps there are a number of other reasons.

Bearing in mind, Mr. Speaker, we have to be fair to the minister and give her the benefit of the doubt that it is the issue of financial accountability, a global perspective and not just any particular board not managing their affairs, and that by streamlining this process, the government will be able to get better value for its dollar. Let's assume that. Now, if that is the assumption, then how does she proceed to achieve these goals?

I think what we are seeing here as well is the thin edge of the wedge. What is happening with this particular piece of legislation for the Southwest Regional School Board is, in fact, according to the school board officials who I have spoken to in my particular district, have indicated quite clearly that this can be applied to any school board in Nova Scotia. In other words, they will only be there in name only and the fact that they will not have the legislative authority to be able to determine their own financial matters, Mr. Speaker, will make this entire process an exercise in futility.

[7:15 p.m.]

Now perhaps as well, Mr. Speaker, if you go back and look in the annals of history with the issue of school boards, one has to review the nature of school boards and how the minister seems to be taking this divide and conquer approach in the educational field at the local level. At one time we had five different types of school boards; the municipal school boards, the boards of school commissioners, the regional school boards, the amalgamated school boards and, indeed, the regional vocational school boards. What we are seeing, what the minister is doing is turning back the hands of time, so as to compartmentalize all of the different educational components at the local level, so that it will be each man for himself, so to speak, or each educational entity or groups of individuals for themselves.

[Page 6433]

We can see that, Mr. Speaker, by what is happening with the University College of Cape Breton. The Minister of Education has alluded to the fact that what she will be doing, if not this year then the next fiscal year, is designating universities according to their ability to pay back the student loans. So, given the kerfuffle that is going on between the government and the banking institutions on the issue of student loans, we can find that some of the poorer regions of the province are the ones that will suffer the most because if the minister proceeds with this particular initiative, what we will see is an extension of this type of philosophy that is in this Bill No. 47.

For those who are not familiar with the designation of universities, what it will mean is that any university that provides student loans and the delinquency rate of those student loans is over a certain percentage of the total amount required to be paid back, then that university will be designated as not being eligible to issue a student loan to any student. In other words, a student attending that university will have to have the money in hand themselves, or find it through some other source, because they will not be able to get a student loan to attend university.

Mr. Speaker, if you take a university such as the University College of Cape Breton, where because of the economic conditions there and through no fault of their own, many students are not able to find summer employment, are not able to meet their full financial obligations that the minister may set as a minimum standard, then what would happen in UCCB's particular case, because 60 per cent of the students attending university there receive student loans, is you would have only 40 per cent of the students who would be able to attend that university; in other words, a phasing-down of that particular educational institution.

Mr. Speaker, you see that, plus the shuffling of the deck, the cutting back of the funding at the Marconi Campus and the trades and trades-related programs and initiatives at UCCB, and we can see where the minister is going. This particular piece of legislation furthers the strength, the authority to the minister, to her deputies and senior bureaucrats, away from the local level. So, it won't take long before that type of divide-and-conquer philosophy will be transmitted right across the province. We are seeing evidence of that now, just in this one local area where there is competition between the private trade sector because of the funding dollars that come from Employment and Immigration on training programs, and there is competition for dollars.

Perhaps it is part of the minister's philosophy to privatize certain aspects of education, and this particular piece of legislation will further the ability of the minister to be able to proceed with these types of initiatives. Mr. Speaker, I think that is wrong, and it is very counterproductive. There has been some suggestions that, in the case of the Southwest Regional School Board, it is an opportunity for the minister to fulfil some political obligations. Certainly, without prejudging the minister's intent there, I think time will certainly prove to be very interesting as to who the minister plans to appoint to these rather sensitive positions.

[Page 6434]

I will give you an example at a local level, Mr. Speaker, as why it is so important to have the fully elected school boards with the full autonomy and legislative responsibilities that they now have. Over in the community of Donkin, we have the Donkin elementary school, and about five years ago there was a cave-in in the playground area adjoining the school, the result of the workings from the underground mines collapsing. That created a rather dangerous situation for all these elementary students, but because it was being dealt with at the local level it was easier to access the officials at the school board who had the authority to be able to ensure the finances were put in place to deal with that issue as speedily and effectively as possible. Because the small community of Donkin is sitting on top of mine workings, it is generally considered it would only be a matter of time before these issues would arise once again, so the residents in this particular school district are quite concerned about the school board losing its mandate to a higher political level.

Mr. Speaker, these are the types of things the minister has an obligation to clarify with all members of the House. The complete reversal of this particular philosophy by the Conservative Party is really somewhat mind-boggling. It doesn't add up to a logical move for the benefit of education, and all the educators and stakeholders within the system of education. One can only go back and reference the some 63 or 64 recommendations that were made back in 1981, and it is amazing when we go back in time and we take a snapshot view of these particular recommendations and apply them today's educational system, how well they fit. So it really defies a lot of logic as to what the minister is planning to achieve from an educational point of view. The recommendations were quite extensive. They dealt with the issue of special education.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, contrary to what the Minister of Education today is doing, the Minister of Education at that particular point in time, the honourable Terence Donahoe, was increasing funding for special education. In fact, he more than doubled it in that one fiscal year to ensure the needs of special needs children attending school were met. So why the minister is doing the reverse of what her predecessors were putting forth is rather perplexing to say the least. Particularly since she represents a community of communities in Nova Scotia, here in Halifax with Saint Mary's University within her constituency, some very fine high schools and elementary and junior high schools, it borders up to Dalhousie University, as well as King's College and so on.

I am really taken back that the Minister of Education would turn her back on these particular educational institutions the way she has, unless, by implementing this particular piece of legislation it is, ultimately, an opportunity for her to be able to make these political maneuvers within the educational system that would create an advantage for one particular community over another, Mr. Speaker. I think that would be a complete affront to everything the then Minister of Education, the honourable Terence Donahoe, stood for.

[Page 6435]

Mr. Speaker, as we well know, the Minister of Education, the honourable Terence Donahoe and his brother, the former Speaker of the House, Art Donahoe and, indeed, their father before them, were strong defenders of the rights of all Nova Scotians. We did not agree philosophically and politically on a lot of issues, but they represented their constituents and Nova Scotia with conviction, dignity and with honour, and I believe that. I believe if Mr. Donahoe were here today, he would be quite taken back that the Minister of Education would initiate such a political move into the educational system. It is a complete reversal.

The Minister of Finance was just a little puppy coming into Cabinet at that time so we are not going to blame too much on him but, Mr. Speaker, he seems to have skewed off the rails here and I am surprised the honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works has not given some of his counsel and wisdom of his experience when he sat in on the Buchanan Cabinet days. Of course, you would not want too much of that, look at the financial mess we are in today. Certainly on the issue of education, I am sure the Minister of Transportation and Public Works would be only too willing to reaffirm what the honourable Terence Donahoe, when he was minister, put forth.

Mr. Speaker, I realize my time is getting somewhat short. (Interruption) Lots of time, I guess there are clamours of support by popular demand to continue, but I am not so sure that is shared equally on the government benches. Given the fact that the government members and, indeed, the government backbenchers don't seem to want to take a position on anything other than just to rubber stamp whatever seems to be put on the order table, then perhaps maybe we should continue this dialogue a little further. I see that this isolating of people at the community level will be very counter-productive and I think it will isolate people who have contributed a lot to education in terms of their volunteer efforts.

[7:30 p.m.]

Many of the parents and parents' groups in school districts across Nova Scotia through their PTAs, their home and school organizations, the school band organizations and travel groups - they have made a tremendous contribution in assisting the Department of Education, indeed, the government and most importantly their own children in achieving a high level of education.

I think this particular piece of legislation will put a further burden at the local level because if what we are seeing here is this authoritarian style of initiative by the Minister of Education to centralize the decision making on major issues such as finance, in the Province of Nova Scotia, people will become very frustrated, they will feel isolated, they will feel that the government is just not listening and it is just one big bureaucratic monster out there that just doesn't care about what they are saying.

[Page 6436]

That may not be a reality in the final analysis, we hope that it isn't, but all indications are that that fear, whether real or perceived, will be there. I have had the honour and the privilege of serving as a school trustee in a previous life. That was around the time when the then honourable Terence Donahoe was Minister of Education and he made a provision in that particular Education Act that allowed people at the local level if they wanted certain programs or educational initiatives over and above what the Department of Education and the local school board were prepared to provide, whether it be the core funding and some other supplemental funding and what have you, then there was a provision in that Education Act that would allow the school trustees to call a public meeting and to ask, solicit, the approbation of the ratepayers for that particular district.

I will give you an example, before the immersion program started within the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board - at that time I think it was the Cape Breton Regional School Board - we were quite keen in our particular community district in wanting to have French immersion for our students. We were prepared to realize a higher tax rate. In the final analysis, because there were many seniors in our district and they felt because their children had grown up and moved on and they had paid their dues, going back to the days of poll taxes and the high property taxes that many felt they were paying, that didn't pass. I believe you required a two-thirds majority and the vote was 60 per cent in favour of it.

The fact of the matter is that provision was put there to allow people at the local level to have some say in the financing of education. Since then, that has been taken away. Under the Conservative Administration, they did take that away in the next amendment to the Education Act as I recall.

What happened was, many of the residents felt, well, why bother? School trustees really don't serve any true purpose other than to just put forth a rallying cry for parents on certain issues, whether it be a school bus not travelling on a particular street for the following year because they have changed the criterion for how far a student must live from a school to be able to qualify for busing on whether they were going to reduce the number of teachers in the school, that sort of thing. Essentially that whole role was taken over by the parents, the PTA, and ultimately what we have are the school board members, because they are fully elected, speaking for the most part on all these issues.

Generally speaking, Mr. Speaker, even at that, many parents and students, and indeed all stakeholders, feel isolated from the process because many of the boards are large and unwieldy in some respects. If you translate that down to the local level, what we see is you have a school board member representing the equivalent of perhaps two or three provincial constituencies. For something that is essentially a part-time commission - a part-time job for many because certainly the stipend of $10,000 or $12,000 would not reflect a full-time commitment because it certainly is not there - when you look at the massive responsibility, it is very difficult, even under present circumstances, to be able to respond to the needs of all the stakeholders in that particular school district to further centralize that decision-making

[Page 6437]

process away from the local level I believe will prove to be counter-productive. I think if the minister and, indeed, the government is not somewhat careful, we could see a bit of a backlash on this particular issue.

Mr. Speaker, I have always been curious why, in just about every municipal election that comes up, the school board district in our county for the last three or perhaps four elections has always had a redistribution. Now I don't think I have seen that in other jurisdictions, but I could recall at least the last three elections - and I am not sure about the fourth one - when they first came into being, every election that took place, they always had a redistribution of their boundaries.

Now I am not sure if that was an attempt to confuse the electorate or for whatever purpose, Mr. Speaker, because of the demographics, but the long and the short of it is that people feel isolated when power is concentrated at a level that they cannot identify with in some tangible, real manner, and that is what I see here in Bill No. 47.

Bill No. 47 is a complete contradiction of everything the Conservative Party has stood for in the field of education up to date. It is a complete contradiction and I am very disappointed that the government would undertake this. There is no clear evidence that the minister wants to do anything other than to politicize the school boards and the administration of education at the local level or indeed what we are seeing is the beginning of the dismantling of school boards in the Province of Nova Scotia. In all likelihood, we will see no school boards within the next 5 to 10 years, because of the centralization of power through Bill No. 47.

So with those remarks, Mr. Speaker, I take my place. I thank you for the opportunity to speak on it. I am very disappointed that the government, and indeed the Minister of Education, has embarked upon this rather dangerous and unchartered course because I believe that it will be to their detriment in the years to come. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.

MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Speaker, I want to say that I am pleased to rise to speak on Bill No. 47, much the same as I was pleased to rise to speak on the amendment to Bill No. 47, which was for the Standing Committee on Law Amendments to tour the province; however that failed by a vote in this House and the government side decided that it did not want to take that particular avenue, which I thought was the most appropriate avenue, to get a sense or a feel of what Nova Scotians thought were the areas of education that they would best like to see this government address. However, that didn't happen and we are back to the original bill.

[Page 6438]

Mr. Speaker, before I go to the original bill, I just want to go back to the Tory blue book, the Tory bible. Every time I get an opportunity to go through the Tory bible, I find it somewhat fascinating, because I see the list of promises that the Tory Government had made, or the political Party had made, to Nova Scotians over the period of time. I just want to go to the Education component of their blue book. I want to just make note of what they had said. This is with respect to Education. It said, "A strong education system is the foundation of an economy of sustained growth. A PC Government will dedicate itself to an education system which is adequately funded, fully focused on the student and the classroom and which will prepare young Nova Scotians to compete in the job markets of today and tomorrow. We are committed to rewarding effort and excellence in our schools."

Then, Mr. Speaker, they, in turn, started to criticize the Liberal Government for the Liberal Government's commitment. Here is what they said about the Liberal Government. "The Liberal Government has failed to give education the priority it deserves. Too many young Nova Scotians are learning from outdated photocopies instead of current textbooks. Too many teachers are faced with overcrowded classrooms and scarce resources. Our schools must be functional, environmentally-safe and must reflect the needs of the community." Those were the comments out of the Tory blue book. I have to tell you, everywhere I have toured across this province, this book must have popped up. I am sure that every Member of this Legislative Assembly has seen this book and it certainly has been the book that has been a testament to this government since the opening of this 58th Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, I want to tell you, with respect to Bill No. 47, and with respect to the amount of accountability that this government said it would be, now is going to introduce a school board structure. It is going to introduce a school board structure into the southwest Nova Scotia area. What it is going to do, it is going to divide the school into districts, comprised of Lunenburg County, Queens County and, particularly, Digby County, Shelburne County and Yarmouth County. I believe that this might have been very well a commitment during the election campaign. I am not sure, but this might have been a commitment that this government made during the election campaign, like so many of the other commitments.

What this bill does is it gives unyielding powers to the minister and (Interruption) Centralization, absolutely, Mr. Speaker, as my honourable colleague, the member for Timberlea-Prospect, states. It centralizes power to the Minister of Education, allows the Minister of Education, whenever it appears a school board is not acting in the best interests of the Minister of Education, or assumes that it should be acting in, to step in with this unyielding stick and deliver to that regional school board the opportunity either to shape up or ship out, because we will deal with you in a timely fashion.

Mr. Speaker, what I happened to see is that there are approximately seven district school boards across the province. Now what has happened, the minister has decided to dissect the Southwest Regional School Board and create these two individual school districts. I am not sure if that is part of or comprised or is consistent with the Elections Act

[Page 6439]

that is going to come up in October when the municipal elections and the school board elections take place. That is left there and I am not sure where we go from here. But I would certainly hope that, in fact, the minister would recognize there is the opportunity to elect members to these school boards.

[7:45 p.m.]

We talk about the accountability in school boards, Mr. Speaker, and I remember when I was first elected to the then Dartmouth District School Board. It was a municipal school board. The honourable members from the government side recognize there were district school boards. In fact, when we served on local government, there was a district school board for Dartmouth, there was a district school board for Halifax and Bedford and the county. We were talking about a comprehensive audit and the need for school boards to be accountable. I remember this one particular member of the district school board demanding there ought to be accountability within the education system.

This individual member requested a comprehensive audit. We went through the comprehensive audit. The comprehensive audit cost, I believe, about $40,000 at that particular time. There were accusations made that we had too many substitute teachers because many teachers were taking time off. You know the old story about substitutes, what happens the teachers would fill in, and there was too much lost time. There was also consideration with respect to teachers with Class 8 certificates, who were library assistants at that particular time, or working in libraries. All of that came up. Much talk had been centred around the need for a comprehensive audit to justify the expenditures within this particular school board. I recall that individual, at that particular time, implied there was a need to be accountable. The teachers, the parents and the municipality wanted the school board to be accountable. We talked about accountability, and we talked about accountability for some length of time.

The audit was over a two month period. There were extensive reviews with respect to how the money was spent. I know the then superintendent of the district school board was called to task with respect to how they expended those dollars into education, and when the report came through, much of the information was unfounded. As a matter of fact, we found those dollars were spent wisely, and those dollars were attributed to the appropriate resources within the Department of Education.

I also want to tell you, Mr. Speaker, it was good we went through that comprehensive audit, because at that particular time, going through the comprehensive audit, it demonstrated some of the information that was pure speculation, pure hearsay, that there was an abuse of dollars which came about, and we found it was basically untrue. For that very reason the comprehensive audit stood the test of time and it was quite appropriate.

[Page 6440]

I want to say to you, Mr. Speaker, while serving on that district school board, we also had the opportunity to look at the potential and the advantage of having supplementary funding. It was significantly important. I remember being a member of municipal council, the school boards would come to municipal council to talk about supplementary funding. Supplementary funding was significantly important because it allowed municipalities to carry on additional educational programs they normally wouldn't have been able to carry on.

With those educational programs came a well-trained, enhanced, educated individual; an individual who was quite capable of moving on to further studies. I often thought it was this kind of a standard policy, with respect to education, that ought to be delivered right across the province. There was much talk with respect to the government taking over the full funding of education throughout the province so we could have a balanced educational program that is consistent from one end of the province to the other. Mr. Speaker, that, in my opinion, would have been an excellent move by the government simply because I am a firm believer that everyone who is educated in the educational system of Nova Scotia competes in the same market place for the same jobs. There ought to be a balance in the quality of education throughout the province.

I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, there are some disadvantages to those areas where, in fact, there is no longer an area tax rate with respect to educational funding versus the supplementary funding. I just happened to note today in The Daily News, "NSTU: Bedford, county face most cuts" We can be assured that as a result of the area rates no longer being in existence and there is absolutely no supplementary funding available, that what happens here is that the teachers will migrate to areas where there is quality education. If there are going to be lay-offs and cuts, those teachers will shift to where they know the employment is stable.

What I want to say, Mr. Speaker, is that most unfortunately, that leaves Bedford and the county in a precarious situation with respect to the quality of education that people in that area may receive. I certainly hope this can be addressed and ironed out because I am a firm believer that, once again, a quality education ought to exist across the province.

We have heard much talk with respect to the loss of teaching assistants, librarians, clerical staff, custodial staff, bus drivers. I just want to say that I received a letter, as a matter of fact it was from the local union, which indicates the funding crisis that is going to continue through the boards. As a matter of fact, it is addressed to Ms. Stella Campbell, and I want you to know, Mr. Speaker, that it indicates a number of serious problems here with respect to what individuals are going to find themselves out of a job and the reasons why we should have them.

I am talking about library assistants, technicians. First of all, you know library technicians play a very important role in enabling students to develop and practise their skills. They procure the necessary resources for curriculum support. They do fund-raising for the

[Page 6441]

expansions of collections. They process and maintain all those collections. They assist in the refining of technological skills, foster love of literature, husband well over $5 million worth of print assets belonging to the school board and, most importantly, they ensure the growth and development of student literacy. To me that is significantly important. Without library technicians you can certainly see how lost the student population would be, particularly students in the P to 6 schools throughout the Province of Nova Scotia.

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about educational program assistants and what they offer as well. They deliver the individualized programs designed by the program training team. They enable the board to implement inclusion legislation in a meaningful way. They provide physical care and specified nursing procedures. They enhance the effectiveness of the learning centres' environment. They provide a level of mobility commensurate with the inclusion and they prepare resource materials under the direction of classroom teachers. They enrich the academic and social development of special needs students and provide a one-on-one response to behavioural problems. All that the educational program assistant does is significantly important to every student who requires them within the educational system.

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about student support workers as well. When we talk about student support workers I want to let this government know what they do. They provide liaison between school and home and community, they mentor at-risk students, they provide role models, support the social development of at-risk students, advise the support students in times of stress, mediate in potentially volatile situations and contribute significantly to the continued enrollment of at-risk students. Without these student support workers, we certainly couldn't provide the kind of education or the quality of education that we presently provide right now.

AN HON. MEMBER: They are valuable people.

MR. PYE: They certainly are. They are extremely valuable individuals, Mr. Speaker. I just want you to know that every essential service within the educational system is significantly important because it makes up the entire component of the education system.

We want to talk about the essential needs of support staff. We want to talk about the needs with respect to custodial and maintenance workers and what custodial and maintenance workers provide. We look and we say to ourselves, now what do those individuals provide to the quality of education of Nova Scotia students.

Custodial and maintenance workers are responsible for essential work, such as cleaning classrooms, washrooms, gymnasiums, libraries, hallways, lavatories. They are working with plumbing, heating and ventilation systems, school security, the prevention of mould and other health hazards and many schools throughout this province have those very particular problems. There are some schools that are presently closed as a result of having some health hazard problems. Mr. Speaker, the roofs that don't leak are a result of the maintenance

[Page 6442]

workers and the custodial workers. They are responsible for the cleaning up after school and community events, the removal of racial and other inappropriate graffiti, environmentally responsible schools for heavy duty clean-up workers and so on. So we have, within our educational system, a myriad of individuals, all of whom play a significant role in their contribution to a quality education for many Nova Scotians.

We can sit here, Mr. Speaker, and we can talk about what are the side effects with respect to that, and we do know what Bill No. 47 will do. Bill No. 47 will give the minister the ultimate power, should she choose to separate the remaining six school boards throughout this province and carry on a practice that everything will be run from the central office of Halifax. So what can happen if the minister chooses to do that, should this bill pass? Many of those individuals who do have the opportunities by way of trade union movements, even though we do know and recognize that there are some successor rights that follow through, we do know that the minister has the ultimate power.

As a result of giving assurances to the teachers and the teaching profession, that there will be no cuts or very little impact on the teaching profession with respect to cuts in the educational system, what happens, Mr. Speaker, is there is this trickle-down effect and, as a result of that, the trickle-down effect takes place like this. If, in fact, we give assurances and protection that the teachers will, in fact, continue to be in the classroom, yet we have a $20 million cut in Education, we talk and we say that that isn't significant out of a $1.4 billion or $1.5 billion Education budget. It may not sound significant, but it is the repercussions overall.

There are some schools, and here is where the logic lies. There is some $11 million, in fact, that will be cut, I believe, from the Halifax Regional School Board. Having said that, the impact is extremely significant because what happens is the pressure falls downward. So that pressure will fall downward on to individuals like library technicians, educational program assistants, student support workers, custodial workers, administrative and clerical workers, bus drivers. All that will fall down to the very individuals who have the least ability to afford to take the hit.

What happens is when these individuals take the hit, the community pays a tremendous price. Not only do we get maybe schools that are not cleaned to the specs and so on, we have the potential for health hazards, but we also have teaching assistants who, in fact, now students are without. There is a whole myriad of problems that spin down as a result of the minister's decision with respect to this budget.

[8:00 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, had we been able to deal with the amendment and not directly with the bill, we would have heard a lot of that from many Nova Scotians who are out there and many of the Nova Scotians would have brought that information forward and they certainly would

[Page 6443]

have brought that information in such a way that the government would understand just exactly what their priorities are with respect to the delivery of education in Nova Scotia.

We have talked a lot, Mr. Speaker, with respect to the amendment to the bill and the bill itself with the broad sweeping powers that it has, and many people have spoken quite articulately about this particular bill. Many people who, in fact, are in the educational field know the consequences of this bill should it pass, and the powers that it passes on to the Minister of Education, but what we don't know, and we will not know until after June 16th, is what kind of an impact the funding cuts in education and the number of cuts to teachers will have across this province.

I know, Mr. Speaker, when we had the smaller school boards, there was this identity issue and many of the parents of students, there was the Nova Scotia Home and School Association, there was a Parent-Teachers Association, all felt very close to the municipal school boards at that particular time and they felt as though their issues were being addressed and they often brought their concerns. When, in fact, amalgamated regional school boards came into place, many of the parents did feel that they had lost touch with the educational system as a result of that, but nonetheless they still brought their concerns to the regional school board.

I recall, Mr. Speaker, a very important issue not so long ago that somewhat divided the school board, but the school board addressed it, and that was with respect to supplementary funding for the French Immersion Program. That was a hotly contested issue that, in fact, saw parts of the county wanting to have French Immersion Programs in their schools and their inability to have that educational French Immersion Program simply because there was not the area tax rate that would be supported by the regional councillors at the time, nor the supplementary funding. So that became a very strong issue, a very heated issue, a well-debated issue and, today, many of those people lose out as a result of that.

Mr. Speaker, I remember when many of the parents who, in fact, did not live in the constituency that I represent gave me a call with respect to how we go about addressing that particular issue of supplementary funding. So I certainly advised them to get in touch with their area councillor so that their area councillor could enlighten them as to the cost of an area rate or what a supplementary rate might be and if they were prepared to accept it. Many of the parents who called me at that particular time implied or stated that they were prepared to accept this supplementary funding, anything that would give them the opportunity to have their children educated in a French Immersion Program without having to pay the busing fees and so on.

I do know, Mr. Speaker, there was a fee charged for individuals who, in fact, came into the Halifax and the Dartmouth school system to take advantage of the French Immersion Program. I do know that they were charged a fee, I think at that particular time, of $500. I do know that they wanted to know if that was tax exempt or not and at that particular time,

[Page 6444]

no, it was not tax exempt and they could not apply it to their income tax and they would not get a rebate from their property taxes as a result of that either.

I know that I then spoke with the former Minister of Education to see if he was open and receptive to speaking to the federal Minister of Finance with respect to the possibility of a parent who contributes to education being able to have that income tax deductible. I don't know how far that has gone, or where it is at this particular time, but I do know that I think it is still under review. My hope is that it is still under review and I certainly hope that it can be brought back to this Legislature to see if there is a potential for tax exemption in that.

We talk about the inequities of education across the province. I don't know much about New Brunswick, but I do know that New Brunswick attempted to make a step of getting rid of all the district school boards within the Province of New Brunswick. I understand that in New Brunswick at that particular time it was almost utter chaos and that what happened was there were very little contributions by the community with respect to providing input and then they disbanded regional school boards into district school systems. I don't know where that is today and it is most unfortunate, but it is certainly worthy of research to see just exactly how that has followed through with New Brunswick education.

I do know that the new Deputy Minister of Education is a minister from New Brunswick and that he may enlighten this Legislature with respect to what happened in New Brunswick. I know that the Southwest Regional School Board is considered a pilot project. I do know that the Southwest Regional School Board will be tested, it will be evaluated and the process will be to see if this stands the test of time. I do know that the Southwest Regional School Board was considered to be extremely large and a few years back there was an agreement that there would be the potential to review the Southwest Regional School Board with respect to its size.

What has happened is that the Southwest Regional School Board has been divided, this is a pilot project and it will be evaluated and it will be reviewed, but my concern is not so much the evaluation process and the review, my concern is how far the minister will go to make sure that she has, or her department has, complete control of those new district schools.

That is the significant part here, how far is the minister prepared to go? I believe, and it is my opinion, that the minister hires the executive director and that the CEO will be answerable, the director will be answerable solely to the minister. My understanding of it as well is that there are no longer superintendents of the regional school boards, so the superintendents are gone and we do know that the superintendents were hired by the regional school boards through a committee and brought forward for their expertise and direction of the school board.

[Page 6445]

Now what happens is that the CEO takes on that full responsibility and if the minister feels that there ought to be a cut, who does the minister consult with? Where is the consultation process through this whole mechanism? That is the question. The question is if there were a real need for a consultation process, one would have thought that the Minister of Education would have done a tremendous amount of consultation with the Southwest Regional School Board, the parents, the teachers, the Nova Scotia School Boards Association and all those who have a vested interest in making sure that the quality of education is delivered in that area.

What has happened here is that one would have thought that the minister would have sat back down and talked to those individuals and said look, is this a wise choice? Is this what we should be doing, splitting up the region rather than them making a unilateral decision that that would be the pilot project of the Department of Education.

Then again, Mr. Speaker, as the member for Sackville-Cobequid states, this is a Tory way of doing business, and I guess by now all Nova Scotians know and understand this is, in fact, a Tory way of doing business. The Tories will say one thing to get elected and they will do something else once they are in office. (Interruptions)

Mr. Speaker, it is consistent and it has been a consistent practice, whether it is Health, whether it is Education, whether it is Finance, whether it is Community Services, whether it is Tourism. You name it, it is consistent right across the spectrum of the Tory Government, they say one thing when they get elected, they do another afterwards.

Mr. Speaker, I don't want to have to say I am sorry again, so I certainly will be somewhat careful of the comments I make here. I have to tell you that when we look at . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: You didn't say you were sorry the first time.

MR. PYE: I don't want to apologize for my thoughts, so thank you very much. I thank the member for Sackville-Cobequid, that certainly is an enlightening thought too, isn't it? Nonetheless, the point is we recognize what the government has done to become elected with respect to this province. What we have not recognized is how much we have to ferret out with respect to not only the budget, but every bill that comes before this Legislative Assembly requires we, as members of the Opposition, ferret out, and ferret out the impact of what this bill is going to have on Nova Scotians. It doesn't matter if it is the use of televisions or telephones for persons in hospitals, or the use of 911 as a service charge to 911. It doesn't matter what it may be, it ends up coming back to we have to ferret it out. Much of this bill is done the same way, we have made (Interruption) Well, you certainly can, and I certainly hope the Speaker has made an attempt to buy tickets on the ferret because it certainly is a worthwhile fund-raising cause for us, I can tell you. I am sure some of that money just might slip off into making sure that we keep business going, by the purchase of that ferret, and spin-off into tax dollars that will assist in education.

[Page 6446]

I think what happens is that we have to look at the impact, and I want to go back to it once again. I guess I have difficulty, as a member of the Legislative Assembly, understanding the full force of this Bill No. 47 and the unyielding powers that channels up into the minister's office with respect to a regional school board that says to all the remaining six regional school boards across this province, mind you, if you don't pay attention and you don't do as we say, then you could be gone tomorrow; therefore, we are holding that stick out and we are going to make sure you know that stick is out there, so we can bring you in line.

I think that that in itself, although the minister continues to say this is a pilot project, has a threatening impact to it as a pilot project because it has a threatening impact as to how those individuals across the province will view what the minister does.

Now, if we go back to the Southwest Regional School Board and recognize the minister made this decision unilaterally and without consultation prior to, and that in fact there is now going to be two separate school districts in that area, we don't yet know what kind of a form it is going to take. We do think it might be a split of the Southwest Regional School Board and that there will be the same numbers of individuals elected in October 2000, as were elected some four years ago. We do think that, but we really don't know. That is not quite clear yet, and we also don't know if, in fact, the individual school districts that are now set in place - we do have some idea of where the boundaries are - but we don't know yet what that pilot project entails.

What kind of education program is going to be delivered by those pilot projects? If, in fact, they are going to be new educational programs, who delivers the new educational programs? Who is going to design the new educational programs? Is it going to come out of the Minister of Education's Department or office? Mr. Speaker, we are totally unaware of what is going to happen there.

[8:15 p.m.]

Then, after the pilot project and after the October elections - the school board representatives are now elected to four year terms in office - we might very well see the kind of thing that was pulled by the John Savage Government in 1993. That is the amalgamation of areas. We do recall that. Without consultation, without representation from municipalities across this province, they amalgamated certain municipalities. Bang! Just like that, without any consultation whatsoever.

The same thing, Mr. Speaker, could apply in the Minister of Education's jurisdiction. She could very well say, well, we took this pilot project on, we studied this pilot project, this pilot project is ineffective and, therefore, maybe we will shift in a new direction and, instead of having five regional school boards, we may end up having three regional school boards, or maybe we will disband school boards altogether and maybe it will come directly from the minister's office with respect to the delivery of education. We then will have the right to hire

[Page 6447]

principals, substitutes and all those people who are in the employ of education throughout the Province of Nova Scotia.

All that has a significant impact. All that has, in itself, a way of delivering a message to Nova Scotians. I know that we, in this Legislative Assembly, Mr. Speaker, with respect to education take it very seriously. We have stood in this Legislature from time to time and we have, day in and day out during the Education budget and the uncertainty of the Education budget. Before the minister decided to put in out of the slush fund some $27 million into offsetting the kinds of cuts teachers would take, we have witnessed all that, and we have also stood here and challenged the Minister of Education on those very important issues. As a result of that, people across this Province of Nova Scotia, continued to give us petitions day in and day out, simply to deliver those petitions to this Legislative Assembly, because their honourable members were unable to deliver those petitions for them.

Now, we have delivered petitions from Yarmouth. We have delivered them from Annapolis. We have delivered them from Kings County, Digby, you name it, Mr. Speaker, across this province. The honourable minister knows full well here, most recently, we delivered petitions from his constituency with respect to concerns about education. The only reason why the Opposition delivered those petitions was simply because the constituents were unable to get their member of the Legislature to deliver those petitions.

I think, in a sense, that is somewhat a sad telling, a sad commentary on whom you elect, when, in fact, those individuals can't even bring those petitions before this Legislature and affix their signatures to them. It is because this Opposition continuously harps on making sure the cuts to education would not be as severe as this minister was going to allow, that we were able to get $27 million out of the restructuring fund.

We now have $61 million left out of the restructuring fund, and $61 million, a portion of that, can certainly go a long way into helping the children with special needs. There are children with special needs who deserve a quality of education similar to each and every other student in the Province of Nova Scotia. They have a right.

Mr. Speaker, I remember, and I believe it was in Dartmouth, that a young chap challenged the educational system with respect to having their child receive the same quality of education as every other child through the education system. I believe that that was the Luke Elwood case in the Province of Nova Scotia. It was in Dartmouth and it was with respect to that district school board. It said that hard to teach individuals, individuals with disabilities and so on, had a right to be in the classroom with the rest of the students and get a quality of education in Nova Scotia. I do know that that was a long, hard fought battle and now after the challenge it is a right within the Province of Nova Scotia that everyone gets a quality education.

[Page 6448]

I want to say how difficult it would be, Mr. Speaker, if, in fact, everyone did not have the right to equality of education simply because of dollars. The minister continues to imply that money is not a factor with respect to special education. The minister here and earlier in the late debate, implied that education was not a factor, that there were many components which they were looking at in Education, such as equality of education, the teaching needs, the specialists and those individuals that would be required to provide equality of education for students with special needs.

At the same time, she also implied that we don't have a bottomless pit. We all know that we don't have a bottomless pit and that education, from time to time, needs review, Mr. Speaker. But we also know that equality of education and quality education is the measure of the wealth of your society. We also know that, as well. We also know that it is better to put that money into education then to put that money into putting people in a penal institution or locking them up in jail because they lack the education or the skills to get a meaningful job in the future. We also know that it costs $64,000 a year to maintain someone in a penal institution. I know the Minister of Justice will know that and I also know that with the new correctional facilities over in Dartmouth, we will be able to measure those dollars in fact, while it costs about, approximately, between $4,000 and $5,000 to educate a child in the Province of Nova Scotia annually. That is a significant cost reduction.

Mr. Speaker, what I want to say to you is that when we look at the numbers of where the dollars are spent, then we have to recognize that there is a need for Nova Scotians to know that there needs to be a balance of a bang for their buck. My guess is and my bet is that many Nova Scotians would certainly like to see that the dollars be spent and that they be spent into education, because many Nova Scotians know the value of education.

Mr. Speaker, I know that when we talk about unemployment rates and we talk about Cape Breton Island with the significant unemployment rates, and we do know that the skilled labour force needs to be upgraded with equality of education, as well, we recognize that that is important and we do that. We also know that, throughout rural Nova Scotia, in many rural communities in Nova Scotia, education is a priority. It is a paramount issue simply because many people in rural Nova Scotia will no longer be able to stay at home.

So there is a need for a quality of education throughout this province to make sure that those individuals are able to compete in the workplace and able to compete not only in Nova Scotia, but across the world. We talk about across the country. We talk about how global our community has become with respect to the world, then we need to deliver the kind of education that will set Nova Scotia aside from other provinces.

Mr. Speaker, I also want you to know that when we talk about setting Nova Scotia aside from other provinces, we recognize that Nova Scotia has seven institutions of higher learning. We also know that Nova Scotia is noted for what is termed the exporting of brains. We do know that and we should be extremely proud of that. Somehow we seem to think that

[Page 6449]

we lose that kind of talent, that talent shifts and goes out of the province. We don't look at it as exporting of a human resource that will deliver throughout this whole global community a quality of education and that, in fact, third world countries rely upon those individuals to assist them in enhancing their quality of life as well. So we should not be concerned with respect to being considered the exporter of brains in Canada because I think that that is an asset and certainly is a plus to be recognized that way throughout the entire country and that is the reason why we get back to Bill No. 47 and why it is singularly important for the minister not to have such a stranglehold upon the delivery of education in the Province of Nova Scotia.

I do know the honourable member across the way, who, in fact, I believe, was the principal of the Teachers' College, can fully understand, Mr. Speaker, the importance of education in this province and the importance of making sure that the quality of education is what is given to all Nova Scotians throughout this province. I have witnessed and I have seen, along with many other individuals who have witnessed and have seen, where, in fact, education at one time was not considered a priority, what happened to those individuals.

We also recognize today, Mr. Speaker, that we are living in a technological age, that we need the best qualified individuals to come forward. I do believe that the Leader of the Liberal Party had made comment to that here a couple of weeks ago with respect to some of the questions that he had actually asked the minister, that we are looking into the future. We are not moving back and the kind of educational training programs and education that we provide Nova Scotians today will well equip Nova Scotians and prepare Nova Scotians for a future economy.

That future economy, Mr. Speaker, may be extremely different than what you and I see it as today because the evolution and the change in the time is so rapid. It is extremely rapid when we look at what is needed to educate our people. At one time a person could be guaranteed and could be assured a good job at a labour intensive job with a high school education; as a matter of fact with less than a high school education. Now, today, there are no guarantees that if you have a university degree, you are going to get a good stable job. You have to go into specialized fields of education.

I spent approximately, Mr. Speaker, 29 years in the community of Dalhousie University. I saw many students who, in fact, set their careers in specialized fields of education. (Interruption) Honourable member, I am not sure, but I mean specialized fields of education and those individuals selected the specialized fields based on the premise that they at least had the opportunity to get employment when they were there.

Mr. Speaker, what we have to recognize is the day is long gone now when they can be assured and guaranteed. I know the Minister of Economic Development knows this full well and I know that the Minister of Economic Development tells us that we should be looking outside the box, or outside the envelope, or stretching the envelope, whatever terminology

[Page 6450]

you want to use in today's business field, but the minister also knows full well that if, in fact, we don't have the kind of educated persons in the Province of Nova Scotia, then we can't attract the kind of industry we want to attract. That makes the minister's job extremely difficult, because today, Mr. Speaker, when a business locates to this province, the business not only wants the infrastructure of roads; they not only want the art museums, the cultural events to attract them there; they not only want a good business climate with respect to tax rates and so on; they also want an educated workforce. They want a workforce which will allow that business, when it comes here, to be able to choose, without having to go through a retraining program to be able to select from the population of this province, the kind of people who are going to be employed within their business.

[8:30 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, I can only say that many, many Nova Scotians want the same thing. It doesn't matter where we tour this province, Nova Scotians want consultation. When they elected this Tory Government, in their blue book - this is the bible, I have to tell you that tours this province. It is one I should know by memory by now. Every time I open this book I come to a new revelation that implies it is either here or it is not there. The point is this, if it is here, we don't want it to be there. That is what the government of the day continues to say. If, in fact, what we have to say here is across the province many Nova Scotians looked at this blue book, they took a very deep look into this blue book with its 243 promises. The very first two issues that were singularly and most paramount in the minds of Nova Scotians was the delivery of a health care system and an education system, both of which this government said it was prepared to deliver.

As a matter of fact, I think it said something, and I don't want to go off of the actual bill here, but I want to slide in a small direction, I think if the Minister of Health said, nothing $48 million couldn't fix, with respect to his Health budget. Now, with respect to Education, there wasn't a single dollar that couldn't be found to deliver a quality of education for the people of Nova Scotia. It was a matter of saying that the Liberals did not understand education. They couldn't deliver education, and we were going to do it. That is what they said. That is exactly (Interruption)

What I am saying is that I am citing a quote out of the blue book. I just want to quote that blue book once again. "The Liberal Government has failed to give education the priority it deserves." I think the Leader of the Liberal Party should have something to say about that. I am sure his members, when they come to speak about this bill will certainly speak about that, Mr. Speaker. (Interruption) You are absolutely right, because I think the delivery of education, whether you like it or not, is going to take an awful steep slide down some slippery slope within the next four years, just to simply satisfy a commitment by this Tory Government for a 10 per cent tax cut to all Nova Scotians within year four of their mandate. (Interruption) Yes, similar to fishing licences. Thank you, the member for Cole Harbour implies it is simply like the fishing licence.

[Page 6451]

You can say one thing, but you mean another. When you put the rod in the well, you hope you are going to catch the big one even if you don't. That is exactly what happened here. I don't believe the Conservatives ever dreamed they would be elected. On July 27, 1999, this book of 243 promises was to say look we don't think we are going to get elected, so we will make all the promises in the world, we don't have to live by them. But, you know what? They woke up and reality hit them, side-bang, in the face and now they have to deliver on all these 243 promises.

Mr. Speaker, what I want to do is say that the second most singular promises that were made in this blue book were made with respect to education. To me, I think it is unconscionable of a government that knows the importance of an educated society to turn around and shift direction simply because it says that we had not known that the debt of this province and the deficit of this province was so huge.

I wonder how many government members were standing over here with their eyes closed. Now I know that during the budgetary estimates that many of them didn't speak and maybe they didn't fully understand the budget, but I can tell you that we had tremendous concerns with respect to the budget before we went into that campaign, and we certainly knew what we could deliver. I want to tell you, they knew the state of the economy and all they did was try to do anything to get elected.

Mr. Speaker, I think that what many Nova Scotians will tell you when you go out, and I hope that this summertime rather than take John Hamm's phrase of, don't worry, be happy, go out and barbeque and enjoy yourself because we will look after you, rather than take that, I think what each member of the government's side should do is go back to their constituency and simply . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: Bond.

MR. PYE: Well, "bond" is an appropriate, bond with their constituents, talk to their constituents, sit down and have that nice barbeque and tell them that this is what we are going to do to your education. It doesn't matter if you are from Yarmouth or Cape Breton Island, any part of Cape Breton as a matter of fact, the point is, you should sit there and talk to them and listen to them because many Nova Scotians know full well that to them, apart from health care, that education is the single most important issue.

As a matter of fact, we already had the experience of the commitment by this minister that some schools would continue to be built, and I hope the minister continues to keep her commitment with respect to those schools. We do know that the government inherited some of the most expensive schools in the country to be built under a P3 system; we do know that that has had some effect, possibly, on the Education budget; and we do know that that really doesn't have a direct effect now, but it will have a direct effect 5 or 10 years down the road.

[Page 6452]

That is where that will have the effect, long after that government is out of office, and that is where and when this government will recognize that it has lost favour with Nova Scotians.

Mr. Speaker, I have to say if there is one true lesson that this government should learn it is that it cannot come into office on the promise of doing one thing and then doing another. There is a prime example of that just five, six short years ago, called the Savage Government. We know what the Savage Government did. The Savage Government was elected in 1993 with some 44 seats, compared to the 39 that the present government has . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: Whoa, it is 30.

MR. PYE: Yes, 30, excuse me, I do apologize, the 30 that the present government has.

Mr. Speaker, allow me to tell you that they will recognize very quickly their fate with the Nova Scotia voters after a few years of being here in office, if they stand that long. Our hope is that they will recognize and mend their ways and that when they come back to this Legislature, after the break, that they will deliver a good program. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member's time has elapsed.

The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and an honour to be here this evening and to witness these festivities. I must say, sir, that I have always considered it an honour to be here in this House, especially on evenings like tonight because one can learn a great deal by listening. I don't know how much the government is listening, but one can learn a great deal by listening to the remarks of the various members of the House because those that are able to speak out are certainly able to shed some perspective on the presentation that the minister makes to the bill.

During the years I have been here in the House, the character of debates on bills of this type has changed a great deal. When I was first elected, the debates here were back and forth and each Opposition member would be answered by a government member who would defend or explain or give the other side of the story. Some members who have been here some time, or perhaps have come back after some absence, will recall those days when we used to have debates back and forth here in the House. But now we don't. We have one way debate and the members of the Opposition make their comments and responses to legislation and then the question is put. There is very little feedback from government and I think, to that extent, the House has deteriorated during the years that I have been here.

I approach this bill with some degree of personal concern. I don't know how many members may be aware of this, but my personal background is in the field of education. I am a graduate of that venerable institution over which the Minister of Health at one time

[Page 6453]

presided, in the year 1963. At the time I was elected to this House in 1970, I had five years of experience teaching school in Sydney and I suppose if I hadn't been elected in 1970, I would have continued at that work because that was my chosen field of endeavour and I probably by now would be retired because most of the people I went to college with by now have retired. So I would be ready to embark on a new career, like politics, but I have had that career already and now I am ready to continue it by way of addressing this particular piece of legislation here tonight.

If there is any one thing so far that has characterized this government, it has been their bungling in the field of education. I think that probably in the long run, health may prove to be their greater Waterloo but, certainly so far, health has taken second place to education as the area in which they have been most held up to public ridicule and to disapproval.

One has to view this bill in that context. This is not being introduced by a government that has a good record in the field of education. So we should perhaps look at it more carefully than if it was introduced by a government held in high esteem for their work in that field, as, say, the Stanfield Government was. Because if we compare the Stanfield Government with this administration, we will notice a tremendous difference. The Stanfield Government put education first, but this government has made it first on their list of areas for attack.

AN HON. MEMBER: They also believed in investing in the economy and growing it.

MR. MACEWAN: Well, the economy did grow back in those times, but it is amazing how Nova Scotia, which had a balanced budget just a year ago, now it is in such terrible financial trouble on account of the government that came to power in the summer of 1999. Be that as it may, I just wanted to indicate that I have some personal background in the field of education and that is why I am concerned about this bill and wanted to speak on it here this evening.

When you reflect on the disastrous Tory record in education under this government, you have to of course compare it with the great successes, with the tremendous strides that were being made in that field just such a short time ago, under the kindly and benevolent Liberal Government of Premier Russell MacLellan when growth and optimism were the watch words and an expansionary mode, an expansionary mindset was mirrored by the largest construction program of new schools in the entire history of the Province of Nova Scotia.

That will be what coming generations will view the MacLellan Government by in terms of historic achievements. It is stated by some that that government didn't erect any monuments, but the monuments that it erected are in the course of now being constructed. There is one monument on Victoria Road in Whitney Pier and there are other monuments in various other locations throughout the province I am not going to note the locations of each and every one, but it was the largest new school construction program in the history of Nova

[Page 6454]

Scotia. That is what the last government did for education. In those times there was no agitation about teacher cutbacks. There was no fear of teaching assistants having their hours cut by one per day. There was no danger of crosswalk guards or teacher assistants or school bus drivers getting lay-off notices. All was well. Things were humming. They were doing well.

[8:45 p.m.]

Then, some brought that government down. They know who they may be, and as a result, this crowd came to power, and now we have this bill. And I understand that eager Tories lie in wait for the speedy passage of this legislation, because it may well prove to be a job creation measure for certain favourite individuals.

AN HON. MEMBER: Name two.

MR. MACEWAN: I can't name two, I can name three. Be that as it may, I understand there are certain eager Tories who await the passage of this bill because it may lead to some gainful employment for them. That being the case, we who are wanting to see the best interests of education put first would want to see this bill receive due scrutiny before it gets passed too quickly.

Now, Mr. Speaker, the entire community was shocked by the abrupt resignation of Dr. John Hayes MacNeil, Superintendent of Schools for the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board this past week. I know that going home on the weekend, there was certainly a shock. It was just incredible everywhere. The sudden departure of the superintendent of schools who, up until last week, was doing a bang-up job and was recognized by all concerned as having engineered a tremendous growth. The school construction program that the Liberal Government of Russell MacLellan undertook was in response to the urgings and to the petitionings of forward-looking school administrators like Hayes MacNeil, who pressed the cause, I think, very diligently and very persistently, stressing to our government the need for these schools. They were built. They were given the green light in response to a need that existed in the community. Hayes MacNeil was one of those who helped to put together the package that our government responded to and initiated.

Now, what would have caused this man to abruptly resign his position in the course of a very successful career? Well, he can give his own answer to that, but I have no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that the cause of his resignation was very directly linked to the destructive agenda of this government with respect to education. Everything he had worked so hard to build up, this government was intent on tearing down. That would have a negative effect on anyone's health. The stress and strain, the worry, the mental anguish that such measures as this government has introduced without care or without thought, leads to that kind of tragedy taking place in the community. Those will be big shoes to fill. I think I should go on record as noting the contribution that Hayes MacNeil made to the field of education. But, lately, he

[Page 6455]

had been turned into some sort of a robot, of an automaton for this government across the way having to send out letters, such as the one I have here in my hand to valued staff against his wishes, regretting to inform valued teachers, that the school board, due to adverse financial circumstances beyond its control, must terminate your contract on July 31, 2000.

This bill, Mr. Speaker, as we all know, was introduced partly to offset those lay-off notices that school boards were forced to send to their valuable teaching staff because of the financial cutbacks imposed by this government on those boards. One of the most misleading statements to come from the government, in my view in any case, was that these cuts were directed at administration. They wouldn't apply to the rank and file. They wouldn't apply to the front-line teacher. They wouldn't apply to the teaching assistant or to the school bus driver or the crosswalk guard. They were going to apply to the big fellows at the top. The government held out visions of legions, I suppose, of $80,000 a year and $90,000 a year people all getting pink slips and walking out the door to the bread lines, while the regular front-line education program continued uninterrupted and unhindered in any way. What nonsense. What errant nonsense. In no letter that I know of, sent out by the Minister of Education to any school board in the province, was any such stipulation included in the news that their financial support was to be reduced. It was simply an across-the-board cut, your allocation is reduced from x to x minus y.

No condition imposed, these cuts are to apply solely to the field of administration, or to apply primarily to the field of administration, or 80 per cent or 60 per cent or even 30 per cent of the reduction is to be applied to administration. No such provision was contained in any such letter to my knowledge, and if it was I would be happy to apologize and withdraw what I have just said if the minister can table correspondence to demonstrate to the contrary. My understanding is that all such letters, certainly every one that I have seen, simply gave a number, this is the amount that you are to be cut by, now put it into effect. Then they stood up in the House and said, but this will only apply to administration. Where were they coming from?

I think there was - well, I won't say it, Mr. Speaker, because I don't want to get in any trouble with you, but I have those thoughts, those unspeakable thoughts about that particular process and how the propaganda that we heard advanced so diametrically opposed the reality. Surely the picture is clear of what I am saying. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. (Interruptions)

Mr. Speaker, they cut back the budgets, they put the school administrators, who they said they were trying to cut, through mental anguish and agony, and as a result we have the loss of senior and very capable administrators in the area that I come from. That is just one effect of the bill. (Interruptions) I don't think so, but that is not germane to Bill No. 47.

[Page 6456]

What else do I have here that I wanted to speak about - a great deal. The funding cut to the University College of Cape Breton, that is in the field of education. UCCB hit by funding cut, $1.5 million pulled out of the University College of Cape Breton by this government and its Hamm-handed agenda. I have a great deal of correspondence on this. I think, perhaps, if it were earlier in the day and I was feeling more energetic I might go through some of that stuff line by line, but we can save it for a future occasion. The fact remains that many in the community are sorely disheartened to see that kind of a below-the-belt blow to the University College of Cape Breton, because they don't think that UCCB deserved that kind of treatment from this government. No.

I have here a communication that I received, it is addressed to Russell, Manning, Russell, Paul, Brian, Michel, Kennie, Mr. Downe and Mr. Smith. (Interruptions) "I am writing to you as a taxpayer of the Province of Nova Scotia, as an individual who is concerned about the economic state of our island and as a member of the Board of Governor's of the University College of Cape Breton. I solicit your support in getting the government of the day to honor a funding commitment made by the Liberal government in the amount of $1.5 M. We received notice by letter from Jane Purves that the Tory government was not going to provide the funding. This puts our university in a very bad way financially. We are already into our financial year and budgeted for this funding due to the letter of commitment. Lack of this funding will have a dramatic effect on our university college, its students and programs and indeed the whole community given that UCCB is seen as a catalyst to our economic future. I encourage you to use whatever means you have at your disposal to get the government to honor the funding commitment of $1.5 M. Thanking you in advance." I will table that piece of correspondence, which is dated May 16th.

I have another piece of correspondence here to table from the honourable Minister of Education, Jane Purves, a few days earlier, and it is addressed to the Chair of the Board of Governors, University College of Cape Breton, stating "I wish to acknowledge your letter dated May 5th to Premier Hamm who has requested that I respond on his behalf. I appreciate your Board's concern about the decision not to provide a further $1.5 M for trades training at University College of Cape Breton (UCCB). Nevertheless, this Government is unable to continue to provide funding for many services and programs which have previously been supported. The funding to UCCB's trade program is one such example." et cetera. "I regret this decision was necessary but assure you it was taken after very careful consideration. Yours truly."

That is signed by the Minister of Education. So here we see the pattern - reductions, cuts, less money, less support for education - and this bill is now introduced in that context. The bill was introduced by the minister on Thursday, April 27th. It claimed to be about the Education Act and about the Southwest Regional School Board and dividing that into two entities, so as to create not one but two superintendencies so that two, rather than one, could be put to work doing that particular function.

[Page 6457]

However, on closer examination and on consultation with interested parties and stakeholders, we find that the bill is actually a blueprint for getting rid of all school boards in Nova Scotia. Now this is not what the Conservatives promised on their way to office. I know that it is an old saw, I suppose, in politics to contrast the pre-election promises and commitments of any political movement with what they actually do after they gain power and, for that reason, it is perhaps safe not to make specific promises en route to an election.

I have certainly always tried to avoid them myself, as best I could over the years, because I think that it is better to simply promise people you will do the best job you can and you will exercise sound judgement on their behalf and you will keep in touch with the people and do your best to reflect their wishes. But when you get into blue books or whatever they may be, containing many points and many specifics, it is rather dangerous because you may not be able to implement all of those promises and all of those good intentions.

In any event, en route to office this government never suggested at all that they were out to eliminate school boards, yet this legislation contains the tools to do that job if they are put into action. There are many things, of course, that this Conservative Government said during the election campaign that are now negated by them doing the complete opposite but I am not going to get distracted from the main topic that I want to deal with here. The school board members in this province have been elected by democratic procedures, by elections. They are accountable, of course, to the Minister of Education and if the minister feels that any school board is not doing its job properly, then she can take necessary action.

But that is not what this bill does. This bill gives full authority to the Minister of Education to appoint one person to carry out the duties of a district school board if the minister feels that that is what she wants to do. So we see the eager line-up of former Conservative MLAs and MPs, hoping to fill those positions. District school boards are going to be abolished, stated not to be carrying out the policies and directive of the Department of Education, so individual former Conservative Members of Parliament and of the Legislature can be appointed in place of the school board. Did I hear anything about Peter? Peter MacCreath, some suggest. Well, we will see, we will be watching very carefully to see what happens on that.

In any event, Mr. Speaker, the question that comes to mind is why would the minister want to replace a school board with one person? Well, I believe it is one way to tell school boards to behave - it is an intimidatory function that is in mind here - not to criticize her or her government, or she will exercise her authority and make them disappear. Off with their heads, she will say, and the heads will fly and Tory MLAs, former Conservative members, federal and provincial, will replace those whose heads have been severed. So, in effect, this bill represents a kind of gag order to school boards across the province.

[Page 6458]

Before the Minister of Education introduced this piece of legislation on Thursday, April 27th, on April 11th they brought down the budget, a budget that was devastating to public education in Nova Scotia. This Minister of Education directed our school boards throughout the province to cut $20 million in teaching salaries in all, plus $7.3 million in specified areas, for a total of $27.3 million to be cut across the board for public education in Nova Scotia and, furthermore, beyond that, the school boards had already served notice on the government that rather than being cut by that amount, actually that what they needed was approximately the same amount, $26 million, $27 million, of additional funding to maintain the existing system. That is what they needed. They needed $26 million, $27 million. Instead, they were cut $26 million, $27 million, a complete reversal of the Tory election time commitment to maintain and protect our system of education in Nova Scotia.

[9:00 p.m.]

The Minister of Education fails to acknowledge that school boards need this funding. The Minister of Education turns her back on the needs of the school boards throughout Nova Scotia and plays her part in this charade that they have invented since they came to power of an imaginary financial crisis by padding books with artificial non-existent costs; $300 million or more for a clean-up project at Sydney Steel that has not even begun. It has not even been mapped out yet. It has not even been planned, a number just pulled out of the air, an imaginary number.

I remember in algebra, a chapter entitled real numbers and imaginary numbers. Well, here you have imaginary numbers invented by this government in padding the budget to make it look bad. The budget that was padded out in B.C. was padded to make it look good, but they have taken the opposite approach and they padded it to look bad, worse than it actually is, so they can justify cuts because apparently it gives them joy to cut financial support to a wide variety of public services which education is really the smaller part of the pie. Health is the biggest part and as for the cuts they have legislated or that they plan in the field of social services, I know I cannot speak on that on Bill No. 47, but it is part of the picture.

It is part of the picture, Mr. Speaker, a government that has failed to acknowledge the needs to cover salary increases that are part of a contractual legal obligation, to cover higher costs for fuel. Fuel costs have doubled in the past 12 to 15 months, doubled, oil. Schools have to be kept warm. They have to be heated. What can school boards do with those inflated costs for heat? They have to look to the provincial government for increased financial services or else they can turn down the thermostat. Let the children wear their jackets in school. That is advance, that is moving ahead. They failed in their financial projections to cover pre-existing deficits of school boards. They just cannot be wiped out by some stroke of the pen. In total, with this $27.3 million cut, plus the additional $26 million that were needed to maintain the existing Nova Scotia education system, in total our schools have been cut by $53.3 million by this government and then they ask us for support on a piece of legislation like Bill No. 47.

[Page 6459]

Mr. Speaker, from day one when this budget was introduced by this Tory Government, the government was very secretive about the full amount that was cut in public education. They refused to lay it on the table. They said the Opposition would have to ferret out the facts by a vigorous process of research, questioning, discovery and detective work. The Minister of Education knows as well as anyone that the budget that she has sponsored, the budget that her Minister of Finance brought in, is devastating to education in Nova Scotia, that the impact of those cuts will have a destructive effect on classrooms right throughout the whole system. Hundreds of teachers will lose their jobs and many support staff, many hundreds will lose their jobs as well: secretaries, teachers' aides, janitors, librarians, library technicians, clerks, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and others.

I had a delegation of such workers at my constituency office on Saturday morning and they were beside themselves. One woman said she was going to lose her home as a result of the cuts that were coming in through this budget and through this government. I don't know what you can say about such things, Mr. Speaker. It is a shame. I don't know if you can say it is criminal, but it certainly strikes my sense of being very wrong.

People count on the education system. They expect that the schools are going to continue to be there. We won free public education in this province. I think it was 1864, 136 years ago, and people have come to take schools for granted and that the teacher would be paid and that the heat for the oil to keep the school warm would be there, and that the government would look after that because it was a duty, a responsibility of the government. It wasn't something you could just walk away from, like maybe you could walk away from your family or something like that. It was something that you were expected to do.

Mr. Speaker, we can understand why members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union and of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and other stakeholders are upset. We can understand why. It is very understandable. In the last three weeks, we have heard from students, parents, teachers, and support staff, school board members and everyone else joining them across this province to protest these cuts. They have been telling us what impact these cuts will have on the public education system is important. Larger class sizes, and we all recall the cavalier remarks, that 50 in a classroom wouldn't be too large, reduced service to students. I have had some experience with these things. I know that the more students there are in a classroom, the less attention you can give each individual. That is just simply the way it is. If you have a class of 36, you can't give them the same attention per student as if you have a class of 24.

Programs are going to be cut or reduced. This will lead, of course, to a higher drop-out rate, because if the school program doesn't seem to be relevant, if it doesn't seem to be imparting the knowledge that young people need to be equipped to face the challenges of life, they are going to drop out. We will back to the days of long ago when it was rather unusual for a young person to persevere and to go all the way and to graduate. The more normal pattern was to get, perhaps, to Grade 8 or Grade 9 or Grade 10 and then drop out. If we have

[Page 6460]

those things happen, of course we are going to be moving toward school closures. Just as in the field of Health, they are moving toward bed closures, ward closures and then hospital closures, in the same sense in the field of education, they are moving, in my view, towards school closures because the downgrading of the educational program can only lead in one direction. It certainly cannot lead to the direction that we set when we were in power of expansion. So the communities of Nova Scotia will suffer.

Mr. Speaker, if we recognize that these cuts to Education are part of a plan, part of a plan that includes also the elimination of school boards in Nova Scotia, and where this Minister of Education is hoping that some school boards will refuse to make these budget cuts, so that they can be impeached and replaced by Tory appointees, then you can understand the method, perhaps, that is involved in their legislation. (Interruption) They have a plan for patronage or patronage. Which is it? Perhaps it is both. Whichever it is, they have plenty of plans for developing it. We can be sure of that.

Mr. Speaker, you can't blame the school boards for not wanting to go ahead and make these cuts. Why should they act as the agents for the Tory Party? Why should they act as those that have to be the hit men and hit women for the Tory Party of Nova Scotia? They don't want to be the bad guys. So, if in the end, the school boards refuse to do as the Minister of Education says, then I suppose they are giving her the excuse to take them out of their troubles. Or, yet, if they decide to go ahead and make the cuts, the public will support the Minister of Education, I suppose, and will support the minister to eliminate them. Regardless of how you look at these cuts and who in the end will make them, the school boards of Nova Scotia, under this government, are on their way out. Bill No. 47 giving the authority to the Minister of Education to eliminate the school boards throughout the province.

Let's go back to the Minister of Education's press conference of April 27th, when she said that following recommendations from a school board boundary task force they recommended replacing the Southwest Regional School Board with more management.

AN HON. MEMBER: No, they didn't, did they?

ANOTHER HON. MEMBER: Did they say that?

MR. MACEWAN: Yes, if we wanted to know the truth about who really recommended to the Minister of Education to replace the Southwest Regional School Board, we should go back to the front page of the Yarmouth Vanguard Friday, April 21st. "Education protest hits the streets." The Yarmouth Vanguard. (Interruptions)

Mr. Speaker, if the honourable member opposite would like to join the debate, I would be very happy to yield so that he can (Interruptions) I suppose it is the reference to The Yarmouth Vanguard that has him worked up. Well, if he will just hold his place and let me continue with my speech, I can enlighten him.

[Page 6461]

AN HON. MEMBER: That is a good paper.

MR. MACEWAN: Oh, I am sure it is. Now, the article is entitled "Education protest hits the street" and it quotes the honourable member for Yarmouth and it quotes him as saying, "Parents and students are mostly directing their anger at the provincial government, but politicians are accusing school boards, including the Southwest board of creating a frenzy of fear and uncertainty. We've asked the school board to cut 2.6 per cent out of their overall budget so what did they do?"

AN HON. MEMBER: So what's your point?

MR. MACEWAN: What's the point? Well, the point is that I am quoting from The Yarmouth Vanguard and the honourable member for Yarmouth seems to be somewhat agitated. Perhaps we could table The Yarmouth Vanguard and he would get even more.

"All they did was put fear into the community, into the students and the parents saying we're going to cut teachers and close schools, . . . Is that showing leadership and looking at this thing constructively and finding ways of saving money? No." They say that it is not; no, it is not. "They're going to hit right in the areas that they know the communities will not accept, and so I'm blaming the school board for that." So they are expecting people to blame the school boards rather than them for the cuts that are imposed. I have noticed that pattern by the Minister of Education and I haven't been favourably impressed. The school boards have no direct taxation powers; they have no power to raise money themselves. There is no fee that is paid as a school user fee; it is not a user pay service. They are directly dependent on the provincial level of government for their funding.

AN HON. MEMBER: Don't give the Tories any ideas.

MR. MACEWAN: Well, I had better be careful, perhaps they will be introducing maybe a new fee, like a dog tax or a cat tax for the support of school boards. I wouldn't put it beyond them but, in any event, the school boards are dependent on the provincial level of government, whatever money they get from them, they can then disperse, and what they don't receive from them, they can't disperse. It is not fair to the school boards that they should have to take the hit for actions that are forced on them by this level of government.

This bill will allow the Southwest Regional School Board to be divided up into two district school boards: first, the South Shore District School Board, and second, the Tri-county District School Board. The South Shore District School Board will include Lunenburg and Queens Counties, the Tri-county District School Board will include Digby, Yarmouth, and Shelburne Counties.

[Page 6462]

Now, we have received representations from some people in Queens County telling us that they are not in favour of that particular division, and I would ask for more consultation with the people of Queens County if this bill is going to be proceeded with by the government to find out in which district school board they want to be.

AN HON. MEMBER: What does the member say? What does the member for Queens say?

MR. MACEWAN: Well, it would be interesting to hear it from the member for Queens; perhaps he might join the debate. I invite him to do so, but I would like to conclude my own remarks first.

We look forward to their input. These district boards when set up, as envisaged in this legislation . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: Did they get 13?

MR. MACEWAN: Got a quorum? I think we have a quorum.

AN HON. MEMBER: There is one over there.

MR. MACEWAN: Yes. These district school boards, as envisaged in this legislation, will not be accountable to the people who elect them, but they will only be accountable to the Minister of Education. The district boards will be responsible for the employment of a director of education, teachers and teacher assistants, but the Minister of Education will appoint the first director of education. The district school boards will also be responsible for policy development and the implementation of monitoring of education programs and services.

[9:15 p.m.]

The Department of Education, and not the district board, will be responsible for evaluating the director of education. The district board represents the people. They should, in our view, evaluate the director, but this Tory Government is going to push them aside and tell them that they will have no say in evaluating the director of education. The director will be evaluated solely by the government. The director is being appointed for a three year period. If the district board wants that director to then serve beyond the three years, then the director must go through a competition for re-appointment, again the district board having no say in the matter.

Mr. Speaker, to make a long story short, we are not satisfied with the mechanics that are set up in this bill. There are many detailed arguments that we have formulated, and I am sure that in further stages, if the bill does advance, we can explain them in some detail, but

[Page 6463]

I am going to simply state that, in general terms, we are not satisfied with the mechanics that are set up in this bill for the implementation of these two new district school boards. They represent a great step backwards, a great leap backwards - not a great leap forward - in the field of education.

Now, I want to move on next to the field of lay-off notices, because another amendment in this bill will allow the Minister of Education, if the bill passes, to delay the issuance of lay-off notices to teachers to June 16th. Currently, under the Education Act, the school boards have to issue their termination notices to teachers by May 15th, so this extends it one full month. Why would that be? Well, we wonder. The delay of the issuance of lay-off notices accomplishes nothing. It simply prolongs the agony. The Minister of Education has said that no teachers will be laid off, so why do they need to introduce legislation on the subject? She assured the House that no teachers would be laid off; this legislation certainly asserts to the contrary.

So, more money is going to be given to the school boards to prevent the lay-offs from taking place when they were scheduled to take place, but they are going to be taking place at a later time. It is now clear, I believe from the minister's own public admissions, that fewer teachers than had been projected are interested in taking retirement, considerably fewer. They had thought that maybe 400 or more would line up for early retirement. The fact is that only 150 to 200 maximum, I understand, are likely to take it. The minister herself has admitted that.

So, one of the main assumptions on which the program of the government was based has been demonstrated to be flawed and to be inaccurate. I won't say fraudulent and I won't say imaginary. But I will say inaccurate, grossly inaccurate, less than 50 per cent correct. All this amendment is now going to do is to extend the deadline for the lay-off notices. It will raise the stress levels of teachers who have already received their lay-off notices and then had them rescinded. Will they be reimposed once again come June 16th? Will these same people receive another notice on the 16th of June? Who knows? Some of these people will live for one month with the false hope of thinking that they won't be laid off.

Why June 16th? I don't know, Mr. Speaker, but I might let you in on a little secret. I think they hope to be out of here by June 16th. I think that they hope that this session of the House would be over by that time, and if it isn't and if there is no reasonable conclusion of the proceedings in sight by June 16th, what is to say that they may not amend the bill to extend it to July 16th? And if by that time we are still going strong, maybe they can make it August 16th.

The key here is that what they are trying to do is to avoid laying the teachers off while the Legislature is in session. They hope that after the proceedings here are over and we have all gone home and the perception is that this building is empty and there is nothing to be seen here except the paintings hanging on the walls and the tourists who come by to examine the

[Page 6464]

architecture then, at that point, they know that it will be less effective for groups to protest here because there will be nobody to meet, to see. The media would no longer be here in their numbers.

So it is a cynical attempt, in my view, to avoid public protest, to avoid public reaction, to avoid public accountability and to schedule the lay-offs to take place at a time when this House is no longer in session. I think that that is what this is about. I think that what this government is doing to these teachers and to their families is terrible. Terrible. It is uncalled for, completely uncalled for. I am hopeful, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of Education will reconsider this particular clause of the bill, and will withdraw it, so that these teachers can get on with their lives.

Mr. Speaker, earlier I tabled a letter from Dr. John Hayes MacNeil addressed to a teacher in the City of Sydney by the name of Lynn Crawford, who lives at 86 Hankard Street in Sydney. I want to mention this in the context of the professed concern of this bill and of this government for African-Nova Scotians, because the teacher to whom this lay-off notice was addressed is the only African-Nova Scotian teacher in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. That is where their commitment to affirmative action stands. Their policies led to the lay off the only African-Canadian-Nova Scotian teacher in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. The only one, and she got her lay-off notice dated April 26th. I think the proof of the pie, Mr. Speaker, is in the eating. It is not what you say that counts so much as what you do. If they are truly concerned about the African-Canadian community, in my view, they would see to it that there were a representative number of African-Canadian teachers in the school system, especially in school systems where there are a significant number of African-Canadians as students. This government did nothing of the kind. Again, it blithely disregarded the situation and moved on to other matters, just as the honourable member for Yarmouth is moving on to other matters now.

You know, Mr. Speaker, there is so much one could say about this government's record in the field of education. I know they have only just begun. They have three more long, hard, lean years ahead before their day of reckoning comes, unless they self-destruct in the meantime and collapse. Four or five by-elections would solve the problem. In any event, it is not my intention to needlessly prolong the debate. I didn't speak on the amendment that would have referred the bill to the Committee on Law Amendments because I thought that if the bill cleared second reading it would be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments anyway. It is also not my intention, when we get into the Committee of the Whole House on Bills to speak for 20 hours, or something of that sort, on the title, because we in this Party want to address legislation, not rhetoric.

I want to say that the Tory strategy in Education so far, since they have come to power, has been characterized by the most retrograde measures imaginable, even clawing back the equipment from the new schools that are under construction. Textbooks are under attack. School bus services are under attack, pencils and erasers. (Interruption) Well, yes, they have

[Page 6465]

been very vigorous in their use of erasers when it comes to their election commitments, haven't they? Very vigorous on that front. Furniture has been taken out of some of those new buildings, I am told. The quality of schools, the issue this Liberal Government faced so well, they seemed to have completely turned their backs on. They seem to feel that the more ancient buildings with poor air quality we have, the more fungus problems we have, the better. That seems to be the kind of education they are moving towards.

Mr. Speaker, I am quite proud to say, in conclusion - so the next speaker better get ready, if there is one - that we will not be supporting this bill on second reading. I am letting you in on a little secret here. We will be voting no when the question is put. I think that that vote is very justified and if the government has any intention of improving, I would challenge and invite them to do so. Certainly their record to date in the field of education is so bad, it leaves so much left undone and so much wanting that we could not possibly, in good conscience, support any major piece of legislation designed to amend the Education Act. So, I would invite honourable members who care about education in Nova Scotia to vote no when this bill is put to the vote on second reading.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to stand in my place this evening and say a few words on the bill before us, Bill No. 47. As I begin, I have to say that I don't normally agree on many items with the previous speaker. As he was speaking, I thought there was some revisionist history being written when one hears about the commitments to education, because I also have been around this place long enough to remember that when the red team was on those benches . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: With the red curtains.

MR. HOLM: . . . with the red curtains down around their bunker, I remember seeing many Nova Scotians coming to visit their House of Assembly and walking around this Legislature, their House, protesting the funding cuts for education, protesting the fact that there were going to be lay-offs and that children' education would be harmed.

I remember that and I also remember that at that time the Tories, who were over here, were rather principled. Yes, they were, Mr. Speaker. Then they said, oh, that red team, the Liberals, they are bad because they don't value education. You know, they didn't, of course, like the fact, and the Tories over here, the blue team, didn't like to be reminded that the Savage Liberals were acting like the Tory Cameron Government that had preceded them.

Yet, it is sort of interesting. (Interruptions) Oh, they are going, Mr. Speaker, they are awake. I am glad they stuck around. You know when the Cameron Tories wrote their hacking and slashing education, the Liberals said the Cameron Tories were bad. Then the Cameron Tories got booted and in came the Savage Liberals, who did a number of things, like slash and

[Page 6466]

cut education, doing all those things that they said the Tories were bad for doing, including - you will even remember this one, Mr. Speaker - the Liberals even opposed the municipal amalgamations that the Cameron Tories had started. Then the Liberals carried out the Cameron Regime. Then, when the Tories got over here, they realized the errors of their ways and they had creative history, too, they tended to put these blinders on and said, oh, we never did that, so the Liberals are bad. They liked to erase that slate clean about what they had done.

Now, Mr. Speaker, the Tories are over there again, doing what the Liberals had done before, and now all of a sudden that red curtain has somehow vanished and the history is being creatively rewritten. What I say to them is that both of them, both the Liberals and the Tories, have a big part to play in what has been happening to education in this province. Both. (Interruptions)

I see that the member for Cape Breton The Lakes has woken up, Mr. Speaker. I am awfully flattered to think that this late on a Tuesday night that not only have they stayed up on both sides, but that they have come out to listen to my remarks. That is very flattering. We are talking tonight (Interruptions) The Minister of Finance wants to get up to talk. I think he said he wants to play to the crowd. If he can get the approval of his colleagues and the unanimous consent of the House for me to take my seat and then get back up when he finishes his remarks and I have the floor again and we can, of course, do anything we want in this House with the consent of the House, then (Interruption) In writing first . . .

[9:30 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Was the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid, who has the floor, going to speak to second reading of the Education Act tonight?

MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am speaking about a very important point here because we are talking about principles, right, and one of the most important principles is integrity. I want to, as I begin the next phase of my remarks on this bill, because we are talking about Bill No. 47, An Act to Amend Chapter 1 of the Acts of 1995-96, the Education Act. So before I begin on that, one of the things that I thought I should do is take a brief look at the Education Act itself, the Education Act of 1995-96. The Education Act is unlike most other Acts in that the Education Act that was passed in this House in 1995-96, that Act had in the beginning of that Act a statement of purpose. It had a resolution at the start, a statement of intent pointing out what that Act is intended to do.

Mr. Speaker, that was one of the good things that, through the encouragement of Opposition members who helped to get that boosted and included in that Act, and as we are talking about a bill to amend that particular Act, I think we should go back and we should look at the purpose because this is very germane to the principles of the bill. So I want to read briefly the preambles to the Education Act.

[Page 6467]

It says, "WHEREAS the education system of Nova Scotia is of vital importance to the future of Nova Scotia;". No question about that, Mr. Speaker, absolutely, and if government members don't recognize that fact, then I would suggest to you that you are living on a different planet because if our province and our future, the future of our children I should say, if they are to prosper, we must have a strong education system.

"AND . . .", it says, "WHEREAS meaningful . . .", here is a key word, ". . . partnerships between and participation by students, parents, teachers, other staff in the public school system, school board members and the public should be encouraged to ensure a high-quality education system;".

Important, Mr. Speaker, I look at Bill No. 47, I ask the question. What does Bill No. 47 do to enhance that? Zip. "AND WHEREAS students should have a right and a responsibility to participate fully in learning opportunities, contribute to an orderly and safe learning environment and, in appropriate circumstances, participate in decisions that affect their schools;". I ask, what does Bill No. 47 do to enhance that principle? Nothing, Mr. Speaker, absolutely nothing; in fact, I would suggest what Bill No. 47 does is give this government the ability to run counter to those very principles.

It says, "AND WHEREAS parents should have a right and a responsibility to support their children in achieving learning success and participate in decisions that affect their children;". The bill does nothing except give the minister more power. "AND WHEREAS the education community, in making decisions, should consider the diverse nature and heritage of society in Nova Scotia within the context of its values and beliefs." The values and beliefs that are contained in this bill are the government's. Zero consultation; zip when it comes to involving partners in education. "AND WHEREAS the education system should be committed to fair and equitable participation and benefit by all people in Nova Scotia." That is the preamble that goes into the purpose of the Education Act, and the purpose is, itself, extremely important when we are talking about Bill No. 47.

Maybe the Minister of Education once read this, or saw it in a briefing note. I am sure that the Minister of Economic Development, who once was a superintendent of schools, would be very familiar with this.

AN HON. MEMBER: He was a super super.

MR. HOLM: He was, I am told, a super super, Mr. Speaker. I don't know if he would pass the muster, if he could get the approval now and be hired as a CEO. He is of the right political stripe for the Southwest Regional School Board now, but we don't know if he would be able to pass the screening test.

[Page 6468]

AN HON. MEMBER: Don't put a by-election notice . . .

MR. HOLM: A by-election might not be a bad idea at all, maybe I should suggest that and he might wish to apply, and if he can cut the mustard, we can shave one number of the majority that is over there.

Anyway, the purpose of the bill, and this is extremely important - and I ask those backbench members who have had no say whatsoever in the development of this legislation, who wouldn't have been consulted by the front bench members, other than to say here is Bill No. 47, we are going to introduce it on April 27th, and your job is to come here and to vote for it - it says that, "The purpose of this Act is to provide for a publicly funded school system, whose primary mandate is to provide education programs and services for students to enable them to develop their potential and acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy."

That is the stated purpose of the Education Act. I think it is important and maybe, Mr. Speaker, I will visit that again, to let it sink in. "The purpose of this Act is to provide for a publicly funded school system whose primary mandate is to provide educational programs and services for students to enable them to develop their potential and acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy."

Who has read Bill No. 47 on the government benches? Can anybody on the government benches tell me, illustrate to me how anything in Bill No. 47 achieves that purpose, or advances towards that purpose? I am not seeing people jump up. Mr. Speaker, this legislation isn't about enhancing education, Bill No. 47 that is before us. Bill No. 47 is about a power grab and, for the love of me I can't even understand, when one looks at the current Education Act, why this government feels it needs more power - I am going to visit that in a few minutes - we have a number of members still here tonight from the former Halifax County region. Can you tell me how, when they vote for Bill No. 47, they are going to be able to go back and speak with their constituents and explain to them how it is that they can support a government and legislation that, out of the former county area, will see approximately 100 fewer classroom teachers, with class sizes already in the 30 range going up yet again, with approximately 62 less teaching assistants.

I tell you, Mr. Speaker, in my community of Lower Sackville we have many children with special needs. In fact, a number of people, and they are special people, have moved to the community of Sackville and to Bedford so they could have their children enroll, for example, in the Sackville Bedford Developmental Centre, Mr. Speaker, a pre-school program that will assist parents and children with special needs, to try to help make those children more ready for school. They do an incredible program. I think that the Minister of Community Services would agree with that statement. He says, absolutely.

[Page 6469]

Mr. Speaker, those children are leaving that centre and they will be going into the public school system where the class sizes are larger and, in the country area, where there will be up to 62 fewer teachers' assistants next year. Those children and other children are the losers.

I don't blame all the problems on the Tory Government, quite honestly, because the points I am raising, Mr. Speaker, you may remember and you may have made the same comments, I am not sure, but I know I sure pointed out a lot of the problems when the former Liberal Government introduced the bill to amalgamate the school boards and set up what was, in effect, three separate boards in the former municipality. So we had the Halifax and we had the Dartmouth and we had the former county, all being lumped together into one but with different funding structures. At that time we knew the problems would develop and that there would be inequitable educational opportunities. That was a mistake. I hear members on the government benches saying, that was a mistake and we said it was a mistake at the time.

What is Bill No. 47 doing to correct it? I asked the Minister of Education, and she knows my views on this both from comments in here and in conversations privately, I ask her, what is Bill No. 47 doing to correct that problem, the inequitable educational opportunities that are existing within boards, as well as across the province? Nothing, Mr. Speaker, absolutely zip.

Mr. Speaker, the principles, the purpose of the Education Act, I go back to it; to enable students to develop their potential and acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy economy and society. What has this government done with Bill No. 47 to address those problems? Zip.

What it has done, is the Minister of Education is wresting into her own hands, increased power. Mr. Speaker, I know democracy sometimes is cumbersome; sometimes democracy is downright unpleasant. I know it may not be the most pleasant things for those in the government benches who are sitting there keeping numbers up for the government. I am glad and I appreciate and I know there was no sarcasm intended when the Minister of Economic Development, an educator himself by profession, a former school principal and superintendent, said it is a joy to be here listening to me. I just want to show that I listen to members opposite. I try to hear, not only the words, but also the gist of what it is they are saying. Of course I didn't hear the sarcasm in his tone.

[9:45 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, that having been said, when you read the minister's press release, it is sort of comical, and you have to ask, I know it is unparliamentary to say that somebody on the government benches would be dumb, because I think that was ruled unparliamentary. Would it be unparliamentary to say that they must think that I am awfully dumb and that Nova Scotians are awfully dumb if we believe everything that is said in there? I hope not. I am

[Page 6470]

referring to myself here, so hopefully that is within the parliamentary allowable limits, if not, I will substitute another word that has exactly the same meaning.

Mr. Speaker, the government is saying that they have to have this legislation because they have to make school boards more accountable, and that this only has to do with the Southwest Regional School Board, and it is a pilot project. Well, all I can say is, if you believe that for two minutes, I have a whole bunch of bridges I want to sell to you. You don't even have to scratch the surface, you just have to look at it, and the tinsel fades away.

Let's take a look at certain realities. Let's take a look at the Education Act right now. The minister - I am sure, I know it is a long document, I think actually it is probably about 100 pages long, but you can get précises of it - has some staff who could give her an explanation, and could explain in simple terms what is in the Education Act. The Minister of Justice, he is a very astute lawyer, he is a Q.C. and all of that, very learned in the law, and could interpret the legalities of it all. He could explain any legal implications of the Act. But, if he did that, one of the things that the minister would find out is that right now, the minister and her front benches have tremendous power over school boards. The minister says it is designed to make school boards accountable, to increase accountability. The only way they can be more accountable to this government is if they are absolutely under the thumb of the minister. That is what I believe this minister and this government wants to do.

I started off a few minutes ago saying, democracy can be cumbersome sometimes, it cannot always be the most efficient in the government's way of doing things. Some might say that a totalitarian system of government is more efficient, but it is not one I would advocate. I know, Mr. Speaker, it is not one you would advocate. One would have to ask, why is it that if this is something called a pilot project, why would the government, by Bill No. 47, wish to strip from the elected representatives as a whole, to strip away from the Legislature the responsibilities to make further amendments to school boards across this province? I know it wouldn't be nice to say that that is being autocratic or dictatorial, but I am not always considered to be nice. Quite truthfully, I wasn't elected to be nice to the government. I was elected to tell it the way I see it, and I was elected to stand up for things like quality of education.

Mr. Speaker, this legislation that is before us now gives to the minister absolute power. By the way, right now, within the Education Act, there is that ability. For the minister, if she hasn't realized this, the Education Act says that the Governor in Council can define any word or term that is not currently defined in the Education Act. Most major terms are defined in the Education Act. They are there now. If a phrase is there, to give you an example, superintendent. Well, superintendent is defined in the bill, but if, by an omission, it had failed to define the words superintendent, the regulatory powers that currently are in the Act now say that the Cabinet could define what a superintendent meant.

[Page 6471]

What this bill does, that is before us today, takes that a step farther. They say that now, Mr. Speaker, they can re-define any term. They can expand it. They can shrink it. They can change it. They can turn it on its head. Under this bill, if the government decides, in effect, they can say that an apple is now an orange. They have the ability to totally gut the Education Act, to totally switch around the meanings of what was intended in the Education Act, not on the floor of this House, not with any public debate. None of the backbenchers, and I don't mean this to be insulting, but none of you would be involved in that process, because you don't sit in Cabinet. Those re-definitions would be decided by Order in Council in the Cabinet and simply proclaimed.

You know what also is in there, Mr. Speaker? Do you know what this bunch can also do? Without coming back to this House, and I ask those of you across there who supposedly believe in democracy, what this bill does is it gives, to the Governor in Council, not through this House, not with the election process in here and votes and debates and discussions, for all the strengths and weaknesses of the debates that go on in here, it gives the Governor in Council the ability to exempt any school board from any part or provisions in the Education Act. It gives them the ability.

Mr. Speaker, I just photocopied the index, the start, the topics, the table of contents, I guess is what it is called, of the Education Act. Actually there are 158 pages in the Education Act that deal with everything from describing what a school board is. The Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, my pronunciation needs a little work, yes, talks about the school advisory councils, talks about duties of students, duties of parents, duties of teachers, qualifications of both, principals, superintendents, sports staff, school board membership, school board meetings, school board offices and records, general responsibilities and powers of school boards, and I am only halfway through.

This bill, Bill No. 47, Mr. Speaker, without any public consultation at all, they have the ability to say that any and all parts of this Education bill doesn't apply to a school board. That is in this legislation, whether you realized it or not. It talks about this, supposedly, as a pilot project, the Southwest Regional School Board. I will get in to some problems with the CEO and the districts and so on, probably, on a future occasion, like maybe on Thursday, because I don't think I will be able to complete my remarks in the time I have left tonight.

Mr. Speaker, this legislation, this bill, Bill No. 47, An Act to Amend the Education Act, this has to be debated here in a democratic forum where the debate at least is recorded. Whether my words sound articulate or not, whether I make sense or not, that is for others to judge, but there is a public record of it. This bill, if it passes, will go down the hall to the Law Amendments Committee process and the general public will have the opportunity to come forward and to make their comments known on Bill No. 47. They will be able to speak on it, to suggest amendments, to suggest changes.

[Page 6472]

After that, Mr. Speaker - hopefully, it will go the way of the Acadia bill - but if not, that bill would come back here to the Committee of the Whole, still in the public process and be gone through clause by clause and on to third reading. If this bill passes, on any future amendments, if the government wants to do away with the Strait Regional School Board, if it wants to do away with the Halifax Regional School Board, or any others, or to exempt any provision from them, none of that process will apply because that will all be able to be done now in the secrecy of the Cabinet Room.

Mr. Speaker, I have been asked to adjourn the debate by the Government House Leader so presumably we can have the business for tomorrow announced and at the Government House Leader's request, I would request that the debate on second reading of Bill No. 47 be now adjourned for the day.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is to adjourn the debate.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if I can have the permission of the House to return to the order of business, Presenting Reports of Committees.

MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

Order, please. Is the honourable minister okay? The honourable minister is okay.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: You moved my chair. (Laughter)

PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, it is getting very late.

MR. SPEAKER: It is kind of getting a little rough, too.

[Page 6473]

MR. BAKER: Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Committee on Law Amendments, I am directed to report that the committee has met and considered the following bills:

Bill No. 43 - Energy and Mineral Resources Conservation Act, Petroleum Resources Act and Pipeline Act.

Bill No. 46 - Financial Measures (2000) Act.

and the committee recommends these bills to the favourable consideration of the House, with certain amendments.

Mr. Speaker, that would be my only report before I kill this Government House Leader. (Laughter)

MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that these bills be referred to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills.

The honourable Liberal House Leader.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, tomorrow, following the daily routine and Question Period, we will be calling Resolution No. 1980 and Resolution No. 1765.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I move the House do now rise to meet again tomorrow at the hour of 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER: The House will sit tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. It is Liberal Opposition Day.

The motion is to adjourn.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

The motion is carried.

We stand adjourned until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.

[The House rose at 10:00 p.m.]